15 Best Places to Live in Iowa

Written by Darren Griffiths
Updated on
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Deep in the midwest of the United States of America is Iowa. Home to 3.1million people this state is famed for farming corn and its rolling plains. From the Effigy Mounds to the Maquoketa Caves, a lifetime of adventure would still only see you scratch the surface of this state.

As a place to live there is very little to find fault with in Iowa. For those who simply must breathe in the sea air on a daily basis then stop reading now! Iowa is a landlocked state although not too far from Lake Michigan whose vast expanse could easily fool someone into thinking it was the sea, there is an aridness to Iowa that beach bums would not find appealing.

Whenever you seek a new place to live there are always a number of things that need to be taken into consideration, beyond the charm of your new house alone. Research can be dull and arduous so to make your life a little easier we have created this list of 15 best places to live in Iowa so you can press on and find your perfect home as soon as possible. 

Let’s get started;

1. Ames

Ames, IowaSource: EQRoy / shutterstock

In the west of Story County lies the city of Ames, about 30 miles north of state capital Des Moines. Ames falls right in the path of Route 35 which connects commuters to Kansas City and Minneapolis in no time at all.

Ames is a greatly affordable city, especially for those looking to rent. Median monthly rent here is just $785 which is nearly $150 less than the national average. With 59% of residents living in a rented property, there are a lot of options out there in Ames.

Ames is also home to the best public schools in Iowa. The school district has 16 schools from elementary level right through to high school so parents are spoiled for choice.

2. West Des Moines

West Des Moines, IowaSource: Iowahwyman / Wikimedia
West Des Moines

As the name would suggest West Des Moines is a western suburb of state capital Des Moines. For those who need to commute into the CBD for work, this is an ideal location.

Affordable housing, low crime rates and a good range of nightlife activities. 

This is a fairly densely populated area, home to 61,266 people, despite this there is a welcoming small town feel to West Des Moines.

Unlike Ames, more people here live in owned homes, understandably so given that the median household income is $71,200 annually and house prices average at $188,600.
There is a diverse and highly educated group of people who live here. 36% have a bachelor’s degree or higher and the area is popular with millennials fresh out of college seeking their first home.

3. Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon, IowaSource: ArtisticAbode / Wikimedia
Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon may be a city on paper but with only 4,500 residents there is almost a village-like feel to the place. There is a running theme that rent in Iowa is rather cheap and Mount Vernon is no exception. With median monthly rent lying at $699 this is a greatly affordable area for those wishing to buy their time before investing in property for themselves.

Given the small population there is very little crime and this can also be attributed to the neighbourly nature of the residents too. There are only six schools in this district but they are all performing in line or above government expectations.

There is always somewhere open serving food, come rain or shine you’ll always find a hearty good meal in Mount Vernon.

4. Clive

Clive, IowaSource: Iowahwyman (talk) (Uploads) / Wikimedia

The city of Clive lies in both Dallas and Polk counties and is home to 16,634. Lying northwest of West Des Moines there are plenty of job opportunities around here.

Being close to the city there is plenty of activities for residents to partake in but being out of the CDB there is a quietness to the place. There are ample parks and green spaces for all residents to enjoy.

Clive is considered to be the #2 best suburb to live in Iowa by niche.com which can only be a good thing. It’s also ranked as the #2 most diverse suburb in Iowa too. This is a reasonably affluent area with most households bringing home $93,160 annually.

5. Johnston

Johnston, IowaSource: Iowahwyman / Wikimedia

Firmly in Polk County is the city of Johnston, home to 19,550. There has been a huge amount of development in the area in the last ten to twenty years. Having once been a small suburb of Des Moines, Johnston is now its own town. In the 2000 census, there were only 8,649 registered residents here, almost a 100% increase in population.

Johnston borders Saylorville Lake Project which is a great area to explore and reconnect with nature.

This is certainly a more affluent area than say, Mount Vernon, average house prices are $237,300. This is no real issue for those who live here as they are generally earning upwards of $90,000 a year.

6. Coralville

Coralville, IowaSource: Alan Light / Flickr

Coralville has one of the most varied ranges of properties on the market on our list so far. There is a home to suit every budget and with low crime rates, good access to commuter routes and excellent public schools there is very little to condemn about Coralville.

Should you have upwards of $500,000 to invest then you could find a grand 5-bedroom, 5-bathroom family home here in Coralville. Should you have a lower budget then there is a cosy 2-bedroom home with a manageable garden for $169,00 too.

Given the scope of homes on the market at any one time, there is a lot of interest with millennials who are seeking to invest in their first home.

7. Bettendorf

Bettendorf, IowaSource: Felix Mizioznikov / shutterstock

Although Bettendorf doesn’t sound particularly midwestern it is, in fact, a thriving town on the Iowa-Illinois border. Much like with Coralville there is a decent range of real estate available at any given time here in Bettendorf.

Value for money can certainly be found here should you play your cards right; it is worth taking time to see what comes on the market before jumping in with an offer. For example, there are 5-bedroom properties that are going for as little as $219,900.

This is a very family orientated area of Iowa, 21% of the population are children and residents love to explain how good the area is for youngsters.

