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Best Places to Live in Wisconsin

If you’re reading this, you’re probably considering somewhere in Wisconsin as a place to call home. And why not? With all the green forests, rolling hills, wide plains, friendly people, Packers parties and cheese curds, it’s a state that has something for everyone (and maybe more than something!).

But what part of Wisconsin is best? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for—and we’re here to give you some pointers.

So, “come’ere once” and let’s take a look at the best places to live in Wisconsin.

An Intro to the Badger State

Wisconsin is known as the Badger State, and that’s not because of the famous University of Wisconsin mascot. See, back in the 1820s, miners came to Wisconsin looking for riches in the hills. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to find enough to build or buy a house, so they dug themselves little burrows in those hills. Folks made fun of the miners by calling them badgers.

Nowadays, most Wisconsinites don’t live in holes (though some might). In fact, folks in Wisconsin are pretty friendly—always willing to help out their neighbors and strike up a great conversation with a “how’s by you?” They share that trait with their Minnesota-nice cousins to the west, even though their football teams are bitter rivals.

Speaking of football, that’s a way of life in Wisconsin. The state pretty much shuts down when the Green Bay Packers are playing. Don’t be surprised if you get invited to a Packers party to have “a couple two, tree” beers with your neighbors. And it’ll be super easy to get there—most cities have nice, gridded roadways.

Wisconsinites also love the outdoors. Wisconsin has some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the country, including lakes, rivers and forests. Winters are pretty harsh in Wisconsin, so when spring and summer come to warm things up, folks like to get outside—even leaving work early to start the weekend (called summer migration Fridays). Those summers are nice, but they can also be hot, humid and full of bugs.

Wisconsin is known across the country and around the world as America’s Dairyland. The state is the second-largest producer of milk in America and the number one producer of cheese (26% of the entire country’s supply!).1,2 That’s why folks who live in Wisconsin are often called Cheeseheads. Cheese curds and ice cream are favorites of Wisconsinites. Cranberries are also a big Wisconsin crop, with the state growing more than half of the world’s supply.3

But all those Packers parties, Cheesehead hats and green hills come with a price. Depending on where you land, the cost of living in Wisconsin can be above the national average—especially in the cities. Wisconsin also has a state income tax, but it’s pretty low compared to other states’ income taxes, as is the sales tax. However, Wisconsin is the eighth-highest when it comes to property taxes.4 So be sure to factor that into your budget if you’re planning on buying a home.

Best Places to Live in Wisconsin

Before we go down our list of locations, let’s get one thing straight: All “best places” lists are subjective, including this one. While we did use some data (population, home and rent prices, etc.), it’s just our opinion, so what’s best for you will ultimately depend on your personal likes and dislikes. For example, some people love city life, while others prefer a place in the suburbs or a cabin in the woods.

See how much house you can afford with our free mortgage calculator!

The good news is that Wisconsin offers pretty much any kind of homelife you’d want—from beach bum to urbanite to country boy. And to add a little more authenticity to our list, we consulted a few friendly former Cheeseheads, who graciously gave us insight based on their own personal experiences.

Now, let’s look at some great cities in Wisconsin.

Appleton

The city of Appleton describes itself as “One Great Place,” and it’s easy to see why. It’s the biggest of what are called the Fox Cities, a cluster of 19 communities along the Fox River and the northern shore of Lake Winnebago. So Appleton has all the big-city perks without the big-city cost of living: a giant shopping mall, an international airport, a thriving downtown and more. The industry in Appleton is pretty diverse—with everything from health care to education to manufacturing (plastics, pencils and paper, oh my!).5,6

Downtown Appleton offers lots of shops and restaurants to sample, as well as a history museum and the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. There are also parades and festivals throughout the year, with veterans being the focus of many. The most famous event in Appleton is the four-day Mile of Music, featuring over 200 artists performing all original songs. And don’t forget about all the fun water-based recreation on both Lake Winnebago and the Fox River, which runs straight through town.

Metro Area Population*

244,8457

Median Household Income

$75,4698

Median Home Price

$399,9009

Median Monthly Rent**

$1,10010

Average Annual Rainfall

33"11

Unemployment Rate

2.7%12

*Metro area population numbers include the city together with the surrounding urban and suburban areas.
**Median monthly rent number is based on a total of all property types.

