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Aerial View of Downtown Knoxville, TN

Best Mid-Size Cities in the U.S.

Thinking about moving to a new city? Consider living in a mid-size city! These destinations are perfect for anyone who wants big city amenities without a high cost of living or a massive population. Here are 12 mid-size cities in America to check out!

Ann Arbor, MI

Drone Shot of Ann Arbor, MI with The Big House in View. Photo by Instagram user @tannnnnnxt

Photo via @tannnnnnxt

  • Population: 118,087
  • Home Price: $250,200 median purchase price; $1,114 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 44% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.4%

Home to University of Michigan, Ann Arbor is one of the best college towns in America, but it has so much more to offer than just being a top destination for students! Recognized as a top tech hub in the U.S., this Michigan city is home to software and tech companies like Google and Thomson Reuters, as well as job opportunities in health care with Michigan Medicine and education with Ann Arbor Public Schools. On top of that, Ann Arbor boasts low crime rates, affordable housing, and top-rated public schools, making it a great place to live for families. And you’ll never be bored because this “Tree Town” has beautiful golf courses, cider mills and apple orchards, theaters, galleries, museums, and more!

Things to Do in Ann Arbor

Paddle down the river on your canoe or spend a day fly fishing on the Huron River Water Trail. Snack on buttery popcorn while you watch a film in the Historic Auditorium at Michigan Theater. Shop for handcrafted art, local herbs, spices, and teas, and more at Kerrytown Market & Shops. Check out the nationally known Ann Arbor Art Fair for local art, street performers, and delicious food. Head to The Big House decked out in blue and maize to join over 100,000 other fans for a Michigan Wolverines football game. Take the little ones on a fairy door hunt throughout Downtown Ann Arbor. Swing by Dexter Cider Mill for a good, old-fashioned cider mill doughnut and homemade wood-pressed apple cider. Make your way to Frita Batidos for Chorizo or Black Bean Frita, inspired by traditional Cuban burgers. Enjoy a Hippie Bowl or Za’atar Spiced Roasted Half Chicken at Sava’s. Look no further than Zingerman’s Roadhouse for American comfort fare like Fried Chicken Macaroni & Cheese. Or sip on a Mother’s Ruin or Libra Moon at one of Ann Arbor’s premier cocktail and whiskey bars, The Last Word.

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Boise, ID

Aerial View of Downtown Boise, ID with Lots of Trees. Photo by Instagram user @sotelo_media

Photo via @sotelo_media

  • Population: 218,677
  • Home Price: $191,000 median purchase price; $834 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 42% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.1%

If you’re looking for an affordable city in the Pacific Northwest with family-friendly activities, outdoor recreation, and a vibrant downtown, look no further than Boise! This mid-size city is more affordable than bigger Northwest cities like Seattle and Portland, but still offers residents top amenities like spacious homes, great schools, and mountain views. With this Idaho city, you can enjoy the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest and also find great employment opportunities with Micron Technology, Boise State University, Idaho Military Division, and Saint Alphonsus Health System. Beyond that, Boise has numerous trails for hiking and biking, such as the Boise River Greenbelt, and quick access to slopes for skiing and snowboarding.

Things to Do in Boise

Hone your kayaking skills and navigate the rapids at Kelly’s Whitewater Park. Ski across 2,600 acres of terrain or tube down an 800-foot hill at Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area & Ski Resort. Support the sustainable local food system when you shop for fresh produce at Capital City Public Market. Attend Idaho Shakespeare Festival or catch the Alive After Five Summer Concert Series for a free outdoor concert at The Grove Plaza. Cheer on Boise State University at a Broncos football game. Build your own mimosa while you enjoy the Chef’s Benny or Cast Iron French Toast Bake at Fork. Chow down on a Honey Badger or Gem State of Mind pizza made with parmesan cream sauce at The Wylder. Savor authentic Korean cuisines like Bibimbap or Spicy Pork Bulgogi at Mr. Wok. Dance the night away at one of Boise’s best dance clubs, The Balcony Club. Or stop by Cactus Bar, the oldest bar in Downtown Boise, for adult slushies like the Fiery Dr. Cherry Slushie.

