Looking for the best places to live in the South? This helpful guide is for you.
The south is no stranger to historic charming cities that make daily life feel like a movie set. Couple the scenic towns with friendly locals dishing out world-class southern hospitality and you’ll quickly understand the hype.
The challenge is finding the best cities in the south, and that’s where we come in.
To create this thorough list of the best Southern cities to live, work and play in, we brought together several locals from various Southern cities. We hashed out every detail we could think of, from the charm of daily life to housing prices, access to parks and restaurants.
It was no easy feat! But the end result was worth it.
Read on for a comprehensive list of the best cities to live in the South that took more than two weeks to complete (I’m telling you, we’re a thorough bunch).
We didn’t want the effort to go to waste, so without further ado – let’s cover the best Southern cities you can’t afford to overlook.
Best Places to Live in the South
Large Cities in the South
Southern cities with a population higher than 300,000 residents.
- Population: 496,500
- Median home price: $375K
- Average age: 33.2 years
Atlanta is one of the largest metro areas of all the Southern cities mentioned on this list. But for unknown reasons, Georgia’s capital often gets overlooked by those researching the best places to live in the south.
Pity, with average home prices clocking in at $375K, Atlanta’s housing market is one of the most affordable of all the best cities in the South. Thankfully this vibrant city is shedding its sleepy reputation, with a recent influx of trendy shops, top-notch restaurants and the completion of the much beloved BeltLine.
In fact, there’s no shortage of great green spaces in Atlanta. Make sure to check out the Centennial Olympic Park, which served as the site of the 1996 Olympics, grab a picnic table and invite some friends for an easy-going weekend.
History buffs shouldn’t miss the opportunity to learn more about this southern city’s storied past. Atlanta is the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., AND Georgia played a key role in both the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement.
Prefer food to nature? Fret not, Atlanta was voted one of the best cities in the South for foodies.
You May Enjoy Reading: 15 Honest Pros and Cons of Living in Atlanta
- Population: 693,200
- Median home price: $422K
- Average age: 34.2 years
Home in an impressive population of 693,200 residents, Nashville is one of the best big cities in the South. There’s nothing sleepy about the nation’s music capital. The city is peppered with legendary music venues like the Grand Ole Opry House.
They don’t call it Music City for nothing, folks. You can’t throw a stick without hitting a musician belting a Taylor Swift tune (for better or worse). Swing by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to see what all the fuss is about.
Much like Atlanta, Nashville is considered one of the best food cities in America. As expected, you’ll find a list of the usual suspects: typical southern-inspired favorites like fried chicken and drool-inducing BBQ.
But that’s not where the fun stops, because the recent influx of newcomers is adding breadth and variety to the city’s thriving food scene. From beloved hole-in-the-wall gems to award-winning high-end restaurants with long wait lists (and eye-watering prices).
Likewise, A 2022 study by MoneyGeek found that Nashville has the 6th strongest job market in the country. Which makes Nashville one of the best places to live in the south for ambitious career-oriented folks.
You May Enjoy Reading: 15 Pros & Cons of Living in Nashville (Let’s Talk)
Raleigh, North Carolina
- Population: 469,100
- Median home price: $420K
- Average age: 34 years
Raleigh is North Carolina’s capital city. Known for housing a plethora of high-caliber universities and scholarly institutions, Raleigh alongside Chapel Hill and Durham is known as the Research Triangle.
Tour the breathtaking 19th-century Greek Revival-style Capitol building to get a better feel for the historic importance of this charming Southern city.
If you choose to move to Raleigh, expect to rub elbows with intelligent folks whose interests and expertise span the gamut. Of all the best southern cities mentioned on this list, the general consensus is that Raleigh has more of a suburban feel.
So if you’re looking for suburban-living, you may find Raleigh a great place to live in the south.
- Population: 955K
- Median home price: $432K
- Average age: 35.9 years
Jacksonville is one of the best places to live in Florida for a number of reasons. Let’s start with the neighborhoods which are beautiful and among the finest in the state.
All over the city you’ll find a variety of really great restaurants along with breweries, and a coffee scene increasingly tailored to the discerning millennial. It never seems like there’s a shortage of things to do in Jacksonville.
There’s a plethora of beautiful parks in and around the city as well as great access to the water (both the river and ocean). Living in Jacksonville you’ll find a younger Florida city with an average age of about 36 years.
On the downside, Jacksonville public transportation is not up to snuff and getting anywhere seems to require a 30 minute drive. Crime is on the rise but that seems to be the case everywhere.
