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10 Best U.S. Cities to Live In

By David Quilty

san franciscoAmericans are mobile people. In fact, the U.S. Census reports that about one in six Americans move each year. Though most moves are local, nearly one-sixth of all people who move change states.

Finding the home that is right for you largely comes down to personal preferences, and the cities in this country have such varying characteristics that it can be a daunting task to narrow your search down to just one. However, taking a broad view of the cities and investigating the characteristics that will affect your life on a daily basis can help you narrow it down.

By combing through several “top city” lists and researching public data about the issues that matter to people the most – such as weather, tax rates, median wages, population figures, and real estate prices – 10 U.S. cities truly stand out. If you are looking for a new place to live, these 10 cities are worth considering.

Top Cities in the U.S. to Call Home

1. Austin, Texas

The “live music capital of the world” often finds itself on lists covering the best places to live – and for good reason. With a substantially lower unemployment rate than the national average (just 6.3% as opposed to 8.3% nationally), no state income tax, eight colleges and universities, clean water, and plenty of open space surrounding the metro area, this city of more than 700,000 people sits smack in the middle of the vast Texas landscape.

Austin has 228 sunny days per year, with temperatures rarely falling below the average low of 40 degrees in January. A median home price of $196,000 means that the average young resident (age 34.1) has a good chance of affording his or her own home. Furthermore, workers have a strong chance of finding a telecommuting job and working from home, as Austin is ranked as the number four city in the country for employers offering teleworking.

The city contains 3,127 people per square mile, and 83.4% of residents have a high school diploma or higher.


2. Omaha, Nebraska

With just a 4.7% unemployment rate, this city of 380,000 seems to be beating the odds in terms of job creation during the recession. There are other facets of Omaha that make it an attractive place to live: A median income of more than $53,000, and 12 colleges and universities are especially enticing to younger people. It is a relatively affordable place to live as well, as the average home price is just $129,200, while the average rent cost is $716 monthly. In fact, the cost of living in Omaha is 11% lower than the national average.

Residents of Omaha also enjoy 214 sunny days per year, clean air, and a medical system that provides a whopping 329 physicians for every 100,000 residents. With an up-and-coming cultural scene that features art galleries, restaurants, and nightclubs, young adults are finding that there is plenty to do in Omaha.


3. Boulder, Colorado

Nestled aside the majestic Rocky Mountains a few miles northwest of downtown Denver, Boulder is the nature lover’s ideal choice. The city features world-class skiing, camping, hiking, and biking, as well as great restaurants, museums, and public libraries.

In this city of slightly less than 100,000 residents, the median income is $65,000 per year, with most working in professional, scientific, and technical service industries. However, it can be hard to stretch those dollars here: The average home cost in Boulder is $410,200, and the cost of living is 39.40% higher than the national average. The population is mostly comprised of single thirty-somethings who enjoy living a green life – Boulder is ranked the seventh greenest city in the country.


4. Boise, Idaho

A city of 200,000, with a median household income of $50,961, Boise has lower taxes than the national average and a stable economy. With 206 sunny days per year and easy access to skiing, hiking, biking, and boating, the city offers many of the same outdoor activities as Boulder for a fraction of the cost. Within its 63.8 square miles, an average home runs about $191,500.

An additional plus is that Boise has done a great job of lowering its crime rate each year for the past 12 years – in spite of a staggering population growth of  36% since 1990.


5. San Francisco, California

Sure, San Francisco is crowded – there are nearly 800,000 people who call the city home, and 7.15 million people in the Bay Area – but with great public transportation, two professional sports teams, generally temperate weather, world-class museums and restaurants, and 20 institutions of higher education, it’s hard to go wrong. San Francisco is a great place to be single too, as there are twice as many single residents as married.

At $75,000 per year, the average income is high, but it is also a very expensive city to live in: The median home cost is nearly $650,000, the sales tax is 8.5%, and the income tax is 9.3%. It costs a lot to live in San Francisco, but if you can afford it, The City by the Bay is a jewel.

san francisco

6. Charlotte, North Carolina

Home to the headquarters of Bank of America, Duke Energy, Lowe’s, and Family Dollar, Charlotte has grown from a sleepy city into a strong corporate and financial center. There are 1.6 million people who call Charlotte home, and it’s no surprise – they enjoy a lower-than-average property tax rate, low utility rates, an average home price of just under $175,000, a professional basketball and football team, 218 sunny days, and just four inches of snow per year.

