The 25 Best Places to Live in the South

These metro areas offer warmer weather, Southern charm, affordability and job opportunities.

U.S. News & World Report

The 25 Best Places to Live in the South

Nashville, Tennessee downtown skyline at twilight
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Southern appeal

It could be the comfort food, warm weather or lush foliage that appeals to you most – in any case, the South is calling and you’re ready to make it your home. But where should you put down roots? The U.S. Census Bureau defines the South as including the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. This large region of the country offers plenty of options, but we looked at the Southern metro areas that rank the highest on the U.S. News Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2020-2021 ranking, which examines affordability, job market, desirability, quality of education and overall well-being, among other details. Read on for the 25 best places to live in the South.

Downtown Hickory NC
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25. Hickory, North Carolina

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 49
Metro Population: 365,339
Median Home Price: $152,258
Average Annual Salary: $40,610

At the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hickory offers residents an active arts community and easy access to outdoor activities. Hickory’s best score in the Best Places to Live ranking is for its affordability, as residents spend just 20.2% of the median household income on housing costs, including mortgage payments or rent, property taxes and utilities. Plus, becoming a homeowner in Hickory is more attainable than in many other parts of the U.S. The area’s median home price is $152,258, according to data from real estate information company Zillow, well below the national median home price of $232,933.

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Southern appeal

It could be the comfort food, warm weather or lush foliage that appeals to you most – in any case, the South is calling and you’re ready to make it your home. But where should you put down roots? The U.S. Census Bureau defines the South as including the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. This large region of the country offers plenty of options, but we looked at the Southern metro areas that rank the highest on the U.S. News Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2020-2021 ranking, which examines affordability, job market, desirability, quality of education and overall well-being, among other details. Read on for the 25 best places to live in the South.

25. Hickory, North Carolina

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 49
Metro Population: 365,339
Median Home Price: $152,258
Average Annual Salary: $40,610

At the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hickory offers residents an active arts community and easy access to outdoor activities. Hickory’s best score in the Best Places to Live ranking is for its affordability, as residents spend just 20.2% of the median household income on housing costs, including mortgage payments or rent, property taxes and utilities. Plus, becoming a homeowner in Hickory is more attainable than in many other parts of the U.S. The area’s median home price is $152,258, according to data from real estate information company Zillow, well below the national median home price of $232,933.

24. Orlando, Florida

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 48
Metro Population: 2,450,261
Median Home Price: $245,483
Average Annual Salary: $44,930

In the middle of the third-most populated state in the country, Orlando is seeing rapid growth as more people move to the area – it grew by 7.69% between 2014 and 2018 due to net migration, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Given that it's the home of Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort, it’s no wonder that Orlando ranks 19th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for desirability, based on a SurveyMonkey survey of 3,000 U.S. residents asking respondents where they’d like to live if they could choose.

23. Chattanooga, Tennessee

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 44
Metro Population: 552,043
Median Home Price: $174,667
Average Annual Salary: $43,890

Located along the Tennessee River with views of the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga has worked to attract new residents in recent decades with downtown revitalization efforts, investments in fast internet connection and by welcoming tech startups to the area. Another attractive feature of Chattanooga is its relatively low cost of living compared to the rest of the U.S. Residents spend just 21.61% of the area’s median household income on housing costs.

22. Jacksonville, Florida

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 43
Metro Population: 1,475,386
Median Home Price: $200,000
Average Annual Salary: $46,920

Many parts of Florida can feel different than the rest of the South in terms of climate, food and culture, but you may find that Jacksonville has more in common with Georgia or South Carolina than other parts of the Sunshine State. Between 2014 and 2018, Jacksonville’s population grew by 6.03% due to net migration. Major employers in the area include companies in the health and financial industries, and Jacksonville has a healthy tourism industry as well, though the city attracts fewer temporary visitors than Florida hot spots like Tampa and Miami.

21. Charleston, South Carolina

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 42
Metro Population: 759,247
Median Home Price: $253,325
Average Annual Salary: $46,200

When people think of Charleston, they often picture historic houses, cobblestone streets and palmetto trees with ocean views. All those details are accurate, but the metro area is attracting new residents for more than the photo ops and decent weather. Charleston’s tourism industry is certainly a major source of employment, but so are manufacturers in the metro area like Boeing and Nucor, as well as office-based employers in the downtown area. While Charleston’s average annual salary, at $46,200, is below the national average of $51,960, the metro area’s pre-pandemic unemployment rate was just 2.4%, which is 1.3% lower than the national average.

20. San Antonio, Texas

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 41
Metro Population: 2,426,204
Median Home Price: $212,992
Average Annual Salary: $46,650

The first of four Texas metro areas included in the 25 best places to live in the South, San Antonio offers plenty of Southern and Texan attractions and dining options, as well as a wide variety of global offerings that come with a major metro area. San Antonio is seeing its population grow steadily, with an increase of 5.34% between 2014 and 2018 due to net migration. While San Antonio isn’t the cheapest place to live in the South, it's a fairly affordable place to put down roots. The median home price is $212,992, below the national median of $232,933, according to Zillow data.

