Top 25 Best Places to Live in the Midwest
These 25 Midwestern cities each have something special to offer residents.
Each year, Livability publishes our research-based Top 100 Best Places to Live in America. The list is based on more than 50 data points and examines more than 2,000 cities to rank the best places to live in the U.S. Here, we’re highlighting the top 25 best places to live in the Midwest based on our research. Each of these cities has something special to offer — read on to find out what.
With a famous farmers market, tons of free cultural attractions, outdoor concerts rocking all summer long and 200 miles for hiking, biking and snowshoeing, Madison, WI, earns its rank as the best place to live in the U.S. (for the second year in a row!). This Midwest college town possesses a resilient economy and is a welcoming place for recent grads, families and retirees alike. Located on an isthmus between lakes Mendota and Monona, Madison has a dozen beaches plus hundreds of parks, and residents in this bike-friendly city prefer getting around town on two wheels. Frank Lloyd Wright’s mid-century marvels and the beloved Dane County Farmers Market add to the magic of Madison.
Ann Arbor, MI
Exciting things are happening in Ann Arbor, MI. The University of Michigan provides a robust and homegrown talent pipeline for healthcare and tech sectors, and the college’s presence keeps the city young at heart. Plus, A2 (feel free to call Ann Arbor by its nickname) is pioneering autonomous and connected vehicle technology. (Yes, that means a friendly robot can deliver your TikTok-worthy takeout order!)
Well-designed trail systems, a passion for the arts, worldly restaurants, plus friendly, smart residents who are civically engaged are also among the reasons Ann Arbor is one of the best cities to live in the Midwest.
Rochester, MN, is always brewing with excitement, as the community boasts gorgeous Midwest scenery, an arts scene full of galleries, theaters and museums, must-try fine dining and food truck favorites, amazing breweries and wineries, and — its gem — the nearly 200,000-square-foot Mayo Civic Center, which hosts a calendar full of must-attend social and sporting events, conventions and concerts (think acts like country music star Travis Tritt).
While its entertainment options run the gamut, the city also offers affordable housing options for a variety of tastes and budgets, making it one of the best places to live in the Midwest. The average home value is just $258,250, and residents can choose from beautiful apartments, condos, modest two-stories and even luxury homes. And as its strong economy suggests, finding a job in this city of more than 117,00 is a breeze. Did we mention two of its main employers are the Mayo Clinic and IBM? This means slews of life-changing patents are coming out of this city every year.
A western suburb of Chicago, Naperville, IL, is a growing oasis where big-city attractions — think a diverse cuisine scene, performing arts venues, various shops, family-friendly spaces and a thriving nightlife — meld with small-town magic. The city has a low crime rate, high community engagement (residents are always coming together to support an important cause), and volunteer opportunities, making it one of the best places to live in the Midwest. And did we mention how easy it is to get from point A to point B here? This city of just shy of 150,000 people has access to both bus services and commuter rails and is served by O’Hare International, Midway International, DuPage and Aurora Municipal airports.
Plus, outdoor attractions meet — if not exceed — the mark, as residents can enjoy beautiful forest preserves, sports complexes, a slew of golf courses, and the Naperville Riverwalk, a path along the DuPage River that features covered bridges, fountains and gorgeous landscaping and is a local favorite. Also, loved by locals? The city’s plethora of community get-togethers and festivals, like cute farmers markets and must-see concerts.
Overland Park, KS
Part of the Kansas City metro area is Overland Park, KS, a bustling city full of diverse dining options (the melting pot of food, if you will), amazing art museums and experiences, locally-owned boutiques, entertainment venues, and a collection of must-visit wineries, breweries and distilleries (you’ll love sipping the local flavor). While options for play are top-notch, the city also means business. Its sturdy economy is flourishing with great job opportunities in a variety of fields, making it one of the best places to live in the Midwest.
