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Best Big Cities to Live in the U.S.

Wanting to live in a big city? New York City and Los Angeles are popular destinations for those who want the big city lifestyle, but they also come with high price tags. Fortunately, there are plenty of large cities in the U.S. that have more affordable costs of living while still offering the big city amenities you want. Check out these eight best cities in the U.S. and see what sets them apart!  

Austin, TX

@extraholidays There’s so much to do in Austin, TX but here are 7 of our favs. 🤠#keepaustinweird #austintx #austinvacation #thingstodoinaustintx #travelextra ♬ Chrysanthemum Tea – Prod. By Rose

  • Population: 907,779
  • Home Price: $257,800 median purchase price; $1,106 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 14% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.6%

With a low cost of living and budget-friendly housing, Austin is one of the fastest-growing big cities in the U.S., one of the best places to live in the South, and one of the best U.S. cities for jobs. Employment opportunities with the University of TexasIBM, Dell, Google, Tesla, and Apple make the Texas capital a hot spot for people relocating for work. But it’s not just the jobs drawing new residents—it’s also the culture! The local slogan—”Keep Austin Weird“—is rooted in supporting small businesses, artists,  entertainment scene, and the city’s overall quirky aesthetic.

Things to Do in Austin

Take a tour of the Texas Capitol to learn about the state’s history and legislature. Go tailgating and cheer on the Texas Longhorns as they take on their Big 12 rivals. Explore the Zilker Botanical Garden, go for a dip in  Barton Springs Pool, or attend the Austin City Limits Music Festival at the 351-acre Zilker Metropolitan Park. Catch up-and-coming films, see concerts by indie artists and bands, check out the gaming expo, and much more at Austin’s top festival, South by Southwest (SXSW). View contemporary and modern paintings and sculptures at The Contemporary Austin. Pop over to The Picnic—”Austin’s original food truck park”—to sample incredible street food from local food trucks like Cannone Cucina Italiana, Coat & Thai, and The Mighty Cone. Or make a reservation at Austin speakeasy Midnight Cowboy for handcrafted cocktails in a relaxing lounge setting.

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Denver, CO

  • Population: 663,303
  • Home Price: $292,700 median purchase price; $1,035 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 3% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.8%

It’s no wonder why so many people want to move to Denver—the city offers year-round mild weather, gorgeous Rocky Mountain scenery, affordable housing, and an abundance of jobs in the tech industry. The Mile High City is one of the best places to live for outdoor recreation, thanks to its vast number of public parks and city trails, as well as its close proximity to top skiing destinations and Rocky Mountain National Park. Denver is also incredibly popular for foodies and craft beer lovers. In fact, Colorado’s capital has been recognized as one of the best foodie cities in America and one of the best beer cities in America!

Things to Do in Denver

See your favorite bands and artists at Red Rocks Amphitheater, an unforgettable outdoor concert venue. Visit the Denver Zoo to see everything from penguins and tigers to gorillas and bats. Become the ultimate sports fan by cheering on one of the city’s many professional  teams: Denver Broncos (NFL), Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Rockies (MLB), Colorado Avalanche (NHL), and Colorado Rapids (MLS). Spend an evening strolling through Larimer Square, a Denver hot spot for dining and nightlife. Schedule a tour to walk through Coors Brewery and see how this major brand makes its beer—and don’t forget to check out Denver’s local craft breweries like Wynkoop Brewing Company or Great Divide Brewing Company. Or hang out at Confluence Park, where you can go fishing, swimming, kayaking, and much more!

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Minneapolis, MN

  • Population: 404,670
  • Home Price: $212,800 median purchase price; $898 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 2% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.1%

Minneapolis is one of the best big cities to live in because it has something for everyone! As part of the Twin Cities—which combines Minneapolis and St. Paul, its Mississippi River neighbor—residents can enjoy a small-town feel while still having all of the excitement of a major city. Minneapolis is a top city for military retirement and is also one of the best cities for young professionals. Those looking to advance their careers can find excellent job opportunities with companies like Target, Xcel Energy, and US Bank, all of which have their corporates headquarters here.

Things to Do in Minneapolis

Venture to Mall of America, the nation’s largest mall, which offers more than 520 stores, tons of restaurants, and an indoor theme park. Grab tickets to see the Minnesota Vikings (NFL), Minnesota Twins (MLB), Minnesota Wild (NHL), or the Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA). Take in views of the riverfront or stroll along 7.5 acres of green space at Gold Medal Park. Plan a night out at the The Guthrie Theater, where you can see a play or explore the building’s Endless Bridge architectural wonder. Examine classic and modern paintings, sculptures, and more at Minnesota Museum of American Art. Head to Matt’s Bar to try the original “Jucy Lucy” cheeseburger. Or find your new favorite craft beer among brews like the Periscope Pale Ale and Axe Man IPA at Surly Brewing.

