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Best county to live in for every state
What makes the best county in each state? Often it’s a good mix of opportunities for fun outdoor activities and cultural attractions. Throw in some historical sites, good schools, job opportunities, and affordable housing, and the county will most likely have happy residents.
The places on this list include an Alaskan borough whose bay remains open year-round, which keeps its economy humming. Huntsville, Alabama was nicknamed Rocket City for the work people in town did to get spaceships to the moon. Others, such as Fairfield County, Connecticut, have drawn on financial services to fund their tax base. One of the wealthiest of the counties is in California, its fate tied up with Silicon Valley.
Some are on the coasts, but others in coastal states are inland, away from crowds and tourist destinations. Many of the counties on this list have extensive parks, often honoring distinctive geographical features that offer exercise and exploration opportunities. Residents can also keep their minds sharp with museums, art galleries, plays, and other cultural pursuits.
Some of the counties include universities that provide lectures, concerts, and other intellectual outlets for residents of the surrounding area. Others provide great shopping opportunities, theaters, restaurants, wine bars, and pubs for an evening out without navigating the traffic of a larger city.
They rely on a range of businesses, from high-tech firms and hedge funds that have set up shop outside of urban centers to wineries and generations-old farms now providing organic fruits, vegetables, and other crops.
Read on to find which county is the best to live in in each state.
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– Population: 357,560
– Median home value: $180,600 (67% own)
– Median rent: $829 (33% rent)
– Median household income: $63,417
Jobs in Huntsville, the county seat of Madison County, are concentrated in the space industry, the military, biotechnology, and telecommunications, according to its Chamber of Commerce. U.S. News & World Report gives some of its public high schools top marks. Huntsville is also known as Rocket City for its work on rockets used in the moon flights, a history that can be found on display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. There are many outdoor recreation opportunities, including at the Rainbow Mountain Nature Preserve and the Green Mountain Nature Trail.
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Alaska: Valdez-Cordova Borough
– Population: 9,301
– Median home value: $229,800 (73% own)
– Median rent: $981 (27% rent)
– Median household income: $82,306
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– Population: 4,253,913
– Median home value: $242,700 (61% own)
– Median rent: $1,079 (39% rent)
– Median household income: $61,606
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– Population: 258,980
– Median home value: $172,000 (66% own)
– Median rent: $873 (34% rent)
– Median household income: $64,141
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California: Santa Clara County
– Population: 1,922,200
– Median home value: $913,000 (57% own)
– Median rent: $2,126 (43% rent)
– Median household income: $116,178
Santa Clara County is one of the world’s wealthiest places because of the presence of Silicon Valley. According to the Brookings Institution, Silicon Valley trails only Zurich, Switzerland, and Oslo, Norway, for GDP per capita. Santa Clara County’s largest city is San Jose, and it is home to the world-renowned Stanford University. The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is also there with its marshes and salt ponds.
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– Population: 321,030
– Median home value: $462,200 (62% own)
– Median rent: $1,411 (38% rent)
– Median household income: $78,642
Downtown Boulder, the county seat, features the outdoor Pearl Street Mall, with shopping and restaurants. University Hill is appropriately named as home to the University of Colorado. Chautauqua Park offers concerts, and there is hiking in the foothills and mountains above. Longmont, the county’s second-largest city, has a creative district and affordable housing.
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Connecticut: Fairfield County
– Population: 944,348
– Median home value: $422,300 (67% own)
– Median rent: $1,470 (33% rent)
– Median household income: $92,969
Fairfield County is part of the New York City metro area and has attracted top businesses in healthcare and financial services, specifically some of the largest hedge funds in the area. Residents here can live in a city or the country and find top-notch public and private schools—at less cost than in Boston or New York.
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Delaware: New Castle County
– Population: 555,133
– Median home value: $254,500 (68% own)
– Median rent: $1,141 (32% rent)
– Median household income: $70,996
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– Population: 455,086
– Median home value: $224,000 (65% own)
– Median rent: $1,198 (35% rent)
– Median household income: $63,760
Seminole County is in central Florida with lakes and rivers, instead of ocean beaches. Historic downtown Sanford has a marina with a restored 123-year old paddle boat, restaurants, craft breweries, street festivals, and art galleries. Wekiwa Springs State Park offers swimming and canoeing, while the Wekiva River is federally protected for its geology, fish, and wildlife. The Seminole County Public Schools are ranked in the top 10 of the state’s schools.