This city is here to convince you that the suburbs are cool. Local artists have created colorful murals for all to enjoy, and talent here is flowing. In recent years the city has attracted a large wave of millennials moving here from bigger cities thanks to its proximity to the Kansas City metro area. Additionally, residents have access to a park system made up of 83 individual parks, making it easy to hike, bike or blade around the city.
Minneapolis, MN, ranks as one of the best places to live in the Midwest partly because of its innovative economy that touches a breadth of industries from software to renewable energy. There’s much fun to be had in this Midwestern city, too. The nearly 425,000 plus residents who call Minneapolis home get to enjoy the good life, with local microbreweries in the hip North Loop, wonderful waterways that include 22 lakes in city limits (plus the Mississippi River that cuts through downtown), as well as color-saturated, commissioned murals that complement the arts and music scene. Worth a mention: Every resident in Minneapolis is within six blocks of a park, making this Twin City a gem for outdoors lovers, families with kids and pet-loving residents.
A few decades ago, Fishers, IN, was a small town with less than 10,000 residents. Today, this Central Indiana up-and-comer has almost ten times that at nearly 100,000 residents who have access to some of the best schools in the state and high-quality health care. The community’s rapid growth can be witnessed in places like the Nickel Plate District, which is the city’s cultural heart and home to farmers’ markets, community concerts and festivals.
Fishers is not just one of the best places to live in the Midwest; it’s also a vibrant spot to start or grow your business, thanks to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in place. Launch Fishers, for instance, is a 52,000-square-foot coworking space for entrepreneurs and creators that has more than 600 members, making it the largest in the Midwest. Likewise, Hub & Spoke is a 94,000-square-foot, master-planned, mixed-use development and partnership with the city that includes a design center with retail showrooms, plus a maker space and coworking space.
North of the state’s capital city is Carmel, IN, a true gem whose miles of connected paths and trails make it one of the best places to live in the Midwest. The Monon Trail, which begins in Carmel and travels through Westfield and Grand Park to Sheridan, gives residents a great place to run, bike or walk and links to many of the city’s local attractions. Fill your afternoons at one of the city’s various entertainment destinations, including Clay Terrace, an outdoor shopping oasis; the Arts & Design District, which is full of must-visit galleries, showrooms, restaurants and specialty shops; Midtown Plaza, an interactive play area with green spaces, games and swings; and much, much more. Also great about this city of nearly 100,000? The city is known for its safety rating, making it the perfect place for families. And when it comes to dining… let’s just say your taste buds will sing. The area boasts a slew of return-worthy coffee shops, breweries and restaurants.
Situated along the Fox River just west of Milwaukee, Waukesha, WI, is a city that exudes arts and culture. Colorful murals and large guitar sculptures throughout the downtown area paint a picture of the city’s history and showcase the many talents of the community. Even more? The Waukesha Civic Center keeps a full calendar of shows and performances, and there are numerous opportunities to take cooking and other creative classes around town. In addition, the city’s local shops, entertainment scene (think a retro/modern arcade with laser tag), and thriving nightlife rev its appeal.
When it comes to business, Waukesha is brimming with great jobs, making it one of the best places to live in the Midwest. While a manufacturing hub, opportunities also lie within other sectors, like health care and retail, and many individuals have chosen to open their own businesses here. And it gets better — the city boasts an average home value of just under $225,000, and thanks to the diverse selection, everyone can find their perfect house.
More than 20,000 businesses, including the headquarters of Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies, have set up shop in the Omaha, NE metro area, which gives the city a strong economic edge. But, while Omaha is undoubtedly a convenient place to live and work (its central location provides easy access to move about the country), that’s only part of the story. Nebraska’s biggest city offers hip neighborhoods with friendly residents, a cool craft beer scene, a love for local music and one of the best zoos in the world. Plus, as one of the best places to live in the Midwest, residents find that their dollar goes further here, with affordable housing and lots of ways to have fun for free, from art museums to concerts and festivals.
