Chapel Hill placed 10th and Cary 56th.
The annual report is based on "the optimal combination of economic strength, quality health care, low crime, great schools, and lots to do," the magazine says.
Here's how Money describes Chapel Hill:
"Locals aren't exaggerating when they refer to Chapel Hill as a "town within a park." The roads wind through tunnels of arching trees, and the area has a rain forest-like charm.
"But Chapel Hill isn't just a pretty face. It's part of the state's Research Triangle, which boasts one of the highest numbers of Ph.D.s per capita in the U.S. The town also houses the nation's oldest public university, and interesting educational opportunities abound.
"The main drawbacks? Parts of the downtown aren't in great shape, and some areas feel overrun by students."
As for Cary, Money says:
"The past 10 years have seen dramatic population growth in Cary, with newcomers attracted to its pleasant weather, safe streets (the League of American Cyclists has praised its accommodations for cyclists), and educational opportunities (the three biggest universities and research facilities in North Carolina are located close by).
"It's also a slice of heaven for sports lovers: Besides tons of college sports, Cary is home to the U.S.A. Baseball National Training Complex.
"Schools, however, haven't quite kept up with Cary's growth. While several new ones have opened recently, there are still reports of overcrowding."
The national top 10 list:
10. Chapel Hill, NC
The "Best Places" issue goes on sale Aug. 24.