Best lake towns to live in

Stacker examined 2021 data from personal finance website WalletHub to determine the best lake towns to live in across the U.S.

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The state of Minnesota alone is home to more than 10,000 lakes, but each corner of the United States has nationally—and sometimes internationally—renowned lake towns.

A city's reputation as a "lake town" can be more important than its actual proximity to landlocked bodies of recreation-friendly water. Lakes were often the historical breeding grounds of the nation's first industries, as well as early transportation and shipping hubs. As lakeside communities grew into the 20th century, they became industrialized and modernized, sprouting lively downtowns, diverse shopping districts, big business, new digs for artists and architects, strong primary schools, and top-notch higher education and research facilities.

Stacker examined 2021 data from personal finance website WalletHub to determine the best U.S. lake towns to live in. WalletHub's data included 46 towns with a beach that is listed on TripAdvisor and a population of 10,000 to 150,000 people. The towns were evaluated across six areas: affordability, weather, safety, economy, education and health, and quality of life.

Whether your goal is to start a family, escape the city after years of living with COVID-19's pressures, or settle down at the start of a young professional life—or even in retirement—this list has something for everyone. Many of the included towns jump out at the casual observer as popular summer-rental spots, like the Ozarks' Branson, Missouri, or Arizona's Lake Havasu City. But it might surprise you to dive deeper into their quality of life beyond the beach and vacation homes.

You'll likely pick up some knowledge about a wide range of Americana: a Florida town that started as a Civil War veteran retirement area; an island boasting some of the country's top public schools and wealth-earners right in the middle of a lake between Seattle and Bellevue; and even a California town containing much more than Johnny Cash's prison blues.

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#46. Morgan City, Louisiana

Two historic bridges in Morgan City at sunset.

trekandshoot // Shutterstock

- Total score: 32.64
- Affordability rank: #7
- Weather rank: #46
- Safety rank: #45
- Economy rank: #46
- Education & health rank: #27
- Quality of life rank: #26

Morgan City, located 70 miles from New Orleans and 60 miles from Baton Rouge, proclaims itself "right in the middle of everywhere"—and boasts easy access to both Lake Palourde and Flat Lake. The island port is a hub for the oil field and fishing industries, and residents enjoy the best of the Cajun lifestyle and water recreation, including strolls, fishing, and boating at Lake End Park campground and marina.

#45. Hope Mills, North Carolina

Dense forest surrounding Hope Mills Lake.

Jaclyn Vernace // Shutterstock

- Total score: 38.38
- Affordability rank: #17
- Weather rank: #38
- Safety rank: #39
- Economy rank: #43
- Education & health rank: #45
- Quality of life rank: #41

Hope Mills Lake sits at the center of the town that shares its name, south of Fayetteville. The town has a combination of a peaceful Southern atmosphere as well as an exciting range of recreational activities—trails, tennis, and waterfront activities—and has roots in the cotton milling industry.

#44. Port Huron, Michigan

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- Total score: 39.33
- Affordability rank: #32
- Weather rank: #8
- Safety rank: #46
- Economy rank: #37
- Education & health rank: #34
- Quality of life rank: #29

At the southern tip of Lake Huron at one end of the St. Clair River, Port Huron offers a range of marinas, parks, beaches, and a wonderful historic downtown. Residents can enjoy biking, walking, or running the scenic Thomas Edison Parkway Boardwalk. In addition to a low cost of living, denizens can access all Detroit has to offer in an hour-long drive.

#43. Council Bluffs, Iowa

An aerial view of Heartland of America Park in Council Bluffs and Omaha.

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- Total score: 39.65
- Affordability rank: #40
- Weather rank: #44
- Safety rank: #40
- Economy rank: #21
- Education & health rank: #28
- Quality of life rank: #32

The most populous city in southwest Iowa includes the large Lake Manawa State Park in its southern section. The heart-shaped lake itself is over 1 square mile and offers boating, fishing, and swimming, with a family beach feel during the summer months. During colder months, residents can take advantage of the trails for hiking and cross-country skiing. Above-average public schools and an easy 15-minute commute to Omaha make it a favorable town.

