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Top 25 Best Places to Live in the Southeast

These 25 Southeastern cities each have something special to offer.

By Livability.com on January 23, 2023

Franklin TN
Franklin / Jeffrey S. Otto

Each year, we at Livability put together our Top 100 Best Places to Live in America. The list is based on more than 50 data points and examines 2,300 cities to narrow down the very best places to live across the country. Here, we’re highlighting the top 25 best places to live in the Southeast based on our research. Each of these cities has something special to offer — read on to find out what.

People enjoy an evening on the lawn at McEwen Northside in Franklin. Franklin is located in Williamson County.

Franklin, TN 

Home to a historic downtown that hosts community events and home to cute boutiques and great restaurants, Franklin, TN, gives off strong Gilmore Girls vibes. Here, residents are met with plenty of daytime activities, like exploring The Factory, an old stove manufacturing plant that houses shops and eateries; hiking the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile national scenic byway; and touring homes with ties to the Civil War. And the fun doesn’t stop there — evenings bring plenty of restaurants and bars offering live music and delicious drinks.

What else makes Franklin one of the best places to live in the Southeast? It offers amazing job opportunities. Franklin is home to the headquarters of Community Health Systems and Nissan Americas and employers like Randstad and Schneider Electric. Plus, Franklin is big on community engagement. Residents are always finding ways to volunteer and help their neighbors. 

Raleigh NC

Raleigh, NC 

North Carolina’s capital city truly has something for everyone. Business is booming in the Research Triangle, which consists of Raleigh, Cary, and Durham. This powerhouse region is a magnet for tech and biotech companies. This explosive job growth is one reason why Raleigh, NC, is among the best places to live in the Southeast.

Raleigh has two nicknames that hint at the unparalleled quality of life here. Raleigh is known as the “Smithsonian of the South,” thanks to the abundance of high-quality museums. Also, the city is referred to as the “City of Oaks” because of the many oak trees that provide shade throughout the city. Raleigh is home to three major state museums — of art, history and natural sciences — and they’re free. Beer enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, foodies and outdoors lovers will all feel at home in this exciting city of nearly 470,000.

Frederick MD

Frederick, MD 

Frederick, MD is steeped in history yet enviously trendy. The growing city of almost 75,000 is known for its close proximity to other major cities like Gettysburg, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Here, you’ll find the final resting place of Francis Scott Key, author of the national anthem, hundreds of years’ worth of Black history and much more. Plus, the area is awash with public art and galleries, delicious cuisine and must-visit breweries, distilleries and wineries. When it comes to job opportunities, Frederick delivers, making it one of the best places to live in the Southeast.

Everyone can find their niche here, as Frederick is home to life sciences, advanced manufacturing, technology, tourism and film sectors. And when it comes to outdoor activities, options abound (think camping, hiking, water recreation and more). 

McKinney TX

McKinney, TX 

McKinney, TX, is sure to fit the bill if you’re looking for Texas-sized charm and opportunity. The more than 200,000 residents who call McKinney home enjoy the best of both worlds: a quaint hometown feel and big-city amenities. Roughly 30 miles outside of Dallas, this fast-growing suburb is one of the best places to live in the Southeast. McKinney is known for its great schools and strong economic backbone. Tech and aviation industries flourish in McKinney, with Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems’ headquarters providing lots of jobs. In addition, McKinney has an exceptionally low crime rate, making it a great place to raise a family. Plenty of parks, a historic downtown square with shops, galleries and restaurants, and a surprise Croatian village all add to McKinney’s A-plus quality of life.

Asheville NC

Asheville, NC

Breweries galore, award-winning chefs pushing culinary boundaries, and the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains are all part of Asheville, NC’s magic. Asheville — which has a community-wide love for the arts plus a walkable downtown with shops, galleries and good eats — ranks among one of the best places to live in the Southeast because of its coveted mountain town amenities. It’s no wonder this vibrant city of 94,000 (plus lots of dogs!) has a knack for converting tourists into residents.

Asheville consistently ranks on our Best Places to Live lists, and it’s easy to see why. The city is the world’s first Foodtopian Society and is known as ”Beer City USA,” as it boasts more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city. From national favorites like the Biltmore Estate and the Blue Ridge Parkway to off-the-beaten-path spots waiting to be discovered, there is something for everyone in this eclectic city. 

