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The Most Affordable Downtowns To Live In Across America

John Csiszar

The United States has no shortage of cities with charming downtown areas chock full of attractions. The best cities to live in, however, are not always the most affordable cities. When choosing where to live, a balance must be struck between the features and benefits a city may offer and the cost of day-to-day living in that city.

To help with the computation, GOBankingRates undertook a cost of living comparison by city — using ZIP codes to determine the downtown area — to find the best places to live in the U.S. if you’re looking to live in a downtown area. Information considered included median home prices and rent, utility costs and the cost of a monthly transportation pass.

The downtowns represented encompass a wide range of locations and sizes, with a multitude of different attractions. As they are the most affordable downtown areas in the country, they could offer good value for first-time homebuyers, or anyone else looking for an exciting city on a budget.


30. Peoria, Arizona — 85345

  • Median home price: $224,000
  • Median rent: $1,287
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $152.08
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $64.00

Starting off the list is No. 30 Peoria, which is located nearby Phoenix, but offering a more affordable cost of living than the latter city. In downtown Peoria, the median listing price for a home is about $100,000 cheaper than a home in downtown Phoenix. Downtown Peoria is home to the city’s historic Old Town neighborhood, complete with breweries, coffee shops, parks and hotels, which have made it an up-and-coming cultural hotspot, according to Visit Peoria.

29. Richmond, Virginia — 23219

  • Median home price: $290,000
  • Median rent: $1,301
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $149.62
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $60.00

Richmond was ranked No. 53 in Best Places to Live by U.S. News & World Report, and it is the only major city in the country with whitewater rapids running through its downtown. With the busy metro area, public transportation costs in Richmond are the highest on the list. But this shouldn’t deter you from all of the activities this city has to offer. Visit Belle Isle, an island within the James River that serves as a city park. If you’re a Civil War buff, plan to explore Richmond National Battlefield Park or the American Civil War Museum. The Edgar Allan Poe Museum is also located in Richmond.

28. Chandler, Arizona — 85225

  • Median home price: $270,000
  • Median rent: $1,436
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $166.67
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $35.00

Chandler, Arizona, is located about 23 miles outside of Phoenix. It was named the second-best suburb to live in Arizona by Niche, as the public schools and diversity of the area both received an A rating. This city offers a wide range of outdoor activities, including Veterans Oasis Park and Environmental Education Center, Tumbleweed Park and the KOLI Equestrian Center. Learn more about the ancestral and current culture of Chandler at the Huhugam Heritage Center.

27. Colorado Springs, Colorado — 80903

  • Median home price: $300,000
  • Median rent: $1,399
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $140.37
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $61.50

Colorado Springs sits adjacent to the Rocky Mountains, not far from 14,115-foot Pike’s Peak. As such, it offers plenty of outdoor activities. The second-largest city in Colorado is famous for its Garden of the Gods Park, which is a registered National Natural Landmark. Colorado Springs is also the home of the U.S. Air Force Academy. All of these attractions can be relatively affordable, except for the high cost of transportation, which is the third-highest on the list.

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26. San Antonio — 78204

  • Median home price: $299,900
  • Median rent: $1,131
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $174.20
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $38

Deep in the heart of Texas, San Antonio appeals to historians and contemporary citizens alike. One of the country’s most iconic landmarks, the Alamo, sits essentially right across the street from the modern River Walk, a scenic host to all kinds of crowd-pleasing shops and restaurants and adjacent to ZIP code 78204. One of the only drawbacks is the high cost of utilities, which tops the list of these 30 appealing downtowns.

25. Milwaukee — 53202

  • Median home price: $299,900
  • Median rent: $1,446
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $125.63
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $72

Milwaukee has the highest transportation costs of any city on the list, but its residents may not mind. Among other things, the city is known for its history of brewing beer. Residents and visitors alike can tour many notable breweries, including the Miller and City Lights breweries. Even the city’s tourist bureau dubs Milwaukee “the city that beer built.” Beyond breweries, the city is renowned for its cheese and sausage, along with the MLB team the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s also one of the best places to buy a vacation home for under $200,000.

24. Durham, North Carolina — 27701

  • Median home price: $518,000
  • Median rent: $1,241
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $149.62
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $36

Durham was immortalized in the minor league baseball movie “Bull Durham,” but the larger city is also home to one of the most famous basketball universities in the country, Duke University. The city’s roots in the tobacco industry have transformed it into a bustling, 1 million-square-foot entertainment district on the former site of the Lucky Strike cigarette factory. A thriving artistic and cultural scene now exists alongside historic Civil War sites. All of these attractions have pushed the median home price in the 27701 ZIP code to the highest on the list.