Phoenix, AZ

@welcometoarizona Save for later! We created a guide on how to spend the perfect day in Phoenix! 🌇🌵 Who wants to explore? #fyp #arizona #arizonacheck #phoenix #guide #exploremore #foryou #thingstodo #tiktoktravel ♬ original sound – welcometoarizona

  • Population: 1,555,324
  • Home Price: $178,200 median purchase price; $914 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 7% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.1%

Dreaming of a big city with plenty of sunshine? The Valley of the Sun is the place to be! Phoenix is one of the best cities for real estate, thanks to its budget-friendly housing, year-round warm weather, and outdoor recreation. Though this major city has long been a favorite of snowbirds and retirees, Phoenix has a fairly young population that continues to grow—the median age is actually around 33. Considering Phoenix has a growing job market, it comes as no surprise that young professionals and families are moving here each year.

Things to Do in Phoenix

Play 18 holes on a championship course, practice your swing at the driving range, or spend some time on the chipping green at Raven Golf Club. Visit Desert Botanical Garden to explore 55 acres of native cacti, flowers, trees, and more. Hike the 16,000-acre South Mountain Park & Preserve for incredible views of the city. Join the local sports scene by rooting for Arizona pro teams: Phoenix Mercury (WNBA), Phoenix Suns (NBA), Arizona Coyotes (NHL), Arizona Diamondbacks (MLB), and Arizona Cardinals (NFL). Get in some retail therapy at Scottsdale Fashion Square, where you can peruse stores like Kate Spade, Nordstrom, and Ann Taylor. Dine at Pizzeria Bianco to try some of the city’s best wood-fired pizza. Or sip on one of the award-winning handcrafted cocktails at Bitter & Twisted.

Portland, OR

  • Population: 620,589
  • Home Price: $319,400 median purchase price; $1,025 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 10% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.2%

If you want to live in a big city on the West Coast but can’t afford California prices, consider living in Portland! This Pacific Northwest hot spot is one of the best places to live on the West Coast, and it’s a great city for business and careers, given its robust job market and growing tech industry. The City of Roses is ideal for those who love outdoor recreation, as it’s home to more than 150 miles of hiking trails and over 200 public parks and gardens. But it’s not just about outdoor activities in this Oregon city! With its quirky vibe, foodie scene, bike-friendly areas, and love of both coffee and craft beer, Portland is a true hipster haven!  

Things to Do in Portland

Go kayaking, paddleboarding, or cruising on the Willamette River—and don’t forget to join the Big Float in July. Walk among over 10,000 roses at the International Rose Test Garden. Hike through the Columbia River Gorge to surround yourself with lush greenery and discover hidden waterfalls. Break out your bike and participate in  one of Portland’s many biking events, including Worst Day of the Year Ride and  Portland Tweed Ride. Cheer on the Portland Trail Blazers (NBA) and the Portland Timbers (MLS) at their home games. Hang out at Oregon Brewers Festival, one of the nation’s longest-running craft beer festivals, where you can sample local craft beers and ciders. Or try unique donut creations like the Voodoo Doll and the Oh Captain, My Captain at Voodoo Doughnut.

Raleigh, NC

Cars driving on street toward tall buildings in Downtown Raleigh. Photo by Instagram user @visitraleigh

Photo via @visitraleigh

  • Population: 441,326
  • Home Price: $218,200 median purchase price; $966 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 29% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.3%

Though Raleigh offers a quieter big city lifestyle compared to some of the others on this list, this North Carolina city is one of the best places to live in the South, thanks to its beautiful weather, education and career opportunities, and unforgettable Carolina barbecue. Along with its neighbors, Chapel Hill and Durham, Raleigh is part of Research Triangle Park, the largest research park in the country. Not only does this help make Raleigh one of the best U.S. cities for jobs, but the location of Duke University, North Carolina State University, and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill all make relocating to Raleigh an excellent choice for those earning an undergraduate or graduate degree.

Things to Do in Raleigh

Spend a day hiking, biking, or horseback riding through William B. Umstead State Park. Check out the 11-day North Carolina State Fair, the largest agriculture event in the country, which features everything from rides and concerts to food vendors and livestock shows. Wander around more than 130 stores at North Hills, including Lululemon, Ethan Allen, and REI. Take the kids to North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, where you can learn about dinosaurs, space exploration, and more. Participate in the annual Krispy Kreme Challenge to raise money for the UNC Children’s Hospital. Or order up some Fried Mac n’ Cheese, Carolina Style Ribs, and Beef Brisket at The Pit, one of Raleigh’s best BBQ restaurants.

