Best Places to Live 2009

U.S. News looked at areas with strong economies, low living costs, and plenty of fun things to do.

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The city's warm climate offers plenty of sunshine, while the open green spaces don't provide any excuse for staying indoors. Head over to Lions Municipal Golf Course for an inexpensive round. Wander through the 351-acre Zilker Metropolitan Park until you find Barton Springs Pool, a 3-acre water source fed by underground springs that keep its temperature around 68 degrees all year long. To escape the city, head for the nearby Hill Country. "It's rolling hills cut with lots of little creeks and streams," says Tom Beach, a sales clerk at Austin Canoe & Kayak. "It makes for a nice road trip."

Boise, Idaho


Although often overlooked, Boise, Idaho, is a terrific destination for those looking to escape out West. With a high-desert climate of sunshine, clear skies, and four distinct seasons, this city of 200,000 makes a perfect base camp for exploring southwest Idaho's dramatic panorama. Choose from the many nearby parks, which total some 2,700 acres, cast a fishing line into the Boise River, or head over to Boise State University for a Broncos football game. High-tech companies Micron Technology and Hewlett-Packard are among the area's leading private employers. To hit the thriving local arts scene, cruise downtown. Boise's free "Alive After Five" concert series brings musicians and other entertainers to the Grove Plaza each Wednesday during the summer. "It's harder to find a parking space after 5 than it is before 5," says Paul Hiller, the executive director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership. "It's one of the most vibrant downtown areas you've ever seen."

Durham, North Carolina


Once a tobacco town, Durham, N.C., has evolved into a world-class center of all things advanced. This city of 206,000, located halfway between the Atlantic coast and the Great Smoky Mountains, is called the "City of Medicine" because of its expansive healthcare industry. And although widely known as the home of prestigious Duke University, it's also a thriving technology hub. At the same time, Durham's mild climate allows residents to get out and explore the region's abundant outdoor attractions. Consider hiking one of the many distinct trails and greenways or heading over to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park for an afternoon baseball game. La Crosse, Wisconsin


With a population of about 50,000, La Crosse, Wis., is a great staging ground for exploring the natural wonders of the upper Mississippi River area. Although winters can be bitterly cold, friendly Midwesterners and the nearby ski slopes will keep your spirits high. The spring opens an active outdoor culture of camping, hiking, hunting, and fishing that brings more than a million visitors to the area each year. Explore the mighty Mississippi on a riverboat tour, or try your luck with the northern pike in Lake Onalaska. "Great people, fun town," says Dave Lueck, a 36-year-old graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. "It's not too big, not too small." And with a 2008 median home sale price of $113,000, it's also an affordable destination. [Learn more about our Best Places to Live Methodology.]

Loveland, Colorado


Located just outside the breathtaking Rocky Mountain National Park, Loveland, Colo., is considered the "Gateway to the Rockies." But while it has 27 public parks and nearly 16 miles of recreation trails, it's Loveland's affection for man-made beauty that sets this community of 56,000 residents apart. Thanks to its Art in Public Places program, more than 300 pieces of sculpture and two-dimensional works are on display throughout the community. And with a 2008 median home sale price of $186,000, the area's real estate market is relatively affordable. Loveland has also achieved acclaim for its Valentine remailing program, in which 200,000 cards are sent to the city to receive a special cachet stamp. "We've got a waiting list of over 50 people that are waiting to be stampers," says Kathryn Roth of the Loveland Chamber of Commerce.

San Luis Obispo, California


Tucked into California's sweeping Central Coast region is lovely San Luis Obispo, Calif. Its warm, gentle climate, with temperatures rarely surpassing 90 degrees, is perfect for hitting nearby beaches or touring local vineyards. In addition, California Polytechnic State University, which is located in town, infuses the community with intellectual energy.