When the good people of Iowa aren’t rooting for their Huskies or gnawing on a fresh ear of sweet corn at the West Point Sweet Corn festival, they can be found maintaining some of the best places to live in the country.
While the whole place is downright lovely, some spots in the Hawkeye State deserve special attention for standing out as truly extraordinary. This is why HomeSnacks created a list of the top ten best places to live in Iowa for 2020.
Iowa has quite the mix of great places to call home. Cool college towns like Sioux Center, yuppie cities like West Des Moines, and quaint farm towns like Carroll are not only some of Iowa’s best places to live, they’re also some of the best places to raise a family.
We can also thank some of Iowa’s best places for giving the rest of the country businesses like Casey’s General Store, Winnebago, and Pella windows. Business is great in Iowa and the economy is strong: we’re talking 2.4% unemployment strong. Iowa is also currently one of the least dangerous states. We’re not at all surprised. Iowans are so busy making their corner of the country great, they don’t have time to be naughty.
So where are these amazing places in Iowa where homes are affordable, jobs are secure, and neighborhoods are safe?
Grab a Maid Rite, some ice cold lemonade, and read on.
The 10 Best Places To Live In Iowa For 2020
A big congratulations to Clive for holding onto the title of the best place to live in Iowa for the second year running. A western suburb of Des Moines, Clive stands out as an awesome city. For starters, there’s nowhere in Iowa that has a higher median household income than Clive’s $101,616/year. It’s a good thing residents are paid so well in Clive because homes are also the 1st priciest in the state with a median cost of $252,500.
Clive also has the 4th lowest rate of violent crime in Iowa, so you never have to worry about a bar fight breaking out at the local 515 Brewing Co.. As for folks moving to Clive with kids, rest assured that they’ll get all the resources they need because the city spends about 10% more per student than the statewide average. That’s just one reason we named Clive amongst the best cities for families in Iowa. Having Des Moines just down the road is great for kid-friendly activities as well, but you don’t have to struggle for parking in the big city to have a good day out; not when the Clive Aquatic Center is right in your neighborhood.
Clive also ranks as the 6th most densely-populated city in Iowa and the most densely populated place on this list. That means you’ll always have plenty of action right at your doorstep.
Urbandale is another Des Moines suburb located just west of the capital. With a population of 42,881, Urbandale is the most populous city we’ll be covering on this list. It’s a popular choice for those working in Des Moines looking to get away from the increased crime rates associated with the bigger city. Homes in Urbandale are the 5th most expensive in the state at $226,700. That doesn’t seem to put people off though because nearly 80% of folks choose to buy instead of rent in Urbandale. Having the 4th highest median household income in the state at $89,569/year certainly helps offset the cost.
The economy works for everyone in Urbandale as well. The unemployment rate is a measly 3.0% and the poverty level is the 10th lowest in Iowa at 5.6%.
Of course, being just 15 minutes from the heart of Des Moines comes with some great perks. Like being able to get the freshest goodies around at the Des Moines Farmer’s Market and having ready access to all the events put on at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. And if you don’t feel like looking for parking in Des Moines, there’s always the option to catch a Buccaneers game closer to home.
Completing our triangle of great Des Moines suburbs is Waukee, a city of 19,344. Waukee has an excellent school district that spends about 20% more per student than the Iowa average, which helps explain the 7/10 GreatSchools score for the city. Waukee does have more to spend than most places, seeing as it is the richest place in Iowa. And it’s not like it’s just old people sitting back on their fortunes; with a median age of just 33, Waukee is one of the youngest cities to make this list.
An unemployment rate of 0.7% and a poverty level of 4.5% both rank among the lowest in Iowa. When people feel economically secure, crime goes way down and Waukee is no exception because the crime rate here is 50% lower than the national average. All these wonderful features are drawing people in at incredible numbers, because Waukee’s population has grown by nearly 60% since 2010, making it one of Iowa’s fastest-growing cities.
If you do decide to get in on the good times in Waukee, know that the median household income here is a very healthy $87,433/year. Which should leave you with plenty of money to attend an event at the nearby Wells Fargo Arena.
Decorah is the largest community of Winneshiek County in Iowa’s northeast. While the top three places on this list have some hefty price tags, Decorah is the dream city for someone on a budget. The cost of living in Decorah is roughly 15% lower than the national average and the median home price is a reasonable $178,700.
Unemployment is low in Decorah and those with jobs enjoy the 11th shortest commute in the state at just 12 minutes. Schools are also top-notch and crime is low. In fact, Decorah had the 6th lowest crime rate in Iowa, with an especially low rate of violent crime.
Next up on our tour of Iowa’s best cities in Johnston, a northern suburb of Des Moines. GreatSchools gave Johnston’s public schools an average score of 8/10, the best rating of anywhere on this list. The investment in youth pays off, because the high school dropout rate in Johnston is among the lowest in the state, while test scores and graduation rates are among the highest. This love of education transcends generations in Johnston, because over half the adult population finished college, and a whopping 20% have a master’s degree, PhD, or professional degree.
History buffs with a military bent will find plenty to love at Johnston’s Iowa Gold Star Military Museum, while those just looking for a do-nothing day will find solace at Saylorville Lake. At either venue, you won’t have to worry about criminal activity, because Johnston had the 7th lowest crime rate in Iowa.
If you’re trying to buy a home in Johnston, it’ll cost you about $249,200, the 3rd highest price tag in the state. On the other hand, the median household income in Johnston is also the 2nd highest in the state at $98,552/year, so if you can get salaries to match, the high price of housing shouldn’t faze you much. Nor should medical bills, seeing as 98.5% of residents have health insurance, the 3rd highest rate of places in Iowa.
