The most expensive U.S. cities are costly for a good reason – several, really. Residents are willing to pay extra for everything from housing to food to gas if it allows them to live someplace with great weather. Others are looking for cosmopolitan living, with a host of restaurants, museums and other cultural options on tap.
However, in some cases, simple isolation plays a leading role. When pretty much everything has to be imported over long supply lines, prices are bound to be higher.
To determine just how much the most expensive cities in the U.S. can really cost, we turned to the latest data from the Council for Community and Economic Research. Its Cost of Living Index measures scores of prices across 262 urban areas for housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, healthcare, and miscellaneous goods and services (such as getting your hair done or going to a movie). We also gathered data on household incomes, home values and unemployment rates for each city to provide additional insights into the true cost of living for typical residents.
Take a closer look at the 11 most expensive cities in the U.S.
The Cost of Living Index is based on price data collected during the first quarter of 2022. City-level data on populations, household incomes and home values come from the U.S. Census Bureau. City unemployment rates, which are not seasonally adjusted, are courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the month of June 2022, which are the latest available data. The U.S. unemployment rate is seasonally adjusted for the month of July 2022. For the purposes of finalizing this list, the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan were treated as separate cities.
11. Arlington, Virginia
Cost of living: 47.1% above U.S. average
City population: 236,434
Median household income: $122,604 (U.S.: $64,994)
Median home value: $731,700 (U.S.: $229,800)
Unemployment rate: 2.1% (U.S.: 3.5%)
Washington, D.C., and its close-in suburbs such as Arlington are a magnet for the highly educated seeking high-powered jobs. Naturally, many of those ambitious folks are highly paid, and the region's prices reflect that.
Arlington, home to the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, sits just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. It attracts just such ambitious, well-paid people – and has the high costs of living to prove it.
Housing-related expenses, which include rents and mortgages, are 2.3 times greater than the national average. Groceries, transportation and miscellaneous goods and services are 10% to 11% more expensive, while healthcare costs are 14% higher.
On the plus side, locals do catch something of a break on utilities, which run about 2% below what the typical American pays. And older folks will be happy to hear that Virginia is one of the most tax-friendly states for retirees.
10. Oakland, California
Cost of living: 49.0% above U.S. average
City population: 422,575
Median household income: $80,143
Median home value: $730,000
Unemployment rate: 3.4%
Oakland anchors one corner of a sort of Bermuda Triangle around San Francisco Bay where affordable prices go missing. The second corner is San Francisco, as famous for its sky-high real estate as it is for Alcatraz and Fisherman's Wharf. The third corner is Silicon Valley, home to tech giants handing out six-figure salaries like candy on Halloween.
Compared to its neighbors to the west and south, Oakland might seem a bargain. But consider this: Although median household income in Oakland is about 23% higher than the national level, median home values are more than three times the U.S. as a whole.
Rents and other costs for keeping a roof over one's head are similarly elevated in Oakland. Total housing-related expenses are nearly three times higher than the national average, according to C2ER. Groceries, utilities and healthcare costs all run about 30% higher than the national average, while transportation costs almost 40% more.
Helpfully, California ranks as one of the most tax-friendly states for middle-class families.
9. Seattle, Washington
Cost of living: 50.7% above U.S. average
City population: 741,251
Median household income: $97,185
Median home value: $713,600
Unemployment rate: 2.4%
Once upon a time, Seattle's economy was as hot and strong as its coffee, which put relentless upward pressure on prices. COVID-19 offered some respite from the persistent cost increases, but the Emerald City still remains one of the priciest cities in the nation.
It's not hard to divine why. As a major hub for the technology industry, Seattle is awash in high-paid jobs. Microsoft (MSFT) and Amazon.com (AMZN) are both based in the area, as are many smaller high-tech companies.
As with every city on this list, housing costs are the main driver of Seattle's sticker shock. Housing-related costs for renters and homeowners are triple the U.S. average, according to the Cost of Living Index.
But the high prices hardly end there. Transportation, healthcare and groceries run anywhere from 22% to 29% higher than what the typical American pays. And miscellaneous goods and services cost about 36% more, on average.
