Best Places to Live

Iowa City, IA

Population: 71,832
Photo: Alan Light

Metaphorically, the road to many college journeys goes through Iowa City, IA, which is home to the national offices of the ACT, a standardized test for college admission. While ACT is a major employer, it's the University of Iowa that drives the local economy and sets the cultural stage. The school oversees a collection of clinics and an acclaimed hospital system, produces city-wide events, and participates in community outreach.

Beyond providing residents with continuing education opportunities, museums, performing arts programs and Big Ten sports teams to cheer for, UI encourages students to enrich the lives of Iowa City residents. Dance Marathon, the university's largest student organization, has raised more than $12.6 million for families fighting pediatric cancer. Iowa students founded the 10,000 Hours Show, which rewards local volunteers with a free concert featuring big-name acts, and the UI Tippie College of Business's Tippie Build program has constructed six Habitat for Humanity homes.

The city's storied literary scene, lush woodlands and vibrant downtown district attract students to UI's campus, retirees to new housing developments and young families to renovated neighborhoods. Book fans frolic down Literary Walk, a path that pays tribute to some of the renowned authors who have connections to UI's writing program, such as Robert Frost, Flannery O'Connor and Kurt Vonnegut. More than 41 parks, including a fossil-filled gorge, give residents many places to hike, bike and play sports. From bars like Joe's Place, where there's never a cover charge, to the Englert Theatre, Iowa City's oldest performance venue, the city is full of places to let loose. The best restaurants in Iowa City such as local favorites Atlas, Reds Alehouse and Thai Spice offer sophisticated takes on classic comfort foods and sizzling ethnic dishes.

Population: 70,740

Student population: 30,500

Don't Miss: Jimmy Jack's Rib Shack for delicious pulled pork, brisket and roasted turkey

See where Iowa City ranked on our Top 10 Cities for Book Lovers and Top 10 Libraries for Children lists.

*Photo courtesy of Alan Light.