10 best places to live in the US

Mon Feb 21 2022

A city skyline at dusk

With so many factors to consider, picking your next location may be daunting. We researched five key criteria homeowners need to weigh when buying their next home and came up with these 10 best places to live in the US.

How we chose the best places to live

We used a scale between one and 10 to score popular US cities on the following five criteria:

  1. Cost of living. Cities with a higher cost of living index (145 or higher) earned scores of five or lower.
  2. Housing costs. Affordability is always a factor, but maybe more so during this era of inflation. We gave cities with lower median housing costs higher scores.
  3. Lifestyle. Cities were given a score based on recreation options available in the area, including outdoor activities, arts, and sports.
  4. Crime rate. We used crime rates from NeighborhoodScout to evaluate safety in each city. Higher crime rates resulted in lower scores for this criteria.
  5. Schools. We focused on testing data from Public School Review to evaluate each city’s schools. The higher the average test score, the better we ranked the city’s schools.

We added the scores for a total out of 50 to determine our favorite cities in the US. The chart below lists our top 10, along with their total scores and their scores for each criterion. Scroll past it to get the highlights of what we learned about each city and why it earns a spot among the best places to live in the US.

Top 10 best places to live in the US

Total Cost of living Housing Lifestyle Crime Schools
Austin 40 10 6 8 7 9
Boise 40 10 6 7 9 8
Tampa 38 10 8 9 7 4
Tempe 35 7 7 8 7 6
Boulder 34 4 2 10 9 9
Alexandria 34 8 6 8 10 2
Baton Rouge 32 9 9 8 2 4
Salt Lake City 32 10 7 8 4 3
Des Moines 31 9 10 7 4 1
Pasadena 31 3 1 10 7 10

1. Austin, Texas

Score: 40/50

With a population of nearly 1 million residents, Austin is the largest city on our list of best places. It ranks high for its cost of living index (66.51), which earned the city a full 10 points in our scoring system, and for its schools. However, housing in Austin is expensive. The city’s median listing price is $579,000, well above the nation’s median of $374,900.

That said, Austins’s hot summers and mild winters gives residents plenty of opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and the many cultural activities Austin has to offer.

2. Boise, Idaho

Score: 40/50

Idaho has been booming for a while now, and Boise is a prime example of how popular the Gem State has become. The city’s population grew by 8 percent over the last three years, brought on in part by people looking to enjoy the area’s affordability and access to fantastic hiking and biking trails. Moreover, Boise boasts a vibrant cultural scene that includes several museums and a thriving performing arts community.

However, boomtowns come with boomtown prices, particularly when you look at housing costs. The median listing price reached $510,000 in December 2021, but you may be able to balance that out through an overall low cost of living index (68.30).

3. Tampa, Florida

Score: 38/50

Clearly, Tampa benefits from Florida’s beautiful weather and world-class beaches. Locals take advantage of both, whether that means boating, fishing, or golf. But Tampa is also home to a variety of performing arts venues, popular nightlife districts, and sports teams.

At 75.46, the cost of living index is higher than the first two cities on our list, but the median housing cost is just $351,400. That combined with no state income tax, could make Tampa a budget friendly option. The only dealbreaker might be the cost of Tampa home insurance, but we may be able to help you with that.

4. Tempe, Arizona

Score: 35/50

Tempe is where a college town meets industry. Many major corporations call the city home and recruit from Arizona State University. The result is that Tempe’s anticipated job growth for the next 10 years outstrips the rest of the US. The university also attracts artists and performers of all stripes, plus the area is known for exceptional hiking and golf.

The flip side of that positive job growth and abundance of activities may be the cost of living. Tempe’s cost of living index is 112.6 and median home price is $475,000.

5. Boulder, Colorado

Score: 34/50

Boulder, another college town, is an outdoor lovers’ haven. Residents are just minutes away from hiking, rock climbing, and world-class skiing, plus the area’s temperate climate and 300 days of sunshine means they can enjoy the outdoors more often than not. Another benefit? The area’s growth hasn’t diminished its small-town feel where people love being part of the community.

Expenses, however, are high in Boulder. As of December 2021, the median house listing price was $899,000 with a cost of living index of 167.4. But that may be the tradeoff for a top-notch education Boulder schools’ test scores are in the top 90 percent in the nation.

6. Alexandria, Virginia

Score: 34/50

The biggest draw for Alexandria has to be its proximity to historical landmarks and cultural events. But locals also know the city offers approximately 950 acres of parks, a delightful array of restaurants, and a diverse population. Alexandria also claims the lowest crime rate out of all the cities on our list of best places to live.

Unfortunately, living in Alexandria isn’t cheap. In May 2021, the average home price skyrocketed to $710,000. That settled down to a median of $550,000 in December, but the cost of living index sits at 112.6.

7. Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Score: 32/50

College sports may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Baton Rouge, but the city is also proud of its extensive park system, expanding visual arts scene, and variety of architectural points of interest. Plus, Baton Rouge is probably one of the most cost-effective cities in the country. The median home price in the city is $244,900 – $130,000 below the national median – and the cost of living index is 91.7.

Baton Rouge also offers much of the good food and music found in nearby New Orleans. But this location means the city also sees more than its share of hurricanes, and that typically translates into higher-than-average home insurance costs.

8. Salt Lake City, Utah

Score: 32/50

Salt Lake City mixes amazing scenery with affordable homes and a growing tech industry. The city’s median home price is $499,900. That’s higher than the national median, but when you add in the reasonable cost of living (64.96), Salt Lake City becomes a viable option for many homeowners, including single professionals and young families.

Although skiing and snowboarding will always have their place, Salt Lake’s cultural scene is much more than winter sports. Residents can also enjoy professional and amateur theater, several museums, and a host of festivals celebrating the area’s diversity.

9. Des Moines, Iowa

Score: 31/50

With over 215,000 people, Des Moines is a good-sized city with a diverse population that somehow manages to maintain a sense of community. At least some of that’s due to the city’s cultural events and festivals. Even better? Des Moines may be the most affordable city on our list of best places to live. The median home price of $173,000 is among the most reasonable in the country, and the cost of living index sits at 96.

10. Pasadena, California

Score: 31/50

Pasadena is more than just a college football mecca. Art festivals frequent its parks, and locals are close to great hiking and skiing. However, Pasadena received low scores for its high cost of living (188.6) and median home price of over $1 million. But this may be the right location for people willing to pay to be near a major US city or for top-rated schools.


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