Education Quality Index score:
The only Southern city on this list represents its region well as one of the loveliest and most walkable cities in the American Dream field.
The home of presidents James Madison, James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson -- whose Monticello residence is just minute from downtown -- is also home to the University of Virginia and the more than 20,000 students and scores of supporting staff that come with it. The combination of that history and the University's current economic generator make Charlottesville as known for Court Square's Colonial-vintage homes as it is for the eight-block Downtown Mall pedestrian walkway and its coffee shops, restaurants, stores and arts venues, including the Paramount Theater and
Pavillion outdoor music venue.
Various book, music and film festivals keep the city awake and alive for much of the year, as do most of the bars and college-food greasetraps in The Corner district near the university. The university's football, basketball and lacrosse teams are all the local sports Charlottesville has to offer, but are better than most similarly employed towns' minor-league squads.
The best part is that everything's within walking distance. A great bus system and dense neighborhoods at 10th and Page, Main Starr Hill, Rose Hill and Venable right near the university put 77% of the city within a stroll of amenities and activities.
Nearby Shenandoah National Park, its scenic Skyline Drive that turns into the Blue Ridge Parkway into the Smoky Mountains, the wineries that line that route and the burgeoning "Brew Ridge Trail" of craft brewers that includes Charlottesville's South Street Brewery also give residents much for their $220,000 median home price and $78,300 median family income. The schools seal the deal, though, as a handful of Charlottesville's elementary schools earn perfect marks and its top middle schools and high schools don't miss by much.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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