There are plenty of factors to consider when it comes time to decide where you want to live. You don’t want to just choose a city that is the cheapest, since those locations often come with other negative aspects — poor healthcare systems, lower paying jobs, and crumbling public education and infrastructure. On the other hand, some of the most expensive cities don’t really offer the highest quality of life either. So what’s the solution?
The U.S News & World Report has ranked U.S. cities based on a number of important criteria. It includes analyzing the job market, housing costs, healthcare costs, local education systems, crime rates, weather, desirability, and net migration (are more people moving in or moving away). These factors combine to form an entire Quality of Life index score, which is used to rank cities across the nation. Here are the 12 best ranking cities for 2022.
San Diego, California
San Diego is a beautiful city in sunny California. It has great culture, great nightlife, and amazing beaches. There’s a variety of entertainment options, including major concert venues and professional sports teams. The job market is hot, especially for those in the tech industry. At first glance, there’s literally nothing bad about settling down in San Diego.
And then you look at the cost of living.
The median home price in the city is almost $900,000. That’s close to three times the national average. Rental prices are also insanely high throughout the city. Plenty of other important goods and services are also priced above the national average. So the high cost of living makes San Diego a tough sell for anyone not earning at least six figures per year. On the other hand, if you can afford it, San Diego is sunny West Coast paradise.
From one side of the country to the other. Hartford sits near the Eastern Seaboard, a short drive from Boston. This city is rich in history, as one of the oldest metro areas in America. There are art museums, nightclubs, and a variety of great dining options. You can also tour the original home of famed American author Mark Twain. For outdoor enthusiasts, there are lush forests to hike through and nearby ski hills to enjoy.
The housing costs are much closer to the national average in Hartford, but most things are still slightly more expensive. The job market is solid and the value for your dollar keeps Hartford near the top of many people’s wish list. If there’s a serious downside, it’s the weather. Unless you love the snow, be prepared for hard cold in winter months. On the other hand, some people love actually properly experiencing all four seasons. The Autumn in Hartford is particularly beautiful.
No, not Portland, Oregon (although we’re sure it’s lovely there too). For North-Easterners, the only Portland that matters is in the state of Maine. Directly on the Atlantic Ocean, Portland offers picturesque coastal views without a major metropolitan city feel. The population actually hovers just over 500,000.
Portland is the home of many entrepreneurs in a variety of industries. You’ll find amazing local dining, breweries, and craft shops. Like most cities on this list, housing costs are higher than the national average. Longtime residents often resist city expansions, leading to a limited home supply. That drives up sale and rental prices.
At least the job market is a good one, with the average salary at close to $60,000 and the unemployment rate well below the national level. In recent years, Portland has been a target for work-from-home specialists. If you can keep making high salaries while working for companies in New York or Boston, but settle down in the quieter (and cheaper) Portland, you’ll be enjoying some of the best quality of life you can find in the U.S.A.
Move over, Las Vegas. While Sin City might be the most popular city in Nevada, it’s not the one with the highest quality of life. That title belongs to the Biggest Little City of Reno. While it’s still a tourist town like Vegas, people are much more likely to settle down in Reno for good. There are plenty of things to do around the city, both indoors and outdoors.
The weather is obviously an attractive factor. The median home price of $388,000 is manageable, although still above the national average. There’s also plenty of jobs in the area, especially in the entertainment and tourism industries. Somewhat surprisingly, the education system in Reno is one of the best in the country. There are 22 public elementary, middle, and high schools, along with 41 different private schools. There are two colleges in Reno, which has one of the best “College Readiness” scores in the country.
Fort Collins, Colorado
Fort Collins is a lovely little mountain town located roughly an hour outside of Denver. With a population of only 350,000, it still has some small town charm without being a major urban center. While Denver is close enough for residents to go see pro sport or major concerts, Fort Collins has become a prime settlement choice for many residents.
As the home prices in Denver or Boulder exploded, Fort Collins was the next best thing for lots of Colorado residents. Even still, the average home price in Fort Collins remains $150,000 more than the national average. It might be worth it, though. The city features breathtaking views and a variety of outdoor activities. Rocky Mountain National Park is nearby, and there’s plenty of hiking trails, mountain bike runs, and ski hills in the area.
The job market is neither booming or busting, but unemployment is lower than the national average. As an added bonus, local taxes are generally less in Fort Collins than in nearby major cities. You’ll experience the full gamut of weather here, from sunny summers to blizzardy winters.
Some people describe Boston as the last major city that still has that “small town” vibe to it. With a population of roughly five million, there’s nothing small about Boston. However, it maintains its historical charm in many ways. It has terrific technology and medical industries, plus an array of storied professional sports franchises to cheer for.
With big city living also comes higher average income. The average salary in Boston is almost $75,000, which is higher than most other cities in the country. However, residents will need that extra cash to afford the higher cost of living that comes with living in Beantown. The average house price is $715,000, giving Boston less value than other cities on this list.
