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Best Cities, States & Places

#1 Nashville, Tenn.

Our top pick offers affordable homes, a mild climate and a phenomenal entertainment scene that goes far beyond country.

What we loved: Hillsboro Village, for the acoustic guitars at Cotten Music, kitchenware at Davis Cookware and the triple chocolate mousse at Provence Breads & Cafeacute;.

Although "Music City" may have worked fine in the days of Hank Sr., our top pick among great, affordable places to live needs a new moniker. We suggest "Nashville: Music Is Just the Beginning."

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Southern hospitality. Gently rolling hills with big, affordable homes. A mild climate (albeit with occasional tornadoes). Oh, yes, and a phenomenal entertainment scene that goes far beyond country.

With such an appetizing mix, it's easy to see why Nashville keeps attracting people from across the nation, including other parts of Tennessee. It's a buckle of the Bible belt, but, says pharmaceutical sales rep Rusty Walker, "the area doesn't cater to a particular type of person." Rusty, 28, and his wife, Beth, 25, relocated from Knoxville, where he thought "real estate prices had maxed out." The couple was looking for a great place to start a family. Last summer, they bought a three-bedroom house for $230,000 in Gallatin, a 40-minute drive from Nashville's entertainment hot spots, which they frequent on weekends.

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With more than 180 live-music venues featuring country, bluegrass, jazz, pop, rock and soul, Nashville has plenty of sounds to groove on. Its music industry rang up a cool $6 billion in 2004. But Nashville's health-care, education, manufacturing, finance and tourism industries hardly play second fiddle.

Nashville offers a wide range of housing choices. In the downtown area, just a short walk from art galleries and music meccas, two-bedroom condos in new or renovated buildings start at about $250,000. In East Nashville -- popular with musicians, artists and professionals for its proximity to downtown and its eclectic restaurants -- historic Victorian houses and Craftsman bungalows range from $275,000 to $350,000. And for a slice of Southern California at Nashville prices, check out Little Hollywood, a quirky selection of small, brightly painted stucco homes from the '30s and '40s in the rolling hills of Lockeland Springs.

For a more suburban feel, there are Franklin and Brentwood, two communities south of the city where four-bedroom single-family homes start at $355,000.

-- Magali Rheault