3.2 million: Population (metro)
$174,000: Median home price
B: Multisport grade
22,737: Number of canoes and kayaks registered in Minneapolis zip codes
Minnesota native Garrison Keillor, in his radio program A Prairie Home Companion, says of his fictional town Lake Wobegon that "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." We feel the same way about Minneapolis. It's a metro area of three million people but has the ethos of small-town America. It's also got verve: The city that gave rise to the Replacements is now home to a thriving music scene in clubs like First Avenue and Varsity Theater. Eat Street is packed with a variety of impressive international cuisine. And downtown has the Upper Midwest's largest farmers' market. All of which is gravy: Minneapolis made our list largely because of affordability, education, and its diversified economy. (Seventeen Fortune 500 companies call the metro area home, including Target, Best Buy, and 3M.) Sure, it's cold in the winter the average low is five degrees but with 27 miles ofgroomed nordic-ski trails within city limits, two designated (and wicked fun) sledding hills, and a highly competitive pond-hockey tournament on Lake Calhoun, it's anything but dreary. And in the summer, the Twin Cities' parkland, all 181,691 acres of it, plus 750-odd lakes including the paddle-friendly Chain of Lakes is perfect for making the most of the long, warm nights. Call it the Twin City Effect: Everything is twice as good here.