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The 20 Best Cities for 20-Somethings: 2012 Edition
It’s hard to pinpoint what qualities 20-somethings go for in picking the perfect city. Sustainability, efficient transit systems, cleanliness, and affordability may make the top of the list. Dig a bit further, and others may add walkability of streets, prevalence of gyms, and overall well-being. Number of happy hours, zoos, and places to booze may be factors, too. So running with that list (plus a few city-specific features we just couldn’t resist considering) we bring you 20 of the best cities to enjoy your carefree twenties (or thirties). Note: they're presented in alphabetical order.
1. Albuquerque, NM
Average Temp (High, Low): 70, 43 Median Income: $44,594 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $646 Population: 529,872 Median Age: 35.1
Okay, we get that the desert isn’t usually where most 20-somethings would think to look for their ideal locale, but Albuquerque was included in the list of top 10 U.S. destinations for value vacations, especially noted for it’s affordable pricing. It’s also the fifth cleanest city and one of the greenest cities, too. And thankfully, though the city is also considered the ballooning capital of the world, that does not mean balloon animals peruse the streets, but instead the city’s skyline can often be found peppered with hot air balloons (especially during the International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest hot air balloon festival). Albuquerque also has one of the top zoos in the country, the Albuquerque Biological Park (tickets are just $5 to $12 for a solid day’s worth of fun). If ballooning doesn’t fill your fresh air fix, Albuquerque has plenty of outdoor space with 28.1 percent parkland.
2. Austin, TX
Average Temp (High, Low): 80, 59 Median Income: $50,132 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $777 Population: 767,250 Median Age: 31
They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but this cowboy boot wearin’ city ranks fifth in the U.S. with the most gyms (38.5 gyms and fitness centers per million people in the area). And to tap out on vitamin D, Austin is the place — it gets an average of 300 days of sunshine each year. Austin is also home to some of the healthiest eaters according to the Healthiest Habitats list (based on factors like eating habits, BMI, and exercise habits) with residents eating an average of 33.6 servings of fruits and vegetables per week. Austin’s also the best large metropolitan area in terms of getting a job — no wonder it’s also in the top 10 cities for the best happy hours. And with more than 100 live music venues, it’s known as the live music capital of the world. Photo: StuSeeger
3. Boston, MA
Average Temp (High, Low): 59, 41 Median Income: $55,979 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $1,327 Population: 617,594 Median Age: 30.8
Ranked third for its efficient public transit system, the city is also the fifth greenest in the U.S. with 65 percent of its residents participating in recycling programs. For a history lesson and to catch a game, there’s Fenway Park (don’t forget to pahk’ ya cahh in Hahvad yahd). Known for their chowdah, Boston hosts an annual chowderfest, with all the New England style clam chowder (that’s with cream — not tomatoes, manhattanites) you could ever dream of. Beantown’s more than 100 colleges contribute greatly to the city’s high proportion of 20-34 year olds (actually, the highest proportion among the country’s top 25 major cities). But for those of you worried about the bars and restaurants crawling with underage college students, fear not — Boston is also vigilant about preventing underage drinking. Boston salaries are also about 34 percent higher than the nation’s average (can’t complain about that). Photo: Freephoto.com
4. Boulder, CO
Average Temp (High, Low): 64, 36 Median Income: $47,967 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $807 Population: 97,385 Median Age: 28.7
Full of fresh air enthusiasts, Boulder has the highest number of residents who walk to work, work from home, and drive with more than one person in the car, and ranks second for the amount of people who bike to the office (the city is so bike friendly, they sometimes plow the Boulder Creek bike path before the streets). Fun fact: 80 percent of residents visit a dentist at least once a year (more than anywhere else in the nation). And only 12.1 percent of Boulder’s residents are obese (well below the national average of 26.1 percent). Boulder is also among the top cities in America for learning new and interesting things (could be because it’s a major college city).
