Alabama is the gem of the South. Sure, North Carolina might say the same, and of course Texas would have something to say about this (and you don’t want to mess with Texas), but there is something undeniably charming, comfortable, and downright American about the Heart of Dixie.
This is a place where the official nut is the pecan (pronounced pee-khan for those of you who aren’t from around here), Alabama workers built the first U.S. rocket to go to the moon, and this state was the birthplace of baseball player, Willie Mays—and what could be more American than that?
This charm, this Southern something that residents have known about for years—and in today’s post, we are going to explore just which Alabama places are the best, and what that something is that makes them so special. Without further ado, here are the 10 best places in Alabama, starting with our winner, Auburn:
1. City of Auburn
2. City of Madison
3. City of Pelham
4. City of Florence
5. City of Calera
6. City of Enterprise
7. City of Chelsea
8. City of Mountain Brook
9. City of Albertville
10. City of Alabaster
To find out how we got this order and just what makes each of these places so undeniably charming, so very Alabama, keep on reading, because in the following paragraphs we’re going on a virtual tour of the Heart of Dixie.
Whether we’re looking for the nerdiest cities in America, the best small cities, or just the best places in the state, we always need certain measurable criteria to make our lists. Today, we used the following seven things, subdivided into a total of 13 checkpoints.
- Total Amenities
- Quality of Life (cost of living, median home price, median rent, median household income, teacher per student ratio)
- Total Crimes
- Tax Rates (sales tax, income tax)
- Commute Time
- Weather (temperature, air quality)
With these criteria in mind, we looked at the U.S. Census data for places in Alabama with a population of more than 5,000 people, which came to 102 locales. Each place was ranked from one to 102 in the criteria, with one being the best possible score. From there, the individual rankings were averaged into an overall Big Deal Score—the lowest score being our winner, Auburn.
To see where each of our top 50 places in Alabama ranked, scroll down to the end of the post.
For now, though, let’s check out these 10 best places, starting with our winner. Congratulations, Auburn!
Auburn is known for many things—it is the home of Auburn University, it is one of the fastest growing cities in Alabama, and it even boasts the nickname “The Loveliest Village on the Plains.” But this Lee County city made our list for a whole different set of positive traits.
With an average commute time of just 18 minutes, residents in Auburn seem to spend the least amount of time in the car out of any of our top 10. They also have a low student-to-teacher ratio of 14:1, giving these lucky students the attention in the classroom they need.
Though Auburn’s cost of living score of 98 certainly didn’t win it any points in our ranking, it more than made up for this with its high median household value of $205,600, its low sales tax of 8 percent (compared to, say, 10 percent in Lincoln), and its total number of amenities—456 businesses.
This Madison County city ranked well in our study for its low number of crimes—just 2,329 per 100,000 residents, its high median household income of $85,945—111 percent higher than the rest of the state, and its high median home values of $224,200. In fact, Madison’s overall score for quality of life was pretty high due to income, home values, a low sales tax of 8 percent, and nearly 630 businesses.
This suburb of Birmingham in Shelby County came in as one of the safest places in our overall list, with a crime rate 49 percent lower than the rest of the state. It also ranked high for its quality of life in general, due to its high median income of $67,622, and its high median home values and rent prices of $167,000 and $902, respectively, indicating a strong desire to live in the area.
Where Pelham really shined, though, was in its low unemployment rate of just 5.4 percent, making it one of the five most employed places in Alabama. Of course, the commute time is 28 minutes, which is higher than the state average.
When most people hear the name Florence, luxury and beauty come to mind. Of course they’re usually thinking of the one in Italy—but those images wouldn’t be too far off for this city in Lauderdale County. Florence is considered the economic hub of northwestern Alabama, and is known for events like the W.C. Handy Music Festival in the summer and the Renaissance Fair in the fall.
Perhaps now, though, it will also be known as one of the most pleasant places in Alabama, due to its average summer temperature of 78 and air quality score of 36 out of 100—one of the best in the state. Perhaps this clean air is partly due to the low average commute time of just 19 minutes, or the 340 businesses nearby, cutting back on residents’ time spent in the car.
