Here at the Movoto Real Estate Blog, we feel like we’re getting to know our country pretty well. After all, we’ve been from coast to coast and back again to find everything from the most exciting mid-sized cities and best college towns, to which city is the best for hipsters (it was Portland, by the way).
Today we’re continuing on our journey and uncovering the best places in the Last Frontier State. What did we find? Bears. Lots of bears. Oh, and a whole lot of really wonderful places to live. The best of them all were the 10 places below, starting with our winner, Sitka.
1. City and Borough of Sitka
2. Municipality of Anchorage
3. City and Borough of Juneau
4. City of Barrow
5. City of Fairbanks
6. City of Ketchikan
7. City and Borough of Wrangell
8. City of Bethel (tie)
8. City of Valdez (tie)
10. City of North Pole
As the state’s nickname suggests, Alaska is still pretty sparsely settled in some regions; but as our analysis shows, the 10 places above are not only populated, but simply booming. To find out just what makes these places so great, keep on reading. We’ll also give you a rundown of how we trekked these rugged lands to get our list.
How We Did It
We may be explorers at heart, here at Movoto, traversing the (virtual) U.S., journeying from place to place, and now, to the Last Frontier! …But we’re also pretty comfortable sitting behind our desks and letting the calculators do the work.
First of all, it’s unbiased, it’s factual, and based solely on the data; second of all, well, it is a lot warmer here in San Francisco than it is in Alaska. So, in order to come up with a Big Deal List like this one, we start by gathering up a list of places from the U.S. Census—in this case, the 26 places in Alaska with populations over 1,000. Then we look at each in terms of the following criteria:
- Total amenities
- Quality of life (cost of living, median home price, median rent, median household income, and student-teacher ratio)
- Total crimes
- Tax rates (sales tax and income tax)
- Commute time
- Weather (temperature and air quality)
From there, we ranked each place with a score from one to 26, with one being the best. We averaged these rankings into an overall Big Deal Score, again, with the lowest score being our winner, which in this case was Sitka.
For a complete list of our rankings, pop down to the bottom of the post. Otherwise, we’ll start with the best place in the Frontier State.
This Baranof Island city and borough is well known as a cultural and historical center in Alaska, dating back to its beginnings under Russian rule and a different name, “New Archangel,” which, let’s be honest, is pretty fantastic.
Although its name has changed and today it’s thought of fondly for its university, the Kettleson Memorial Library, the Pioneer Home, and of course, the Baranof Island Brewing Company, it’s still just as big a deal, as our analysis shows.
Sitka came in at No. 1 for its high median home price of $309,800, a great indication of its desirability. Plus, with a crime rate of just 2,379 crimes per 100,00 people, an air quality score of just 13 (the lower the better), and an average summer temperature of 55 (pretty warm for Alaska), it’s no wonder residents are willing to pay a bit more for houses.
Fun fact: Did you know that Anchorage is the northernmost city in the U.S. with a population over 100,000 people? Also, did you know that the scallop cakes from Sacks Cafe and Restaurant will absolutely change your life? Of course, neither of these things had anything to do with anchorage’s high ranking on our list. Just sayin’.
Where it did score well, though, was in its high number of amenities—the most out of all 26 places we looked at—and for its high overall score in quality of life. That was mostly due to its median household income of $73,004, plus median home and rent prices of $269,500 and $1,009, respectively.
Why are people willing to pay so much to live in Anchorage (scallop cakes, aside)? Perhaps it has something to do with the city’s unemployment rate of just 5.5 percent, average summer temperature of 56 degrees, or maybe, just maybe, it’s the fact that there is no sales tax here, where in some places in the state, like Homer, it’s 7.5 percent. That seems reason enough to pay a little extra for real estate, don’t you think?
You know, we’ve all heard the puns and cheesy jokes about this place, but Juneau what? It’s actually pretty great. It’s home to the Alaska State Museum, the University of Alaska Southeast, Tracy’s King Crab Shack (which, if you haven’t gone yet, go immediately), and its beautiful downtown nestled at the base of a mountain. Oh, and it did well in nearly all of our criteria.
Where Juneau particularly shined, though, was in its high number of amenities and high quality of life score, due to some of the highest real estate prices in the state, plus a median household income of $75,517—20 percent higher than the rest of the state. Juneau also had one of the lowest unemployment rates in our analysis, at just 4.7 percent, topped only by our next city, Barrow.
How many other places do you know of that celebrate Kivgiq, the Messenger Feast? Or Nalukata, the Blanket Toss Celebration? Or July 4, Independence Day? Okay, we’re all pretty much on board with that last one—but here in Barrow, it’s celebrated with unique games like the two-foot high kick and ear pull.
