Updated November 30, 2013

Study: Best Cities to Work, Play, and Sleep Easy

The Best Cities to Live: Where You Can Work, Play, Sleep Easy
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Looking for a new place to live? While you want job opportunities wherever you settle next, you also want things to do and peace of mind. We've crunched the numbers to find the top 10 cities for living the contented life based on metrics relating to work, play, and sleep. Read on to find out which cities made the list.

Study Methodology

  1. Work: Unemployment Rate
  2. Play: Entertainment Attractions Per Thousand Residents
  3. Sleep: Total Crime Per Thousand Residents

Whether you’re looking for a change of scenery or want to reevaluate where you call home, you need an area where you aren’t restricted by lack of employment opportunities. You want to live in a place where jobs are plenty. Using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ unemployment numbers from April 2013, we found that the average unemployment rate for our top 10 cities is just 5.4%, compared to 7.1% nationwide. This means you should have more luck finding a new job in these metropolitan areas than other places.

Next we looked at a “play” metric: We compared the number of arts and entertainment establishments from the U.S. Census Bureau to the city’s population to see which areas are having the most fun.

Finally, we wanted find places where residents can feel safe and sleep peacefully. We used preliminary FBI data for 2012 to find the total crime per thousand residents. Less crime means less worry for you.

#1. Virginia Beach, VA

Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach, Virginia

  • Unemployment Rate: 5.4%
  • Entertainment Attractions Per Thousand Residents: 1.2
  • Total Crime Per Thousand Residents: 27.8

Coming in first place, Virginia Beach’s large military presence and corresponding support industries keep unemployment low. It also ranks high in entertainment, and it has the gorgeous Atlantic Coast – what more do you need? Amerigroup and Christian Broadcasting Network are headquartered here, and the broader Hampton Roads region is also home to Smithfield Foods, Norfolk Southern, Dollar Tree, and Huntington Ingalls – all members of the Fortune 500. Kick off your summer at the annual Neptune Festival, which draws over half a million participants each June. The American Music Festival is also a popular event, which concludes with the famous Rock and Roll Half Marathon.

#2. Richmond, VA

Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia

  • Unemployment Rate: 5.4%
  • Entertainment Attractions Per Thousand Residents: 2.2
  • Total Crime Per Thousand Residents: 50.3

Though historically the capital of the South, Richmond today thrives as a modern city. With low unemployment and a wide range of entertainment choices, it’s an ideal city for both work and play. Six Fortune 500 companies call Richmond home, including CarMax, Dominion Resources, and Genworth Financial. Richmond also hosts a growing number of annual festivals, including the Folk Festival, River Rock, and most recently, the Bacon Festival. Also be sure to stroll down Monument Avenue and view the city’s most prominent houses and statues – it’s one of the nation’s “10 great streets,” according to the American Planning Association.

Graduating college soon? Check out why Richmond is one of the best cities for college grads.

#3. New Orleans, LA

New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Unemployment Rate: 6.2%
  • Entertainment Attractions Per Thousand Residents: 1.2
  • Total Crime Per Thousand Residents: 45.9

With relatively low unemployment and tons of entertainment, New Orleans is by far best known for its annual Mardi Gras celebration. But there’s plenty to do in the city year round, including several jazz and music festivals. Also be sure to taste some of New Orleans’ signature cuisine; from jambalaya to beignets, there is something for everyone’s palate in the Big Easy. Overshadowing New Orleans’ high ranking on our list is the fact it does have a very high murder rate; however, its overall crime rate has been remarkably low in recent times.

Want an affordable pint? Check out why New Orleans is #2 on the best cities for beer lovers.

#4. Boston, MA

Boston, Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts

  • Unemployment Rate: 5.7%
  • Entertainment Attractions Per Thousand Residents: 0.4
  • Total Crime Per Thousand Residents: 37.5

There’s no doubt that Boston is a world-class city, so if you prefer a bustling metropolis, then this may be the place for you. With surprisingly low crime for such a large city (it ranked 18th out of the 83 U.S. cities we reviewed), Boston is where history meets modern innovation. Visit important landmarks from the American Revolution one day, and the next you can tour some of the nation’s top universities, including Harvard and MIT in nearby Cambridge.

#5. San Jose, CA

San Jose, California
San Jose, California

  • Unemployment Rate: 6.6%
  • Entertainment Attractions Per Thousand Residents: 0.5
  • Total Crime Per Thousand Residents: 32.8

Considered the capital of Silicon Valley, San Jose offers a myriad of employment opportunities, particularly for those in the tech industry. Major employers include Cisco, IBM, eBay, and Adobe. But there’s more to do in San Jose besides go to work. Be sure to check out History Park, the Tech Museum of Innovation, and the Lick Observatory. You can also take advantage of the city’s 53-mile trail network for walking and cycling.