Although the state of Washington presents a mixed picture when it comes to taxes on retirees, it does happen to be one of the most tax-friendly states for middle-class families.
8. Boston, Massachusetts
Cost of living: 50.8% above U.S. average
City population: 689,326
Median household income: $76,298
Median home value: $581,200
Unemployment rate: 3.5%
With its unparalleled collection of universities, hospitals, historical sites, and tech and biotech employers, it's easy to see why Boston is such an appealing place to live. And while there's no question the city's popularity comes at a high cost, it's not nearly as high as some East Coast cities that are often mentioned in the same breath as Boston.
After all, the high concentrations of students, recent grads and young professionals require some level of affordability to get by while they're starting out. Groceries, for example, are "only" 16% more expensive than the national average. Healthcare runs 17% more than what the typical American pays, and miscellaneous goods and services are not quite 20% more pricey.
Housing-related costs, however, are a killer. Renters and homeowners pay well in excess of three times the national average for their domiciles. For example, the average apartment rents for $3,396 a month in Boston. That compares with a national average of $1,233 a month, according to C2ER.
In another blow to residents' wallets, Massachusetts isn't particularly tax-friendly to middle-class families or retirees.
7. Los Angeles, California
Cost of living: 51.9% above U.S. average
City population: 3,973,278
Median household income: $65,290
Median home value: $670,700
Unemployment rate: 5.3%
Few cities can top Los Angeles for excess and glamor, but most of its residents don't work in Hollywood or shop on Rodeo Drive. While high living expenses make L.A. one of the most expensive U.S. cities, median annual incomes are a paltry $296 above the national average.
And yet the allure of the nation's second-largest city remains strong. From Hollywood to Beverly Hills to Venice Beach, few cities can claim as many famous locales. For those who seek culture beyond the Kardashians, L.A. boasts a number of important museums and the world-class Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Just be forewarned that L.A.'s notorious traffic helps push transportation costs 26% above the national average. And although groceries, utilities, healthcare and miscellaneous goods and services are only about 10% to 15% higher than the U.S. average, housing bleeds residents dry.
Indeed, housing-related expenses, including rents and mortgages, run 134% above the national average in Los Angeles.
6. Orange County, California
Cost of living: 54.8% above U.S. average
County population: 3,170,345
Median household income: $94,441
Median home value: $703,800
Unemployment rate: 2.9%
Orange County, known as The O.C. for short, is synonymous with wealth – so much so there was an entire TV series made about it in the 2000s.
Several large municipalities make up the county, which abuts Los Angeles to the southeast, including Anaheim, Santa Ana and Irvine. But it's the smaller, tonier enclaves such as Newport Beach (median home value: $2 million) that cement Orange County's reputation for sheltering some of Southern California's richest and most famous.
In fact, the average home price for all of Orange County sits at $1.1 million according to the Cost of Living Index. That makes it the fifth priciest market in the country. However, at $2,564 a month, apartment rents are only about twice the national average.
Somewhat surprisingly, utilities are about 7% cheaper in Orange County, while healthcare costs only about 3% more than the U.S. average.
5. Washington, District of Columbia
Cost of living: 58.8% above U.S. average
City population: 701,974
Median household income: $90,842
Median home value: $618,100
Unemployment rate: 5.4%
The nation's capital is a tale of two cities when it comes to living costs. Housing-related expenses, including rents and mortgages, are by far the most burdensome at 2.6 times the national average, according to the Cost of Living Index, but other expenses aren't too bad. In fact, D.C. healthcare costs are slightly below the national average.
Groceries and utilities go for only about 11% more than the U.S. mean. And transportation expenses aren't overly onerous, either. A wide-ranging bus and metro system makes getting to and around the District of Columbia affordable. The Circulator bus, for example, costs just $1 and its routes reach popular spots including Georgetown, Union Station and the National Mall.
Numerous museums and historical sites are free to visit, too.
Be that as it may, the average price of a home in D.C. stands at $1.1 million. Meanwhile, the average apartment rents for $3,085 a month – or $1,852 a month more than the national average.
