- Southlake, TX, emerges as the best location for Americans seeking an urban feel within a suburban context thanks to its bounty of community features and optimal housing
- The best suburbs tend to attract high-earning residents, with incomes in the top 20 best suburbs (approx. $139K on avg.) approaching double the overall average suburban income (approx. $76K)
- Chicagoland stands out as the metropolitan area with the most top-100 suburbs for city-like living, followed by the New York and Los Angeles metro areas
Suburbs haven’t always been able to fully compete with cities in terms of lifestyle offerings. But many of today’s ‘suburbia cities’ and towns can. Expectations have shifted in recent years and many of those who eye the suburbs as their next place to call home want more than your usual bedroom community. Most often, people seek a bouquet of features in their relocation choices including quality housing, shopping and entertainment options, safety and job opportunities. It’s precisely these needs that spurred a great deal of suburban development over the last decade and have driven a makeover of the American suburb.
It’s true, however, that there are significant differences from one place to another, with many suburbs looking impressive in terms of providing a well-rounded, amenity-rich living experience. This begs the question: Which places can offer the perks of suburban living while also enabling city-like lifestyles?
To find out which suburbs best strike a balance between the sought-after suburban atmosphere and the benefits of big-city living, we started out with a list of approx. 1,000 suburbs, located near the 100 largest metro areas for which data was available. For the purposes of this study, suburbs are considered to be places with a population between 10,000 and 100,000 inhabitants. We ranked them against a set of criteria, including:
- The local median household income
- Housing affordability index, an indicator that shows the local housing cost – both rents and home values – related to income
- Local employment opportunities (businesses/1,000 people) and their corresponding average wage
- Population density measured as people per square mile
- The number of retail stores and restaurants per 1,000 of the local population
- Park and recreation area square footage per capita
- Public schools ranking
- Crime rate, defined as offenses known to law enforcement as a percentage of the population
- The availability of self storage as it’s a service most likely associated with moving
The Dallas metro area leads the way in offering top-notch suburban lifestyles
Access to quality housing and good schools, plus street safety, have always featured in the picture of the quintessential suburb. But there’s now much more to suburban living aside from the traditional appeal. The suburban landscape went through significant revamping in some places, adding diversity to the local housing stock, including upscale rental apartments, highly sought-after amenities such as restaurants and entertainment venues, shopping options as well as jobs within easy reach.
This shift in community design resulted in a massive population growth, a trend known as suburbanization. Suburban appeal grew even more as the WFH era started ramping up in 2020. No longer tethered to an on-site job location, a lot of Americans left crowded city cores, lured by the more relaxed suburban surroundings, quieter streets and homes with bigger yards.
Perhaps less surprisingly, the quality of the suburbs is both a cause and a consequence of affluence. Some of the best suburbs are places where people bring home the fattest paychecks, which in turn helps to support the premier lifestyles that suburbs are currently able to offer. When looking strictly at the 20 best places to live – the suburbs that offer the best mix of lifestyle and housing options – the average household income is roughly $139,000, 82% more than the average income of the typical suburban household ($76,250).
Out of the 1,030 suburbs we considered, Dallas’s Southlake emerges as the best suburb for amenity-rich living thanks to a combination of features such as good schools plus access to restaurants, stores and health care facilities. Besides Southlake, Dallas also claims five other places featured in the top 100 best suburbs.
Southlake is in fact one of the most prosperous suburban communities in the country, with households earning about $240,200/year. Living here means you get the best of both worlds: the space, safe streets and good schools traditionally associated with suburban living, plus an excellent mix of lifestyle-oriented amenities. The community is rich in shopping and dining options that cater to all tastes and budgets. There are about 6.5 retail stores per 1,000 locals, twice as many as you’d find in the average suburb. Southlake also fares well in terms of dining spots, with about 3.8 restaurants for every 1,000 residents. Besides these types of features, Southlake is also a great place for families with children. The public school system is one of the best rated in the nation, with two Southlake elementary schools making it into the list of best schools in Texas.
Additionally, locals have access to about 10 health care and social assistance establishments per 1,000 persons, with Texas Health Southlake offering premier care. The community has a lot to offer in the way of outdoor recreation too. You can visit the Bob Jones Nature Center & Preserve or you can take advantage of the 20 miles of hiking trails that the area offers to get your fill of nature. But how much recreational space is there really? To put it in perspective, Southlake, TX, offers about 577 square feet of park space per person.
