Best Places to Live

2016 Top 100 Best Places to Live

We ranked more than 2,000 cities with populations between 20,000 and 350,000 to come up with our third annual Top 100 Best Places to Live. This is a data-driven list based on more than 40 data points. This year we are proud to have collaborated with world-renowned urbanist Richard Florida and assistant clinical professor Steven Pedigo from the Initiative for Creativity and Innovation in Cities at NYU School of Professional Studies, our new data partners EMSI and our stellar board of advisors in shaping our proprietary methodology and the framework by which we rank the cities. See if your town made this year's list (or the 2015 and 2014 rankings). Get ready to plot your next move, and make one of these best places your best place.

  • 1

    Rochester, MN

    Population: 110,275

    Courtesy of Josh Banks.


    Rochester’s rise to the top of our Best Places index has been steady but not surprising. The city first appeared on the Top 100 Best Places to Live 2014 as the seventh best city, then climbed to No. 2 on 2015’s index. New scores for Rochester’s schools, civil engagement, health-care scene and, most notably, its diverse range of affordable housing, pushed it to the top spot. Home to the renowned Mayo Clinic, Rochester is experiencing an economic boom that is bringing in thousands of new residents and new businesses, and giving those who live here an expanding assortment of entertainment options.

    Read more about why Rochester is a Top 100 Best Place to Live

  • 2

    Bellevue, WA

    Population: 134,630
    Visit Bellevue, WA

    Lakes and mountains surround Bellevue, Wash., a Seattle suburb of more than 120,000 residents, while a tapestry of lush parks provide residents with abundant outdoor recreation options. Bike paths and sidewalks make getting to and from the city’s many festivals, museums, restaurants and music venues easy. A range of amenities provides many things to do in Bellevue. About 40 % of the city’s population are minorities, which contributes to an overall diverse range of lifestyles and ideas. Bellevue schools have been recognized among the top in the country by major media outlets. This makes the third time the city has appeared on this list.

    Find out more about why Bellevue is a Top 100 Best Place to Live.

  • 3

    Madison, WI

    Population: 243,122
    Photo courtesy of the Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau

    Not only does Madison have one of the top rated health-care systems in the country, it also has a high performing school system and strong economy. The University of Wisconsin, and a handful of other schools, gives Madison a large student population, but being the state capital means this city offers some serious culture. There are always things to do in Madison. The city's 33 percent minority population creates diversity that pairs well with an urban/suburban vibe. Madison has been at or near the top of the Best Places index for three years in a row.

    Read more about why Madison was the Top 100 Best Place to Live in 2015

  • 4

    Santa Barbara, CA

    Population: 90,401
    Photo by Bill Zeldis

    A collection of beaches, mountain views and resorts help make Santa Barbara a popular tourist destination. Those same amenities, great schools, a highly ranked health-care scene and strong economy make living in this California city feel like a dream come true. Great farm-to-table restaurants, unique shopping experiences, plenty of outdoor recreation options and fantastic weather keep Santa Barbara residents on the go.

    Read more about living in Santa Barbara.

  • 5

    Boulder, CO

    Population: 103,919
    Photo: Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado

    Known as one of the best cities for liberals, Boulder spoils its 100,300 residents with pristine natural surroundings, a strong farm-to-table restaurant scene, and dynamic arts and cultural attractions. Each season brings more things to do in Boulder. Many of the city’s highly active residents plan their days around hikes, rock climbing, mountain biking and fishing. Schools in Boulder rank high, which has helped the city appear on the Top 100 since 2014.

  • 6

    Palo Alto, CA

    Population: 66,478
    Danille Rice - City of Palo Alto

    Those fortunate enough to live in Palo Alto enjoy a city that surpasses most quality of life standards. A long list of amenities starts with a 31-mile dark fiber ring around the city that provides ultra high-speed Internet. Residents enjoy many things to do in Palo Alto, like playing in impressively designed parks and open spaces and dining in unique restaurants. Palo Alto's residents are politically active, socially minded and strongly support the city's highly rated schools. It’s no wonder Palo Alto has held such a high ranking when it comes to measuring livability. You can read why Palo Alto has been a Top 100 Best Place to Live three years and counting.

  • 7

    Bismarck, ND

    Population: 66,980
    Bismarck-Mandan Convention & Visitors Bureau

    Located on the east bank of the Missouri River, Bismarck offers residents a 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. Newcomers find much to like in Bismarck’s affordable housing market and excellent health care. The city’s largest employer, Sanford Health, provides jobs to about 25,000 people, but the city's economy revolves around the small businesses in Bismark. The city’s tallest building is the 19-story, art deco North Dakota State Capitol.

  • 8

    Ann Arbor, MI

    Population: 116,194
    Courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

    Education is a high point when it comes to analyzing the quality of life factors that make Ann Arbor one of the best places to live. The University of Michigan, which has 43,000 students, makes Ann Arbor a perennial candidate for our annual ranking of the best college towns and plays a big role in the city’s economy and culture. More than 150 parks, the Huron River, a large assortment of restaurants and shops give those living in Ann Arbor numerous options when it comes to staying entertained. See why Ann Arbor was named one of the Best Cities for Liberals

  • 9

    Iowa City, IA

    Population: 71,832
    Photo by Alan Light

    Highly ranked schools and a strong health-care system have helped Iowa City make multiple appearances on our Best Places to Live list. But to get the full story on why Iowa City is a Top 100 Best Place to Live, look at this town’s college, the University of Iowa, which helps set the cultural tone. The city’s large assortment of arts and entertainment options draw in new residents, while affordable home prices keep them here.

  • 10

    Sioux Falls, SD

    Population: 164,341
    Sioux Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau

    A range of neighborhoods, great schools and entertainment offerings draw newcomers to Sioux Falls, a city that ranks high in health care and amenities. A collection of more than 70 parks and greenways, including Falls Park which features an impressive waterfalls, help residents stay active. The city’s economic leaders include hospitals, banks and telecom companies. Empire Mall, a 1.3 million-square-foot shopping center, draws millions of visitors from across the Midwest.

    Read more about why Sioux Falls is a Best Place to Live