Iowa is well known for its contributions to agriculture, its state fairs (the Iowa State Fair is one of the largest in the country), and notable landmarks like the Grotto of Redemption. Whether you prefer life in the rural parts of the state or a busy cosmopolitan city, Iowa has a home for everyone. If you’re ready to move to the Hawkeye State, NewHomeSource has compiled a list of the six best places to live in the state.
Housing cost-to-income ratio: 2.64%
Average childcare cost-to-income ratio: 1.37%
Violent crime index: 14.1
Nonviolent crime index: 42.4
Cost of living index: 86.2
Dubuque ranks as the best place to live in Iowa. Located along the Mississippi River, residents in this conservative city have a variety of entertainment options. Try your luck at the casinos along the Mississippi River, including the Diamond Jo Casino and the Q Casino where personable staff and delicious food are always available, not to mention great concerts and comedy shows. Ready for a delicious brew or a glass of wine? Stop by the Stone Cliff Winery with views of the Mississippi just a short stroll from the Riverwalk. Have a relaxing weekend by visiting the local breweries and wineries, many of which allow your dogs to accompany you as you try the newest drink. Dimensional Brewing Company and 7 Hills Brewing Company make Fido feel right at home.
Dubuque experiences varied weather. Residents can expect 194 sunny days, 36 inches of rain, and 37 inches of snow per year. This makes it ideal to fish along the Mississippi at A.Y. McDonald Park, the Bowstring Wildlife Area, and Bankston Park with ample opportunities to land some trout. The Mines of Spain Recreation Area includes interesting archaeological sites and a nature center. Hike the woods and learn more about the Native American people that occupied this land. The limestone bluffs offer sweeping views over the Mississippi River. Just ten minutes from downtown you will find a world of stalactites and stalagmites at Crystal Lake Cave. Look closely as you might spot some pelicans and eagles as you hike and bike Eagle Point Park. This premier midwestern park will impress with stunning views of three states, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
If you are a lover of all things baseball, you must stop by the Field of Dreams movie site. Take a tour of the farmhouse and ballpark from this 1989 Kevin Costner film. Make your way to the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens to see an array of beautiful flora and fauna or spend some time exploring the museums including the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium and the National Farm Toy Museum.
For a truly unique experience, ride the Fenelon Place Elevator. Take a classic cable car to the top of a bluff. While unsubstantiated, this is said to be the shortest and steepest railroad in the world. You will be rewarded with gorgeous downtown Dubuque and Mississippi River views from this National Historic Landmark.
Dubuque, Iowa is the complete package with entertainment, major employers, and services. For medical care and education, folks have their choice between eight hospitals including Mercy Hospital and Finley Hospital. Families appreciate the excellent options in the Dubuque Community School District or can choose from private schools with Catholic and Methodist affiliations. Discover some inviting universities and colleges in Dubuque including the University of Dubuque, Loras College, Clarke University, and Emmaus Bible College.
Some of the welcoming Dubuque suburbs are Dyersville and Asbury. Take a look at your new home offerings in the Dubuque area.
2. Waterloo-Cedar Falls
Housing cost-to-income ratio: 2.65%
Average childcare cost-to-income ratio: 1.15%
Violent crime index: 40.6
Nonviolent crime index: 47.5
Cost of living index: 74.5
The Waterloo-Cedar Falls metropolitan area is home to over 168,000 residents. The Cedar River runs through both cities, and the riverside parks and nature preserves provide opportunities for hiking, fishing, and camping. Pitch a tent at Black Hawk Park. Hike, enjoy some archery or spend some time at the shooting range at this park with river access. Another outdoor gem is the George Wyth State Park. Get ready to canoe, paddleboat, and kayak on the Cedar River. Commune with nature on the paved trails. Swim, fish, and bike while enjoying the fresh air.
Cedar Falls Main Street gives off the welcoming vibes of small-town Iowa. Try some delicious popcorn flavors at Here’s What’s Poppin in the historic downtown. Check out the eateries like Wilbos Burgers Brats & Beers with fresh burgers sure to tempt the taste buds. Enjoy strolling through the many specialty shops for fun finds.
Waterloo is equally enticing. This Cedar Valley city offers family friendly fun. Explore the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum. Create memories at the Lost Island Themepark with its adrenaline-inducing rides and water fun. Find what speaks to you from the Waterloo Center for the Arts to the Oktoberfest Festival to the Isle of Capri Casino Waterloo, the activities are varied and hit on several interests.
Residents in both cities enjoy museums and attractions like the Ice House Museum, Sunrise Children’s Zoo, and art museums. Over a dozen local restaurants consider themselves dog-friendly, which is great news for dog owners. Be sure to try some bangers and mash at one of the six pet-friendly tables at Jameson’s Public House.
Hockey and wrestling are popular in this area. Visit the National Wrestling Hall of Fame – Dan Gable Museum or see some sport on the ice at Young Arena. Prefer baseball? The Riverfront Stadium hosts games by the Waterloo Bucks as well as youth, high school and junior college games and community events.
