The 25 Best Places to Live in the South

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 2021-2022 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. Asheville, North Carolina

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 48
Metro Population: 454,351
Median Home Price: $278,750
Average Annual Salary: $44,830

Asheville is located between the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains, which makes for scenic views while strolling through the town and surrounding area, viewing public art installations and enjoying local eats. In the Sharecare Community Well-Being Index, Asheville ranks 36th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Sharecare bases its list on resident responses throughout the U.S. regarding their overall happiness, sense of security and community pride, among other details.

24. Port St. Lucie, Florida

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 47
Metro Population: 472,012
Median Home Price: $233,133
Average Annual Salary: $45,630

Florida has long been seeing rapid population growth, and Port St. Lucie is no exception. The metro area’s population increased by 9.12% between 2015 and 2019 due to net migration alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This coastal metro area is also viewed by people throughout the U.S. as a highly desirable place to live, ranking 16th out of the 150 metro areas on the list, based on a SurveyMonkey survey asking U.S. residents where they’d prefer to live, if given the choice.

23. Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 46
Metro Population: 666,216
Median Home Price: $278,083
Average Annual Salary: $47,480

Winston-Salem residents benefit from a relatively low cost of living, which requires just 21.11% of the area’s median household income to cover mortgage payments or rent, property taxes and utilities. Winston-Salem also ranks 16th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for its low rates of property crime and murder, based on data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

22. Fort Myers, Florida

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 43
Metro Population: 737,468
Median Home Price: $277,900
Average Annual Salary: $45,300

Fort Myers follows Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Sarasota, Florida, in population growth, as the third-fastest growing metro area out of the 150 on the list. Between 2015 and 2019, the area’s population increased by 11.2% due to net migration, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Fort Myers also ranks eighth out of all the places on the list for its low crime rates, based on FBI data.

21. Charleston, South Carolina

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 42
Metro Population: 774,508
Median Home Price: $380,374
Average Annual Salary: $47,800

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 $47,800, is below the national average of $53,490, the metro area’s average monthly unemployment rate in 2020 was 6%, well below that national average unemployment rate of 8.1% for 2020.

20. Knoxville, Tennessee

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 41
Metro Population: 853,337
Median Home Price: $295,544
Average Annual Salary: $45,450

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 20.95% 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 by 3.45% due to net migration between 2015 and 2019.

19. Houston

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 39
Metro Population: 6,884,138
Median Home Price: $319,339
Average Annual Salary: $54,490

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 $54,490 is just above the national average of $53,490.

18. Greenville, South Carolina

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 38
Metro Population: 895,942
Median Home Price: $268,463
Average Annual Salary: $44,860

Greenville 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 average monthly unemployment rate of 5.8% in 2020, well below the national average of 8.1%. Residents also enjoy a lower cost of living, which requires just 20.52% of the area’s median household income.

17. Dallas-Fort Worth

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 37
Metro Population: 7,320,663
Median Home Price: $341,464
Average Annual Salary: $53,800

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 34.8, 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.

16. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 35
Metro Population: 463,987
Median Home Price: $198,600
Average Annual Salary: $37,740

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 15.65% between 2015 and 2019, 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 6th in the Best Places to Live ranking for desirability.

15. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 33
Metro Population: 510,647
Median Home Value: 232,596*
Average Annual Salary: $45,430

In Kentucky, the Lexington-Fayette metro area offers a couple small city settings surrounded by more rural areas. The metro area best known for its many horse farms benefits from a low cost of living for residents — housing costs require just 20.68% of the area’s median household income. The average annual salary, at $45,430, is roughly $8,000 below the national average, but costs remain low compared to more populated metros in the South.

(*The median home price for Lexington-Fayette was unavailable, so median home value is listed.)

14. Tampa, Florida

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 32
Metro Population: 3,097,859
Median Home Price: $301,963
Average Annual Salary: $49,590

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 35 most desirable places to live out of the 150 metro areas in the Best Places to Live ranking for 2021-2022. The Tampa metro area grew by more than 7.46% between 2015 and 2019 due to net migration, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

13. Nashville, Tennessee

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 30
Metro Population: 1,871,903
Median Home Price: $366,113
Average Annual Salary: $49,890

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 26th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for desirability.

