The category: Towns that create or resuscitate a downtown, ending the reign of strip malls.
The stats: In northeast Orange County, 30 miles south of downtown Los Angeles; population 40,000.
The residents: Christine and Greg Marick (31 and 37) and their 2-year-old daughter. Christine works in municipal bonds at an investment-management company; Greg manages an after-school program and summer science camp business.
How they got here: Christine grew up in a neighborhood of row houses in Washington, D.C., so the couple wanted a pedestrian-friendly community with nearby destinations. "I didn't want to just walk a loop around a gated community," she says. By luck they came across Brea's Ash Street Cottages district, an area that "surprised us even beyond what we were hoping for," Christine says.