The 10 Best Cities to Live and Work in 2020

Advertising Disclosure: When you buy something by clicking links on our site, we may earn a small commission, but it never affects the products or services we recommend.

Cedar Rapids
Jonathannsegal /

This story originally appeared on Zippia.

Choosing where to call home is a difficult, deeply personal decision. Some cities offer bustling job markets, exciting social opportunities and affordability. Others can leave you grappling with a stagnant career and struggling to get by.

To help job seekers, Zippia examined major and midsized cities to find the best places to live and work in the U.S. in 2020.

We began with a list of criteria — job opportunities, work-life balance and affordability. From there, we took a more qualitative approach, looking into walkability, parks, social opportunities, culture, future development and more.

We ended up with a list of seriously underrated cities with a lot to offer those looking to relocate, both in their careers and beyond.

1. Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Cedar Rapids
wisit wongba /

Population: 133,174
Median home price: $143,500
Median earnings: $35,083

While Cedar Rapids is one of the largest cities in Iowa, it is the smallest city to be featured on our list. However, size does not define or fully describe Cedar Rapids and all it has to offer.

Residents of Cedar Rapids enjoy a below-average cost of living and above-average amenities. The city can boast of its park system and is home to numerous prestigious colleges, including Coe College and nearby Cornell College. Bonus: The University of Iowa is only a half-hour drive away in Iowa City.

More than that, Cedar Rapids is a city experiencing a renaissance. After devastating flooding, the city regrouped and emerged stronger than ever, with record levels of development. Below we highlight some of what makes Cedar Rapids so special.

Developments to watch: Negotiations are currently underway for development on 8 acres of land along the Cedar River, opened up by flood damage.

Cedar Rapids is taking full advantage of its chance to re-shape the downtown. Current proposals include a dog park, ice skating rank, movie theater, the world-class Big Grove Brewery and other intriguing options.

Hot neighborhoods: While Cedar Rapids is known as being a great place for raising a family, trendy neighborhoods such as Czech Village and NewBo are slowly drawing in a younger, hipper crowd.

It is no surprise that these neighborhoods offer great craft beer, delicious food and lively activities for those lucky enough to live there.

Cool sites to check out: The American Discovery Trail, with over 500 miles of trails, runs through Cedar Rapids, making it the perfect choice for a walk, run or bike ride.

If physical activity isn’t your thing, the Market After Dark might do it. The giant, nighttime farmers market hosts live performances, street food and local vendors.

Cedar Rapids is also home to Brucemore, Iowa’s only National Trust Historic Site, and houses a large collection of local boy Grant Wood’s art (including “American Gothic”) at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

2. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Jacob Boomsma /

Population: 181,883
Median home price: $178,200
Median earnings: $33,391

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is a constantly growing city with a friendly community that makes it feel like an overgrown small town — in the best way possible.

Residents of Sioux Falls enjoy remarkably low unemployment, in part thanks to the strong local economy and constant growth.

While pay might be a tad on the low side, affordable housing and a low cost of living leave residents with more extra cash than most other comparable cities.

Sioux Falls is also home to truly superb schools at all levels. Three of the top 10 schools in South Dakota are in Sioux Falls.

While Sioux Falls offers fun events, tasty restaurants that make picking a favorite a challenge and livability, you can still drive anywhere in 20 minutes. Below are some gems of Sioux Falls.

Developments to watch: In 2020, permits have been filed for $286 million in construction projects. While many of these projects are residential to keep up with housing demands, the commercial sector is also experiencing growth. Nordica, a cold storage company, is expanding its footprint in Sioux Falls.

Since Nordica services Smithfield, one of the biggest employers in Sioux Falls, this is great news for the city. Boyer Trucks and Capital Services will also be expanding.

Hot neighborhoods: Check out downtown Sioux Falls, where gorgeous lofts nest above businesses and have easy access to nightlife.

Another neighborhood worth exploring is the historic McKennan Park District, home to a pergola, bandshell, horseshoe pits, shuffleboard courts and fun events.

Cool sites to check out: You cannot visit or live in Sioux Falls without seeing the waterfalls that garner the city its name. Grab an ice cream cone from Falls Overlook Cafe and stroll around (and right up) to the falls. Or take advantage of the free observation tower for a breathtaking panoramic view.

