Now that winter has drawn to a close, North Dakotans are probably looking forward to all sorts of things. There’s great fishing and hunting to be done, frontier amusement parks reopening for the season, county fairs gearing up, and beautiful landscapes slowly blossoming in greens and blues. Of course, this state is a great place to be all year round, even when it’s covered in a blanket of white—but which place is simply better no matter the weather?
While Teddy Roosevelt probably would have focused more on the wilderness and mountains, the Movoto Real Estate Blog decided to look at population centers to determine which were the best 10 places to live in. It just seems cozier that way, and besides, that’s where all the data is. After much research, we found out those best places are:
1. City of Lisbon
2. City of West Fargo
3. City of Jamestown
4. City of Fargo
5. City of Bismarck
5. City of Dickinson
5. City of Carrington
8. City of Williston
9. City of Lincoln
10. City of Wahpeton
10. City of Horace
How did we get these results, you may be wondering? Go ahead and bundle up, pour a mug of hot tea, and we’ll clue you in on how we figured all this out.
How We Made This Ranking
As in our other Big Deal Lists, where we looked at the most exciting places and happiest places, we based our rankings on some serious data about North Dakota. Yes, as with liberty and union, Movoto and stats are “one and inseparable.” In order to get that ever-important data, we took numbers from the U.S. Census (2010) and business listings, covering seven different criteria, and applied them to the 22 places in North Dakota with populations over 2,000. Those criteria were:
- Total amenities
- Quality of life (cost of living, median home price, median rent, median household income, and student-to-teacher ratio)
- Total crimes
- Tax rates (sales tax and income tax)
- Commute time
- Weather (temperature and air quality)
After we got all the numbers, we ranked the places from 1 to 22, with one being the best in each area. We averaged those rankings together into one Big Deal Score, and the top ranking place became our No. 1. In this case, Lisbon came out smelling like a wild prairie rose and was first place overall. Let’s take a closer look at why Lisbon and the others in our top 10 deserve to be called the best spots to be in ND.
Lisbon may be the second smallest city on our overall list, but it’s at the top for our best places in North Dakota. Home to the nation’s oldest continuously running movie theater and only 2,154 people, this itty-bitty city has some big stats.
The weather here is great, and ranks No. 3 on our list for that category, and the average commute time is a very low 12 minutes. The quality of life here is decent, as is the employment rate and crime rate, and the taxes in general are very low. Really, all around this is a fantastic place to be, even though it’s little.
One would think that a small place would mean fewer amenities, but that’s not entirely the case here. Lisbon comes in at a (fairly respectable for its size) No. 17, beating out bigger cities like Horace and Hazen. One such amenity is Sandanger Park, which includes a pool, campground, skate park, mini golf, and more. For those looking to find something to munch, There are wonderful sandwiches and lattes at Hodenattes on Main.
2. West Fargo
Though it’s bigger than Lisbon, with a population of 25,830, West Fargo still holds some small-town appeal and some great stats to back it up. Like our first place city, the taxes are low here and rank second for that criteria. The quality of life here is also amazing and ranks No. 3 overall.
While the commute time here is a bit long, the unemployment rate is only 2.8 percent and workers pull in a median household income of $61,043, so this is one well paid and hard working place to live. For those worried about the weather, fear not, as the air quality is great and comes in at No. 3 for that ranking.
People who love history and like seeing it done in a creative and interactive way should really make plans to visit. The city is home to Bonanzaville, one of West Fargo’s seventh place ranked amenities and a rip-snortin’ good time. It includes a pioneer village, gift shops, special events, tours, museum exhibits, and a whole ton of proud heritage.
For those looking to go big in a little town, 15,427 population Jamestown is a great option. Arguably one of this city’s biggest attractions is a seriously big buffalo, a massive statue claiming to be the largest buffalo in the world. The place even goes by the nickname The Buffalo City because of this recently refurbished landmark. For those looking for a more active draw, there’s also a massive disc golf course and a civic center that hosts special events and concerts regularly.
Beyond the fun stuff, Jamestown has a lot to offer people just looking to have a good life. The quality of life is ranked No 4 on our list, and the weather is tied with first place Lisbon for No. 3. There are plenty of amenities to visit, and the median home price is $96,300, making this an inexpensive place but a great value. Students will also be happy to find that the student-teacher ratio is a very personal 11 to 1, which ranks No. 5 for that criterion.
The largest place on our list—and in the state—Fargo and it’s 105,549 locals clock in at No. 4 overall. Whatever you’re looking for, you can bet you’ll find it here. Museums, festivals, concerts, sports, parks, and even a zoo, there’s always something going on to suit your unique individual interests. The city ranks No. 1 in the amenities department, which comes as no shock considering the place’s massive size and always-active citizens.
With all of this going on, it’s no surprise that people really want to live here. The median home price ranked No. 2, indicating that people are willing to pay a high price for this kind of living, and for the low unemployment rate of only 2.8 percent. The weather here is also quite decent,
due to some very good air quality, so feel free to breath deep when you’re in this city.
Although smaller than Fargo, Bismarck is the state capitol and ranks No. 5 on our overall list in a three-way tie with Dickinson and Carrington. The stats that got it there have mostly to do with this being an absolutely great place to work. The unemployment rate here is a measly 2.5 percent, and the commute time is only 15 minutes. For their troubles, workers make a median household income of $47,560, which makes the in-demand housing and rent much easier to afford.
