According to United Van Lines Annual 2023 National Movers Study, the 47th of its kind, people are on the move in interesting ways.
The reasons for relocating are more nuanced than ever before. Lured by the slower pace of life, movers are drawn to smaller and mid-size cities with proximity to natural beauty and cultural riches. No longer just “nice to have,” such amenities have become integral to our way of life.
The impacts of climate change also appear to factor in. While a handful of coastal cities still rank high, fewer of them are in Florida. Movers also appear cognizant about areas prone to wildfires, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Then there’s the matter of cost of living. With affordable housing top of mind, the shift away from historically expensive, major metro areas is an ongoing pattern.
Let’s dive in. Here are the top 10 inbound cities people moved to in 2023:
- Myrtle Beach, SC (84%)
- Wilmington, NC (82.77%)
- Flagstaff, AZ (82.47%)
- Sioux Falls, SD (80.49%)
- Santa Fe, NM (80.42%)
- Eugene-Springfield, OR (75.7%)
- Dothan, AL (75.38%)
- Brownsville-Harlingen, TX (71.85%)
- Bellingham, WA (70.54%)
- Richland-Kennewick-Pasco, WA (70.11%)
Now, let’s take a quick a step back to 2022, when the top five cities people moved to, in order, were Wilmington, North Carolina (81%); Bellingham, Washington (73.2%); Santa Fe, New Mexico (73%); Myrtle Beach, SC (72%) and Punta Gorda, Florida (71.6%). Interestingly, Wilmington, North Carolina ranked in the top MSA inbound markets for four consecutive years. Meanwhile, Punta Gorda, Florida — which was in our top five last year — dropped to 21st on our list of inbound cities to move to in 2023.
While Myrtle Beach and Wilmington remain high on the list, there has been a notable shift inland. This year, Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas, located one hour from the ocean; the riverside tri-cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco, Washington; and landlocked Dothan, Alabama all cracked the top 10. None are particularly populous or spendy and all are a gateway to nature’s wonders.
Considering a move? From sunny South Carolina to the towering Ponderosa pines of Arizona, one of these vibrant cities may be calling your name. Perhaps 2024 is your year, knowing adventure, relaxation and picture-perfect vistas await.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Fun, Sun and Southern Hospitality
Average Commute: 18.7 minutes
Distance from the Coast: 0 miles
Number of Museums: 20-plus
Offering a magnetic mix of fun and sun, it’s no wonder Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, topped 2023’s list for inbound cities (84%), up more than 10 points from 2022.
A little slice of paradise where life moves at a leisurely pace and worries melt away with the setting sun, this coastal South Carolina charmer is so much more than the sand, surf and saltwater taffy that defines it.
Warm and subtropical, Myrtle Beach resides in the northeastern part of the state, at the center of a continuous, 60-mile stretch of beach called “The Grand Strand.” Short, mostly mild winters see average daytime highs from 57 F to 61 F. Warm, leisurely summers see temps between 83 F and 91 F. On average it sees 215 days of glorious sunshine.
Not to be overlooked is Myrtle Beach’s warm Southern hospitality, thousands of miles of walking paths, plethora of shopping malls and fresh-plucked seafood. Then there’s the matter of affordability. The cost of living in Myrtle Beach is 2% lower than the state average and 8% lower than the national average. Myrtle Beach housing is 32% cheaper than the U.S average, while utilities are about 17% pricier. As for basic necessities, like groceries and clothing, they are about 2% less than in the rest of the country.
A hop, skip and a jump from Congaree and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, Myrtle Beach has plenty of state parks, nature reserves and wildlife refuges close to home. Meanwhile, the Grand Strand’s flashy amusement parks, mini golf courses and boardwalks offer kitschy entertainment galore. If kitsch isn’t your thing, take in a show at the Alabama Theatre or stroll through Spanish moss-draped Brookgreen Gardens. Or just find a seat at one of the beach bars along Ocean Boulevard, gazing at the technicolor sunsets while a Jimmy Buffett cover band cranks out another round of “Margaritaville.”
Among the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in America, palm tree-stippled Myrtle Beach is also known for its well-performing public and private schools.
Wilmington, North Carolina: Charming Historic District and Beautiful Beaches
Average Commute: 18.5 minutes
Distance from the Coast: 0 miles
Number of Museums: 8-plus
A port city on southeastern North Carolina’s Cape Fear coast, Wilmington’s genteel mansions and cobblestoned streets whisper of Southern charm. Boasting a large historic district, vibrant riverfront and picturesque walks along the storied Cape Fear River, it sets the tone with varied, architectural homes and mossy, old-growth oaks that line the city’s more than 230-block district on the National Register of Historic Places.