Eau Claire

The city of Eau Claire was incorporated in 1872 at the meeting point of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers. The name comes from the French words for “clear water” because, as the story goes, early French pioneers shouted, “Voici l’eau claire!” (“Here’s the clear water!”) when they first laid eyes on the area. Given its status as a river town, Eau Claire started life as a logging and lumber city. Today, Eau Claire is a center for industries like manufacturing, health care and retail.13 Both the Mayo Clinic and Nestlé have satellite facilities in Eau Claire, and the home improvement store Menards is headquartered in the city.

Over the last 20 years, Eau Claire has reinvented itself as the Indie Capital of the Midwest—comparable to places like Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas. This is no doubt due to the youthful influence of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. The downtown area has been revitalized with public art displays, shops, restaurants (the locals love the hot beef sandwiches at Ray’s Place), interconnected bike and walking paths along the rivers, and lots of live music festivals. And the Pablo Center at the Confluence hosts both live performances and art exhibits.

Metro Area Population*

173,64414

Median Household Income

$63,88215

Median Home Price

$399,90016

Median Monthly Rent**

$1,20017

Average Annual Rainfall

35"18

Unemployment Rate

3.4%19

*Metro area population numbers include the city together with the surrounding urban and suburban areas.
**Median monthly rent number is based on a total of all property types.

Green Bay

If you think about it, the state of Wisconsin kind of looks like a mitten—and Green Bay is located in the corner between the mainland and the “thumb” of the Door Peninsula. The city is Wisconsin’s oldest (its settlement dates back to the 1700s) and the city’s architecture reflects this long history, with different styles and a variety of neighborhoods to fit any budget. Green Bay faces its namesake body of water to the north and is split right down the middle by the Fox River, which has fostered a friendly rivalry with the east and west sides.

But no matter which side they call home, the folks who live in Green Bay are a hardworking bunch who specialize in two big industries: cheese and paper.20 In fact, the world’s first splinter-free toilet paper was invented in Green Bay (and we thank them for that!). Green Bay is also the largest hub for cheese production and shipping in the U.S. (you could say it’s the Cheesehead capital).21

Green Bay residents love the city’s small-town feel and big-city amenities. There are 67 parks in Green Bay that provide outdoor recreation of all stripes, along with a riverfront boardwalk. And don’t forget the Bay Beach Amusement Park and the NEW (North East Wisconsin) Zoo and Adventure Park.

If football is a way of life in Wisconsin (and it is), then Green Bay is the home turf. There’s a reason why Green Bay is called Titletown and Packerland. The colors of the Green Bay Packers can be found everywhere. Traffic may be nonexistent in the state during game days, but in Green Bay, there’s always traffic getting to Lambeau Field—the Packers’ home stadium and the tallest structure in the city. These folks love their football so much that the Packers are the only pro team owned by its fans!

Metro Area Population*

330,29222

Median Household Income

$59,17423

Median Home Price

$454,90024

Median Monthly Rent**

$99925

Average Annual Rainfall

33"26

Unemployment Rate

3.0%27

*Metro area population numbers include the city together with the surrounding urban and suburban areas.
**Median monthly rent number is based on a total of all property types.

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La Crosse

Between the bluffs to the east and the banks of the Mississippi River on “Wisconsin’s West Coast” is La Crosse. The city was named by French explorers in the early 1800s who saw a tribe of Native Americans playing a game in an open field that was an early version of lacrosse (which the French adapted from them). That open field became the city.

La Crosse may not be very large in terms of square mileage, but there’s a lot of charm and activity packed into it. You’re never too far from any of the city’s highlights—like the downtown, farmers markets, food co-ops, museums, arts district, convention center and more. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse keeps the local culture youthful and is also one of the city’s largest employers.28 Other industries include health care, manufacturing and retail.29

Outdoor recreation is big in La Crosse. The city has many parks and green spaces, as well as walking and biking trails along the riverbank and hiking trails in the bluffs. Riverside Park is the city’s outdoor gathering place and the location for many of La Crosse’s community events like Moon Tunes, Oktoberfest USA and Riverfest. You can also get a ride on the La Crosse Queen, a genuine Mississippi paddle-wheel boat, at the park’s dock. And during winter, folks like to hit the slopes at Mt. La Crosse Ski Area.

Metro Area Population*

139,09430

Median Household Income

$51,83631

Median Home Price

$377,45032

Median Monthly Rent**

$1,14033

Average Annual Rainfall

36"34

Unemployment Rate

2.8%35

*Metro area population numbers include the city together with the surrounding urban and suburban areas.
**Median monthly rent number is based on a total of all property types.