Rochester Hills, MI
About 30 miles north of Detroit, Rochester Hills, MI, is the perfect Midwest city, complete with cute neighborhoods, amazing restaurants, apple orchards, old cider mills, and plenty of unique and well-known shops. The Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm (which offers a look at the region’s past) doesn’t skimp on charm or nostalgia. The city’s top K-12 schools and Oakland and Rochester universities make Rochester Hills one of the best places to live in the Midwest.
Even more? The area boasts friendly neighbors, a low crime rate and a diverse selection of housing options (sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?). Oh, and when it comes to outdoor activities, you’ll love taking advantage of the Clinton River, which runs through the city, as well as the area’s plentiful gorgeous parks, like Innovation Hills and Spencer Park.
Olathe, KS, was once a significant stop along the Santa Fe Trail when explorers were migrating from western Missouri to Santa Fe, NM, but today, the city is a thriving hotspot teeming with history and culture on every corner. Entrepreneurs will feel especially at home in Olathe. As one of the hottest spots in the Midwest right now, this Kansas city promotes “economic gardening,” which gives local businesses technical assistance to grow. Highly educated and innovative residents help make Olathe one of the best places in the Midwest to live.
The city is named for the Shawnee word for ‘beautiful,’ and thanks to gorgeous rolling hills and scenic scapes, Olathe lives up to its name. It’s the fourth-largest city in Kansas and one of the country’s fastest-growing cities. Olathe also has good schools, affordable housing, lots of new development and plenty of green space, helping the city draw young families looking to put down roots in an up-and-coming city.
Oak Park, IL
Adjacent to Chicago, Oak Park, IL, offers residents an equally fun yet unique lifestyle. The city combines architecture and history with artistic pizazz (think creative galleries and studios), delectable dining options and plenty of places to grab a cold beer or refreshing cocktail. A few must-see architectural gems include the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and his remarkably designed Unity Temple. Plus, traveling — be it walking through the community’s districts or traveling outside the city — is simple, making Oak Park one of the best places to live in the Midwest. Errands can almost always be accomplished on foot, and near downtown are the Metra and Harlem Green Line stations. Oh, and the city is highly engaged when it comes to community events. Festivals and activities are always on the calendar, giving residents a chance to not only have fun but also to connect with their neighbors. Add in affordability and close proximity to major cities, like Chicago, and Oak Park really is the perfect place to be.
Roughly 20 miles north of Detroit is Troy, MI, a city wrapped in history yet bubbling with modern amenities. Residents can take a step back in time and visit Troy Historic Village, a 5-acre complex with 10 historic structures where visitors can discover the lifestyles of those who established homes and farms in the area in the 1800s. Plus, the city is home to fantastic eateries, shops and natural attractions.
Also, making Troy one of the best places to live in the Midwest? The city’s relatively low crime rate and overall safety. Plus, its friendly neighbors and community engagement opportunities make it easy for newcomers to get involved and feel at home. Oh, and when it comes to education, quality K-12 schools run the gamut. Six school districts serve the area, so it is very well-educated and the perfect place to raise a family.
Shop until you drop in Bloomington, MN! While the city is known as the home of the Mall of America®, which is known around the world for its long list of stores, attractions and events, there is so much to do in this vibrant city.
Bloomington is a growing city with a collection of enviable amenities. It boasts return-worthy restaurants, a growing arts scene and fun attractions, like the gorgeous Japanese Garden. Plus, the city is committed to being a diverse and inclusive place to live, with a full-time racial equality coordinator on staff, which is part of the reason that Bloomington is one of the best places to live in the Midwest. And when it comes to jobs, residents have quite the roster to choose from, as the city boasts excellent retail, tourism and hospitality sectors. The city is also home to several familiar favorites — companies like International Dairy Queen, The Toro Company, Ceridian and HealthPartners are all headquartered here. Also a perk? Take part in everything from hiking and biking to downhill skiing and fishing at Hyland Lake Park Reserve, a true scenic oasis with prairies and a lake.
