Home to more than 10,000 lakes and multiple Fortune 500 companies, Minnesota offers beautiful natural scenery coupled with the bustle of city life. The main political, economic, and cultural hub is the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, which is where more than half of Minnesotans reside. In 2021, Minnesota ranked the second-best state in America by U.S. News and World Report, which heavily factored in the education and health care sectors. With all these enticing aspects, people no doubt are looking to settle in the North Star State. Here, NewHomeSource covers the top four cities in Minnesota, ranked by the housing cost to income ratio — a crucial factor in determining a city’s livability.
1. St. Cloud
- Housing cost-to-income ratio: 3.30%
- Average childcare cost-to-income ratio: 1.20%
- Violent crime index: 22.6
- Nonviolent crime index: 59.6
- Cost of living index: 83.8
Located along the banks of the Mississippi River, St. Cloud offers a small-town feel with big-town opportunities. Founded in 1856 and named after the French city of Saint-Cloud, the town has around 68,000 residents, most of who lean conservative.
One of the gorgeous sites in St. Cloud is Munsinger Clemens Gardens. These distinctive gardens are found on the banks of the Mississippi River. Stroll the brick paths enjoying the lush greenery and plants. Attend one of the many events held here including Music in the Gardens and Art Fair in the Gardens. The Stearns History Museum features intriguing exhibits allowing you to progress back in time to learn more about Central Minnesota’s history. From learning about nostalgic toys to environmental impacts, this museum is worth a visit.
St. Cloud State University is a well-established school in the city, ranking 95th among the best regional universities in the Midwest. Graduates have plenty of corporations to work for, such as Target, Wolters Kluwer, and New Flyer, as well as the six local hospitals, the largest being Centra Care – St. Cloud Hospital. From charter schools to public schools, St. Cloud offers great educational opportunities for families. Serving more than 10,000 students, St. Cloud Area ISD #742 is the largest public school system with 13 schools.
Entertainment options include the community theater, the orchestra, movie theaters, bowling, BMX racing, car racing, baseball, and hockey. The Huskies play at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. Fans appreciate the great seats, easy parking, and low-ticket cost.
Stop in at Beaver Island Brewing Company and try some craft beers like Ripple and Sweet Miss Peanut Butter. Share the passion these brewers have for their craft. Pantown Brewing Company is another great stop for beer aficionados. Take a tour and enjoy a pint. Delicious dining options await offering an array of delectable delights. Some local favorites ready to tempt your taste buds include the Pickled Loon, Granite City Food & Brewery, and Dolsie’s Lunch Box Grille.
If you need a reset from city life, St. Cloud has many parks and nature areas to explore. Lake George offers fishing, paddle boating, walking trails, a splash pad, and playground areas with picnic tables. Stop by on a Wednesday evening in the summer and hear local bands performing at Summertime by George, a weekly concert series. You’ll probably run into a neighbor or two! Hike Beaver Islands Trail. Riverside Park has fun year-round with a disc golf course, Nordic ski trail and a sledding hill.
Want to move to St. Cloud but prefer a little more space? Try one of the city’s popular suburbs, like Waite Park, Sauk Rapids, and Sartell.
- Housing cost-to-income ratio: 3.88%
- Average childcare cost-to-income ratio: 1.42%
- Violent crime index: 11
- Nonviolent crime index: 32.3
- Cost of living index: 92.5
Family-friendly, safe, and diverse, Rochester is considered the fourth best place to buy a home in America by Niche.com. The ranking considers home values, property taxes, homeownership rates, housing costs, and real estate trends. Rochester is a Minnesota gem with its share of recreation, amenities, services, and entertainment.
The city’s medical care is also world-class, with nine hospitals including the renowned Mayo Clinic, the large nonprofit healthcare organization headquartered here. This in turn provides great economic stability for “Med City.” Additional major employers like IBM, Rochester Public Schools, and Olmsted Medical Center add to the vibrant economy.
You’ll experience frigid winters and hot, humid summers in Rochester. Around town, you can explore the Quarry Hill Nature Center, browse the galleries at the Rochester Art Center, or have a glass of wine at Salem Glen Winery. From breweries to delicious dining options, Rochester doesn’t disappoint. From coffee shops to international cuisine, find something to please the palate.
If you love music, don’t miss the annual summer music festival, “Down by the Riverside”. This concert series offers exceptional music by local talent. Families can spend hours bowling, playing laser tag, and enjoying arcade games at Bowlocity Entertainment Center.
The school system in Rochester along with private schools gives you the perfect setting for your children’s education. Serving over 17,000 students, Rochester Public Schools put emphasis on student success. You can also choose from private schools including RASA: Rochester Arts and Sciences Academy, Rochester Central Lutheran School, and St. Francis of Assisi School.
Outdoor recreation can be your new norm. Hike the trails at the Quarry Hill Nature Center or the old train bed, Douglas Trail. Foster-Arend Park is a popular spot with its sandy beach, trails, playground, and picnic spots. Camp and enjoy the wildlife at Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo. The zoo takes care of many injured animals that would not survive in the wild.
If you prefer living away from the downtown bustle, consider one of Rochester’s top suburbs, such as Cascade Township, Haverhill Township, and Byron.
- Housing cost-to-income ratio: 4.09%
- Average childcare cost-to-income ratio: 1.56%
- Violent crime index: 23.9
- Nonviolent crime index: 62.3
- Cost of living index: 85.7
Located on Lake Superior, Duluth offers residents many outdoor opportunities to stay active, such as the Lakewalk in Canal Park, the Superior Hiking Trail, and Hartley Park. This outdoor lover’s dream will have you taking full advantage of 150+ miles of trails. Year-round activities include mountain biking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
This somewhat liberal city of 86,000 is a lovely place to raise a family and start a new life, or you could look outside Duluth at one of its popular suburbs. Hermantown is a safe and affluent suburb while Thomson Township has a quaint country feel.