Charlottesville, VA, is one of the best places to live in the southeast.

Charlottesville, VA

Situated in the state’s central portion, Charlottesville, VA, is a growing city with quite an enviable lifestyle. More than 47,000 residents can’t get enough of the wineries, breweries and rave-worthy dining options and diverse arts scene. Here, you’ll find everything from outdoor murals and sculptures to galleries, performing art shows (a performance by the Charlottesville Opera will give you chills), live music and much more.

Community engagement opportunities are high in Charlottesville, making it one of the best places to live in the Southeast. For example, the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation utilizes the arts to help drive social connections and positive change. Amazing career options abound here, as the area is home to strong education, medical services, manufacturing and life sciences sectors. And as for outdoor recreation, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible outside. The area offers nearly 6 miles of paved and approximately 30 miles of nature trails. 

Columbia is a census-designated place in Howard County, Maryland, United States, and is one of the principal communities of the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area. It is also one of the best places to live in the southeast.

Columbia, MD

Nestled between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. (what some might call the perfect location), Columbia, MD, is a unique city with a blossoming downtown, tantalizingly good cuisine and an arts scene that punches high above its weight class. The Columbia Festival of the Arts (think concerts, exhibits, workshops and more) adds a burst of creativity to the city each year, while live music and public art can be enjoyed year-round.

Also, making Columbia one of the best places to live in the Southeast? The city is committed to diversity and inclusion and boasts a more racially diverse population than America as a whole. Here, everyone can find their niche, especially when it comes to a rewarding career. Providing jobs are more than 2,500 small and large businesses, over 50 nonprofits and the U.S. Department of Defense. And when it comes to staying active, the area’s nonprofit community services corporation, Columbia Association, offers a variety of classes, workshops and facilities to stay happy and healthy, including sports leagues, golf, martial arts and more.

 People walking on sidewalk at Legacy West Development in Plano, Texas, USA.

Plano, TX

Affordable homes, top-notch schools, and super-safe neighborhoods make Plano, TX, one of the best places to live in the Southeast. Plano has everything anyone could need in one city. In addition, several Fortune 1000 companies spread across several sectors, from insurance to tech, are based in Plano. As a result, this north Dallas suburb is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.

Plano residents aren’t just focused on business, though! There are plenty of fun things to do, including lots of good shopping. The Shops at Legacy and Legacy West and a downtown full of local boutiques make Plano a shopping destination. Art lovers can explore the Downtown Arts District and its community of performing arts events, galleries, boutiques and concert halls. All this, combined with a diverse population, plenty of green space (more than 4,000 acres of parks!), an abundance of delicious restaurant options and a cute historic downtown, add to Plano’s appeal.

Sunrise at the Sandbridge pier in Virginia Beach, VA.

Virginia Beach, VA

Virginia is for lovers, and we guarantee you’ll love living in Virginia Beach, VA. In addition to its gorgeous beaches and fun water activities, Virginia Beach offers a pretty fantastic lifestyle. Residents can’t get enough of the mouthwatering dining options, growing craft beer scene (you’ll even find a deliciously inventive pineapple IPA here), miles of farmland and creative atmosphere (think colorful murals, sculptures, museums and performing art venues).

Plus, finding a great career comes easily for residents in Virginia Beach. The robust and diverse economy makes it one of the best places to live in the Southeast. Residents can work in a number of thriving industries, including advanced manufacturing, biomedical and life sciences, defense, IT/cyber, maritime and logistics, offshore wind, office/retail, and more. And this welcoming city of just over 450,000 people is working to become more diverse, open and inclusive. Let’s just say it’s the perfect place to connect with the community, relax, work and have fun.  

Cary NC

Cary, NC 

Less than 20 minutes from downtown Raleigh, Cary, NC, offers all the good things that come from living in a small town (friendly folks and lovely neighborhoods), yet a surprisingly long list of amenities. This flourishing city of more than 177,000 offers a fantastic arts scene (gorgeous public art, galleries and more), a variety of eateries, must-visit breweries and great sporting events. In addition, Cary is home to the USA Baseball National Training Complex. Plus, career opportunities run the gamut in Cary, making it one of the best places to live in the Southeast. Jobs are available within many thriving sectors — advanced manufacturing, life sciences and information and clean technology. And Cary boasts excellent K-12 public and private options, like the Wake County Public School System and Cary Academy. One other thing to note: The North Carolina Symphony hosts concerts during the summer at Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre.