#42. Portage, Indiana

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- Total score: 39.71
- Affordability rank: #29
- Weather rank: #31
- Safety rank: #41
- Economy rank: #38
- Education & health rank: #29
- Quality of life rank: #45

The northwest Indiana town began with farming, developed around the railroad, and continued its growth as a steel city along Lake Michigan. Chicago is a mere 40 miles away, and Portage residents get the benefits of above-average public schools and a more reasonable cost of living. The volunteer-maintained Outback Trail at Imagination Glen offers 10 miles of trails for hiking, running, and mountain biking and plays host to a range of community events.

#41. Ashtabula, Ohio

redtbird02 // Shutterstock

- Total score: 40.24
- Affordability rank: #43
- Weather rank: #4
- Safety rank: #38
- Economy rank: #44
- Education & health rank: #37
- Quality of life rank: #24

Ashtabula, situated to the northeast of Cleveland, lies on the edge of Lake Erie and at the mouth of the Ashtabula River. Once a critical part of the Underground Railroad, the city has since become one of the important port cities along the lake. Residents can spend a day at Walnut Beach and check out the Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum or Ashtabula Maritime & Surface Transportation Museum.

#40. Michigan City, Indiana

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- Total score: 40.5
- Affordability rank: #14
- Weather rank: #34
- Safety rank: #43
- Economy rank: #39
- Education & health rank: #40
- Quality of life rank: #25

On the south shore of Lake Michigan, this Indiana town has everything—from a lighthouse museum, center for the arts, and state park to a casino, winery, and premium retail outlets. Washington Park includes a beach and a zoo, and the commute to Chicago is just 60 miles.

#39. Zion, Illinois

Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, located just south of the Wisconsin Border.

Yinan Chen // Wikimedia Commons

- Total score: 40.8
- Affordability rank: #45
- Weather rank: #28
- Safety rank: #32
- Economy rank: #36
- Education & health rank: #32
- Quality of life rank: #40

Part of Lake County along the coast of Lake Michigan, Zion offers residents all the benefits of its thriving Park District. Right at the edge of the lake are the North Dunes Nature Preserve and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve with plenty of trails, open spaces, and wildlife. And don't forget Zion's annual Easter Egg Hunt at Shiloh Park for the family.

#38. Lorain, Ohio

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- Total score: 41.56
- Affordability rank: #39
- Weather rank: #14
- Safety rank: #25
- Economy rank: #40
- Education & health rank: #39
- Quality of life rank: #44

Along Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio, Lorain is part of Greater Cleveland and just 30 miles from the city center. With nearby Mill Hollow Bacon Woods Park inland and the Lorain Harbor Lighthouse and beautiful Lakeview Park on the coast, residents and vacationers have plenty of nature access—particularly in the summer months.

#37. Waukegan, Illinois

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- Total score: 42.03
- Affordability rank: #44
- Weather rank: #27
- Safety rank: #31
- Economy rank: #41
- Education & health rank: #23
- Quality of life rank: #36

One of Illinois' oldest communities, dating to a Potawatomi settlement and French fur trading post, Waukegan sits on Lake Michigan north of Chicago. With continuing development of its waterfront neighborhoods and downtown district, the city and surrounding area offer beaches, golf, and events like movies and music in the park.

#36. Racine, Wisconsin

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- Total score: 42.65
- Affordability rank: #42
- Weather rank: #22
- Safety rank: #35
- Economy rank: #42
- Education & health rank: #26
- Quality of life rank: #22

Racine is around 22 miles south of Milwaukee on the shores of Lake Michigan. Home to 77,000 residents, many of whom own their homes, the city's welcoming parks during the day and a variety of bars—also for daytime, but more fun at night—make for an affordable, livable waterfront city.

#35. Sebring, Florida

An aerial view of a shoreline neighborhood in Sebring.