The Chicago metro area claims the most locations featured in the best 100 suburbs ranking, with nine of them clustered in the north and northwestern regions. Lake Forest, IL, is the best suburb in the Prairie State and the 2nd highest ranked in the national list. Living in Lake Forest offers a welcome break if you’re looking for an alternative to the crowded streets of the City of Chicago while still enjoying an active lifestyle. There are 3.5 shopping venues per 1,000 residents in Lake Forest. Additionally, the vast area of green spaces is part of Lake Forest’s charm, and for good reason too. The Lake Forest Open Lands Association has been dedicated to land conservation for close to half a century. The organization has secured access to 700 acres of land, which are open to the public. In fact, there are over 1,400 square feet of park space per capita in Lake Forest – more than triple the national suburban average (430 sq. ft./capita).
Essentially, Lake Forest is an ideal place to put down roots and raise children. Children have access to stellar education here as Lake Forest boasts one of the best schools in the nation, as indicated by its high test scores and low student-to-teacher ratio. Local homes are known for their impressive historic architecture, with sprawling mansions catering to a relatively affluent client base. The typical household earns around $172,100/year.
Bolstered by a strong mix of city-like features, Highland Park, IL, another Chicago suburb, is the third-placed hotspot on the best US suburbs list. Not only are Highland Park locals boasting high earnings (ca. $150,000/year/household), but they also enjoy relaxed surroundings with low population density (2,420 people/sq. mi.). There are also local opportunities for jobs, with about 57 businesses available per 1,000 residents. Highland Park residents could also earn close to $72,000 annually when employed locally.
Moreover, Highland Park offers a good mix of community amenities, including easy access to shops, restaurants, highly rated schools and a low crime rate (0.8%). When correlated with population, Highland Park’s amenities stand out, with about 5 retail stores per 1,000 residents. Besides ranking highly nationally, Highland Park ranks fifth among the best Illinois schools in 2021. There is ample opportunity for outdoor entertainment here, with about 500 square feet of park space available per person. The top-notch five-mile stretch of beach by Lake Michigan, plus parks and festivals, create a place full of energy that over 30,000 residents call home.
Another great destination if you’re looking to move, Burr Ridge, IL, features both lifestyle-centered amenities and proximity to the city of Chicago. Just half an hour away from the Windy City, Burr Ridge is also one of the wealthiest communities in the country, with the median household income inching close to $160,000/year.
The area’s recent appeal has resulted in a competitive housing market, with real estate prices shooting up since the pandemic-induced flight to the suburbs. “Home prices in Burr Ridge, Illinois, increased by 20% on average,” said Kheir Al-Kodmany, Professor at the University of Illinois Chicago. “After a constant decrease in home prices in this suburb for the past 4-5 years, the prices shot up surprisingly last year.”
“Despite the aging housing stock in that area, demand was increased. Houses that sat on the market for several years were sold largely last summer,” Professor Kheir Al-Kodmany added. “Taking advantage of the favorable climate, some homeowners remodeled their homes quickly and put them on the market asking for high prices — some were sold at unusual prices.”
As it’s one of the places around Chicago with open land for property development, local businesses are also on the rise. In fact, there are about 50 businesses per 1,000 residents and you’d earn over $64,000/year if you work within the community. Besides excellent schooling and low population density, Burr Ridge is a special place thanks to the diverse palette of activities and amenities it offers. It’s home to about 3.8 stores and about 1.9 restaurants per 1,000 residents. The rolling hills of this suburb, a vestige of last ice age, create an excellent context for enjoying the outdoors. As it happens, Burr Ridge offers about 480 square feet of park space per person. When it comes to access to medical care, Burr Ridge scores very well thanks to the presence of 6.8 health care facilities per 1,000 residents.
Oakland, NJ, joins a total of 14 high-performing locations from the New York metro area that made it into our top 100 best suburbs. If you live here, you get a refreshing experience in a less pricey setting than the other neighboring towns in the northwest of Bergen County. The suburb’s proximity to NYC might make it an attractive place to move to, especially if you work in the Big Apple. Besides getting more elbow room as compared to NYC, Oakland shines brightly thanks to its high-earning households ($126,300/year). If you decide to ditch the commute, you can find employment within the community, with about 60 businesses available per 1,000 residents. Moreover, you’d get one of the highest suburban wages in the country (ca. $89,000/year) when working in Oakland.
There are about 3.3 shopping venues per 1,000 people in Oakland. If you’re looking for a dining spot, Oakland is sure to deliver: There are about 2.4 restaurants per 1,000 people. From comfort food to ethnic cuisines, there is an option for every taste in Oakland.
Moreover, school quality is also notable here as public schools test above the average. Consequently, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Oakland is listed as one of the best places to raise children in the state of New Jersey. Specifically, both local high schools offer honors-level college preparatory programs to help support the success of their students.
