The great outdoors, hometown brews, and more cheese than you can imagine — what more could you want? Wisconsin has it all, from warm, sunny summers to beautiful, snowy winters. The state has many great places to live that are perfect for all walks of life, so it can be hard to decide which one is the best fit for you and fits your price range. Here, NewHomeSource offers its list of the 10 best places to live in Wisconsin.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 2.23%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.12%
- Violent crime index: 15.1
- Nonviolent crime index: 32.5
- Cost of living index: 78.8
The name Wausau may mean “a faraway place,” but this town is located right in the center of Wisconsin. Wausau is located just east of the 45 x 90 geographical marker (45°N 90°W), which is exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole, a quarter of the way around the planet from the prime meridian at Greenwich, England, and halfway between Greenwich and the International Date Line. Wausau is also known as “Arts Town, USA” for its dedication to arts and culture. Downtown has many great art exhibits and museums, and you will always find a live show at the Grand Theater. Wausau residents also know how to take advantage of the town’s beautiful surroundings. It receives an average of about 32 inches of rain, 56 inches of snow, and 186 sunny days per year, making it easy to find a day to enjoy any of Wausau’s outdoor activities. Residents enjoy fishing, kayaking and canoeing, camping, and water skiing on the Wisconsin River, plus Rib Mountain State Park provides more than five miles of trails for hiking and snowshoeing. Wausau’s close-knit community, which leans somewhat conservative, is perfect for families of all ages, aided by the eight school districts and 10 hospitals in the area.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 2.93%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.51%
- Violent crime index: 12
- Nonviolent crime index: 52.5
- Cost of living index: 84.4
La Crosse is located on the banks of the Mississippi River and is the largest city on Wisconsin’s western border. A somewhat liberal community, it’s home to the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse and two other colleges. The city also has plenty of amenities for families of all ages, including five school districts and 11 hospitals that serve the area. La Crosse gets about 34 inches of rain, 41 inches of snow, and 190 sunny days per year, which gives residents plenty of opportunities to go fishing and boating on the Mississippi and Black rivers. The city also has a wide range of live and local entertainment ranging from weekly comedy shows to the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra. Downtown offers a wide variety of restaurants with cuisines from all over the world, as well as a host of bars, as part of the Craft Beverage Trail that starts in La Crosse and takes participants all around the area and into Minnesota to enjoy wineries, breweries, and distilleries across the region. Like being near the city but not in it? Check out the suburbs of Onalaska and Holmen.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 3.30%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.34%
- Violent crime index: 20.4
- Nonviolent crime index: 27.1
- Cost of living index: 84.9
Appleton and Oshkosh both sit on Lake Winnebago, just southwest of Green Bay. Together, these cities get about 32 inches of rain, 41 inches of snow, and 189 sunny days with four distinct seasons. Lake access plays a big role in the summer for fishing and camping and in the winter for ice skating. This area is perfect for anyone looking for easy access to Green Bay without all the traffic and crowds. Though both cities are on the smaller side, the area is not lacking any big city amenities, like shops and restaurants, and together they have 24 hospitals that serve the entire area. Appleton’s downtown has more than 65 pubs and restaurants, including pet-friendly spaces, and their streets are lined with boutiques and specialty shops run by local vendors. Oshkosh hosts a (mostly) year-round farmers market where residents can buy locally sourced produce and handmade items. The market is held on a downtown city block during the summer and inside during the winter so residents can comfortably shop for their favorites. Oshkosh is also home to the Leach Amphitheater where residents can enjoy weekly live entertainment, both local and touring. The drive between Appleton and Oshkosh is short, about 30 minutes, but residents can also take advantage of the GO Transit transportation system in Oshkosh or the Valley Transit transportation system in Appleton. Prefer to live a little farther outside city limits? Take a look at the area’s top suburbs of Neenah, Kimberly, and Sherwood.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 3.42%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.37%
- Violent crime index: 19.3
- Nonviolent crime index: 43.7
- Cost of living index: 82.2
The Janesville-Beloit area is located along the Rock River in southern Wisconsin. The two towns are located about 45 minutes south of Wisconsin’s capital city, Madison, and about 1 ½ hours southwest of Milwaukee, offering easy access to these bigger cities. Janesville is full of unique dining and shopping destinations as well as outdoor activities like fishing and golfing. Downtown Janesville is home to one of the oldest family-owned beverage companies in the nation, Gray Brewing Company, which was started in 1856. Beloit is located right on the Illinois border and is home to many historical Wisconsin sites, including the storied Beloit College. The organization, Friends of RiverFront, brings in entertainment year-round for Beloit residents to Riverside Park, including live concerts, movie nights, and dance classes at Harry’s Place, an outdoor pavilion on the river. The Janesville-Beloit area gets about 36 inches of rain, 34 inches of snow, and 185 sunny days per year. It also has three hospitals and 2 school districts with more than 30 campuses from elementary to high school.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 4.06%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.21%
- Violent crime index: 10
- Nonviolent crime index: 24.4
- Cost of living index: 96.4
