9 Great Off-the-Beaten-Path Towns
Where You Should Live

By: House Method Buying a home

We here at House Method really love to uncover hidden gems, underrated spots, unsung heroes. There are so many great American towns and cities that fly under the radar but really deserve a closer look. More and more of us are choosing to migrate away from the suburbs, but as the cost of living in large urban epicenters increases, smaller cities like our hometown of Raleigh and its surrounding towns are gaining an edge over the New Yorks and Chicagos of the world.

When creating our list, we took into consideration a few factors:

  • Unemployment rate: We looked at unemployment rate as an indicator of job market and economic health. You’ve got to have a job, after all.
  • Job availability: For each town, we looked at the largest employers in the area to better understand the sustainability of the unemployment rate.
  • Proximity to urban area: Because more and more Americans are choosing to live in or around cities because of the lifestyles, jobs, and activity they offer, we chose small cities or towns nearby.
  • Population growth: You’ll notice that many on our list have rising populations. This is often an indicator that this place is doing something right. When populations rise, you see new construction and new economic growth.
  • Appealing area: We wanted to find areas that offer appealing draws like colleges and universities, good hospitals, arts and culture, historic attractions, and outdoor activities.

We pulled median home value/price from Zillow, average rental price from RENTCafe, unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and public school score from Niche.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Delaware, Ohio

Median home price: $222,300

Average two-bedroom rental price: $928

Unemployment rate: 3.2%

Public school score: B+

Just 30 miles north of Columbus, Delaware, Ohio, is home to a strong economy and a cool real estate market.

Professional and business services make up the largest employment sector in Delaware County (23.85%), followed by leisure and hospitality (15.4%). The largest private sector employers in Delaware County are JPMorgan Chase, Kroger, and DHL. You’ll also find many residents employed in the manufacturing sector.

Delaware County is the fastest growing county in Ohio according to the Delaware County Visitors Bureau. The historic Northwest District in Delaware city is known for its charming historic district, which includes an Italianate courthouse, and a residential section full of architectural beauty. Find Greek Revival, Second Empire, and English Gothic homes along West Winter Street.

Delaware, Ohio, is an ideal spot for water sports lovers. Despite the fact that it’s smack in the center of the state, Delaware boasts 140 miles of shoreline along rivers, creeks, lakes, and reservoirs. Explore Alum Creek State Park and Delaware State Park for water sports, picnicking, and hiking, or spend the afternoon at Deer Haven Nature Preserve for a nature walk.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Fair Lawn, New Jersey

Median home price: $476,100

Average two-bedroom rental price: $1,883

Unemployment rate: 3.4%

Public school score: A+

Fair Lawn’s residential real estate is competitively priced in comparison to other towns within Berden County, and its proximity to New York City with easy public transit access make it a great option for those who want to work in the city but escape to the suburbs at the end of the day.

Fair Lawn’s excellent public school system, proximity to major metropolitan centers, and easy access to transit and hospitals have made this town a magnet for immigrants. The 2012 Census showed increases in Asian Indian, Filipino American, Chinese American, Vietnamese American, and Korean American populations in Fair Lawn. Diverse of countries of origin also make for diverse religious affiliations as well—you’ll find Korean churches, Armenian churches, as well as Catholic and Muslim congregations.

Nabisco/Mondelĕz International is the area’s largest employer and Columbia Bank (New Jersey) has its headquarters in Fair Lawn, but at one hour by car and 45 minutes by public transit to New York City, the employment opportunities for Fair Lawn residents are hardly limited.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Ames, Iowa

Median home value: $180,700

Average two-bedroom rental price: $962

Unemployment rate: 1.5%

Public school score: A+

Ames, Iowa, has a long list of accolades and awards. In 2015, Bloomberg Business named Ames one of 15 cities that have done the best since the recession, an award that factors unemployment, number of jobs, and wages. NerdWallet named Ames one of the best places for STEM grads and USA Today called the town the healthiest in the state.

This small town boasts an incredibly low unemployment rate—just 1.5%—and the lowest on our list. Ames’ largest employers include Iowa State University, Mary Greeley Medical Center, and the City of Ames.

It’s also worth noting is Ames’ commitment to clean energy solutions. In 2016, the Ames Municipal Power Plant completed a $36 million conversion from a coal-burning operation to natural gas, which cut the city’s carbon footprint by 40%.

The Ames Laboratory created the Critical Materials Institute in 2013 to rapidly address shortages of materials that might slow down the success of clean energy technologies, like hybrid vehicles and wind power generation, and to find new ways to recycle and reuse those power-generating materials.

Arts and culture enthusiasts will find plenty to love in Ames. The Brunnier Art Museum, whose collection includes decorative arts, prints, sculptures, and textiles. Art lovers can also explore The Christian Petersen Art Museum on the campus of Iowa State, The Boone County Historic Museum, and The Stephens Auditorium.

Burlington, Vermont

Median home value: $299,700

Average two-bedroom rental price: $1,640

Unemployment rate: 2.1%

Public school score: A–

Located on the shores of beautiful Lake Champlain, Burlington is Vermont’s most populous city, and in 2015, became the very first city in the US to run completely on renewable energy.

The largest employers in Burlington include the University of Vermont Medical Center and tech company IBM. The University of Vermont, Burlington College, and Champlain College are also located in Burlington. Fifty-one percent of Burlington residents hold a bachelor’s or postgraduate degree—that’s more than twice the national percentage.