Beyond the city limits, adventures await. Paddle the blackwater creeks of the Green Swamp Preserve or reel in red drum off the piers at Kure Beach and Carolina Beach. For hiking, head to Airlie Gardens or the Brunswick Nature Park to traipse through longleaf pine forests and cypress swamps.
If lazing on white sand beaches is more your speed, you’ve got over 20 miles of them within 30 minutes of downtown. Wrightsville Beach draws surfers and sunbathers, while undeveloped Masonboro Island is only accessible by boat or kayak.
Featuring a humid, subtropical climate marked by mild winters and hot, humid summers that bring windy conditions and heavy rains, Wilmington is a gateway to beaches that include Wrightsville, known for its strong surf, and Carolina, featuring a long boardwalk.
Beyond its historic district trimmed with restaurants, galleries and shops. The Cape Fear River is where the Battleship North Carolina is moored, and artifacts aboard offer an exploration of WWII naval combat history.
Relatively affordable in today’s terms, Wilmington’s cost of living is 2% higher than the state average and 4% lower than the national average. Here, housing is 23% cheaper than the U.S average, while utilities are about 4% pricier. When it comes to the basics, such as food and clothing, they cost about 3% more than in the rest of the country.
Flagstaff, Arizona: Outdoor Adventure Meets College Town Vibes
Average Commute: 19.1 minutes
Distance from the Coast: 279 miles from the Pacific Ocean
Number of Museums: 8-plus
Nestled in northern Arizona amid mountains, desert and fragrant ponderosa pine forests, relaxed, pedestrian-friendly — not to mention “granola” — Flagstaff attracts cheery, outdoors-loving, athletic crowd. Northern Arizona University (NAU) infuses a dose of college-town flair. On campus, you’ll find gardens, observatories and the highly rated Museum Club bar. Off-campus, students flock to downtown’s cafes, bookstores and live music venues.
A rich railroad history is evident throughout town. The reason? In the 1880s, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad laid tracks through Flagstaff and the rest of northern Arizona and New Mexico. Upon purchasing the line in 1885, the Santa Fe Railroad established Flagstaff as a continuous rail connection between St. Louis and the Pacific Ocean.
Set at the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau, Flagstaff is variously reported to have a warm dry-summer Mediterranean climate, hemiboreal climate and cold semi-arid climate, the latter of which it’s most commonly designated. Northern Arizona experiences a summer monsoon season from July to September, with July and August typically the wettest months. There is also a winter monsoon season, albeit less pronounced. June — and summer as a whole — is driest. Flagstaff’s hottest temperature on record was 97 F in July 1973, meaning the temps are much more bearable than Arizona’s lowland areas.
Admittedly, it’s not just the heat that can creep up on you. Flagstaff is not the most affordable place on our list — its overall cost of living clocks in at 114% of the national average.
A gateway to the jaw-dropping Grand Canyon and mighty Colorado River that carved it, Flagstaff was designated an International Dark Sky City. As such, stargazing is topnotch. In fact, budding astronomers can drive up to Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill, just west of downtown, to capitalize on the view. A bit further afield is the incredible Antelope Canyon, its undulating sandstone formations on land belonging to a Navajo family. Plan ahead and take the awe-inspiring tour — guides are a must.
Of course, the natural wonders don’t stop there. Hiking is popular during the warmer months, including on trails in Coconino National Forest and ones crisscrossing Mt. Elden northeast of downtown. Friendly to cyclists, Flagstaff also sports more than 50 miles of peddle-ready trails. When winter arrives, locals zip down the slopes of Agassiz and Humphreys peaks on 40 runs from 9,200- to-11,500 feet.
With all the formations around, ways to appreciate history and geology also run deep. There are three fascinating national monuments within 40 miles of the city, standouts being the lava field at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and the 800-year-old pueblo at Wupatki National Monument. Of course, you can also explore indoors at the Museum of Northern Arizona, which lends insight into the Colorado Plateau.
Want to venture further afield? Check out our National Parks of the Southwest guide.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota: Small City Life with Big Benefits
Don’t let its diminutive size fool you — Sioux Falls, South Dakota, packs a big punch.
Forget sprinting to catch the bus or battling bumper-to-bumper traffic — life here moves at a gentler pace, allowing you to soak in the simple pleasures.
With over 70 parks spanning 900 acres, there are plenty of places to unwind in nature. Meander the bike trails, cast a line in the Big Sioux River, or pack a picnic in the aptly named Falls Park, home to the city’s namesake cascades.