Jacob Boomsma // Shutterstock

- Total score: 43.62
- Affordability rank: #36
- Weather rank: #33
- Safety rank: #36
- Economy rank: #45
- Education & health rank: #43
- Quality of life rank: #5

The "City on the Circle" is just over 100 years old, at the center of which is the massive 8-mile Lake Jackson. The town of 10,000 is popular with retirees, though families can enjoy the accessible cost of living relative to the rest of Florida, the grade-A weather, and related outdoor activities. Sebring is a shade under two hours by car to Tampa and Orlando, but the town includes a regional airport and Amtrak station.

#34. Lakewood, Washington

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- Total score: 43.7
- Affordability rank: #38
- Weather rank: #16
- Safety rank: #37
- Economy rank: #33
- Education & health rank: #33
- Quality of life rank: #28

This town 40 miles south of Seattle is ideal for families—with schools and recreation nearby—and is known for short commutes for professionals. Several lakes are accessible from Lakewood, including four just a short bike ride away: Steilacoom, Gravelly, American, and Sequalitchew. Chambers Bay Golf Course, home of the 2015 U.S. Open, is a 4-mile drive to the northwest.

#33. St. Cloud, Florida

East Lake Tohopekaliga in St. Cloud, Florida.

Ebyabe // Wikimedia Commons

- Total score: 45.18
- Affordability rank: #15
- Weather rank: #40
- Safety rank: #21
- Economy rank: #23
- Education & health rank: #44
- Quality of life rank: #39

Just south of Orlando, St. Cloud sits along the shore of East Lake Tohopekaliga, which locals call East Lake Toho. The city is home to about 60,000 residents, many of whom love its small-town feel. Stroll through the historic downtown or visit the Reptile World Serpentarium, home to more than 80 species of snakes.

#32. Gages Lake, Illinois

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- Total score: 45.88
- Affordability rank: #28
- Weather rank: #36
- Safety rank: #30
- Economy rank: #30
- Education & health rank: #31
- Quality of life rank: #46

Gages Lake, the small body of water and the 3-square-mile town, is about 10 miles inland and west of Lake Michigan, and 45 miles north of Chicago. Home to excellent public schools and popular fishing spots, the city of 10,000 is enjoyed for its suburban feel and solid restaurants and nightlife.

#31. Kenosha, Wisconsin

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- Total score: 46.01
- Affordability rank: #37
- Weather rank: #29
- Safety rank: #33
- Economy rank: #35
- Education & health rank: #36
- Quality of life rank: #19

Another Milwaukee suburb on Lake Michigan, Kenosha's residents highlight their town's friendliness and health-conscious attitude. A range of year-round attractions include the Kenosha Public Museum, History Center, Civil War Museum, and Southport Light Station Museum. Parents can enjoy the symphony and stand-up comedy shows, children can paint their own pottery, and friends can dine at any of the more than 40 local restaurants that participate in Restaurant Week each February.

#30. Lake Elsinore, California

An aerial view of the mountains of Lake Elsinore.

Marie1969 // Shutterstock

- Total score: 46.02
- Affordability rank: #12
- Weather rank: #39
- Safety rank: #11
- Economy rank: #25
- Education & health rank: #38
- Quality of life rank: #38

The town whose motto is "Dream Extreme" started in 1888 as a resort on Lake Elsinore and has grown into a modern waterfront city. Situated in Riverside County southeast of Los Angeles, residents enjoy all the recreation of the 3,000-acre freshwater lake as well as the surrounding Santa Ana Mountains and of course Lake Elsinore Diamond—the minor league ballpark around since 1994 and home to the Storm, a single-A team.

#29. Shorewood, Wisconsin

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- Total score: 46.09
- Affordability rank: #41
- Weather rank: #45
- Safety rank: #14
- Economy rank: #32
- Education & health rank: #11
- Quality of life rank: #34

This village outside of Milwaukee was incorporated on the shores of Lake Michigan in 1900 and today is a walkable town ideal for families. Shorewood boasts its location "at the edge of the city and the heart of everything" given its proximity to downtown, performing arts centers, and higher education. Its public schools rate highly, and Niche ranked it #1 among Wisconsin suburbs for young professionals.