Other excellent public events include outdoor concerts in McKennan Park and the Moonlight Movie series in Fawick Park. For local eats and businesses, Jones421 downtown is the place to be.

3. Dallas, Texas

Dallas, Texas
Sean Pavone /

Population: 1,343,573
Median home price: $204,600
Median earnings: $31,594

Dallas is blowing up. Warm weather, affordable living and a robust economy have been luring more and more transplants from across the country.

A decade ago, moving from the Big Apple or other big cities to Dallas meant settling for far less — fewer entertainment options, less walkability and in general losing out on city amenities.

Dallas is still far from Manhattan, but the city has been growing far denser and more urban in the past five years. While the sushi will always be second-rate for California transplants, the city has top-rate almost everything else, at a price you can actually afford.

The lower cost of living has also been luring in big corporations to the region. Dallas, as well as nearby cities such as Arlington and Plano, have seen large corporations like Toyota choose to relocate there in recent years.

A growing number of transplants now eyeing Dallas as a potential home will seriously consider it when the right job comes knocking.

Developments to watch: For the past six years, Dallas has led the nation in multifamily construction, growing denser and more urban rather than out.

The remarkable $450 million redo of downtown’s landmark First National Bank’s 52-story tower will finish by the end of the year. The remodel of the midcentury modern skyscraper has been underway for a decade.

Another transformative development, The Central, aims to have 5 million square feet of office, residential, hospitality, entertainment and retail with a few acres of parkland in the middle.

Hot neighborhoods: Deep Ellum is arguably the coolest neighborhood in Dallas. Not only is the hip area the center of the city’s music scene, it is also the most walkable part of Dallas. Living in Deep Ellum feels like you live in a city.

For those seeking a bit more sprawl, Preston Highlands, Campbell Green or even some of the thriving smaller cities in the metroplex such as Plano may be a better option.

Cool sites to check out: In addition to a surprisingly vibrant music scene, Dallas has some A+ cultural institutions including the Dallas Arboretum, the Dallas Museum of Art and the aquarium.

If you’re into art, the Fabrication Yard is a one-of-a-kind organic graffiti exhibit. And of course, get some delicious Dallas barbecue.

4. Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock, Arkansas
Henryk Sadura /

Population: 197,881
Median home price: $166,600
Median earnings: $32,751

Little Rock is perhaps best known nationally for its role in the Civil Rights Era, with the Little Rock 9 bravely integrating Little Rock High. Today, Little Rock, Arkansas, offers residents affordability that is hard to beat, paired with Southern culture and charm.

However, in the past decade, Little Rock has evolved from a nice, Southern town where your dollar goes further, to something a bit more hip. Nowhere is that more evident than at the River Market. The River Market has the culture, events and vigor of a far bigger city. Twice a week the market is crushed with families perusing local honey and organic salsas. Some take a break inside at the food hall, mix-matching foods from the 15 restaurants that make up the International food bazaar.

Live music is often featured there: often local, but sometimes bigger acts, too. When you hear the jazz, look around and see the other families enjoying the city, it’s easy to see that Little Rock is a city worth getting to know.

Developments to watch: Little Rock is building its first high school in 50 years, a massive, much-needed 40,000-square-foot building. Bank OZK’s new headquarters is a $98 million investment, strengthening the company’s investment in Little Rock. While phase one may be complete, it is just part one of the eventual 44-acre campus that is planned to take another decade.

Hot neighborhoods: Check out condos near the River Market downtown or walkable Hillcrest, where young professionals flourish. Across the bridge, Argenta is another great option.

Cool sites to check out: Check out Pinnacle State Park for some outdoor fun. Or the Big Dam Bridge at the Arkansas River, the country’s largest exclusively pedestrian and bicycle bridge. Of course, there is always something going on at the River Market, from farmers markets to concerts and other events. In general, the riverfront is home to a plethora of great local bars and restaurants.

5. Amarillo, Texas

Amarillo, Texas
Gimas /

Population: 199,924
Median home price: $136,400
Median earnings: $30,947

Amarillo lacks the trendy Texas reputation of booming Dallas or hip Austin, but it has an understated charm all its own.

Amarillo is proud of its past, carefully preserving its history. However, the city’s true treasure is the untouched canyons and rugged outdoors surrounding it. Within the city borders is a quietly thriving community where income outstrips the cost of living. Amarillo is one of the most business-friendly cities in the country, allowing it to compete above its weight for economic growth.