Those culturally inclined will also find their bliss in Sioux Falls. Despite its small-town vibe, the city boasts a symphony orchestra, several theater companies, and an array of museums dedicated to art, natural history and pioneer life. Add that to its smattering of craft breweries, farm-to-table eateries and funky shops lining the historic downtown.
While life here may move slower, the economy certainly does not. In fact, Sioux Falls has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Major employers like Sanford Health, Avera and Citibank are regularly hiring. The cost of living is also well below the national average, so your paycheck will stretch further.
At 3% lower than the state average and 9% lower than the national average, Sioux Falls’ housing is 8% cheaper than the U.S average, its utilities are 16% less pricey, and food and clothing are about 9% less.
From its gently rolling prairies to its shallow, fertile valleys. South Dakota is an underrated, undeniably attractive state. Head southwest and your mind will be blown — Badlands National Park is a geologic marvel; the majestic Black Hills offer 10,000 square miles of grasslands, forests and memorials; and colossal Mount Rushmore — the carved faces of Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — is a national treasure.
Of course, you don’t have to travel far to soak up the region’s beauty. Terrace Park is home to the Shoto-Teien Japanese Gardens with its pagodas, reed lanterns and koi. Nationally acclaimed garden designer and architect Koichi Kawana helped restore the gardens in the 1980s, punctuating them with a pond, waterfalls and more than 200 trees.
Not to be outdone, over 800 living butterflies winter in Sioux Falls at the Butterfly House and Marine Cove tropical conservatory in Sertoma Park.
Ultimately, Sioux Falls has a recipe for success: Take a picturesque natural setting, blend in cultural amenities galore, and fold in career opportunities and an affordable standard of living and you have a city that’s leading the charge for small-town living with big-city benefits.
Santa Fe, New Mexico: Arts, Culture and Natural Wonders
Average Commute: 23.1 minutes
Distance from the Coast: 516 miles from the Pacific Ocean
Number of Museums: 12-plus
Historic adobe neighborhoods. A timeless, earthy vibe. Over 200 galleries showcasing everything from classic Western art to avant-garde installations. And who could forget the Georgia O’Keefe Museum? Meanwhile, Meow Wolf, an off-kilter, immersive, down-the-rabbit-hole art installation is not to be missed (and is worthy of repeat visits). Lying more than 7,000 feet above sea level and founded as a Spanish colony in 1610, Santa Fe is set at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo range. An ideal base for hiking, mountain biking and skiing, Santa Fe is also a jumping off point to the region’s many other natural wonders. (See our National Parks of the Southwest guide for more on that.)
With a population of 89,008 in July 2022, it is the fourth-largest city in New Mexico, emphasizing the trend we’ve seen of people moving from larger to smaller — but culture-rich — cities.
Santa Fe’s elevation means you’ll escape the worst of the summer swelter, but that doesn’t mean it’s frosty. Marked by cool, dry winters, hot summers and relatively low precipitation, Santa Fe usually receives six- to-eight snowfalls a year between November and April. The heaviest rainfall happens in July and August, when the North American Monsoon arrives.
Although it’s not an inexpensive city, Santa Fe’s cost of living is lower than some states. However, the housing cost here is the highest among other cities in New Mexico. Offsetting those costs is what many consider a better quality of life, with access to abundant natural resources, a fiery culinary scene and art galore.
A hotbed of creativity, Sante Fe has been designated a UNESCO Creative City, thanks to its proliferation of visual artists (and the galleries that showcase them); literati, like D.H. Lawrence; plentiful music, dance and opera performances; and impressive collection of museums, showcasing everything from Native American works to modern and contemporary Southwestern artwork, one dedicated to solely to Georgia O’Keeffe.
Infused with Spanish and Pueblo influences and loaded with spectacular outdoor spaces with stories to tell — including Bandelier National Monument and two national parks, Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands — you’ll find no shortage of ways to pass the time. Not to be overlooked, Sante Fe is an architecture lover’s paradise, one with distinctive, low-slung, earth-colored buildings, much of it crafted from adobe bricks.
You may find yourself wondering, what’s up with this attractive — albeit somewhat unlikely mix of cities seeing an influx of residents? Our data shows people making moves for more emotive reasons. Connecting deeply with a destination, longing to be there and knowing it has the power to impact your life in a positive way appears to be a motivator, one that hasn’t wavered since the pandemic.
Are you ready to find the city where your heart and soul resides? We can help — and it all starts with a moving quote. Want to explore your options more? Our state and city guides help give you a sense of space and place.