The city has seen an astounding 22.1% growth rate since the early 2000s, and yet Charlotte residents stick to their roots and continue to dish out all the southern charm you can handle.


7. Kansas City, Missouri

Google is installing ultra-high-speed Internet for the whole city – isn’t that almost reason enough to move to Kansas City?

Kansas City’s population of just over 450,000 earns a modest $44,436 annual income. However, cost of living is fairly low: The income tax rate is only 6%, while the sales tax is 7.73%. Homes here average $162,000, while the median rent price is just $725. Food costs are below the national average as well.

Though the average age is relatively young at 36.2, K.C. has earned the ranking of ninth-best U.S. city for senior citizens due to its low costs and fairly mild weather. And for entertainment, two professional sports teams – the Kansas City Chiefs and the Kansas City Royals – play at the Truman Sports Complex, located at the edge of the city near Interstates 70 and 435.

kansas city

8. Portland, Oregon

Ranked the second best city for food enthusiasts and the second-most fiscally fit city, Portland has become a mecca for both fine dining and a high quality of life. Its 550,000 inhabitants live an hour from the beach and an hour from the mountains, while also living amongst nearly 25 acres of park lands for every 1,000 residents.

The median income of $56,000 does get dinged by the 9% income tax, but the city does not charge any sales tax. And while the public transportation system is a model for the rest of the country, often the weather is less than desirable. With 42 inches of rain each year, you have to enjoy cloudy days and precipitation to make a go of it in Portland.


9. San Diego, California

San Diego has some of the best weather in the country, so there is good reason why more than 1.2 million people call this oceanside city home. Of course, the two professional sports teams, 200 museums, world-class restaurants and bars, and easy access to ocean and mountain sports also factors in.

Residents average an annual income of approximately $62,000, but real estate prices and taxes are higher than average, with home prices around $392,000, a sales tax of 7.75%, and an income tax of 9.3%. However, the city experiences 266 sunny days per year with daily temperatures averaging around 70 degrees, and the views from the city are gorgeous. The price might be high, but the rewards are great.

san diego

10. Raleigh, North Carolina

Bloomberg chose Raleigh as the best place to live in the U.S., and for good reason. It’s the largest city in the Research Triangle Park (comprised of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill), meaning there are plenty of jobs for qualified professionals. The unemployment rate is several notches below the national average, and workers have a median income of $53,370. The area also offers three quality universities: North Carolina State University, Duke, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Raleigh has a lot to offer both students and professionals. If you like living in an area that experiences a change of seasons but avoids extreme climate swings, you really couldn’t do better than Raleigh, North Carolina.


Final Word

For those of you considering a move to a new city, this list should give you a good jumping-off point to begin your exploration. Whether you are looking for snow-covered mountains, sunny days at the beach, or fine dining and nightlife, there is a city that will please you.

Remember, it is important to carefully weigh all considerations and options before choosing a place to settle down, as there are many factors to consider when deciding the best place to live. If you are starting a family or if money is tight, you will likely want to avoid the costliest places, such as those in California. Quality of life is of vital importance, and you don’t want to make life harder than it needs to be by choosing a place that ultimately makes you uncomfortable.

If you could live anywhere in the United States, where would you choose?

(photo credit: Shutterstock, Bigstock)

David Quilty
David Quilty is a freelance writer living outside Santa Fe, NM. After burning out working in the entertainment field in Los Angeles for many years, David decided to strike out on his own and follow his passions for writing, web design, politics, and green living on a dirt road in rural New Mexico.

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  • Sean H

    I’m a huge North Carolina fan (the state in general, not sports) so I would say that I would move there. Plus, what I have seen from NC, the people there are so dang nice.