8. University Heights

University Heights, IowaSource: American007 / Wikimedia
University Heights

It is fair to say that the 1,222 residents of University Heights are good savers. With average household income lying bang on the national average of $53,000 a year and median home value lying at $268,700, they must be doing something right!

As the name would suggest, University Heights is full of some very highly educated people creating a small but diverse resident population; 53% of people have a Master’s degree or higher.

For parents wanting to raise children around such schooled people, you’ll have to strike while the iron is hot to get your little ones into a school here. There are only two high schools and two elementary schools in this district. All of which are exceeding their government targets.

9. Iowa City

Iowa CitySource: JPDurkin / shutterstock
Iowa City

Given its name, many people confuse Iowa City for being the state capital. Although it is not, it is still a thriving and bustling city home to 71,800 people. Naturally, being a major city there is a diverse population of people both in terms of ethnicity and economic standing.

There are ample properties available at any given time and lots of options for those looking to rent too. Despite being a big city, rent inflation has been minimal, at $865 on average per month the cost of living in Iowa City is highly desirable.

Local people note how the city has a lot of culture and is a very tolerant and welcoming place to live.

10. Ankeny

Ankeny, IowaSource: Ashton B Crew / Wikimedia

Falling the other side of Saylorville Lake Project to Johnston is Ankeny. Much like Johnston, there has been a steep population increase in the area over the past decade and a half and as such, there is a persistent freshness to the town.

The median home value may be $175,700 but the quality of new builds cannot be questioned. This is another area of Iowa popular with millennials, perhaps the new developments can be attributed to their interest in Ankeny. 

With this development has come increased provision of shops, entertainment, and schools too.

Ankeny can boast some of the best schools in Iowa. Not bad for a place that was barely on the map in the year 2000.

11. Waukee

Waukee, IowaSource: Iowahwyman / Wikimedia

Waukee is another suburb of Des Moines to feature on our list. Smaller than the others we have mentioned, Waukee is home to 16,950 people. There is next to no crime in the area making it one of the safest suburbs in Iowa to live and in turn great for raising a family.

The median household income here is $77,200 which is above average for Iowa as a whole. Home value is, too, a little higher than the state average at $189,500. You do get good value for money here in Waukee should you be prepared to invest a little more. For $420,000 you could be the proud owner of a 4-bedroom, 4-bathroom family home with a spacious garden and double garage to match.

12. North Liberty

North Liberty, IowaSource: northlibertyiowa.org
North Liberty

If you’re seeking a home that lies equidistant from the busy city and rural parklands then North Liberty may just be the place for you. Only a matter of minutes by drive to the center of Iowa and only a matter of minutes in the other direction to the Hawkeye Wildlife Management Area.

There is very little to find fault with in North Liberty, perhaps median rent is a little steep for some people, given that the state average is so low. The median monthly rent here in North Liberty is $1,043.

There is a decent selection of schools in the area which makes North Liberty a pleasant place to raise a family. Local people describe the area as ‘beautiful and affordable’, what more could you want?

13. Urbandale

Urbandale, IowaSource: rachaelvoorhees / Flickr

Lying to the southwest of Johnston is the suburb of Urbandale, home to 42,099 people. Although on paper a suburb of Des Moines, Urbandale is a place in its own right, largely due to the increased population.

Compared with other suburbs of the state capital Urbandale’s house prices are a little dearer at $196,200 on average. The median rent remains on par with the rest of the state at $832. With only 19% of people living in rented accommodation, you may have to look pretty hard to find your ideal rental property though.

Being a little further out from the CBD there are very few incidences of crime in the area and the neighbourly attitude of residents makes any newcomer feel right at home.

14. Robins

Robins, IowaSource: www.youtube.com

With Route 380 easily connecting you to Cedar Rapids there is no short supply of job opportunities around Robins.

This is a small and cosy town home to 3,357 people. There is such a prevalent community feel there that one could compare it to a large village. With that in mind, we should discuss house prices; on average a property in Robins will call for an investment of $239,600 but rent is still perfectly low.

Value for money is the aim of the game in Robins. Although house prices are higher, being away from the city you get more bang for your buck. For $469,950 you can invest in a 5-bedroom, 3-bathroom spacious family home that in the centre of Iowa City would cost you upwards of $500,000.

15. Grimes

Grimes, IowaSource: www.grimesiowa.gov

Grimes by name but certainly not by nature, this small town northwest of Johnston is as clean as can be. Locals are quick to mention it when giving their verdict on niche.com too!

Like with Johnston, Grimes has experienced a rapid influx of new residents over the past ten to fifteen years but locals comment that the infrastructure has struggled to keep up.

There are 24 schools for parents to choose from in this schooling district, many of which are performing incredibly well, standing student in good stead for their future endeavours.

House prices in Grimes are very similar to Johnston, lying at a median value of $177,500.


15 Best Places to Live in Iowa:

  • Ames
  • West Des Moines
  • Mount Vernon
  • Clive
  • Johnston
  • Coralville
  • Bettendorf
  • University Heights
  • Iowa City
  • Ankeny
  • Waukee
  • North Liberty
  • Urbandale
  • Robins
  • Grimes