Strategy The 20 best places to live in the South — the region that's still the best place to live in America

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U.S. News & World Report ranked the top 50 places to live in the US — and the South blew the rest of the country away.

Charleston, South Carolina, can't be missed. play

Charleston, South Carolina, can't be missed.

(Shutterstock)
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  • U.S. News & World Report published its annual list of the 50 best places to live in America.
  • The South had the most entries on the list, including the No. 1 city, Austin, Texas.
  • Cities were ranked by metrics including desirability, affordability, and quality of life.


U.S. News & World Report released on Tuesday its annual list of the 50 best places to live in America, comprising the metro areas with the perfect combination of affordability, a good job market, and quality of life.

While every geographic region of the US was represented on the list, it's the South that seems to have come out on top for the third year in a row.

The U.S. Census Bureau definition of the South includes 16 states and Washington, DC (check out the specifics here). The region had 20 cities in the top 50 — more than any other — including the city that received the highest marks, Austin, Texas.

But it wasn't just the typical Southern hotspots like Austin, Atlanta, and Nashville that put the South over the edge this year. This year also saw four new Southern cities added to the list: Huntsville, Alabama; Lexington, Kentucky; Asheville, North Carolina; and Fort Myers, Florida.

U.S. News & World Report used five criteria — job market, value, quality of life, desirability, and net migration — to definitively rank these major metro areas. You can read U.S. News' full methodology here.

Read on to see the 20 Southern cities that made the cut this year.

20. Atlanta, Georgia

20. Atlanta, Georgia play

20. Atlanta, Georgia

(Shutterstock/ESB Professional)

Population: 5,612,777

Average annual salary: $50,720

Median home price: $192,892

Median monthly rent: $1,003

Quality of life: 5.8

Value index: 7.0

An attractive blend of big city and big country, Atlanta is attracting transplants far and wide with its award-winning restaurants, culture centers, and flourishing job market. More than a dozen Fortune 500 companies call the city home, including Delta, The Home Depot, and The Coca-Cola Company, and it's an increasingly popular spot for film productions.

In addition, "The Chattahoochee River that traverses the metro area, and Stone Mountain, the world's largest chunk of exposed granite, located just northeast of the city proper, also offer a quick escape from any urban anxiety," says one local expert.



19. Jacksonville, Florida

19. Jacksonville, Florida play

19. Jacksonville, Florida

(Shutterstock / Sean Pavone)

Population: 1,424,097

Average annual salary: $45,140

Median home price: $184,508

Median monthly rent: $984

Quality of life: 6.7

Value index: 6.3

Jacksonville's beach-adjacent location makes it ideal for outdoor activities. In addition to spending lazy days in the sand, residents can also visit the area's prime golf courses or go hiking, camping, and kayaking in the nearby parks. Jacksonville also continues to grow, with burgeoning art and music scenes, as well as new business development, according to a local expert.



18. Winston-Salem, North Carolina

18. Winston-Salem, North Carolina play

18. Winston-Salem, North Carolina

(Shutterstock/Sean Pavone)

Population: 654,589

Average annual salary: $44,100

Median home price: $140,633

Median monthly rent: $714

Quality of life: 6.5

Value index: 7.1

The cost of living in Winston-Salem is a bargain. The city's average housing costs remain well below the national average — renters pay about $200 less per month for a one-bedroom apartment than their counterparts around the country.

Residents can also take advantage of the city's cultural offerings with visits to the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art and the Reynolda House Museum of American Art.



17. Fort Myers, Florida

Fort Myers, Florida play

Fort Myers, Florida

(Wikimedia Commons)

Population: 680,970

Average annual salary: $40,420

Median home price: $210,133

Median monthly rent: $984

Quality of life: 6.3

Value index: 5.2

The charming streets of Fort Myers attract people of all ages, even if the southwestern Florida city is better known as a retirement destination. More than a third of the rapidly growing population is under 34 years old. Residents take advantage of Fort Myers' vibrant downtown, and the city's convenient location on Florida's Gulf Coast lends itself to water activities like boating and fishing. People in Fort Myers tend to pay a little extra for real estate and transportation, but they save thanks to Florida's lack of state income taxes.



16. Charleston, South Carolina

16. Charleston, South Carolina play

16. Charleston, South Carolina

(f11photo/Shutterstock)

Population: 728,271

Average annual salary: $44,500

Median home price: $232,983

Median monthly rent: $1,009

Quality of life: 6.2

Value index: 6.2

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.



15. Sarasota, Florida

15. Sarasota, Florida play

15. Sarasota, Florida

(Shutterstock/Sean Pavone)

Population: 751,422

Average annual salary: $41,870

Median home price: $224,613

Median monthly rent: $1,032

Quality of life: 7.3

Value index: 5.3

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.



14. Greenville, South Carolina

14. Greenville, South Carolina play

14. Greenville, South Carolina

(Shutterstock/Sean Pavone)

Population: 862,064

Average annual salary: $42,290

Median home price: $159,692

Median monthly rent: 762

Quality of life: 6.7

Value index: 7.2

Once a sleepy small town, Greenville has witnessed a cultural revival in recent years, complete with an influx of new restaurants and businesses. Though the summers can get hot, the city's typically mild weather make it possible to explore downtown on foot anytime of the year.