#28. Oregon, Ohio

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- Total score: 46.57
- Affordability rank: #11
- Weather rank: #41
- Safety rank: #29
- Economy rank: #26
- Education & health rank: #24
- Quality of life rank: #42

Oregon sits on Lake Erie and is a suburb of Toledo. The industrial town of 20,000 hosts a German American festival every year. Maumee Bay State Park, on the shore, preserves the area's original thick forest and thriving wetlands. There is also a public golf club, Eagle's Landing, in town.

#27. Oak Creek, Wisconsin

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- Total score: 48.22
- Affordability rank: #30
- Weather rank: #42
- Safety rank: #17
- Economy rank: #15
- Education & health rank: #21
- Quality of life rank: #43

This suburb of Milwaukee on the shores of Lake Michigan began as a small family town alternative to the larger city, but its location regarding the railroad and lake led to population growth. The rail, and later airline, industry coupled with a mid-century power plant birthed the city as it is today—though it had to hold off an annexation attempt by Milwaukee. Oak Creek's public schools, parks, farmers markets, beer gardens, outdoor movie nights, and other activities boost its quality of life and make it a favorable place to settle down.

#26. Laconia, New Hampshire

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- Total score: 51.15
- Affordability rank: #22
- Weather rank: #17
- Safety rank: #5
- Economy rank: #27
- Education & health rank: #42
- Quality of life rank: #18

Laconia sits between Lake Winnipesaukee and Lake Winnisquam with access to beachfront resorts and an arcade, among other attractions along Weirs Beach. The city plays host to the mid-June Laconia Motorcycle Week, a rally held each year since the 1920s. Residents enjoy a half-hour commute to Concord and a 90-minute drive to Boston.

#25. Burlington, Vermont

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- Total score: 51.58
- Affordability rank: #46
- Weather rank: #37
- Safety rank: #4
- Economy rank: #29
- Education & health rank: #22
- Quality of life rank: #6

On Lake Champlain is Burlington, a historic arts and cultural community with the best of the waterfront and several parks on its doorstep. Home to the University of Vermont, the Magic Hat Brewing Company, and ECHO Lake Aquarium & Science Center, Burlington has a bit of everything.

#24. Vermilion, Ohio

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- Total score: 51.67
- Affordability rank: #6
- Weather rank: #11
- Safety rank: #13
- Economy rank: #17
- Education & health rank: #35
- Quality of life rank: #30

On the south shore of Lake Erie and 40 miles west of Cleveland, Vermilion proclaims itself "A Small Town on a Great Lake." The historic port now is close to popular vacation destinations like the Lake Erie islands, and residents enjoy a top-notch school system and festivals and events like the Woollybear Festival, which honors a fuzzy caterpillar, and the arts and antiques merchants at Historic SummerFare.

#23. Plattsburgh, New York

An aerial view over the lake in Plattsburgh.

F.Cavone Productions // Shutterstock

- Total score: 52.78
- Affordability rank: #27
- Weather rank: #23
- Safety rank: #1
- Economy rank: #24
- Education & health rank: #46
- Quality of life rank: #14

On the western shore of Lake Champlain, Plattsburgh's access to the Adirondacks make it an ideal location for outdoors lovers. The city is popular among young professionals, and SUNY Plattsburgh lies within its borders, offering top-notch education locally. Of the many town events, the Mayor's Cup Festival and Regatta attracts thousands to the region for the Fourth of July weekend.

#22. Branson, Missouri

A stone church near the lake in Branson.

Latecia Peoples // Shutterstock

- Total score: 53.77
- Affordability rank: #26
- Weather rank: #43
- Safety rank: #42
- Economy rank: #19
- Education & health rank: #41
- Quality of life rank: #2

An Ozark Mountains community, Branson is next to Table Rock Lake and is home to several parks and beaches. A popular retirement destination due to the assortment of top-notch golf courses, Branson is also ideal for families because of its strong public school system, and the active social scene draws in young professionals.

#21. Stoughton, Wisconsin

Fishing dock and blue sky is reflected in the the Yahara River.

