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Best Cities, States & Places

#10 Iowa City, Iowa

An oasis on the prairie, this wholesome middle-American city is bursting with creative and intellectual energy.

What we loved: Eating at the Hamburg Inn #2 with students, workmen and one lone farmer. Browsing at the Prairie Lights Bookstore. Having the countryside so close by.

An oasis on the prairie, Iowa City is a wholesome middle-American town bursting with creative and intellectual energy. Such is its charm that although isolation may at first put off corporate candidates, once they visit, they never want to leave.

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Iowa City is primarily a college town, home of the University of Iowa and its renowned writers program. The school lends stability to the economy and has attracted employers, such as Oral B.

Amid its Main Street storefronts, Iowa City's downtown surprises with bold strokes of contemporary architecture. During the summer Friday Night Concert Series, the streets close to traffic so that pedestrians can stroll around and listen to local bands. The annual jazz festival, the restored Englert Theatre, the university's Hancher Auditorium and the Riverside Theatre's Shakespeare Festival add to downtown's appeal. Although a recent tornado damaged many businesses and homes, the city is taking it in stride and the cleanup is well under way.

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You can drive from one side of town to the other in about 20 minutes -- in traffic. House-hunters can peruse a varied menu of homes, which range in style from Victorian to contemporary. Prices start at $135,000 for a townhouse, $230,000 for a single-family home, and $280,000 for a new home on a small lot that has a lot of amenities and needs little upkeep.

-- Patricia Mertz Esswein