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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