Madison

Green Bay may be the capital of Wisconsin football, but Madison is the actual state capital. Madison’s founder, James Doty, was a big fan of the Founding Fathers of the United States, naming the city after James Madison—and 38 city streets for the other signers of the Constitution. Doty also had a thing for water, as Madison is located on a thin strip of land between two lakes: Mendota and Monona, which makes for awesome views no matter where you live.

The Wisconsin Capitol is quite literally central to life in Madison. Not only is it centrally placed on top of a hill, but there’s also a law that says no building in the city can be taller than the Capitol’s columns! The state of Wisconsin is also one of the city’s top employers, right behind the University of Wisconsin-Madison and UW Health.36

But the Capitol isn’t all business. There’s a farmers market on the hill every Saturday from April through November, and the adjacent downtown area hosts lots of events throughout the year. Plus, there are tons of shops, restaurants and museums to explore. Madison also has the most parks and playgrounds per capita of any city in the U.S.37 The State Street pedestrian mall extends the downtown area from the Capitol all the way over to the UW campus, where the locals cheer on the Badgers in football, hockey and basketball. With all this activity, it’s no wonder that Madison is both the state’s second-largest and fastest-growing city.38

Metro Area Population*

687,07739

Median Household Income

$74,89540

Median Home Price

$475,00041

Median Monthly Rent**

$1,51642

Average Annual Rainfall

37"43

Unemployment Rate

2.3%44

*Metro area population numbers include the city together with the surrounding urban and suburban areas.
**Median monthly rent number is based on a two-bedroom apartment.

Milwaukee

We’re all thinking it—the city of Milwaukee has a name that’s fun to say. And the origin of the name is shrouded in a mystery that goes back to the 1600s. Most historians believe that the name is based on a Native American word meaning “gathering place by the waters” or “the good land.” But why can’t it be both?

Planted on the shore of Lake Michigan at the meeting of three rivers (Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic), Milwaukee is “good land” that’s been a “gathering place” for people from all walks of life for hundreds of years. Its mix of cultures have all contributed to the city’s identity through food, art, architecture and more. In fact, the city is known as the Beer Capital of the World because of its German immigrants. Brewing isn’t as big today though. The city’s largest industries include manufacturing, health care and technology.45 It’s also home to some famous companies like Miller Brewing, Kohl’s and Harley-Davidson.

Milwaukee’s local culture definitely embraces a big-city vibe (it’s the state’s biggest city, after all).46 There’s so much to see and do, especially after a revitalization effort over the last 15 years. The downtown area is home to the Historic Third Ward—an arts and culture district with unique shops and restaurants, including the Milwaukee Public Market. The city also has a three-mile riverwalk that unites neighborhoods with local attractions.

Speaking of attractions, there are plenty to check out, like the Milwaukee County Zoo, Discovery World, the Milwaukee Art Museum and more. The Henry Maier Festival Park hosts Summerfest, the largest music festival in the world. And sports fans have two pro teams to root for: the Brewers (MLB) and the Bucks (NBA).

Best Milwaukee Suburbs

It’s true that a lot of people want to live in Milwaukee, but some may not want to deal with all the problems that are associated with a big city (crime, high property taxes, etc.). So here are a few of the surrounding suburbs that make for an easy commute into Milwaukee.

Brookfield
Elm Grove
Fox Point
Hartland
Mequon
Muskego
Shorewood
Thiensville
Waukesha
Wauwatosa

Metro Area Population*

1.6 million47

Median Household Income

$49,73348

Median Home Price

$365,00049

Median Monthly Rent**

$1,24050

Average Annual Rainfall

37"51

Unemployment Rate

3.4%52

*Metro area population numbers include the city together with the surrounding urban and suburban areas.
**Median monthly rent number is based on a two-bedroom apartment.

Sheboygan

Another Wisconsin city that has a fun name is Sheboygan (it just kind of bounces, doesn’t it?). The name comes from a Chippewa word meaning “passage between the lakes,” and it’s technically between Lake Michigan and Lake Winnebago (though it’s literally right on the Lake Michigan coast).

Incorporated in 1846, Sheboygan prides itself on being the City of Four C’s: churches, children, cheese and chairs. The first two are its social foundation (faith and family) and the last two are a nod to the history of its industry. Though furniture making has declined in the last 40 years, cheese and food processing are still a big part of the economy, as are metal manufacturing, papermaking and health care. And companies like Sargento, Kohler and Johnsonville Foodservice are based in the Sheboygan area.53

Cheese may be a top food export, but Sheboygan is really all about bratwurst, thanks to its German immigrant heritage. The city is known as the Brat Capital of the World, and Sheboyganites are very serious about their brats, with frying being the only way to cook them. There’s even a brat oath on the city’s website! So you’ll find lots of restaurants and bars in the city’s downtown area that fry up brats. And of course, there’s an annual Brat Days festival.

