Charlottesville was Money's winning city in 1998 on the strength of its public schools, low cost of living and such cultural and scenic assets as Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate, the University of Virginia and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. The city spent nearly twice as much per pupil as and had far fewer students per class than the national average, and reasonable property taxes and good water quality rounded out the picture.
Since then the city's population has held fairly steady, although the greater Charlottesville area has seen a boom in residents. Money's was one of the first of a host of best-place listings, followed - coincidentally or not - by a near tripling of housing prices in less than a decade. These days a four-bedroom home easily costs $400,000 - and that's before you update the kitchen. In response, city officials have lowered property taxes. Charlottesville's historic downtown walking mall has more than 30 restaurants, a 1930s movie palace turned performing arts center and a new 3,500-seat open-air pavilion, which brings in national acts three seasons of the year.
Biggest development since 1998: The John Paul Jones Arena, a 16,000-seat indoor stadium and the largest arena in the state, was built.