Las Cruces, N.M.
Vibe: A sunny cocktail of Old Mexico, the Wild West and high-desert casual living
Sunny days per year: 287
Median home price: $148,000
A small town with big-city amenities, Las Cruces already had a lot going for it, like plenty of brilliant sunshine tempered by high-desert breezes. Mountains surround it on three sides, and there's plenty of exciting Wild West history to uncover. (It's where a judge sentenced Billy the Kid to "hang until you are dead, dead, dead," to which he is said to have replied, "Go to hell, hell, hell.")
When you factor in the Southwest's massive real-estate meltdown and the state's low property taxes, this sunny little city becomes a bargain hunter's paradise.
New Mexico State University (home of the Chile Pepper Institute) adds spice to cultural activities, while the area's history, including Mesilla, once part of Mexico, goes as far back as the dinosaurs. (Thankfully, they left plenty of fossils for local enthusiasts.) And hikers and mountain bikers love the area's plentiful playgrounds, with Bar Canyon, Dripping Springs, Robledo Mountains, Picacho Peak and the Dona Ana Mountains all within a 10-mile radius.
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