Think Iowa and it’s likely your thoughts immediately turn to rolling hills, acres of cornfields, and wholesome living. And you’d not be far from the truth. If you’re looking to enjoy a slice of the good life, Iowa might be just the ticket. With its charming mix of big cities, small towns, and tiny villages, it offers enough diversity to suit most tastes (not to mention budgets). If you’re thinking of making the Hawkeye State your next port of call, take some inspiration from our round-up of the 20 very best places to live in Iowa.
According to Home Snacks, Ashbury is the number one best place to live in Iowa. While we don’t necessarily agree with their ranking, no one will deny there’s a lot to love about this small little town in Dubuque County. Along with having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, it’s also got one of the highest median incomes ($89,015 by the last count), and some of the lowest rent prices around (just $740 per month). All in all, a great place to kick off our list.
Drive around 30 miles from the state capital of Des Moines and you’ll find Ames, a city which, as the Crazy Tourist notes, is “greatly affordable”. As well as low house prices, expect to find some excellent schools, a good range of public amenities, and an incredibly warm, friendly community.
Safe, welcoming, and with a score of attractive features (including a low crime rate, a good range of public schools, a supremely affordable average house price of $158,323, and a fabulous selection of little cafes, bars, and boutiques), Meredith more than justifies its inclusion on our list.
17. Orange City
The main attraction of Orange City has to be the affordable house prices- with most single-family homes coming in for just $157,400, it’s a massively appealing draw to those on a strict budget. Just don’t confuse the low prices with a lack of desirability – the bustling little town has a welcoming, active community, a year-round schedule of events (including the charming Tulip Festival), and a wealth of job opportunities on offer (a fact that no doubt explains the hefty $71,843 median income most residents can claim to enjoy).
$248,100 may sound a steep price to pay for a property, but at Johnston, it’s a price well worth paying. Thanks to its central location, everything you need is situated within no more than a 25-minute drive away. Schools are all top-scoring, while the attractive town center is positively bursting with shops, bars, and local businesses. If that wasn’t enough, the economy is thriving enough to support the very robust median income of $94,539.
With a healthy population of 42,222, Urbandale is one of the largest suburbs of Des Moines, and unquestionably one of its best. Housing is reasonable at around $216,100 for a single-family home, while the expected median income of $85,432 ranks as one of the highest around. The great clutch of schools serving the area all score well above average when it comes to tests and graduation rates, while the plethora of parks and amenities ensure everything you need is right on the doorstep- and if for any reason you find it isn’t, downtown Des Moines is just short drive away.
14. Le Claire
If $205,800 sounds a reasonable price to pay for a single-family home, you may want to consider looking in the direction of Le Claire. As well as offering residents the chance to earn an average income of $88,045, it provides plenty by way of recreational opportunities thanks to its superb range of shops, restaurants, sports courts, and parks. Schools, as you’d expect of such a desirable area, are first-rate (with both Pleasant Valley Junior High School and Pleasant Valley High School both coming highly recommended) while the crime rate is low enough for kids to play in the streets without worry.
13. North Liberty
17,721 residents have chosen North Liberty as their choice of home, and for very good reason. With the average house price coming in at around about the $197,700 mark, it makes a great destination for first-time buyers looking to get a great quality of life for a decent price… not to mention an expected income of around $80,426. Although the town has a good array of all the usual shops, bars, and restaurants, where it really shines is the year-round schedule of events, including the local favorite, Blues and BBQ, a great, fun day out for all the family.
For first time buyers, Bettendorf is well worth considering. Combining supremely affordable housing (don’t expect to have to pay more than around $197,000 for a three-bedroom home with a garden) with an excellent standard of living, the town is a hugely attractive proposition for families and single professionals alike. The low crime rate makes for safe, walkable streets, while the abundant array of shops, bars, and restaurants give the 35,293 residents plenty of places to spend their considerable $76,900 incomes. For those that prefer to get their amusements in the great outdoors, there’s more than enough parks, biking, and hiking trails to ensure satisfaction.
11. Iowa City
For just $202,200, you stand the chance of moving into the desirable town of Iowa City. Despite the slightly lower than average median income of $45,991, everything else ranks well: the schools score exceptionally well when it comes to testing and graduation rates, the downtown is a lovely mismatch of historic and new, there’s no shortage of entertainment, and the walkability is excellent. Factor in a diverse, welcoming community, and a plethora of nightlife options, and you can understand what makes the town one of the most popular spots in Johnson County.