Eau Claire is the principal city in the Chippewa Valley area of western Wisconsin. This city prides itself on its welcoming community and “indie” views. It is a liberal leaning community that is structured around hospitality, originality, creativity, and positive attitudes. Eau Claire is considered a college town as home to the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, but there is something for people of all ages to enjoy here. The city typically averages around 33 inches of rain, 46 inches of snow, and 192 sunny days per year, making for the perfect outdoor adventure no matter the season. Eau Claire is surrounded by parks for camping, hiking, and biking, and the Chippewa River is open for fishing, tubing, and swimming during the hotter months. Eau Claire is also a big fan of all things art. Residents will find new art lining the streets that make up the Sculpture Tour, and they can vote for their favorites to stay up year-round. Besides the university, Eau Claire also has four school districts with primary and secondary campuses so families will have no problems finding the right fit for their educational needs.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 4.07%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.72%
- Violent crime index: 10.6
- Nonviolent crime index: 16.5
- Cost of living index: 98
Fond du Lac is the county seat of Fond du Lac County and located at the southern base of Lake Winnebago. This city is somewhat conservative, and the community is built on its small-town charm and love of the great outdoors. Fond du Lac averages 33 inches of rain, 43 inches of snow, and about 188 sunny days annually, perfect conditions for taking advantage of the proximity to Lake Winnebago. In the summer, there is fishing, camping, and hunting, and in the winter, there is ice fishing and snow skiing. The city is also filled with beautiful scenery that was made possible by the community’s successful efforts to have Fond du Lac recognized as a Tree City by the Arbor Day Foundation. This area has five school systems, both public and private, for young families looking to relocate.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 3.28%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 2.38%
- Violent crime index: 23.9
- Nonviolent crime index: 45.2
- Cost of living index: 79.4
Racine sits on the shore of Lake Michigan in southeastern Wisconsin, about 25 miles from Milwaukee. This city is full of great outdoor activities, shopping and dining experiences, and family-friendly adventures. Downtown has a unique blend of local and international influence with the mix of ethnic cuisines, art shows, and boutiques. Some of this influence can be seen in the Quilts on Barns art project that spreads throughout Racine County. Racine also celebrates its rich industrial history through tours that highlight the headquarters of companies like S.C. Johnson & Son (Frank Lloyd Wright designed the main administration building). With an average climate of 36 inches of rain, 42 inch of snow, and 187 sunny days per year, it is easy to find a nice day to explore the city. Racine is perfect for families of all ages because of its three area school districts and five hospitals. If you prefer being away from the city center, you can also consider popular suburbs like Wind Point, Burlington, and Browns Lake.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 3.60%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.58%
- Violent crime index: 28.8
- Nonviolent crime index: 33.6
- Cost of living index: 82.3
One of Wisconsin’s most famous cities, Green Bay has more to offer than being a destination on a football fan’s bucket list. Green Bay sits on the path of the Niagara Escarpment, a long cliff line that runs through several northern states and into Canada. This makes the landscape in Green Bay unique and exciting to explore. There are also plenty of water activities, like fishing and skiing, available on Lake Michigan, Fox River, and of course, the “Bay of Green Bay.” All of this outdoor adventure is achievable because of Green Bay’s yearly average climate of 30 inches of rain, 48 inches of snow, and 187 days of sunshine. There are seven school districts in the area, covering all grade levels, and a number of colleges and universities, including a nursing college and a medical college.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 4.54%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.02%
- Violent crime index: 6.7
- Nonviolent crime index: 18.6
- Cost of living index: 109.9
Ozaukee and Sheboygan are neighboring counties in east Wisconsin along Lake Michigan. Cities in these counties include Cedarburg, Port Washington, Sheboygan, and Sheboygan Falls. This area gets about 34 inches of rain, 44 inches of snow, and 190 sunny days per year, giving these counties the perfect weather to explore the beautiful scenery that surrounds them. Ozaukee County has more than 10 parks, two golf courses, and multiple options for lake access. Sheboygan County has miles of natural biking trails and over 20 miles of paved trails and bike lanes and parks with picnic areas, campgrounds, and fishing piers. The best way to explore these two counties is to traverse the Interurban Trail, which runs through Ozaukee County into Sheboygan. The cities in this area are somewhat conservative politically and take pride in their rural charm. Families looking to relocate will be happy to find five school districts in the area with primary, intermediate, and secondary campuses.
- Housing cost to income ratio: 3.37%
- Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.85%
- Violent crime index: 73.1
- Nonviolent crime index: 59.5
- Cost of living index: 84.7
Four counties make up the bustling Milwaukee metropolitan area, the two biggest being Milwaukee County and Waukesha County. This area gets about 35 inches of rain, 45 inches of snow, and 190 sunny days per year, which makes for distinct seasons. It is perfect weather for fishing and boating on Lake Michigan or the Milwaukee River, enjoying any of the hundreds of public parks, walking miles of hiking trails, or taking your four-legged friend out to the many dog parks. These counties are strongly liberal, anchored by Milwaukee, the largest city in the state. But surrounding communities are growing fast, especially suburbs such as Fox Point, Whitefish, and Elm Grove. Families looking for educational opportunities for their kids can find all levels of education in the 18 school districts in the area. There are also eight hospitals between the two counties to provide quality health care in the region.
This list was compiled using statistics for cost of living, average housing costs, average childcare costs, and crime indices.
Jessi Gonzalez writes on the topics of home-buying, home decor, and home-ownership for New Home Source. She has a degree from Coastal Bend College and is currently enrolled in the English degree program at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.