On Top of all that, there are plenty of amenities to enjoy, and the city ranks No. 2 for that criterion. There are museums, tons of shopping, a symphony orchestra, zoo, and much more. As far as dining goes, there are so many places for a foodie to visit. Whether it’s the true Neapolitan style pizzas at Fireflour Pizza or the bison dishes at Pirogue Grille, the places in Bismarck are not to be missed by those of experienced palate (or just empty stomach).
It’s really no surprise that this tied-for-fifth city is one of the fastest growing in the U.S. The 17,787 residents are treated to the second lowest unemployment rate on our list, the fifth highest quality of life, and the low average commute time of 13 minutes. On top of that, workers make a median household income of $50,022, so the seventh place amenities are all the more affordable and fun.
We particularly mention fun because there is a ton to do here. Those who love history will be able to indulge in the dinosaur museum, or the Dickinson Museum Center. People looking to be active can play a round on the Heart River Golf Course or try to get a strike at Paragon Bowl. Of course, those hungry for some culture can visit the Ukrainian Cultural center to check out some fascinating Psyanky eggs.
The tiny city of Carrington, the smallest city on our list at only 2,065 people, finishes out this three-way tie for fifth. Despite its small stature, this city still manages to have more amenities than first place Lisbon, and some of them are really must-visits.
There is a very present nightlife with places such as the Chieftain Lounge that offer charitable gaming and fun activities like pool. There are plenty of specialty shops for quilting, pets, and more. Plus, you never have to be scared when shopping, considering that this city has the absolute lowest crime rate for our entire list, at only 476 crimes per 100,000 people.
What dragged Carrington’s overall ranking down a little is that its quality of life score is No. 22 for that ranking. Fear not, though, as this is still a great place to live, and it’s affordable with the median house price being only $76,000. Throw in the fact that the median household income is $40,406, and the commute time for the employed 97.9 percent of the population is only 11 minutes, and you’re looking at one sweet bargain for one sweet city.
In at eight is Williston, home to 14,716 and the fifth most amenities on our list. From tasty pizza at Wildcat Pizzeria to creative rolls and sake bombs at Basil Sushi Bar & Asian Fusion, there’s a type of food for everyone to try here. For the more outdoorsy type, there are parks and the very best air quality on out list, as well as some decent year-round weather for the state. The Yellowstone and Missouri river intersect next to this city as well, so there are museums and activities centered around that.
If you want to be sure that you have a job where you live, Williston has you covered. At No. 1 for employment rate, only 0.9 percent of residents here are unemployed. Yes, more than 99 percent of people here have jobs, and those jobs put out a median household income of $52,926, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. The taxes here are a bit high, and the crime rate could be better, but other than those two minor details, this city is a great one to settle down in.
The petite city of Lincoln shows some of the bigger places on our list how real living is done. The city starts off with low taxes, a very low unemployment rate, and the very best quality of life ranking on out list. It goes on to have the No. 6 crime rate of 1,267 crimes per 100,000 people, and such wonderful amenities as Benchwarmers Sports Bar and Grill.
To put it simply, people want to live in Lincoln. The housing and rent prices are high to reflect that, but the median household income is also high at $59,028. Parents will also love this place, considering that the student-teacher ratio ranks No. 1 on our overall list at only 8 to 1.
The weather here is great, given its first place ranking in winter temperatures and second place ranking in air quality. The quality of life in Wahpeton is just good in general, with a student-teacher ratio of 12 to 1, housing prices that reflect a demand for the area, and a great cost of living score. Top it all off with a low commute time of only 15 minutes and you have a place that’s easy to get around in and fun.
Some of the things that make this 7,766 person city fun have to do with the local community. There’s free music in the park, tons of school-based plays and musicals, and even a locally performing choir for those who need culture. If you just want to party, there are several bars to choose from and an occasional parade to keep spirits high. For something unique to do, there’s a golf course here where you can play a round in two different states.
Tied for No. 10 with Wahpeton is the very little city of Horace, home of Bean Days. This is a three-day celebration that takes place in this unique 2,430 person city, and includes a trap shoot, mud run with huge trucks, family events, a street dance, parade, crafts faire, softball, and more. It’s a community-centric celebration meant to bring the city closer together through a number of eclectic activities, the likes of which can be found in few other places. That alone makes this place a really homey and friendly fit.
Just statistically speaking, Horace holds its own as well. The quality of life places No. 2 for those criteria, and the tax rank was the lowest on our list. The weather is very decent, the crime is low, the employment is high, and in the median household income is a whopping $71,382. Basically it’s an easy and fun place to be, and this city may be small but it has a big heart.
Left Out in the Cold
Even though North Dakota had some truly amazing looking places to live, the state still has a few places that seem a little less desirable.
In the little city of Grafton, things aren’t looking too bright, with an 18th placed quality of life, winter lows of -8 on average, and a tax rank of 21. Devils Lake follows close behind with the highest crime rate on our list and a quality of life ranked No. 21. Beulah, though nearby some very highly ranked cities, sits in our bottom three, due to a low quality of life, low employment rate, and few amenities.
However, if you’re willing to overlook these small tarnishes, the state of North Dakota is still looking pretty shiny.