America’s 50 best towns to live in,
By Sid Lipsey
Rochester just earned some serious Midwest bragging rights.
Minnesota’s third-largest city has taken over the No. 1 spot on Livability.com’s list of the best places to live for 2016, knocking last year’s winner, Madison, Wisconsin, to third place. Rochester placed second last year.
Rochester, home of the world-famous Mayo Clinic, was cited for its health care scene, as well as its schools, affordable housing and entertainment options.
The Seattle suburb of Bellevue, Washington, came in at No. 2. Santa Barbara, California, and Boulder, Colorado, round out the Top 5.
This is Livability.com’s third annual Best Places to Live rankings, for which the site partnered with New York University’s School of Professional Studies and the research firm EMSI pored over reams of data, both public and private, on more than 2,100 U.S. cities with populations between 20,000 and 350,000.
Sorry, New York and L.A.! We asked Livability.com about that. “The big cities always get the most attention, but big cities aren’t for everyone,” Livability.com editor Matt Carmichael tells Yahoo Homes. “We know that there are great places to live in these smaller to midsize communities, and we want to shine some light on them and tell their stories.” (Small towns are broken out in a separate list; you can find last year’s on the Livability.com website, with the next installment due soon.)
Cities were judged in eight categories: their economy, housing, amenities, infrastructure, demographics, “social and civic capital,” education and healthcare. Those categories factor in such elements as affordability, crime, diversity, infrastructure and climate. The selection of these factors was informed by an Ipsos Public Affairs survey in which 2,000 people were asked what qualities they like in their cities.
“Our name is ‘Livability,’ so it’s important for us to get this right,” Carmichael says of the rigorous, months-long study. You can read more about its methodology on its website.
“We’re not turning around tomorrow and doing a list of top celebrities, or top pets or top celebrity pets,” he says. “We’re focused on best places to live, so we invest in the exclusive research, work with the best collaborators and listen to our advisors as we put this ranking together.”
So if you’re looking for a change of scene that’s somewhere between a big city and a small town, Livability.com’s list of Best Places to Live has 100 worthy candidates. Here are the top 50 and what makes them so special. Where available, we’ve also noted the median sales price for homes in each city, provided by Trulia.
50: Irvine, California
Median home sales price: $717,000
Irvine makes so many “best places to live” lists, what’s another one? Home to 10 colleges, Irvine’s big industries are education and technology. Livability.com also cites its low crime rates.
49: Arlington, Virginia
Median home sales price: $595,000
If Washington, D.C., had boroughs like New York City, Arlington would almost certainly be one. Washington’s top industry, the federal government, is front and center in this suburb. Many residents work for the government, which has several agencies in the city, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Transportation Security Administration and the Defense Department (they’re in that pentagon-shaped building near the Potomac). Livability.com also cites the city’s “strong educational system, growing economy, and thriving arts and culture scene.”
48: Lincoln, Nebraska
Median home sales price: $159,000
The home of the University of Nebraska makes this list because of factors like its “refined restaurants, trendy shopping centers and historic sites.” Local industry, which includes manufacturing and service businesses, contribute to the area’s low unemployment rate.
47: Reno, Nevada
Median home sales price: $269,500
We all know that Reno attracts lots of tourists with its ski resorts, golf courses, hiking trails and bodies of water. But Livability.com also highlights Reno’s “arts scene and affordable housing options” as well as its “hard to beat” nightlife “full of nightclubs, bars and art galleries.”
46: Columbia, Missouri
The University of Missouri makes its home here (as did Brad Pitt, Jon Hamm and Sheryl Crow when they went to school here). Livability.com raves about Columbia’s “excellent health-care system, great schools and high-quality amenities.”
45: Menlo Park, California
Median home sales price: $2,062,500
We can see why so many people “Like” Menlo Park: Facebook’s based here. This Silicon Valley town is touted for its educated and environmentally aware population. CNN also ranked it on its list of “Best Places for the Rich and Single.” With Menlo Park’s $2 million median home price, better make that the “VERY Rich and Single.”
44: Lafayette, Colorado
Median home sales price: $376,650
A short drive from Denver and Boulder, Lafayette is known for its “quality health-care facilities, varied housing options, and a politically and socially active population.” Livability.com also gives it props for its miles of trails and 19 parks.
43: Manhattan, Kansas
You won’t find that other Manhattan on this list — remember, Livability.com’s looking only at small and midsize cities. But Manhattan, Kansas, represents the name very well on this list. Kansas State University is credited with fueling the town’s economy, and Livability.com points out the town’s Aggieville district, which “draws more than just sports fans with a solid lineup of bars, restaurants and shops.”
42: Newton, Massachusetts
Median home sales price: $670,000
With its historic homes and excellent schools, Newton appeals to those “who want to live near Boston, but also enjoy a small-town vibe,” according to Livability.com.
41: Loveland, Colorado
Median home sales price: $273,980
A good health care system, a strong economy and its various outdoor activities landed Loveland on this list, as did its “authentic arts community.”
