10 Best Places To Live In North Carolina For 2020


These are the cream of the crop in the Tar Heel State.

Editor’s Note: We updated this article for 2020. This is our sixth time ranking the best places to live in North Carolina.

Where are the best places to live in the state of North Carolina?

Some might say wherever there's a college basketball team, a NASCAR track, a sunny beach, a snowy mountain, great BBQ, or a hoppy crafted beer. When you stumble upon all, you might feel like you've won the North Carolina Lottery.

And, yes, it's possible.

The Tar Heel state takes eight hours to drive from the Outer Banks on its East Coast to the Blue Ridge Mountains on its Western border. You'll never hear a North Carolinian say that they're bored. The eight hour trek unravels the state's rich history around every Tar Heel corner. The Outer Banks has pirate lore and shipwrecks, battles were lost and won in the Piedmont's backyard, and ancient Cherokee stories continue to be told around ceremonial fires in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Craft beer, BBQ, and NASCAR aside, North Carolina has a lot to offer and it is no surprise that the Tar Heel State is the 28th most expensive and the 9th most populous in the U.S. Currently 38% of North Carolinians are college-educated and with top colleges and universities like Duke and UNC, that percentage is sure to increase. Major metropolitan cities like Raleigh, Durham, and Charlotte are crushing the tech industry and local business is booming.

So, grab a BBQ sammie, a pint of your favorite craft beer and read on to discover how we determined the best cities in North Carolina.

We wish every Tar Heel city could be in the top ten: they're all deserving.

But what city is the best place to live in North Carolina for 2020? Well according to the US Census and FBI data we crunched, Davidson is the best place to live in North Carolina if you care about home values, low crime, and a high quality of life.

It's not a surprise that Davidson takes the cake. What Davidson does not have by way of mountains and beaches, it does make up for with its beautiful neighborhoods, gold star schools, and sweet Carolina BBQ.

Read on to see where to live in North Carolina that will make you feel like you have won the lottery.

If you're looking for something more national, check out the best states in America or the best places to live in America.

For more North Carolina reading, check out:

The 10 Best Places To Live In North Carolina For 2020

Davidson, NC

Overall SnackAbility

10
/10

Population: 12,666
Rank Last Year: 1 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $423,000 (4th best)
Unemployment Rate: 3.2% (11th best)
More on Davidson: Real Estate | Crime Report | Cost Of Living

Home of the Davidson College Wildcats, Lake Norman, and great prices on real estate, the #1 best place to live in North Carolina, Davidson, is one of the Tar Heel State's best kept secrets. But, with only 12,666 full time residents, there aren't a lot of people to get the word out. But, this just adds to Davidson's appeal. That, and the fact that it's the 5th safest cities on the list.

And, if you guessed that the people who live here are pretty smart--it's a college town after all--you guessed right. Forty percent of Davidson's residents have a Bachelor's Degree and 23% have a Masters. These numbers are both well below the state and national level.

So, if you're looking for "[A] College Town. [A] Lake Town. Your Town," this city in this western pocket of the Piedmont has it all.

Cary, NC

Overall SnackAbility

9.5
/10

Population: 163,266
Rank Last Year: 2 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $337,700 (10th best)
Unemployment Rate: 3.5% (18th best)
More on Cary: Real Estate | Crime Report | Cost Of Living

If you don't have a job in North Carolina's 2nd best place to live, Cary, you're most likely not trying very hard. The unemployment rate here is well below the national average. In fact, Cary is also one of the wealthiest cities in North Carolina, so there are probably enough butler and pool maintenance jobs available to give every single unemployed resident a job.

But what really makes Cary great is that it has one of the best school districts in the state, it's super close to Raleigh and Durham, and it has been able to maintain its small city charm in the midst of its rapid growth.

Apex, NC

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

9.5
/10

Population: 48,254
Rank Last Year: 4 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $307,800 (15th best)
Unemployment Rate: 3.5% (20th best)
More on Apex: Real Estate | Crime Report | Cost Of Living

Now, if you love playing disc golf and just being outside, Apex has some of the best parks and outdoor activities. One of the best weekends in the Peak City could be spent "chasing chains" at the Apex Nature Park after your kids soccer game, only to be followed by some serious nightlife on Salem Street. So, we are not surprised that it's the 3rd best place in North Carolina.

But, that's not all that makes Apex a constant on this top ten list, you can get a home in Apex for $307,800, the unemployment rate here is below the national average, and it's close to The Triangle. It, like Cary, also boasts some of the best schools in the state.

Pinehurst, NC

Overall SnackAbility

9.5
/10

Population: 15,821
Rank Last Year: 5 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $297,100 (16th best)
Unemployment Rate: 2.6% (7th best)
More on Pinehurst: Real Estate | Crime Report | Cost Of Living

"The Home of American Golf" and the infamous Pinehurst Resort, might seem out of reach for most bank accounts, but you'll be pleasantly surprised to know that you can score a home in North Carolina's 4th best place to live, Pinehurst, for $297,100. The yin to that yang, however, is that if you don't already have a job lined up in healthcare or hospitality, you're going to need to rethink your career path if you move here. While the unemployment rate is 2.6%, there aren't a lot of options for people who don't hold a degree.