12. Washington, D.C.

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 28
Metro Population: 6,196,585
Median Home Price: $521,277
Average Annual Salary: $72,600

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 strongest job market out of the 150 metro areas in the Best Places to Live ranking, and the average annual salary, at $72,600, is nearly $20,000 above the national average.

11. Pensacola, Florida

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 26
Metro Population: 488,246
Median Home Price: $200,800
Average Annual Salary: $43,920

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 12th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for desirability.

10. Spartanburg, South Carolina

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 24
Metro Population: 307,617
Median Home Price: $156,300
Average Annual Salary: $44,920

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 20.63% 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.

9. Jacksonville, Florida

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 22
Metro Population: 1,503,574
Median Home Price: $303,789
Average Annual Salary: $48,270

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 2015 and 2019, Jacksonville’s population grew by 6.5% 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.

8. Charlotte, North Carolina

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 20
Metro Population: 2,545,560
Median Home Price: $351,700
Average Annual Salary: $52,150

Holding the No. 20 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 5.9% between 2015 and 2019 due to net migration. Charlotte residents spend 21.23% of the area’s median household income on housing costs.

7. Melbourne, Florida

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 18
Metro Population: 585,507
Median Home Price: $217,400
Average Annual Salary: $51,180

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. The median age in the metro area is 47.3 years. Between 2015 and 2019, Melbourne’s population increased by 8.46% due to net migration, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

6. Sarasota, Florida

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 9
Metro Population: 803,709
Median Home Price: $387,630
Average Annual Salary: $46,040

Sarasota ranked the No. 1 Best Place to Retire in 2020-2021, and with a median age over 52.5 years, it’s clear many retirees are already calling it home. Sarasota’s population increased by 11.22% between 2015 and 2019 due to net migration. Sarasota’s cost of living requires 25.16% 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.

5. Naples, Florida

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 7
Metro Population: 371,453
Median Home Price: $345,000
Average Annual Salary: $47,980

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 26.79% of the median household income on the cost of living.

4. Austin, Texas

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 5
Metro Population: 2,114,441
Median Home Price: $377,693
Average Annual Salary: $55,190

Austin is the fourth-best place to live in the South, and it holds the No. 5 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, and No. 3 in 2020.

3. Fayetteville, Arkansas

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 4
Metro Population: 514,259
Median Home Price: $203,150
Average Annual Salary: $47,600

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 19.97% of the area’s median household income.

2. Huntsville, Alabama

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 3
Metro Population: 457,003
Median Home Price: $192,667
Average Annual Salary: $55,980

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 $55,980. 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 18.82% of the median household income to cover housing costs.

1. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina

Best Places 2021-2022 Rank: 2
Metro Population: 1,959,006
Median Home Price: $329,709
Average Annual Salary: $56,887

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 attracts many people with job opportunities and is the best place to live in the South in 2021-2022. 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.

The best places to live in the South are:

— Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina.

— Huntsville, Alabama.

— Fayetteville, Arkansas.

— Austin, Texas.

— Naples, Florida.

— Sarasota, Florida.

— Melbourne, Florida.

— Charlotte, North Carolina.

— Jacksonville, Florida.

— Spartanburg, South Carolina.

— Pensacola, Florida.

— Washington, D.C.

— Nashville, Tennessee.

— Tampa, Florida.

— Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky.

— Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

— Dallas-Fort Worth.

— Greenville, South Carolina.

— Houston.

— Knoxville, Tennessee.

— Charleston, South Carolina.

— Fort Myers, Florida.

— Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

— Port St. Lucie, Florida.

— Asheville, North Carolina.

More from U.S. News

How to Decide Where to Live

The 10 Best Places to Live in California This Year

The 25 Best Places to Live on the East Coast in 2021-2022

The 25 Best Places to Live in the South originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 09/16/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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