40: Scottsdale, Arizona
Median home sales price: $388,000
Livability.com highlight’s Scottsdale “rugged appeal and cosmopolitan feel” in its praise of this Arizona city. Its desert activities, golf courses, nightclubs and spas earn it raves. And not only did it make Livability’s list, it was cited as “The Greatest City in the World” in The Onion’s classic takedown of New York City.
39: Billings, Montana
Montana’s largest city gets a shout-out from Livability.com for its “growing medical sector, booming oil industry, affordable housing and spectacular natural amenities.”
38: Corvallis, Oregon
Bicyclists certainly love it here; the League of American Bicyclists gave Corvallis a gold rating. And not that this is any endorsement of drinking and bicycling, but some of the city’s bike trails lead to craft breweries. Corvallis is also home to Oregon State University.
37: Honolulu, Hawaii
Median home sales price: $424,500
The fact that it’s in Hawaii might automatically put a city in “best place to live” territory, but Livability.com says Honolulu has enough to recommend it apart from its location. There’s Honolulu’s “cultural offerings, strong economy and quality health-care industry” as well as its education system; the University of Hawaii and Chaminade University are here.
36: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Median home sales price: $349,000
Another vibrant college town cited by Livability.com, Chapel Hill is known for its “ripe arts and cultural scene” that draws students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and other nearby schools.
35: Ames, Iowa
Median home sales price: $196,500
Home of Iowa State University, Ames is noted for its “35 woodland parks, more than 30 miles of bike and walking trails, five golf courses, and a vibrant downtown.”
34: Bozeman, Montana
Home to Montana State University, a college with 15,000 students, Bozeman makes Livability.com’s list for its “growing technology sector,” “highest quality” healthcare providers and “surrounding outdoor amenities.” And “Star Trek” fans know it as the place where humans make first contact with alien beings in 2063, so you might want to move there soon!
33: Ventura, California
Median home sales price: $480,000
Livability.com loves Ventura’s healthcare and education systems. Surfers will appreciate that Ventura is home to Surfer’s Point, one of the country’s top surfing spots.
32: Missoula, Montana
“A stellar health-care system, lots of affordable housing and high performing schools” are what earns Missoula its spot on Livability.com’s list. It has lots of outdoor options — including mountains, rivers and more than 400 acres of parkland — as well as indoor amenities in the way of coffee houses, restaurants, bookstores and breweries.
31: Sarasota, Florida
Median home sales price: $233,000
“Year-round access to beautiful beaches, challenging golf courses, a collection of lakes and a thriving downtown” are among the reasons Livability.com put Sarasota on its list.
30: Davis, California
Median home sales price: $543,000
This town earned a “platinum” designation from the League of American Bicyclists. It earned its spot on Livability.com’s list for its “strong schools, stable economy and excellent health care,” as well as its politically active residents.
29: San Luis Obispo, California
Median home sales price: $595,000
Long known as the “happiest place to live,” San Luis Obispo earns praise for its “youthful vibe” and abundant outdoor activities, including a number of trails, parks and recreational facilities.
28: Grand Forks, North Dakota
Livability.com praises North Dakota’s third-largest city for its “diverse economy that encompasses education, defense, health care and research.”
27: Boise, Idaho
Idaho’s capital as well as its largest city, Boise is cited for its “cultural amenities,” which Livability.com says “are just as impressive as its natural surroundings.”
26: Lakewood, Colorado
Median home sales price: $325,000
Lakewood’s Rocky Mountain views, its growing assortment of shops and restaurants and its “strong economy” earn it a spot on Livability.com’s list.
25: Kirkland, Washington
Median home sales price: $470,000
Livability.com named Kirkland one of its most improved cities, citing its higher scores in nearly all of its quality of life measures (especially social and civic engagement, housing and economy). Northwest University and Lake Washington Technical College are based here.
24: Littleton, Colorado
Median home sales price: $347,000
The titutar town in “South Park” is based on Littleton, hometown of one of the show’s co-creators. Livability.com likes its “quaint downtown filled with shops and restaurants … surrounded by trails that lead to neighborhood parks, lakes, and the South Platte River.”
23: Longmont, Colorado
Median home sales price: $285,000
Like the other Colorado towns on this list, Longmont earns praise for its access to outdoor activities. Livability.com also raves about its “thriving arts scene, great schools, affordable housing options, and quality health care.”
22: Edina, Minnesota
Median home sales price: $460,000
High-quality schools, politically engaged residents and 1,550 acres of parkland and open space (“including a variety of youth sports, cross-country skiing trails and bike paths”) put Edina on this list.
21: Charlottesville, Virginia
The home of the University of Virginia is often named one of America’s best college towns, thanks to its “affordable housing, walkable neighborhoods, outdoor activities, historical attractions, dozens of locally owned shops and expansive restaurant scene.”
20: Olympia, Washington
Median home sales price: $261,169
Washington’s state capital makes the list for its beautiful natural surroundings, which include the Puget Sound, Capitol Lake and Capitol State Forest. Livability.com also brings up the city’s educational system (specifically, Evergreen State College and Saint Martin’s University) and its theater scene.
