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10 Best U.S. Cities to Live In

Americans 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.

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.

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.

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?

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.