San Diego, CA

@chris.and.ashley FIVE Must Visit Spots in San Diego! ☀️✨ There are so many great spots to visit in wonderful #sandiego! Here are some or our must visit spots and why we love them! 😍 #sdfoodies #sandiego #socal #visitsandiego #visitcalifornia #nature #travel #tourism ♬ This City – Sam Fischer

  • Population: 1,374,812
  • Home Price: $488,600 median purchase price; $1,427 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 33% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.0%

If you’re dreaming of settling down in one of the best big cities in the U.S., San Diego could be the place for you! There’s no shortage of sunshine, beaches, and outdoor adventures in this top West Coast City. San Diego is popular among both military families and veterans, as Naval Base CoronadoNaval Base Point Loma, and several VA health facilities are located in the area. Another reason why people move to San Diego is its safety and affordability. The metro offers lower crime rates and more affordable neighborhoods compared to other major California cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Things to Do in San Diego

Head to La Jolla Shores to go surfing and kayaking, or spend an afternoon along the boardwalk at Mission Beach. Visit the San Diego Zoo, one of the top zoos in the U.S., to see red pandas, elephants, leopards, and more. Check out the aquarium, hit the water park, hop on kid-friendly thrill rides, and build your own LEGO creations at LEGOLAND. Get tickets to Comic-Con International: San Diego to get sneak peeks at upcoming comic books, TV shows, and movies. Dig into brunch favorites like Avocado Toast, a Monte Cristo Sandwich, or a Dutch Pancake at Cafe 21. Or get out and explore San Diego’s over 150 breweries, where you can learn what separates the West Coast IPA from other IPAs.

Seattle, WA

  • Population: 668,849
  • Home Price: $484,600 median purchase price; $1,266 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 7% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.7%

An enormous seafood industry, a thriving arts scene, top tech companies headquartered in the area, a culture centered on good coffee, and unbeatable outdoor recreation have all helped put Seattle on the map as one of the best cities for families, best cities for young professionals, and best cities for real estate. This bustling Pacific Northwest metro is even one of the best cities for jobs, thanks to career opportunities with large employers like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Costco. Although the cost of living is a bit higher in Seattle than in other big cities on this list, Washington doesn’t have a state income tax, which helps offset some of the costs.

Things to Do in Seattle

Go hiking or camping in nearby Mount Rainier National Park. View incredible art collections for free on the first Thursday of the month at the Seattle Art Museum. Visit Pike Place Market to pick out fresh produce and handcrafted home goods. Catch punk bands, singer-songwriters, indie alt groups, and more at one of Seattle’s best concert venues, The Showbox. Find your pro sports scene among Seattle’s local teams: Sounders FC (MLS), Seattle Mariners (MLB), Seattle Storm (WNBA), and Seattle Seahawks (NFL). Experience Seattle coffee at top spots like Storyville Coffee, Preserve and Gather, and Slate Coffee. Or get your fill of seafood like oysters, prawns, clams, and more at RockCreek Seafood & Spirits. 

Virginia Beach, VA

Skyline of the buildings on the beach and ocean in Virginia Beach. Photo by Instagram user @cityofvabeach

Photo via @cityofvabeach

  • Population: 449,733
  • Home Price: $262,200 median purchase price; $1,258 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 54% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.7%

Perfect for anyone from all walks of life, Virginia Beach is a fantastic large city to live in thanks to safe, affordable neighborhoods, incredible year-round weather, beautiful beaches, a growing dining and nightlife scene, a large military presence, and several public golf courses. For those relocating for work, Virginia Beach is a major U.S. city that has a massive tourism industry that continues to grow and drive job creation in the area, and the city is home to several large employers, including GEICOAmerigroup, Sentara Healthcare, and the Navy Exchange.

Things to Do in Virginia Beach

Take a casual stroll and enjoy a picnic at the scenic First Landing State Park. Check out the waves, lounge on the sand, or go fishing at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, where you’ll find a three-mile boardwalk lined with outdoor restaurants and bars. Head to the annual Neptune Festival, Virginia’s Beach massive end-of-summer celebration with concerts, epic sand-sculpting competitions, and parades. See more than 300 species of fish, turtles, and seals at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. View the private collection of airplanes from WWI and WWII at the Military Aviation Museum. Or sample craft beers and chat with brewers on the Virginia Beach Guided Craft Brewery Tour.


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About Mike Beutler

Mike Beutler is a writer and digital content specialist who transitioned to self storage in 2020 after several years in the airline industry. His travels cultivated a passion for exploring cities across the U.S. and abroad and inspired him to learn more about practical insights for urban living. With 14 moves under his belt, both locally and cross-country, he also has a passion for minimalism and organization, and sharing tips to help others make any space feel like home while staying organized.