Study: Happiest Cities in Alabama


They don't call it "sweet home" for no reason. Long-time residents of Alabama have found where they belong, and those who live in certain parts of the state have more reason to be happier than others. These are the spots where couples are more likely to stay together for the long haul and where they have many places to go for their date nights. Find the right city to settle down in this Southern state, and you'll also be more likely to have a decent commute and a lower cost of living than other Alabamians. The CreditDonkey team has pinned down these cities in our top 10 list.

Study Methodology

We looked at places with a population of 5,000 or higher. Using U.S. Census and FBI crime data, we assigned each city a ranking, and the final 10 are the ones that scored the best overall in terms of the following:

  1. Restaurants
  2. Crime rate
  3. Commute
  4. Departure time
  5. Income
  6. Divorce rate
  7. Housing

For many of us, food is a gateway to happiness. Most often, that happiness skyrockets when someone else cooks for us. We considered the number of restaurants per capita to nail down which cities offer the most eating options.

The safer you feel at home, the more likely you are to feel content with where you live. Our study considered the odds of being the victim of a violent crime in each city to see where residents have the most security.

In larger cities, heavy traffic is one of those unpleasant things you often have to accept. If your daily trip to work is a bumper-to-bumper nightmare, it can quickly sour your mood. Each of our cities is ranked based on the average commute to see where the drive is shortest.

An early wake-up call can give you a more positive outlook since you're usually able to get more done throughout the day. We decided to look at the percentage of residents who leave for work before 5 a.m. to see where people like to get a head start.

Earning a higher salary may influence how satisfied you feel at work, and it can also impact your overall happiness level. Our rankings are based in part on each city's median household income.

Love and marriage go hand-in-hand but for many couples, the wedded bliss doesn't last. We decided to gauge how happily married people in each city are, based on how low the % of divorced people is for men and women.

Finding a place to live can be a chore, especially if your rent or mortgage payments are through the roof. We wanted to see which cities are the most affordable, so we looked at the percentage of income residents spend on housing.

10 Happiest Cities in Alabama

10. Vestavia Hills

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 550 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 1,554.3
  • Average commute time: 20 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 1.2%
  • Median household income: $85,417
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 6% of males, 14% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.5%

Vestavia Hills is a peaceful suburb of around 34,000 residents just south of Birmingham. The area is especially attractive to families who are looking for quiet neighborhoods where crime is infrequent. Workers seem to like it here too, something that can likely be attributed to the generous median income they earn and how quickly they're able to get to the office.

Did You Know: Vestavia Hills is named for the estate of former Birmingham Mayor George Ward, who styled his home after Rome's Temple of Vesta.

9. Fort Payne

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 336 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 646.3
  • Average commute time: 15.2 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.1%
  • Median household income: $34,002
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 9.8% of males, 11.1% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.5%

Fort Payne is tucked away in northeastern Alabama. The 14,000 or so people who live here adore its quaint small-town feel. The city is especially kind to working folks, who enjoy the shortest average commute in our study, clocking in at just over 15 minutes. Housing costs aren't a budget-breaker, and there's a good selection of restaurants to choose from, whether you're craving pizza, barbecue or something a little more exotic.

Did You Know: The stockade at Fort Payne was where Cherokee Indians native to the area were held prior to embarking on the march known as the "Trail of Tears."

8. Muscle Shoals

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 334 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 174.1
  • Average commute time: 19.2 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 4.2%
  • Median household income: $51,444
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 10.3% of males, 11.3% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18.8%

Muscle Shoals lies along the Tennessee River, just south of the larger city of Florence in the northwestern part of the state. A combination of a higher median income and relatively low housing costs put a smile on the faces of the nearly 14,000 people who live here. The local neighborhoods are friendly to families, working professionals and retirees. Any of them may opt for the Garden Gate Cafe for a get-together during lunch or dinner hours.

Did You Know: Several well-known music studios operate in Muscle Shoals, and artists like Aretha Franklin and The Black Keys have recorded songs in the city.

