You told us your ideal city is fun, vibrant and
affordable. We found dozens that fit the bill.
Not too many of us have the opportunity -- or the
inspiration -- to quit our jobs, sell our homes and travel
the country in search of the perfect place to live. But last
year former Washington, D.C., residents Karen-Lee Ryan, 40,
and her husband, Mark Wood, 42, started a six-month odyssey
with that goal in mind. "We were ready for a life change,
and the road trip was amazing," says Karen-Lee.
In that spirit, we asked hundreds of you for the criteria
you'd use to pick a place to call home. You told us you
wanted good value in home prices and a reasonable cost of
living -- not surprising, considering that choosing a place
to live is one of the biggest financial decisions you'll
ever make -- combined with a great quality of life.
To find such cities, we joined forces with Bert Sperling,
co-author of Cities Ranked & Rated (Wiley, $25) and
host of BestPlaces.net, to compile a database with an eye to
these elements. Among other things, we looked for places
where you could buy an attractive house for $300,000 to
$400,000 or less. Access to quality health care was also a
must, as was a strong economy.
Next, we traveled to the cities that bubbled to the top
of the list, to speak with residents and savor the flavor of
their neighborhoods. Based on our experiences, we ranked our
top-ten picks -- the first of which just happens to be the
city that Karen-Lee and Mark now call home.
#1 Nashville, Tenn.
Our top pick offers affordable homes, a mild climate and a
phenomenal entertainment scene that goes far beyond country.
#2 Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
The Twin Cities offer a hip and progressive atmosphere with
a midwestern sensibility, multiple cultural outlets, pro
teams in all four major sports, a dozen universities and
colleges, and a diverse economy.
#3 Albuquerque, N.M.
This laid-back city offers resort-town ambience, a boomtown
economy and cow-town prices.
#4 Atlanta, Ga.
The capital of Georgia is a vibrant city with a rich
history, good health care, a great cultural scene and
genteel neighborhoods shaded by magnificent dogwood and
#5 Austin, Tex.
Home to the University of Texas, the state capitol, the
Zachary Scott Theatre and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and
Museum, Austin is a sophisticated salsa of culture, history
#6 Kansas City
This city split along state lines offers something for
everyone: from stately houses to downtown lofts and
world-class museums to barbecue.
#7 Asheville, N.C.
A virtually franchise-free downtown, world-class cuisine,
amazing crafts, live music venues and fine arts make this
city tucked into the Blue Ridge mountain range one of a
#8 Ithaca, N.Y.
True, it's in the Finger Lakes boonies of central New York,
but Ithaca is an Ivy League outpost with great food,
beautiful scenery and Naderite politics.
#9 Pittsburgh, Pa.
Currently undergoing a renaissance, this hidden gem has
distinctive neighborhoods, tree-lined streets, glittering
skyscrapers, upscale shops and a diversified economy.
#10 Iowa City, Iowa
An oasis on the prairie, this wholesome middle-American city
is bursting with creative and intellectual energy.