Downers Grove, IL
Just 25 miles west of the Windy City’s loop, Downers Grove, IL, has its own collection of unique offerings. Residents can’t get enough of the city’s local boutiques, delicious dining and drink options, and more. In addition, residents can enjoy the Tivoli Theatre, a completely restored historic theater built in 1928 that is one of the few remaining large single-screen theaters left in the country. Plus, one reason this growing community of just over 49,000 people is one of the best places to live in the Midwest? It makes it easy for residents to travel, offering three Metra commuter train stations, and is closely located to O’Hare and Midway international airports. Oh, and did we mention how easy it is to get connected to the community? Newcomers quickly feel part of their city, thanks to fun local events and volunteer opportunities. As for outdoor activities, residents can find plenty of ways to stay active, like hiking the trails at the 150-acre Lyman Woods.
Sioux Falls, SD
Residents in Sioux Falls, SD, enjoy small-town camaraderie but with big-city amenities. As South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls is one of the best places to live in the Midwest, with loads of opportunities for entrepreneurs, those looking to grow their careers and young professionals ready to network in a new city. Sioux Falls is also a huge draw for scientists, with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earth Resources Observation and Science Data Center located in the region. (The center maintains tens of millions of satellite images of the Earth’s land surface, mapping everything from the planet’s minerals to catfish ponds). Affordable housing and a low cost of living plus plenty of free fun (hello, waterfalls and bike trails!) all help residents stretch their dollars further here. Sioux Falls is also on the radar of young professionals who love the cute coffee shops that are perfect for remote work, as well as the cool breweries and ample opportunities for exploring with your four-legged friend.
Located just north of Lake Winnebago along the shores of the Fox River is Appleton, WI, the cultural heart of the Fox Cities region. Appleton is one of the best places to live in the Midwest, with several notable amenities that keep residents entertained year-round. From a performing arts complex that brings Broadway shows to the region and the Trout Museum of Art in the heart of downtown, the fun is never done. The area is known for its live music, ranging from a summer concert series to punk bands playing at pizzerias and guitarists strumming at coffee shops. One of the safest cities in Wisconsin, with a low cost of living and growing entertainment and food scenes, Appleton is increasingly appealing to young families and young professionals working remotely. Additionally, the city of 74,000 residents is known for its charming neighborhoods, friendly people and affordable housing, all of which add to Appleton’s appeal.
A Midwest gem, Cincinnati, OH, is a place where residential, business and entertainment combine to create quite an appealing lifestyle. Here, residents are met with an amazing performing arts scene (think the Ballet, Opera and Symphony Orchestra), a plethora of dining and drink venues, public art, sporting events (football, baseball, soccer), great shopping, a calendar full of events and festivals — the list goes on and on.
In fact, its extensive collection of amenities (which is ever-growing) is one reason Cincinnati is considered one of the best places to live in the Midwest. Also supporting that title? The city offers a slew of high-quality health care facilities, like Good Samaritan Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, keeping residents both happy and healthy. Oh, and the city’s multiple distinct neighborhoods – each one has a different vibe — allow residents to choose a place to live that best suits their personality and lifestyle. Plus, this is a city with heart. The city is so great, in fact, that it is known as Queen City and is indeed the crown jewel of the Midwest.
Iowa City, IA
Located in the eastern portion of the state of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, is a growing city that offers a little bit of everything. Residents can enjoy an amazing arts scene (its murals are gorgeous), eclectic eateries, craft breweries, a collection of cute boutiques, interesting museums (Old Capitol is a must-visit) and much, much more. Plus, the area is highly centered on community, making it one of the best places to live in the Midwest.
Here in Iowa City, residents can find plenty of local events to attend, get involved in their city (several volunteer opportunities exist) and just connect with those around them. Another great part about the city? It offers residents fantastic medical care close to home (think Mercy Iowa City and University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics). And when it comes to outdoor recreation, the area offers plenty of parks that make you want to get outside and explore.
Grand Rapids, MI
Life in Grand Rapids, MI, is, indeed, grand! The nearly 198,000 residents who call Grand Rapids home have easy access to golf courses, fishing streams, beaches and an airport. Plus, the downtown is hopping, with more than 200 restaurants, shops, performance venues and cultural sites.