New Orleans, Louisiana
- Population: 377,100
- Median home price: $346K
- Average age: 37.2 years
It’s hard to find the right words to describe New Orleans, one of the most unique cities in the south.
Home to a population of nearly 377,000 residents, it’s safe to say that living in New Orleans is a lively affair. A city best known for Creole cuisine, great music and a never-ending party scene, there’s so much to love about calling this city home.
The city is a magnet for creatives, which makes living in New Orleans is a culture in and of itself. It’s unlike any other place in the country and locals take pride in calling this place home.
The best part? The friendly locals. On par with famous Southern hospitality, New Orleans is considered one of the friendliest cities in the country.
Another reason folks consider this one of the best places to live in the south is the never-ending list of festivals. Seriously, you’ll find a festival for every occasion, which is why the city attracts party animals from all corners of the country.
You May Enjoy Reading: 15 Pros & Cons of Living in New Orleans
Mid-Sized Southern Cities
Southern cities with a population of 90,000 – 160,000 residents.
Charleston, South Carolina
- Population: 156,255
- Median home price: $495,993
- Average age: 32
Known for its unmistakable Southern charm, any list of the best places to live in the south wouldn’t be complete without Charleston.
Averaging 7 million visitors per year, this is one of the most popular cities in the South, but not without reason. The city is most famous for its irresistible historic downtown, full of colorful colonial homes and breathtaking parks.
This South Carolina city has no shortage of top-notch restaurants, quaint cafes and charming local shops, offering coveted big city amenities while possessing a relaxed small town feel.
Making things even better, Charleston is surrounded by water. Those looking for one of the best coastal cities in South Carolina will easily fall in love with the area. You’ll be spoiled for choice with beaches, rivers and lakes.
All this to say, Charleston is one of the best places to live in the south, and I’m not the only one that thinks so! With average home prices clocking in at $500k, living in this popular Southern city comes at a price. But between you and me, it’s a fair price to pay for such an idyllic lifestyle.
You May Enjoy Reading: 15 Honest Pros & Cons of Living in Charleston
Asheville, North Carolina
- Population: 94,000
- Median home price: $443K
- Average age: 39.6 years
If you’re looking for the best places to live in the south for nature lovers, look no further than Asheville, North Carolina.
Nestled between the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountains, Asheville is best known for hospitality, artsy residents, a robust music scene and outdoor recreation.
Asheville residents are spoiled for choice when it comes to playing outside. Most weekends don’t officially start until a hearty hike is capped with brunch. And because nature is such a big part of everyday life, it’s pretty easy to stay active and find other like-minded people who enjoy the great outdoors.
The charming Southern city offers many big city perks (tons of restaurants, breweries, music venues, etc) while maintaining an easy-going small-town feel. No wonder locals consider this one of the best cities to live in the south.
You May Enjoy Reading: 15 Pros & Cons of Moving to Asheville, NC
- Population: 147,000
- Median home price: $350K
- Average age: 32.9 years
Savannah often gets compared to Charleston and at first blush, it’s easy to understand why. The Savannah River separates Georgia from South Carolina.
Both cities are top contenders for the most charming cities in the south, but folks choose one over the other for various reasons.
Spanish moss-laden trees surround the most charming downtown core you’ll ever see. Beautiful brick townhouses sit alongside irresistible pastel-colored homes, all connected by perfectly-manicured parks. Antebellum architecture is the name of the game in Savannah, one of the most beautiful cities in the south.
From the cobblestoned squares to iconic Forsyth Park and a plethora of stunning cathedrals, the beauty of the city is only out-shined by the incredible seafood on offer.
Walk the historic River Street for local hole-in-the-wall gems serving fresh oysters and fish. Make no mistake, Savannah is easily one of the most charming cities in the south.
Boca Raton, Florida
- Population: 97,430
- Median home price: $614k
- Average age: 48.2 years
Continuing down this list of the best places to live in the south is the sunny city of Boca Raton in Florida. If you imagine a picturesque Florida city to live in your mind, it likely looks just like Boca Raton. Palm trees, beautiful water, right on the ocean, what more can you ask for?
Boca Raton is located on the east coast of Florida in Palm Beach County, about 45 miles north of Fort Lauderdale and about 50 miles south of West Palm Beach. The city is known for its beautiful beaches, parks, and golf courses, as well as its upscale shopping and dining.
Home to Florida Atlantic University, it’s also a bit of a college town with youthful flair. It seems the word is out about Boca Raton as it’s seen a huge influx in new residents in the past 5 years. Along with this influx has come higher prices all around which are expected to continue rising in the coming years.
