Best county to live in for every state
What makes the best county in each state? Often it's a good mix of opportunities for fun outdoor activities and cultural attractions. Throw in some historical sites, good schools, job opportunities, and affordable housing, and the county will most likely have happy residents.
Stacker compiled a list of the best places to live using 2020 data from Niche. Niche ranks counties based on various factors, including public schools, jobs, and living costs. You can read more about Niche and the way they determine the best counties in each state by looking at their methodology.
The places on this list include an Alaskan borough whose bay remains open year-round, which keeps its economy humming. Huntsville, Alabama was nicknamed Rocket City for the work people in town did to get spaceships to the moon. Others, such as Fairfield County, Connecticut, have drawn on financial services to fund their tax base. One of the wealthiest of the counties is in California, its fate tied up with Silicon Valley.
Some are on the coasts, but others in coastal states are inland, away from crowds and tourist destinations. Many of the counties on this list have extensive parks, often honoring distinctive geographical features that offer exercise and exploration opportunities. Residents can also keep their minds sharp with museums, art galleries, plays, and other cultural pursuits.
Some of the counties include universities that provide lectures, concerts, and other intellectual outlets for residents of the surrounding area. Others provide great shopping opportunities, theaters, restaurants, wine bars, and pubs for an evening out without navigating the traffic of a larger city.
They rely on a range of businesses, from high-tech firms and hedge funds that have set up shop outside of urban centers to wineries and generations-old farms now providing organic fruits, vegetables, and other crops.
Read on to find which county is the best to live in in each state.
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Alabama: Madison County
- Population: 357,560
- Median home value: $180,600 (67% own)
- Median rent: $829 (33% rent)
- Median household income: $63,417
Jobs in Huntsville, the county seat of Madison County, are concentrated in the space industry, the military, biotechnology, and telecommunications, according to its Chamber of Commerce. U.S. News & World Report gives some of its public high schools top marks. Huntsville is also known as Rocket City for its work on rockets used in the moon flights, a history that can be found on display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. There are many outdoor recreation opportunities, including at the Rainbow Mountain Nature Preserve and the Green Mountain Nature Trail.
Alaska: Valdez-Cordova Borough
- Population: 9,301
- Median home value: $229,800 (73% own)
- Median rent: $981 (27% rent)
- Median household income: $82,306
Valdez-Cordova Borough is home to the city of Valdez, whose port is the northernmost in the United States that is free of ice throughout the year. That makes it an important access point to the Alaskan interior. The Alyeska Pipeline Service Company employs some 800 workers in Valdez and elsewhere to maintain the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. As you would expect in Alaska, many of the top attractions are magnificent outdoor sights like Worthington Glacier and Valdez Glacier Lake. There is also the Solomon Gulch Hatchery, the Valdez Museum and Historical Archive, an ice climbing festival, and Gold Rush Days.
Arizona: Maricopa County
- Population: 4,253,913
- Median home value: $242,700 (61% own)
- Median rent: $1,079 (39% rent)
- Median household income: $61,606
More than half the population of Arizona lives in Maricopa County, the state's most populous county. Phoenix is the county seat. Top attractions include the Desert Botanical Garden, with its research and conservation programs, Camelback Mountain, and the Heard Museum.
Arkansas: Benton County
- Population: 258,980
- Median home value: $172,000 (66% own)
- Median rent: $873 (34% rent)
- Median household income: $64,141
Benton County played a prominent role in Walmart's story, which is based in Bentonville and is where Sam Walton opened Walton's 5 & 10, now The Walmart Museum. Other important corporations in the county are J.B. Hunt Transport Services and Tyson Foods. The Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is close by. Among the things to do, there is the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Pea Ridge National Military Park, the site of an important Civil War battle.
California: Santa Clara County
- Population: 1,922,200
- Median home value: $913,000 (57% own)
- Median rent: $2,126 (43% rent)
- Median household income: $116,178
Santa Clara County is one of the world's wealthiest places because of the presence of Silicon Valley. According to the Brookings Institution, Silicon Valley trails only Zurich, Switzerland, and Oslo, Norway, for GDP per capita. Santa Clara County's largest city is San Jose, and it is home to the world-renowned Stanford University. The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is also there with its marshes and salt ponds.
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Colorado: Boulder County
- Population: 321,030
- Median home value: $462,200 (62% own)
- Median rent: $1,411 (38% rent)
- Median household income: $78,642
Downtown Boulder, the county seat, features the outdoor Pearl Street Mall, with shopping and restaurants. University Hill is appropriately named as home to the University of Colorado. Chautauqua Park offers concerts, and there is hiking in the foothills and mountains above. Longmont, the county's second-largest city, has a creative district and affordable housing.
Connecticut: Fairfield County
- Population: 944,348
- Median home value: $422,300 (67% own)
- Median rent: $1,470 (33% rent)
- Median household income: $92,969
Fairfield County is part of the New York City metro area and has attracted top businesses in healthcare and financial services, specifically some of the largest hedge funds in the area. Residents here can live in a city or the country and find top-notch public and private schools—at less cost than in Boston or New York.
Delaware: New Castle County
- Population: 555,133
- Median home value: $254,500 (68% own)
- Median rent: $1,141 (32% rent)
- Median household income: $70,996
Wilmington, the county seat, has such cultural offerings as the Delaware Art Museum, the Delaware Contemporary, and the Delaware Children's Museum. The Nemours Mansion and Gardens is a French neoclassical mansion on a 300-acre estate, built by Alfred I. DuPont. South of Wilmington is historic New Castle, with its Colonial and Federal buildings overlooking the Delaware River. Only Williamsburg, Virginia has more buildings of the period.
Florida: Seminole County
- Population: 455,086
- Median home value: $224,000 (65% own)
- Median rent: $1,198 (35% rent)
- Median household income: $63,760
Seminole County is in central Florida with lakes and rivers, instead of ocean beaches. Historic downtown Sanford has a marina with a restored 123-year old paddle boat, restaurants, craft breweries, street festivals, and art galleries. Wekiwa Springs State Park offers swimming and canoeing, while the Wekiva River is federally protected for its geology, fish, and wildlife. The Seminole County Public Schools are ranked in the top 10 of the state's schools.
Georgia: Oconee County
- Population: 37,017
- Median home value: $268,100 (83% own)
- Median rent: $970 (17% rent)
- Median household income: $88,308
Oconee County is in the northeastern part of Georgia, and it includes the city of Watkinsville, a suburb of Athens and the county seat. There are more than 50 classes and workshops, vendors, music, and food at the Bushcraft Gathering. Watkinsville has the largest pottery show in Georgia. A large number of schools in the Oconee County School District are rated above average.
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