Bonita R. Cheshier // Shutterstock

- Total score: 53.96
- Affordability rank: #33
- Weather rank: #19
- Safety rank: #2
- Economy rank: #31
- Education & health rank: #18
- Quality of life rank: #27

South of Lake Kegonsa, this Madison suburb has quick access to the state park. Home to historic neighborhoods and idyllic town streets lined with storefronts, Stoughton boasts rich cultural events and attractions like its Opera House, Catfish River Music Festival, and Norwegian Heritage Center and folk dancers.

#20. Bay Village, Ohio

Erik Drost // Wikimedia Commons

- Total score: 54.03
- Affordability rank: #16
- Weather rank: #3
- Safety rank: #19
- Economy rank: #27
- Education & health rank: #6
- Quality of life rank: #37

A sliver of northern Ohio just west of Cleveland, Bay Village has parks, Bay Boat Club, and top public schools, which are some ingredients that make it a favorable destination for families and seniors. The small-town feel is only strengthened by a park at its center containing the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, as well as a beach.

#19. Holland, Michigan

A bridge in Holland.

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- Total score: 54.53
- Affordability rank: #13
- Weather rank: #12
- Safety rank: #44
- Economy rank: #16
- Education & health rank: #19
- Quality of life rank: #4

Next up is Holland, Michigan, at the edge of Lake Macatawa, whose most beloved centerpiece is "Big Red"—the much-visited and -photographed lighthouse in Holland State Park. Families can explore the city's Dutch heritage, including shops, villages, events, and eateries. For those of age, there are microbreweries, plus an aquatic center for those more interested in waterslides.

#18. Alpena, Michigan

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- Total score: 54.58
- Affordability rank: #23
- Weather rank: #1
- Safety rank: #34
- Economy rank: #34
- Education & health rank: #17
- Quality of life rank: #9

On Thunder Bay of Lake Huron, Alpena began as a logging town in the 1800s, and now the nearly 9-square-mile city is home to 10,000 residents with numbers surging during the summer. The "Sanctuary of the Great Lakes" is a prime spot for outdoors enthusiasts; even in the winter, Alpena provides attractions like a Wine & Hops Tour, shopping and dining in the Downtown District, and trails for hiking, snowshoeing, and ice-fishing.

#17. Loveland, Colorado

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- Total score: 54.88
- Affordability rank: #21
- Weather rank: #35
- Safety rank: #8
- Economy rank: #14
- Education & health rank: #20
- Quality of life rank: #13

About 50 miles north of Denver, Loveland includes its eponymous lake and Boyd Lake State Park. Not to be confused with the ski area of the same name—which is 100 miles to its southwest—Loveland offers an array of breweries, museums, and the famed Devil's Backbone Open Space, perfect for hiking and geologic sightseeing.

#16. Mequon, Wisconsin

Sunrise in Mequon.

Reneebrandt // Wikimedia Commons

- Total score: 56.35
- Affordability rank: #24
- Weather rank: #18
- Safety rank: #3
- Economy rank: #9
- Education & health rank: #10
- Quality of life rank: #33

Mequon, on Lake Michigan, is about 20 miles north of Milwaukee and perennially grades as one of the best places to live in Wisconsin, with great public schools and excellent home values—plus plenty of coffee shops, parks, and nightlife to boot.

#15. Duluth, Minnesota

Homes along the lake in Duluth at night.

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- Total score: 56.43
- Affordability rank: #31
- Weather rank: #13
- Safety rank: #22
- Economy rank: #22
- Education & health rank: #15
- Quality of life rank: #8

Duluth is a port city on Lake Superior with a combination of options to stay in luxury or explore nature. The 29-mile Superior Hiking Trail stretches to Canada, while the paved Lakewalk provides respite for more casual runners and bikers. The town of over 80,000 is popular among young professionals and families.

#14. Eden Prairie, Minnesota

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- Total score: 56.75
- Affordability rank: #10
- Weather rank: #9
- Safety rank: #7
- Economy rank: #8
- Education & health rank: #14
- Quality of life rank: #31

Eden Prairie's lakes are bountiful: Bryant to the northeast, Riley and Rice to the west, and Red Rock and Staring at its center. Just 12 miles from Minneapolis, the lake town is one of Niche's top suburbs in the state, grading highly in nearly every quality-of-life category from crime to education.

