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. That a city is known as a lake town can be more significant than its proximity to landlocked bodies of water ideal for recreation. The lakes are often the historical breeding grounds of the nation’s first industries, as well as early transportation and shipping hubs. As these lakeside communities grew into the 20th century, they became industrialized and modernized, springing up 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 mined 2020 data from WalletHub to determine the best U.S. lake towns to live in. WalletHub's data included 46 towns with a beach and a population of 10,000 to 150,000 listed on TripAdvisor. The towns were evaluated across six areas: affordability, weather, safety, economy, education and health, and quality of life.
Whether the goal is to start a family, set up new roots, or to 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—the Ozarks’ Branson, Missouri, or Arizona’s Lake Havasu—it might surprise you to dive deeper into some quality-of-life offerings beyond the beach and vacation homes. You’ll likely pick up some knowledge from a wide range of Americana: one of the last remaining 1950s-style drive-ins in the Midwest; 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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