The 10 best places to live in the South

The region that's becoming the best place to live in America

Top southern cities
Top southern cities

U.S. News & World Report recently released its list of the best places to live in America, ranking the 100 most populous US cities on factors such as desirability, job market, and quality of life. The best region in the country, going by the US Census Bureau’s geographic divisions, might surprise some: the South.

Twenty-four of the top-50 cities can be found in the South — more than the combined number of cities that made the list from the traditionally more desirable West and Northeast regions.

Though prominent coastal areas like Boston and San Francisco might be expected to help their regions topple the competition, cities in the South outperformed the field on two key metrics: job market and cost of living.

“U.S. News found a divide between what Americans say makes a place desirable to live in versus what their criteria is when thinking about moving,” Miriam Weiner, product manager for real estate at U.S. News, told Business Insider. “Looking at regions, metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest do not perform as highly as coastal areas on the desirability index, but they do offer stronger job markets and a better cost of living — two components that make up 45% of our methodology.” (You can read the full methodology here.)

The appeal of iconic cultural hubs like New York and Los Angeles is a draw for many, but in the end, affordability matters a lot, giving the South a leg up on the competition.

Southern cities like Austin, Charleston, and Houston also offer many of the amenities of more ‘desirable’ areas, including proximity to beaches, thriving food scenes, and an abundance of local culture.

Ready to move yet? Keep reading to discover the 10 best places to live in the South.

10. Nashville, Tennessee



Population: 1,730,515

Median annual salary: $43,950

Quality of life: 6.6

Overall value: 7.3

Honky-tonk culture and an entrepreneurial spirit define Nashville. “A blossoming job market and an exploding entertainment scene [are] fueling an appetite (and thirst) for all things locally sourced and artisanal in craft,” a local expert said. Thousands of residents work in healthcare at the area’s large hospitals and research centers, small startups, and business accelerator programs.

9. Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas

fcn80, Wikimedia Commons

fcn80, Wikimedia Commons

Population: 6,703,020

Median annual salary: $46,670

Quality of life: 6.5

Overall value: 7.0

A healthy balance of urban and rural, Dallas offers residents “big-city excitement and quiet, suburban living,” shared one local expert. There’s local bars, retail shops, and plenty of sports spirit to satisfy the huge population. Young professionals primarily inhabit Dallas-Fort Worth, where the largest employers are in business, finance, and education.


8. Charleston, South Carolina



Population: 697,281

Median annual salary: $42,770

Quality of life: 6

Overall value: 6.5

Charleston’s charming, historic, and sophisticated ambiance is exemplary of southern culture. “Not only is the area overflowing with entertainment and good food, but this low country locale is also gorgeous,” said a local expert.

Tourism is booming in Charleston, creating plenty of jobs, especially in the summer months. Year-round, jobs in tech, sales, marketing, and advertising keep the city’s economy strong.


7. Houston, Texas

Population: 6,204,141

Median annual salary: $50,830

Quality of life: 6.4

Overall value: 7.1

Houston is a major player in the oil and gas, manufacturing, aerospace, and healthcare industries — it’s also home to 26 Fortune 500 companies. According to one local expert, “a paycheck goes further in Houston than it does in other major cities, with affordable housing and free or cheap attractions.” Plus, the city has an affinity for food, counting some 11,000 restaurants within its boundaries.


6. Charlotte, North Carolina

Alexey Rotanov /

Alexey Rotanov /

Population: 2,298,915

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Median annual salary: $48,290

Quality of life: 6.5

Overall value: 7.5

A “melting pot effect” draws all types of people to Charlotte, a place with “equal parts old-fashioned southern charm and high-energy cosmopolitan bustle,” touted one local expert. NASCAR and motorsports are a cultural cornerstone of Charlotte. The Queen City houses Bank of America’s headquarters and major offices for Wells Fargo, making it one of the largest financial hubs in the country.


5. Sarasota, Florida



Population: 722,784

Median annual salary: $39,960

Quality of life: 7.5

Overall value: 5.5

Sarasota boasts “warm temperatures year-round, award-winning beaches, and a thriving arts and cultural scene,” said a local expert. The biggest employers in Sarasota are in education, trade, and transportation, and the leisure and hospitality sector touts a low unemployment rate powered by a recent increase in tourism and a flood of new residents.


4. Washington DC


Shutterstock/Orhan Cam

Population: 5,863,608

Median annual salary: $64,930

Quality of life: 6.5

Overall value: 7.3

The District’s neighborhoods each give off their own vibe, but across the city residents often “gather for block parties, mingle at dog parks, and converse at coffee shops,” explained a local expert. While Washington DC is known as a hub for politics, there’s also a strong job market for education and health services.


3. Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina



Population: 1,714,629

Median annual salary: $47,430

Quality of life: 7.4

Overall value: 6.9

Raleigh-Durham and Chapel Hill are collectively known as the Triangle, an area anchored by its foundation in research and tech. The Triangle employs nearly 40,000 residents at companies like IBM, SAS Institute Inc., and Cisco Systems as well as surrounding colleges Duke, North Carolina State, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A strong job market coupled with a burgeoning microbrewery and dining scene draws 80 new residents every day, said a local expert.

2. Fayetteville, Arkansas


Wikimedia Commons

Population: 483,396

Median annual salary: $42,410

Quality of life: 7.4

Overall value: 9.1

Fayetteville sits among the Ozark Mountains and is home to the University of Arkansas’ flagship campus. The surrounding area of northwest Arkansas is home to headquarters for seven Fortune 500 companies including Walmart and Tyson Foods. The city has experienced immense growth, according to a local expert, who said the region has evolved “from a small town to a center of higher education, culture, commerce, and entrepreneurialism.”


1. Austin, Texas


iStock / RoschetzkyIstockPhoto

Population: 1,835,016

Median annual salary: $48,150

Quality of life: 7.2

Overall value: 6.5

The capital of Texas gains about 50 new residents daily, many seeking out the city’s “music, outdoor spaces, and cultural institutions,” said a local expert. Austin is beloved for its live music scene and is host to some of the country’s biggest music and culture festivals, including South by Southwest and Austin City Limits. The city was nicknamed “Silicon Hills” in the 1990s for its status as “among the top areas for venture capital investment in the country.”

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