5. Burlington, VT
Average Temp (High, Low): 54, 35 Median Income: $39,296 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $1,164 Population: 42,417 Median Age: 26.5
Known for its hippy dippy rapport, this small city loves its local, organic, fresh food — especially down Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace. The city is a hub for writers and artists and encourages all sorts of creativity. Check out Nectar’s, the very spot where Phish got their start, for seven nights a week of cocktails, dancing, live blues, soul, and rock. While Burlington is the largest city in Vermont, it’s notably smaller than most on this list. Despite it’s size, the itty bitty city was rated the third best city for foodies, and (cough, cough) it’s not too far from the Ben & Jerry’s factory. Extra bonus: The unemployment rate here is 4.9 percent (well below the U.S. average of 9.1 percent).
6. Chicago, IL
Average Temp (High, Low): 59, 40 Median Income: $45,734 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $1,029 Population: 2,695,598 Median Age: 32.9
Hello, gentlemen. This one’s for you. Chicago, affectionately called Chi-town by the locals, was rated the seventh manliest city in America (mainly due to a strong ranking in the manly occupations category). But for men, women, and children, Chicago is home to three of the top zoos and aquariums, and 36 annual parades. The first Ferris wheel made its debut in Chicago, and now a 15-story replica sits on Navy Pier, considered the city’s lakefront playground. The Pier has a big beer garden, headlined by its signature Landshark Lager. Skip driving in Chi-town, because the city ranked sixth for public transit.
7. Cleveland, OH
Average Temp (High, Low): 59, 41 Median Income: $24,687 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $640 Population: 396,815 Median Age: 35.7
Named one of the best places for new college grads, Cleveland has plenty of job ops (heavy in manufacturing and engineering), and fun for after work. The city, called Beertown, U.S.A. by Draft Magazine, has some favorite breweries like Great Lakes Brewing Company, Thirsty Dog, and Willoughby Brewing. And did we mention it’s the sixth best city for block parties? (We didn’t know there was such a rating, either.) Once you’re tuckered out from hitting all the pubs Cleveland’s got to offer, keep in mind the city came in as the second best to get a good night’s sleep. Photo: ifmuth
8. Dallas, TX
Average Temp (High, Low): 76, 55 Median Income: $39,829 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $731 Population: 1,197,816 Median Age: 31.8
Yeeeehaw! So this may sound odd, but this city is one of the top ten for Thanksgiving. Dallas residents showed high turkey consumption and a comparatively huge influx of flights into the area around the holiday. For the other days of the year, this city ranked in the top ten for employment rate (of the 65 largest metropolitan areas), and it’s also made up of 13.4 percent parkland (so you can walk off all that turkey). And good news, compared to the rest of the country, Dallas’s cost of living is 5.7 percent lower than the U.S. average.
9. Denver, CO
Average Temp (High, Low): 64, 36 Median Income: $46,410 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $807 Population: 600,158 Median Age: 33.7
All right, we’re throwing this stat atchya first and foremost: Denver ranks number one in the nation for beer production per capita. Some area bars offer happy hours every day with longer peak hours than most cities (whew!). There’s even an area called the Beer triangle. The triangle of happiness (located between the Colorado Rockies, Boulder, and Fort Collins) attained the nickname the “Napa Valley of Beer.” Coors Brewery, the largest single brewery in the world, as well as over six-dozen other brewpubs and microbreweries reside in the triangle. The city also has the Denver Zoological Gardens, which is the most popular attraction in Colorado.
