28 Virginia Beach

PopulationMetro: 1,725,246
Big-city amenities lap the golden sand in Virginia’s largest city.

Few East Coast American cities blend the urban with the natural as beautifully as Virginia Beach.

With 38 miles of coastline at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia Beach has long been a vacation destination for folks looking to escape Washington, D.C.’s sweltering summers. But Virginia’s largest city is coming into its own, with a growing millennial population drawn by a strong economy, affordable housing and thriving local food scene.

Tourism remains a top industry, netting the city more than $850 annually, but corporate employers like Amerigroup and GEICO round out the local economy. The Hampton Roads metropolitan area is also home to major U.S Military installations, and—an unusual and welcome asset in an era when local food reigns—the city’s 23,000-acre Pungo neighborhood is devoted to agriculture, which remains a $120 million industry. Put it all together, and Virginia Beach earns an impressive #6 ranking for Household Income.

Place 58
Product 7
Programming 5
People 48
Prosperity 49
Promotion 5

The pristine, endless sandy beach, charmingly framed by a three-mile, 140-year-old boardwalk, is the city’s top draw, earning Virginia Beach a #8 ranking in our “Place” category and #14 for Parks and Outdoors. The wider region boasts 4,000 acres of parks and federal protected lands, crisscrossed by 120 navigable miles of rivers and canals.

Virginia Beach isn’t just sun and sand. The city’s Inland neighborhood boasts breweries and boutiques, as well as the popular, year-round Farmers Market, and the mural-lined ViBe Creative District is home to artists who enjoy the city’s relatively low cost of living. Locals say an upside to the city’s transience (more than 80,000 uniformed military personnel are stationed in the metro area) is its welcoming attitude toward newcomers.