When deciding where to put down roots, many factors are in the eye of the beholder, such as climate, politics, or proximity to extended family.
Other aspects are coveted by nearly everybody: affordable housing, access to well-paying jobs, a low cost of living, good schools, and quality healthcare.
Earlier this week, U.S. News and World Report released its annual list of the best places to live in the United States. Some of the results may surprise you (why hello, Arkansas!). Keep in mind that one of the metrics used in the rankings is the current job market, so if you are looking for a change, you’ve come to the right place.
1. Denver, CO
The tech industry as a vitalizing force has been a common denominator on this list (San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin). In Denver, however, the higher-than-average median income and historically progressive populace has birthed a city that goes far beyond the usual spread of tech office campuses. The Mile High City—and some recent legislation gives that nickname a whole new meaning—is built around, and with a great deal of respect, for the mountain range that surrounds it. Its residents love to climb, run, bike, kayak, ski, and interact with their environment in whatever way they can, and it’s that tendency that keeps them so healthy. When it’s time to blow off some steam, their city offers some of the world’s best libations, from ale to vodka, all made with an emphasis on local and sustainable ingredients.
2. Austin, TX
We all know it as the “Live Music Capital of the World” and have been told over and over again to “keep it weird,” and both labels are very much a part of why people love living in Austin. Yes, there are seemingly more venues than musicians (and there are a whole lot of musicians), and when a naked man in a cowboy hat zooms past you on a skateboard and no one even blinks, you know the city is plenty weird. But these trends are really just encapsulations of something more profound about Austin. Its very existence—as a haven for students, weirdos, artists, tech nerds, and families alike, in the middle of a generally conservative state—is an act of rebellion itself, and the source of a strong, and unique, understanding of Texas Pride. To some, that sense of home might be threatened, as around 100 people move to the city every day, and prices rise as a result. But we have a feeling Austin will figure out how to keep it’s singular charm. It always has.
3. Fayetteville, AR
It may be surprising to see Fayetteville, a small city in Arkansas on the edge of the Ozark National Forest, taking home the bronze medal. But much of Fayetteville’s appeal comes from its promising future. The town is down the street from the Bentonville headquarters of Walmart and home to the flagship campus of the state’s university system; and its population, just shy of half a million, is growing quickly. But unlike many cities around the country that see prices sky-rocket as more and more people move in, Fayetteville’s cost of living remains a full 20 percent lower than the national average.
4. Raleigh-Durham, NC
Although any resident of Raleigh or Durham would give you an earful for every hyphen used to conjoin the two separate cities, U.S. News groups them together, due to the major airport that serves both towns. That being said, co-mingling the disparate cities is one of only a few things that rile up residents of the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill), who embody the charm and hospitality for which the South is so well known. Get used to smiles, hellos, and doors held open for you as you head to the world’s biggest beer garden or downtown for public art and a fast-rising food scene.
5. Colorado Springs, CO
When your city limits include a park called Garden of the Gods, you know you’re somewhere worth staying—and in Colorado Springs, you can actually afford to. Unlike many of the cities on this list, Colorado Springs actually is within the national average when it comes to cost of living, especially in comparison to cities of similar size. Even with a recent boom downtown—which is still dominated by local businesses, not chains—housing costs haven’t increased too dramatically. All of this means that the long-time locals and recent transplants who have made the city their home—claiming its natural beauty as their own—have no real reason to leave.
6. Boise, ID
Boise is the best of two worlds: a natural spot for a person who craves bucolic tranquility and the social buzz of a city. Even the city center understands the importance of striking that balance: One minute you’ll be walking between densely packed, homegrown businesses; the next, you’re jogging along the 25-mile Greenbelt that hugs the Boise River. No wonder we called it one of the most underrated cities in the U.S.
7. Seattle, WA
Amazon habits aside, Seattle residents understand the importance of spending time outdoors and balancing their work with time away from their desks (we dare you to try calling someone’s office after 5:30 p.m.). And they really know how to eat: The city is an under-the-radar foodie’s paradise. The city captures the mystique of the Northwest, mist and all, while remaining refreshingly low key—staying active and breathing in as much fresh air as possible. An evening bike ride, ending with a tasting at a craft brewery, is far more common than one spent in an overcrowded club.
8. Washington, D.C.
For too long, Washington has had a rep as a sterile, stuffy place—it’s fair to say our nation’s capital has become much more than squabbling politicos and twentysomethings in business casual. D.C., if you look a little deeper, is really a patchwork of neighborhoods that brings together the political elite, punk rock artists, diverse immigrant communities (hands-down the best Ethiopian food in North America), and students. While D.C. experiences the same problems regarding wealth inequality and neighborhood segregation as other major cities in the U.S., it’s also not a very large city, even if you count the affluent Maryland and Virginia suburbs that surround it, so disparate groups have to cross paths on a daily basis, whether that’s on the best metro system in the country or in one of the many extensive (and mostly free) museums.
9. San Francisco, CA
Once you’ve climbed or cycled to the top of the Marin Headlands, and seen the Golden Gate Bridge reaching across the bay, it’s easy to understand why San Franciscans take so much pride in their hometown—and why they’re all in such good shape. There are few major cities in the world—maybe Sydney and Cape Town—that are as easy on the eyes and as conducive to an outdoorsy, active lifestyle as San Francisco. While the tech boom has led to soaring prices and a new type of San Franciscan, the spirit of the city’s bohemian, counter-culture past lives on in the diversity of its residents, and its food scene—whether you are after ceviche in the Mission District, dim sum in SoMa, or a Michelin-starred experience at Tusk.
10. San Jose, CA
San Jose is at the heart of Silicon Valley, and so we often equate it with overworked millennials in flip-flops, paying some of the highest rents in the country. But there’s another side to the boom-or-bust dynamic of the city’s economy: the strong sense of job satisfaction that residents report. Very few cities match the entrepreneurial spirit of San Jose, and living at the doorstep of Google and Apple imbues San Jose with a creative energy embodied in attractions like the largest Monopoly board in the world and an entire museum dedicated to innovation. The fact that a cloud in the sky is a rare sighting definitely helps San Jose’s livability—now if only its residents could spend some more time basking in that sunshine, instead of the glow of their computer screens.