Barrow also ranked uniquely well in our analysis for the fourth highest overall quality of life score. That’s because here, the student-teacher ratio is the lowest in the state, at 12 to 1, and the median household income is the third highest at $78,250.
Of course, this being the northernmost city in the state, and one of the 10 most northern in the world, you’d be right to expect that it didn’t score so well for its weather (it scored the worst, in fact), but with the lowest unemployment rate in the state of just 4.7 percent, we think it more than makes up for a little nippy weather.
With a population of 31,535, Fairbanks is the largest city in the interior region of Alaska, and the second largest in the state after Anchorage. With that size comes much to do.
There’s the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University’s museum, the Golden Days Parade, and, of course, some of the best French toast your mouth will ever know at The Cookie Jar. In fact, Fairbanks ranked second in the category of total number of amenities.
That’s not the only reason this city excelled. With an average summer temperature of 60 degrees (yes, six-zero), it is by far the warmest place on our lis. Also, along with Barrow and Anchorage, Fairbanks ranked No. 1 in the category of taxes.
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Best known for the beautiful Misty Fiords National Monument, the Alaska Marine Highway System, and let’s be real, a halibut sandwich at Burger Queen worth moving for, Ketchikan clearly ranked pretty well in our analysis in terms of amenities. It also blew the other places away with its top score in weather, with an average summer temperature of 56 and an air quality of 13.
Warm(ish) summer temperatures and clean, clear air aren’t the only things that make living in Ketchikan feel pleasant; it also has one of the shortest average commute times, just 13 minutes.
Wrangell Island started out as a Tlingit community, and this fact still has a heavy influence on the city’s culture. In fact, residents are just a quick drive away from the Tlingit Chief Shakes Island and Tribal House Historic Monument and Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park.
If history isn’t your thing, though, there are plenty of other reasons to love Wrangell, including a cost of living index of just 107. Sure, that may be 7 percent higher than the U.S. average, but compared to say, Nome where it is 125, Wrangell looks like a steal.
Speaking of which, the low cost of living might just be the only type of stealing going on around here, because with a crime rate of just 1,410 crimes per 100,000, Wrangell came in at No. 1 in this criterion.
8. Bethel (tie)
Certainly one of the most fun places on our list, Bethel is known for its annual dog sled race, the Kuskokwim 300, the Camai traditional Yupik dance festival, and the Bethel Fair each fall. But after looking at these numbers, we think Bethel might want to add “most affluent” to its list of bragging rights.
That’s because the median household income in this city was the highest in our analysis at $86,935. This, plus high median home and rent prices of $220,700 and $1,141, respectively, and a student-teacher ratio of just 13 to 1, easily put Bethel at No. 1 in terms of its overall quality of life score. If that wasn’t good enough, residents also have one of the shortest average commute times in our top 10: just 12 minutes.
8. Valdez (tie)
Where Bethel excelled in its quality of life score, Valdez made the top 10 for very different reasons. First of all, with just 2,299 crimes per 100,000 people, Valdez was one of the safest places on our list, plus, along with Anchorage, Barrow, and Fairbanks, came in with the best score for low taxes.
Of course, we do realize that these numbers are only a portion of this city’s charm. The other 50 percent—okay, maybe more like 60 percent—is in the absolutely stunning nature surrounding Valdez. Where else can you watch humpback and orca whales with a backdrop of towering mountains and glaciers, and then head off on one of the many trails to oggle at the summer wildflowers? Narnia doesn’t count.
10. North Pole
The final spot on our list wins approximately one million points for its awesome name. Well, no, not really; but if it were up to the author of this post, I would have thrown in at least a few, or at least a couple of cookies and milk.
North Pole, AK is every bit as charming as Santa’s hometown, with street names like Santa Claus Lane (with giant candy cane light poles, of course), the Santa Claus house, and other year-round Christmas merriment.
Perhaps it’s because there are so many worker elves, but North Pole came in with one of the lowest unemployment rates in our analysis, just 6.3 percent, plus a relatively low sales tax of 4 percent, making it the ninth best for taxes.
In fact, the only huge difference between this North Pole and that other one has got to be the weather; with an average summer temperature of 57 and air quality of 17, North Pole came in sixth in this category. Perhaps Santa could look into spending his summers here.
The Last Frontier
Like we said at the outset, we’ve spent a lot of time exploring the vast expanse of our country, learning about the different states and places, and which are best for what. Today we made it to the Last Frontier, and we must admit, learning about Alaska was, at times, like stepping into uncharted territory.
This state is just so unique—culturally, geographically, historically, and of course, weather-wise—that it’s no wonder people want to live in Alaska, and most especially in our top place, Sitka.
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