Study: Best Cities to Live in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is famous for cheese, beer and the Green Bay Packers, but there's much more to the Badger State than meets the eye. Read on to find the 10 best cities to live in Wisconsin.

If you're thinking of moving to Wisconsin, the biggest question is where you should settle down. You'll find big name colleges, including the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University, as well as a prosperous manufacturing industry, led by companies like Husco International and Standard Process. The dairy industry is also big business, earning Wisconsin its well-known moniker, "America's Dairyland."

In terms of its natural beauty, Wisconsin's geography is marked by rolling hills, dense forest and more than 15,000 lakes, including waterfront views of both Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. You'll find large urban areas like Madison and Milwaukee as well as smaller towns and villages that take a more relaxed approach to Midwest living. The unemployment rate is below the national average and homes are moderately priced, which is great for potential buyers.

Whether you're a newbie or a native, the CreditDonkey team has put together this guide to help you determine which Wisconsin cities are the best places to call home.

10 Best Cities to Live in Wisconsin

Manitowoc, Wisconsin
Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Study Methodology

We ranked each city in our study using the following measures:

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

Safety first is our mantra, and the number one factor we considered was the crime rate. Specifically, we were interested in the odds of being the victim of a violent crime. We found that the cities included in our rankings are some of the safest in the state and nationwide.

A number of the cities included in our study are close to larger metro areas, which for some residents could mean a lengthy commute. We calculated the average commute for each city in our study to find those with the shortest drive time.

Next, we focused on two factors that often tend to influence one another: income and education. Specifically, we ranked each city based on the median household income and the percentage of residents who attended some college.

Finally, we looked at how many restaurants per capita residents could expect to find. We also scoped out the dining scene for each location to see which cities offered the most varied menus.

10. Appleton

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 345
  • Commute Time: 17.9 minutes
  • Income: $52,605
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No College: 20.8%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 374 inhabitants

Appleton sits on the Fox River, just north of Lake Winnebago and about 30 miles south of Green Bay. With a population of over 73,000, Appleton, the largest city in our rankings, still manages to convey a small-town vibe. Education and manufacturing are among the leading industries, and the city is home to Lawrence University, the second co-ed college established in the U.S. Residents enjoy a crime rate that's below the national average and median household incomes approach $53,000.

Did You Know: Appleton takes its name from Sara Appleton, wife of Amos Lawrence, the man who oversaw the construction of Lawrence University.

9. Manitowoc

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 542
  • Commute Time: 16 minutes
  • Income: $42,579
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No College: 21.6%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 379 inhabitants

To the east of Appleton lies Manitowoc, which sits on the shores of Lake Michigan near the mouth of the Manitowoc River. Besides spectacular waterfront views, this smaller town features a strong local economy, excellent schools and a thriving arts community. Some of the most popular attractions include the Wisconsin Maritime Museum and the Pinecrest Historical Village, where visitors can experience what life was like in 1850s Manitowoc.

Did You Know: For nearly 160 years, Manitowoc was a major supplier of malted barley for the Anheuser-Busch Company.

8. La Crosse

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 337
  • Commute Time: 15.6 minutes
  • Income: $39,014
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No College: 20.8%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 264 inhabitants

The largest city in western Wisconson, La Crosse sits on the banks of the Mississippi River just a stone's throw from the Minnesota border. Like many Wisconsin cities, La Crosse began as a fur trading settlement, but today the city's economy is based around the healthcare and education industries. The dining scene offers everything from authentic Italian dishes to fried cheese curds, a regional favorite.

Did You Know: If you're in the mood for a cocktail, head downtown to Third Street, which once made the Guinness Book of World records for having the most bars on a single street.

7. Wauwatosa

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 599
  • Commute Time: 20.2 minutes
  • Income: $68,674
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No College: 20.5%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 380 inhabitants

Head west out of Milwaukee and you'll come to Wauwatosa, a suburban area of just over 47,000 residents. Nicknamed "Tosa" by the locals, the city is just 15 miles from the downtown metro area and the average commute takes around 20 minutes. Baseball fans will love the close proximity to Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, while the nearby Milwaukee County Zoo is a favorite spot for families.

Did You Know: Architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed a number of buildings in Wisconsin, including the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa.

