Jackson Vance/Travel + Leisure
With national parks, rich history, and a unique blend of cultures, Arizona draws many vacationers. However, it is also one of the fastest-growing states in the country, where 13 percent of the population was born abroad.
So what makes the state so attractive to newcomers? While natural beauty and cultural diversity are certainly factors, the state’s strong economy, ranked fifth best in the U.S., is a magnet for young professionals seeking well-paying jobs. Cities like Phoenix, Scottsdale, Chandler, and Tucson offer robust employment opportunities in many industries, such as technology, healthcare, education, and tourism. Of course, there’s more to life than work, and small and big cities across Arizona offer abundant entertainment and outdoor recreation options that keep their residents active and happy.
Below, we’ve rounded up nine of the best places to live in Arizona.
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“People used to think of Scottsdale as a place to retire, but that’s simply not the case anymore,” Colleen Olson, realtor at Arizona Best Real Estate/Luxury Portfolio International and a Scottsdale resident of over 30 years, said. With vibrant arts and hospitality scenes, a robust job market (the unemployment rate was just 2.9 percent in April 2023), top-notch schools, plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities, and a major airport only a 20-minute drive from the city, Scottsdale is thriving.
According to Olson, the city’s golf communities draw the most interest from buyers.
“Some of the most sought-after include Silverleaf, DC Ranch, Desert Mountain, and Mirabel. Gainey Ranch Golf Club is another community that people come here to buy within,” she added. One of her top tips for house hunting is to take your time and visit a property both in the summer and the winter months. However, residences here do come with higher price tags — $764,073 is the median home value, according to Zillow, but Olson explained that roughly 30 percent of the available properties are currently priced over $2 million.
Arizona’s capital and most populous city — with about 1.6 million people — checks all the marks of an excellent place to live, especially if you are in your 30s or 40s (the city’s median age is 34.5 years) and are into golf and outdoor adventures. With over 200 golf courses spread out across the Valley of the Sun, 180 city parks, world-class sports teams and facilities, and some of the best museums in the country, Phoenix is a cosmopolitan city that attracts many young professionals seeking urban conveniences and relatively affordable real estate. Currently, the median home value here is $404,818, which is slightly down from last year. The market offers many options for potential homeowners — from newly built developments to older homes with plenty of character.
Amy Haight, a realtor with Arizona Best Real Estate, said working with a local broker is essential. “Do you want walkability? Do you need a variety of restaurants and entertainment within a short distance? How about public transportation or freeway access? What about the best schools?” she explained. “A local expert can really help you understand the lay of the land and get you exactly where you want to be with the amenities you desire.”
Tucson is a nature enthusiast’s haven, surrounded by five mountain ranges offering dramatic landscapes and hundreds of miles of hiking trails. And with over 50,000 college students living here (the city is home to the University of Arizona), there’s definitely a young vibe, with many cultural and athletic opportunities for residents. The stable job market and the affordable real estate market (the median sale price is $367,300) are two factors that keep many of those young graduates in the city.
Unlike other large urban areas with hot real estate markets where properties go under contract in no time, buyers here have, on average, 38 days to choose a home. However, Nara Brown, an agent with Long Realty/Luxury Portfolio International, explained that the housing market is currently defined by low inventory, and she predicts that the situation will not change much in the next six months.
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Those who find Phoenix too big should consider moving to Chandler, a 30-minute drive southeast of Arizona’s capital. The city offers plenty of urban amenities and good jobs, but as the home of about 280,000 residents, it has a more laid-back vibe. There’s also plenty to do on your days off — 60 parks, a golf course, a performance venue, and many restaurants and shops certainly will keep you and your family busy exploring.
Most buyers here prefer updated or new homes ready to move in. “Turnkey listings are selling extremely fast,” Alanna Foudy, a realtor at Arizona Best Real Estate, said. “In general, the Ocotillo area of Chandler is very desirable because it’s anchored by a beautiful golf course and it’s very close to the Price Corridor tech hub. It’s also an area marked by beautiful lakes, which run throughout the community.”
