The verdict is in: 20-somethings want to live in cities. The question then becomes: Which urban centers offer the best situation for those in their 20s? Some things at the top of young adults’ wish lists are universally agreeable (cheap rent, a good job market, and great public transportation). Others are up for debate—do 20-somethings care about fitness, finding love, or the local startup scene?
We took dozens of factors (check out our methodology below) into consideration to determine the top 20 cities for 20-somethings. Did your hometown (or dream town) make the list?
Note: The cities on this list are presented in no particular order.
Boulder has developed a reputation as the place to be for outdoor enthusiasts. And rightfully so—the city is home to 200 miles of hiking and biking trails and 43,000 acres of open land. GQ also named it the “worst-dressed city that looks the best naked.” We think they should take that recognition in stride (not that they need our help—the city also tops the charts in terms of well-being). Boulder’s adventurous spirit trickles in to the boardroom with lots of startups—from Crocs to Justin’s Nut Butter—calling the city home.
Salt Lake City, UT
Salt Lake City might be landlocked, but it sure has a chill surfer vibe. SLC earned the honor of least-stressed city because of its minimal cost of living and low unemployment rate. But maybe locals are stress-free because they’re so well fed—Salt Lake was just named one of America’s five new foodie cities. Plus, what other major city allows you to hit the slopes right after work at one of the four major ski resorts just minutes from city limits? Word seems to have gotten out that this city is perfect for young people—one in six residents is in their 20s.
Pittsburgh is a great city if you like books and bars. The Steel City is home to the highest number of bars per capita in the U.S. and it’s also one of the most literate cities in the country, thanks to its big three universities: the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon, and Duquesne. Pittsburgh is also quickly developing a reputation as a sleeper city for bike enthusiasts. The Three Rivers Heritage Trail includes 24 miles of urban biking along the city’s winding rivers, and the city will unveil a bike share program in April 2015. More committed cyclists can opt to trek the Great Allegheny Passage, part of 330 miles of bike paths between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.
Phoenix tends to get overshadowed by bigger cities along the coasts, but there are many reasons why 20-somethings should keep this city on their short list. For starters, Phoenix is the sunniest city in the U.S. and was recently named one of the happiest cities for young professionals. All of this beautiful weather means plenty of opportunities to explore the metro area’s 200 parks. And if you’d rather be watching the game, Phoenix has you covered too. The undercover sports town boasts four professional sports teams and two NASCAR races. Perhaps best of all: You won’t spend your entire paycheck on rent; the average rental goes for less than $800 per month.
Sure, Philadelphia is known as a city rich in history, but it also has plenty of new things to attract young adults. The editor of Forbes magazine recently named Philly “a city in ascent” because of its fast-growing population of millennials—one in four residents falls into that age demographic. It’s easy to understand why the city attracts 20-somethings. The city boasts high starting salaries and city planners have worked to add more nightlife options—did someone say beer garden?
Given the many months of below-freezing temps, it might be a surprise that Minneapolis is one of the fittest cities in the country. Locals looking to stay in shape can do double duty exercising and exploring the great outdoors on some of the 200 miles of walking, biking, and cross country trails found within city limits. The Twin Cities are also in the midst of a cultural renaissance that’s enticing many young professionals to move from the suburbs into the city’s urban core. It doesn’t hurt that rents are low and starting salaries are high at some of the area’s largest employers, including Target, 3M, and the Mayo Clinic.
New Yorkers and Angelenos love to talk about all of the artsy and cultural events they have access to, but the people in Atlanta are actually going. A recent study found that city residents are more likely to go to events (parties, seminars, music festivals) than anywhere else in the U.S. Young adults looking to get a taste of the city’s culture can head over to Little Five Points, the boho-chic capital of the south. Besides the arts and culture, Atlanta is a strong draw for young professionals because it combines low rents and the highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the country.
St. Louis, MO
Millennials are bucking the nearly century-long trend of population decline in St. Louis and moving to the Gateway to the West in droves. Today, 20-somethings make up one out of five of the cities residents. And this Rust Belt City has lots to offer them, from the second highest numbers of bars per capita to a burgeoning startup scene. And with less competition than startup hubs like New York and the Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs are finding they can quickly make an impact.
It’s hard not to start off on the right foot in Cincinnati. This Midwestern city is home to a number of Fortune 500 companies including Kroger, Procter & Gamble, and Macy’s. Young professionals can start saving early here, where average pay tops $40,000 and you can nab an apartment for $700 a month.
Residents of America’s second city have always known the drinking options in their hometown were many, varied, and world-class. Now they’re getting recognized for it. It’s hard to travel a few blocks without running into a trendy new brewpub or a longstanding local haunt. But the Windy City has much more to offer than a long list of watering holes. The city’s infamous elevated trains are part of one of the best public transit systems in the country. And Chicago was also named the second most bike-friendly city in the country.