Overall, Amarillo offers a pleasant combination of Southern hospitality paired with a thriving economy. The cherry glazed doughnuts at Donut Stop aren’t bad either.

Developments to watch: While Amarillo’s history and culture is in beef, modern Amarillo is more diverse. The City of Amarillo will soon start its development projects in the San Jacinto neighborhood following the adoption of a redevelopment plan. Possible places to start include beloved Sixth Street.

Hot neighborhoods: Amarillo is a safe city, where it’s hard to go wrong picking a home. However, some neighborhoods are a little bit more special than others. The Colonies and Greenways at Hillside are worth a second look.

Cool sites to check out: Palo Duro Canyon State Park highlights the raw, Southwestern beauty of Amarillo. Palo Duro is sometimes called the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” and the name is fitting. If you have an eye for manmade art, the Cadillac Ranch is the place to go, but be sure to bring a spray paint can to leave your mark on the buried Cadillacs. For the ears’ delight, June Jazz, the annual outdoor jazz concert series, is another Amarillo highlight.

6. Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale, Arizona

Population: 255,310
Median home price: $466,000
Median earnings: $49,876

Scottsdale is a prosperous Phoenix suburb that offers its residents all the proximity of the bigger city with unbeatable livability.

Not only is it surrounded by jaw-dropping nature, it also has an above-average amount of public nature space. Scottsdale was once known as a safe suburb with world-class golf. But Scottsdale is changing culturally and demographically.

The city is still safe and still has exceptional golf courses (over 200!), but more young people are choosing to vacation there and even call it home.

With them, the city is gaining a bit more of a cultural edge and nightlife that isn’t just tourists.

Developments to watch: A massive development is planned for Old Town Scottsdale, bringing much-needed office space and residential housing to the area. Currently, 10 hotels are under construction in the city to accommodate the tourists who can’t get enough of Scottsdale’s charms. Nearby Phoenix’s bustling development also adds to the Scottsdale boom.

Hot neighborhoods: South Scottsdale is a quirky yet family-friendly neighborhood with numerous art galleries and a weekly art walk. Downtown Scottsdale is a magnet for young professionals with a vibrant nightlife. For a quieter pace, Gainey Ranch and McCormick Ranch win the day.

Cool sites to check out: Outdoors is where Scottsdale truly shines. Papago Park is jaw-dropping in its beauty, featuring Hunt’s Tomb, Desert Botanical Garden (140-acre botanical garden) and a plethora of trails to hike your heart out.

Camelback Mountain is a steep hike with a legendary view, and Tom’s Thumb Trail is another good one.

If you want something a little wacky, a little weird, and indoors check out Wonderspaces, which may best be summed up as an interactive art museum. Old Town Scottsdale brings a fun old Western twist to dining, entertainment and the arts.

7. Omaha, Nebraska

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in Omaha, Nebraska
Melissa A. Woolf /

Population: 468,262
Median home price: $155,700
Median earnings: $32,599

Omaha isn’t just “some town in middle America.” Omaha, Nebraska, is home to the Silicon Prairie, known as such for its growing tech startup community and powerhouse companies like Berkshire Hathaway.

Despite investor Warren Buffett and other elites calling Omaha home, the city remains shockingly affordable. Omaha has low unemployment paired with a low cost of living (even when compared with its Midwestern neighbors).

Omaha also supports a local food scene and great music.

Developments to watch: Currently, Omaha’s riverfront and downtown’s former Gene Leahy Mall is undergoing a dramatic transformation. The former dreary pond and green space area is being revitalized with construction that will create a sculpture garden, children’s play area, dog park, performance pavilion, interactive water features and commercial space for downtown entertainment. Eventually, the ambitious development will go all the way to the Missouri River.

Hot neighborhoods: If you’re not looking suburban, look at Aksarben Village, a self-contained community of condos and apartments, retail and entertainment venues.

Cool sites to check out: Omaha is a beer-drinking city. Don’t believe me? There’s Extreme Beer Fest, Omaha Beer Fest, Omaha Beer Week, Brew Haha Benefit for Habitat for Humanity and a plethora of local breweries to attest to the fact Omaha likes a good beer.

Their other love is the Huskers. In nearby Lincoln, you can catch them in action.

Of course, it’s not all beer and football. The city has museums, Shakespeare on the Green and the other amenities you’d expect of a city its size.

8. Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, North Carolina
Sharkshock /

Population: 469,298
Median home price: $233,300
Median earnings: $36,549

Raleigh is the largest city in the flourishing North Carolina Research Triangle. This economic growth is based on tech and high-paying jobs, bringing prosperity to the city and luring in transplants with top-notch opportunity.

Downtown Raleigh tells the story of the city’s transformation. Industrial spaces have been taken over by hotels and modern business spaces. The Raleigh downtown has experienced $1 billion in construction over a short four years.

Despite the rapid growth and exciting job opportunities, costs remain low. Housing is still 30% cheaper than the national average.

According to economists, Raleigh and the region will only continue to grow, making it the perfect choice for professionals looking for a community to thrive.

Developments to watch: Drive around downtown Raleigh and count the cranes. The amount of growth in the past decade and even the past five years is truly impressive. One future proof development project is the city campus. The two, 20-story City of Raleigh towers will replace scattered offices and are expected to save Raleigh millions in rent as costs rise in Raleigh.

Hot neighborhoods: Five Points, a group of sought-after historic neighborhoods with beautiful bungalow homes, is worth seeing. Those who want to be in the middle of the city’s booming economy should check out walkable Midtown.

Cool sites to check out: There are three world-class universities in the area that you can explore (North Carolina State, UNC, Duke).

The natural science and history museums are free and offer great opportunities to explore the state without leaving Raleigh.

For a more casual perspective of Raleigh, take a walk around the warehouse district. The old brick buildings house hipster nightlife, breweries and night life.

9. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin
Ian M Johnson /

Population: 258,054
Median home price: $234,000
Median earnings: $31,452

Like many Midwestern cities, Madison has struggled with population growth and experienced a decline in recent years. But don’t count the city out; it’s in the perfect position to attract new businesses and nurture new ideas.

You can see some of the promise in Capital Entrepreneurs, a growing community of startups and innovators. Madison’s bubbling entrepreneurial community isn’t its only asset.

Madison is a young city, with a large millennial population drawn in by strong educational institutions. A low cost of living and strong job opportunities encourage them to stay after they earn their degree.

Developments to watch: BioForward Wisconsin, a group representing over 200 Wisconsin biohealth firms, many with a stake in Madison, projects confidence in the area’s future in biohealth. For housing, The Ace is building more affordable units in Madison.

Hot neighborhoods: Check out the vibrant Willy neighborhood (or sometimes known as Williamson Street, if you want to get proper) within walking distance of the square.

The area is young and hip, with lots of bikes, co-op groceries and backyard chickens in addition to the great eats and drinks. The Marquette neighborhood is less trendy, but still worth a visit.

Cool sites to check out: Madison is a football town. Love it or hate it, you will at some point end up at a UW-Badgers game.

Don’t worry, this is Madison, so the beer will be a step above. Try some local brews from Ale Asylum, One Barrel Brewing Company or New Glarus Brewing.

If you like your outdoor time to involve a little bit less frantic screaming, the Arboretum and parks near Wingra Lake are beautiful and free.

10. Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama
Sean Pavone /

Population: 197,318
Median home price: $186,300
Median earnings: $30,837

Huntsville’s an interesting city, a former small town that over the past 20 years has gotten significantly less small. And it’s not done growing yet.

The city is highly educated, particularly when compared with fellow Alabama cities. If you enjoy an intellectual chat, Huntsville is for you. Your neighbor might be a professor, a rocket scientist, an entrepreneur or an Army officer with frequent D.C. trips.

The city is also growing into its own, and the downtown has grown into something pretty neat, bordering on downright cool.

Despite these, the city offers a strong job market and affordability that makes folks in the coastal cities weep with envy.

Developments to watch: Huntsville has $1 billion of economic development slated in 2020. This includes expansions by Dynetics, Torch Technologies and Invariant Corp. to name a few.

On a cultural front, just this year, Mars Music Hall finished development, bringing much needed bigger musical acts to the Rocket City.

Hot neighborhoods: Check out Huntsville’s Historic Five Points Community for historic charm that’s trending again.

Cool sites to check out: The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is worth a visit. After you get your science fill, take a walk around Lowe Mill, a converted warehouse that houses art studios, events and general quirkiness.

Huntsville punches above its weight class in craft beer, with the tasty Yellowhammer, Straight to Ale and Campus 805.