If you are seeking luxury, resort-style amenities, Foudy recommended looking at homes in gated communities such as Stellar Airpark, Citrus Preserve, and Whitewing at Krueger.
This suburb of Phoenix in East Valley attracts many families thanks to its excellent school system, many parks, and a walkable downtown area, Heritage District, abuzz with new restaurants, boutiques, and bars.
“It really is one of the best cities in the Valley! Many neighborhoods offer golf courses and lakeside living,” said Amy Frazier, an agent with Long Realty Old Town/Luxury Portfolio International. “Whether it be a new-construction home in Waterston or a quaint bungalow in Agritopia, there is something for everyone.”
Home prices in Gilbert have slightly decreased since last year, and the median home value is now $547,328, with more than 60 percent of listings selling below asking price.
“The gated neighborhoods tend to offer larger lots and a more enclosed park-like setting, so they are highly desirable. These homes rarely go on the market, so having an agent that is networking and/or neighboring with active luxury agents in the area is critical,” Kim Catalanotto, a realtor at Arizona Best Real Estate, added.
If real estate is all about location, then you really can’t beat this city in East Valley. It borders Scottsdale and Phoenix, has access to four major freeways, and it’s a very short drive to Sky Harbor International Airport.
There is, of course, more to the city that makes it one of the best places to live in Arizona — namely, its arts scene. The Tempe Center for the Arts opened in 2007 and stages many public events for free. And to get your Broadway show fix, head to Gammage Auditorium. Sports enthusiasts have Tempe Sports Complex at their disposal, a 60-acre athletic facility with softball and soccer fields and a skate park.
Kristi Newman of Arizona Best Real Estate explained that families flock to South Tempe, drawn to the large homes in the area. “Northern Tempe is more popular among young professionals, singles, and those who like the activity of the university [Arizona State University],” she explained.
Flagstaff has something few cities in Arizona do — four seasons. Located in the mountains of Northern Arizona among the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world, Flagstaff is enveloped in stunning emerald-hued vistas that offer crisp breezes (average summer temperatures stay in the low 80s) and an endless list of outdoor activities. The city is also one of the top places for stargazing in the country and was designated the world’s first International Dark Sky City in 2001.
“In the winter, you can enjoy downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, and recreational snow parks. In the evening, sit in front of a fire and watch the quiet mountain snowfall,” Kelly C. Walthour, an agent at Long Realty in The Pines/Luxury Portfolio International, said. However, the real estate market here is pretty competitive — properties stay on the market only nine days on average, and the median home value is $626,052.
The sun is always shining in Glendale. Located in Maricopa County next to Phoenix, Glendale is known for its sunny weather, idyllic neighborhoods with a focus on luxury homes, State Farm Stadium (which has hosted two Super Bowls), top-notch recreation, pet-friendly city policies, and antique vendors (the city prides itself as the Antique Capital of Arizona). The strong sense of community and diverse housing options have made it a top choice for families moving to the area.
“The market is dynamic, and homes in Glendale tend to sell quickly, with an average time on the market of 36 days,” Apryle Borst, a realtor at Arizona Best Real Estate, said, adding that buyers looking for luxury residences have plenty of choices here.
If luxury living, resort-style amenities (as well as plenty of actual five-star resorts), panoramic desert views, quality education, and proximity to big-town conveniences are at the top of your list, then Paradise Valley might be the best option for you.
“The town boasts a tranquil and idyllic ambiance with its spacious, well-maintained estates and beautifully landscaped surroundings,” Pete Torrez, a broker with Long Realty Old Town, said, adding that the town has implemented strict zoning regulations to preserve its natural landscape.
“Paradise Valley offers several gated communities that cater to affluent buyers seeking exclusivity, security, and a luxurious lifestyle. Explore neighborhoods like Clearwater Hills, Judson, or Mountain Shadows Estates, among others, to find the right fit for your preferences,” Torrez suggested.