Aerial view of Charlotte, NC.

Best Places To Live In North Carolina

David Collins14-Minute Read
UPDATED: February 22, 2023

Whether you want oceanfront views of the Atlantic, bustling nightlife or a gorgeous sunset over the Appalachian Mountains, North Carolina has got you covered. This variety could be why the Tar Heel State has experienced such a surge in popularity over the last decade, with over 900,000 new residents since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

To help narrow things down, we're looking at some of the best places to live in North Carolina. Whatever’s important to you – affordability, career growth or family – these cities can fit any adventures your future may hold. 

10 Best Cities To Live In North Carolina

Peaceful pier in Lake Norman, NC.

When deciding where to live in North Carolina, most people think first of larger cities like Charlotte and Raleigh. These are great places to live, of course, but when considering a broad array of quality-of-life factors, we’ve found that some of the best places to live in North Carolina are smaller towns that offer a perfect balance of low crime, economic opportunity and affordability. Known for its friendly people, diverse economy and family-friendly communities, North Carolina is attracting new residents from around the U.S. and across the world and is now the 9th most populous state in the U.S. Here are some of the best cities to consider.

1. Waxhaw

  • Population: 21,673
  • Median household income: $116,964
  • Median home sold price: $523,000
  • Median monthly rental price: $1,409 

Waxhaw is a small town – with a booming population – south of Charlotte near the border with South Carolina. Partly due to the growth of greater Charlotte, Waxhaw has seen its population more than double since just 2010. But even with its growth, Waxhaw remains a quiet community that has the lowest violent crime rate of all cities on our list. This is a quaint historic town with a railroad stop that is known for its excellent antique shops and a great restaurant scene with everything from casual fare to fine dining.

If you’re interested in learning more, research homes for sale in Waxhaw or check out current Waxhaw real estate trends.

2. Davidson

  • Population: 15,132
  • Median household income: $131,144
  • Median home sold price: $589,133
  • Median monthly rental price: $1,297

Davidson has a history as a small railroad town north of Charlotte that was a shipping point for cotton supplying local textile mills. Now a pleasant suburb of its neighboring city, Davidson’s western border runs along the shores of Lake Norman, a reservoir of the Catawba River. The private Davidson College is a highly regarded liberal arts school and the alma mater of NBA great Stephen Curry. The industrial technology company Ingersoll Rand has its headquarters in Davidson and is a major employer. Statistically, the town ranks #1 on our list for housing cost to income ratio.

To further research living in Davidson, check out current Davidson real estate trends or search through homes for sale in Davidson.

3. Cary

  • Population: 176,987
  • Median household income: $107,463
  • Median home sold price: $550,000
  • Median monthly rental price: $1,312

Located just outside of Durham, Cary is a 15-minute commute to Research Triangle Park, the largest research park in North America with more than 50,000 jobs. And residents aren’t just traveling to work and other destinations by car. Ranking #1 on our list for wellbeing, Cary has several preserved open spaces known as greenways that provide recreational space and link neighborhoods to community centers, schools and parks. The city is also a National Walk-Friendly community thanks to its trail systems and pedestrian safety.

Explore more about the city by researching current Cary real estate trends or looking at homes for sale in Cary.

4. Huntersville

  • Population: 61,839
  • Median household income: $100,789
  • Median home sold price: $458,630
  • Median monthly rental price: $1,363

Located 14 miles north of Charlotte, Huntersville is another town that has grown up alongside that burgeoning southeast city. In fact, in just the last 30 years, the population of Huntersville has more than quadrupled. Huntersville shares part of the extensive Lake Norman shoreline with boat access to its 50 square miles of freshwater. Huntersville has roots as a mill town, but since much of it has been built in the last two decades, it has several neighborhoods of new construction homes. One such development is Birkdale Village, which has a downtown feel with homes, shops and restaurants. Joe Gibbs Racing, one of the most successful organizations in the NASCAR Cup Series stock car race circuit, is based in Huntersville.

For more on living here, look at homes for sale in Huntersville or check out current Huntersville real estate trends.