Charleston, SC

Drone Photo of Charleston, SC with St. Michael's Church in View. Photo by Instagram user @mikehabat

Photo via @mikehabat

  • Population: 129,888
  • Home Price: $269,400 median purchase price; $1,052 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 29% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 4%

There’s a reason why Charleston is recognized as one of the best places to live in the South. In fact, the Holy City has frequently been named one of the top cities in the entire world! This coastal South Carolina city has beautiful weather, gorgeous beaches, delicious seafood, and scenic views. It’s also known for its rich history, meaning there are plenty of museums to visit and American history to explore! Charleston is also growing three times faster than the average U.S. city and continues to attract young professionals because of its nightlife scene, mild climate, and amazing job opportunities. The job market is growing, too, with major employers like Joint Base Charleston, Medical University of South Carolina, and The Boeing Company in the area.

Things to Do in Charleston

Stop by the famous Pineapple Fountain at Charleston Waterfront Park. Shop local boutiques, vintage consignment stores, and art galleries at the historic King Street in Downtown Charleston. Explore the Charleston City Market with more than 300 vendors selling locally sourced food, paintings, toys, and more. Run alongside 40,000 runners in the Cooper River Bridge Run. Hunt local ghosts and ghouls on Charleston ghost tours. Listen to live jazz music performed by local musicians and Grammy winners at Forte Jazz Lounge. Graze on a Kevin McCallister specialty pie or Margherita wood-fired pizza at Renzo. Order Sea Levels and Sage Waves oysters or try raw clams at Sea Level NC. Dig into the NC Trout or Crispy Calamari while dining on the rooftop patio at The Waterman Fish Bar. Try Southern comfort foods like a Fried Chicken Biscuit or Biscuits & Gravy with a side of grits at Millers All Day. Or gather with friends for unique drinks like Apple Pie or Blackberry Moonshine at Firefly Distillery.

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Cincinnati, OH

Early Morning Photo of Downtown Cinicinnati, OH with Paul Brown Stadium Visible. Photo by Instagram user @phantomphotos_

Photo via @phantomphotos_

  • Population: 298,011
  • Home Price: $120,300 median purchase price; $662 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 4% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 7.5%

Looking for a mid-size Midwestern city with affordable living and lots of things to do? With professional sports teams, higher education opportunities, great shopping, and must-see museums, Cincinnati has it all! This Ohio metropolitan area is home to major employers like The Kroger Co., Proctor & Gamble, Fifth Third Bank, UC Health, and TriHealth. There are also over 20 higher education options for those looking to pursue their degree at universities like the University of Cincinnati or Xavier University. In addition, Cincy is brimming with historic neighborhoods and beautiful architecture, making for a scenic hometown you can plant roots in!

Things to Do in Cincinnati

Go up the rock climbing canyon on the playground, ride Carol Ann’s Carousel, or see the Roebling Suspension Bridge at Smale Riverfront Park. Go horseback riding across Mt. Airy Forest’s 1,459 acres. Stroll through Over-the-Rhine, Cincy’s oldest neighborhood and home to Findlay Market. Root for the Cincinnati Reds (MLB) at the Great American Ball Park. Dare to walk across the Shark Bridge, just inches above a variety of sharks, rays, and more than 300 fish at Newport Aquarium. Visit The Duke Energy Children’s Museum, consistently ranked in the top 10 best children’s museums in the U.S. Get Eli’s signature BBQ sauce on a Pulled Pork Sandwich and a side of Jalapeno Cornbread at Eli’s BBQ. Fill up on an Incline Cheesesteak or Braised Short Rib Grilled Cheese while enjoying scenic city views at Incline Public House. Treat yourself to delicious Mexican dishes like Pork Tacos, Chile Relleno, or Tamales at Mazunte Taqueria. Or enjoy a night with a Three Fingered Jack, Queen Anne’s Revenge, or Royal Charles cocktail at Sundry & Vice.

