Livability: The best little cities to live in the U.S. in 2021

For the past eight years, 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. 

Since last year, the whole world has changed and the way we work is completely different.

In 2021, many of the things that used to be a given about where and how we live suddenly became open-ended questions: 

If a remote job allowed you to work anywhere, what factors would you consider most important when deciding where to relocate? 

What monthly housing cost would you consider affordable? 

How have your housing needs and priorities changed since the start of the pandemic? 

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. Respondents were asked if they could work from anywhere, which factors would be most heavily considered when choosing to relocate and how housing needs and priorities have changed since the beginning of the pandemic. Since March 2020, more than 42% of the U.S. population has either moved or considered moving

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? Read on to discover your perfect place…

1. Madison, Wis.

Population: 262,418

Madison, Wis.


Madison, Wis., has a longstanding reputation as one of the best college towns in the country, but this city offers so much more as one of the best places to live in the U.S. Madison is a great place to live for recent grads and retirees alike and has a high rate of employment, a resilient economy and excels in nearly every category. Known for charming residents and visitors alike, Madison’s natural beauty is unparalleled, as it is built on an isthmus between lakes Mendota and Monona and has more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails, which means you’ll never run out of free ways to have fun. Other draws to the city? The Wisconsin state capital is noted for its farmers market bounty, beautiful architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright made his mark here) and serene lakes

2. Ann Arbor, Mich.

Pop. 122,982

Ann Arbor, Mich.


Home to the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), Ann Arbor is alive with energy, innovation, arts and culture, and green spaces, making it one of the best places to live in the U.S. This midsize community, located in the lower “hand” of the Mitten State, is a leader in artificial intelligence, data security and life sciences. With tons of amazing bookshops, a great restaurant and bar scene and a family-friendly, outdoor-focused lifestyle, Ann Arbor offers something for every one of its 123,000 residents — and counting.

Also read: I love cool weather and hiking but can’t afford to stay in Oakland — where should I retire in the western U.S.?

3. Overland Park, Kan.

Pop. 195,920

Overland Park, Kan.


Here to convince you the suburbs are cool is Overland Park, where local artists have created colorful murals for all to enjoy and hiking trails meander through a serene 300-acre botanical garden. Overland Park is the gateway to Kansas City, Mo. But as the second biggest city in Kansas, it has plenty of its own stellar amenities like great schools, affordable homes, and plenty of ways to stay entertained — including an art deco theater, the Rio Theater — that shows movies.

4. Frederick, Md.

Pop. 74,032

Frederick, Md.


The 75,000 residents of Frederick, Md., get to take advantage of this charming city’s rich history, pedestrian-friendly streets, picturesque architecture and abundant countryside wineries, all of which make it one of the best places to live in the U.S. Home to Civil War-era buildings, museums, galleries, unique shops and cutting-edge restaurants, Frederick is vibrant and thriving. Bonus: The city offers the perfect blend of old meets new where several startups and tech companies doing cutting-edge research are housed in buildings dating back more than 200 years.

Check out: Where should I retire? MarketWatch’s updated tool warns you of climate risks while helping you find your dream spot

5. Charlottesville, Va.

Pop. 49,262

Charlottesville, Va.


Two presidents called Charlottesville, Va., home — Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe — but that doesn’t mean you have to be a history buff or a politician to take advantage of all this diverse city, affectionately nicknamed C’Ville, has to offer. Presidential significance aside, Charlottesville also hums with the creative and intellectual energy of the University of Virginia, multiple concert venues and theaters, farm-to-table restaurants, local wineries, and parks and open spaces. With 50,000 residents and proximity to Richmond and Washington, D.C., Charlottesville is just the right size for getting to know your neighbors while still being connected to major metropolitan areas.

