best small cities to live in usa

11 Best Small Cities to Live in the USA

So long, NYC and LA; these small cities are on the rise thanks to their affordable cost of living and quality of life.

With the cost of living in major metro areas rising higher than a skyscraper, many renters are ditching the big city for small cities. When the pandemic began and remote work became available to most, many renters left big cities seeking more space. Several years later, trends are showing that people are still leaving big, expensive cities. Where are they going? Smaller, up-and-coming cities that offer affordability and better quality of life.

Defined as cities with a population of 100,000 or less, small cities are offering renters everything a big city can but at a fraction of the price. Many small cities have their own robust economies and industries. But remote work no longer makes that a prerequisite for choosing a specific city.

With vibrant arts and cultural scenes, exciting dining options and shopping, many small cities now offer renters all the same perks of living in a big city. It can also give renters things many major metros can’t, like near-instant access to nature for outdoor sports. Plus, living in a small city allows you to better connect with your community. On top of all that, small cities are generally more affordable, giving you a stellar quality of life for less.

If you’re considering moving to a small city, these 11 spots around the U.S.A. should be on your radar.

The 11 best small cities to call home around the U.S.

Trendy craft breweries. Compact and walkable city centers. Historic architecture mixed with modern innovation. Rivers where you can surf in the middle of town. These are just some of the things these 11 small cities across the U.S. have to offer renters, and why you should consider them for your next home.

This list is not ranked based on specific criteria or data.

11. San Luis Obispo, CA

If you want to live in California without breaking the bank, looking for a small city is the way to go. Within half an hour’s drive of both the beach and the mountains, the laidback town of San Luis Obispo could be just the ticket. Located along the Central Californian Coast, this historic town of 47,545 residents is well-known for its slow-living, relaxed quality of life.

Home to one of the campuses of the California Polytechnic State University, SLO attracts its fair share of students and young adults. With farmer’s markets, local wineries and a robust dining scene, residents can enjoy the fresh fruits of the local agricultural industry. With city parks like Laguna Lake Park and access to both the mountains and ocean, it’s also incredibly easy to get outdoors. Plus, major cities like San Jose and Los Angeles are about three hours away by car.

Compared to many major California cities, the cost of rent in San Luis Obispo is a breath of fresh air. The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,700. The city also has a wide range of rental options to choose from in varying styles. For a more contemporary look and top-notch amenities like a fitness center, check out the units at Connect Apartments. However, you can also find charming older homes that have been converted into duplexes with lots of character.

10. Fort Myers, FL

With one-bedroom apartments costing an average of $1,711, Fort Myers is a great choice for affordable coastal Florida living. Located on the Sunshine State’s southwestern coast, this small city of around 92,245 residents is a more budget-friendly option than other nearby cities like Tampa and Miami. With units starting around $1,332, complexes like the Park at Positano come with fantastic amenities like outdoor swimming pools.

But Fort Myers still has everything we all know and love about Florida. Situated close to where the Caloosahatchee River reaches the Gulf of Mexico, sunny beaches and watersports are both close at hand. For land-based fun, wilderness preserves like Bob Janes Reserve and Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park offer hiking, walking and more close to the city. Everglades National Park is also about two hours away by car.

With its beautiful year-round weather, lovely beaches and scenic wildernesses, outdoor access is a big plus of living here. But it’s not the only perk. Sports fans will love getting to watch both major and minor league games, especially during spring for MLB spring training. From fresh seafood to barbecue, the dining scene has the foodie crowd covered with several local craft breweries to wash it all down. Festivals like ArtFest and galleries infuse the community with a creative spirit, and charming neighborhoods of historic houses make for great afternoon walks.

9. Marfa, TX

If you’re a remote worker who doesn’t mind being really remote, you may be interested in the small city of Marfa, Texas. Despite being a small city of under 2,000 residents, this compact community is a renowned destination for arts and culture. From the Chinati Foundation to famous art installations like the Prada Marfa storefront, it’s an exciting place to be an artist on a budget.

With funky community spaces like the Sentinel Marfa, a newspaper-office-slash-coffee-shop and fantastic dining, this small city delivers world-class entertainment and culture in the middle of the Trans-Pecos desert.

Plus, nearby national parks like Big Bend offer outdoor recreation, dark sky gazing and trying to spot the famous Marfa Lights. The only downside of Marfa would be its isolation, with the closest big city being San Antonio nearly six hours away. But as you can see, Marfa offers plenty to keep locals entertained within its small city package.

8. Lancaster, PA

Ranked the best small city to live in by WalletHub, this historic small city of 57,503 in southeastern Pennsylvania ranks big on affordability, quality of life and robust economic health. Surrounded by lush Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch farmlands, the rich agricultural bounty of the region yields a delicious locavore dining scene.

Dating from the early 1700s, Lancaster‘s compact town center is rife with historic architecture and landmarks that support a thriving tourism industry. With healthcare as another top industry, local health is a big deal and residents enjoy a high quality of life. Plus, all that scenic countryside is great for outdoor recreation like golf and hiking.

With one-bedrooms going for an average of $1,481 a month, there is plenty of affordable housing to be found. The Courts at Wetherburn Commons offers spacious, pet-friendly units with perks like in-unit washers and dryers. If you want high-end amenities like a swimming pool, check out the Kensington Club.

7. Bloomington, IN

A bustling college town with a population of just under 80,000 (depending on whether school is in or not), Bloomington buzzes with that classic university-town energy. From wandering the walkable downtown for shopping or grabbing a drink at local craft breweries like Upland, Bloomington keeps locals entertained throughout the year. There’s live music, outdoor sports to be found at nearby forests and lakes and exciting nightlife. With family-friendly activities like bike paths and parks, it’s also a great place to raise a family.