We’re taking a drive out to eastern Iowa to reach our 6th best place in the state, Asbury. A suburb of Dubuque, Asbury’s local economy is quite small. But the residents who are working in Dubuque do quite well for themselves, seeing as Asbury has the 3rd highest median household income in Iowa at $91,080/year. Homes are also the 2nd most expensive statewide in Asbury, with a median price of $252,200. That doesn’t seem to be turning people off of Asbury though because a whopping 90% of the population opts to buy instead of rent. And with Asbury’s population exploding by more than 40% since 2010, the housing market isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Asbury also has the 3rd lowest poverty level in Iowa at 3.7%. An incredibly high 99.1% of residents also have health insurance, the highest rate in the state. While Asbury itself doesn’t have a whole lot going on in terms of entertainment, a short drive to Dubuque can get you to the Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium or the Dubuque Botanical Gardens any time you want.
Located an hour north of Sioux City and south of Sioux Falls, the aptly named Sioux Center is the 7th best place to call home in Iowa. The unemployment rate in Sioux Center is the 3rd lowest in Iowa at 0.5%. If you’re part of the mega-majority of employed residents, you also get the advantage of having the 1st shortest commute time in the state at just 9 minutes. That ought to help cut down on the everyday stress of traveling to and from work.
The median age in Sioux Center is a spritely 27, making it the youngest place to make this list. Don’t let the young median age fool you, though; Sioux Center has the essentials down pat. In fact, it’s the safest place in Iowa. On top of that, Sioux Center spends 60% more per student and has a student-teacher ratio 30% lower than the statewide average.
As for non-essentials, Sioux Center also has you covered with the Siouxnami Waterpark, home to the only aqua zipline in Iowa. For the more mature crowd, there’s always a chance to get the Northwest Iowa Symphony Orchestra at Dordt University.
Bettendorf is a suburb of Davenport and a part of the Quad Cities area of eastern Iowa and western Illinois. Bettendorf is a great family city where around 20% of the population are younger than 18. Public schools consistently outshine the statewide average in test scores and Bettendorf’s high school dropout rate is the 2nd lowest in Iowa. Bettendorf’s adults also love to learn, seeing as over half of them have a college degree and 20% have a master’s degree or higher.
Staying in school pays off because Bettendorf’s median household income is $78,676/year, the 11th highest in the state. As for family-friendly amenities, Bettendorf has you covered with the Family Museum of Art and Science.
Carroll is a city of 9,899 located about an hour and a half northwest of Des Moines. Carroll is the oldest city to make this list, with a median age of 41. That experience comes in handy when making a successful city. The violent crime rate in Carroll is the lowest in Iowa. If you do get banged up somehow, you shouldn’t go bankrupt from medical bills, because 97.5% of residents have health insurance, the 8th highest rate in Iowa. As for other quality of life perks, Carroll residents enjoy the 3rd shortest commute time of anywhere in Iowa, with the trip to and from work taking an average of 9 minutes.
At $144,800, Carroll has the cheapest homes of cities that made this list. That means it’s easier to get yourself started here than most places. Especially with a cost of living roughly 10% lower than the national average. There’s a lot to love in Carroll that doesn’t make it onto a stat sheet. Like the 30+ miles of biking trails, college baseball, great shopping downtown, and excellent local drink options for beer, wine, and whiskey lovers alike.
We’re finishing off our tour of the best places to call home in Iowa with North Liberty, a southern suburb of Cedar Rapids. North Liberty enjoys the 8th lowest crime rate in Iowa, which is about 50% lower than the national average. North Liberty is served by two school districts that together spend 20% more per student than the Iowa average, so you know your kiddos will get all the resources they need here.
North Liberty has an incredibly low unemployment rate of just 1.1%, which ranks as the 6th lowest in Iowa. Folks that do have jobs enjoy the 9th highest median household income in the state at $81,978/year.
The Pressing Question: Size
Before we even started to collect data, we had to answer a tough question: Is it fair to pit Des Moines with a population of 215,932 against places with a population of 18?
We firmly decided no, that just isn’t fair.
So to create our ranking, we broke places to live into three tiers:
- Cities — Populations over 5,000
- Towns — Populations between 1,000 and 5,000
- Small Towns — Populations below 1,000
This left us with 74 cities, 213 towns, and 645 small towns.
We then decided, no matter how much anyone loves their town, the best cities to live in Iowa have more of everything and therefore you need to have over 5,000 people to truly be ‘the best’.
How We Calculated The Best Cities To Live In Iowa
Now that we had our set of cities, it was time to rank them.
We ranked each place in Iowa across a number of criteria from one to 74, with one being the best.
We then took the average rank across all criteria, with the city posting the lowest overall score being crowned the winner of the title “Best Place To Live In Iowa”.
The criteria we looked at were:
- Median Home Values
- Median Income
- Population Density (Higher better)
- Unemployment Rate
- Commute Time
- Education Levels
- Health Insurance Coverage
- Poverty rates
After the dust settled, what was the best place to live in Iowa? That would be Clive.
If your city or town isn’t among the top 10, jump down to the bottom of the post to see a detailed chart of the best places in Iowa.
Otherwise, buckle up for a ride down good living lane with Clive at the end of the cul-de-sac.
Wrapping Up The Best Places When It Comes To Living In Iowa
If you’re looking at areas in Iowa with the best economic situations, where there’s lower than average crime, and a lot to do, this is an accurate list.
Clive made a strong showing to take in the overall number one spot for the best place to live in Iowa for 2020.
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