19: Santa Cruz, California
Median home sales price: $715,400
This place is made for outdoorsy types, with plenty of forests, lakes and beaches to keep hikers, surfers, divers and paddleboarders content. For the not-so-outdoorsy types, Livability.com says Santa Cruz offers “several performance venues and a bevy of restaurants.”
18: Ashland, Oregon
Median home sales price: $341,500
Ashland’s arts and entertainment scene, which includes an annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival, help liven up this college town (it’s home to Southern Oregon University). Film director David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “The Social Network”) graduated from Ashland High School.
17: Rockville, Maryland
Median home sales price: $503,245
Rockville’s restaurant scene also landed it on Livability.com’s “Top 10 Foodie Cities.” Its “quaint character,” “excellent schools” and its large library helped it land on this year’s list.
16: Rapid City, South Dakota
Livability.com notes Rapid City’s “amazing outdoor amenities, a vibrant arts scene and many affordable housing options” as well as its “growing manufacturing sector and excellent health care.”
15: Fargo, North Dakota
Try to put the movie (and its excellent TV adaptation) out of your mind for a second and appreciate the town itself. Livability.com compliments Fargo for its “diverse economy and affordable cost of living” and “outdoor attractions, museums, theaters and restaurants.” North Dakota State University is based here.
14: Overland Park, Kansas
“Overland Park provides residents with excellent schools, great recreational facilities, entertainment options and a stable economy,” says Livability.com.
13: Fort Collins, Colorado
Median home sales price: $313,000
While home to Colorado State University, Fort Collins has plenty more to recommend it. Hewlett Packard, Intel and National Semiconductor are among the high-tech companies located here. Fort Collins is also named one of the nation’s healthiest cities, thanks to its outdoor scene and health care system.
12: San Mateo, California
Median home sales price: $980,000
Livability.com says San Mateo is “among the most diverse cities in Silicon Valley, with a 43 percent minority population.” Also cited are San Mateo’s diverse “assortment of historic buildings, parks and restaurants.” Public transportation is widely used by the city’s environmentally aware residents.
11: Walnut Creek, California
Median home sales price: $730,000
Also one of Livability.com’s Best Foodie Cities, Walnut Creek stands out for its popular farmers markets. Its “politically active” residents and variety of entertainment and recreational options earned it high marks from Livability.com as well.
10: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Dozens of parks, its variety of neighborhoods, its schools and entertainment options landed Sioux Falls in Livability.com’s Top 10.
9: Iowa City, Iowa
The home of the University of Iowa gets strong marks for its “highly ranked schools and a strong health care system,” “affordable home prices” and its large assortment of arts and entertainment options.
8: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Median home sales price: $289,200
The 43,000-strong University of Michigan plays a big role in landing Ann Arbor on this list again. Livability.com says the university “plays a big role in the city’s economy and culture.” Livability.com also praised its parks, restaurant and shops.
7: Bismarck, North Dakota
North Dakota’s capital won raves for its “large park system with walking and biking trails, a growing economy, and attractions like Dakota Zoo, the Kirkwood Mall in downtown and a pair of excellent golf courses.” Livability.com also credits its “affordable housing market and excellent health care.”
6: Palo Alto, California
Median home sales price: $2,215,000
Living here certainly isn’t cheap, but Livability.com suggests Palo Alto is worth it. Its “politically active and socially minded” residents earn praise, as do the amenities, which include widespread high-speed Internet available throughout the city, “impressively designed parks and open spaces, and unique restaurants.”
5: Boulder, Colorado
Median home sales price: $525,000
Boulder’s “pristine natural surroundings, strong farm-to-table restaurant scene and dynamic arts and cultural attractions” land it on Livability.com’s list of Best Places to Live.
4: Santa Barbara, California
Median home sales price: $1,000,000
Tourists know about Santa Barbara’s cute shops, beautiful beaches and gorgeous mountain views. But Livability.com says those lucky enough to live here get to enjoy “great schools, a highly ranked health-care scene, strong economy, great farm-to-table restaurants, and fantastic weather” all year.
3: Madison, Wisconsin
Median home sales price: $215,000
Madison houses the state capital, the University of Wisconsin and one of the top-rated healthcare systems in the country. Plus, Livability.com cites its diversity, which “pairs well with an urban/suburban vibe.”
2: Bellevue, Washington
Median home sales price: $650,000
This Seattle suburb hits all the areas Livability.com looks for in its top cities: outdoor activities, bike paths and sidewalks, museums and restaurants abound, as do good schools. Like Madison, Bellevue also wins bonus points for its diversity — nearly 40% of the city’s population are minorities.
1: Rochester, Minnesota
After years on this list, Rochester finally takes the top spot. Livability.com says its economic boom played a big role in Rochester’s ascension, as businesses and new residents are flocking here. Plus, Rochester scored well for its schools, civil engagement, health care and affordable housing. Taken together, it was enough to put Rochester over the top.