But, don't let this deter you: it's worth it. This city of 15,821 residents is one of the safest places in the Tar Heel State. So, if affordability and safety are at the top of your "must have" list, Pinehurst checks all of the boxes.

Holly Springs, NC

Overall SnackAbility

9.5
/10

Population: 33,341
Rank Last Year: 6 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $283,700 (20th best)
Unemployment Rate: 3.8% (27th best)
More on Holly Springs: Real Estate | Crime Report | Cost Of Living

This is the first time Carolina Beach has made our top ten list of best places to live in North Carolina and we are as happy as an intracoastal clam. Matter of fact, if you haven't been to this coastal city, you're missing out. It's one of the coolest, most eclectic beach towns on North Carolina's coast.

But, all pristine beaches, safe communities, and bicycle friendly lanes aside, Carolina Beach has the 5th lowest unemployment rate on this list--well below the national average. Keep in mind, however, that most of these are second homes and that many of the people who keep this beach town in operation commute from the greater Wilmington area.

If you do decide to become a Carolina Beach local, be prepared to pay around $283,700 for a home and make sure that you have a job that pays at least $104,822/year before you make the big move.

Winterville, NC

Overall SnackAbility

9
/10

Population: 9,546
Rank Last Year: 9 (Up 3)
Median Home Value: $159,400 (64th best)
Unemployment Rate: 3.1% (10th best)
More on Winterville: Real Estate | Crime Report | Cost Of Living

You might think because of Winterville's name that it's always winter in the Old North State's 6th best place to live, but that's not the case. Located on the eastern side of the state, it is one of the few places close to the coast to make our list. And if you know anything about this central coastal range, you know it doesn't get a lot of snow, but it does get a lot of attention for its low cost of living and large number of fun, affordable things to do. What a great combo, right? Probably why it's also one of the most afforadable places in North Carolina for 2020.

Yes, when you're not busy hanging out in your brand new home that cost only $159,400, you can spend the money you saved on putting a new pool in the back yard or trips to North Carolina's treasured Outer Banks. Sounds like a win-win to us.

Wake Forest, NC

Overall SnackAbility

9
/10

Population: 40,159
Rank Last Year: 11 (Up 4)
Median Home Value: $285,000 (19th best)
Unemployment Rate: 4.3% (44th best)
More on Wake Forest: Real Estate | Crime Report | Cost Of Living

North Carolina's 7th best place to live, Wake Forest, is kind of a big deal. Located just East of Falls Lake and slightly northeast of the Raleigh, Wake Forest is the quintessential North Carolina city. Here, old oak tree lined streets protect homes with large yards and porches with white rocking chairs. However, all of this does come at a price: the cost of living in Wake Forest is well above the national average. Basically, you're going to have to make at least $88,394/year to afford the average home price of $285,000.

But, the benefits of living in Wake Forest definitely outweighs the costs.
So, if you're looking for a place with super nice people, super safe communities, and high performing schools don't wait because you might lose your spot in one of North Carolina's fastest growing cities.

Fletcher, NC

Overall SnackAbility

8.5
/10

Population: 7,952
Rank Last Year: 10 (Up 2)
Median Home Value: $201,800 (44th best)
Unemployment Rate: 1.8% (2nd best)
More on Fletcher: Real Estate | Crime Report | Cost Of Living

A deal as sweet as North Carolina's 8th best place to live, Fletcher is not going to last long and this is why: one, it's the closest city to the Blue Ridge Mountains to make this list, two, it's crazy close to Asheville and the Pisgah National Forest without "Asheville prices" and a bunch of people, and, three, homes here cost the bargain price of $201,800.

Fletcher also has a solid safety game in place. This Henderson County city is currently one of the safest places to live in the Tar Heel State; and this fact, mixed with a low unemployment rate, super smart people, and super short commute times makes Fletcher an ideal place to buy your forever home.

Huntersville, NC

Overall SnackAbility

9
/10

Population: 54,572
Rank Last Year: 13 (Up 4)
Median Home Value: $283,300 (21st best)
Unemployment Rate: 3.7% (25th best)
More on Huntersville: Real Estate | Crime Report | Cost Of Living

Huntersville is North Carolina's 9th best city to make our list and the second city in the top ten from the Lake Norman area. (Must be something in that fresh lake water...) But, whatever they're doing in this greater Charlotte area, they're doing it right because Huntersville moved up to clinch this #9 place and is not showing any signs of slowing down. But, why would you when median household income numbers like $97,320 are knocking at your front door. Heck, someone has to pay for the programs that are keeping the city safe, employed, and educated.

Huntersville is also a great place if you love to have fun. Whether you're into lake activities or tasting craft brews at the local brewery, you won't get bored in this suburban oasis.

Carolina Beach, NC

Overall SnackAbility

8.5
/10

Population: 6,194
Rank Last Year: 27 (Up 17)
Median Home Value: $328,000 (11th best)
Unemployment Rate: 1.5% (1st best)
More on Carolina Beach: Real Estate | Crime Report | Cost Of Living

This is the first time Carolina Beach has made our top ten list of best places to live in North Carolina and we are as happy as an intracoastal clam. Matter of fact, if you haven't been to this coastal city, you're missing out. It's one of the coolest, most eclectic beach towns on North Carolina's coast.