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– Population: 37,017
– Median home value: $268,100 (83% own)
– Median rent: $970 (17% rent)
– Median household income: $88,308
Oconee County is in the northeastern part of Georgia, and it includes the city of Watkinsville, a suburb of Athens and the county seat. There are more than 50 classes and workshops, vendors, music, and food at the Bushcraft Gathering. Watkinsville has the largest pottery show in Georgia. A large number of schools in the Oconee County School District are rated above average.
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– Population: 987,638
– Median home value: $649,800 (56% own)
– Median rent: $1,703 (44% rent)
– Median household income: $82,906
Honolulu County includes the city of Honolulu and the rest of the island of O’ahu. It’s the home of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and Diamond Head, the dormant volcano, and the famous Waikiki Beach. Residents and visitors can watch for humpback whales and visit the Hawaiian Mission Houses, which consists of three restored houses, two of them the oldest in Hawaii.
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– Population: 446,052
– Median home value: $242,300 (68% own)
– Median rent: $950 (32% rent)
– Median household income: $63,137
Ada County includes Boise and the 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt, which follows the river through the city and opens into many of the parks. It’s called the Ribbon of Jewels. You can float down the Boise River on tubes or rafts or hike the Boise foothills. There are six outdoor public pools, a family ice skating center, and the house of James Castle, an artist who was discovered when his nephew showed his drawings to instructors at the Museum Art School in Portland, Oregon.
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– Population: 931,743
– Median home value: $299,000 (73% own)
– Median rent: $1,280 (27% rent)
– Median household income: $88,711
DuPage County, a so-called collar community of the Chicago metro area, features parks, small downtowns, restaurants, and shopping. A historic mansion in Naperville now serves tapas while a restaurant in Oak Brook has brunch and bocce on the menu. DuPage is one of Illinois’s healthiest spots, according to an annual survey, and its residents can take advantage of forest preserves, miles of bike trails, and golf courses. The Morton Arboretum in Lisle is a public garden and outdoor museum with a program in tree research. Schools in Dupage County have an average ranking in the top 5% of Illinois public schools, according to Public School Review, a website that provides profiles of public schools across the country.
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– Population: 316,095
– Median home value: $249,400 (77% own)
– Median rent: $1,152 (23% rent)
– Median household income: $94,644
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– Population: 147,001
– Median home value: $216,900 (60% own)
– Median rent: $968 (40% rent)
– Median household income: $61,640
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– Population: 585,502
– Median home value: $244,100 (69% own)
– Median rent: $1,065 (31% rent)
– Median household income: $84,915
The mostly suburban county is outside of Kansas City, Kansas. It includes Overland Park, the second-largest city in the Kansas City metro area, and Olathe, the county seat. Some unique spots in Overland Park: the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead and the Museum at Prairiefire, which collaborates with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Schools in Johnson County, on average, rank in the top 5% of Kansas public schools.
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– Population: 65,374
– Median home value: $271,900 (85% own)
– Median rent: $906 (15% rent)
– Median household income: $97,597
Oldham County is 20 minutes from Louisville, is noted for horse farms and bourbon, and has a top school system. There are tours of the horse farms, including Hermitage Farm, which has raised Triple Crown winners. The Bibb Escapes/Gatewood Plantation is part of the National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
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Louisiana: Ascension Parish
– Population: 121,176
– Median home value: $191,300 (80% own)
– Median rent: $979 (20% rent)
– Median household income: $76,589
Ascension Parish is between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, with attractions like the Jambalaya Festival and the Swamp Pop Music Festival. The Donaldsonville Historic District is made up of some 640 buildings dating from 1865 to 1933. The National Park Service calls the architecture the finest of any in the parishes along the Mississippi above New Orleans. The River Road African American Museum celebrates African American history, music, storytelling, and more. Nearly three-quarters of the schools in the county are rated above average.
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– Population: 290,944
– Median home value: $269,200 (69% own)
– Median rent: $1,081 (31% rent)
– Median household income: $69,708
Portland is the county seat of Cumberland County, which is on the state’s southern coast. Its name comes from William, Duke of Cumberland, son of King George II. Portland, on Casco Bay, Maine, is a center of arts and food, with Bon Appétit dubbing it “America’s Foodiest Small Town.” The L.L. Bean Flagship Store is nearby in Freeport. Other attractions: Portland Museum of Art, the city’s First Friday Art Walk, the Portland Symphony Orchestra, and the Portland Ballet. Casco Bay offers schooner rides. Public schools in the county rank on average in the top 10% of the state’s schools.