For those with school-aged children, the area’s school systems are excellent. Duluth Public Schools lives up to its mission and vision to ensure students are academically engaged and empowered for growth. Private schools include Spirit of the Lake Community School, Lakeview Christian Academy, and Cathedral School among many options.
Major employers in the region add to the vibrant economy. Find employment opportunities at IBM, St. Luke’s Hospital, Essentia Health, and Wells Fargo Bank. Excellent medical care is available at St. Luke’s Hospital and Essential Health – St. Mary’s Medical Center.
As for the weather, Duluth is beautiful year-round, but expect approximately 31 inches of rain, 70 inches of snow, and 178 sunny days per year. During the mild summers, there are plenty of activities. You can tour breweries, go hiking, or check out Glensheen Mansion, a historical house museum, and gardens. Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse will be found on a scenic drive to the northwest from Duluth. Lake Superior sets the boundary of Leif Ericson Park with its stunning rose garden.
Duluth is a great place to put down roots. Find a new home that will elevate your quality of life in and around Duluth. New homes in this area reflect the wants and needs of today’s modern families.
4. Minneapolis-St. Paul
- Housing cost-to-income ratio: 5.11%
- Average childcare cost-to-income ratio: 2.10%
- Violent crime index: 52.8
- Nonviolent crime index: 63.3
- Cost of living index: 106.5
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have formed a large, bustling metropolitan area perfect for finding your new home. St. Paul, the state capital, has around 300,000 residents and can be described as the perfect mix of urban and rural. The small-town feel can be attributed to the hard-working small businesses that permeate the city, including a diverse food scene. You can easily find Vietnamese, Mexican, Chinese, and Lebanese cuisine just to name a few. In addition to the Capitol, St. Paul’s top attractions include the Minnesota Museum of American Art, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, and the Cathedral of Saint Paul.
St. Paul has over 25 miles of riverfront along the Mississippi River. It’s also home to Rice Park with its downtown location including an ice rink, fountain, bandstand, and Peanut cartoon sculptures. Stay active and make memories at the 184 parks and open spaces with indoor and outdoor aquatic facilities, public beach and abundant sports fields and courts. The largest park is Pig’s Eye Regional Park with a 500-acre lake and hiking trails.
Minneapolis, or the “Mini Apple,” has a population of about 420,000 and was voted the eighth-best city for young professionals in America by Niche.com based on the number of millennial residents, job opportunities, and access to bars, restaurants, and affordable housing. This dynamic city has many nicknames like Mini Apple, MPLS, Miniature-polis, Mill City, and The City of Lakes. The city boasts a diverse range of cultures, a great LGBTQ+ community, and safe areas to live in that are suited for all budgets.
Minneapolis is found along the Chain of Lakes with 22 in the city including five large lakes. Residents get outside to enjoy a variety of fun including boating, waterskiing, ice surfing, hiking and fishing. During the day, there are plenty of parks and trails to explore, and there’s even a waterfall (Minnehaha Falls) right in the city.
You won’t lack for entertainment with theaters, museums, parks, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. The Minneapolis Institute of Art showcases 90,000+ art pieces and is one of the largest in the nation. Don’t miss the big spoon with a cherry at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Target Field in the historic district is home to the Minnesota Twins and has its share of nearby fun shops, bars, and eateries to enjoy before or after a game. Of course, Vikings fans don their fan gear to support the football team at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minneapolis also offers an array of nightlife. Sample some delicious brews including ales, lagers, stouts and more along the Metro Green Line at independent breweries.
One of the perks of living in Minneapolis-St. Paul is the outstanding medical care. Minnesota is the “No. 1 Best State for Health Care.” State-of-the-art healthcare is delivered by M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center, Abbott Northwestern, Masonic Children’s Hospital, St. Josephs in St. Paul, and Regions Hospital leading the way for in-patient and out-patient care. The world-renowned Mayo Clinic is about 90 minutes away.
Minneapolis is a fairly walkable and bikeable city. You can also rely on a public transit network with buses and light rail. Elevated pathways, the Minneapolis Skyway System, connect 80 city blocks and has the largest continuous second-level bridge walkway system in the world.
Your family can choose from schools including the public schools and private options. From a full-immersion Mandarin school to high schools that rank in the state’s top 50, you will appreciate the educational opportunities for your children. Higher learning institutions include the University of Minnesota, Concordia University, St. Paul, Augsburg University, Hamline University, St. Paul College, and Macalester College among others.
The dynamic economy is a big draw for this area. The Twin Cities is home to job opportunities at major employers including US Bank, 3M, U.S. Bancorp, General Mills, Siemens, Cargill, and UnitedHealth Group to name a few. Small business flourishes here too with many residents buying local to support. Enjoy an inviting metropolitan area with excellent healthcare, environmental quality, culture, and recreation. With a lower cost of living for a large city and low unemployment rate, the Twin Cities is an ideal setting for potential new homebuyers.
The Twin Cities has a coveted spot on our list of best places to live in Minnesota for all its great amenities and services. The area’s most popular suburbs include Stillwater, Inver Grove Heights, and Mendota Heights. Both strongly liberal cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul just may be the next place you’ll call home! Peruse some of the innovative new home designs in the Minneapolis, St. Paul and the welcoming suburbs.
This list was compiled using statistics for cost of living, average housing costs, average childcare costs, and crime indices.
Rakini Bergundy was born in a little surf town called Houhai in China and loves writing. She’s passionate about dogs, home renovations, and politics.