With a population of 20,250, Coral Ville manages to straddle the divide between small-town appeal and big city living perfectly. Housing is perfectly reasonable at around $206,800 for a decently sized, single-family home, while the median income of $57,990 is more than robust. Residents are clearly more than pleased with the choice of home, at least if the reviews on Niche are anything to go by. “Coralville is a great place for people to raise a family or for couples just starting out. There are homes across all price ranges, plenty of retail, lots of restaurants, parks, bike trails, movie theaters, easy access on/off highways and close to the University of Iowa (Go Hawkeyes!) and art, culture, and nightlife in downtown Iowa City. Coralville itself has reasonable taxes, is safe, and still growing. We've lived here after living in Atlanta, Boston, Greater NYC, Chicago suburbs, and Seattle. Have to say it's one of the best places we've ever lived for overall quality of life, affordability, and safety,” says one, while another enthuses “I moved from Iowa City to Coralville after graduating from the University of Iowa in 2018. Coralville is a much newer town that provides several diverse places to hike, be out on the water, walk/run, eat shop, and live. My favorite difference between Iowa City and Coralville is that it's more of a family and professional living area compared to the usual college crowd. It's quieter, cleaner, and has a cheaper cost of living.”
9. Waveland Park
If the thought of an $81,559 income has you chomping at the bit, you may want to set your sights on Waveland Park, a small community of 3,942 that manages to boast a lot more than just extremely wealthy households. A good selection of schools serves the neighborhood’s kids well, while adults are equally well catered to by a short communing distance to the job opportunities and attractions of Des Moines, a slew of local businesses, shops, coffee shops, and restaurants, and more than enough parks and green spaces to provide plenty by way of outdoor fun.
If you have $243,200 going spare, you may want to consider investing it in the very attractive suburb of Clive. Along with its excellent selection of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks, it offers a good handful of great schools, easy access to the job market and big city thrills of Des Moines, and a safe, welcoming vibe. If that wasn’t enough to sway you, then the expectation of a $94,907 wage just might.
7. Greenwood Historic
With a population of just 1,991, Greenwood Historic might not be in danger of winning any prizes for size, but it’s certainly likely to swoop a few awards for desirability. Not only are the majority of residents very happily well-off (with most households earning the colossal median income of $114,118), they’re also highly educated, welcoming and privileged with a clutch of excellent schools, great amenities, and superb recreational opportunities. High home values, as you’d expect, come with the territory: expect to spend around $324,600 if you want a decently sized property with a garden.
6. West Des Moines
Want to live somewhere where $203,300 will get you a good sized, three-bedroom home? Where your kids can play in the parks in safety? Where everything you could need is right on your front doorstep? Then consider, if you will, West Des Moines, an excellent mid-sized suburb that ranks as one of the most desirable in all of Iowa.
Looking for a select little place to get your foot on the property ladder? If so, you may want to consider the attractive superb of Waukee. The median home value stands at a very reasonable $211,100- a figure that becomes even more reasonable when you weigh it against the mammoth $91,875 median household income. With plenty of pet friendly parks, kid friendly restaurants, and good schools, it’s an eminently attractive destination for families. Young professionals, meanwhile, will love its easy 15-minute drive to Des Moines, not to mention its 5 minutes’ drive to West Des Moines.
4. Linden Heights
If you’re looking for a safe community to either raise your family or start one, you’ll struggle to do better than the supremely attractive neighborhood of Linden Heights. Thanks to its easy commuting distance into the business hub of Del Moines, most residents can expect a considerable income of $97,500, while its low crime rate, good selection of schools, and first-class range of amenities and services more than justifies the $326,700 median home price.
3. Salisbury Oaks
As one of the very best neighborhoods in Des Moines, Salisbury Oaks has a lot to recommend it. Despite having a small population of just 3,778, it’s got more than enough attractions and activities to please a community of twice its size. House prices may be slightly high at $325,593, but with most residents earning an income of around $106,258, you’re likely to hear more in the way of praise for the low crime rate, good range of shops, and excellent schools than you are complaints about the cost of living.
2. Mount Vernon
If $197,700 sounds a reasonable enough price to pay for a good-sized family home, wait until you hear of the other perks and attractions of the mightily attractive town of Mount Vernon. Along with a very robust median income of $80,543, residents can expect to enjoy an exemplary array of local shops, businesses and recreational facilities, a crime rate that’s too low to even mention, a warmly welcoming community, and a year-round schedule of events and activities… not forgetting the superb little movie theater and thriving food scene.
1. University Heights
If you want to experience the very best that Iowa has to offer, then pack your bags and head to the tiny town of University Heights. It may only have 1,242 residents to its name but it’s punching well above its weight when it comes to sheer desirability. The average home price may be a little above the national average at $275,300, but it's nicely balanced by a distinctly high median household income of $72,083. The schools serving the district are all predictably first-rate (with West Senior High School doing particularly well when it comes to the all-important topics of test scores and graduation rates), which, combined with the low crime rate and abundance of amenities, parks and recreational pursuits, makes the town hugely popular with families.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson