Study: Best Cities to Live in Alaska

Alaska is often referred to as America's last great wilderness, and the rugged beauty of its landscape stands as a testament to this claim. To the north lies the Arctic Coastal Plain, an icy tundra that serves as a breeding ground for some of the state's most majestic creatures, such as caribou, polar bears and gray wolves. Central and southern Alaska is where you'll find towering mountain peaks, including Mt. McKinley, which rises more than 20,000 feet above sea level. Along the coast, the land is dotted with dense evergreen forests while winding rivers crisscross the countryside.

Although there are vast expanses of the Frontier State that have yet to be explored, more than three-quarters of a million people call it home, and that number is expected to grow over time. While a significant part of the population lives in and around Anchorage, there are several smaller communities that continue to attract new residents. Relocating to Alaska or even just across the state can be a major undertaking, especially if you're not prepared. To help make your move easier, the CreditDonkey team has profiled the state's six best places to live.

Best Cities to Live in Alaska

Study Methodology

Each of our cities is ranked based on the following:

  1. Crime Rate
  2. Commute Time
  3. Income
  4. Education
  5. Restaurants Per Capita

Alaska is one of the nation's least populated states, but that doesn't mean that crime is any less of a reality here. To determine how each city stacks up in terms of safety, we looked at the odds of being the victim of a violent crime.

While larger cities like Anchorage see their fair share of daily gridlock, the majority of Alaska's towns are far less crowded. We considered the average commute time for each city on our list and found only one with a drive time of more than 15 minutes.

Living in the Land of the Midnight Sun tends to be a little more expensive (largely due to its remote location), so it helps to know what kind of pay you can expect before you put down roots. We ranked each city based on the median household income as well as the percentage of residents who are college-educated.

Alaskans rely a great deal on locally harvested foods, including salmon, king crab and other seafood. While the cities in our roundup are on the smaller side for the most part, they still serve up an appetizing range of culinary fare. Our rankings are based in part on the number of restaurants per capita you'll find in each city.

6. Fairbanks

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 191.9
  • Commute Time: 13.6 minutes
  • Income: $54,572
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 20.3%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 283 inhabitants

With more than 32,000 residents, Fairbanks is the largest city on our list and the second largest in Alaska, following Anchorage. Located near the center of the state, Fairbanks is part of the Tanana Valley and sits close to the Chena River. The city got its start at the turn of the 20th century, when E.T. Barnette first came to the area seeking gold. While the Fairbanks Gold Mining Company is still in operation, the city's economy now hinges largely on education, government and healthcare.

The original campus of the University of Alaska can be found here, and roughly 10,000 students attend classes in Fairbanks throughout the year. Slightly more than 20% of residents hold a college degree. The average commute takes less than 14 minutes and workers earn a healthy median income of nearly $55,000. Fairbanks also boasts the highest number of restaurants of any city in our rankings, with more than 100 spots to grab a bite.

Did You Know: Fairbanks is named in honor of Charles W. Fairbanks, an Indiana senator who later served as Vice President under Theodore Roosevelt.

5. Ketchikan

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 283.3
  • Commute Time: 11.1 minutes
  • Income: $50,703
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 21.9%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 229 inhabitants

Ketchikan sits at the southernmost point of the Inside Passage, the coastal corridor through which cruise ships, freighters and commercial vessels navigate the Alaskan coastline. While its total population doesn't exceed 9,000 residents, Ketchikan sees plenty of traffic from fishermen and tourists who come to explore the area's natural beauty.

Residents and visitors alike enjoy camping, biking and hiking in the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the U.S. Whale-watching is also a popular pursuit, as is exploring the Misty Fjords via floatplane. If you're looking for something a little more low-key, you'll find a variety of shops as well as a thriving arts community, which showcases the work of local artists.

Did You Know: Ketchikan is known as the "Salmon Capital of the World."

4. Kenai

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 292.2
  • Commute Time: 15.2 minutes
  • Income: $59,906
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 20.8%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 306 inhabitants

Kenai, located on the edge of the Kenai Peninsula, is roughly 160 miles southwest of Anchorage. One of the oldest communities in Alaska, the mid-1700s saw the arrival of Russian settlers, the first non-native people to make their home in the area. The discovery of oil in nearby Cook Inlet in 1957 contributed largely to Kenai's growth, and the petroleum industry continues to hold a prominent place in the local economy.

