Best Places to Live in the Midwest

Looking for the best places to live in the Midwest? Below are the 11 best Midwest cities based on population, cost of living, job opportunities, crime rates, availability of things to do, and more!

Ann Arbor, MI

  • Population: 118,087
  • Home Price: $250,200 median purchase price; $1,114 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 57% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.4%

Ann Arbor isn’t just one of the best Midwest cities. It has also won best place to live in America—twice! This Michigan city is known by its residents as “Tree Town,” which is reflected in the city’s foliage-lined streets and dedication to environmentalism.

In addition, Ann Arbor is one of the best college towns in America, so make sure to deck out your closet in maize and blue if you want to fit in with the fans of the University of Michigan. Almost half the city is employed in the education and health industries, which includes the university and University Hospital. Ann Arbor is also extremely appealing to tech companies, thanks to the university’s top-rated STEM programs and influx of recent Michigan grads into the local workforce.

The relatively young population of Ann Arbor continues to drive change in the city as well, making it feel larger and more urban than it is. Modern restaurants like vegan eatery The Lunch Room are popping up throughout the city, and the area has become incredibly walkable and bikeable. Don’t forget to check out the Ann Arbor Art Fair, a four-day event that draws thousands to view, sell, and purchase paintings, crafts, and other art. Make sure to keep an eye out for the tiny fairy houses around Ann Arbor, too. According to local legend, humans aren’t the only ones who love living in the Midwest!

Cedar Rapids, IA

  • Population: 129,537
  • Home Price: $136,700 median purchase price; $711 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 26% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.3%

After a massive flood took out ten square miles of city in 2008, Downtown Cedar Rapids was completely rebuilt. The infrastructure is new, the housing market is stable, and Cedar Rapids has gotten to reinvent itself in a way that most cities never can. Known as the “City of Five Seasons,” the local attitude is that life should be appreciated for every little moment, so you won’t find uptight, in-a-hurry residents here.

Cedar Rapids is the second-largest city in Iowa, just behind Des Moines. It was founded by Czech settlers, and their influence still shows in local attractions like the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, or the NewBo City Market and Czech Village downtown. Cedar Rapids is also the birthplace of Grant Wood’s famous painting American Gothic, which you’ll see referenced just about anywhere you look.

If you’re looking for local spots to chow down, Emil’s Hideaway has great burgers and small bites like jalapeno poppers, while Village Meat Market & Cafe has delicious smoked pork ribs and sandwiches. Want some quality time outdoors? Head to Prairie Park Fishery or Bever Park. In the mood for a wild night out? Visit Belle’s Basix or Hazzard County American Saloon—or make the 20-minute drive to Iowa City to visit University of Iowa student favorites like the two-story Iowa City Yacht Club.

Columbia, MO

  • Population: 117,165
  • Home Price: $178,600 median purchase price; $803 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 26% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.9%

Columbia’s reputation for progressive politics and journalism, extensive city-wide recycling programs, and funky local businesses make it “cooler” than the average city in Missouri, but that’s not all this small city has going for it. CoMo (as its known by locals) is one of the best small cities for aging and retirement, and it’s a great college town with universities like Columbia CollegeStephens College, and Mizzou.

Every year, Columbia hosts the Show-Me State Games, the largest statewide athletic competition with up to 28,000 amateur athletes competing in Olympic-style events. And the big events don’t stop there! The True/False Film Fest, which takes place annually at Ragtag Cinema, showcases documentaries and independent films, while the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival offers the best of both ribs and music!

Like most Midwest cities, CoMo takes pride in its food and drinks. You can find excellent craft brews at local breweries like Logboat Brewing Co. and Rock Bridge Brewing Co. Or try unique ice cream flavors like Lavender Honey and White Russian at Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream. Or sample the aptly-named Masterpiece pizza at Shakespeare’s Pizza. No matter what kind of cuisine you’re in the mood for, you’ll find it in Columbia!

Columbus, OH

  • Population: 837,038
  • Home Price: $131,800 median purchase price; $856 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 14% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.8%

Not only is Columbus one of the largest cities in the Midwest (with a metro population of 2 million), but it’s also one of the most affordable cities in the U.S. C-Bus is also more temperate than other places in the Midwest, so you might be able to dodge some of the region’s infamous winter weather. In fact, that crisp Ohio autumn air is perfect for tailgating at Buckeyes games at The Ohio State University!

You might not think of the Midwest as a place for interesting, award-winning cuisine, but that’s exactly what Columbus offers! Visit The Pearl, an upscale gastropub with fresh takes on old favorites like ricotta dumplings. Try funky ice cream flavors like Gingerbread Cognac and Brambleberry Crisp at Jeni’s. Settle in for some Southern-fried comfort food and craft beers at The Eagle. Or if you want to try the “best coffee in Ohio” (according to locals), then you need to check out the cash-only Yeah, Me Too coffee shop.