19. Knoxville, Tennessee

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 39
Metro Population: 868,499
Median Home Price: $178,775
Average Annual Salary: $45,130

Many people are attracted to Knoxville for its Civil War history, regional art and access to hiking and river sports activities. Residents benefit from a low cost of living, which requires just 21.54% of the area’s median household income. Knoxville isn’t seeing the booming population that some other Southern cities are experiencing, but its population grew 2.82% due to net migration between 2014 and 2018.

18. Pensacola, Florida

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 37
Metro Population: 481,964
Median Home Price: $186,467
Average Annual Salary: $42,490

Located in the Florida Panhandle along the Gulf of Mexico, Pensacola is a popular destination for fishing enthusiasts and beachgoers. It also draws long-term residents with multiple military bases located in the area, which provide significant employment for active-duty military and civilians, and is home to aerospace engineering firms and manufacturing companies. And plenty of people would like to call this Florida metro area home – Pensacola ranks 20th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for desirability.

17. Tampa, Florida

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 36
Metro Population: 3,030,047
Median Home Price: $214,258
Average Annual Salary: $47,750

It’s no wonder that Tampa is a fast-growing area – its ocean access and popular beaches make the metro area a paradise for many. It ranks in the top 30 most desirable places to live out of the 150 metro areas in the Best Places to Live ranking for 2020-2021. The Tampa metro area grew by more than 7% between 2014 and 2018 due to net migration, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

16. Spartanburg, South Carolina

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 35
Metro Population: 329,839
Median Home Price: $142,867
Average Annual Salary: $43,860

Like many parts of the South, Spartanburg is seeing a lot of people moving to the area. One attraction is its low cost of living: Spartanburg residents spend 21.18% of the median household income on housing costs. You’ll also find plenty of college students in Spartanburg, as the area is home to seven colleges and universities, including University of South Carolina–Upstate and private colleges including Converse College, Spartanburg Methodist College and Wofford College.

15. Asheville, North Carolina

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 34
Metro Population: 449,937
Median Home Price: $264,450
Average Annual Salary: $43,070

Asheville is located between the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains, which makes for scenic views while strolling though the town and surrounding area, viewing public art installations and enjoying local eats. On the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, Asheville ranks 10th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Gallup bases its list on resident responses throughout the U.S. regarding their overall happiness, sense of security and community pride, among other details.

14. Greenville, South Carolina

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 32
Metro Population: 883,853
Median Home Price: $183,200
Average Annual Salary: $43,960

Greenville also boasts a mountain setting, but many residents are drawn to this South Carolina metro area for the job opportunities. Manufacturers like GE, Michelin and Proterra have locations in the area, lending to its low pre-pandemic unemployment rate of just 2.6%. Residents also enjoy a lower cost of living, which requires just 21.04% of the area’s median household income.

13. Washington, D.C.

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 30
Metro Population: 6,138,382
Median Home Price: $392,308
Average Annual Salary: $70,980

Washington may not feel Southern, particularly because so many residents are transplants from different parts of the country, but it offers plenty of appeal. The nation’s capital offers the fifth-strongest job market out of the 150 metro areas in the Best Places to Live ranking, and the average annual salary, at $70,980, is nearly $20,000 above the national average.

12. Melbourne, Florida

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 28
Metro Population: 576,808
Median Home Price: $207,417
Average Annual Salary: $48,940

Located along the "Space Coast," Melbourne is home to the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, but it’s attracting new residents at a rapid pace primarily due to its reputation as an ideal retirement spot. Melbourne takes the No. 10 spot on the U.S. News Best Places to Retire ranking, and the median age in the metro area is 47.2 years. Between 2014 and 2018, Melbourne’s population increased by 7.89% due to net migration, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

11. Houston

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 27
Metro Population: 6,779,104
Median Home Price: $224,408
Average Annual Salary: $54,290

While you can choose to live in central Houston, as many people do, the metro area spreads far and wide, making it possible to reside in smaller towns that are still less than an hour’s drive from the heart of Houston’s business district. Throughout the area, Houston residents can take advantage of outdoor activities, professional sporting events and plenty of shopping, restaurants and cultural attractions. Houston's average annual salary of $54,290 is above the national average of $51,960.

10. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 26
Metro Population: 447,775
Median Home Price: $184,675
Average Annual Salary: $36,950

A popular vacation destination, Myrtle Beach is attracting plenty of people who are looking to move to the area on a more permanent basis. The area’s population increased by 14.27% between 2014 and 2018, making it the fastest-growing metro area out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Plenty of people are dreaming of moving to Myrtle Beach as well, as the spot places fifth in the Best Places to Live ranking for desirability.