The cost of rent isn’t too bad either. One-bedroom apartments go for an average of around $1,127 a month. There are more budget-friendly options like the $995+ units at Bloom Apartments or top-of-the-line complexes with pools and other cool amenities like Hayden Flats at Haley Farms.

6. Portland, ME

Portland, Maine is here to prove that it’s not playing second-fiddle to Portland, Oregon anymore. It has its own hip craft breweries, trendy restaurants, local boutiques and outdoor fun, all with signature coastal New England charm. Grab a lobster roll from a food truck, stroll the quaint waterfront, explore Casco Bay by boat. Avail yourself of the dynamic art scene with festivals, performances and much more in this vibrant, artsy city by the bay. From the quality of life to the affordability, it’s also considered one of the best places to live in Maine.

From industrial-chic units with rustic brick walls to amenity-stocked modern complexes like Liberty Commons, renters have tons of different options for places to live. Price-wise, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around $2,100.

best small cities to live in usa - eau claire, wi

5. Eau Claire, WI

Sitting along the banks of the Chippewa River, this small city of just under 70,000 in northwestern Wisconsin is ready to win renters over with its live music scene, foodie offerings and welcoming atmosphere. Eau Claire‘s biggest claim to fame is its arts and cultural scene, most notably with live music and the performing arts. In addition to being the hometown of Bon Iver, Eau Claire has several renowned music festivals including the two-day Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival.

Along with the creative energy, Eau Claire also has funky craft breweries, hip coffeehouses and diverse dining options. Residents can stroll along the picturesque riverfront, go hiking in urban nature preserves and enjoy watersports at nearby lakes and rivers. Also home to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, this small city appeals to everyone from students to families. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the best places to live in Wisconsin.

With so much to see and do, Eau Claire’s affordable housing is the icing on the cake. One-bedroom apartments go for an average of $895 a month, with options ranging from charming single-family houses to luxury apartment complexes.

best small cities to live in usa - missoula

4. Missoula, MT

With its cool small cities and pristine nature, Montana has become an increasingly popular destination for renters leaving big cities. Of its up-and-coming small cities, Missoula definitely stands out. Located in the western part of the state, it has a decidedly youthful air thanks to being the home of the University of Montana. But everyone from families to young professionals can find something to love here. There are hip craft breweries and restaurants, outdoor sports and plenty of arts and cultural offerings like festivals, galleries and performing arts. Plus, with a population of just under 75,000, it’s easy to know your neighbors and be connected with the overall community.

Missoula’s affordable housing rates and cost of living are other perks. One-bedroom apartments go for an average of around $1,095 a month and renters can choose between older buildings with tons of character and newfangled complexes with updated appliances.

3. Asheville, NC

Set against the spectacular backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville boasts an outsized reputation compared to its small population of just over 94,000. From the grand Biltmore Museum to converted artist studios in the River Arts District, arts and culture are alive and well here with galleries, museums and more. Dining options range from trendy eateries to hip craft breweries, and the temperate climate and nearby mountains and forests allow for year-round outdoor recreation.

On top of all that, Asheville offers renters an affordable cost of living. The average monthly cost for a one-bedroom apartment is around $1,484, and apartment communities like the Forest at Biltmore Park and Skyland Exchange come with posh amenities like outdoor swimming pools.

best small cities to live in usa - santa fe

2. Santa Fe, NM

With a population of around 88,193, renters have been falling for the charms of Santa Fe, NM for a long time. Located in the high mountains of central New Mexico, Santa Fe is mainly known for its multicultural arts and culture scene. With gallery hubs like Canyon Road and world-renowned museums, artists come here for the eclectic community and stunning high desert scenery that inspired the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe. From the thriving film industry to the Santa Fe Opera to boundary-pushing arts collectives like Meow Wolf, everyone from actors to multidisciplinary artists can find a niche here.

But the City Different also charms potential new residents with its delicious New Mexican cuisine, unique architecture, beautiful nature and outdoor sports like hiking and skiing. Renters can expect to pay around $1,734 for a one-bedroom apartment in the Santa Fe area. At complexes like Olympus Rodeo, units start around $1,585 and come with attractive community amenities like a swimming pool and in-unit washers and dryers.

best small cities to live in usa - bend oregon

1. Bend, OR

Move over, Portland. Bend is becoming the new, hip place to live in Oregon. Located east of the Cascade Mountains, this growing city in central Oregon has a population just over the small city limit at around 102,059. In 2020, that number was 99,126. So it may not remain a small city for long. But it’s easy to see why so many are flocking here.

For one, you can rent a one-bedroom apartment for around $1,750 a month. Renters have living options ranging from modern apartment complexes with pools like Solis at Petrosa to spacious townhouses.

Although tech, IT and healthcare are leading industries here, Bend’s reputation as a “Zoom town” has drawn remote workers in droves. With access to hiking, skiing and climbing in the mountains and desert nearby, Bend appeals to the outdoor set. With the Deschutes River running right through the center of town, you don’t even need to drive out of the city to spend time in nature. Locals can stand-up paddleboard, float and kayak through the heart of Bend. At Whitewater Park, there are even some manmade rapids where you can surf.

Plus, there’s plenty to do when you’re not outdoors. Shop and dine at the Old Mill District, a former industrial-area-turned-outdoor-retail-mall. Refresh yourself with a craft brew from local breweries like the Crux Fermentation Project, catch live music at the Hayden Homes Amphitheater and more.

Find the best small U.S. city for you

From exciting live music to trendy farm-to-table dining, these top small cities have everything larger metros have but in a more close-knit, secluded package. Check out the listings on to find your dream apartment in your dream small city.

Rent prices are based on an average from Rent.’s available rental property inventory as of July 2023. The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.


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