5. Pinehurst

  • Population: 18,019
  • Median household income: $87,609
  • Median home sold price: $435,000
  • Median monthly rental price: $1,554

Known worldwide for its massive, outstanding golf resort, Pinehurst was the invention of early 20th century developer James Walker Tufts. Tufts purchased 6,000 acres of land in the Carolina Sandhills with the dream of building a “health resort for people of modest means,” and he hired the famous American architect and Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted to design it. The village that grew up around Pinehurst became an incorporated municipality in 1980 and is now a thriving town with an average household income well above the state average. It also rates #1 on our list for the lowest property crime rate. Aside from the golf and all the shopping and dining that this resort town can offer, the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens are a top attraction.

To discover more about living in Pinehurst, check out homes for sale in Pinehurst or research current Pinehurst real estate trends.

6. Harrisburg

  • Population: 19,463
  • Median household income: $112,757
  • Median home sold price: $438,400
  • Median monthly rental price: $1,678

Like many of the communities that surround Charlotte, which is one of the fastest growing metropolises, Harrisburg maintains its small-town identity while enjoying all the diverse experiences and variety that a big city provides. Folks new to Harrisburg can learn even more about the city in its free, Citizens Academy. The course provides residents the opportunity to speak to department managers, ask questions and learn more about what each department does within the local government.

Learn more about living in Harrisburg by searching homes for sale in Harrisburg or researching current Harrisburg real estate trends.

7. Havelock

  • Population: 17,052
  • Median household income: $49,893
  • Median home sold price: $199,450
  • Median monthly rental price: $1,057

Havelock is a military town, with many of its residents employed by Cherry Point, the largest Marine Corps air station in the world. The city also borders the Croatan National Forest, the only true coastal forest on the East Coast. Among its 160,000 acres, visitors will find swamps, salt water estuaries, lakes and pine forests and enjoy such experiences as horseback riding, hiking, boating and fishing.

If this sounds like the place for you, take a look at homes for sale in Havelock or check out current Havelock real estate trends.

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8. Clayton

  • Population: 28,306
  • Median household income: $61,954
  • Median home sold price: $355,373
  • Median monthly rental price: $1,060

Clayton is considered a satellite town of Raleigh and ranks #1 on our list for the lowest unemployment rate. It has an active central downtown that hosts a weekly farmer’s market, arts and music festivals, restaurants, pubs and a downtown sculpture trail. The Clayton River Walk is a 4-mile trail that runs alongside the tree-lined Neuse River and is part of the 1,000-mile-long Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Explore more about the city by searching homes for sale in Clayton, or check out current Clayton real estate trends.

9. Eden

  • Population: 15,319
  • Median household income: $39,083
  • Median home sold price: $145,000
  • Median monthly rental price: $649

As a railroad town situated at the confluence of the Smith and Dan rivers in north-central North Carolina, Eden rose in popularity due to its ability to manufacture and ship textiles. Though it sits just outside of Greensboro, Eden remains a small town rather than a suburb. This may explain how it's able to rank #1 on our list for home affordability. Key annual community events in Eden include the Fall River Festival and the Charlie Poole Music Festival. A very popular attraction for residents and visitors is the Eden Drive-In Twin movie theater that embraces the nostalgia of a bygone era.

To get further information on living here, look at homes for sale in Eden or check out current Eden real estate trends.

10. Leland

  • Population: 25,974
  • Median household income: $73,125
  • Median home sold price: $399,028

With its gift shops and restaurants, Leland is in many ways a resort town, with easy access to city amenities and historic sites. The land-and-sea geography of the entire region makes Leland a place to experience nature and the outdoors, whether it’s at one of the many nature preserves, waterways, beaches or some excellent golf courses. The largest community event of the year, Leland Founders Day, takes place on the second Saturday of September.

If you’re interested in living here review the homes for sale in Leland, or check out current Leland real estate trends.

5 Other Popular Areas To Live In North Carolina

Park in Charlotte, NC, against cityscape.

Some people still love to live in a big city. While our metrics favored smaller towns and tony suburbs, North Carolina is home to several fantastic larger towns and cities that have experienced rapid growth in the last two to three decades. Many of the people flocking to North Carolina’s urban centers are coming from different parts of the country or from other countries. This influx brings diversity, energy, and new ideas to increasingly cosmopolitan modern cities that still retain plenty of southern charm. The following list of North Carolina’s large metro areas are not based on our study but included for those who are drawn to big city life.