Durham NC

Durham, NC

From the arts to the outdoors, Durham, NC, is a cozy city teeming with opportunity. Durham is a dynamic and diverse city with so much to offer its more than 275,000 residents. Located in the heart of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, the city is a perfect combination of historic Southern charm (the American Tobacco Company was founded here!) and modern innovation. Durham is also home to home to Duke University and North Carolina Central University, the nation’s first public liberal arts college for African Americans. Thanks to an energetic startup culture, Durham is considered a Southern Silicon Valley, but with its own distinct heritage. As part of the Research Triangle Park, there are jobs galore in this region. The friendly, collaborative community and entrepreneurial spirit all help make Durham one of the best places to live in the Southeast. Exciting transformations are happening here. For example, the American Tobacco Campus is a thrumming work and entertainment district that took over a former tobacco industrial center. Durham residents also have access to top-notch education and health care, plus lots of green space.

Louisville-KY

Louisville, KY

Louisville, KY, needs no introduction. The city is known for the Kentucky Derby, Louisville sluggers and fantastic bourbon. But those who move to Lou quickly discover that the city is much more than its storied staples, like Whiskey Row and Churchill Downs. The arts and culture scene takes center stage. However, the city has a stable economy home to startups and heavy-hitter brands like Maker’s Mark and Louisville Slugger. Additionally, many unique neighborhoods with friendly residents are just waiting to be called home.

The strong economy and access to good schools and health care are among the reasons Louisville is one of the best places to live in the Southeast. Thousands of acres of parks plus a busy calendar of arts and music festivals make life even sweeter. Outside of a little friendly rivalry with nearby Lexington (you better be a Cardinals fan here!), Louisville is a diverse, lively and inclusive city full of surprises.

Greensboro NC

Greensboro, NC

With a population of just under 300,000 and a metro area exceeding 500,000, Greensboro, NC, is large enough to offer locals plenty of amenities. Yet, it still maintains a friendly, hometown atmosphere that welcomes newcomers to this economically and culturally diverse community. Located in the north-central part of the state, Greensboro is the third-largest city in North Carolina. The city is roughly equidistant from Raleigh to the east and Charlotte to the west. Additionally, it is home to seven colleges and universities, with a total enrollment of more than 54,000 students. Because of this, nearly 90% of residents aged 25 and older have a high school degree or higher. A skilled workforce is alluring to companies, and the community has attracted more than 200 internationally based firms.

But it isn’t all work and no play — Greensboro has more than 500 restaurants, a thriving cultural scene, collegiate and pro sports, beautiful gardens and fun festivals throughout the year. It also has a rich history as the site of a key Revolutionary War battle, one of the first Underground Railroad stops and the first Civil Rights lunch counter sit-in. 

Denton TX

Denton, TX

Denton, TX, is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in North Texas. Located at the top of the triangle — Fort Worth lies 45 minutes to the southwest and Dallas 45 minutes to the southeast — Denton residents have easy access to the major population centers while enjoying the perks of a more laid-back lifestyle, making it one of the best places to live in the Southeast. With 55,000 students between the University of North Texas and Texas Women’s University, Denton is a college town with a youthful vibe. The strong economy, affordable housing and a highly rated school system make Denton attractive to young professionals and families.

Easily recognizable by its beautiful courthouse square, the city is known for being progressive, welcoming, diverse and culturally vibrant. Denton also has a music scene that rivals some of the nation’s most prominent entertainment hubs. If you love a party, Denton has you covered, hosting more than 20 major festivals and fairs a year. And with more than 4,000 acres of parks and easy access to Lake Lewisville, Denton offers plenty of ways to enjoy nature’s quiet beauty.

Huntsville AL

Huntsville, AL

Known as “The Rocket City,” Huntsville, AL, is braced for takeoff. The economy is strong, and good-paying jobs are aplenty, with aerospace and defense as key industries. However, it isn’t all space exploration and rocket science here. Those who relocate to this fast-growing city are welcomed with an excellent quality of life that includes a diverse mix of housing options, from downtown digs to golf course living. Huntsville also has minor league sports teams to cheer on (yes, the baseball team’s name is really the Rocket City Trash Pandas!), a brand-spanking-new 8,000-seat amphitheater and top-notch public schools.