Here is a fun fact about Calera. In the 2000 census, the population was a mere 3,158, but since then, it has nearly quadrupled, making it one of the fastest growing cities in all of Alabama. According to our analysis, there are plenty of reasons for that. Calera is a wonderful place for families, with a student-to-teacher ratio of 13 to 1 and one of the lowest crime rates in the state, of just 1,387 crimes per 100,000 people. That’s 64 percent lower than the rest of the state.
Calera also ranked as one of the lowest both for its sales tax of just 8 percent, and its unemployment rate of 5.4 percent. And while Calera’s cost of living score of 83 (where 100 is the national average) is No. 77 like it is in Childersburg or Opp; it is still a lot better than the 116 of Mountain Brook, and is one of the two least expensive on our top 10.
Enterprise, Alabama may be well known for its Boll Weevil Monument in the city’s center—said to be the only statue built in honor of an insect in the world—but in our study, it is better known as one of the greatest cities in the state, mostly because of its low unemployment rate of 6.2 percent, short average commute time of 20 minutes, and sales tax of just 8 percent.
Enterprise also scored some points for a cost of living score of 84, making it the third most affordable city in our top 10, after Florence and Calera.
Located in Shelby County, Chelsea is the fastest growing city in the area—and for good reason. According to our analysis, Chelsea is one of the safest places in the state, and easily the safest in our top 10, with a crime rate 82 percent lower than the state average.
Sure, residents in Chelsea may have a longer commute time—on average it is about 33 minutes—but at least they can probably afford the fuel, with a median household income of $84,868. Chelsea also has some of the highest home values and rent prices in the state, plus one of the lowest unemployment rates, at just 5.4 percent, giving them a high overall score for quality of life.
8. Mountain Brook
As briefly mentioned before, Mountain Brook easily has the highest cost of living, not just in our top 10, but on our entire list, with a score of 116. But as residents of this Birmingham suburb know, you get what you pay for—and here in Mountain Brook, you’re certainly paying for quality of life.
Mountain Brook has one of the lowest crime rates on our overall list, at just 1,804 crimes per 100,000 people. This city also has one of the lowest student-to-teacher ratios on our list, of just 13:1, and one of the highest scores for its total number of 1,735 amenities in the area, making this a wonderful area for families (and dining out, of course.)
The median home value in Mountain Brook is the highest in the state at $566,500; but considering the area’s median household income of $130,721, this price tag doesn’t seem all that high anymore, does it?
Located in Marshall County, our No. 9 city, Albertville, scored well in our study for a number of reasons, but mostly for its perfect weather, with an average summer temperature of just 77 degrees and an air quality score of 38 out of 100.
Albertville also had one of the lowest unemployment rates on our overall list, with a rate of just 7.4 percent, and scored well in its taxes rank, with a sales tax of 8 percent and the relatively low median income of $35,843 in combination with the state income tax of 5 percent.
Sure, residents here may not make the over $100,000 that they do in Mountain Brook—but they are also not paying nearly as much; not in income tax, median home prices, or cost of living overall (where Albertville scored an 85, Mountain Brook scored a 116.)
In recent years, Alabaster has been ranked as one of Money Magazine’s 100 Best Places to Live—and it is no wonder why. This suburb of Birmingham in Shelby County scored well across the board, but particularly aced it in education, with a student to teacher ratio of just 13:1.
Residents here also make a median household income of $67,346—the 11th highest on our entire list, and pay a median rent price of $889—the 14th highest on our list. That may not sound like a great deal for residents, but it is certainly a strong indicator of high in demand real estate.
Another great indicator of the high quality of life here is the low unemployment rate of just 5.4 percent and the sales tax of just 8 percent.
Alabama, You Have our Hearts
Alabama may be known as the Heart of Dixie, but after this ranking, this southern state has captured our hearts as well. From the idyllic and quaint to the luxuries of Mountain Brook, Alabama has a certain charm for everyone’s fancy. So congratulations to these top 10 places in this gem of a state—especially to those in Auburn, the best city in Alabama.