Sheboygan is also known as the Malibu of the Midwest because it has some of the best lake surfing anywhere (who knew?). And the surfing is apparently even better in the winter courtesy of the high winds off the lake (brrrr!). Along the lakeshore, you’ll find the boardwalk and an old-fashioned shanty village with lots more fun shops, coffee houses and restaurants.

Metro Area Population*

117,84154

Median Household Income

$59,86155

Median Home Price

$334,90056

Median Monthly Rent**

$1,11057

Average Annual Rainfall

33"58

Unemployment Rate

2.5%59

*Metro area population numbers include the city together with the surrounding urban and suburban areas.
**Median monthly rent number is based on a total of all apartment types.

Wausau

Wausau (pronounced “wah-sah”) is almost right smack-dab in the center of the state. The name is a Chippewa word that means “faraway place,” and it’s a pretty good description. Founded in 1852, Wausau has become known as Wisconsin’s outdoor base camp—a jumping-off point to all the wilderness-fueled adventure that northern Wisconsin has to offer.

There are 122 parks in Marathon County, not to mention the miles and miles of hiking and biking trails that surround Wausau. The Wisconsin River, which cuts through the city, offers opportunities for boating, kayaking and more. Downtown even has a man-made stretch of white water that’s used for international rafting competitions.

Not the outdoorsy type? There’s still plenty to do in Wausau. Despite its rustic reputation, the city is super modern. The arts and culture scene radiates from the historic 400 Block—with an art museum, a theater, public art displays, shops and restaurants. The kids will love indoor activities like Wausau on Water and the nearby Sawmill Adventure Park. And every summer, Wausau hosts Concerts on the Square, a popular series of music performances in the open air.

Wausau is so in tune with nature that its local economy relies on it. Both tourism and agriculture are big industry sectors. In fact, Wausau makes Wisconsin the largest producer of ginseng in the U.S. Other top industries in Wausau include health care, food processing and manufacturing.60

Metro Area Population*

166,33461

Median Household Income

$59,25962

Median Home Price

$349,86063

Median Monthly Rent**

$87564

Average Annual Rainfall

34"65

Unemployment Rate

3%66

*Metro area population numbers include the city together with the surrounding urban and suburban areas.
**Median monthly rent number is based on a total of all apartment types.

Best Places to Live in Wisconsin for Families

Wisconsin constantly comes up highly rated as a great place to raise a family. With lots of outdoor activities and great schools, the opportunities for family fun and growth are endless. Here are a few communities to look into if you’re coming to the Badger State with your cubs.

Appleton
Brookfield
Elm Grove
Hartland
Mequon
Middleton
River Hills
Thiensville
Whitefish Bay

Best Places to Live in Wisconsin for Young Professionals

Young and looking for a fun place to spend some cash on a night on the town (within Baby Step and budgetary limits, of course)? Wisconsin is full of cities with great arts and culture scenes—and close suburbs that offer all the amenities with a lower cost of living. Check out these cities with a youthful vibe.

Brookfield
Elm Grove
Kohler
La Crosse
Madison
Milwaukee
Shorewood
Wauwatosa

Best Places to Live in Wisconsin for Retirees

Retirees love settling in Wisconsin for its peace and quiet (outside Green Bay, anyway), green landscape and relatively low cost of living (outside the cities). And the fact that Wisconsin doesn’t tax Social Security benefits helps too.67 Here are a few places you might want to look at if you’re thinking of living the Wisconsin life after your time in the workforce is done.

Brookfield
Elm Grove
Sturgeon Bay
Waupun
Wausau

Ready to Move to Wisconsin?

Has this info left you chomping at the bit for all the brats and cheese curds you can handle? Ready to live that woodsy Wisconsin life and become a Cheesehead? A real estate agent can make the transition to the Badger State a smooth one—guiding you through the process from start to finish. And not just any real estate agent. For a fast and easy way to find local Wisconsin agents, look no further than our network of RamseyTrusted pros.

We only recommend agents who know the area and are completely dedicated to helping you find the perfect place. And we trust them to take care of you the Ramsey way—with honesty and integrity.

 

Next Steps

  • Decide where in Wisconsin you’d like to move.
  • Interview at least three trusted agents from that area.
  • Choose one who’s right for you and start your moving journey!
See Wisconsin Agents

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Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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