#13. Rocky River, Ohio

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- Total score: 56.88
- Affordability rank: #9
- Weather rank: #2
- Safety rank: #15
- Economy rank: #11
- Education & health rank: #7
- Quality of life rank: #35

Nine miles west of Cleveland is Rocky River, Ohio, a town of 20,000 ranked #24 by Niche in the entire state for best suburbs. Its namesake river is on its eastern border, and within city limits, families will find a dozen churches and a robust public library system. The famed Memphis Kiddie Park is nearby, too.

#12. Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Lake Havasu as viewed from the London Bridge.

Pamela Au // Shutterstock

- Total score: 57.46
- Affordability rank: #2
- Weather rank: #6
- Safety rank: #26
- Economy rank: #12
- Education & health rank: #30
- Quality of life rank: #16

Lake Havasu City has multiple appeals: Take your pick of water (boating, fishing, swimming, paddle-boarding); land (hiking, off-roading); or air (hot-air ballooning, amphibious ultralight flying). With attractions including not only the lake but also the surrounding mountains, it's easy to see why the town is popular not only for short-term stays but also for full-time residence.

#11. Pewaukee, Wisconsin

Pewaukee Lake surrounded by lush, green forest.

Tony Savino // Shutterstock

- Total score: 57.71
- Affordability rank: #25
- Weather rank: #32
- Safety rank: #6
- Economy rank: #2
- Education & health rank: #12
- Quality of life rank: #20

Pewaukee borders the lake of the same name, just 20 miles inland from the Lake Michigan shoreline. The town of 14,000 is a homeowners community, and families with children will find Pewaukee consistently ranks high for its public schools. With a beach, restaurants, shops, and several community events, it's another Wisconsin suburb with major lakeside appeal.

#10. Brookfield, Wisconsin

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- Total score: 58.28
- Affordability rank: #8
- Weather rank: #20
- Safety rank: #9
- Economy rank: #13
- Education & health rank: #5
- Quality of life rank: #15

Another Milwaukee suburb and neighbor to Pewaukee, Brookfield is a suburb- and park-lover's paradise. Tremendous public schools, low crime, proximity to a major downtown city, and regularly high ranks for living, homebuying, and raising a family put Brookfield near the top.

#9. Highland Park, Illinois

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- Total score: 58.54
- Affordability rank: #19
- Weather rank: #30
- Safety rank: #10
- Economy rank: #7
- Education & health rank: #9
- Quality of life rank: #12

This suburb 25 miles north of Chicago is renowned for its public schools and family atmosphere, with 84% of residents owning their home. Besides all of Chicago's options, Highland Park's downtown hosts the Ravinia Festival, several historic homes like Frank Lloyd Wright's Ward W. Willits House are within town borders, and residents have access to public beaches.

#8. South Lake Tahoe, California

South Lake Tahoe

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- Total score: 58.87
- Affordability rank: #34
- Weather rank: #21
- Safety rank: #18
- Economy rank: #18
- Education & health rank: #25
- Quality of life rank: #3

Pick your pleasure in the picturesque South Lake Tahoe—camping, skiing, golf, and boating, to name a few. Whether you want full-time living, bed-and-breakfast, or full-scale casino and resorts, the city is only an hour drive south from Reno, Nevada. Though known as a vacation getaway, above-average schools make it viable for settling down as well.

#7. Kirkland, Washington

Checubus // Shutterstock

- Total score: 59.37
- Affordability rank: #20
- Weather rank: #24
- Safety rank: #24
- Economy rank: #5
- Education & health rank: #8
- Quality of life rank: #10

Kirkland is Redmond's next-door neighbor and another premier Pacific Northwest suburb of Seattle. Residents can enjoy a long list of parks and trails in one of the best places to raise a family in the area. The Lake Washington community began with wool milling and shipbuilding and is now a thriving locale of arts, entertainment, beer and wine tasting, and outdoor recreation.