23. Fort Collins, Colorado — 80524

  • Median home price: $438,990
  • Median rent: $1,781
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $140.37
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $25

Fort Collins has the highest average rent of any of the top 30 most appealing downtowns. However, this is counteracted by the third-lowest public transportation costs. Part of what makes the 80524 area attractive is that it hosts a charming downtown that may be familiar to Disney fans, as Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. was modeled after this area of Fort Collins. There’s plenty to do downtown because this ZIP code has to sustain the students in nearby Colorado State University.

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22. Memphis, Tennessee — 38103

  • Median home price: $276,500
  • Median rent: $1,503
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $145.29
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $47.50

Downtown Memphis is the place to be if you love music. This district hosts legendary Beale Street, the home of delta blues, rhythm and blues, jazz and gospel spread out over three city blocks. Down the street is the National Civil Rights Museum, on the grounds of the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Within walking distance throughout the district are a host of historical tours, sports and recreation, shopping and dining.

21. West Palm Beach, Florida — 33401

  • Median home price: $345,000
  • Median rent: $1,694
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $123
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $55

West Palm Beach is the first of five Florida cities on the list of 30 most affordable downtowns. Rent is high in the city, ranking the second-highest among the 30, and public transportation is costly, as well. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has ever visited West Palm Beach, with its stunning oceanfront location and picture-perfect weather. The city is chock-full of dining and entertainment options, anchored by historical Clematis Street.

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20. Las Vegas — 89101

  • Median home price: $224,900
  • Median rent: $1,148
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $149.57
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $65

Sin City might not be everyone’s idea of an idyllic downtown, but to many, Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world. Thus, it may surprise some that the city makes the cut as one of the most affordable downtowns in the country. This ZIP code, however, represents a small community a bit north of the famous Las Vegas Strip that is home to a slew of museums, including the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum. Homes in this section of downtown Las Vegas are quite affordable, although its transportation costs are second-highest in the study.

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19. Orlando, Florida — 32801

  • Median home price: $350,000
  • Median rent: $1,604
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $131.41
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $50

Orlando is the second of five Florida cities on the list of affordable downtowns. The immediate association for most people when they hear the name of the city is Walt Disney World, and rightly so, as it’s the world’s most popular amusement park. However, Disney is a short drive from this affordable Orlando ZIP code. Within downtown Orlando proper, Lake Eola Park provides beautiful respite from the tourist-heavy sectors, with a scenic walking path, an amphitheater for concerts and shows and plenty of nearby shopping and dining options.

18. Huntsville, Alabama — 35801

  • Median home price: $325,000
  • Median rent: $1,326
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $166.80
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $29

Huntsville, Alabama, is known as “Rocket City” for its past and present as a centerpiece of the U.S. space program. The former home of Wernher von Braun and his team of German rocket scientists, Huntsville is now the home of the Marshall Space Flight Center, which monitors all of the science on board the International Space Station and is developing the next-generation Space Launch System. Downtown Huntsville offers a host of amenities, from shady sidewalks and a historic square to urban hiking and biking opportunities. In this affordable city, only utilities are a bit costly, ranking third-highest on the list of 30 cities.

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17. Houston — 77002

  • Median home price: $278,000
  • Median rent: $1,584
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $132.82
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $49.25

Houston is another city associated with the U.S. space program, as it’s home to NASA’s mission control center, the receiving end of Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell’s famous quote, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” However, the city’s economy is also closely attached to the oil industry. The downtown Houston area boasts a theater district and a number of historic districts full of residential buildings and high-end restaurants. It also ranks as one of the best cities in the country to own a home for less than $300,000.

16. Tulsa, Oklahoma — 74120

  • Median home price: $344,000
  • Median rent: $1,004
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $156.68
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $45

Tulsa is an often overlooked gem in the Midwest. In addition to being one of the most affordable downtowns in America, Tulsa offers a wide range of cultural amenities, from concerts and ballet to museums, minor league baseball, casino gaming and parks and recreation. The city also boasts a zoo and aquarium, breweries, vineyards and a significant amount of art deco architecture.

