Eight Best Places to Live in Iowa

Ames, Denison, and Cedar Rapids are some of the best places in Iowa to live and buy a home in.
Written by Payton Ternus
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Reasonably priced homes, highly-rated school systems, and low cost of living make places like Le Claire, Ames, and Des Moines some of the best spots to live in
U.S. News has Iowa ranked at #12 overall out of the 50 states when it comes to living standards. Iowa is a great place to lay down roots due to employment opportunities, resources for education, and affordability—but picking the right community to settle down in can be hard in the Hawkeye State.
This is where
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Ready to dive into Iowa’s best cities? Keep reading to learn more.
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What makes a good place to live? 

It can be difficult to know where to start when narrowing down options of where to live. There are plenty of factors you’ll need to take into account: weather, gas prices, community resources, and more. 
You need to consider your personal wants, too—if you’re looking for the hustle and bustle of city life, a farm town won’t be your best fit.
To help you begin making your decision, we’ve done the research on eight Iowan cities: Le Claire, West Des Moines, Denison, Sibley, Albia, Des Moines, Ames, and Cedar Rapids. This list contains both smaller towns and cities, and we’ve included the following details for each of them:
  • Average commute times
  • Cost of living
  • Crime rates
  • FEMA risk index ratings
  • Healthcare
  • Median home price
  • Median household income
  • Quality of schools
Using this list of details, we’ve separated these cities into three groups: the best places for families to live, the most affordable towns, and the best spots to buy a house and settle down.

The best places for families to live in Iowa

When families look for a place to live, some of the main priorities they have are community life, crime rates, and education. Two of the eight Iowa towns listed above stand out from the rest when these factors are at the top of the list.

Le Claire

Location: Scott County
Population: 3,955
Median household income: $76,083
Median home price: $280,500
If you’re looking to settle down with your family in a small town,
Le Claire
is an ideal place. The Le Claire public school system is able to spend around $10,232 per student, which is slightly above the national average but reasonable due to the small population. There is one teacher for every fifteen students, ensuring an attentive environment for all students.
The crime rate in Le Claire is low, which is typically expected in smaller towns. Le Claire is an excellent option for families to live in—the unemployment rate is below the national average at 5.4%, the cost of living is 2.6% lower than the national average, and the average commute time is 20.6 minutes compared to the national average of 26.4 minutes.
If you’re looking for a close, tight-knit community to raise your kids in, keep Le Claire on your list of options.

West Des Moines

Location: Polk County
Population: 65,606
Median household income: $76,368
Median home price: $218,500
West Des Moines
has been rated the #1 place to live in the Hawkeye State. It is a larger city than Le Claire and offers a unique blend of urban and suburban elements. The city is home to plenty of coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and parks for residents to enjoy and find the rhythms of community life.
The West Des Moines area has highly-rated public school systems, including Waukee South and Valley High. The downside to living in West Des Moines is the crime level, which is higher than other Iowa cities. However, the local statistics are far below the national averages and the city still ranks highly in places to live in the state!

The most affordable places to live in Iowa

Cost of living plays a major role in finding your next home. The average cost of living in Iowa is ranked at 83.7 (below the national average of 100)—meaning Iowa is a cheaper place to live than many other states. However, that number can rise due to higher rent or home prices, transportation, and other factors.
The next three towns are some of the mostaffordable places to live in Iowa. This category was determined by analyzing overall cost of living and average transportation or commute times, which influence your fuel expenses.


Location: Crawford County
Population: 8,337
Median household income: $54,190
Median home price: $93,600
Located in west-central Iowa, Denison is known for being two things: the county seat in
Crawford County
and the hometown of famous mid-twentieth actress Donna Reed. Reed played Mary Hatch Bailey in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and emblems with the film’s name can be found on official city vehicles—even police cars. You can visit her
Is it truly a wonderful life in Denison? For affordability, yes—Denison is one of the least expensive places to live in Iowa with a cost of living of 75.9. Commute costs are fairly low too, with an average time of only 13.5 minutes. The average cost of car insurance in Denison is higher than the state average of $130 per month, but Jerry can help you lower your rate!


Location: Osceola County
Population: 2,611
Median household income: $57,708
Median home price: $78,100
Sibley is the oldest town in Osceola County, with a strong agricultural and industrial base supporting it. If you take a stroll down
Main Street
, you can admire the historical downtown complete with old-fashioned street lamps and streets made of cobblestone.
The cost of living in Sibley is far below the national average at 72.9. The majority of Sibley residents own their homes due to how affordable they are—almost three-quarters of the population (72%). The commute time is a little higher here at an average of 21.5 minutes, but Jerry is ready to help cut your car insurance rates to save on transportation expenses.


Location: Monroe County
Population: 3,727
Median household income: $46,332
Median home price: $87,600
Historic Albia is known for its ties to the past with beautiful antique art collections, Victorian homes throughout the town, and 92 buildings listed on the
National Historic Register
With a cost of living ranking at 74.7, Albia is an affordable place to settle down. Average commute times are fairly low in Albia, too—you can expect an average commute time of 16.4 minutes to get to work. 

Best places to buy a house in Iowa

If you’re ready to make a serious commitment and settle down in Iowa, you’ll need to look into the climate and housing market of your potential new town. We looked into the summaries of housing markets at Realtor.com and FEMA’s Risk Index to pin down these two components.

Des Moines

Location: Polk County
Population: 214,237
Median household income: $53.525
Median home price: $133,200
Des Moines
is the largest city on our list and the Midwest’s fastest-growing metro area. There’s plenty to enjoy here: over 800 miles of biking trails, the #2 rated
farmers’ market
in the country, the Des Moines Art Center, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, and more.
For a larger city in Iowa, Des Moines is one of the best places to buy a house due to a low median home price.
Des Moines has a “Relatively Moderate” FEMA risk index of 15.21. This slightly higher ranking is due to a higher risk of winds, tornados, and winter weather. This means that your home insurance may be a little more expensive than average. 


Location: Story County
Population: 67,029
Median household income: $67,026
Median home price: $251,566
, the home of
Iowa State University
, also has affordable prices for homes and a low FEMA risk index, making it a great place to buy a home. The median home price falls below the national average, and the FEMA risk index for the county is “Very Low” at 8.03.
Moreover, community resilience is ranked very high, and the vast majority of risk factors have low ranks.
Bloomberg Business named Ames as one of the top 25 “Best Places for STEM Grads” and one of the top 15 “Cities That Have Done the Best Since the Recession” in 2015.

Cedar Rapids

Location: Linn County
Population: 134,621
Median household income: $75,289
Median home price: $162,491
The city of
Cedar Rapids
is considered to be eastern Iowa’s main hub of culture and arts. It’s full of museums and theaters—the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative, Orchestra Iowa, and Paramount Theatre to name a few!
FEMA rates Cedar Rapids at a 15.51 risk level, mostly due to higher risks of river flooding and tornados. The risk of loss is higher, but resilience in the community is also high. Resiliency and a lower median home price make Cedar Rapids one of the best Iowan cities to buy a house in.

How to find affordable homeowners and car insurance in Iowa

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