6. Franklin

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 2,232
  • Commute Time: 23.6 minutes
  • Income: $76,426
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No College: 22.3%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 752 inhabitants

Another suburb of Milwaukee, Franklin lies near the Muskego Lake metro area. The city is particularly attractive to residents due to its extremely low violent crime rate, higher median household incomes and relatively short commute to downtown. Education, healthcare, manufacturing and the retail sector lead the way and the largest employers include Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare Medical Center.

Did You Know: Franklin is named in honor of scientist, inventor and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.

5. Neenah

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 734
  • Commute Time: 18.2 minutes
  • Income: $51,168
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No College: 20.2%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 344 inhabitants

Just down the road from Appleton is the city of Neenah, which happens to be the smallest city on our list with a population of slightly less than 26,000. Neenah began as a farming and industrial settlement, and that heritage is reflected by the continued presence of the paper, steel and manufacturing industries. Families are drawn to Neenah because of its low crime rate while retirees enjoy the scenic views from nearby Lake Winnebago.

Did You Know: The Kimberly-Clark Corporation, a leading manufacturer of paper products, got its start in Neenah in 1872.

4. West Bend

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 1,078
  • Commute Time: 23.5 minutes
  • Income: $54,579
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No College: 25.8%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 415 inhabitants

Despite its name, West Bend is actually tucked away in the southeast corner of the state, approximately 40 miles north of Milwaukee. The city's economy is based around manufacturing and financial services, and the median household income is more than $54,000. One of West Bend's biggest attractions is the historic downtown area, which features shops, museums, historic buildings and miles of hiking, walking and biking trails.

Did You Know: West Bend is home to the Wisconsin Museum of Art, which showcases the works of past and present Wisconsin artists.

3. Stevens Point

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 559
  • Commute Time: 15.9 minutes
  • Income: $38,934
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No College: 22.8%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 285 inhabitants

Stevens Point sits in central Wisconsin, just east of the Wisconsin River. A low violent crime rate and a strong emphasis on education make Stevens Point a great place to raise a family, but it's also favorable if you're searching for a new job. Several major companies are headquartered here, including Delta Dental of Wisconsin and Sentry Insurance, and the median household income is just short of $40,000. There are plenty of breweries and bistros to explore, as well as more upscale dining locals such as @1800, which styles itself as a restaurant, lounge, gallery and theater.

Did You Know: Stevens Point has been recognized by a number of publications as a "Top 10 Dream Town," one of the "Top 10 Places to Live," and one of the "Top 25 Places to Retire."

2. Brookfield

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 2,005
  • Commute Time: 20.7 minutes
  • Income: $88,012
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No College: 18.1%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 333 inhabitants

Approximately 15 miles west of Milwaukee, Brookfield is one of the safest and most affluent cities in our study. The violent crime rate is one in over 2,000 and the median income is more than $88,000. Commute times here are reasonable, at right around 20 minutes, and the possibilities are endless if you're interested in enjoying some family fun or a night on the town. The local restaurant scene has something for everyone, whether you're craving hot and spicy Indian food or an organic vegan meal.

Did You Know: Carolina Ingalls, mother to beloved author Laura Ingalls Wilder, was born in Brookfield in 1839.

1. Superior

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 329
  • Commute Time: 14.9 minutes
  • Income: $41,144
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No College: 26%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 269 inhabitants

You'd be hard-pressed to find a city more aptly named than Superior. Located on the western edge of Lake Superior, this city of just under 27,000 is a major transportation hub, with the Duluth-Superior port accounting for a significant share of the workforce. As an added bonus, residents here enjoy the shortest average commute - just 14.9 minutes - of any city on our list. Median incomes are past the $41,000 mark and the violent crime rate is below the national average. While you'll find high-end dining options, locals also prefer more low-key spots like The Shack and Gronk's Grill & Bar.

Did You Know: One of Superior's main tourist attractions is the S.S. Meteor, the world's last intact above-water Whaleback freighter ship.

If you're looking for a place where the people are friendly, the winters are cold and the bratwurst is hot, Wisconsin belongs at the top of your list. Whether you're an arts enthusiast or your prefer the great outdoors, there's plenty here to keep you busy, and the low cost of living is particularly great if you're raising a family or enjoying retirement. Each city in our rankings is different from the next but their individuality is what makes them all great places to live.

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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