Des Moines, IA

  • Population: 212,859
  • Home Price: $119,800 median purchase price; $775 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 6% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 5%

In Des Moines, you’ll find affordable housing, a cost of living 13% lower than the national average, and kid-friendly activities, making this Iowa city one of the best places to raise a family. Top schools like Drake University and Des Moines University also draw young adults seeking college degrees to the area, as do job opportunities at Wells Fargo, HealthPartners UnityPoint Health, Principal, and within the city’s growing startup scene, so it’s no surprise why Des Moines is one of the best cities for young professionals. Not to mention, this Midwest city has a booming arts scene, craft beer culture, biking community, and tons of festivals!

Things to Do in Des Moines

Stroll through Historic Valley Junction, a renovated railroad district filled with local boutiques, art galleries, craft stores, and more. Score seats to an Iowa Cubs (MiLB) baseball game or cheer on the Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL) at Buccaneer Arena. Picnic in the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park at Des Moines Art Center. See an Aldabra Tortoise, Golden-headed Tamarin, or Eastern Black Rhinoceros at Blank Park Zoo. Visit Adventureland Resort to brave rickety wooden rollercoaster The Outlaw. Snack on a foot-long corndog at the Iowa State Fair while you enjoy a concert on the Grandstand. Watch national bands and regional talent perform at 80/35 Music Festival. Swing by Mullets for hearty breakfast dishes like a Breakfast Taco, Meatloaf Hash Browns, or Cordon Bleu Omelet. Savor Italian-inspired meals like Handmade Cavatelli, Ricotta Gnocchi, or Centro Crab Cakes at urban eatery Centro. Order a charcuterie board, Royal Grilled Cheese, or Cast-Iron Mac & Cheese at Cheese Bar. Try a vegan burger like the Volcano or Torta Frita at Dirt Burger. Or pick from the largest craft beer selection west of the Mississippi at El Bait Shop.

Durham, NC

Downtown Durham, NV with Rainbow Visible. Photo by Instagram user @estlinhaiss

Photo via @estlinhaiss

  • Population: 251,761
  • Home Price: $183,900 median purchase price; $913 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 6% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.5%

Located about 30 minutes outside of Raleigh, Durham offers its own unique southern charm, as well as close proximity to both the mountains and the beach! This North Carolina city is part of the Research Triangle Region, attracting young talent in technology, manufacturing, AgTech, CleanTech, and life sciences. It’s also known as the “City of Medicine” with over 300 medical and health-related companies. Plus, Duke University, one of the top universities in the nation, can be found in Durham, adding to its college town charm. With abundant job opportunities, a low cost of living, and an active nightlife scene, it’s no wonder Durham is one of the best medium cities in America!

Things to Do in Durham

Attend the Food Truck Rodeo at Durham Central Park, where you order from food trucks serving everything from Chinese-style dumplings to authentic Jamaican food. Catch trending Broadway shows like Pretty Woman: The Musical at Durham Performing Arts Center. Spend an evening rooting for the Durham Bulls (MiLB), or cheer on the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Hike part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that winds through Falls Lake State Recreation Area. Navigate the challenging ropes courses sponsored by Durham Parks & Recreation. Visit Carolina Theatre of Durham to catch the latest movie release or watch a retro film. Snack on a warm Butter Croissant or Cinnamon Schnecke at Guglhupf Bakery, Cafe & Biergarten. Brunch at Grub Durham, where you can enjoy the Best Bird Biscuit breakfast sandwich or The Slammer breakfast plate. Sink your teeth into a Carolina Burger with Cheese Fries on the side at Only Burger. Graze on Crispy Chicken or Mechada Arepas at Guasaca South American Grill. Or sip on drinks like a Mint Julep or Jungle Bird at Alley Twenty Six.

