Tall buildings with lights on and pink sky.

Best Big Cities to Live in the U.S.

Have you always dreamed of living 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 destinations and see what sets them apart!

  • Austin, TX
  • Denver, CO
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Portland, OR
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Seattle, WA
  • Virginia Beach, VA

Austin, TX

Sun shining on tall buildings in Downtown Austin, TX. Photo by Instagram user @flowkyte
Photo via @flowkyte
  • Population: 907,779
  • Home Price: $257,800 median purchase price; $1,106 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 22% 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 Texas, IBM, Dell, Google, 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 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 SXSW. View contemporary and modern paintings and sculptures at The Contemporary Austin. Pop over to The Midway Food Park to sample incredible street food from local food trucks like TaconmayeThe Cheesecake Experience, and Beirut. Or make a reservation at Austin speakeasy Midnight Cowboy for handcrafted cocktails in a relaxing lounge setting.

Denver, CO

Tall buildings in Downtown Denver with snow on ground. Photo by Instagram user @onthesearchforpineapples
Photo via @onthesearchforpinapples
  • Population: 663,303
  • Home Price: $292,700 median purchase price; $1,035 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 10% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.8%

It’s no wonder why so many people want to live 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 most exciting food cities in the U.S. 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!

FIND YOUR STORE

Minneapolis, MN

Tall buildings at night in Downtown Minneapolis during winter. Photo by Instagram user @travelmoretwincities
Photo via @travelmoretwincities
  • Population: 404,670
  • Home Price: $212,800 median purchase price; $898 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 3% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.1%

Minneapolis is one of the best major 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 big city. Minneapolis is a top city for military retirement and is also home to one of the best downtown areas for families. Additionally, young professionals 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 to 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 Stunner Tropical Ale and Coffee Bender Brown Ale at Surly Brewing.

Phoenix, AZ

Skyline of mountains and buildings in Phoenix, AZ. Photo by Instagram user @maverick_shots
Photo via @maverick_shots
  • 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 most affordable cities in America and one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities, thanks to its budget-friendly housing, year-round warm weather, and outdoor recreation. Though the 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 is also a top U.S. destination for jobs, it comes as no surprise that young professionals and young 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

Skyline of tall buildings and mountains during sun rise in Portland, OR. Photo by Instagram user @50shadesofpnw
Photo via @50shadesofpnw
  • Population: 620,589
  • Home Price: $319,400 median purchase price; $1,025 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 11% 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 Portland! This Pacific Northwest hot spot is one of the best places to live on the West Coast, and it’s one of America’s best cities 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 275 public parks and gardens. But it’s not just about outdoor activities in this Oregon city! With its quirky vibefoodie scenebike-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. 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. 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. Hang out at Oregon Brewers Festival, the nation’s longest-running craft beer festival, where you can sample local craft beers, ciders, and wines. 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 34% 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 UniversityNorth Carolina State University, and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill all make relocating to Raleigh an excellent choice for those hoping to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree.

Things to Do in Raleigh

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. Spend a day hiking, biking, or horseback riding through William B. Umstead State Park. 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 North Carolina Children’s Hospital. Or order up some Fried Mac & Cheese, Carolina Style Ribs, and Beef Brisket at The Pit, one of Raleigh’s best BBQ restaurants

San Diego, CA

Skyline of tall buildings lit up in Downtown San Diego. Photo by Instagram user @jbahuphotos
Photo via @jbahuphotos
  • Population: 1,374,812
  • Home Price: $488,600 median purchase price; $1,427 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 35% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.0%

If you’re dreaming of settling down in one of the best places to live 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 12 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, which makes it a top destination for raising a family.

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 Bananas Foster Dutch Pancakes 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.

FIND YOUR STORE

Seattle, WA

Skyline of tall buildings and water at night in Downtown Seattle. Photo by Instagram user @starvingphotographer
Photo via @starvingphotographer
  • 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 of best West Coast cities and best cities in the U.S. This bustling Pacific Northwest metro is even one of the best places to live 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

Visit Pike Place Market to pick out fresh produce and handcrafted home goods. View incredible art collections for free on the first Thursday of the month at the Seattle Art Museum. Go hiking or camping in nearby Mount Rainier National Park. 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 CoffeePreserve 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 58% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.7%

Year after year, Virginia Beach makes the list of best large cities to live in, and it’s because this Virginia coastal city has so much to offer people from all walks of life—family-friendly 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 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 GEICO, Amerigroup, Sentara Healthcare, and the U.S. Navy.

Things to Do in Virginia Beach

Take on the waves, lounge on the sand, or go fishing at Virginia Beach Oceanfront, where you’ll find a three-mile boardwalk lined with outdoor restaurants and bars. Check out 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 Beach Aquarium. Take a casual stroll and enjoy a picnic at the scenic First Landing State Park. Check out the private collection of airplanes from WWI and WWII at the Military Aviation Museum. Or sample craft brews and chat with brewers on the Virginia Beach Craft Beer Tour.

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Data from AreaVibes

Pinterest Graphic: Big U.S. Cities: Best Big Cities to Live in the U.S.

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