10. Honolulu, HI
Average Temp (High, Low): 84, 70 Median Income: $57,601 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $1,030 Population: 374,701 Median Age: 39.7
So we know it’s not in the continental U.S., and Hawaii requires a little extra travel, but this city certainly makes up for it. Honolulu ranked as one of the top ten cities for well-being, and even ranked highest for emotional health. It was even rated the top “blues-proof” town. It’s one of the most green cities, too, with lots of homes sporting solar panels. Honolulu also houses Waikiki Aquarium, though we’re sure the beaches are worth a trip too. Photo: -shu-
11. Madison, WI
Average Temp (High, Low): 63, 33 Median Income: $49,595 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $782 Population: 233,209 Median Age: 30.9
Named the best city in America for young adults, this cheese-chompin’ city simply had to make the list. Factors like cost of living, employment growth, residents’ education levels, rental costs, and restaurant variety catapulted Madison to the top of the list. Of all large metro areas, Madison is the number one city for safety and security. But that doesn’t mean it’s a boring spot for old farts. Wisconsin’s state capital is a tech-savvy city, and college-town thanks to the University of Wisconsin’s whopping 42,595 students. Photo: alumroot
12. New York, NY
Average Temp (High, Low): 62, 47 Median Income: $50,033 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $1,560 Population: 8,175,133 Median Age: 35.5
After a visit with lady liberty, there are more places to go in the city than the day allows for — The Museum of Modern Art, Times Square, and for a reprieve, Central Park (just to name a few). But good news: The big apple is also the most walkable city in the U.S. (especially in Little Italy, SoHo, and the Flatiron District). While there’s quite the variety of food at countless restaurants in the city, New York is also home to a massive caravan of food trucks to keep those appetites satisfied while walking the streets. With 61.8 percent recycling-conscious residents and 19.5 percent parkland, NYC also ranks as the greenest city. Photo: Loretin
13. Philadelphia, PA
Average Temp (High, Low): 63, 45 Median Income: $37,045 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $1,060 Population: 1,526,006 Median Age: 33.5
This city, deeply rooted in jazz and once the United States capital, is also home to the first public zoo in the U.S., the Philadelphia Zoo (Benny Franklin founded it). Of the top 40 cities in the states, Philly ranks fifth for most walkable neighborhoods. But if you’re flying in, the city’s also got the best airport for making a connection. To quell an appetite, pop by Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, with over one hundred different vendors. Oh, and we hear Philly’s got some pretty bomb cheesesteaks. Photo: musical photo man
14. Portland, OR
Average Temp (High, Low): 63, 45 Median Income: $50,203 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $952 Population: 584, 776 Median Age: 35.8
While 14 states have their very own Portlands, we’re talking about Oregon, here. This Portland boasts 16.1 percent parkland, and it’s also in the top 10 greenest cities. And may we mention that it’s also been ranked number one for happy hours — that’s no small feat considering it’s half the size of NYC, yet offers twice the amount of happy hour offerings per square mile! Guess an hour (or seven) of happiness a day pays off, because Portland also ranked fourth for cities on the edge of greatness. What makes it so great? This Portland is on the edge because of its huge indie music and arts presence, and high amount of alternative sports fans (mushball, anyone?). This city’s residents aren’t just into fun sports teams to stay fit. It ranked fourth for cities with the most gyms, with 38.6 of them per million people in the area. Photo: GregDawson
15. Sacramento, CA
Average Temp (High, Low): 74, 48 Median Income: $47,107 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $767 Population: 466, 488 Median Age: 33
If daily breakfast in bed and working in pajamas is enticing, we’ll have you know that this city is number six for teleworking. Which is maybe why Sacramento is one of the top ten cities with most well-rested residents. With all that pent up energy, locals can sign up for the oldest modern triathlon — Eppie’s Great Race, which has been around since 1974, and features running, cycling, and paddling (instead of the more common swimming). For late-night bites and beverages, some Sacramento bars stay open until 3 or 4 in the morning. For classy day boozing, hit up Sacramento Valley’s vineyards, known for its zinfandels and petite sirahs. Photo: whsieh
16. San Diego, CA
Average Temp (High, Low): 71, 58 Median Income: $59,901 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $1,148 Population: 1,307,402 Median Age: 33.6
If you’re wondering where in the world Carmen is, we can’t promise you she’s in San Diego. However, we can inform you that this city houses three of the top zoos and is ranked the third best city for quality (and quantity) of happy hours. San Diego has some solid nightlife establishments, especially in the Gaslamp Quarter — 16.5 blocks of happy hours galore, plus tons of clubs and live music venues. To pass the daytime hours, San Diego features 70 miles of beaches (mind you, it’s the seventh largest city in the U.S.), and it’s got some killer street art. Photo: sunkmanitu