Grand Rapids, MI

  • Population: 193,887
  • Home Price: $113,600 median purchase price; $806 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 14% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.7%

Looking for a sustainable mid-size city? Located just beyond the Lake Michigan shoreline, Grand Rapids offers residents Midwest living that prioritizes reducing carbon emissions, protecting and preserving water resources, and minimizing waste generation. But Grand Rapids isn’t just one of the most sustainable cities in the U.S.—it’s also recognized as one of the most affordable cities in America! With housing prices 31% below the national average, budget-friendly homes aren’t hard to find here. Grand Rapids residents can also find outdoor adventures, a bustling art scene, tons of craft breweries, and much more!

Things to Do in Grand Rapids

Fish off the pier, swim near the sandy beach, or coast over dunes at Silver Lake State Park. Spend a day in Saugatuck at Oval Beach, one of the best beaches in the United States. Catch the salmon migration as they travel through the Fish Ladder Sculpture. Show your support for the Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL), West Michigan Whitecaps (MiLB), and Grand Rapids Drive (NBA G League). Putt 18 holes of miniature golf under black lights at Great Lakes Glow Golf. Hand-pick juicy Michigan apples or take a ride on the tractor pulled wagons at Klackle Orchards. Sample locally roasted coffee with a Coffee Flight at Madcap Coffee. Devour Fish Lads‘ legendary Lobster Roll or proper Fish & Chips. Sink your teeth into a Torta, Chorizo Quesadilla, and Luna Chips at Tacos El Cunado. Enjoy a scoop of Fresh Mint Chip ice cream from Love’s Ice Cream & Chocolate. Download the Beer City Ale Trail map and explore 65 breweries, cideries, distilleries, and meaderies in Beer City USA. Or plan an evening at The B.O.B., a former grocery warehouse-turned-eateries, brewery, piano bar, and comedy club.

Knoxville, TN

  • Population: 183,927
  • Home Price: $120,300 median purchase price; $766 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 6% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.7%

Situated along the Tennessee River and surrounded by the Cumberland Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains, Knoxville is a mid-size city that consistently makes the list for top places to live because of its big city amenities and outdoor adventure. This Tennessee city offers affordable homes, plenty of family-friendly activities, and a fun downtown area with a number of trendy dining spots and shopping. In fact, Knoxville’s population is relatively young, thanks to both the families who’ve planted roots and the growing number of students attending school at University of Tennessee‘s Knoxville campus. Residents of Knoxville can count on enjoying mild seasons, a diverse community, SEC sporting events, unique festivals, and more!

Things to Do in Knoxville

Visit World’s Fair Park and climb to the Sunsphere observation deck with a 360-degree view of Downtown Knoxville, the Tennessee River, University of Tennessee, and Smoky Mountains. Descend below ground to explore the Historic Cherokee Caverns. Explore Market Square in Downtown Knoxville, where you’ll find foodie favorites, gift shops, and the three-floor Preservation Pub. See your favorite artists and comedians at the historic Tennessee Theatre. Go to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, home to the world’s largest basketball. Cheer on the Tennessee Vols or catch a race at the Knoxville Raceway. Spend a fall day at Maple Lane Farms to pick pumpkins and navigate your way through a corn maze. Go bouldering at Onsight Rock Gym, Knoxville’s largest indoor rock climbing gym. Savor gourmet treats like a Double Fudge Brownie donut or Milk & Cereal donut at Makers Donuts. Have a S’mores Crepe or Blueberries & Lemon Curd Crepe at The French Market Creperie. Sample some Tennessee barbecue at Calhoun’s by ordering the Bacon Wrapped Beef Brisket Burnt Ends or Hickory Smoked Bar-B-Que Ribs. Or sneak into the Peter Kern Library speakeasy for a crafted cocktail like the Holly Golightly or Ida Mae Gladney.