San Diego, CA
San Diego is the perfect city for young, eco-conscious outdoorsy types. The city was named one of the fittest and greenest in the country. It also has a growing startup scene (though it often gets dwarfed by neighboring Silicon Valley to the north). The nightlife in this SoCal city is also top notch with many 20-somethings heading to the famed Gaslamp Quarter for after-work food and drinks.
New York, NY
For decades, New York has been a sort of mecca for the 20-something set—creative types make the pilgrimage when they can scrounge together enough cash to sublet a questionably-legal apartment. The city is also home to a powerful startup scene. Even with a high cost of living, the Big Apple attracts young professionals with its impressive public transit system, world-renowned cultural institutions, and hard-to-beat nightlife.
It’s hard to be bored in Austin, the self-proclaimed live music capital of the world, with its more than 200 live music venues. The capital city also plays host to dozens of festivals, from SXSW to the Fun Fun Fun Fest. All of these things embrace the city’s mantra to “Keep Austin Weird.” On the job front, Austin is the fastest-growing city in the nation, a statistic that takes into account both economic and population growth.
Las Vegas, NV
Even with slowed population growth after a dramatic surge in the early 2000s, Las Vegas is still attracting lots of young professionals. Many come to the city in response to the strong job market in the entertainment and gambling industries—and did we mention the cheap rent? In the past two years, the city has tried to turn attention away from The Strip and toward its growing startup community. Las Vegas has hedged a $350 million bet to create a new startup hub that hopes to attract creative 20-somethings away from the coasts to this desert oasis.
The stereotype that Portland is the place where young people go to retire isn’t exactly true. The city’s unemployment rate is on par with the national average, but residents do tend to make less than their counterparts in other similarly-sized cities across the country. Still, the city has no trouble attracting more recent college grads, consistently drawing high numbers for the last three decades. Sure, some come to see if the city can out-Portland itself (What will they pickle next?), but most stay for the laid-back vibe and progressive culture.
Beantown is always bustling with 20-somethings, thanks to the quarter-million college students who descend on the metro area’s 60 universities every September. In recent years, the city has worked to entice students to stay put after graduation. Boston has defined itself as a big player on the startup scene, making it a great place for anyone looking to dip their toes into the tech world. The city has also improved its public transit system (extending late-night service on weekends) and added more than 300 acres of green space to downtown as part of the $24 billion Big Dig project.
Step inside the Mile High City—we promise we won’t make any weed jokes here—and it seems like the city planners have made most 20-somethings’ fantasies into realities. Denver brews the most beer of any U.S. city and plays host to the Great American Beer Festival every October, the largest beer celebration around, according to Guinness World Records. For outdoor enthusiasts, Denver is home to 850 miles of pristine bike trails and the nation’s first city-wide bike sharing program, Denver B-cycle. Aside from all the fun and games, the Mile High City is also a great place to start your career, with the highest number of entry-level jobs per capita on our list.
The nation’s capital literally runs on 20-somethings. They intern for legislators, aid non-profits, and clerk for the courts. And D.C.’s appeal for young adults is only increasing—millennials fueled nearly all of the population growth in the last decade. It’s easy to stay fit in the nation’s capital, where 20 percent of the land is devoted to parks and recreation. And there’s plenty of opportunities to get cultured too, starting with the Smithsonian and its free admission. You can even combine brains and brawn with the famed national monuments run.
This is the city for bookish 20-somethings looking for the best bang for their buck. Seattle’s noted cafe culture (after all, it’s where you’ll find the original Starbucks) and infamous cloudy weather make you want to curl up and read, which is perhaps why it’s one of the most literate cities in the U.S. The city and surrounding areas are home to a number of tech giants including Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing. These companies are all big magnets for recent college grads—one in six people living in Seattle are in their 20s. Lucky for these young adults, their cost of living is a third less than it is for their Silicon Valley counterparts.
San Francisco, CA
The Bay Area has developed a reputation as a playground for young professionals. With the heart of the startup scene moving away from Silicon Valley and into San Francisco's city limits, many 20-somethings move to SF to be a part of the next big thing. The city also gets top marks for eco-consciousness—thanks to mandatory recycling and composting programs—and for being easy to get around. Sure, the hills might be like a Stairmaster workout, but the city’s compact area makes it easy to get anywhere fast.
Methodology: Every year, Greatist gathers statistics from a number of sources to assemble the 20 best cities for 20-somethings. Criteria considered for this year’s ranking included: fitness, eco-consciousness, housing cost, public transportation, overall well being, and bars and nightlife.
Do you think we missed a city? Feel free to send us an email and we'll consider it for next year's ranking.