9. Dallas-Fort Worth

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 24
Metro Population: 7,255,028
Median Home Price: $255,033
Average Annual Salary: $52,590

The Dallas-Fort Worth area draws professionals from all over the world who work in major industries, including oil and gas, auto manufacturing, aerospace and insurance. With a median age of 34.7, the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area particularly appeals to young professionals, but its huge population makes it easy for anyone to find their niche, from the city center to the suburbs to the rural outskirts.

8. Nashville, Tennessee

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 17
Metro Population: 1,864,138
Median Home Price: $263,625
Average Annual Salary: $48,370

When you think of Nashville, your mind may immediately go to country music, but Music City is drawing even more people for the job opportunities in the health care industry, as well as at tech startups and information companies that serve the health care industry. People also love the overall atmosphere, activities and culture that Nashville provides, as the metro area ranks 13th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for desirability.

7. Sarasota, Florida

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 16
Metro Population: 785,997
Median Home Price: $227,754
Average Annual Salary: $44,230

Sarasota is the No. 1 Best Place to Retire in 2020-2021, and with a median age over 52 years, it’s clear many retirees are already calling it home. Sarasota’s population increased by 10.85% between 2014 and 2018 due to net migration, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Sarasota’s cost of living requires 25.23% of the median household income, which isn’t as low as many other parts of the South. Still, people appear willing to exchange the higher cost of living for the warm weather, photogenic beaches and active population.

6. Huntsville, Alabama

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 15
Metro Population: 450,612
Median Home Price: $179,175
Average Annual Salary: $54,630

When you live in Alabama there’s no question that you live in the South, but many people describe life in Huntsville as a combination of Southern living with Northern influence because its major employers bring many transplants to the area. With NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center located in the city, aerospace engineering is a major industry for the metro area, which contributes to Huntsville’s high average annual salary of $54,630. This, combined with its location, makes Huntsville the most affordable place to live out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S., requiring just 19.16% of the median household income to cover housing costs.

5. Naples, Florida

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 14
Metro Population: 363,922
Median Home Price: $326,900
Average Annual Salary: $46,290

A pricey but highly desirable place to live, Naples offers the ideal Florida lifestyle in areas like Marco Island and Immokalee, in addition to the city of Naples itself. If you like the idea of living in this small metro area along the Gulf Coast near where Everglades National Park begins, prepare to pay more for housing, as residents spend 27.36% of the median household income on the cost of living.

4. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 11
Metro Population: 1,861,123
Median Home Price: $259,429
Average Annual Salary: $54,789

With steady growth due to net migration, a solid reputation as a desirable place to live and a relatively low cost of living, Raleigh and Durham also attracts many people with job opportunities. The three cities that make up the Raleigh and Durham metro area – Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill – are known as the Research Triangle for the high volume and caliber of medical and science research conducted in the area by universities and corporations.

3. Fayetteville, Arkansas

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 8
Metro Population: 526,412
Median Home Price: $192,708
Average Annual Salary: $46,470

Fayetteville is home of the University of Arkansas, and many graduates of the university remain or return years later for work. Even without the university affiliation, Fayetteville attracts plenty of people to the northwestern Arkansas area with job opportunities at Walmart, Tyson Foods and other corporations. Fayetteville’s affordability is a selling point as well, as the cost of living requires just 19.99% of the area’s median household income.

2. Charlotte, North Carolina

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 6
Metro Population: 2,473,125
Median Home Price: $231,233
Average Annual Salary: $51,000

Holding the No. 6 spot in the overall Best Places to Live ranking, Charlotte is a steadily growing, desirable and fairly inexpensive place to live. The most populous metro area in North Carolina, Charlotte offers plenty of Southern charm, but it also has enough residents who grew up elsewhere in the U.S. that you won’t feel like an outsider for too long. Charlotte’s population increased by 5.83% between 2014 and 2018 due to net migration. Charlotte residents spend 21.44% of the area’s median household income on housing costs.

1. Austin, Texas

Best Places 2020-2021 Rank: 3
Metro Population: 2,058,351
Median Home Price: $313,308
Average Annual Salary: $53,810

Austin is the best place to live in the South, and it holds the No. 3 spot on the overall Best Places to Live ranking. Austin is an established tech hub, drawing startups and major corporations that are looking to tap existing talent and attract future employees who like the Hill Country lifestyle. While Austin’s traffic and cost of living have grown in the last couple decades, it’s still more affordable than pricey tech hubs like San Jose, California, and Seattle – and that's a major factor in its ranking as the No. 1 Best Place to Live in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The best places to live in the South are:

  • Austin, Texas.
  • Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Fayetteville, Arkansas.
  • Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina.
  • Naples, Florida.
  • Huntsville, Alabama.
  • Sarasota, Florida.
  • Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Dallas-Fort Worth.
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
  • Houston.
  • Melbourne, Florida.
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Greenville, South Carolina.
  • Asheville, North Carolina.
  • Spartanburg, South Carolina.
  • Tampa, Florida.
  • Pensacola, Florida.
  • Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • San Antonio, Texas.
  • Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Jacksonville, Florida.
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  • Orlando, Florida.
  • Hickory, North Carolina.
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