7. Southside

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 1,061 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 937.1
  • Average commute time: 24.9 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 4.9%
  • Median household income: $67,392
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 5.4% of males, 8.7% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.2%

With only about 8,500 residents, Southside is definitely on the small side, but it still packs a big punch in terms of livability. Violent crime is fairly uncommon, and buying a home won't set you back too much. Residents have to drive a little longer to get to work each day, but it's worth it when you consider the size of their paychecks. Southside also appears to be a good place for married couples, with a combined divorce rate that's the second lowest in our rankings.

Did You Know: Southside was one of the first cities in Etowah County to have a telephone system.

6. Enterprise

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 409 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 245.2
  • Average commute time: 18.6 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 8.3%
  • Median household income: $50,973
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 11.7% of males, 13.8% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.8%

Enterprise's nickname is "The City of Progress," and it certainly lives up to that moniker judging by how the population has grown in recent years. There are almost 28,000 people residing in this thriving community, and from what we can tell, they have lots of good things to say about their hometown. Just over 8% of residents are out the door before 5 a.m., and the average worker gets to work in less than 19 minutes.

Did You Know: Residents have a big reason to appreciate their city. Enterprise's existence was threatened in 1915, when a boll weevil infestation severely damaged the area's cotton crop.

5. Hartselle

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 537 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 684.8
  • Average commute time: 23.2 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 7%
  • Median household income: $52,036
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 6.7% of males, 14.5% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 17%

The city of Hartselle is situated about 35 miles to the southwest of Huntsville, and its 14,000 residents agree that it's a nice little detour from the big city. You'll notice that housing costs are lower than any of the cities we've looked at so far, taking a relatively smaller bite out of workers' income. Speaking of bites, one of the best places in town to grab one is The Freight House, located in the city's historic freight terminal.

Did You Know: In 1926, Hartselle was the site of an infamous bank robbery involving 15 burglars, none of whom were ever caught.

4. Madison

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 548 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 487.3
  • Average commute time: 19.4 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.3%
  • Median household income: $92,136
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 8.2% of males, 12% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 15.1%

Madison lies to the west of Huntsville and with close to 45,000 residents, it's the largest city on our list based on population. There's been a significant amount of growth over the last few decades, and Madison has earned a reputation for being one of the metro area's more well-to-do suburbs. At just over $92,000, residents earn the second-highest income in our rankings and they spend the least amount of their pay on housing, which we think is a major plus.

Did You Know: Madison is just minutes from attractions like the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and the Huntsville Museum of Art.

3. Oxford

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 318 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 280.3
  • Average commute time: 18.3 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 6%
  • Median household income: $50,066
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 9.8% of males, 11.8% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18.2%

Oxford evokes an old-time feel with a modern twist, and for the 21,000 people who live here, it's an ideal place to settle down. Buying a home won't break the bank and renting is just as affordable. The 18-minute commute is on par with what workers experience in our other cities, and the $50,000 median income makes the drive worthwhile. There are an abundance of delectable places to dig in, but Garfrerick's Cafe is a local favorite for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch.

Did You Know: Originally named Lick Skillet, Oxford was the first city in Calhoun County to be incorporated.

2. Glencoe

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 868 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 646.9
  • Average commute time: 22.9 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 11.7%
  • Median household income: $52,467
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 13.2% of males, 9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 15.7%

At around 5,200 residents, Glencoe's population is the smallest in our study, but you'll find this charming little town offers up happiness in large doses. Close to 12% of workers get their motors running before 5 a.m., and the drive to work isn't too taxing, at almost 23 minutes. You'll spend less than 16% of your salary on housing, and it's easy to feel at home in Glencoe's safe neighborhoods.

Did You Know: In 1540, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto lead an expedition through the Glencoe area.

1. Mountain Brook

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 522 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 2,563.9
  • Average commute time: 17.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 1.1%
  • Median household income: $135,833
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 5.5% of males, 6.5% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 16.5%

Mountain Brook, far and away the most affluent city in our study, is considered a choice suburb for people who want to stay close to the Birmingham area. Residents earn a median income that's well above six figures, and less than 17% of that goes toward housing. Married couples appear to be content as the combined divorce rate of 12% is the best of any city we've profiled. To top it off, Mountain Brook's violent crime rate is astoundingly low, so you'll be able to relax whether you're at home or out on the town.

Did You Know: "Friends" actress Courteney Cox graduated from Mountain Brook High School.