Columbus offers plenty to do for people of all ages. The Wexner Center for the Arts (nicknamed the Wex) and the Columbus Arts Festival are fantastic places to get your art fix. Looking for something the whole family will love? Head to the Ohio State Fair for whirling rides or the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to see cute tiger cubs. When the weather is prime, springtime favorite Columbus Park of Roses is a beautiful place to soak up the sunshine.

Fort Wayne, IN

  • Population: 260,954
  • Home Price: $103,100 median purchase price; $681 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 23% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.2%

The heart of America is full of Midwestern values, and Fort Wayne is a great illustrator of those traits. This mid-sized city in Indiana is hard-working, friendly, and traditional with an inexpensive Midwest cost of living. This pleasant town is happy to be right in the middle as far as city size goes. It’s a hop in the car away from bustling Indianapolis, and it’s close to Amish Country.

Fort Wayne itself is full of fun traditions like Buskerfest, an annual celebration of street performers. The Three Rivers Festival kicks it up a notch with food, music, and events like bed racing. For the creatively-inclined, Gearfest is a huge convention of music technicians, guitar players, and musicians. And you can’t forget about Le Tour de Fort, a large group-bicycle ride to various pubs to support veterans.

Make sure to check out the local restaurants around town! Sweets So Geek will satisfy your sweet tooth with fun treats like the Batman Bacon Bites or the Pika Chews. Bravas will give you the savory kick you need with incredible burgers and sides like the Campechano with mac and cheese. Don’t leave without checking out Coney Island and their traditional hot dogs, too—they’ve been in business since 1914.

Madison, WI

  • Population: 246,034
  • Home Price: $217,000 median purchase price; $959 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 32% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.5%

There are two big cities in Wisconsin starting with “M,” but when you’re talking about top places to live in the U.S. with an affordable cost of living, it’s hard to do better than Madison. The economy is growing in Madison, partly due to the opportunities brought in by the University of Wisconsin.

This Midwestern paradise is also known as The City of Four Lakes—those lakes being Mendota, Monona, Kegonsa, and Waubesa. Madison also has the most parks, playgrounds, and beaches per capita in the U.S. The focus on serious environmentalism doesn’t change the city’s sense of humor, though. Madison’s “city bird” is a plastic flamingo after a semi-legendary college prank, and The Onion even got its start here.

Grab a seat at Merchant for fried local cheese curds, or venture to Dane County Farmers Market, America’s largest producers-only market. Madison residents are huge fans of craft beers and distilleries, but they go wild for a good Bloody Mary. Try the “Brunchzilla” at Nitty Gritty for an entire hamburger slider on the side, or a classic version at Come Back In. The shopping in Madison is just as varied and fun as the cocktails with unique shops like Little Luxuries and The Soap Opera alongside big brands like Kate Spade and Sur La Table. And if you need something outdoors to do, visit the Arboretum or the Henry Vilas Zoo.

Naperville, IL

  • Population: 145,789
  • Home Price: $388,400 median purchase price; $1,360 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 81% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.9%

You’ve definitely heard of Chicago, but have you heard of Naperville? Less than an hour away, this Chicago suburb is a force to be reckoned with on its own. It’s been recognized as one of the best cities for aging and retirement, one of the safest cities in the Midwest, and the best place to raise a family!

If that doesn’t sound like music to your ears, try this—Naperville is home to Wentz Concert Hall, a specialized auditorium that’s tuned with sound-absorbing curtains and has hosted musicians from Colbie Caillat to Yo-Yo Ma. Naperville high schools are striking chords as well. Three local schools have won 16 Grammys between them for outstanding contributions to the field of music. Even the Moser Tower in Riverwalk Park houses a massive set of bells, so Naperville is always full of song.

Get your dance (and drinks) on at Frankie’s Blue Room, or grab an overstuffed pastrami sandwich at Schmaltz Delicatessen. If you prefer surf over turf, make a reservation for oysters at the upscale Hugo’s Frog Bar and Fish HouseRibfest is also a must to check out! Every year, proceeds from this collection of barbecue ribs and music go to preventing child abuse.

Omaha, NE

  • Population: 443,072
  • Home Price: $139,800 median purchase price; $819 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 13% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.8%

Another top pick for major cities in the Midwest, Omaha is vastly different from the typical view of Nebraska. Mutual of Omaha, ConAgra Foods, Union Pacific, Kiewit, and Berkshire Hathaway are all major players in the Omaha economy. Offutt Air Force Base is another huge draw. It’s home to more than 23,000 active military, families, and civilians, as well as the headquarters of U.S. Strategic Command. This makes Omaha a fantastic home for both veterans and active military.

Spend a day exploring the internationally-renowned Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. If you can catch a game, the UNO Mavericks men’s hockey team draws impressive crowds on the ice at Baxter Arena. Make sure to save your summers for the College World Series and Olympic Swim Trials, both of which bring in visitors from all over the country to cheer on their favorite teams and competitors!