Ultimately, though, Boston ranks high on the Quality of Life index. There are great school systems, plenty of entertainment options, and a rich cultural history to explore. In short, Boston has something to offer for just about everyone — from young families to retirees.
Roughly an hour or so outside of Milwaukee sits Madison, Wisconsin. As far as quality of life destinations in the Midwest come, Madison is at the very top of the list. It’s cheaper and smaller than Chicago or Minneapolis, yet still offers an excellent educational system and job market. Health care, IT, and manufacturing markets all thrive in the area.
One of the most attractive things about Wisconsin is the housing market. The average house price is still a shade under $400,000, only slightly above the national average. That’s a big plus for a rapidly growing city. The geography is another one, as Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, and Lake Waubesa combine to create a lot of outdoor recreation — swimming, boating, and fishing.
Trenton, New Jersey
New Jersey gets a bad rap sometimes. Blame it on Jersey Shore, The Sopranos, or just being the less-famous neighbor of the bright lights of New York City. But the Garden State is actually a beautiful place, filled with great people and an overall high quality of life. In particular, Trenton ranks the highest. With a population just under 400,000, this growing city is the perfect spot for any American looking to improve their lifestyle.
The job market is booming, with an average annual salary of $70,000. Even better is the average house price of $230,000, which actually sits below the national average. The city boasts numerous parks and fishing spots, plus the 77-mile D&R Canal State Park trail. The Delaware River on Trenton’s western border provides great boating and swimming opportunities.
Trenton residents are subject to a wide variety of weather, though. The winters can be particularly harsh, while the summers are hot and humid.
Forgot Orlando, Miami, or Tampa — the best quality of life in Florida can be found in Naples. Located on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, Naples offers the same sunny paradise with less people (population 380,000) and lower housing prices ($345,000 average price). Naples has long been known as a prime retirement spot for the rich, famous, and/or powerful. So it features gorgeous beaches, pristine golf courses, and plenty of upscale dining and shopping.
Naples’ demographics skew a bit older, giving legitimacy to its reputation as a retirement hotspot. Still, with plenty to do and no state taxes to pay, the quality of life in Naples is hard to beat. And if you’re craving a bigger city outing, Miami and Tampa are only a couple hours away.
San Jose, California
San Jose is the home of Silicon Valley, making it a truly unique American city. While the average salaries are incredibly high (close to $100,000) thanks to the booming tech industry in town, the cost of living is also insanely high. The average house price is almost $1.5 million dollars. Other goods and services, like groceries and utilities, are also well above national average costs.
The flipside of this expensive living is that San Jose is just… amazing. It features sunny California weather, upscale dining, a robust nightlife, and a handful of local pro sports teams. Yosemite National Park and stunning Lake Tahoe are a short drive away. The famous Santa Cruz beach and Napa Valley wine country are also nearby.
The quality of life in San Jose is one of the best in the country. Unfortunately, with two million people already living there and an ultra high cost of living, not many Americans can afford to make it their home.
If you read what we wrote about Fort Collins above and thought “that sounds nice, but I have lots of extra money to spend” then you should consider Boulder. It’s similarly sized, but a bit more expensive in terms of average home prices and other goods and services. On the flip side, the average annual income is $70,000 and Boulder has an unemployment rate of just 6.9%.
The quiet little mountain town offers more than just scenic views. There’s more than 40,000 acres of open public space, including parks, hiking trails, mountain climbing, and forested camping spots. Skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts will be right at home with a variety of downhill options available to tear up the snow.
Boulder’s downtown features plenty of great local shopping and dining — including a world class Farmer’s Market in the warmer months. Unfortunately, the city can only grow so big. Between the mountains and local farmland, the city can’t build housing fast enough to meet demand. That has driven the cost of living up way above the national averages. Residents will also be subject to local and state taxes that don’t exist in other cities around the country. Despite the high cost, Boulder remains an amazing city for those seeking out the highest possible quality of life.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Yes, Ann Arbor, Michigan. We’re dead serious. Far from the sunny beaches of California or Florida, and nowhere near the mountain views of Colorado, we have this mid-sized city in the middle of Michigan. While geography might not be on Ann Arbor’s side, almost everything else is.
The average salary in Ann Arbor is $60,000, compared to average home prices of just $270,000. That makes this town of 370,000 surprisingly affordable. Ann Arbor is truly a “jack of all trades” city. There’s a bustling urban center, with shopping, dining, and plenty of local businesses. There’s also a strong rural component, which is perfect for those who love the great outdoors.
The famed University of Michigan calls Ann Arbor home, driving up its scores in education-related categories. You’ll get a full sampling of weather here, as the winters will be cold and snowy to contrast the gorgeous autumn foliage and the hot, humid summers.