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 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 rate the highest on the U.S. News Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2022-2023 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. Chattanooga, Tennessee

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:59

Metro Population:561,055

Median Home Price:$188,600

Average Annual Salary:$47,240

Chattanooga receives its highest score for affordability. Chattanooga area residents spend just 21.86% of the area’s median household income on housing expenses, including mortgage payments, rent, property taxes and utilities. In addition, the median home price in Chattanooga, at $188,600, remains well below the national median home price of $315,743, according to data from real estate information company Zillow. This Tennessee metro area is growing modestly, with a population increase of 3.37% between 2016 and 2021 due to net migration.

24. Houston

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:58

Metro Population:6,979,613

Median Home Price:$369,550

Average Annual Salary:$55,950

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 $55,950 is just below the national average of $56,310.

23. Richmond, Virginia

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:57

Metro Population:1,282,067

Median Home Price:$395,164

Average Annual Salary:$55,630

Virginia’s capital takes the No. 57 spot on the overall Best Places to Live list, in part due to its happiness among residents. The Richmond metro area ranks 35th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. in the Sharecare Community Well-Being Index, which surveys people throughout the country, asking about their community pride, sense of security and overall satisfaction with where they live.

22. Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:56

Metro Population:671,156

Median Home Price:$305,115

Average Annual Salary:$49,470

Winston-Salem residents benefit from a relatively low cost of living, which requires just 21.91% of the area’s median household income to cover mortgage payments or rent, property taxes and utilities. Winston-Salem also ranks 28th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for its low rates of property crime, violent crime and murder, based on data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

21. Charleston, South Carolina

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:49

Metro Population:790,955

Median Home Price:$448,646

Average Annual Salary:$50,810

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 photo ops and decent weather. Charleston’s tourism industry is 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. With a median home price of $448,646 and an average annual salary of $50,810, it’s no surprise that the cost of living compared to household income is higher than some places on this list. Residents spend 25.23% of the median household income on housing expenses, while the national median cost of living is 24.15%.

20. Asheville, North Carolina

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:46

Metro Population:459,344

Median Home Price:$278,750

Average Annual Salary:$46,310

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 49th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Asheville also ranks 25th for desirability, based on a SurveyMonkey survey of approximately 3,500 residents asking where they would prefer to live out of the metro areas on the Best Places to Livelist.

19. Pensacola, Florida

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:44

Metro Population:496,278

Median Home Price:$200,800

Average Annual Salary:$45,170

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. Plenty of people would like to call this Florida metro area home — Pensacola ranks 24th out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for desirability.

18. Greenville, South Carolina

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:43

Metro Population:908,680

Median Home Price:$320,388

Average Annual Salary:$47,100

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. Greenville’s average annual salary is $47,100. Even with a salary nearly $10,000 below the national average, residents enjoy a lower cost of living which requires just 20.52% of the area’s median household income.

17. Tampa, Florida

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:39

Metro Population:3,152,928

Median Home Price:$369,299

Average Annual Salary:$51,770

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 21 most desirable places to live out of the 150 metro areas in the Best Places to Live ranking for 2022-2023. The Tampa metro area grew by more than 6.67% between 2016 and 2021 due to net migration, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

16. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:37

Metro Population:481,489

Median Home Price:$198,600

Average Annual Salary:$39,250

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 17.72% between 2016 and 2021, making it the fastest-growing metro area out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Many people are dreaming of moving to Myrtle Beach as well, as the spot places fourth in the Best Places to Live ranking for desirability.

15. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:34

Metro Population:514,273

Median Home Price:263,651

Average Annual Salary:$48,150

In Kentucky, the Lexington-Fayette metro area offers 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 21.98% of the area’s median household income. The average annual salary, at $48,150, is roughly $8,000 below the national average, but costs remain low compared to more populated metros in the South.

14. Knoxville, Tennessee

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:33

Metro Population:861,872

Median Home Price:$335,283

Average Annual Salary:$47,740

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 21.24% 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 4.98% due to net migration between 2016 and 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

13. Dallas-Fort Worth

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:32

Metro Population:7,451,858

Median Home Price:$394,399

Average Annual Salary:$56,190

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 35, the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area particularly appeals to young professionals, but with its huge population that is spread out from the city center to the suburbs to the rural outskirts, there are options for anyone to find an area that feels like home.

12. Hickory, North Carolina

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:31

Metro Population:367,982

Median Home Price:$161,000

Average Annual Salary:$43,630

If affordability is your No. 1 concern, consider Hickory as your next hometown. With a cost of living that requires just 19.3% of the area’s median household income, Hickory is the most affordable place to live out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. In addition, Hickory ranks No. 25 both for its access to quality health care, based on data from the U.S. News Best Hospitals ranking, and for air quality, based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index.