Compared to other cities on our list, Kenai has one of the better crime rates, with the odds of being the victim of a violent act 1 in nearly 300. Residents are well educated, with just over 20% holding a college degree, and the median household income approaches $60,000. Like many of Alaska's coastal towns, fishing is a favorite pastime and you'll find an abundance of king, red, silver and pink salmon inhabiting the Kenai River.

Did You Know: The Kenai River produced the largest sport-caught king salmon on record, weighing in at more than 97 pounds.

3. Homer

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 95.3
  • Commute Time: 13.5 minutes
  • Income: $52,535
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 32.6%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 175 inhabitants

Homer is also a part of the Kenai Peninsula, located approximately 80 miles south of Kenai on the Kachemak Bay. The self-described "Halibut Capital of the World," Homer attracts plenty of visitors and fishermen who are looking to reel in the catch of the day.
Tourism and commercial fishing are major players in Homer's economy and the Time Bandit of "Deadliest Catch" fame has been known to dock here once or twice.

If you're interested in getting a closer view of the area's wildlife, both the Kachemak Bay State Park and the Lake Clark National Park are nearby, as is the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. When the dinner hour rolls around, you'll have your pick of everything from sandwiches to seafood. One of Homer's most well-known spots is the Salty Dawg Saloon, where the drinks are cold and the walls are covered in dollar bills.

Did You Know: The Homer Spit, a gravel bar that extends nearly five miles into the Kachemak Bay, is known locally as the spot where "the land ends and the sea begins."

2. Palmer

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 344.2
  • Commute Time: 29.8 minutes
  • Income: $61,383
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 22.4%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 186 inhabitants

The small town of Palmer is considered a bedroom community of Anchorage, which lies just over 40 miles to the southwest. Following World War I, Palmer began as a farming community and agriculture remains central to the area, with approximately 75% of the state's agricultural output coming from the Mat-Su Valley. Palmer is particularly notable for producing record-breaking vegetables thanks to the rich soil and extended daylight hours in the summer.

The Alaska State Fair is held here each year, bringing in nearly 300,000 visitors annually. Other attractions include the historic Church of a Thousand Trees and the Independence Mine State Historical Park. While Palmer is a popular tourist destination, its higher median pay and relative safety compared to other Alaska cities is especially attractive to new and current residents.

Did You Know: In 2012, a cabbage grown by Palmer business owner Scott Robb set a world record, weighing in at a whopping 138.25 pounds.

1. Bethel

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 128.4
  • Commute Time: 8.3 minutes
  • Income: $90,779
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 21%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 455 inhabitants

Nearly 400 miles west of Anchorage, the town of Bethel sits close to Alaska's western edge on the shores of the Kuskokwim River. The city is unique for being accessible only by boat or plane, but that hasn't stopped it from becoming one of the largest communities in the state. The Kuskokwim River port serves as a transportation hub for more than 50 neighboring villages, and Bethel hosts several large employers, including the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

Bethel is a prime location for job seekers and working professionals who are looking for a short commute and higher pay. The drive to work takes an average of just over eight minutes, and the median household income surpasses $90,000. While you won't find as many restaurants in Bethel as you would in other Alaskan towns, local favorites like Dimitri's offer dishes that are sure to satisfy your taste buds.

Did You Know: Bethel hosts the annual Kuskokwim 300, a 300-mile dogsled race to Aniak and back.

Life in Alaska is truly like nowhere else, and the change in temperature may not be the only thing that takes some getting used to. If, however, you're able to stand the cold, you'll find that making your home outside the lower 48 has its advantages. Our guide is meant to help you choose the city that best fits your lifestyle as well as your taste for adventure.

Thinking of visiting the lower 48? Consider using an airline credit card to save money on your next trip.

Data Sources:

  • U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates
  • FBI, Uniform Crime Reports
  • U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey
  • U.S. Census Bureau, Economic Census

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

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