Introduction

We're baaacckk - with our Top Ten list of the Best Cities to Live for 2012. For this year's list, we have updated our scoring algorithm to include local amenities. Some cities return from last year, while others didn’t quite make the grade.

To get our list, we compose a livability score for each city with a population over 200,000. This score is made up of a multitude of factors including local amenities, cost of living, crime, education, employment, housing and weather. These stats get plugged into an algorithm which spits out a score out of 100. The higher the score, the more liveable the city is.

1. Plano, TXScore: 87/100

Returning from last year, this Texas city takes the top spot again. With reasonable cost of living, low crime and large, beautiful houses, this suburb of Dallas is quickly taking other Texan cities by storm. The median income in Plano is higher than the state and national average at over $100,000, and these extra funds mean great schools and recreation. Who doesn’t want a city with low crime, high graduation rates and great homes?

What was once a sleepy milling town in the mid-1800s is now a growing area home to the headquarters of companies like Frito-Lay and J. C. Penney. Their proximity to Dallas means they can take advantage of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), one of the premier public transportation systems in the country, without having to deal with the trouble and crime that can come from living in a big city. AreaVibes isn’t the only place recognizing Plano as a great place to live. This city has made the Forbes.com list as one of three top “Suburbs to Live Well,” and the “Best Place to Live in the Western States” by CNN Money.

Visit Plano, TX for details.

2. Austin, TXScore: 83/100

Another Texas city that is holding on to its ranking from last year is this city on the river, Austin. With an eclectic mix of everything from cowboys to activists, a great mix of independent shops and restaurants and a lot of fun to be had on the river that runs through town, this is a city you must not miss.

This city is known for its great music scene, and for discovering many great acts like Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews Band on their long-running public access music show Austin City Limits and hundreds of annual music festivals. Austinites are proud of their “Keep Austin Weird” stickers. On a given day, you can see protests on the capitol lawn of traditionally conservative state of Texas given by members of the LGBT community decked out in cut-off short-shorts and cowboy hats. How’s that for diversity?

Visit Austin, TX for details.

3. Glendale, AZScore: 83/100

A new addition to our Top Ten list, this once sleepy town in Arizona has quickly become a great place to live. Located in the West Valley, west of the capital of Phoenix, this area was privy to a ton of brand new home builds during the housing boom in the early 2000s. This may make this town seem new, but in fact, Glendale has been around a long time, as evidenced by the quaint Western-themed downtown. Enjoy it in the winter with people from all over the state for the light show Glendale Glitters.

Glendale gets great ratings for the weather. With almost 300 sunny days per year, you can enjoy golfing, hiking, antiquing and more while still beating the heat at any of the great water parks or in your air conditioning.

Visit Glendale, AZ for details.

4. Scottsdale, AZScore: 83/100

if you are into the simple things in life, you know, five-star resorts, Ferraris, mountain estates and world-renowned golf courses, then maybe you should consider Scottsdale, Arizona. Scottsdale used to be a city filled with retirees, and you can still find evidence of that from the large amount of excruciatingly slow drivers in giant Cadillac’s. In downtown, enjoy the juxtaposition of steakhouses and Western wear boutiques with the high-fashion mall filled with new-money mavens pushing pedigreed mini-dogs in strollers.

Between real millionaires (Scottsdale has the busiest private airport in the nation and many execs from California enjoy large and cheap housing here and commute to LA) and the so-called $30,000 millionaire (think Jersey Shore outfits, drives a BMW but lives with mom and dad) there is something for everyone.

Visit Scottsdale, AZ for details.

5. Honolulu, HIScore: 81/100

White sandy beaches and 79 degree temperatures year-round helped Honolulu move up a spot on our list. Believe it or not, there is more to Honolulu than relaxing on the beach with a drink that has an umbrella in it (while that is nice).

Honolulu is not all beaches and bodies. Honolulu’s massive skyline rivals those in much larger cities like New York, Chicago and LA. This industry brings a lot of jobs to Honolulu, keeping unemployment low. While Hawaii isn’t exactly known for its stellar public school system, there are lots of highly rated private schools that can turn your kid from a straight surfer to a marine biologist.

Visit Honolulu, HI for details.

6. Virginia Beach, VAScore: 81/100

Finally, the East Coast gets some recognition! Now known as a popular Spring Break destination for college kids, this city was once the first landing for the Puritans coming over from England. If they could see this beach town now! There are a ton of tourist destinations, true, but the city is also home to a thriving military community and agricultural business. Think Hawaii has all of the surfing? Think again. Virginia Beach is home to the East Coast Surfing Championships. Pair the history with this great locale – you can see homes from the Colonial times, with the scenery – Guinness World Record holder for longest luxury beach, and you have a combination that can’t be beat.

Visit Virginia Beach, VA for details.

7. Charlotte, NCScore: 81/100

It may be hard to imagine that this Southern city that was once home to a plethora of fighting in the Civil War is now the financial hub of the South, but it’s true. Combine that old Southern charm with the romantic tree-lined streets, great private school and university system, growing economy and throw in some championship-worthy sports teams, and that gives you a recipe for Charlotte.

Cost of living is low and so are home prices in comparison to the rest of the country. There is a large selection of homes in over 200 distinct neighborhoods sprinkled all over Charlotte. The Southern pride exudes in this city. Downtown, you have a ton of amenities from restaurants to bars to shopping. On any given lunch hour, you can see locals at the community farmer’s market and suits enjoying the sun before returning to work in high finance.

Visit Charlotte, NC for details.

8. Fremont, CAScore: 81/100

Of course the cost of living in California is high, but do you know why that is? Because California is a great place to live. Known as the most diverse state in the nation, California has the great weather the East Coast only wishes it had. You can do everything in California from surfing to snowboarding to camping to amusement parks.

Fremont is located in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay. Its close proximity to both San Francisco and Silicon Valley gives residents a ton of job options and opportunities. This enclave has a smaller-town feel even though it is the fourth-largest city in the Bay Area. Home prices are far more reasonable here so you can enjoy great Bay Area schools and live in a fantastic home at a fraction of what you would pay in San Fran. The whole Bay Area is rife with pride for its history and sports teams. On the East side, you have to root for the A’s and the Raiders or risk being shunned!

Visit Fremont, CA for details.

9. Jacksonville, FLScore: 80/100

One look at Jacksonville and you will see why so many people from the East Coast make the trek down to Florida each year as ‘snowbirds.’ Mild winters and subtropical summers make Jacksonville a great place to enjoy the outdoors. Home to the largest park system in the country, the largest city in Florida has more than 80,000 acres devoted to parks.

College football fever has existed in Jacksonville ever since the inception of the Gator Bowl in the 1940s, a tradition that carries on today. So many people can afford to live here full or part-time due to the super-low housing costs and average cost of living.

Visit Jacksonville, FL for details.

10. Raleigh, NCScore: 80/100

Rounding out our top ten list is another city from the lovely state of North Carolina. Another newcomer to the list, Raleigh earned their spot with good reason. This capital city is part of the Research Triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel. So you can not only live in this gorgeous “City of Oaks” with lakes and rivers galore, you can increase your brainpower living near all of these intelligent Southern folk!

In all seriousness, Raleigh is an up-and-coming location with great schools that breed scholars to feed into the areas prestigious universities. Combine this with great weather and decent home prices and you’ve got it made. Get here before everyone else figures out this is a great place to live!

Visit Raleigh, NC for details.

You can refer to our Best Places to Live report for real-time, up-to-date and interactive top 100 best and worst list of cities. The report is sortable, and it allows you to discriminate by the population as well as your preferred state.