6. Quincy, Mass.

Pop. 98,882

Located along Quincy Bay just south of Boston, Quincy, Mass., is so much more than a suburb. This city of 100,000 residents is a historical heavy-hitter: the birthplace of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams and John Hancock, the first Massachusetts governor and the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. Today, it maintains much of that historic charm while keeping a firm eye toward the future, as one of our best places to live in the U.S. The city’s downtown area, called New Quincy Center, is one of Massachusetts’s latest urban revitalization projects spanning more than 50 acres of shops, restaurants, housing, and commercial space.

Read: We want a $250,000 home within an hour of the mountains or the ocean — where should we retire?

7. Hillsboro, Ore.

Pop. 107,391

Though Hillsboro, Ore., is technically a suburb of Portland, this midsize city has a personality and flair all its own. Home to roughly 107,000 residents, Hillsboro is part of the “Silicon Forest” and hosts the high-tech headquarters of companies like Intel

and Genentech. The region also boasts top-notch health care, picturesque wineries and family farms, and many arts and culture organizations, including the Hillsboro Symphony Orchestra and the Hillsboro Artists’ Regional Theatre.

8. Roseville, Calif.

Pop. 147,773

Roseville, the biggest city in Placer County, was once just a stagecoach stop. Today, the city is bustling with things to do and ways to explore. Located along Interstate 80, Roseville is more than just a convenient place to live. California’s capital city, Sacramento, is only 20 minutes away, and, come weekends, the nearby Sierra Nevada foothills and Folsom Lake beckon for outdoor enthusiasts. Roseville residents enjoy a Mediterranean climate with balmy summers and short winters and a low cost of living (especially compared with other parts of California) partly because the city operates its own utilities, which translates to lower household bills.

Read last year’s list: The best places to live in America in 2020

9. Colorado Springs, Colo.

Pop. 479,619

Downtown Colorado Springs.


Home to Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base and the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs is a proud military town — and so much more. Nestled against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado Springs offers unparalleled access to nature and plenty of outdoor recreation activities to keep you busy, making it one of the best places to live in America. This city’s 460,000 residents also enjoy excellent job prospects, tons of higher education opportunities, lots of sunshine and an authentic community feel. 

10. Vancouver, Wash.

Pop. 188,923

Tucked between the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific Ocean along the shores of the Columbia River, Vancouver, Wash., is postcard-perfect. Not only does this Pacific Northwest gem offer scenic hiking and biking routes (views of Mount Hood inspire oohs and ahhs), but it also has a diverse and friendly culinary scene which is an important aspect to any great place to live. The Fourth Plain corridor is an “international business district” with a melting pot of Latino and Asian markets, Eastern European bakeries and global fare. Just 20 minutes from Portland, residents appreciate the small-town, relaxed feel of Vancouver, and they have a love for local businesses. 

11. Corvallis, Ore.

Pop. 58,977

Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore.


Corvallis means “heart of the valley,” and it’s a perfect definition of this Oregon community. Residents in this pocket of the Pacific Northwest have a big backyard to play in, with an abundance of trails for hiking, mountain biking and paddling, plus some darn good après-adventure, beer and wine to enjoy. Home to roughly 58,000 highly educated residents, the quality of life you’ll find in Corvallis is unparalleled thanks to the city’s laid-back vibe. Additionally, public transportation here is free, commute times are low and relatively all roads lead to the great outdoors. 

You might like: 6 small cities where you can work less and earn more

12. Raleigh, N.C.

Pop. 471,317

Raleigh, N.C.


From lush forests to forward-thinking chefs and college sporting events, there’s always something to do in Raleigh, the capital city of North Carolina. With plentiful jobs, a strong economy, a high quality of life and great health care, it’s easy to understand why 477,000 people have chosen to build a life in Raleigh, NC. The city is a haven for foodies, adventure seekers and entrepreneurs, creating an electric environment to grow your business or your family. 

13. Omaha, Neb.

Pop. 483,455

Omaha, Neb.