Lincoln, NE

Photo of the Nebraska State Capitol Building in Lincoln, NE. Photo by Instagram user @gabeluedke

Photo via @gabeluedke

  • Population: 273,018
  • Home Price: $150,200 median purchase price; $750 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 24% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.3%

Want a home with friendly neighbors and low living costs? Look no further than Lincoln! This college town is home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which has brought job opportunities, exciting sporting events, and plenty of nightlife to the city. Nebraska’s capital also offers a quieter way of life and many kid-friendly attractions, making it one of the best cities to raise a family. Beyond that, Lincoln’s low startup costs have ignited an active startup industry that’s taken hold of the city. An integral part of the Silicon Prairie, this city is home to technology and software companies like Opendorse, Hudl, and Travefy.

Things to Do in Lincoln

Explore the hiking trails and 668 acres of tallgrass prairie at Pioneers Park Nature Center. Learn about the state’s history at Nebraska History Museum. Spend a winter day gliding around The Railyard Ice Skating Rink. Take a peaceful walk along the brick pathways of the Sunken Gardens to enjoy beautiful flowers, statues, fountains, and koi ponds. Sing along to performances from artists like Eric Church or Maroon 5 at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Cheer on Husker football at the always-loud Memorial Stadium. Show your support for the Lincoln Saltdogs (AA) at Haymarket Park. Swing by the Lincoln Haymarket for a gourmet burger at Leadbelly or a freshly baked sweet treat from The Rabbit Hole Bakery. Munch on Pasta Gorgonzola with Chicken, Lobster Fettuccine, or Cod Scampi at The Green Gateau. Get a taste for Vietnamese sandwiches like the Spicy Thai Chicken Bahn Mi or Grilled Beef Bahn Mi at Banhwich Cafe. Grab a scoop of French Toast ice cream at Ivanna Cone. Or snag a Fishbowl at Duffy’s Tavern while listening to live music.

Madison, WI

View of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison, WI Looking Across Lake Monona. Photo by Instagram user @aschultzphoto

Photo via @aschultzphoto

  • Population: 246,034
  • Home Price: $217,000 median purchase price; $959 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 28% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.5%

Sprawled around multiple lakes, Madison offers fun outdoor recreation, unique annual festivals, and famous Wisconsin cheese. Home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this college town has become a hub for engineering, business, and computer science, as well as Big Ten sports. Madison also has job opportunities in tech, healthcare, insurance, and energy fields at companies like Epic Systems, UW Health, and American Family Insurance. In addition, this Wisconsin city is one of the best places to live for families because of its low crime rates, short commutes, and high testing scores among students!

Things to Do in Madison

Go kayaking, paddle boarding, or boating on Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, Lake Wingra, Lake Waubesa, and Lake Kegonsa, the five lakes that surround Madison. Cross-country ski across 22 miles of trails in the Madison Parks. Visit Chazen Museum of Art to see rotating exhibits and their collection of 1,600 paintings. Head to Dane County Farmers’ Market in Downtown Madison for fresh, locally grown produce. Make your way through State Street pedestrian mall to shop boutiques like Little Luxuries and The Soap Opera. Attend one of the annual festivals in Madison like The World’s Largest Brat Fest, Bacon & Brews Fest, Madison Craft Beer Week, and Wisconsin’s Best Bloody Mary Fest. Meet the rooftop chickens and hold a chick at the Madison Children’s Museum. Try the best cheese curds in Madison at Curd Girl, or visit Stella’s for Hot & Spicy Cheese Bread. Devour a box of truffles from Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier. Or stop at a local Wisconsin brewery like Ale Asylum for a glass of Unshadowed Hefeweizen or Velveteen Habit IPA.