17. San Jose, CA
Average Temp (High, Low): 63, 33 Median Income: $76,495 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $1,311 Population: 945,942 Median Age: 35.2
This Cali city, known for having the nation’s best public safety record of any metropolitan area, is the most populated in the Bay Area. It ranked as the healthiest city, and gets props for providing people with safe places to exercise. And for tech-savvy 20-somethings, San Jose is home to the largest concentration of technology expertise in the world with more than 6,600 tech companies employing more than 254,000 people. For all the dog lovers out there, San Jose has got nine (count ‘em) dog parks. Maybe that’s how the city’s residents pick up hot dates, because one Men’s Health Poll ranked San Jose as the third best place in the U.S. to find a mate. Photo: the_tahoe_guy
18. Seattle, WA
Average Temp (High, Low): 60, 46 Median Income: $60,843 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $915 Population: 608,660 Median Age: 36.1
This city made the list because its people are allegedly sleepless (and lack of sleep equates to fun, right?). Seattle ranked fourth for number of happy hour-hosting establishments, and is well known for its coffee — it does have the first Starbucks location. For the bookworms out there, Seattle is the most literate city in the U.S. with the most bookstores and libraries per capita, and the most library cardholders too. For live music and performances, this city is second in the U.S. per capita. And as the first city to put cops on bikes, Seattle’s locals bike to work more often than in any other city in the states. Photo: jarnott
19. Phoenix, AZ
Average Temp (High, Low): 86, 59 Median Income: $47,085 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $663 Population: 1,445,632 Median Age: 32.2
As the tenth most playful city, Phoenix is big on recreation with heaps of hiking trails and museums, sporting events (with franchises in all four major professional sports leagues), and playful hobbies (with more than 200 golf courses, and 200+ parks, trails, and gardens). Of all fifty metropolitan areas in the survey on playfulness, Phoenix residents ranked as the most satisfied with their lives. With all that playtime, it may come as a surprise that this city is also the tenth most fiscally fit. Photo: Al_hikesAZ
20. Washington, D.C
Average Temp (High, Low): 67, 49 Median Income: $59,290 Average Rent for 1-Bedroom Apt.: $1,317 Population: 601,723 Median Age: 33.8
Our nation’s capital is the 10th greenest city in the U.S. and in the top ten cities for overall well-being. D.C.-ers might be in such good shape because there are 800 miles of bikeways, plus there’s the Capital Bikeshare program, with bike pick-ups at over 150 stations in the area. It ranks second for happy hours, beating out even NYC. And with one of the top five transit systems, it’s easy to make it to all those said happy hours. There’s also roughly a bajillion college students with American, George Washington, and Georgetown Universities generating big numbers of 20-somethings. In fact, almost 30 percent of the city’s population is between the ages of 20 and 34, according to the U.S. census.
How we ranked: We ran the cities through a lengthy ranking process to determine how we would define “best.” As a team, we compiled a list of what we (as 20-somethings) desired in a city to visit or move to. We then scoured the web for stats, polls, and surveys about metropolitan areas from Gallup, Sperling, and tourism bureaus. Once entered into one master spreadsheet, we pulled the top 30 cities then searched for unique attractions and facts about each to narrow down to our final 20. Our ranking took into account everything from health and wellness (gyms, walkability of streets, obesity statistics), to sustainability (air quality, recycling practices), to fun and affordability (happy hours, breweries, employment). Not every city scored impeccably for each factor, but made the list for stand out stats in certain categories. And while the U.S. is made up of a ton of awesome cities, we chose to highlight these 20.
What cities did we miss? What else makes these cities the best? Tell us in the comments section below!
Comments Leave a comment
So you choose ice boxes and humid hot baths where staid is the new black going on 60 years, but you skip out on Los Angeles? For shame.
@MichaelZinshteyn Hi, Michael. L.A. was one of the top thirty contenders (check out the last paragraph where we explain our ranking system), but we went with these 20 for a lot of reasons. If it was a bigger list, L.A. definitely would have made the cut. Thanks for letting readers know!
@nicole1 @MichaelZinshteyn I suppose year-round perfect weather, state forests and deserts within city limits, beaches, the largest collection of farmers markets, a thriving bus and rail system that covers significant square mileage, etc, is not enough to bump the city past dullards like Beantown and Chocolate City. The rent in LA is cheaper, too. That's fine, Greatist can be my source for fitness and health; I'll leave the city pecking order to census data.