But, all pristine beaches, safe communities, and bicycle friendly lanes aside, Carolina Beach has the 10th lowest unemployment rate on this list--well below the national average. Keep in mind, however, that most of these are second homes and that many of the people who keep this beach town in operation commute from the greater Wilmington area.

If you do decide to become a Carolina Beach local, be prepared to pay around $328,000 for a home and make sure that you have a job that pays at least $74,091/year before you make the big move.

Mapping The Best And Worst Places To Live in North Carolina

The Pressing Question: Size

Before we even started to collect data, we had to answer a tough question: Is it fair to pit Raleigh with a population of 457,159 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 130 cities, 295 towns, and 250 small towns.

We then decided, no matter how much anyone loves their town, the best cities to live in North Carolina have more of everything and therefore you need to have over 5,000 people to truly be 'the best'.

Now we also realize that city living might not be your cup of tea, so we ran the following analysis on towns and then again for small towns.

You can see those two top tens at the bottom of the post.

How We Calculated The Best Cities To Live In North Carolina

Now that we had our set of cities, it was time to rank them.

We ranked each place in North Carolina across a number of criteria from one to 130, 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 North Carolina".

The criteria we looked at were:

  • Median Home Values
  • Median Income
  • Population Density (Higher better)
  • Unemployment Rate
  • Commute Time
  • Crime
  • Education Levels
  • Health Insurance Coverage
  • Poverty rates

Sources of criteria include the New Census Data and FBI Crime Data. You can download the data here.

After the dust settled, what was the best place to live in North Carolina? That would be Davidson.

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 North Carolina.

Otherwise, buckle up for a ride down good living lane with Davidson at the end of the cul-de-sac.

Wrapping Up The Best Places When It Comes To Living In North Carolina

If you're looking at areas in North Carolina with the best economic situations, where there's lower than average crime, and a lot to do, this is an accurate list.

Davidson made a strong showing to take in the overall number one spot for the best place to live in North Carolina for 2020.

Best Towns To Live In North Carolina

  1. Wrightsville Beach (Pop. 2,546)
  2. Royal Pines (Pop. 4,751)
  3. Biltmore Forest (Pop. 1,516)
  4. Trent Woods (Pop. 4,194)
  5. Avery Creek (Pop. 2,716)
  6. Fearrington Village (Pop. 2,984)
  7. Weaverville (Pop. 3,886)
  8. Bermuda Run (Pop. 2,556)
  9. St. James (Pop. 4,438)
  10. Lake Park (Pop. 3,678)

Best Small Towns To Live In North Carolina

  1. Walnut Creek (Pop. 936)
  2. Bald Head Island (Pop. 284)
  3. Hatteras (Pop. 481)
  4. Washington Park (Pop. 577)
  5. Barker Ten Mile (Pop. 834)
  6. Deercroft (Pop. 476)
  7. Cedar Rock (Pop. 324)
  8. JAARS (Pop. 508)
  9. Alamance (Pop. 902)
  10. Montreat (Pop. 521)

If you're curious enough, here are the worst places to live in North Carolina according to the data:

  1. Selma (Pop. 6,577)
  2. Wadesboro (Pop. 5,351)
  3. Roxboro (Pop. 8,283)

For more North Carolina reading, check out:

Where Are The Best Places To Live In North Carolina?

Rank City Population Unemployment Rate Home Value
1 Davidson 12,666 3.2% $423,000
2 Cary 163,266 3.5% $337,700
3 Apex 48,254 3.5% $307,800
4 Pinehurst 15,821 2.6% $297,100
5 Holly Springs 33,341 3.8% $283,700
6 Winterville 9,546 3.1% $159,400
7 Wake Forest 40,159 4.3% $285,000
8 Fletcher 7,952 1.8% $201,800
9 Huntersville 54,572 3.7% $283,300
10 Carolina Beach 6,194 1.5% $328,000

How Is Your Town In ?

About Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar has been in the real estate business for almost ten years now. He originally worked for Movoto Real Estate as the director of marketing before founding HomeSnacks.

He believes the key to finding the right place to live comes down to looking at the data, reading about things to do, and, most importantly, checking it out yourself before you move.

If you've been looking for a place to live in the past several years, you've probably stumbled upon his writing already.

You can find out more about him on LinkedIn or his website.

2 thoughts on “10 Best Places To Live In North Carolina For 2020

  1. As in the worst places list, there are some extreme fluctuations. I guess that Cornelius of north Meck was rated high until the critic actually visited and sat in unending gridlock for building a toll lane on I-77. There also must be a reason to downgrade towns south of south Charlotte like Marvin, Weddington, and Wesley Chapel. Maybe Indian Land is drawing away their prosperity across the state line. Rating numbers must be supported by a factor. I guess that the Wake factor and Orange Co(where you’ll be a fan for life…NOT!) upgraded their ratings suddenly.

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