    • Pam

      the people in charlotte are fake and at best holier than tho! If you don’t fit into the “southern charm” image, they dismiss you. I’m a Texas transplant and have been looked down on and offended every day. By both the locals and the northern rejects, Charlotte is by far the worst city to live in!

  • Jaynee

    I live in the Charlotte, NC area and was shocked that Charlotte ranked so high. The housing market is suffering (a lot of foreclosures and buyers sitting on their money hoping values go down more (and they are because owners panic and reduce the price for a quick sale), and jobs are not as plentiful as they once were. Yes, we’re starting to rebound – but it is very slow going because people keep moving here and glut the job market (and rent rather than buy)!!!

  • http://www.moneyspruce.com/ Jeffrey Trull

    Wow, most of my top cities made the list, but I like the surprises, too. I’ll have to give Omaha and Boise a shot and visit them at some point to see.

    • LongTom

      Don’t bother. Omaha, Kansas City, and Boise, are at best ordinary. You could just as easily substitute Des Moines, Buffalo, and Helena. I could name 18 other cities that aren’t any less “wonderful” than those three.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000002774924 Graham Green

        I lived in Sydney, Australia before moving to Kansas City and have visited many big cities around the world and the US and can say Kansas City definitely deserves to be on the list, it’s a great place to live.

        • adis b

          Q: how is it in Australia 1Cost 2 Gas3 Rent 4Crime 5 Temperature what’s your thoughts as to this matter ?

  • Jeff

    Glad Kansas City, Missouri made the rankings. However, I though Tampa, Florida would possible make the Top Ten. Thoughts?

    • Jack

      Tampa is only beautiful in pictures. It is a dirty, crime-ridden, unfriendly city. Lived there for one year and ran back to Naples, Florida… Can’t tell you that Naples is the best place on earth but it sure beats Tampa, Orlando, Ft Myers.
      I recently took a trip to Savannah, GA and was pretty impressed.

      • domzbinique

        Savannah is perfect. mainly for the nightlife, and its historical features. other than that you kinda have to live here to understand the vibes. it seems like everyone is related to one another believe it or not, black and white. Lol

  • http://www.sailmortgage.com/ Pittsburgh Mortgage Loans

    As a KC resident, I can confirm that this place is awesome. And “relatively low” doesn’t even begin to describe how cheap it can be to live here. There are definitely some expensive, well-established subdivisions in the suburbs, but if you’re willing to drive a little more there are tons of cheap properties in the area.
    That being said, our weather isn’t exactly “mild.” More like “extremely unpredictable.” It’s 83 and humid today, it was 60 and dry two days ago.

  • http://www.tshirtriches.com Cartess Ross

    I’ve been eying Omaha for a minute — need to go check it out!

  • Erica Gott

    They all sound wonderful. My faves of these 10: Portland, Austin, Boulder, San Diego, San Francisco, North Carolina (I might prefer Asheville). I would love to live by the ocean, and I’d prefer more temperate climes. I’m from North Texas where it gets uber hot. However, who wouldn’t want to live in Austin??

  • Anonymous

    Omaha is the most boring city. Its snow and cold 6 months a year, and the 3 of the remaining 6 months its either hot or bad weather.

    • max Corbin


  • http://www.facebook.com/patty.hickman Patty Hickman

    We had to leave Charlotte when the banking failures affected all of the job industries there. But we would love to go back. Everything you hear about Charlotte is right. It’s a beautiful clean city with a pretty cityscape, but not overly large so fairly easy to navigate. If you visit, be sure to head straight for a real French bakery called Amelies. The smell of butter will tempt you with every hand-made delicacy you see in the dessert cases.

    • max Corbin

      I hate Charlotte! What a boring place! Crime every day! I’m out of the junk city! !!

  • Talldarkgreg

    I am surprised Nashville or Denver didn’t make the list and i have visited both cities Nashville is cosmopolitan like Atlanta or Miami but the residents are among the freindliest i had encountered besides the characters i had encountered in Austin last year. I lived in Denver for 17 years LoDo,Downtown especially 16th Street was wondrously superb. Denver in my opinion was like a mini New York City it also has a fabulous restaurant scene.

