The 20 Best Cities for 20-Somethings: 2012 Edition

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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.

Photo: Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau

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.

Photo: Gus Rojo

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

Photo: Freefoto.com

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

Photo: Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau

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).

Photo: Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce

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).

Photo: The City of Chicago's Official Tourism Site

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.

Photo: Flikr user ifmuth

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

Photo: Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau

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.

Photo: VISIT DENVER

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.

Photo: Flikr user -shu-

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-

Photo: Flikr user alumroot

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

Photo: Flikr user Loretín
 

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

Photo: Flikr user musical photo man

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

Photo: Flikr User GregDawson

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

Photo: Flikr user whsieh
 

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

Photo: Flikr user Sunkmanitu

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

Photo: Flikr user the_tahoe_guy

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

 

Photo: Flikr user jarnott

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

Photo: Flikr user Al_HikesAZ

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 fitPhoto: Al_hikesAZ

Photo: Jason Hawkes

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!

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About the Author
Nicole McDermott
I try my best to eat foods that make me feel good, but I have a lot of sweet teeth. I completed a 1-month ShakeWeight "challenge" ... well...

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