1. Raleigh

  • Population: 469,124
  • Median household income:$69,720
  • Median home sold price: $399,989
  • Median monthly rental price: $1,175

Like many other state capitals, Raleigh is one of the largest cities in the state, second only to Charlotte. With approximately 1,200 restaurants and an assortment of free museums and historic attractions, the City of Oaks is a great way to get that metropolitan feel without big-city costs. It is also one of the best places to raise a family in the U.S.

Explore homes for sale in Raleigh today or check out Raleigh real estate trends with our housing market report. 

2. Asheville

  • Population: 94,067
  • Median household income: $53,621
  • Median home sold price: $450,138
  • Median monthly rental price: $1,084

Tucked between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains lies Asheville, the Land of the Sky. Aside from being a fantastic restaurant town, Asheville is also a mecca for some of the best craft breweries in the nation.  

Spend the morning hiking to Craggy Pinnacle for an epic sunrise – Asheville is known as a great city for hikers – and then head downtown for drinks or dinner. Another plus? According to, Asheville’s average commute time is about 10 minutes less than the national average of 27.6 minutes – that means getting where you need to be, faster.

Check out homes for sale in Asheville today or learn more about Asheville real estate trends.

3. Durham

  • Population: 285,527
  • Median household income:$61,962
  • Median home sold price: $387,649
  • Median monthly rental price: $1,098

Durham was once best known for its banking and tobacco industries, but the health care industry has taken over. Known as “The City of Medicine,” Durham houses over 300 health care companies, plus prominent tech giants like Epic Games, Lenovo and Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions.

Besides the thriving job market, Durham is also highly regarded for its incredible food scene. From locally sourced coffee to craft beer and freshly farmed food, this city is sure to satisfy any foodie’s cravings.

If this sounds like the place you want to put down roots, review homes for sale in Durham and check out Durham real estate trends.

4. Charlotte

  • Population: 879,709
  • Median household income:$65,359
  • Median home sold price: $385,011
  • Median monthly rental price: $1,185

We’d be remiss not to mention the Queen City, the largest in all of North Carolina. Whether your interests lie in museums, theater, sports, concerts or even pimento cheese, Charlotte can provide.

As home to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte – part of the UNC system – Charlotte draws many young professionals to its financial hub. An excellent public transportation system includes an 18-mile-long light rail called the LYNX, which runs from the University all the way through the city. You can even opt for comedy tour buses or horse-drawn carriages if that’s more your style.

For those who enjoy the fresh air, Charlotte also has plenty of parks, trails and playgrounds. If you’re looking for a home outside of the cookie-cutter, many Charlotte houses have maintained their historic charm.

Explore homes for sale in Charlotte today or check out Charlotte real estate trends with our housing market report.

5. Winston-Salem

  • Population: 250,320
  • Median household income:$47,269
  • Median home sold price: $249,884
  • Median monthly rental price: $827

As the name might suggest, the cities were originally founded independently, just one mile apart, before merging in the late 19th century. Winston-Salem is often referred to as the Camel City for its history of housing the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company and its famous Camel cigarettes. 

Industry aside, Winston-Salem has affordable housing – with median monthly rent below $1,000 – and a downtown area that includes 120 restaurants, shops and breweries. Winston-Salem is the birthplace of Krispy Kreme donuts. Need we say more? 

View the homes for sale in Winston-Salem or check out Winston-Salem real estate trends to learn more about the area.

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Why Is North Carolina A Good Place To Live?

North Carolina seems to have something for everyone. With its 300 miles of Atlantic coastline, including the fabulous Outer Banks, and the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains in the west, there is tremendous geographical diversity. It has a growing population that brings new energy. If you’re looking for somewhere with warmer weather, tight-knit communities and a diverse job market, North Carolina might be the right state for you. Popular among families with children, retirees and young professionals, America’s ninth most populated state offers a wide variety of benefits.

Cost Of Living

Cost of living investigates how affordable it is to live somewhere. New York and California have notoriously high costs of living due to large populations and scarce housing. Where does North Carolina fall? Most cities in our ranking had a lower median home price than the median home price across the whole U.S. – $454,900 as of October 2022. Granted, the housing market has reached new highs in recent times, but there’s no doubt that North Carolina’s affordability is one of its best features. 