Lexington KY

Lexington, KY

Welcome to the horse capital of the world, where elegant farms and magnificent thoroughbreds roaming bluegrass pastures provide a sense of serenity…and a shot of some of the finest bourbon ever made only adds to that feeling of contentment. Both in the urban core and rolling countryside, Lexington, KY, is a beautiful, vibrant city with a rich tradition of hospitality that makes it one of the best places to live in the Southeast.

Well known for Keeneland and the University of Kentucky, Lexington also has a diverse economy. Lexmark International and Tempur Sealy International are both headquartered here, and other large multinational corporations have a presence in the metro area. A creative city, Lexington has a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem that fosters growth for startups. It also boasts a well-educated workforce, with more than 40% of residents aged 25 and older holding a college degree. That emphasis on education translates into Lexington having some of the best public schools in Kentucky. And there are plenty of ways to play, too, from hiking Raven Run, listening to live music, sipping craft cocktails and shopping The Square to cheering on basketball royalty at Rupp Arena.

Knoxville TN

Knoxville, TN

Nestled along the Tennessee River near the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Knoxville, TN, is celebrated for its beautiful setting, Southern hospitality, diversified economy, research centers and high-quality health care. Oh, and it’s also known for painting the town orange during football, basketball and baseball season — which means at pretty much any point during the year, you’re likely to see someone rocking the “Power T” and decked out in orange and white. As the home of the University of Tennessee’s flagship campus, this is a college town. Still, with a city population of just under 200,000 and a county-wide population nearing 500,000, Knoxville is also a vibrant metro with plenty of economic opportunities, making it one of the best places to live in the Southeast.

Perhaps the city’s crown jewel for creating community is Market Square. The district is situated downtown and full of delicious dining options, cute boutiques and various venues to keep visitors entertained for hours. In addition, the historic Tennessee Theatre and Bijou Theatre, just off the square, host a variety of concerts, performing arts and touring Broadway shows throughout the year. With great restaurants, a lively nightlife scene, historic sites, cultural attractions and overall affordability, it’s easy to see why Knoxville is a popular relocation spot.

Mauldin, SC

Every Southern cook worth their salt knows it’s Duke’s or nothing when it comes to using mayonnaise in a recipe. And, the residents of small-town Mauldin, SC (headquarters of the C.F. Sauer Company condiments arm, maker of Duke’s Mayonnaise) won’t soon let you forget it. But, condiment battles aside, this town of nearly 25,000 people boasts one of the premier cultural centers in the Southeast. At the Mauldin Cultural Center, residents can take in a play or musical at the community amphitheater, learn how to throw clay in a pottery class, master the art of woodworking, or just hang out and enjoy fare from the many food trucks lined up on Friday nights in the summer. This community hub is the heart of the city and makes Mauldin one of the best places to live in the Southeast. 

This covered bridge in Georgia is a pedestrian bridge that crosses Big Creek (once known as Vickery Creek) in the city of Roswell.

Roswell, GA

Calling all nature lovers! Roswell, GA, gives residents the best of both worlds. This close suburb of Atlanta lets you escape the bustle of the big city and submerge yourself in nature. Take a stroll along the banks of the Chattahoochee River or enjoy downtime in the many parks and public spaces. Looking for more of a Main Street vibe? Check out historic downtown Roswell’s unique shops, local restaurants and craft breweries. Sip on Gate City Brewing Company’s Pretty Bird IPA or check out a cocktail at their hip sister bar, The Artillery Room, a renovated 1930s structure showcasing original beams and exposed brick that hosts community events throughout the year.

What else makes Roswell one of the best places to live in the Southeast? Once a month, from April through October, the city puts on a spectacular block party called Alive in Roswell. This family-friendly festival features live music, local eateries and small business vendors. 

The City Hall building in Sugarland, Texas. Sugar Land is one of the best places to live in the southeast.

Sugar Land, TX

This mid-sized city southwest of Houston began as a company town for the Imperial Sugar Co. in the early 1900s. However, over time it has developed a flavor all its own. Corporate offices like Texas Instruments help to attract diverse, educated talent to the area, and public-private partnerships like the Sugar Land Town Square, a 32-acre live-work-play concept with shopping, dining and entertainment, capture all that is special about Sugar Land.