  • LongTom

    Just talked to a former Raleigh resident who said there is lots of street crime and racial tension. Omaha? To quote a great American satirist, “Nothing good ever happened in Nebraska.” Kansas City? What makes it different from any one of a dozen cities on the Plains? “Having seen it, I desire urgently never to see it again.” As for Boise, you could just as easily substitute Idaho for Nebraska in the above quote.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000002774924 Graham Green

    The is a 3rd pro sports team in Kansas City that does much better than either of those mentioned, MLS team Sporting Kansas City.

  • Connor

    I live in Raleigh and its a GREAT city. There is much to do and is also part of The Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) which are all easy to get to and there are many things to do there. Its usually pretty cheap too, ex: the Durham Bulls, a minor league baseball team in Durham; their tickets are only a few bucks. If any one was thinking about moving there, you should. There is constant growth and is good for students and adults. People are also very friendly. Some other great cities in NC are: Charlotte, Ashville, Wilmington, Greensboro, Winston Salem, Chapel Hill, etc.

    • Guest

      Connor, how is the traffic and how is the commute from a good apartment complex to downtown (place of work) at around 7:30 am?

  • Martin Method

    6 of these cities have also been voted the worst cities in America to live in.

  • Shadowman

    Well, i’m not exactly an expert on this matter…but anyway, an interesting list!
    If i had to choose one american city that really surprised me, one city which 10 years ago i wasn’t even aware of, one city i thought it was nothing special but as soon as i took a look i REALLY enjoyed…it would be Raleigh! Damn…what a NICE place, i got the feeling the whole area is a BIG PARK…because everything is so green, fresh and clean…in fact, it’s not just Raleigh, i think North Carolina in general is really nice, it’s one of those underated hideouts that media rarely portrays, and i think it’s a shame…
    I only started getting curious about the Carolina area by watching the “Hardy Show” (an internet show made by the Hardy brothers)…funny but true!
    Anyway…so i think Raleigh REALLY deserves the place here in the list (just like Charlotte too).
    Other place listed here that i really like is Boulder…well, what can i say? Colorado it’s just…COLORADO!
    Apart from that, i ALWAYS loved San Francisco since my childhood years, but in my opinion (and realistical speaking), San Francisco is the perfect place to live in? Well, yes…if you have LOTS of money! (just like pretty much 95% of California) lool
    Don’t take me wrong, i LOVE San Francisco, but this list should be more focused on just the places where the chances of a guy starting a family and being able to live an healthy balanced life to be at least 80%.

  • gigi

    San Diego is indeed the most beautiful city in the U.S. with the best weather. I lived there for 30 years. I was forced to moved because I simply couldn’t afford to stay. If you can afford 500K for a one bedroom condo, then move there. If you don’t have a six-figure income, then don’t bother going there because you will end up living in the ghetto. A real estate agent was desperately trying to help me find a house. I wanted a house, not a condo. The best he could come up with was a MOBILE HOME for 400K, plus $700 per month space rent! I moved to Nashville and my 400K bought me a 4000 sq. ft. mansion.

  • Ron

    #7 is Kansas City, but in the text they say it’s ninth-best. Dumb!
    It also says mild weather, this guy is an idiot! Obviously he doesn’t know about all the damn ice in the winter. Sure it’s a good place for retired people, if they wanna break their damn hip.

  • Dayve

    I live in Temecula, CA, just north of San Diego. I have lived across the US and can honestly say San Diego is hard to beat. Temecula is great, safe, decent weather although it can be triple digits in the summer. We recently bought a condo in Scottsdale, AZ. Really like it there too.

  • me

    These are also like the 10 most boring cities to live in

  • not me

    I was surprised to see Portland on the list, but now that I look into it, it seems like a pretty great place.

    • KAndrews

      Portland is fun and full of funky hipsters. However, it is really expensive.

  • Priness

    I absolutely cannot believe Honolulu was not included. The weather is AWESOME all year around and the people are all full of the aloha spirit. Yes, it’s a little costly, but paradise comes with a price, does it not? I have lived in the mid-west and now Hawaii for 13 years and I will NEVER move back!

  • amir

    I think this is not correct list

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