Study: Best Cities to Live in South Dakota

South Dakota's economy is one of the fastest growing in the country and its unemployment rate is extremely low. Whether you're following in the tradition of South Dakota's early settlers and putting down stakes for the first time or you're a resident who's interested in a change of address, take a look at the CreditDonkey team's picks for the best places to live.

Home to some of the most recognizable historical attractions in the U.S., South Dakota is where the past comes to life. Deep in the Black Hills you'll find Mount Rushmore, the epic stone monument that gives the state its nickname. In the tiny town of De Smet, the former homestead of Laura Ingalls captures the spirit of life on the frontier. Badlands National Park showcases the evolution of South Dakota's natural beauty while the rich heritage of the Sioux people is remembered through annual celebrations across the state.

Agriculture is a major player but opportunities abound if you're looking for work in the financial, healthcare or manufacturing industries. The overall cost of living is around 18% lower than the national average, and there's no state income tax. As long as you don't mind the snow that winter always brings, you'll find there's a lot to like about the state.

10 Best Cities to Live in South Dakota

Study Methodology

These five factors shaped our rankings:

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

If you're looking for peace and quiet South Dakota fits the bill. We ranked each city based on the odds of being the victim of a violent crime and several of the places on our list are among the safest in the state.

In places like Sioux Falls and Rapids City, getting to work is a little easier when you can walk, bike or take public transportation. When you live in a smaller town, you may be stuck negotiating traffic on your daily drive. We ranked each city based on the average commute so you can see where the drive to work is shortest.

Job seekers who come to South Dakota will find that employee wages may vary significantly based on location and the educational attainment of a particular city's population. Our study considered median household incomes as well as the percentage of residents who hold a bachelor's degree or higher.

South Dakota's culinary specialties are heavily flavored by Native American influences. Fry bread was named the official state bread in 2005 but there's much more for foodies to sample. The cities on our list are ranked based on the number of restaurants per capita and you won't be disappointed by the range of choices.

10. Spearfish

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 594.7
  • Commute Time: 15.9 minutes
  • Income: $37,500
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 35.1%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 228 inhabitants

Originally known as Queen City, Spearfish got its start as a boomtown during the gold rush era of the late 1800s. Today Spearfish, home to just over 10,000 residents, sees thousands of visitors each year who come to explore the rugged terrain of the Black Hills area. The healthcare and education industries account for the largest share of jobs, with many residents employed by Black Hills University.

Did You Know: Spearfish is just a few miles down the road from historic Deadwood, the place where Wild Bill Hickok infamously met his end.

9. Madison

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 1,344.6
  • Commute Time: 13 minutes
  • Income: $36,429
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 28%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 235 inhabitants

Another college town, Madison is home to Dakota State University, one of the state's top schools for computer science and information technology. One of the best things about living here is that it's extremely safe, and an average commute of 13 minutes also makes it desirable for professionals. If you like being outdoors, Lake Herman is the perfect spot to pitch a tent, row a boat or just take a leisurely stroll.

Did You Know: If you're interested in seeing what life was like in Madison at the turn of the 20th century, Prairie Village features sod and log houses, agricultural displays and one of the world's only steam-powered carousels.

8. Rapid City

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 164.7
  • Commute Time: 15.9 minutes
  • Income: $45,707
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 29.3%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 390 inhabitants

Rapid City is South Dakota's second largest city after Sioux Falls, with a population approaching 70,000. Known as the "Gateway to the Black Hills," the city grew up almost overnight following the discovery of gold here in 1874. Expansion slowed in the first part of the 20th century but the opening of Ellsworth Air Force Base brought a surge of new residents. The Air Force Base continues to be a top employer although tourism is quickly becoming the heart of Rapid City's economy.

Did You Know: Rapid City is close to several well-known tourist spots, including Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument.

7. Mitchell

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 304.7
  • Commute Time: 12.2 minutes
  • Income: $43,557
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 26.9%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 316 inhabitants

Mitchell began as an agricultural community and the expansion of the railroad eventually brought more settlers to this quiet prairie town. Today, just over 15,000 people make their home in Mitchell but roughly half a million visitors come each year to see the world's one and only Corn Palace. The average commute clocks in at just over 12 minutes and residents take home a median income of nearly $44,000 annually.

Did You Know: It takes approximately 275,000 ears of corn to decorate the Corn Palace's exterior.

6. Brookings

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 2,809.8
  • Commute Time: 12.8 minutes
  • Income: $41,468
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 47.3%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 434 inhabitants

Located near the South Dakota-Minnesota border, Brookings is the second safest city in our study, with a violent crime rate of 1 in 2,800. The city is host to South Dakota State University, the largest higher education institution in the state and a major supplier of local jobs. Brookings has a reputation for being family-oriented and many local attractions, such as the Children's Museum of South Dakota, are geared toward the younger crowd.