All told, Boca Raton is one of the most expensive places to live in the south, but not without reason. The city offers something for everyone and folks are willing to pay for access.
Best Small Cities in the South
Best small Southern cities with a population less than 75,000.
Beaufort, South Carolina
- Population: 13,046
- Median home price: $341,817
- Average age: 37
Known as one of the Sea Islands of the SC Low Country, Beaufort exudes Southern charm due to its beautiful waterfront location and amazing coastal views. The city is rich in history and culture and is the perfect place for those who enjoy living on the coast, living in a small town, and taking life at a slower pace.
Beaufort is considered to be one of the best places to live in South Carolina because of its friendly locals, abundance of activities, access to beautiful beaches, and affordability. There isn’t too much to do outside of the tourist attractions, so locals may need to venture out for new entertainment options.
The average cost of a home in Beaufort, South Carolina is around $341k and usually comes with an amazing Low Country view. From fine antebellum homes on the waterfront to downtown lofts and seaside cottages; this quaint coastal community has it all.
It’s no wonder it was voted one of the “Best Small Towns in the South” by Southern Living Magazine.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
- Population: 61,100
- Median home price: $578K
- Average age: 25.2 years
Best known for being the home of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill is one of the most charming cities in the south. Ripe for exploration, the city features great museums, the North Carolina Botanical Garden and has ample opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Lined with cute local shops and charming cages, strolling lovely Franklin Street will make it easy to see why locals consider this one of the best places to live in the south. You’ll never go hungry or have reason to be bored while living in Chapel Hill.
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
- Population: 38,080
- Median home price: $713,157
- Average age: 58
Consistently voted one of the best islands in the U.S., this tiny 12 mile long and 5 mile wide island is truly one of the best places to live in the south for both families and retirees.
Those who enjoy a small close-knit community and flawless sandy beaches, beautiful Low Country marshes, and Spanish moss lined streets will love the laid back yet upscale coastal lifestyle.
Since Hilton Head Island is a top tourist destination, with over 2.5 million visitors each year, it can be quite crowded during the summer months, making it difficult for locals to enjoy amenities and even maneuver the island’s small roads.
Hilton Head Island is the perfect place to call home for (working) beach bums, as you will need a good job to afford to live in one of the island’s beautiful, gated communities known as plantations. Homes on the island average $715k with a good percentage of them being well over one million dollars.
- Population: 19,400
- Median home price: $630K
- Average age: 65.4 years
Naples is one of the most expensive places to live in the south, with a cost of living 11% higher than the national average. Homes here are pricey too, especially for Florida with a current median home price well above $600k.
However, with the high prices comes a pretty great place to live, if you can afford it. The quality of life in Naples is much higher than the Florida average.
One consideration is the average age of residents in Naples is 65+ meaning its a retirement haven. With that age group comes lots of complaints of NIMBY attitudes (think Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino – Not In My Backyard).
If you need to commute for work then prepare for lots of traffic. Unless you’re retired. With a median age of 65.4 years, there’s no denying that Naples is one of the best places to retire in the south.
Also worth noting is that Naples has some of the most beautiful sunsets in all of Florida so prepare to purchase that storage plan for your phone to keep up with the amount of photos you’ll be taking living in one of the most charming southern cities.
Greenville, South Carolina
- Population: 73,182
- Median Home Price: $282,398
- Average age: 35
If you’re looking for urban amenities and a great place to set down roots in South Carolina, Greenville is a great choice.
Not only is the cost of living below the national average, but its strong job market makes it one of the best places to live in South Carolina for motivated job seekers.
There is always something happening in Greenville, making it a popular choice for families, retirees, and young professionals.
Foodies will adore this thriving city, known as a foodie’s paradise with amazing restaurants and a thriving craft beer and farm-to-table restaurant scene. Not to mention that its convenient location between Atlanta and Charlotte makes traveling a breeze.
The average home cost is significantly below the national average at around $285k and offers access to above average schools for families with children. The combination of outdoor adventure opportunities, great schools, plenty of good job options, and a thriving economy outweigh the fact that the crime rates are slightly above average in the area.
List of the Best Cities in the South
In sum, here’s a list of the best Southern cities to live in.
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Nashville, Tennessee
- Raleigh, North Carolina
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Jacksonville, Florida
- Charleston, South Carolina
- Asheville, North Carolina
- Boca Raton, Florida
- Savannah, Georgia
- Beaufort, South Carolina
- Chapel Hill, North Carolina
- Naples, Florida
- Hilton Head Island
- Greenville, South Carolina
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