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10 Best Places to Live in Iowa: Unveiling the Hawkeye State’s Hidden Gems

Have you ever dreamt of a place that combines serene living, economic stability, and cultural richness? Nestled in the heart of the Midwest, Iowa is an enigma, quietly offering some of the best living conditions in the United States. Whether you’re contemplating a change in scenery, seeking a safe harbor to raise a family, or scouting for a new chapter post-retirement, the Hawkeye State holds a special allure. This journey through the ten best places to live in Iowa will reveal what makes each town unique and guide you toward finding your perfect home.

1. Des Moines – The Pulse of Iowa’s Progressive Beat 

Des Moines, the state capital, is renowned for its vibrant urban life balanced with a friendly, small-town atmosphere. It offers diverse job opportunities, particularly in the finance, insurance, and government sectors. The city is home to several cultural institutions like the Des Moines Art Center and the Iowa State Fair, which is a major annual event. With its excellent schools, numerous parks, and family-friendly attractions, Des Moines is ideal for those seeking a dynamic urban environment without the drawbacks of larger cities. The cost of living remains reasonable, making it an attractive destination for young professionals and families alike.

2. Cedar Rapids – The Cultural Heartbeat of the Midwest 

Cedar Rapids, known as the “City of Five Seasons,” offers a unique blend of urban and natural amenities. It’s the second-largest city in Iowa and is known for its thriving arts scene, including the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and the Paramount Theatre. The city has a strong economy with major manufacturing, technology, and food processing employers. Cedar Rapids is also known for its high-quality education system and family-friendly neighborhoods. The city provides ample recreational opportunities with its parks and trails, making it a desirable location for those who appreciate both cultural vibrancy and outdoor activities.

3. Iowa City – Culturally Rich and Educationally Renowned

Iowa City, home to the prestigious University of Iowa, is a haven for education and culture. This college town boasts a lively arts scene, numerous literary events (being a UNESCO City of Literature), and an active nightlife. The presence of the university contributes to its diverse and educated population. Iowa City is known for its excellent healthcare facilities, including the UI Hospitals and Clinics. With a range of affordable housing options, safe neighborhoods, and a strong sense of community, Iowa City is an ideal place for students, academics, and families looking for a stimulating and enriching environment.

4. Ames – A Blend of Academics and Affordability 

Ames, home to Iowa State University, is a vibrant college town with a strong emphasis on research and innovation. The city is known for its contributions to science and technology, making it attractive for professionals and students in these fields. Ames has a robust economy, high-quality schools, and a variety of cultural and recreational activities, including the Reiman Gardens and the Ames Historical Society. The community is engaged and inclusive, offering its residents a high quality of life. Ames’ small-town charm, combined with the energy of a university town, makes it a great place for young professionals and families.

5. West Des Moines – Suburban Bliss and Lively Evenings

West Des Moines is a suburb of the state capital, combining urban amenities with suburban comfort. It’s known for its upscale shopping centers, diverse dining options, and well-maintained parks. The city has a strong economic base with numerous corporate headquarters and retail and service industries. West Des Moines offers a range of housing options, from luxurious homes to affordable apartments. The schools here are highly rated, and the city is known for its safe neighborhoods and community-oriented atmosphere. It’s an ideal location for those who desire proximity to the amenities of a larger city while enjoying the peace of suburban life.

6. Ankeny –  Thriving Growth and Community Spirit 

Ankeny, a rapidly growing suburb of Des Moines, is known for its excellent quality of life. The city has seen significant development in recent years, offering a mix of residential, commercial, and recreational spaces. Ankeny is praised for its top-rated schools, safe neighborhoods, and family-friendly environment. The city boasts numerous parks, trails, and recreational facilities, making it ideal for outdoor enthusiasts. Ankeny’s convenient location, strong community spirit, and ongoing development make it an attractive destination for families and professionals looking for a dynamic and flourishing community.

7. Dubuque – Historical Elegance Meets Modern Living 

Dubuque, located along the Mississippi River, is rich in history and natural beauty. The city offers a unique blend of historical charm and modern development. Dubuque is known for its picturesque riverfront, vibrant arts and culture scene, and a variety of entertainment options. The economy is diverse, with manufacturing, healthcare, and education opportunities. Dubuque’s commitment to sustainability and environmental initiatives is evident in its urban planning and community programs. With its scenic landscapes, strong sense of community, and affordable living, Dubuque is an appealing choice for those who appreciate a city that values both its heritage and future.

8. Urbandale – The Harmony of Urban and Green Living 

Urbandale, a suburb of Des Moines, offers a balanced lifestyle with its mix of residential areas, commercial development, and green spaces. The city is known for its high-quality schools, safe neighborhoods, and community-oriented atmosphere. Urbandale provides a variety of housing options to suit different preferences and budgets. The city’s parks and trail systems are perfect for outdoor activities and host several community events throughout the year. With its convenient location, strong economic development, and commitment to quality of life, Urbandale is desirable for families and professionals seeking a suburban environment with easy access to urban amenities.

9. Clive – Where Opportunities and Recreation Collide 

Clive, another Des Moines suburb, is renowned for its greenbelt park and trail system, offering miles of scenic paths for biking, walking, and outdoor recreation. The city combines urban and suburban living with a range of amenities, including shopping, dining, and entertainment options. Clive has a strong economic base, excellent schools, and well-planned residential neighborhoods. Its commitment to community wellness and environmental conservation makes it an attractive place for those who prioritize a healthy, active lifestyle. Clive’s blend of modern conveniences, natural beauty, and community focus makes it a top choice for individuals and families looking for a balanced lifestyle.

10. Sioux City

Sioux City, located in northwestern Iowa, is a culturally diverse community with a rich history and a vibrant arts scene. The city offers an affordable cost of living, diverse employment opportunities, and a variety of entertainment and recreational activities. Sioux City is home to historical landmarks, museums, and the Orpheum Theatre, adding to its cultural appeal. The city’s education system is robust, with several public and private schooling options. Sioux City’s blend of culture, history, affordability, and community spirit makes it an appealing destination for those seeking a city with a strong sense of identity and community involvement.

Experience the State and Why It Is One of the Best Places to Live

After moving to one of Iowa’s best places, take the time to explore your new community and engage with local events and activities. Establishing connections and building relationships with neighbors and local groups can greatly enhance your experience. Familiarize yourself with local amenities, parks, schools, and healthcare facilities to fully integrate into your new environment. Participate in community initiatives and volunteer opportunities to contribute to the area’s well-being and develop a deeper sense of belonging. Embracing your chosen Iowa location’s unique characteristics and lifestyle will help you create a fulfilling and enriching life in your new home.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the ten best places to live in Iowa, and how do they compare in terms of apartments and living options?

A: The ten best places to live in Iowa offer various living options, including apartments catering to diverse preferences. Cities like Des Moines and Cedar Rapids provide urban living with modern amenities, while smaller towns offer a more tranquil place to live. Each of these best places, including the best cities like Ames and Iowa City, boasts unique characteristics that make them appealing to different lifestyles.

Q: Among the best places to live in Iowa, which cities are considered the best for retirees?

A: When considering the best places to retire in Iowa, cities like Bettendorf and Johnston are often highlighted due to their lower crime rates and serene environments. These locations also offer a range of real estate options, from spacious estate homes to convenient apartments. The living index and niche grade in these areas reflect a high quality of life, making them some of Iowa’s best places for retirement living.

Q: How does the real estate market in Iowa’s best places to live compare in terms of affordability and amenities?

A: The real estate market varies widely in IA, particularly in cities recognized as the best place to live in Iowa. Places like Waterloo and Davenport offer affordable property options with a lower median income requirement. Meanwhile, cities like Des Moines and Cedar Rapids boast a vibrant real estate market with diverse amenities, from single-bedroom apartments to family homes. The average rent rates and property values in these best places are influenced by local niche, unemployment rate, and median income levels.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the ten best places to live in Iowa is more than selecting a city; it’s about discovering a community that resonates with your aspirations and lifestyle. Each candidate on this curated list reflects the richness of life that Iowa promises—where the exceptional quality of life meets the low cost of living, and burgeoning city developments coexist with pastoral charm. For those preparing to make Iowa their new home, whether it’s the family setting of Ankeny or the consistent accolades for safety and quality in Urbandale, Horizon Movers, and Climate Control Storage stands ready to assist with your transition. Embrace Iowa—not just as a place to live, but as a state of being.