Noticeably absent from our rankings are Birmingham, Montgomery and Huntsville, some of Alabama's largest cities. There's no doubting how popular they are considering their size, but for our study’s purposes, the state's smaller cities proved to have the advantage when it comes to overall happiness.

The Top 40 Happiest Cities in New York

RankCityPeople per Restaurants and BarsViolent Crime OddsAverage Commute Time% Leaving Before 5amMedian Household Income% Male Divorce1% Female Divorce1Income Spent on Housing
1Mountain Brook522.31 in 2,563.917.81.1%$135,8335.5%6.5%16.5%
2Glencoe868.01 in 646.922.911.7%$52,46713.2%9.0%15.7%
3Oxford317.51 in 280.318.36.0%$50,0669.8%11.8%18.2%
4Madison548.41 in 487.319.42.3%$92,1368.2%12.0%15.1%
5Hartselle536.61 in 684.823.27.0%$52,0366.7%14.5%17%
6Enterprise408.71 in 245.218.68.3%$50,97311.7%13.8%19.8%
7Southside1,061.41 in 937.124.94.9%$67,3925.4%8.7%19.2%
8Muscle Shoals334.31 in 174.119.24.2%$51,44410.3%11.3%18.8%
9Fort Payne335.81 in 646.315.25.1%$34,0029.8%11.1%19.5%
10Vestavia Hills549.81 in 1,554.3201.2%$85,4176.0%14.0%19.5%
11Athens404.61 in 731.623.54.0%$47,16711.3%12.7%17.1%
12Troy388.61 in 157.416.210.1%$31,9303.8%7.3%24.2%
13Gardendale346.21 in 517.022.63.8%$59,8999.5%12.2%20.4%
14Prattville484.31 in 575.422.64.5%$58,7739.4%15.7%19.5%
15Hoover524.61 in 957.323.61.2%$76,0616.3%11.1%20.1%
16Monroeville374.31 in 79.717.32.6%$34,8869.9%10.4%15.4%
17Dothan380.71 in 207.818.15.4%$42,94312.0%15.8%19.8%
18Spanish Fort293.21 in 591.323.91.7%$67,5938.8%10.2%21.2%
19Saraland539.61 in 384.920.74.0%$49,54214.3%12.7%18.9%
20Fultondale504.11 in 421.123.26.7%$45,3497.8%12.5%22.5%
21Scottsboro308.01 in 228.518.33.1%$37,74810.9%14.7%17.7%
22Millbrook712.01 in 183.625.14.5%$60,0609.3%11.1%19.1%
23Jacksonville428.61 in 291.4202.9%$37,2107.0%9.7%20.1%
24Jasper258.81 in 116.826.26.8%$44,3099.8%16.3%17.5%
25Pleasant Grove2,592.81 in 597.525.65.4%$62,8838.6%13.8%21.2%
26Huntsville420.51 in 108.318.13.4%$48,63211.7%15.0%19.1%
27Demopolis280.51 in 194.613.14.6%$34,57413.0%13.9%19.6%
28Northport370.61 in 175.9182.6%$51,62810.3%11.3%22.7%
29Helena1,147.31 in 1,552.431.13.2%$84,7697.2%11.3%19%
30Ozark372.51 in 144.720.65.4%$42,25216.9%18.2%16.5%
31Auburn381.91 in 415.017.32.1%$37,5903.1%7.1%27.4%
32Rainbow City460.31 in 343.923.84.3%$44,22313.9%9.9%19.8%
33Decatur444.41 in 233.9204.1%$42,37412.7%15.5%19.1%
34Jackson241.91 in 153.422.64.5%$37,0839.1%11.4%20%
35Fairhope412.01 in 366.7255.2%$58,55411.0%14.9%21.9%
36Leeds566.01 in 204.224.85.1%$48,1789.0%16.1%19.3%
37Wetumpka284.11 in 140.828.18.2%$45,84111.8%13.2%20.5%
38Hamilton473.51 in 861.321.26.2%$30,2479.5%12.8%21.5%
39Roanoke401.01 in 263.72511.9%$28,17511.1%6.2%22.2%
40Orange Beach127.71 in 243.4253.9%$59,67911.3%8.0%26%

1Treated as one combined metric for ranking purposes (at a 50:50 male to female ratio).

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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