The Waterloo-Cedar Falls metropolitan area experiences weather very similar to Dubuque, with 194 sunny days, 36 inches of rain, and 34 inches of snow expected annually. Never worry about medical care here; nine area hospitals including UnityPoint Health- Allen Hospital and MercyOne Cedar Falls Medical Center are ready to serve you and your family. With a strong economy, major employers including John Deere, Tyson, Hawkeye Community College, and GMAC provide job opportunities. Educational opportunities for your children are available with Hoover Middle School seeing great scores. Additionally, private schools here include Cedar Valley Catholic Schools.
It’s easy to see why the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area is on the move. Find a new home in some of the popular suburbs including Audubon, Park Haven, and Hurst.
3. Sioux City
Housing cost-to-income ratio: 2.74%
Average childcare cost-to-income ratio: 1.19%
Violent crime index: 18.6
Nonviolent crime index: 58.3
Cost of living index: 77.9
Sioux City is in northwestern Iowa along the Missouri River. Designated as an Iowa Great Place, there is a vibrant economy supported by tourism for the many festivals, USHL Hockey, Champions Indoor Football League, and Cone Park. From museums, casinos, country clubs, and nature preserves, there’s something for everyone in Sioux City.
Live in northwestern Iowa where history can be revisited at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. The interactive displays are very insightful. The Sioux City Public Museum offers hands-on exhibits and experiences covering everything from the city’s first “horseless buggy” to the 1989 United Airlines Flight 232 crash.
Make the most of 210 sunny days per year by going on a walking tour of the Fourth Street Historic District or by taking your dog to the patio at Marto Brewing Company while you enjoy a craft beer. There’s plenty to keep boredom at bay. Enjoy the beautiful terrain with hikes through the forest at Stone State Park. From Broadway performances to the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra, the Orpheum Theatre is a performing arts center that was restored in 1999 to its gorgeous roots. On cold, rainy days, opt for an indoor adventure like checking out the latest exhibit at the Sioux City Art Center.
Find excellent medical care at many hospitals including MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center and UnityPoint Health. Employment opportunities abound with large businesses including Tyson Foods, Seaboard Triumph Foods, Sioux City Schools, and Western Iowa Tech Community College along with a vibrant small business force.
Sioux City leans politically conservative and provides access to excellent schools in the Sioux City Community School District. There are additional private schools ready to serve your family including St. Paul’s Lutheran Church & School, St. Michael’s Catholic School, and Siouxland Christian School. Abundant houses of worship in the area include many faiths from Catholic to Lutheran to Judaism and more. Prefer to live in the suburbs? Check out popular neighborhoods like Sioux City East and Morningside South.
4. Cedar Rapids
Housing cost-to-income ratio: 2.89%
Average childcare cost-to-income ratio: 1.09%
Violent crime index: 19.9
Nonviolent crime index: 53.6
Cost of living index: 81.6
Cedar Rapids is an eastern Iowa city known for its arts and cultural district. Popular museums include the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, African American Museum of Iowa, and National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library. In addition to museums, Cedar Rapids is home to multiple movies and live performance theaters where you can catch the latest flicks and plays. In the summer find the perfect seat at the McGrath Amphitheatre for great entertainment. It’s located within walking distance of the shops and eateries in Downtown Cedar Rapids. Visit the Newbo City Market in the historic New Bohemia Main Street District with its produce, food, and locally made wares. You might even catch some live music. Cedar Rapids is known as an arts and cultural hub with theater and live music.
Get outside and enjoy year-round fun at Bever Park where the ice rink, pool, and farm animals make for a great day. Located just outside of Cedar Rapids is Palisades-Kepler State Park with its wildlife, river bluffs, and Native American Indian mounds. With 65+ acres, the Prairie Park Fishery meets all your fishing needs for boating, ice fishing, biking, and picnicking. For kids at heart of any age, the seasonal events at Bloomsbury Farm will bring great joy. Enjoy a petting zoo and a 10-acre corn maze.
The area is home to family-friendly sports teams including baseball and hockey. A growing culinary and craft brewery scene will tempt your taste buds. Restaurants here offer everything from upscale dining to down-home comfort food. Some local favorites include Emil’s Hideaway, Cobble Hill Restaurant, and Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano.
You will find all the services, medical care, schools, and employers to make your life in Iowa pleasant in Cedar Rapids. Excellent hospitals include St. Luke’s Hospital and Mercy Medical Center Cedar Rapids. Looking for employment? There are several large companies boosting the economy. Among them, you will find State Farm Insurance, Wells Fargo, AT&T, and Deloitte. Many smaller retailers and businesses bring much added value to Cedar Rapids too.
Cedar Rapids has much to offer potential new homebuyers. The great location, affordability, and strong economy allow for an excellent quality of life. Ready to make Cedar Rapids your home? Popular suburbs in the area include University Heights, Mount Vernon, and Coralville.
5. Des Moines
Housing cost-to-income ratio: 5.44%
Average childcare cost-to-income ratio: 1.60%
Violent crime index: 37.1
Nonviolent crime index: 60.8
Cost of living index: 81.2
Iowa’s capital city ranks 5th in our list of best places in the state to call home. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is one of Des Moines’s most well-known landmarks; bring your pooch for a walk through the 4.4-acre park and admire the sculptures made by 22 talented artists. While you’re downtown, check out destinations like the Science Center of Iowa or pick up fresh food at Des Moines’ Downtown Farmers’ Market.