An influx of manufacturing jobs have also boosted Greenville's economy, with brand-name companies, such as GE and Michelin, setting up shop in town.



13. Melbourne, Florida

13. Melbourne, Florida play

13. Melbourne, Florida

(Wikimedia Commons)

Population: 560,683

Average annual salary: $46,520

Median home price: $163,042

Median monthly rent: $936

Quality of life: 7.1

Value index: 6.2

Between fishing, boating, and a plethora of bars and restaurants, there's never a shortage of things to do in the Melbourne area. The city's ripe with retirees and "snowbirds" — people who split their time between colder climates in the summer and Florida in the winter — who can enjoy days on one of the many nearby golf courses and nights out exploring the local shops and art galleries.



12. Houston, Texas

12. Houston, Texas play

12. Houston, Texas

(Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock)

Population: 6,482,592

Average annual salary: $52,870

Median home price: $216,575

Median monthly rent: $955

Quality of life: 6.9

Value index: 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.



11. Asheville, North Carolina

11. Asheville, North Carolina play

11. Asheville, North Carolina

(Shutterstock)

Population: 441,724

Average annual salary: $40,330

Median monthly rent: $815

Quality of life: 7.2

Value index: 6.3

It's no surprise why the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina, is beloved by tourists and residents alike. Nestled in between the Blue Ride and Appalachian mountains, Asheville is a magnet for outdoors lovers as well as fans of music, art, and craft beer.



10. Charlotte, North Carolina

10. Charlotte, North Carolina play

10. Charlotte, North Carolina

(Shutterstock)

Population: 2,381,152

Average annual salary: $49,600

Median home price: $200,942

Median monthly rent: $893

Quality of life: 6.4

Value index: 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.



9. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky

9. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky play

9. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky

(Henryk Sadura/Shutterstock)

Population: 495,193

Average annual salary: $43,620

Median monthly rent: $782

Quality of life: 7.1

Value index: 7.8

Lexington, Kentucky, is known as the horse capital of the world, and residents are especially proud of their city's reputation for equestrian. On top of world-famous horse parks and race courses, the area has more than 1,000 horse farms, not to mention streets named after Triple Crown winners and a bevy of horse statues in parks around the city. But a love of equestrian isn't the only thing Lexington offers.

Younger residents move there for its college-town feel and appreciation for local sports and music. And the area is a haven for fans of the outdoors — the nearby Red River Gorge and Cumberland Falls are scenic places for residents to explore their surroundings.



8. Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas

Dallas, Texas. play

Dallas, Texas.

(Shutterstock)

Population: 6,957,123

Average annual salary: $50,350

Median home price: $210,181

Median monthly rent: $969

Quality of life: 7.0

Value index: 7.1

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. The city — with large large employers in business, finance, and education — is teeming with young professionals.



7. San Antonio, Texas

7. San Antonio, Texas play

7. San Antonio, Texas

(iStock)

Population: 2,332,345

Average annual salary: $45,210

Median home price: $200,667

Median monthly rent: $909

Quality of life: 7.0

Value index: 7.0

At once a destination city and a down-home community, San Antonio offers up a variety of cuisines, music styles, and art for visitors and locals. The city hosts "more than 50 major events and festivals throughout the year," a number of which honor the area's Spanish heritage, said a local expert. San Antonio is home to four military and air force bases and camps, collectively known as Joint Base San Antonio.



6. Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

6. Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina play

6. Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

(Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)

Population: 1,786,119

Average annual salary: $52,669

Median home price: $227,814

Median monthly rent: $947

Quality of life: 6.7

Value index: 7.8

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.



5. Nashville, Tennessee

5. Nashville, Tennessee play

5. Nashville, Tennessee

(Mark Skalny / Shutterstock.com)

Population: 1,794,570

Average annual salary: $45,780

Median home price: $236,267

Median monthly rent: $899

Quality of life: 6.1

Value index: 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.



4. Washington, DC

4. Washington, DC play

4. Washington, DC

(Flickr / PeterPanFan)

Population: 6,011,752

Average annual salary: $68,000

Median home price: $368,642

Median monthly rent: $1,541

Quality of life: 6.4

Value index: 7.4

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. Huntsville, Alabama

3. Huntsville, Alabama play

3. Huntsville, Alabama

(Wikipedia)

Population: 440,230

Average annual salary: $52,960

Median monthly rent: $759

Quality of life: 7.0

Value index: 8.8

The once-sleepy town of Huntsville, Alabama, gained fame in the 1960s when it became a hub for NASA. Now Huntsville is undergoing another renaissance, with tech companies, craft breweries, and artists all flocking to the town in recent years.

Huntsville is the fastest-growing city in Alabama, and residents are enjoying an emerging downtown shopping and and dining scene even as the city maintains a low cost of living. If you can handle the heat and humidity, you might find yourself at home there.



2. Fayetteville, Arkansas

2. Fayetteville, Arkansas play

2. Fayetteville, Arkansas

(Wikipedia)

Population: 503,642

Average annual salary: $44,980

Median home price: $182,508

Median monthly rent: $752

Quality of life: 7.5

Value index: 7.9

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

1. Austin, Texas play

1. Austin, Texas

(Julia Robinson/Reuters)

Population: 1,942,615

Average annual salary: $50,830

Median home price: $278,608

Median monthly rent: $1,098

Quality of life: 7.1

Value index: 7.1

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."