Whether it’s local fast-food like Runza or upscale options like V.Mertz and The Grey Plume, you definitely won’t go hungry living in Omaha. Looking for dessert? There are endless ice cream flavors among eCreameryConeflower, and Ted and Wally’s. Ready to hit the town? Grab an old-fashioned at cocktail bar Mercury, dance the night away at nightclub The Max, or engage 8-bit enemies at Beercade.

Overland Park, KS

  • Population: 183,775
  • Home Price: $237,100 median purchase price; $1,040 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 59% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.8%

Whether you’re relocating for an immensely popular job with Sprint or looking for a safe community with great schools for raising your family, you’ll soon find out there’s no place like Overland Park. Full of great shopping, Downtown Overland Park is bursting with specialty boutiques like The Tasteful OliveThe General Store & Co., and Yarn Shop, and it hosts the Overland Park Farmers Market. There’s also Oak Park MallHawthorne Plaza, and Town Center, all of which offer more traditional big-name retailers.

As part of the Kansas City metro, Overland Park reaps the benefits of the city’s arts and culture, but there’s plenty to discover in its own backyard. The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art is an internationally-acclaimed collection of art including photography and sculpture. The Monet Garden at the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is a replication of Claude Monet’s home, featuring bridges and flowers in his recognizable color palette. Just outside the excitement of “city life” is Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, featuring a petting zoo, a blacksmith shop, and an old-fashioned general store.

Start out your day with breakfast at Shack for fun favorites like “The Downstream Is Too Mainstream,”
their smoked salmon omelet. The Upper Crust Pie Bakery can satisfy any sweet cravings. Try their Derby pie, full of chocolate, pecans, and a shot of whiskey! Let your taste buds travel around the world at places like Korma Sutra for Indian, Porto do Sul for Brazilian, and Elsa’s for Ethiopian fare. For the adults in the family, Overland Park is overflowing with breweries. Boulevard Brewing CompanyBrew Lab, and Cinder Block Brewery are all great options to stop and smell the hops.

Rochester, MN

  • Population: 111,396
  • Home Price: $167,800 median purchase price; $847 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 48% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.3%

If you already know about Rochester, it’s probably because of the Mayo Clinic. A world-renowned medical facility will do that to a city’s reputation. This sleek side of Rochester is especially visible downtown, where dozens of dining, nightlife, and hotel options are connected via skyways and underground walkways.

Upper Midwest weather intimidates a lot of out-of-towners, but the people of Rochester know how to make it work for them. Every February, you can make the most of winter at SocialICE, an outdoor event with ice sculptures, musicians, and cocktails ordered from ice-bars. Heat up with some espresso at Café Steam, or check out the rooftop bar at La Vetta to really get a glimpse of Rochester. There are also delectable eats at places like Chester’s Kitchen and BarPescara, and Twigs Tavern & Grille.

Rochester is easily one of the best small cities in America, boasting fun activities with a small town vibe. Visit Salem Glen for wine, cheese, and live music on Saturdays. If local events like Thursdays on First & 3rd don’t have quite the kick you may have hoped, you can always spend an hour heading over to Minneapolis. But is it possible to stay in Rochester to experience the best of the Midwest? You betcha.

Sioux Falls, SD

  • Population: 167,884
  • Home Price: $161,500 median purchase price; $749 median monthly rent
  • Crime Rate: Safer than 18% of U.S. cities
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.8%

Sioux Falls’ mix of small-town charm and big-city style means there’s always something to do. Plus, South Dakota has no state corporate income tax, so major businesses in the finance, agribusiness, and telecom industries headquarter in the city and surrounding areas. Whether your interest in Sioux Falls stems from its economy, its status as one of the best small cities for retirement, or its eclectic artistic and industrial makeup, Sioux Falls could be the place for you.

Empire Mall is full of big-name stores that offer some of the best and most stylish options in a hundred-mile radius. And, of course, trendy local retailers abound here, too. Shops like Simply Perfect and Oh My Word round out the shopping experience with personal charm. As far as specialty food boutiques go, you have to try CH Patisserie for macarons made by Chris Hanmer, who’s been featured on shows like Top Chef.

Downtown Sioux Falls is a premier destination for shopping, but it also hosts events like the annual SculptureWalk. Each summer, expand your artistic sensibilities with beautiful installations from local artists. The Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues Festival is just another way Sioux Falls kicks the culture up to eleven. It would be a shame to spend any time in Sioux Falls without visiting Falls Park—123 acres of lush greenery and urban trails in the middle of town, centering on the 7,400 gallons of water rushing every second. Up the elevation to see why snowboarders and skiers love to hit the powdery slopes at Great Bear Recreation Park.

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Data from AreaVibes.

Best Places to Live in the Midwest