4. Brooklyn, New York
Cost of living: 74.9% above U.S. average
Borough population: 2,576,771
Median household income: $63,973
Median home value: $734,800
Unemployment rate: 6.3%
Technically, Brooklyn is one of the five boroughs that make up New York City, but in the past 15 years or so it has emerged as something of a metropolis unto itself. Indeed, if Brooklyn were an independent city, its population would be on par with Chicago, the third-largest city in the nation.
Not so long ago, Brooklyn was considered a viable alternative for those who couldn't afford to live in Manhattan. Not anymore. Housing-related expenses, including rents and mortgages, are almost four times higher than the national average.
And yet, the median household income in Brooklyn is actually lower than the U.S. median. It's also $25,838 below the median household income in Manhattan.
Happily, not everything in Brooklyn is eye-wateringly expensive. Utilities run about 7% higher than the national average, and healthcare is only about 4% more expensive. Groceries, utilities and transportation expenses are all about 11% more than what the typical American pays.
Adding to the pain, New York is one of the least tax-friendly states for both retirees and middle-class families.
3. San Francisco, California
Cost of living: 84.2% above U.S. average
City population: 874,784
Median household income: $119,136
Median home value: $1,152,300
Unemployment rate: 2.2%
Years of relentless growth driven by high-paid tech workers have given San Francisco some of the highest living costs in the country, meaning even those with fat paychecks can struggle to make ends meet.
Houses are famously expensive – an obstacle for aspiring homeowners. The average home price is a staggering $1.4 million in San Francisco, according to the Cost of Living Index, and the median home value is the highest among the 11 most expensive cities in the U.S.
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Renters don't fare much better. The average rent for an apartment in San Francisco is $3,718 a month. That's three times the national average. Indeed, overall, housing-related costs in San Francisco are four times greater than the national average.
And the nosebleed prices don't stop there. Groceries, utilities, healthcare and transportation expenses run anywhere from 30% to more than 40% higher than what the typical American pays. Even miscellaneous goods and services are nearly a quarter more expensive than the national average.
2. Honolulu, Hawaii
Cost of living: 92.7% above U.S. average
City population: 347,181
Median household income: $72,454
Median home value: $707,400
Unemployment rate: 4.0%
To enjoy the perks of living in such a remote Pacific paradise, Honolulu residents pay more than they would on the mainland for pretty much everything – and it's not hard to understand why. Most goods sold in Hawaii must arrive either by boat or by plane, which jacks up the price considerably.
Honolulu has the most expensive groceries by far of all 262 urban areas surveyed for the Cost of Living Index. A can of tuna, for example, is 31% more expensive than the U.S. national average, while a dozen eggs are 2.5 times pricer. Even bananas cost more than double the national average.
Bills take a big bite as well. Utilities cost 2.4 times more than what folks pay on the U.S. mainland. And healthcare and transportation are a fifth to a quarter more expensive than the U.S. average.
But, as always, housing is the biggest income-eater. Housing-related costs are more than four times the national average in Honolulu. Heck, the average home carries a price of $1.5 million.
1. Manhattan, New York
Cost of living: 137.8% above U.S. average
Borough population: 1,629,153
Median household income: $89,812
Median home value: $1,024,500
Unemployment rate: 4.8%
If you've ever been to Manhattan, you don't need us to tell you that it's an expensive place to visit.
But it's even more expensive to live there.
With space at a premium and location paramount, the median home value in Manhattan is second only to San Francisco on our list of most expensive U.S. cities. Typical rent for an apartment averages a stunning $4,604 a month, blowing away every other city tracked by the Cost of Living Index. Meanwhile, the average home price is $2.4 million.
The budget-busting doesn't stop there. Residents pay a premium of 44% at the grocery store, while transportation is 18% above average. Want to see a movie? Ticket prices are 62% higher, on average, than is the norm in the rest of the country. All of this conspires to make Manhattan the most expensive city in the U.S.
Oh, and you'll need to like crowds if you hope to make it in the Big Apple: Manhattan packs in 71,907 residents per square mile, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.