Take a bite out of this ethnically diverse city — from shawarma to bulgogi and everything in between. Of course, a tour of the “Sweetest City in Texas” wouldn’t be complete without a dessert from one of the many local bakeries or cafes (we love the authentic French macarons at Mon Cheri Macarons). But don’t take our word for it — just ask the residents of Sugar Land why their city is one of the best places to live in the Southeast: in a recent community-wide survey, 95% of residents said Sugar Land is a place they are “proud to call home.”

aerial drone view above Pflugerville , Texas Real Estate Suburb

Pflugerville, TX 

It may be difficult to pronounce this city’s name, but it’s easy to see why they’re one of the best places to live in the Southeast. Pflugerville (“flew-grr-vil”), TX, is a suburb of Austin with a population of around 66,000. This business-friendly town formed Business Pfirst, a community group that helps local companies overcome obstacles to growth and assists employers with talent needs, making this growing town a destination for Gen Z and Millennial workers looking to accelerate their careers. And when those workers are ready to clock out and have some pfun in Pflugerville? Residents in the know stop by the city’s Pfarmers Market, where local vendors offer everything from fruits and vegetables to pickles and jams. Then visit Lake Pflugerville Park for a picnic on the beach or to try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding.

Marietta GA

Marietta, GA

Georgia on your mind? Then don’t overlook Marietta, GA, one of the best places to live in the Southeast. With just over 60,000 residents, this historic city is one of Atlanta’s most prominent suburbs. (And has one of the biggest chickens in the South!) History buffs will find plenty of things to do and see in Marietta’s six historic districts. The Black Heritage Walking Tour is a must for any history lover. This self-guided tour explores the city’s most significant African-American sites, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement. The crown jewel of the city, Marietta Square, is also chock-full of history but has something for everyone. The open-air Marietta Square Artists Market takes place year-round and features crafts, professional photography and many locally made goods. Residents enjoy a farmers’ market and plenty of food vendors and restaurants in the Square. 

Tampa FL

Tampa, FL

It may surprise you that Tampa, FL is more than just a tourist town, but the locals will tell you that it’s one of the best places to live in the Southeast. The city is the third largest in the state with a population of around 390,000. Additionally, with many Fortune 100 companies located in the city, Tampa means business. Sports are also serious business in the city. Whether you want to catch an NFL game or chill out at the hockey rink, Tampa is a sports fan’s paradise. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL) both have stadiums in Tampa, and local fans are as dedicated as they come!

Culture abounds in this Gulf Coast city. The annual Gasparilla Festival that takes place between January and March every year is a highlight for many residents. The Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, International Film Festival, and Music Festival headline this cultural experience.

People chatting outside Massanutten Regional Library in downtown Harrisonburg, a city with a population over 53,000 in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, USA.

Harrisonburg, VA 

This vibrant town in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is rich with outdoor amenities. Locals of Harrisonburg, VA, enjoy countless breathtaking hiking and biking trails and love to wind down at the many unique outdoor dining options throughout the city. Harrisonburg’s revitalized downtown is the epicenter of this ethnically diverse town, regarded by many as one of the best places to live in the Southeast. There’s a Downtown Art Walk where residents can immerse themselves in dozens of local public art displays, including the many murals for which the city is famous. The Language of Love sculpture (Virginia is for Lovers, after all!), which pays homage to the city’s beautiful outdoor landscapes. This city of around 126,000 is also home to James Madison University. Originally founded as a women’s college, this public research university with an enrollment of 20,000 students draws young people from across the country to Harrisonburg every year. 

Richmond VA

Richmond, VA

Richmond, VA, is a welcoming and diverse community with all the amenities that make living in a mid-sized city so desirable. An abundance of housing options and live, work and play opportunities sprinkled throughout this unique city are just some of the reasons Richmond is known as one of the best places to live in the Southeast. Young professionals, families and retirees alike will find a place to call home in one of the city’s many delightful neighborhoods.

The Fan District, located near the VCU Art School, is 85 blocks of Victorian homes with stylish architecture from the early 1900s. This walkable neighborhood has a vibrant LGTBQ community and features many sidewalk cafes, shops and bars. Locals in the know start their morning off at The Fancy Biscuit, where brave diners can try a gravy flight of three different gravies. Then, wrap up your day at one of Richmond’s hippest cocktail spots, Alewife, named one of the best restaurants in the South.

Want even more moving inspo? Check out our annual list of the Top 100 Best Places to Live.

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