Rochester, MN

  • Population: 111,396
  • Home Price: $167,800 median purchase price; $847 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 46% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.3%

Nicknamed “Med City,” Rochester is home to the first Mayo Clinic, the world-renowned research hospital that provides more than 36,000 jobs to Rochester residents. Other top employersremoved like IBM, Rochester Public Schools, and Olmsted Medical Center contribute to the city’s low unemployment rate! While big cities like St. Paul or Minneapolis may be more popular, this southern Minnesota city has a lower price tag with similar amenities, including a thriving downtown, international airport, welcoming neighborhoods, and many local art galleries and shops. Plus, residents looking for outdoor activities will find over 100 parks and over 85 miles of biking trails in Rochester!

Things to Do in Rochester

Get out and enjoy the weather by hiking at Quarry Hill Nature Center or the Douglas State Trail. Bike or rollerblade around Silver Lake Park. Enjoy a picnic on the beach at Foster Arend Park. Snow tube down the hills or go on a scenic trail ride on horseback at Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch. Head to Peace Plaza Downtown to visit galleries like the Neon Green Studio, shop The Grand Shops of Kahler, or grab lunch at Saladworks. Attend the week-long Rochesterfest at Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial Park with themed nights filled with fun, food, a button contest, and more! Take the kids strawberry-picking at one of the nearby berry farms. Race go-karts or pan for gold at Skyline Raceway. Eat authentic Vietnamese food like Com Bo Ca Ri Beef Curry or Com Ga Xao Xa Lemongrass Chicken at Pho Chau. Get your pasta fix with Stuffed Shells Napoletana or Penne Alla Arrabiata at Victoria’s Ristorante & Wine Bar. Check out Wildwood Sports Bar & Grill for Honey-Sriracha Chicken Wings and Kicked Up Lemonades while you watch your favorite teams. Or sample craft cocktails like Low Expectation or The Problem Solver at Bitter & Pour.

Salt Lake City, UT

Downtown Salt Lake City, UT at Sunset. Photo by Instagram user @jonburkholz

Photo via @jonburkholz

  • Population: 191,446
  • Home Price: $248,700 median purchase price; $844 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 4% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.9%

With its proximity to state and national parks, steady job growth, and hip neighborhoods, Salt Lake City is one of the best mid-size cities to live in! The city attracts many students and young professionals, thanks to University of Utah, which offers an excellent tech program. In fact, Salt Lake City is also one of the best cities for new graduates because of its booming job market, low unemployment rate, high earning potential, and rapidly growing startup scene. Salt Lake City’s budding tech industry is even poised to become a tech hot spot, with major tech companies like Adobe, eBay, Microsoft, and Oracle taking root in the area.

Things to Do in Salt Lake City

Hike through the Uinta-Wasatch Cache National Forest and camp for the night under starry skies. Bobsled, tube, or ski at Utah Olympic Park in nearby Park City. Hike up to The Living Room or Grandeur Peak. Don your team jersey and snag tickets to see the Utah Jazz (NBA) or Real Salt Lake (MLS) play. Grab a blanket and go to nearby Redwood Drive-In Theatre to catch summer film releases. Crawl through the Honey Climber, service a Subaru, or curl up in the Reading Nook at Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum. Swing by Alchemy Coffee for their signature Choco Chai or Cold Brew. Fill up on a Pastrami Ruben or Sloppy Joe for lunch at Feldman’s Deli. Head to Bombay House for authentic Indian cuisines like Chicken Makhani and Shrimp Coconut Kurma. Try the best Mexican food in SLC by ordering Mole Verde, Top Sirloin Fajitas, or Gringas at family-run Red Iguana. Or kick back and relax with cocktails like a Cinnayum Sour or Tall Dark & Handsome at Purgatory.


Moving to one of these mid-size cities? Extra Space Storage has convenient storage facilities across the U.S., so we can help you find a secure place for your belongings during the transition. Find self storage near you!

City statistics from AreaVibes

Mid-Size U.S. Cities: 12 Best Cities to Live in