As a part of Movoto Real Estate’s ongoing goal to uncover our nation’s finest cities, from the best places to buy a home or simply watch a movie, to the best cities in our country in general, we are going state by state and giving it to you honestly.
Which is fitting for today’s state, North Carolina, whose state motto, “Esse quam viederi” means “to be rather than to seem.” North Carolina is nothing if not real, down to earth, and honest to goodness great place to live. So without further ado, here are the 10 best cities in North Carolina:
How did we come up with these 10? Did we simply pick Apex for the top because that seemed fitting? Did we “Garner” the names from a list of popular places? Of course not. Keep reading to find out just how we came up with our list and why each city made it to the top.
And pardon the puns—but there are sure to be “Morrisville” where they came from.
Here’s How We Did It
If you’ve been reading our blog, you know the drill. In order to come up with our Top 10 Lists, we rely on certain criteria to objectively rank each city in order from best to worst. But more on that in a moment—here are the six criteria we used for NC.
- Cost of living (percent above or below state’s average)
- Crime rate
- Median household income
- Home value
- Amenities (including BBQ restaurants & churches)
We started with a list of the 50 most populous municipalities (cities, towns, villages, and Census Designated Places) in North Carolina and ranked them from one to 50 in each of the criteria above, with one being the best. Then we averaged the numbers for each criteria and gave them an overall Big Deal Score—the lower the number, the higher it ranked.
So how did these 10 cities make out list?
Perhaps fittingly, the word “apex” means “the top or highest point of something.” But that’s not why it came in at No. 1 on our list; it’s simply because Apex scored well in almost all of our criteria—an average median income 90 percent higher than the rest of the state; a crime rate 68 percent lower; and a high school degree attainment rate 25 percent higher.
As Town Manager, Bruce Radford put it, “now the [Movoto] readers will find out what we already know about Apex—wonderful weather, proximity to the famed Research Triangle Park, world class universities, great schools, low crime, healthy financial position, plenty of recreational opportunities, and ACC collegiate and professional sports all combine to create an award-winning quality of life for residents of ‘Apex, The Peak of Good Living’.”
No wonder this city is at the top!
2. Wake Forest
Not only did Wake Forest tie with Apex for some of the best weather in North Carolina, but they’ve got the parks and outdoor activities to really take advantage of that sunshine—hence their high rank in amenities. Falls Lake State Recreation Area, for example, stretches across 26,000 acres of woodlands and is home to the 12,000-acre Falls Lake.
If the outdoors aren’t your thing, though, don’t worry—Wake Forest also ranked well in their number of barbecue restaurants and churches per capita, which was a portion of its amenities score.. Because like any good southerner knows, Sunday is made for two things: church and barbecue. Okay, three, if you add football.
This suburban town just outside of Charlotte came in at No. 3 on our list for getting an A Plus when it comes to education. Here in Matthews, the high school degree attainment rate is 22 percent higher than that of the rest of the state.
Matthews also has a beautiful historic downtown, a magnificent farmers market, and the Matthews Playhouse for theater. The Matthews Public Library is also one of the best in the state, complete with a historical mural of the town. A great place to study—perhaps why their public schools rank so well?
Morrisville is one of the two smallest towns on our list with a population of just over 20,000; but in this case, small certainly doesn’t mean a lack of things going on. In fact, the “small town feel, friendly neighborhoods, and parks and greenways appeal to generational residents and newcomers alike,” said Mayor Jackie Holcombe.
Morrisville made the No. 4 spot largely because of its crime rate 60 percent below the state average, its high school degree attainment rate, 23 percent above the state average, and its high home values, 67 percent higher than North Carolina’s average!
Residents of this town won’t be surprised to find it on our list, though; especially not Holcombe who knows full well of Morrisville’s charm. “Our quality schools, low cost of living, strong sense of community and low crime rate all combine to make Morrisville a highly desirable location to live and do business… We are proud to be ranked as the No. 4 town in the state.”
After garnering the information about this town just outside of Raleigh, we realized just how big of a difference a lower cost of living can make—in choosing a place to live and in making our list. Garner’s cost of living is 5 percent lower than North Carolina’s average, making it the least expensive spot on our Top 10.
Garner also scored well on its number of churches per capita—a whopping 32 for its small population of 26,732 people. And if you’re not at church on Sunday? Head over to Angie’s Restaurant for some brunch. (Both a factor in Garner’s amenities’ score.) Residents can certainly afford to treat themselves with a median household income 37 percent higher than the rest of the state!
To sum up in the words of Mayor Ronnie Williams: “It’s no surprise that Garner has won this latest accolade, which comes on the heels of being named an All-America City. With our great parks and cultural arts scene, and our nationally recognized schools, Garner is truly a great place to live and raise a family. We have a low crime rate and impressive range of housing options at various price points. Plus, we’re only 10 minutes from downtown Raleigh, which has great restaurants, performing arts venues and special events throughout the year. You just can’t beat Garner.”
Smaller even than Morrisville, Clemmons, with a population of just over 19,000 comes in at No. 6 on our list. How did Clemmons climb onto our Top 10? Well mostly because they ranked high in… pretty much everything.
But here are some of the key characteristics that makes this town shine. Clemmons is safe, with a crime rate 37 percent lower than the state average; smart, with a high school degree attainment rate 16 percent higher; and doing pretty well economically, with a median household income 46 percent higher than the NC average.
What do they do with all that money? Some of it probably goes to their churches, as this little southern city has an unholy amount of churches—21 for their small population– which boosted their amenities score overall.
This town certainly carries its weight when it comes to qualities for raising a family. Cary tied with Apex for the 2nd safest city on our list, with a crime rate 68 percent lower than the state average. Not only can parents feel safe sending their kids off to school here; they can also feel pretty proud of the education they’re receiving. Folks in Cary, NC have a high school degree attainment rate 24 percent higher than the rest of the state.
And for those who still prefer private schools? Well, they can certainly afford it. Cary blows the rest of this list out of the water when it comes to median household income. Residents here make an average of 103 percent more than the rest of the state—that’s over $89,000 per year.
8. Chapel Hill
The first of two cities that took the No. 8 spot is Chapel Hill. This city of just over 58,4000 residents joins our ranks for its extremely impressive home values—124 percent higher than the state average; its high school degree attainment rate, 23 percent above average; and its low crime rate, 45 percent below.
It is also home to the beautiful campus of the University of North Carolina and a booming creative scene, with the Ackland Art Museum, the Paul Green Theater, and the Kidzu Children’s Museum. For those looking for something beyond all that? Check out the Morehead Planetarium, by far one of the best in the state.
With a population of more than 46,000, Huntersville tied for the No. 8 spot on our list of the best places to live in North Carolina. The town, located near Charlotte, placed well because of its high income and low crime rates. City residents have a median income that is 84 percent higher than the rest of the state, while its crime index is 55 percent lower. If you’re in the hunt for a home in North Carolina, this is one place to start.
10. Mint Hill
Rounding out our list at the No. 10 spot is Mint Hill, a town located near Charlotte. Mint Hill placed particularly well in our crime rating. The town of more than 23,000 has a crime rate that is 59 percent lower than the state average. Adding to the charm of the town is its emphasis on education. When compared to the state, Mint Hill’s high school degree attainment rate is 17 percent higher. All this makes Mint Hill a refreshing place to live.
Esse Quam Viederi
North Carolina certainly takes its motto to heart, being one of the most beautiful, welcoming, and let’s face it, real southern states in the U.S.; not just seeming like it. So, NC, thanks for being you—especially everyone in these Apex. You’re certainly at the topmost point of this list.