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– Population: 315,327
– Median home value: $448,000 (73% own)
– Median rent: $1,690 (27% rent)
– Median household income: $117,730
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Massachusetts: Middlesex County
– Population: 1,595,192
– Median home value: $476,500 (62% own)
– Median rent: $1,541 (38% rent)
– Median household income: $97,012
Middlesex County is north and west of Boston and includes Cambridge, home of Harvard University and the Harvard Art Museums, made up of the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Arthur M. Sackler collections. Harvard Square is famous for its coffee shops and bookstores. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is also in Cambridge along the Charles River. Farther north is Lowell, with its historic textile mills. The county’s public schools rank on average in the top 20% of the state’s schools.
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Michigan: Washtenaw County
– Population: 365,961
– Median home value: $246,000 (61% own)
– Median rent: $1,083 (39% rent)
– Median household income: $69,434
The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor is in Washtenaw County, west of Detroit. Ann Arbor is a lively university town, with restaurants, music, cafes, and breweries. Among the places to visit at the university, there is the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. In Ann Arbor, there is the Classic Ann Arbor by the Sidewalk Food Tour and the Ann Arbor Art Fair.
Minnesota: Hennepin County
– Population: 1,235,478
– Median home value: $260,300 (62% own)
– Median rent: $1,085 (38% rent)
– Median household income: $74,113
Hennepin County includes Minneapolis, one-half of the Twin Cities, and the enormous Mall of America, America’s largest indoor shopping center with stores and entertainment. In Minneapolis, there is the Walker Art Center to see, as well as the mural of Prince, and the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum. In Eden Prairie, one of the county’s suburbs, 95% of residents say the city’s quality of life is above average.
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Mississippi: Madison County
– Population: 103,498
– Median home value: $215,100 (72% own)
– Median rent: $956 (28% rent)
– Median household income: $71,690
One of the fastest-growing counties in Mississippi, Madison County is a suburb of Jackson. It has some distinctly Southern attractions such as the Cypress Swamp, where you can walk among tupelo and bald cypress trees and the Mississippi Petrified Forest. The annual Scarecrow Festival has a barbecue, a cakewalk, and train and pony rides. The View Gallery features local artists.
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Missouri: St. Louis County
– Population: 998,684
– Median home value: $190,100 (69% own)
– Median rent: $957 (31% rent)
– Median household income: $65,300
St. Louis County is a suburb that lies between St. Louis and the Mississippi River. It boasts the Butterfly House, a butterfly zoo operated by the Missouri Botanical Garden in Faust Park in Chesterfield, and the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, in Grantwood Village, where Grant lived in the 1850s. The property consists of 850 acres of fields, orchards, and large woods. There’s also the Laumeier Sculpture Park, which has more than 60 outdoor sculptures and educational programs in Sunset Hills.
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– Population: 104,729
– Median home value: $330,400 (61% own)
– Median rent: $1,007 (39% rent)
– Median household income: $61,499
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– Population: 554,992
– Median home value: $161,400 (61% own)
– Median rent: $906 (39% rent)
– Median household income: $61,688
Omaha is the county seat of Douglas County, the state’s most populous county. Omaha is known as the home of Warren Buffett and for its stockyards (which closed in 1999). Some current top sights that make it a great place to call home include The Durham Museum, which has exhibits of the history of the region in Omaha’s former Union Station; the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium; and the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, a settlement of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as members made their way westward.
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– Population: 450,486
– Median home value: $299,400 (58% own)
– Median rent: $1,000 (42% rent)
– Median household income: $61,155
Washoe County includes Reno, and because this is Nevada, there are casinos. Washoe County casinos collected $65 million in June, a 6.8% drop from the $69 million from last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported. Residents have plenty of other things to do, including picnicking and riding at Washoe Lake State Park and skiing at the Mount Rose Ski Resort. Schools in Washoe County have an average ranking in the top 30% of Nevada public schools.
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New Hampshire: Grafton County
– Population: 89,811
– Median home value: $220,400 (69% own)
– Median rent: $922 (31% rent)
– Median household income: $63,153
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New Jersey: Somerset County
– Population: 330,176
– Median home value: $420,500 (76% own)
– Median rent: $1,552 (24% rent)
– Median household income: $111,772
Somerset County in central New Jersey is full of historic sites, including George Washington’s last wartime headquarters. He stayed at the Rockingham Historic Site for three months in 1783 while attending the Continental Congress in Princeton. The more modern U.S. Golf Association Museum is in the Frothingham-Sloane House, a Georgian Revival mansion in Liberty Corner. Close to New York City and Philadelphia, the county has estates, working farms, and bustling main streets.