Unemployment Rate

Even if you have a steady job right now, you can’t always anticipate a career change in the future. It’s best to check the unemployment rate of a city before moving. Not only can unemployment rates indicate the health of an area’s job market, but they can also give you a better sense of how many people you would be competing with when searching for a new role.

Moving somewhere with a low unemployment rate can help you ease into a new job down the road or expose you to new industries. 

Quality Of Public Schools

Whether you’re already a proud parent or you’d like to be in the future, you’ll want to do some digging on the public school system’s quality. Access to reliable academic resources and programs can give children significant advantages in the future.

Education Week’s annual Quality Counts reports are a great way to gauge the financial health and success of school districts across the U.S.

Local Amenities And Culture

Every state and certainly every city or town, has its own unique vibe and culture.

Influenced by things like the weather, attractions and local community, it’s important to mesh well with your area’s culture.

Don’t shy away from touring the area before starting your home search. If you don’t like an area as a tourist, chances are that you won’t like it as a resident. Taste the local cuisine, experience a night on the town or spend the day at some of the parks, beaches or nature trails. Here are just a few of the best North Carolina experiences.

Fantastic beaches. Including 175 miles of Atlantic beaches along the Outer Banks barrier island chain.

Professional and college sports. Two of the most storied college basketball programs, the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils, play just miles apart in Durham and Chapel Hill. And Charlotte has professional sports teams in the NBA, NFL and NHL.

Downhill skiing. Believe it or not, the mountains of western North Carolina are high enough to maintain a proper ski hill.

Great parks. North Carolina has dozens of state parks and contains parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

The Bottom Line: North Carolina Is A Great Place To Live

North Carolina is one of the fastest growing U.S. states for a reason. It has a strong, diverse economy, affordable housing and a temperate climate. It also has a tremendously diverse terrain that goes from seashore to alpine forests. If you’re convinced and identified a great place to live in North Carolina, apply for a mortgage with our sister company Rocket Mortgage®.

Methodology: Finding The Best Places To Live In North Carolina

Rocket HomesSM collected and analyzed the most recent data on twelve key local and countywide metrics to give us insight into the top cities best for living. We analyzed the 70 most populated cities in North Carolina, which have Rocket Homes listings. These cities are home to 46.05% of the state’s residents. The metrics used in this study include the violent crime rate, property crime rate, unemployment rate, google search volume, median rent, well-being index, median monthly income, median monthly housing costs, median days on market for homes, median home list price, and Freddie Mac primary mortgage market survey interest rates. Some of these metrics were then used to calculate housing cost to income ratio and home affordability index. These metrics were chosen based on public data availability and topical relevancy. Metrics from the U.S. Census are based on 2020 ACS 5-year estimates. In one case, county-level data was used because data is not recorded at the local level.

The housing cost to income ratio was calculated by taking the median monthly housing costs divided by the median monthly income to get the average percentage of income spent on housing costs in a household. The home affordability index was calculated using median listing price for homes in that city, interest rate from Freddie Mac primary mortgage market survey, and median yearly income. To interpret the indices, a value equal to or greater than 1 means that the average person has enough income to qualify for a mortgage in that area. The calculation assumes a down-payment of 20% of the home price and a qualifying ratio of 25%.

Each data category was normalized and transformed into a range of points for scoring and comparison. Cities with violent crime rates great than or equal to 55 and property crime rates greater than or equal to 65 were removed from the ranking. Weights were then applied to each metric depending on their individual importance in the study. The weighted scores for each metric were summed to create the overall Best Places To Live Score for each city. The final scores are sorted to produce the final rankings. If multiple cities ranked within the same county, only the top city or two cities were chosen to be represented in order to showcase the diversity of the state and offer readers a wider representation of the state.





Violent crime rate



Best Places

Property crime rate



Best Places

Unemployment rate



U.S. Census

Google search volume




Median rent



U.S. Census

Well-being index



Share Care

Housing cost to income ratio



U.S. Census

Home affordability index



National Association of REALTORS® and Freddie Mac

Other metrics considered without weight:

Median monthly income


U.S. Census

Median monthly housing costs


U.S. Census

Median days on market for homes


Rocket Homes

Median home list price


Rocket Homes

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David Collins

David Collins is a staff writer for Rocket Auto, Rocket Solar, and Rocket Homes. He has experience in communications for the automotive industry, reference publishing, and food and wine. He has a degree in English from the University of Michigan.