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15. Asheville, North Carolina — 28801

  • Median home price: $399,900
  • Median rent: $1,606
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $142.11
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $22.50

Asheville is the location of the largest home in the country, the Biltmore Estate. This 250-room castle lies just outside the boundaries of the very affordable 28801 ZIP code. The beautiful Botanical Gardens at Asheville are outside downtown, as are plenty of natural and family-friendly attractions. These amenities help push the median rent in downtown Asheville up to the third-highest on the list of 30 affordable downtowns.

14. Raleigh, North Carolina — 27601

  • Median home price: $475,000
  • Median rent: $1,312
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $127.21
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $45

Raleigh is the state capital of North Carolina, and the state Capitol building actually lies within the boundaries of the state’s affordable 27601 ZIP code. Other attractions within the downtown Raleigh area include the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts and the Raleigh Convention Center for events. Raleigh does sport the second-highest median home prices among these 30 affordable downtowns, which might be part of the reason it’s one of the best big cities for renters.

13. Columbia, South Carolina — 29201

  • Median home price: $197,000
  • Median rent: $1,138
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $162.16
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $40

Columbia ZIP code 29201 hosts numerous historic Civil War sites, including the new Baptist Church, where Secession Convention delegates met in 1860. As a section of Columbia, the 29201 ZIP code and adjacent areas enjoy the same ample parking, walkable streets and manageable traffic.

12. Eugene, Oregon — 97401

  • Median home price: $346,500
  • Median rent: $1,572
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $117.88
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $50

One of the few West Coast cities with an affordable downtown, Eugene is the proud home of the University of Oregon. Eugene is an outdoor lover’s paradise, which is surrounded by pristine natural landscapes. In addition to waterfalls and wine country, the area boasts covered bridges, craft beer and a thriving culinary scene. The city also has the second-lowest monthly utility cost of any downtown on the list.

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11. Bradenton, Florida — 34205

  • Median home price: $195,000
  • Median rent: $1,399
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $147.99
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $40

Bradenton, Florida, is located on the Manatee River between St. Petersburg and Sarasota. The 34205 downtown ZIP code is home to the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, which highlights Florida’s history from prehistoric times to the present. You’ll also find the Riverwalk, a 1.5-mile park covering the breadth of Bradenton with features ranging from a skate park and a family fun zone to beach volleyball, a fishing pier and vast green spaces.


10. Ocala, Florida — 34471

  • Median home price: $248,700
  • Median rent: $1,289
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $150.88
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $35

Located in north-central Florida, Ocala is adjacent to its namesake Ocala National Forest, which is the southernmost forest in the continental United States and is the largest sand pine forest in the world. Located in what’s known as “horse country,” Ocala has plenty of outdoor recreational activities available in its boundaries, including pristine streams, rolling hills and clean air.

9. Little Rock, Arkansas — 72202

  • Median home price: $245,000
  • Median rent: $836
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $171.36
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $33

Little Rock, Arkansas, is the home to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, just one ZIP code over from the state’s affordable 72202 ZIP code. Just outside the city, Pinnacle Mountain State Park offers hiking and other activities for the outdoor enthusiast. Numerous parks are located within the confines of the 72202 ZIP code itself, which has the lowest monthly rent of any city on the list of 30 most affordable downtowns.

8. Modesto, California — 95354

  • Median home price: $264,450
  • Median rent: $1,402
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $148.08
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $24

If you live in the 95354 ZIP code, consider yourself lucky — you’re residing in the only California city that makes the list of top 30 most affordable downtowns. In fact, this downtown Modesto ZIP code has the second-lowest transportation cost in the top 30. The pride and joy of downtown Modesto is the McHenry Mansion, a Victorian home built in 1883. The city also hosts a number of community events, from 5K races to local farmers markets.

7. Des Moines, Iowa — 50309

  • Median home price: $229,900
  • Median rent: $1,150
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $132.80
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $48

If you’re a minor league sports fan, Des Moines might be your city: It was ranked the No. 1 minor league sports market in America by the Sports Business Journal in 2017. The city’s appeal stretches far beyond the minor league sports world, however; in 2018, U.S. News and World Report labeled Des Moines the No. 4 best place to live in all of America. In the heart of the 50309 ZIP code, popular cultural attractions include the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, with its 29 contemporary sculptures, and the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, a 19th-century restored building that hands out what is known as the “Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.”