11. Charlotte, North Carolina

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:30

Metro Population:2,595,027

Median Home Price:$406,169

Average Annual Salary:$55,330

Holding the No. 30 spot in the overall Best Places to Live ranking, Charlotte is steadily growing, desirable and fairly inexpensive. 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 5.51% between 2016 and 2021 due to net migration. Charlotte residents spend 23% of the area’s median household income on housing costs.

10. Nashville, Tennessee

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:25

Metro Population:1,904,186

Median Home Price:$445,357

Average Annual Salary:$52,170

When you think of Nashville, your mind may immediately go to country music, but Music City is drawing even more people for 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 atmosphere, activities and culture that Nashville provides, as the metro area ranks ninth out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for desirability.

9. Jacksonville, Florida

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:24

Metro Population:1,533,796

Median Home Price:$348,852

Average Annual Salary:$49,940

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 2016 and 2021, Jacksonville’s population grew by 6.78% due to net migration. Major employers in the area include companies in the health and financial industries, and Jacksonville has a healthy tourism industry, though the city attracts fewer visitors than Florida hot spots like Tampa and Miami.

8. Melbourne, Florida

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:20

Metro Population:594,001

Median Home Price:$217,400

Average Annual Salary:$51,740

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 47.2 years, and is the No. 4 Best Place to Retire for 2021-2022. Between 2016 and 2021, Melbourne’s population increased by 8.14% due to net migration, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

7. Washington, D.C.

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:19

Metro Population:6,250,309

Median Home Price:$535,038

Average Annual Salary:$77,210

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 second-strongest job market out of the 150 metro areas in the Best Places to Live ranking, and the average annual salary, at $77,210, is nearly $20,000 above the national average.

6. Austin, Texas

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank:13

Metro Population:2,173,804

Median Home Price:$504,273

Average Annual Salary: $57,830

Austin is the sixth-best place to live in the South, and it holds the No. 13 spot on the overall Best Places to Live ranking. Austin is an established tech hub, drawing startups and major corporations looking to tap existing talent and attract future employees who like the Hill Country lifestyle. Austin is more affordable than pricey tech hubs like San Jose, California, and Seattle, and that’s a major factor in its ranking in the top five Best Places to Live from 2016-2021, though traffic and a rising cost of living contributed to its drop in 2022.

5. Naples, Florida

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank: 12

Metro Population: 379,345

Median Home Price: $345,000

Average Annual Salary: $50,040

Naples offers the ideal Florida lifestyle in areas like Marco Island and Immokalee, in addition to the city of Naples itself. The metro area has the lowest crime rates out of the 150 metro areas on the list, and ranks No. 14 for air quality. 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 27.16% of the median household income on the cost of living. Many people don’t seem to mind, though, as Naples is the sixth-most desirable place to live on the list.

4. Sarasota, Florida

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank: 9

Metro Population: 821,613

Median Home Price: $387,630

Average Annual Salary: $48,180

Sarasota ranked the No. 1 Best Place to Retire in 2021-2022, and with a median age of nearly 53 years, it’s clear that many retirees are already calling it home. Sarasota’s population increased by 12.01% between 2016 and 2021 due to net migration. Sarasota’s cost of living requires 25.02% 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.

3. Fayetteville, Arkansas

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank: 7

Metro Population: 526,101

Median Home Price: $203,150

Average Annual Salary: $50,470

Fayetteville is home of the University of Arkansas, and many graduates 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 20.56% of the area’s median household income.

2. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank: 6

Metro Population: 1,999,253

Median Home Price: $436,760

Average Annual Salary: $59,174

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 second-best place to live in the South in 2022-2023. 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.

1. Huntsville, Alabama

Best Places 2022-2023 Rank: 1

Metro Population: 464,607

Median Home Price: $192,667

Average Annual Salary: $58,730

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 $58,730. This, combined with its location, makes Huntsville the third-most affordable place to live out of the 150 most populous metro areas in the U.S., requiring just 20.12% of the median household income to cover housing costs.

The best places to live in the South are:

— Huntsville, Alabama.

— Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina.

— Fayetteville, Arkansas.

— Sarasota, Florida.

— Naples, Florida.

— Austin, Texas.

— Washington, D.C.

— Melbourne, Florida.

— Jacksonville, Florida.

— Nashville, Tennessee.

— Charlotte, North Carolina.

— Hickory, North Carolina.

— Dallas-Fort Worth.

— Knoxville, Tennessee.

— Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky.

— Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

— Tampa, Florida.

— Greenville, South Carolina.

— Pensacola, Florida.

— Asheville, North Carolina.

— Charleston, South Carolina.

— Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

— Richmond, Virginia.

— Houston.

— Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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 2022-2023

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

Update 06/09/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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