Burlington is known for its local independent music scene, its architecturally beautiful downtown,  and yes, its claim to fame as the birthplace of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Its proximity to Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks make it a great home for those who love the outdoors or even just a quick weekend getaway.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Hillsborough, North Carolina

Median home value: $246,400

Average two-bedroom rental price: $1,049

Unemployment rate: 3.8% (nearby Durham, NC)

Public school score: A

Hillsborough, North Carolina, offers all the small town charm you might want in a southern town with all the economic opportunity you would want from a city—or three.

Just 12 miles away from Chapel Hill and Durham and 40 miles from the quickly growing state capital of Raleigh, Hillsborough offers a quiet residential alternative to the congestion of the Triangle cities, yet is still well within commuting distance to all three city centers, the Research Triangle Park, and universities like Duke, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University.  

North Carolina’s Triangle (comprising Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill) is known for its wealth of universities, highly educated workforce, world-class restaurants, and jobs in sectors like technology, medical research, government, and finance.

Hillsborough is home to a number of small art galleries that showcase the best of the region’s artists and culture. The town, which was founded in 1754, has been called an “open air museum” on account of its number of historic homes, many of which can be toured today.

Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy fishing, hiking, and kayaking on the Eno River, sports spectators can take in a game at the Triangle Area Polo Club, and wine lovers can visit Botanist & Barrel Winery and Tasting Room and taste wines and ciders made from locally grown blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, peaches, and apples.

And if you just need to get out of town, Hillsborough’s central location affords easy drives to both the North Carolina coast and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Image via Visit St. George

St. George, Utah

Median home value: $281,300

Average two-bedroom rental price: $1,193

Unemployment rate: 3.4%

Public school score: B+

St. George, Utah, is another on our list whose population is on the rise. St. George’s population is up nearly 20% over the last seven years, and USA Today has named it one of the fastest growing cities in the States.

Not only can residents take advantage of nearby national parks (Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park), these attractions facilitate a large part of the local tourism economy. SkyWest Airlines is headquartered here and Walmart and Family Dollar both have distribution centers in St. George. You’ll also find many St. George residents employed in the education and healthcare sectors.

St. George’s outdoor attractions are truly endless—horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking, rock climbing, biking, hot air ballooning, ATV riding, motocross, Jeep off-roading, skydiving, and even water sports are all readily available in this quickly growing small town. St. George is also an ideal location for golf lovers, with 11 golf courses along the 40-mile Red Rock Golf Trail.

Midland, Texas

Median home value: $226,200

Average two-bedroom rental price: $1,463

Unemployment rate: 2.9%

Public school score: B

Midland, Texas, has made quite a ripple in the press in 2018 for its unprecedented economic growth and robust recovery from the Recession. Unemployment is low and consumer activity is high in this booming oil town.

Midland’s largest employers include Saulsbury Companies (construction and engineering), Halliburton and Keane Group (oil and gas), and the Odessa Regional Medical Center.

Midland marks the halfway point between El Paso and Fort Worth. Midland is home to Midland College and Texas Tech University’s physician assistant program. Midland is known for its Tex-Mex and barbecue food scene. Local attractions include the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, the Museum of the Southwest, and the Sibley Nature Center. Sports lovers can check out a baseball game at the Scharbauer Sports Complex or even a rodeo at the Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo in true Texas style.

Photo via visiteauclaire.com

Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Median home value: $161,700

Average two-bedroom rental price: $832

Unemployment rate: 2.4%

Public school score: B+

This is by far the most spirited and quirky town to make our list. This small Wisconsin city boasts high-paying jobs, a great university, a low unemployment rate, and a very low cost of living.

Eau Claire’s biggest employers include Menard, Inc., Mayo Clinic, Sacred Heart Hospital, and United Healthcare, but you’ll also find this town bustling with young artsy energy from students at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire.

Known for its independent and artistic spirit, Eau Claire is a haven or creatives, entrepreneurs, and lovers of community. Music enthusiasts will love Eau Claire’s festival scene, which includes the Eau Claire Jazz Festival, Blue Ox, Country Jam USA, and Rock Fest. Expect to find food trucks, great breweries—like Modicum, Lazy Monk, and Leinenkugel’s (just down the road in Chippewa Falls). If you’re looking for a place where you can find an eclectic community and dig in, Eau Claire is the spot for you.

Outdoor enthusiasts will be pleased to learn that the city sits between the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers, so there are always plenty of river activities to be enjoyed. Visitors can enjoy chic hotels like The Oxbow Hotel and The Lismore.

Photo by William Sherman

Frederick, Maryland

Median home value: $278,200

Average two-bedroom rental price: $1,322

Unemployment rate: 4.2%

Public school score: A

Simply put, Frederick is beautiful. Its downtown, full of historic church spires and antique charm, is home to a lively arts scene and delightful little eateries. Nineteenth-century row homes line the walkable streets that are dappled with coffee shops and art galleries and antique shops. In the evenings, you’ll find residents and visitors strolling the creek along Linear Park or having a drink at a sidewalk cafe.

Just a short drive outside of downtown will take you through bucolic, rolling pastureland, and beyond that you’ll find beautiful views and hiking trails in Cunningham Falls and Gambrill State Parks.Design enthusiasts will enjoy the The Schifferstadt Architectural Museum, whose structures date back to 1758 and exhibit the best examples of early Colonial German architecture in the country

Design enthusiasts will enjoy the The Schifferstadt Architectural Museum, whose structures date back to 1758 and exhibit some of the best examples of early Colonial German architecture in the country.

Frederick’s largest employer is nearby Army base Fort Detrick, but more jobs can be found in medicine and research at Frederick’s hospital system and Leidos Biomedical Research. Frederick is equidistant from both Baltimore and Washington, DC, (just an hour by car) and public transit friendly to both, so employment opportunities are anything but limited.


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