The magazine’s ranking is based on cultural offerings in towns of 25,000 or fewer residents.  (Click to enlarge)


Smithsonian Magazine calls Red Bank the third-best small town in America in its May issue.

On a list of 20 small towns towns rich in culture, the town came in behind only Great Barrington, Massachusetts and Taos, New Mexico, the magazine reported.

That gives Red Bank bragging rights over places like Princeton (number 12) and Key West, Florida (16) –not to mention the thousands that didn’t make the list.

Here’s the magazine’s entry on Red Bank, by reporter Susan Spano:

William Count Basie grew up and got his musical chops on Mechanic Street in Red Bank. In the early 1920s he moved to Harlem and the rest is jazz history, to the tune of the “One O’Clock Jump.” His hometown on the south bank of the Navesink River about 25 miles south of Manhattan went through some lean, mean times after that, but has since made an astonishing cultural and economic comeback, linchpinned by the refurbishment of the 1926 Carlton Theater, now the Count Basie performing arts center, a venue for ballet to rock to Willie Nelson. Cafés, galleries, clubs and shops followed, along with farmers markets and street fairs, attracting people from well-heeled Monmouth County and the Jersey Shore. Town folk (pop. 12,200) went to work on neglected old homes with good bones, the landmark Victorian train depot was restored and the silver was polished at the Molly Pitcher Inn, named for a Revolutionary War heroine who is said to have brought water to thirsty soldiers serving under George Washington during the Battle of Monmouth County. The Navesink got a spiffy waterfront park, the setting for jazz concerts in the summer and iceboating when the river freezes; string quartets and youth choruses perform at the Monmouth Conservatory of Music, while the Two River Theater Company stages new plays and musicals. It all adds up to a model for small-town renewal.

And here’s its explainer on the methodology:

To help create our list, we asked the geographic information systems company Esri to search its data bases for high concentrations of museums, historic sites, botanic gardens, resident orchestras, art galleries and other cultural assets common to big cities. But we focused on towns with populations less than 25,000, so travelers could experience what might be called enlightened good times in an unhurried, charming setting. We also tried to select towns ranging across the lower 48.

Nancy Adams, who heads up the downtown promotion agency Red Bank RiverCenter, tells redbankgreen she was “pleased, but not surprised” to find the town rated so highly, in part because the magazine had previously singled out Red Bank seven or eight years ago, “so I knew we were on their radar.”

And because she doesn’t live in town, the Maplewood resident said she is frequently exposed to the outsider’s view of Red Bank “as a great place to have dinner or see a show or just hang out. But when you’re here all the time, you may not get that.”

Adams said she expects to begin working the designation into marketing materials for the special improvement district she oversees.

Dan Mancuso, a 22-year borough resident and real estate broker who serves on the planning board, said he’s not surprised by the ranking, given the town’s shopping, dining and entertainment offerings. “I easily see myself being a Red Bank resident for the rest of my life,” he said.

Here’s the full list:

1. Great Barrington, Massachusetts

2. Taos, New Mexico


4. Mill Valley, California

5. Gig Harbor, Washington

6. Durango, Colorado

7. Butler, Pennsylvania

8. Marfa, Texas

9. Naples, Florida

10. Staunton, West Virginia

11. Brattleboro, Vermont

12. Princeton, New Jersey

13. Brunswick, Maine

14. Siloam Springs, Arkansas

15. Menomonie, Wisconsin

16. Key West, Florida

17. Laguna Beach, California

18. Ashland, Oregon

19. Beckley City, West Virginia

20. Oxford, Mississippi