Did You Know: South Dakota State University is renowned for its innovations in research and cookies 'n' cream ice cream was reputedly invented in the school's dairy department.

5. Sioux Falls

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 251
  • Commute Time: 16.2 minutes
  • Income: $51,882
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 31.9%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 461 inhabitants

Pioneers first began arriving in Sioux Falls in the decade leading up to the Civil War and by the late 1800's, homesteaders were approaching in droves. Today the city continues to expand, largely due to its thriving economy, which is centered around the financial services industry. The Sioux Falls airport makes getting around the country convenient but you're still within a day's drive of several major metropolitan hubs, including Minneapolis, Omaha and Des Moines.

Did You Know: In 1934, the notorious Dillinger gang is believed to have robbed the Security National Bank in Sioux Falls.

4. Aberdeen

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 385.4
  • Commute Time: 11.4 minutes
  • Income: $46,073
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 26%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 388 inhabitants

Aberdeen is one of northeastern South Dakota's busiest cities, with nearly 27,000 residents. It's central location makes it an ideal spot for both small businesses and larger corporations, with companies like 3M and Wells Fargo leading the way. Tourism also plays an important part in the local economy, thanks to area attractions like the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the Dacotah Prairie Museum. A short average commute and higher median incomes only add to the city's appeal.

Did You Know: L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, lived in Aberdeen from 1888 to 1891 and based his descriptions of Kansas on his experiences here.

3. Brandon

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 9,008
  • Commute Time: 18.5 minutes
  • Income: $66,766
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 29.7%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 774 inhabitants

One of Sioux Fall's smaller suburbs, Brandon stands out as one of the area's safest, most affluent communities. The schools here are among the best in the state and violent crime is virtually nonexistent. Housing prices tend to be slightly higher than neighboring suburbs but the median household income is also higher, at nearly $67,000. The school district employs a significant share of Brandon's residents, although there are an abundance of jobs to be found in the greater metro area.

Did You Know: The first building ever erected in Brandon was a log cabin with a shingled roof that served as the home of the city's founder, Nels Graf.

2. Yankton

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 350.7
  • Commute Time: 12.6 minutes
  • Income: $48,966
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 26.5%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 303 inhabitants

Often called the "Mother City of the Dakotas," Yankton sits on the north bank of the Missouri River, just a stone's throw from the Nebraska border. Its proximity to the river made it an important center for transportation and allowed the city to play a pivotal role in the establishment of the Dakota Territory. Today, Yankton's downtown riverfront area celebrates its storied history while maintaining the city's modern feel.

Did You Know: Jack McCall, the man who shot Wild Bill Hickok, was tried, convicted and hanged in Yankton in 1877.

1. Pierre

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 318.5
  • Commute Time: 10.1 minutes
  • Income: $56,125
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 36.2%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 357 inhabitants

The capital city of Pierre is a premier destination for outdoor recreation, one of many reasons why residents love it here. Located at roughly the state's geographical center, this city of nearly 14,000 people overlooks the Missouri River and the Fort Pierre National Grassland area. Nearby Lake Oahe, one of the world's largest man-made lakes, is a prime fishing spot. There's no shortage of restaurants but when it comes to steakhouses, you'll have to decide for yourself whether you prefer the Cattleman's Club or Mad Mary's.

Did You Know: Pierre and Fort Pierre are two of South Dakota's oldest continuously occupied settlements.

The 10 cities we've included in our study share some similarities but they each have a unique personality that can't be duplicated. All of them are great places to live for different reasons and our rankings are designed to highlight their best features.

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

The Top 10 Cities to Live in South Dakota

RankCityViolent Crime OddsAverage Commute TimeMedian Household Income% Bachelor's Degree or HigherPeople per Restaurants and Bars
1Pierre1 in 318.510.1$56,12536.2%356.8
2Yankton1 in 350.712.6$48,96626.5%302.9
3Brandon1 in 9,008.018.5$66,76629.7%773.8
4Aberdeen1 in 385.411.4$46,07326.0%388.3
5Sioux Falls1 in 251.016.2$51,88231.9%460.8
6Brookings1 in 2,809.812.8$41,46847.3%434.4
7Mitchell1 in 304.712.2$43,55726.9%316.0
8Rapid City1 in 164.715.9$45,70729.3%390.2
9Madison1 in 1,344.613$36,42928.0%234.8
10Spearfish1 in 594.715.9$37,50035.1%228.0

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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