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New Mexico: Los Alamos County
– Population: 18,356
– Median home value: $292,200 (74% own)
– Median rent: $1,037 (26% rent)
– Median household income: $115,248
Los Alamos County famously housed the Manhattan Project during World War II, the federal government’s effort to produce the first nuclear weapons. That work now can be studied at the Los Alamos History Museum and the Los Alamos Historical Society Archives and Collection. The county is also home to the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos. A national monument, the Bandelier National Monument, consists of more than 33,000 acres and evidence of human presence going back more than 11,000 years.
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New York: Tompkins County
– Population: 102,962
– Median home value: $199,400 (55% own)
– Median rent: $1,107 (45% rent)
– Median household income: $58,743
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North Carolina: Wake County
– Population: 1,046,558
– Median home value: $265,800 (64% own)
– Median rent: $1,102 (36% rent)
– Median household income: $76,956
North Dakota: Cass County
– Population: 174,202
– Median home value: $211,500 (53% own)
– Median rent: $804 (47% rent)
– Median household income: $62,031
Fargo is the county seat of Cass County. College football games are played at the Fargodome, also the home to concerts and theatrical shows. The Plains Art Museum shows regional and Native American art in a renovated warehouse and brings together artists and their audiences to support the arts. The Fargo Air Museum has two hangars of modern and vintage airplanes. Schools in Cass County, on average, rank in the top 20% of the state’s public schools.
– Population: 197,008
– Median home value: $293,900 (81% own)
– Median rent: $1,040 (19% rent)
– Median household income: $104,322
Delaware County, in central Ohio just north of Columbus, was named after a Native American tribe who were then forced to land west of the Mississippi River. The discovery of natural gas in the area sparked industrial growth after the Civil War. Today it has golf courses, craft wines and brews, and shops. The Delaware State Fair continues to play host to the Little Brown Jug, part of the Grand Circuit series of harness racing.
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– Population: 642,781
– Median home value: $150,500 (59% own)
– Median rent: $845 (41% rent)
– Median household income: $53,902
Tulsa County is on the Arkansas River, on land that once was part of the Creek and Cherokee nations. The county is often called Oklahoma’s gateway to “Green Country,” and cattle, horse ranches, and farmland are not far from the city’s center, where businesses are focused on energy, aviation, finance, and computers. The suburbs are growing in cities such as Broken Arrow, Bixby, Collinsville, and Glenpool, while the Council Oak Tree remains in downtown Tulsa, the meeting place for the Creek, Cherokee, and Osage nations.
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– Population: 89,780
– Median home value: $303,200 (57% own)
– Median rent: $1,019 (43% rent)
– Median household income: $58,655
Corvallis in western Oregon is the county seat of Benton County, and it offers wineries and craft brewers as well as places to hike and bike in the Willamette Valley. South of Portland and north of Eugene, the county is close to urban areas but also to outdoor activities in the Cascade Range and the Pacific Ocean. County Health Rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found Benton County to be one of the top three healthiest counties in Oregon. Its economy is based in the tech and health industries and on regional agriculture—including Christmas trees, wine grapes, and organic produce—though recently, farmers have added hazelnuts and marijuana. There are festivals and fairs to choose from—the county fair, the rodeo, and Da Vinci Days of arts and science.
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Pennsylvania: Montgomery County
– Population: 821,301
– Median home value: $305,800 (72% own)
– Median rent: $1,253 (28% rent)
– Median household income: $88,166
Montgomery County, part of suburban Philadelphia, is home to Valley Forge, the site of the 1777 and 1778 winter encampment of the Continental Army under General George Washington. Its largest municipality is Lower Merion Township. Other historical sites: The Peter Wentz Farmstead, an 18th century Pennsylvania German farmstead, and Mill Grove, built in 1762 and the first American home of artist, author, and naturalist John James Audubon.
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Rhode Island: Bristol County
– Population: 48,900
– Median home value: $345,200 (70% own)
– Median rent: $1,034 (30% rent)
– Median household income: $75,578
Bristol County is in the East Bay section of Rhode Island. Bristol is known for a Fourth of July celebration that was established in 1785. Top attractions are the county’s beaches—Rhode Island is known as the Ocean State—as well as Colt State Park and the East Bay Bike Path.