With trendy neighborhoods and a killer live music scene, Omaha is an excellent place to live. Whether you’re a young professional, a growing family or a retiree, you’ll love the low cost of living, the authentic community vibe, the ease of getting around and the abundant outdoor and entertainment options. Plus, Omaha has an innovative food scene, lots of craft breweries and top-notch museums like the Joslyn Art Museum and The Durham Museum. 

See: 5 small cities that are surprisingly LGBTQ-friendly

14. Rochester, Minn.

pop. 121,137

Home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., is a small but mighty city with a thriving downtown scene, tons of professional networking opportunities and lots of family-friendly activities to keep little ones busy. In addition, the city’s 120,000 residents get to enjoy all four seasons (and their accompanying activities like hiking, biking and cross-country skiing!), as well as a relatively low cost of living and quick commute times (the average here is just 16.5 minutes).

15. Columbia, Md.

Pop. 106,585

The 105,000 residents of Columbia, Md., can thank founder James Rouse for their city’s high quality of life, bountiful family-friendly amenities and robust economy. In 1967, Rouse decided to build an entire city from the ground up, ushering in a new era of planned communities. Located between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Columbia continues to be “a garden for growing people,” in Rouse’s words, thanks to its abundant parks and open spaces, cultural centers and community events.

More: We want to live in a small town where we can bike, hike and kayak — so where should we retire?

16. Franklin, Tenn.

Pop. 83,534

Franklin, Tenn.


Franklin, Tenn., offers the best kind of juxtaposition: It has a quaint and charming downtown and preserved historical sites, yet is an innovative city with a burgeoning tech scene. Home to several health care companies, Franklin is also a haven for health care. Residents quickly discover that this historic city is a fun place to live, with festivals to celebrate every season, from Fourth of July in summer, PumpkinFest in October and the beloved Dickens of a Christmas festival in December. 

17. Plano, Texas

Pop. 302,806

Plano, Texas has everything you need in one city. It’s a shopping destination all on its own with two huge upscale shopping centers, The Shops at Legacy and Legacy West, along with a downtown full of local boutiques. Art lovers can spend days exploring the Downtown Plano Arts District with its community of performing arts events, galleries, boutiques and concert halls. Nature lovers can enjoy more than 4,000 acres of parks, while foodies can choose from more than a thousand dining options. 

18. Lincoln, Neb.

Pop. 291,693

Go Big Red! Lincoln, Neb. is a proud college town, through and through. Home to the University of Nebraska and its Cornhusker football team, Lincoln has a small-town feel with big-city amenities. The 293,000 residents of Lincoln support each other, whether that’s welcoming refugees from all over the world, shopping the small businesses and picking fresh produce at the Haymarket Farmers Market or providing top-notch health care at Bryan Health. The Nebraska state capital also offers an affordable cost of living, with median home values around $177,000.

19. Asheville, N.C.

Pop. 94,858

Asheville, N.C.


Asheville, N.C. is an artsy city that brews fantastic beer and is home to award-winning chefs, two of its traits making Asheville one of the best places to live in the U.S. Cradled by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville draws in outdoor enthusiasts who love to be sprayed by the mist of waterfalls while on their hikes and get excited for the crunch of leaves under hiking boots when autumnal colors paint the trees. Add to that a little quirk (there’s a drum circle every Friday night!), plus a strong economy, and you’ve got mountain town living at its finest.

Read next: These relocation programs offer unique incentives to inspire your big move

20. Sioux Falls, S.D.

Pop. 184,962

Sioux Falls S.D.


Situated on the Big Sioux River banks in southeastern South Dakota, Sioux Falls, S.D. has a robust economy, picture-perfect weather for all four seasons, and tons of family-friendly activities and events. The city, home to roughly 190,000 people, is filled with antique shops and boutique small businesses, historical sites, sports and outdoor recreation opportunities and so much more. Plus, residents of this business-friendly community benefit from top-notch schools, excellent health care options and a friendly know-your-neighbor vibe.

See the full list of the Top 100 Best Places to Live in America in 2021 at

Read the original article on Livability.

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