For the past seven years, Livability.com has released a data-driven list of the Top 100 Best Places to Live in America.
Every year, the list changes: We do surveys and studies, adjust our algorithm, add in new variables and data points, and celebrate a new No. 1 city.
In 2020, many of the things that used to be a given about where and how we live suddenly became open-ended questions:
- What if you could work remotely and live anywhere?
- What if paying thousands of dollars a month to live in a big, expensive city wasn’t worth it anymore?
- What if the things that have always mattered — affordability, opportunity, safety, community — mattered more than ever?
Right now, millions of people are re-evaluating where they want to live. If you’re one of them, this list is for you. We analyzed more than 1,000 small to midsize cities on factors like safety, affordability, economic stability, outdoor recreation, accessibility, community engagement. This year’s list was also informed by a new metric: an “opportunity score” we used to determine each city’s landscape of opportunity, including variables like job numbers, broadband access, economic resilience and growth.
These 100 cities offer the exact things so many of us are craving right now: connection, affordability, and the space and opportunity to grow.
Ready to make a change? Here are the top 20 of the best 100 cities in the U.S.
1. Fort Collins, Colo.
No surprise here — set against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Collins is a vibrant and growing city that’s overflowing with opportunity. Families with small children, creatives, outdoor enthusiasts and high-tech entrepreneurs all feel at home in Fort Collins, the largest city in northern Colorado. With Colorado State University in the middle of town, innovation and enthusiasm course throughout the city, which is also a hub for craft-beer innovation. Plus, when you move here, you’ll instantly feel connected — Fort Collins has a friendly, welcoming culture with tons of groups, spaces and activities designed to bring people together, no matter your interests.
2. Ann Arbor, Mich.
Go blue! Ann Arbor is perhaps best known for being the home of the world-renowned University of Michigan, but this energetic city is so much more than a college town.
3. Madison, Wis.
Madison is a town that defies definition. It’s a sports-crazy college town, but also the staid seat of state government. It’s a great place for millennials and recent grads, with a high employment rate, but also rated among the best places in the country to retire.
4. Portland, Maine
The secret’s out — Portland, Maine, is on the rise, thanks to its supportive business climate, incredible quality of life and creative residents.
5. Rochester, Minn.
If you know the Mayo Clinic, then you know Rochester. This city in southeastern Minnesota is the birthplace of the world-renowned medical center and, perhaps unsurprisingly, offers a warm, caring atmosphere for visitors and new residents alike. Rochester has a thriving downtown, handy transportation options and a stable economy.
6. Asheville, N.C.
Asheville is known as both the world’s first Foodtopian Society and “Beer City USA,” boasting more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city. There are plenty of iconic destinations to explore around the city, including the Biltmore Estate, Blue Ridge Parkway and numerous quirky, welcoming neighborhoods, each with their own unique vibe.
7. Overland Park, Kan.
Overland Park — or OP as the locals like to call it — is not only the birthplace of that talented human/everyone’s imaginary BFF, Paul Rudd, but it’s also making the suburbs look cool again (yeah, we said it).
You might like: Where should I retire?
8. Fargo, N.D.
It’s no secret that Fargo is thriving. This tight-knit community in eastern North Dakota, often mentioned alongside its sister city, Moorhead, Minn., has it all — an affordable cost of living, a vibrant economy and a family-friendly vibe running through everything in town.
9. Durham, N.C.
From the arts to the outdoors, Durham is a cozy city teeming with opportunity. Located in the heart of North Carolina’s Research Triangle and home to Duke University and North Carolina Central University, the nation’s first public liberal-arts college for African-Americans, the city is a perfect combination of historic Southern charm (the American Tobacco Co. was founded here) and modern innovation.
Don’t miss: Best new money ideas
10. Sioux Falls, S.D.
Think South Dakota is boring? Think again. Sioux Falls is full of vitality and zeal. People here are genuinely friendly and there’s a lot to see and do — it’s managed to retain a small-town feel while offering residents all the big city amenities they could ever want. The city’s affordability, low crime rate, top-notch health care systems, great schools (including the Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota) and four-seasons climate make it the perfect place to build a life.
11. Columbus, Ohio
Sure, when you think of Columbus it’s only natural to conjure up images of Ohio State University and their eight-time championship-winning Buckeyes football team, but the city holds so much more than tailgating and university life (though, arguably, Columbus does this better than most other cities).
12. Lincoln, Neb.
Nebraska’s newest tongue-in-cheek slogan made headlines: “Nebraska, honestly it’s not for everyone. Of course, the opposite is true, especially when it comes to Lincoln. This progressive capital city is home to the University of Nebraska, super friendly people and so much opportunity. For starters, the unemployment rate here is ridiculously low — 2.4% in December 2019 — and it’s an incredibly affordable place to live, with plenty of room to spread out.
13. Charlotte, N.C.
Charlotte is known as the Queen City and is a crown jewel of the South, in large part due to its history, diversity and culture. Business is booming here as six Fortune 500 companies call Charlotte home, including Bank of America
The city is also a major travel hub and is home to Charlotte Douglas International, the world’s sixth busiest international airport.
14. Bismarck, N.D.
People are flocking to Bismarck, the capital city of North Dakota, thanks to its low cost of living, low unemployment rate and family-friendly amenities. The city, home to roughly 73,000 residents, is expected to continue to grow as more and more people seek out this vibrant community with a friendly, hard-working attitude.
15. Ames, Iowa
Welcome to Ames, home of Iowa State University, ridiculously friendly people and a quality of life you won’t find anywhere else. This ambitious city in the center of Iowa is home to more than 65,000 people, and growing fast thanks in part to the caliber and quantity of job opportunities here. People love living in Ames because it’s a genuinely great place to raise a family.
16. Albany, N.Y.
There’s a reason why Frank Sinatra didn’t sing his famous tune about making it in Albany, N.Y. — because it’s way easier to earn a living here. And a lot of people agree, which is why Albany had a population surge of over 17,000 people between 2010 and 2018. The capital region is particularly attracting immigrants because of a tight-knit network of immigrant families who already live there as well as a variety of quality job opportunities that don’t require college degrees.
17. Lawrence, Kan.
Think Lawrence is just a college town? Think again. While the University of Kansas does play a huge role in this city, there’s so much more to Lawrence. It’s got a friendly, Midwestern vibe and plenty of room for your family to stretch their wings. Plus, the economy is robust and jobs are plentiful, ranging from manufacturing to publishing to data services.
18. Salt Lake City
Bordered by the Western Hemisphere’s largest salt lake and cradled by the Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake City is postcard-perfect. Residents here can get from downtown to the chairlifts in an hour, and the area’s snow is so good it’s dubbed the “Greatest Snow on Earth.” (You may remember the Winter Olympics were held here in 2002.) In addition to great skiing, Salt Lake City has an up-and-coming brewery scene, lots of museums to explore, plus free tours at Temple Square to learn the history of Mormon pioneers.
19. Corvallis, Ore.
Home to Oregon State University, Corvallis is a thriving college town — and then some. The city in western Oregon is home to roughly 58,000 highly educated residents working in everything from research to health care. The quality of life you’ll find in Corvallis is unparalleled, thanks to its proximity to nature, its laid-back vibe and myriad sustainability initiatives. Plus, public transportation is free and commute times are low.
20. Iowa City, Iowa
Iowa City, the original capital of the state of Iowa and home to the University of Iowa, is a fun, smart, and easy-to-live-in city. It has the energetic, youthful vibe of a college town mixed with a sophisticated and curious culture filled with excellent restaurants and famous bookstores.