Garden City, NY, is another excellent NY metro community that affords you a break from the great metropolis, without leaving the perks of city living behind. The Long Island suburb spreads out over only 5.3 square miles and is a place full of character. However, moving here from the Big Apple is sure to provide great value in terms of access to suburban perks such as street safety and good schools. Moreover, you are likely to get invited to a cocktail party for new residents – which takes place twice a year – organized by the Welcoming Club. Garden City is also home to one of the most affluent communities in the US, with the typical household earning close to $175,000/year, much higher than the New York City average of $63,000/year. You are also likely to find a job in Garden City, with 57 businesses/1,000 people operating in the suburb.
Local schools are some of the best ones in the state of New York, which makes Garden City attractive to families. In fact, Garden City High School was ranked as one of the best high schools in New York in 2020. For your shopping needs and more, Franklin Avenue is the place to be. Garden City has one of the largest number of retails stores (11 stores/1,000 people) in the country, more than triple the national suburban average (3.2 stores/1,000 people). As far as the restaurant scene is concerned, Garden City boasts one of the largest availabilities of dining spots correlated with population (4.5/1,000 people). They offer a blend of New England cooking but also cuisines from all around the world. Access to health care is also one of the perks of living here, with about 8.5 health care facilities available per 1,000 Garden City residents.
Orbiting around Tennessee’s “Music City,” Brentwood offers suburban living with a wealth of amenities. A relatively new suburb – incorporated in 1969 – Brentwood started off as a bedroom community for Nashville, with farms and country estate converting to single-family houses. If you live here, you’re likely to rub shoulders with country music stars and athletes. The area is not cheap, but local earnings balance the high cost of living. The Brentwood median household income hovers around a lofty $169,000/year. The retail sector caters to varied tastes and there are plenty of options for going out, with the restaurant scene flourishing lately, from fast food to fine dining. In plain numbers, there are 2.4 restaurants and 3.5 shopping venues per 1,000 residents in Brentwood.
Additionally, Brentwood is an ideal community to raise children in. Schools rank high nationally and the crime rate is low (0.97%). The suburb’s vast system of parks and trails – offering almost 1,000 square feet of park space per person – makes it ideal as a place where you can enjoy the outdoors. Another place where Brentwood truly shines is the public library, featured on Livability’s 10 best children’s libraries list nationally.
One of the most sought-after snowbirding destinations, Venice, FL, about half an hour away from Sarasota, also stands out as a place that provides a high living standard. Even though many people flock here during the colder months for obvious reasons, the location is still not a crowded place overall, which is a perk for people looking to live in a more relaxed setting.
Venice, FL, is quite exceptional for its local employment market, claiming the second highest concentration of local businesses on our list (73 businesses/1,000 people). Tourism, marketing, international trade and health care are some of the most prevalent industries. Moreover, the suburb is not short of community features, with about 5.3 retail stores per 1,000 locals. You can purchase many things locally in grocery stores, souvenir boutiques, quaint antique shops and other places. You’re in luck if dining out is one of your priorities when searching for a coastal community to live in. This Floridian suburb boasts about 2.7 restaurants/1,000 people. You can enjoy a variety of cuisines including Italian (Trattoria Da Mino), Mexican (Mi Pueblo), seafood (Cedar Reef Fish Camp) and others. Besides having its own symphony orchestra, the suburb is also home to Venice Theater, the country’s largest community theater in terms of the population it serves.
Additionally, the suburb is also a place where you can relax in nature. You have access to world-class white-sand beaches and various hiking and biking trails in nearby parks. Legacy Trail, Myakka River State Park and Oscar Scherer State are just some of the parks that provide recreation opportunities for both locals and visitors. There are about 880 square feet of park space available in Venice, FL, more than twice as much space as you’d find in your typical suburb. For any medical concerns, Venice, FL, is well equipped to respond to its residents, as there are about 5.7 health care facilities/1,000 people in the area. Venice Regional Bayfront Health, Gulf Coast Medical Group and Venice Regional Medical Center offer extensive care.
Deeply connected to the ascent of Hollywood, Agoura Hills, CA, is so much more than a bedroom community for LA and the Thousand Oaks area. Nestled in the heart of the Conejo Valley, Agoura Hills attracts many people who work in the film industry. When you move here, you can choose from various high-end residences that include large ranch homes or estate homes and also cottages, condos or townhouses – all spread throughout 15 different neighborhoods. An affluent community, more than half of the Agoura Hills’ households earn about $123,000/year. Moreover, the community is rich in local employment opportunities. In fact, there are 72 local businesses/1,000 people in Agoura Hills, one of the highest numbers of businesses per population. And it pays off to work locally, as you can earn an average of about $71,000/year.