Once known as America’s Furniture Capital because of the residential furniture that was made here, today, this Michigan city is considered an epicenter of office furniture manufacturing. The strong economy is among the many reasons Grand Rapids is one of the best places to live in the Midwest, with big companies like grocery store chain Meijer’s choosing the city for its headquarters and remote workers drawn by the affordable housing and finding additional perks. A buzzy craft brewery scene and cool concepts such as the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, which hosts 20-plus restaurants and gourmet food vendors under a greenhouse-covered roof, also add to the allure. Many colleges and an impressive collection of museums add to the liveliness of Grand Rapids, too. Plus, this Michigan city is an amazing place to plant roots for both families and young professionals.
A Chicago suburb situated on the shore of Lake Michigan (the best of beach life in the Midwest, if you will), Evanston, IL, offers residents the perfect location. Evanston itself, though, is also pretty spectacular. The city is home to nine unique business districts, and the downtown area boasts an impressive arts scene, great food and drink options, fun community events, a slew of shops and more. Plus, Evanston is working hard to become more diverse and actively inclusive — both in business and the community — making it one of the best places to live in the Midwest. And it offers a number of community engagement options, including volunteer opportunities, to help residents connect with their city. More and more Northwestern University graduates are planting their roots here after graduation. One more thing? Its festivals, concerts and events, like Taste of Evanston, are oh, so fun!
As the state’s capital, Lincoln, NE, is a flourishing city that’s smack dab in the middle of everything. It offers unique shops, fabulous eateries and an incredible arts scene. The Burkholder Project, for example, is a collection of 36 art and design studios with loft apartments and three levels of galleries (you’ll be in awe). Plus, the city’s extensive collection of strong sectors, including business, manufacturing, health care, insurance, agriculture and transportation, make it easy for residents to find a career they’ll love, making Lincoln one of the best places to live in the Midwest. Additionally, the city offers excellent higher education options. For example, it’s home to Nebraska’s flagship public research university, the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.
But it isn’t all business in Lincoln. You’ll find a growing craft beer scene, a strong economy and lots of friendly people. And the community here is tight-knit, whether they are welcoming refugees from all over the world, picking fresh produce at the Haymarket Farmers Market or just celebrating the camaraderie of being a Huskers fan. Oh, and its numerous parks and sports venues allow you to get in on the action or watch a game from the stands. Sounds like a pretty great place to be, doesn’t it?
With a diversified economy, affordable housing options, a strong educational system, excellent parks and recreation, and a thriving arts and entertainment scene, it’s no wonder Lawrence, KS, finds itself ranked among the best places to live in the Midwest. A quintessential college town, Lawrence is home to the University of Kansas and exudes creativity and youthful exuberance. Jayhawks are everywhere and seem to multiply during basketball season when the Rock Chalk chant flows out of Allen Fieldhouse as KU looks for another NCAA championship. The city is also home to the premiere tribal university in the U.S. Haskell Indian Nations University was founded in 1884 to serve students from federally recognized tribes. Educational excellence begins with a commitment to K-12 students with three National Blue Ribbon Schools and a host of innovative programming. The city has enjoyed significant growth over the past decade as more and more people discover all Lawrence has to offer.
Royal Oak, MI
Located just 20 minutes north of downtown Detroit, Royal Oak, MI, can feel a world away. Residents enjoy a close-knit, small-town community vibe with all the perks of easy access to a bustling, big city. Although small — less than 60,000 call Royal Oak home — the town plays much bigger than its size with an award-winning school system, nearly 50 parks, trendy downtown shopping and dining, a major academic medical center, and a nationally recognized zoo, making it one of the best places to live in the Midwest. Recognized by Tree City USA, Royal Oak lives up to its name with greenery and colorful landscaping, adding to the serene feeling of this highly walkable town.
And the push for progress continues. Royal Oak began 2022 with $200 million in new investment, and city leaders recently adopted a Sustainability & Climate Action Plan to significantly reduce greenhouse admissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero status by 2050.