@nicole1 You guys did right - LA is a cesspool, and the only things it has going for it are its weather and a few perks. You can barely breathe, crime is out of control, and the only reason it has the perks it does is because it sprawls so much. It has tons of great *areas* and *neighborhoods*, but definitely doesn't belong on a top anything list. Good work!
@anonuser @nicole1 ...LA's murder rate is lower than New York City's: https://www.policymap.com/city-crime-rates/new-york-city-crime-statistic... VS. https://www.policymap.com/city-crime-rates/los-angeles-crime-statistics/... See FBI crime data for more: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/preliminary-a...
@anonuser@nicole1 Not to beat a dead horse, but using the FBI crime data, for 2011 LA's violent crime rate was
.52 percent, New York City's was .623 percent.
I think DC should be higher than just #20 -- having been here for all of my 20s so far, I'd say that this place positively caters to the post-college, young professional crowd. How many cities can claim to have giant Jenga, skeeball, and cornhole leagues as something to do after work? Either way - great list! I love most of the places up there.
@arcDC giant jenga?!?! Where do we sign up? Sounds awesome! The list is in no specifically ranked order... just our top 20 picks!
Um the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/Saint Paul?!?!?!) Geesh, based on your ranking process I would think it would be up there. Especially with the local music and art scene and the fact that it for the last few years has been listed the healthiest place to live. The cost of living isn't very high and I'm not sure what the median income is... but I'm shocked its not on there.
I'd be interested to see where Columbia, MO ranked on your list. Check out how awesome it is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia,_Missouri =). We have some of the best parks in the nation, an awesome biking/running trail that runs right through the town and connects through the state of Missouri(MKT/Katy Trail). Lots of twenty somethings. Many festivals each and every year including True/False Film Festival and the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival.
"Studies consistently rank Columbia as a top city in which to live for educational facilities, health care, technological savvy, economic growth, cultural opportunities and cost of living. The city has been ranked as high as the second-best place to live in the United States by Money Magazine's annual list..."
Another cool feat, "Over half of Columbians possess a bachelor's degree and over a quarter hold graduate degrees, making it the thirteenth most highly educated municipality in the United States."
Well as a resident of ABQ who is in his 20's this is the most rediculious thing I have ever laid eyes on. I have been to almost every other city on the list and despite the higher costs of living they are leaps and bound better than ABQ (as much as I love it.) ABQ is much better for a middle aged partners looking to start a family.
@BillyTrabaudo as a 20-something who has been to ABQ, I must say I love it there! Cool culture, great food, fun atmosphere, really nice people.
How was the NYC average rent figured out? Did you include the boros other than Manhattan and the suburbs in that average? Because I live in Manhattan, and I can tell you that there is no way anyone can find a 1-bedroom for under $2500/month here. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/realestate/manhattan-the-city-of-sky-h...
@sharonrp Hi Sharon! The average rents were figured out using apartmentratings.com. Many towns were accounted for in the measurement, including all boroughs and connecting New Jersey and Long Island Cities. The rent stats for the other cities were equally broad in terms of area, so the prices are comparatively relevant.
Thirsty Dog's not in Cleveland; it's in Akron. But whatever...
@IamLaura did they mean the Happy Dog?
@DanMoulthrop I doubt it, because they were talking about breweries.
@IamLaura I'd guess most of these best this and best that lists are based on data that is, at best, at the regional level. More likely, it's based on other lists. Just check what they reference for Cleveland, a brewery list, a block party list, and a sleeping list. Pretty bizarre combination!
IMO, lists are created to drive traffic websites and publications. For better or worse, they contort public opinion.
Apparently the author has never been to San Francisco
@Bcroke San Francisco was one of our top contenders and scored well for walkability of its streets, an efficient transit system, sustainability, and lots of parkland. However with three other California cities that made the list, variety was also a contributing factor!
Agree that Minneapolis should have made the list, although I am from Cleveland.
There is a big difference between median and mean income.
I'd like to see some suburbs or smaller cities on this list. Plenty of crime in most of those places too.
Cleveland #7? And Pittsburgh not even ON the list??
I'd be really interested in seeing the polls and criteria used to make this list, because having lived in both cities (and being 25), it's not even a contest (in my opinion) that Pittsburgh has much more to offer.
How could you include San Jose and leave out San Francisco??!