6. Melbourne, Florida — 32901

  • Median home price: $199,000
  • Median rent: $1,328
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $132.04
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $42

Melbourne is the final Florida city on the list, and it’s the most affordable of the five downtowns that the state has to offer. Located on the state’s Space Coast, Melbourne is a short drive down from the Kennedy Space Center in nearby Merritt Island. The city itself boasts a historic downtown filled with dining and entertainment options, along with community events. Home of the Florida Institute of Technology, the 32901 downtown ZIP code also hosts the Andretti Thrill Park and the Botanical Gardens.

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5. Sioux Falls, South Dakota — 57104

  • Median home price: $147,950
  • Median rent: $931
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $164.37
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $30

The more affordable of the two Sioux Falls ZIP codes, residents of the 57104 ZIP code are lucky to share their location with the No. 1 attraction in the city, Falls Park. The park contains numerous waterfalls, including the city’s namesake falls, spread out over the park’s 123 acres. You can also visit the Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History within the confines of the 57104 ZIP code.

4. Albuquerque, New Mexico — 87102

  • Median home price: $182,250
  • Median rent: $1,072
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $144
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $30

Albuquerque is a Southwestern gem nestled in the center of New Mexico. Just outside the limits of this affordable ZIP code lie the charms of Old Town Albuquerque, the ABQ BioPark Aquarium and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. Albuquerque is also the home of the world’s longest cable-car route, the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, offering breathtaking views of the valley below from a height of 10,378 feet.

3. Winston-Salem, North Carolina — 27101

  • Median home price: $198,277
  • Median rent: $888
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $142.11
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $30

Winston-Salem was founded by Moravians in 1753 and, along with nearby Greensboro, is known as the furniture capital of the world, in addition to hosting the largest pottery community in the country. The 27101 ZIP code in downtown Winston-Salem proper is the home of the Winston-Salem Downtown Arts District, a burgeoning regional culinary scene and charming cobblestone streets, and it offers the second-lowest median rent of any city on the list. Every April, the city hosts the RiverRun International Film Festival.

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2. Grand Junction, Colorado — 81501

  • Median home price: $237,450
  • Median rent: $1,149
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $104.32
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $52

Grand Junction is a remote outpost in West Colorado that gets its name from its position at the confluence of the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers. The city is within spitting distance of the Colorado National Monument, the Dominquez-Escalante National Conservation Area and the Grand Mesa National Forest. Perhaps surprisingly for a town surrounded by ski resorts, Grand Junction also boasts over 300 days of sunshine per year.

1. Billings, Montana — 59101

  • Median home price: $208,450
  • Median rent: $1,040
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $127.51
  • Cost of monthly public transportation pass: $28

Billings, Montana’s 59101 ZIP code ranks No. 1 on the list of affordable downtowns. The town itself is often looked at as a gateway to both the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Yellowstone Park. After being founded in 1882, the city acquired the nickname “Magic City” due to its incredible growth. For residents and visitors alike, the magic continues to the present day, with rustic charm, scenic beauty and plenty of outdoor activities.


Downtown Living: Most Affordable Cities in the US

There are plenty of downtown ZIP codes in America where you can live on the cheap while still enjoying lots of amenities and attractions. One of the major factors in determining which city might be right for you is if you are planning to rent or buy a home. Median home prices on the list of 30 cities run from a high of $518,000 to a low of $145,900, while rents range between a low of $836 and a high of $1,781. So, even on a list of the most affordable downtowns, there is plenty of variance in costs.

Most of the affordable downtowns in the U.S. can be found in the Midwest and the Southeast, with Florida topping the list with five entrants.

Although all of these cities are considered affordable, they each have their own distinct style and personality. While costs might be an important factor in helping you choose where to live, remember to evaluate the amenities and personality of a city before you take the next step.

Keep reading to find out where a $100,000 salary isn’t enough to own a home.

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Methodology: GOBankingRates used Google Maps, individual city websites and websites devoted specifically to a city’s downtown to determine the area considered “downtown” in each city in the study. ZIP codes were used to approximate downtown areas. With downtown ZIP codes identified, the study analyzed 95 downtowns in terms of the following criteria: (1) median home price, sourced from Zillow’s March 2019 index; if prices weren’t available from Zillow, Redfin was sourced instead; (2) median rent, sourced from Zillow’s March 2019 index; (3) monthly cost of utilities, sourced from Numbeo.com; (4) cost of monthly public transportation pass, sourced from Numbeo.com. Each factor was given a score, combined and then ranked.

Photo Disclaimer: Please note photos are for representational purposes only. As a result, some of the photos might not reflect the exact ZIP codes or locations listed in this article.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: The Most Affordable Downtowns To Live In Across America