Tired of waiting at the airport? Did you know SJC ranks #1 on the best time-saving airports?

#6. Nashville, TN

Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee

  • Unemployment Rate: 6.4%
  • Entertainment Attractions Per Thousand Residents: 1.7
  • Total Crime Per Thousand Residents: 54.0

Another music-centric Southern city, Nashville’s music industry accounts for 19,000 jobs within the area. Other major employers include Nissan, Walmart, Cracker Barrel, and Dell. The Grand Ole Opry calls Nashville home, as does the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Civil War buffs will appreciate several battle sites and plantations that have been preserved, and the city also plays host to the Tennessee State Fair. So, grab your cowboy boots and get ready to eat some deep-fried Twinkies in Music City.

Have a young family? Did you know Nashville ranks #5 on the best cities for young families?

#7. Austin, TX

Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas

  • Unemployment Rate: 5.1%
  • Entertainment Attractions Per Thousand Residents: 0.8
  • Total Crime Per Thousand Residents: 56.3

Though Austin has the highest crime rate in our top 10, it also has one of the lowest unemployment rates, coming in at two full points below the national average. As the capital of Texas, both state and federal government jobs are plentiful, with the University of Texas at Austin also serving as a major employer. Whole Foods is headquartered in Austin, and other major companies have offices here, including Facebook, Electronic Arts, Intel, and Samsung. Austin isn’t just run by a bunch of corporations, though; a local “Keep Austin Weird” campaign promotes the city’s beloved quirkiness. From food trucks to the South by Southwest music and film festival, Austin truly has maintained a unique, diverse atmosphere while sustaining a strong economy.

Want to start a business? Read here to see why Austin is the #1 best city to start a business.

#8. Raleigh, NC

Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh, North Carolina

  • Unemployment Rate: 6.8%
  • Entertainment Attractions Per Thousand Residents: 0.9
  • Total Crime Per Thousand Residents: 37.0

Though Raleigh’s unemployment rate is just a few percentage points above the national average, crime per capita is extremely low. As one of three North Carolina cities comprising the Research Triangle region, Raleigh is home to a number of major corporations, such as software company Red Hat, Carquest, and Martin Marietta Materials. Major music acts regularly perform at the city’s Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek, and the North Carolina Museum of Art has an extensive permanent collection and also hosts world-class traveling exhibits.

Want to strike it rich? Did you know Raleigh is one of the top 10 best cities to get rich?

#9. Jacksonville, FL

Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida

  • Unemployment Rate: 6.3%
  • Entertainment Attractions Per Thousand Residents: 0.5
  • Total Crime Per Thousand Residents: 47.4

Located on the Atlantic Ocean with the St. John’s River running through the city, Jacksonville serves as one of the largest ports on the East Coast. This designation plays a role in Jacksonville’s diverse economy, which includes major players in the manufacturing, healthcare, biomedical, insurance, and financial services industries. Art lovers will appreciate the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, which contains a variety of international pieces, in addition to over two acres of European-inspired gardens. The city also has family-friendly attractions, such as the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, and Adventure Landing, an amusement and water park.

#10. New York, NY

New York, New York
New York, New York

  • Unemployment Rate: 7.5%
  • Entertainment Attractions Per Thousand Residents: 0.6
  • Total Crime Per Thousand Residents: 23.6

What better way to end our top 10 than with the Big Apple? As the country’s largest city, there’s no doubt that there’s always something to do in the City that Never Sleeps. From Broadway to the Statue of Liberty, New York is ripe with culture, art, theatre, and food. Though the MSA unemployment rate is slightly above the national average, it is on the downward trend from previous months, painting a positive portrait for the city’s future.

Want to live without a car? Did you know New York is the #1 best city to live car free?

Though no Midwestern cities made the top 10 list, they came close. Minneapolis and Oklahoma City ranked 14 and 15, respectively, so if you prefer safe, budget-friendly cities in the Midwest, those may be good options for you. It’s also worth noting that the data used for this study included both metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) and city-specific numbers. The largest city in each MSA was highlighted for the list above. For more ideas on the best places to live and start or continue a career, see our lists for Best Cities for Young Professionals and Best Cities for Innovation.


  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • U.S. Census Bureau, County Business Patterns
  • FBI Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report

Lauren Ward is a research analyst at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Lauren Ward at lauren@creditdonkey.com

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