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South Carolina: Greenville County
– Population: 498,402
– Median home value: $172,100 (67% own)
– Median rent: $880 (33% rent)
– Median household income: $56,789
Greenville County is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina’s Upcountry, halfway between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia. Once a textile center, today it is home to French tire manufacturer Michelin, which chose Greenville as its North American headquarters in 1986, and more than 250 international firms. In the city of Greenville’s downtown, there is Falls Park on the Reedy, with a suspension bridge and gardens in what is thought to be the spot that a gristmill once stood.
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South Dakota: Brookings County
– Population: 34,239
– Median home value: $172,300 (59% own)
– Median rent: $727 (41% rent)
– Median household income: $56,370
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Tennessee: Williamson County
– Population: 218,648
– Median home value: $417,700 (81% own)
– Median rent: $1,443 (19% rent)
– Median household income: $109,026
Williamson County, as The Tennessean newspaper wrote last year, is an outlier: the only county in Tennessee with a median household income of more than $75,000, its is $103,000, the only county with a poverty rate below 5%, and the only one where more than 40%of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, according to a study by the Sycamore Institute. Some of its growth is attributed to the former Saturn plant in Spring Hill. Local attractions include the Arrington Vineyards, the Carnton historic house and museum, and The Carter House Civil War command post.
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– Population: 944,350
– Median home value: $288,900 (66% own)
– Median rent: $1,297 (34% rent)
– Median household income: $94,192
Collin County is in northeastern Texas, 30 miles south of the Red River in the Blackland Prairie region. Its county seat is McKinney, and the largest city is Plano. It is becoming one of Texas’s most densely populated counties. The county’s average age dropped, and education levels rose as young families moved to the area. Hispanics were once a minority but now outnumber African Americans.
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– Population: 340,621
– Median home value: $265,900 (78% own)
– Median rent: $1,055 (22% rent)
– Median household income: $79,690
Davis County is in northern Utah, home to the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island, one of Utah’s state parks and the home to 500 bison. The county is close to Salt Lake City, the CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, and the Hill Aerospace Museum at the Hill Air Force Base.
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Vermont: Chittenden County
– Population: 162,052
– Median home value: $288,200 (63% own)
– Median rent: $1,230 (37% rent)
– Median household income: $69,896
Chittenden county seat is Burlington, the state’s most populous city, and there are lots of outdoor activities to do, from hiking to skiing. At Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont, alpine tundra survived the ice age, one of only three mountains where that occurred. At Shelburne Farms, the 1,400 acres are used for education.
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– Population: 385,143
– Median home value: $492,300 (78% own)
– Median rent: $1,813 (22% rent)
– Median household income: $136,268
Loudoun County is in northern Virginia, just 25 miles out of Washington D.C. It is farm country—for vegetable farms, dairies and horse farms—and you can pick apples, go riding, or watch a horse race. There are farm tours in the spring or the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum to visit and more than 40 wineries. The county seat is Leesburg, once called Georgetown for King George II.
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– Population: 2,163,257
– Median home value: $493,500 (57% own)
– Median rent: $1,494 (43% rent)
– Median household income: $89,418
King County is home to Seattle, the farmers market at Pike Place Market, and the Museum of Pop Culture, founded by Microsoft’s Paul Allen. You can visit the Space Needle or the Chihuly Garden and Glass to see Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures. There is the Seattle Aquarium and the gum wall, literally a brick wall covered with gum at the Pike Place Market.
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West Virginia: Monongalia County
– Population: 105,252
– Median home value: $188,700 (56% own)
– Median rent: $820 (44% rent)
– Median household income: $49,926
Morgantown is the county seat of Monongalia County, where attractions include the Morgantown History Museum and the Art Museum of West Virginia University, the Forks of Cheat Winery, and the Cheat Lake Trail. There’s also a museum to the coal industry in the coal mining state, the Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum.
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Wisconsin: Ozaukee County
– Population: 88,284
– Median home value: $273,000 (76% own)
– Median rent: $903 (24% rent)
– Median household income: $82,807
Ozaukee County is on Lake Michigan, north of Milwaukee. You can visit the Cedar Creek Winery or the Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve. There’s a Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fabrics and the Ozaukee County Pioneer Village. The county’s schools, on average, rank in the top 1% of the state’s public schools.
– Population: 23,059
– Median home value: $827,400 (58% own)
– Median rent: $1,339 (42% rent)
– Median household income: $83,831
Teton County is the home of Jackson and many outdoor attractions, including the Jackson Hole ski area, Grand Teton National Park, and parts of Yellowstone National Park with the Old Faithful geyser. There’s an elk refuge in Jackson Hole and a Natural Museum of Wildlife Art.
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