#6. Davidson, North Carolina

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- Total score: 60.07
- Affordability rank: #4
- Weather rank: #10
- Safety rank: #28
- Economy rank: #3
- Education & health rank: #2
- Quality of life rank: #21

The city of Davidson, home to the acclaimed college of the same name, spills right out onto Lake Norman. The top-ranked suburb of Charlotte is home to a combination of young professionals and growing families accounting for the population of 12,000. Nature preserves and several parks line the lake, and for those looking to wine and dine with a nautical theme and view, the North Harbor Club has outdoor patio seating, comfort food, and boat slips.

#5. Cornelius, North Carolina

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- Total score: 60.53
- Affordability rank: #1
- Weather rank: #7
- Safety rank: #20
- Economy rank: #10
- Education & health rank: #16
- Quality of life rank: #17

Another suburb of Charlotte near the top of WalletHub's rankings, Cornelius spreads its geographic fingertips into Lake Norman just south of Davidson. The community, which boasts good public schools, also includes a championship golf course and 10 public parks. To fully understand the Cornelius lifestyle, consider that Charlotte's Got a Lot recommends dining dockside at Port City Club, trying out a paddleboard, and swinging by a brewery or two.

#4. Mercer Island, Washington

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- Total score: 60.68
- Affordability rank: #18
- Weather rank: #24
- Safety rank: #12
- Economy rank: #4
- Education & health rank: #1
- Quality of life rank: #23

Mercer Island, a suburb of Seattle, lies on Lake Washington between Seattle to the west and Bellevue to the east. A wealthy city, with a median household income of $150,000, Mercer Island is known for its public school system, parks, and summer festivals. The city was only incorporated in 1960 and is just 5 miles long and 2 miles wide, but bills itself as a "true island community" with "its own sense of identity … widely recognized as one of the premier residential communities in the state of Washington."

#3. Redmond, Washington

A large bullmastiff running along a lake shore at the off leash area at Marymoor Park in Redmond.

Michael J Magee // Wikimedia Commons

- Total score: 63.23
- Affordability rank: #5
- Weather rank: #24
- Safety rank: #27
- Economy rank: #1
- Education & health rank: #3
- Quality of life rank: #11

Fifteen miles east of Seattle, Redmond sits on the north edge of Lake Sammamish, with the river of the same name flowing directly through the city's heart. The #1 suburb in Washington is home to both renowned international and STEM schools, and is known as the "Bicycle Capital of the Northwest," according to its website, which explains: "There's not one thing that makes Redmond a great place for cycling, but many things put together."

#2. Folsom, California

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- Total score: 64.97
- Affordability rank: #3
- Weather rank: #5
- Safety rank: #16
- Economy rank: #6
- Education & health rank: #4
- Quality of life rank: #7

WalletHub's runner-up is Folsom, whose northern border is the shoreline of Folsom Lake and whose western border is Lake Natoma. Just 20 miles from state capital Sacramento, Folsom's livability correlates with its top public schools, dining options, and weather. While the 1956 Johnny Cash song about its state prison undoubtedly put Folsom on the map, today it is a modern bustling city replete with park concerts, fairs, galleries, boutique and outlet shopping, a zoo sanctuary—and a correctional museum with a Johnny Cash collection right next to the prison itself.

#1. Traverse City, Michigan

Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City.

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- Total score: 65.84
- Affordability rank: #35
- Weather rank: #15
- Safety rank: #23
- Economy rank: #20
- Education & health rank: #13
- Quality of life rank: #1

Traverse City, Michigan, takes the top spot on WalletHub's list of best lake towns. With its northern edge spilling out onto two Lake Michigan bays—West and East Arm Grand Traverse Bay—the city includes not only the beauty of the lakeshore but also vineyards, forests, and skiable mountains. The "four-season playground" has a range of nightlife activities—casinos, performing arts, wineries, distilleries—as well as renowned antique and farmers markets, shopping, and any outdoor recreation activities one could imagine. Its A- grade for public schools only fortifies its place as the top lake town in which to live.