Agoura Hills is home to the highly regarded Las Virgenes Unified School District, ranked as one of the best school districts in the country. Besides having access to top-notch education for your children, you’re also close to the major shopping hubs of Calabasas, Thousand Oaks and Los Angeles. Locally, there are 3.9 retail stores and 2.8 restaurants per 1,000 Agoura Hills residents.
Moreover, spending time outdoors is easy and pleasant here. You have access to parks, hiking trails and recreational areas – all set against the scenic backdrop of the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills. Agoura Hills boasts over 1,200 square feet of park space per resident.
In response to the growing expectation for improved living standards, the suburbs have polished their overall offerings. Consequently, the race for which suburbs best marry the traditional advantages of suburbia with big city attractions has tightened. Interestingly, the state of Illinois has the highest representation of well-performing suburbs, with 21 places featured in the top 100 locations for combined suburban and urban living, followed by California (19 suburbs) and New Jersey (10 suburbs). Texas, which gave us the very best location in our list, trails behind with 7 suburbs featured in the same top 100. With suburbs undergoing an era of growth, the future is likely to spell good news for the typical suburban resident, as the suburban design will probably continue to incorporate a bounty of features that fit a well-rounded living experience.
What the experts are saying
Kheir Al-Kodmany, Professor, University of Illinois Chicago, College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs
What’s drawing people to the suburbs?
With the advent of COVID-19, the American suburbs have seen a renewed interest. After witnessing a generational shift that favors urban living, we see people interested in low-density living again. Applying social distancing and practicing teleworking have demanded larger living spaces and promoted low-density suburban living.
Has buyers’ perception of suburban living changed in any way recently?
Suburban real estate data reveals a considerable increase in suburban home sales and prices. For example, home prices in Burr Ridge, Illinois were increased by 20% on average. After a constant decrease in home prices in this suburb for the past 4-5 years, the prices shot up surprisingly last year. Despite the aging housing stock in that area, demand was increased. Houses that sat on the market for several years were sold largely last summer. Taking advantage of the favorable climate, some homeowners remodeled their homes quickly and put them on the market asking for high prices — some were sold at unusual prices. However, history has taught us that the suburban market in the U.S. goes into cycles, i.e., demand and prices always go up and down. As such, it is expected that post-pandemic the demand for suburbs will decrease and prices of suburban homes will decrease as well.
Stephan Schmidt, Associate Professor, Cornell University, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning
In which direction is suburban living headed?
Although the short term has seen a lot of pandemic-related outmigration to the suburbs as urbanites seek larger homes with more space (thereby driving up sale prices), the longer-term shift in American suburbs has been one of transition, and many (particularly inner-ring suburbs) are coming to represent the urban core demographically, economically, and politically. While this means an aging housing stock, greater poverty and increasing income inequality, it also means greater demographic diversity, walkable mixed-use development, higher densities with more transportation options, and better urban design and public space provision.
Municipalities are responding by increasingly removing the R1 designation (detached single-use residential zoning), making space for accessory dwelling units, multi-family development, and higher densities that are a better fit for the changing demographic landscape (aging population, more diverse family structures, intergenerational living arrangements) and can better address housing affordability concerns, particularly of younger people. The single-use zoned, demographically homogenous and politically conservative suburbs of yesteryear are rapidly disappearing, replaced by much more diverse, heterogeneous, and ultimately sustainable places.
This analysis was done by StorageCafe, an online platform that provides storage unit listings across the nation.
To determine the best suburbs that offer the best urban and suburban living combined, we ranked 1,030 suburbs concentrated around the 100 largest metro areas. For the purpose of our study, a suburb was considered to be a place located within a large metro area with a population between 10,000 and 100,000 inhabitants. Our ranking is based on the suburbs’ overall scores from 1 to 100. Overall scores represent an average of all the suburb’s weighted scores based on the 13 metrics presented below.
When calculating the number of retail stores, restaurants and health care and social assistance establishments related to population, we turned to the U.S. Census and made estimates based on ZIP Code data.
To assess the quality of schools, we created a ranking based on standardized tests results, number of public schools per 1,000 locals under 18 and the student-to-teacher ratio.
The data on self storage costs was taken from Yardi Matrix, StorageCafe‘s sister division and a business development and asset management tool for brokers, sponsors, banks and equity sources underwriting investments in the multifamily, office, industrial and self storage sectors.
Fair use and distribution
This study serves as a resource for the general public on issues of common interest and should not be regarded as investment advice. The data is true to the best of our knowledge but may change if amendments to it are made. We agree to the distribution of this content but we do require a mention in return for attribution purposes.