Chicago or Los Angeles? Seattle or Austin? Boston or Denver? When it comes to picking the greatest cities to live in America, everyone has an opinion. Some people want great weather and others want great food. Some crave stunning scenery and awesome outdoor activities and others won’t be satisfied if there’s not a lively arts scene. But strip away those superficial factors and most people can agree that the best places to live share certain characteristics: They’re safe, they have strong economies, and they’re relatively affordable.
With those criteria in mind, U.S. News & World Report decided to put together a list of the best places to live in America in 2016. Each of the 100 most populous cities in the country was ranked using information from a variety of sources. Data from the Department of Labor, Census Bureau, and the FBI was used to assess a city’s unemployment rate, average salary, typical household income, cost of living, crime rates, average commute time, and other factors. The results of some of U.S. News’ other “best of” lists were used to judge cities’ quality of education and health care. Finally, people were polled about the cities where they would most like to live. Then the magazine used all that information to calculate a score for each city. You can read more about the methodology here.
The top cities were scattered across the country, from the Pacific Coast to the Mountain West to the Midwest. They varied in size, too. Some of the best places to live in the U.S. are sprawling metropolises, while others are smaller burgs. What almost all had in common was a special mix of a strong job market, good schools, low crime, and overall desirability that pushed them to the top of the list. These are the 15 best places to live in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report.
15. Charlotte, North Carolina
Reasonable housing costs are one reason this North Carolina city of 2.3 million is such a desirable place to live. The average house in Charlotte costs $184,600, compared to the national average $218,867. Mild (albeit humid) weather is also a plus, as are the 13 area high schools on the U.S. News & World Report Best High School’s list and a crime rate that’s lower than cities of a similar size. One down side to living in Charlotte? The city’s public transportation isn’t great.
14. Sarasota, Florida
The Gulf Coast city of Sarasota (population 722,784) is the perfect place for those searching for sunny weather and beach vibes. At 4.4%, the unemployment rate is low, but a high number of service industry jobs drag down the average salary to just under $40,000, compared to the national average of $47,230. Housing costs are on par with the national average. Young singles may feel a bit out of place in Sarasota, though. The average age of residents is 50, and more than half of the population is married, above the national average.
13. Grand Rapids, Michigan
With a metro area population of about 1 million, Grand Rapids is the second-largest city in Michigan. The average house costs about $150,000, commutes are short (about 22 minutes, on average), and the schools are good. All that plus a cost of living that’s significantly below the national average makes this one of the best places to live for young families. Young people are already taking note of what the city has to offer: The average age of residents is just 35. But if you move here, you will need to be able to put up with the cold, snowy winters.
12. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul offer big-city amenities in an affordable package. The cities boast major league sports teams; top cultural attractions like the Walker Art Center and Guthrie Theater; and great restaurants such as St. Genevieve, named one of the best new restaurants in the country by Bon Appétit. Unemployment is low (just 3.1%) and the $52,000 average annual salary is higher than the national median. The winters can be brutal, though features like downtown skyways help residents cope with frigid temps.
11. Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines may not be flashy, but that’s part of its Midwestern charm. Iowa’s capital city is relatively small – the total metro area population is under 600,000 – making it a good fit for people who want to mix small-town lifestyle with more urban amenities. Crime is low, houses are cheap compared to bigger Midwestern cities like Chicago and Minneapolis, and there are four top-ranked high schools in the area.
10. San Jose, California
Techies gravitate to San Jose. Google and Apple both have their headquarters nearby, as do Yahoo, Adobe, and many other companies. Lots of jobs in the tech industry help to push the average salary in San Jose to $75,770, but bigger paychecks may not be enough to compensate for high housing costs. The average home costs $777,600 and the average rent is $1,629. Once they find a place to live, residents enjoy the area’s mild, dry climate, relatively easy access to San Francisco via public transit, and proximity to outdoor activities at nearby state and county parks.
9. San Francisco, California
San Francisco is ideal for those looking for a cosmopolitan big city to call home. It’s one of the most diverse large cities in the U.S., according to WalletHub, and is known for its excellent restaurants, great museums, and diverse architecture. Public transportation is extensive and fewer people drive than in other major cities, but housing is costly. The average house costs $646,250 and monthly rents average $1,446. The average annual salary is $64,990.
8. Washington, D.C.
The nation’s capital is one of the best places to live in the country. At nearly $65,000 annually, the average salary in Washington, D.C., is higher than most other cities, though that’s somewhat balanced out by higher-than-normal housing costs. Many people work for the federal government, but there are also jobs in health care, education, and at big companies like Geico. The area is home to numerous top-ranked high schools and colleges, and there are plenty of free museums to keep you busy. The crime rate is below average for a city of its size, but as with any large city, some neighborhoods are safer than others.
7. Seattle, Washington
Seattle is the seventh-best city to live in the U.S., combining a strong job market (Amazon and Microsoft are both headquartered here), lively arts scene, and proximity to outdoor activities. Public schools are highly ranked and crime is low. Traffic can be nasty, however, due to the city’s unique geography, and the cost of living is relatively high.
6. Boise, Idaho
A low cost of living makes Boise, the largest city in Idaho, an attractive choice for many. The metro area has a population of about 640,000, and the average commute is a reasonable 21.5 minutes. Average salaries are a bit below the national average, at $41,550. Crime is low, as are taxes, and though the city is in the heart of a red state, residents here are pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
5. Colorado Springs, Colorado
The first of two Colorado cities on this list, Colorado Springs is a smaller, quieter alternative to Denver that still boasts easy access to skiing and other outdoor activities. Garden of the Gods, a stunning public park, is a popular local attraction. The city is also fairly conservative and religious (there’s a large population of evangelical Christians). Home prices and average salaries are about on par with national averages.
4. Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area (also known as the Triangle) is a bustling metro of about 1.7 million people. The city is a hub of tech and research jobs, but is more affordable than San Francisco or Seattle. The area is also home to more than 21 craft breweries and a 152-mile greenway system for biking and hiking. Several top universities are nearby, including the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Duke University.
3. Fayetteville, Arkansas
With a metro area population of just 483,000, Fayetteville doesn’t have the big-city feel of a San Francisco or Seattle, but residents like that just fine. The schools are good, crime is low, and good jobs can be found at area companies like Wal-Mart (headquartered in nearby Bentonville) and Tyson Foods. The average house costs $177,200, well below the national average.
2. Austin, Texas
When it comes to the best places to live in Texas, you can’t beat Austin. The state’s fast-growing capital city is known for its funky culture and unofficial slogan: “Keep Austin weird.” Music festivals like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest are popular with locals and visitors alike. Unemployment is lower than average, and while many people work for the state or the University of Texas, there’s also a growing tech presence in the area.
1. Denver, Colorado
Denver is the best place to live in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. The Mile High City has boomed in recent years, and the metro area is now home to nearly 3 million people. Population growth also caused a rise in home prices, which are up 10.5% over last year, according to Zillow. Jobs are available in a range of industries, including aerospace (Lockheed Martin’s Commerical Space division is headquartered there) and the burgeoning marijuana industry. Crime is relatively low when compared to other large cities, and there’s plenty to do, whether you want to take a day trip to the Rocky Mountains, grab a pint at one of the area’s many craft breweries, or catch a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.