There’s never a chance for boredom in Des Moines. Family outings to watch the Iowa Cubs play at Wells Fargo Arena or visits to one of the largest and oldest state fairs in the nation will bring many long-lasting memories. The Blank Park Zoo features 30 acres showcasing a Kids Kingdom, a sea lion and seal pool, and an indoor rain forest discovery center.
Explore the exhibits at the Des Moines Botanical Garden or take in some of the Broadway shows, dance performances, and concerts at the Des Moines Civic Center. A craft beer scene allows you to sample some delicious and unique brews at The Iowa Taproom, Exile Brewing Company, and Twisted Vine Brewery. Find everything from high-end Italian food to corn-fed Iowa beef at the delicious eateries. Some local favorites include Ampato, Eatery A, and Bubba.
Des Moines has a thriving art scene, walkable neighborhoods, and cultural events to pique any interest. Discover culinary and music delights at the World Food & Music Festival. The Des Moines Art Center is home to an astounding art collection including pieces by Georgia O’Keefe and Henri Matisse. From the Des Moines Art Festival to art galleries, amazing talent is seen in this area. You will love the mesmerizing sounds of the nationally recognized Des Moines Symphony.
When you choose the heartland for your next new home locale, you can easily stay active. Des Moines is home to over 220 parks and 80+ miles of trails. Recreational opportunities run the gamut with the Des Moines River traversing the heart of the city. Fish, boat, and fully embrace watersports. The Des Moines Riverwalk is the perfect place to take a stroll or bike ride for scenic views of the downtown skyline and river. On the north side of Des Moines, Birdland Park is a great place to hike and bike.
People are flocking to this Midwestern gem for its lower cost of living, dynamic amenities, and bustling economy. Innovative new home designs and welcoming neighborhoods make it easy to become one of the happy residents of this vibrant state capital.
6. Iowa City
Housing cost-to-income ratio: 5.83%
Average childcare cost-to-income ratio: 1.38%
Violent crime index: 18.8
Nonviolent crime index: 35.8
Cost of living index: 94.6
Iowa City has something for everyone. Take advantage of 199 sunny days per year by picnicking at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area or going for a hike through Ryerson’s Woods State Preserve. If you’re a fan of history, visit the Old Capitol Building (noted for its gold dome) or the University of Iowa Natural History Museum. Just a short 15-minute drive east will have you being enlightened on the 31st president, Herbert Hoover, at his Presidential Library and Museum.
Home to the University of Iowa, you can join in the fandom when you don your black and gold to support the Iowa Hawkeyes. Kinnick Stadium, where football is played, and Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where basketball games take place, are popular spots for this state university considered one of the top public research universities in the nation.
Find outstanding medical care at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. As one of the top hospitals in the country, this innovative medical center is known for its use of technology. This forward-thinking city is home to the first Wind Energy Supply Chain Campus in the United States. With over 170+ acres devoted to renewable wind energy; this is a boom for Iowa City. A walkable downtown on the “Ped Mall” also gives Iowa City the highest walkability ranking for the state. Stroll through the shops and enjoy the delicious eateries where no cars are allowed.
Shop farmers markets from May through October for the best fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and wares at The Coralville Farmers Market and Iowa City Farmers Market. The Iowa City Winter Farmers Market is the perfect setting for coffee, baked goods, soaps, jewelry, produce and more from late November through April.
There’s something for everyone, even the family dog. Find dedicated dog parks and dog-friendly restaurants. A great summer perk is the Doggie Plunge in North Liberty. Pups get a day to take a splash and cool off at the pool. When you’re looking for a refreshing beverage, be sure to check out the many breweries and wineries in the area including Millstream Brewing Co. in Amana and Brick Arch Winery in West Branch.
The Iowa Arts Festival devotes an entire week to art, live music, and entertainment. Music lovers will love the saxophone serenades at the Iowa City Jazz Festival, one of the top ten jazz festivals in the United States. For more entertainment, the intimate Riverside Theatre offers an excellent view from any seat in the house.
Enjoy the great weather at spots like Wilson Orchard, City Park, Devonian Fossil Gorge, and Coralville Lake. From hiking and biking to paddleboarding and kayaking, you can commune with nature and stay active. With over 50 parks to choose from, Iowa City residents have ease to green spaces and recreational areas.
With Iowa City coming in as the # 6 spot on our list, it’s easy to see that you can have the perfect blend of a college town in the Midwest with all the amenities you crave. Your new home search will be easy when you peruse these inviting new home designs for the home of your dreams. If you’d prefer to live in the suburbs, be sure to check out neighborhoods like Old School and Peninsula Neighborhood.
This list was compiled using statistics for cost of living, average housing costs, average childcare costs, and crime indices.
Sarah graduated from Trinity University in 2012 with a degree in International Relations and Political Science. She writes blogs on new homes, decor, communities, and more for NewHomeSource. When she’s not writing, you can find her spending time with her three cats.