Many people dream of trading their small, suburban towns for the bright lights of New York or Los Angeles. And sure, those cities are great places to live (heck, they're on our list!), but there’s also a new set of go-to destinations for young people—some of which are quite surprising (see: Madison, WI).
Of course, picking a city to live in is a personal choice. To find the 20 best cities for 20-somethings, we looked for places that have affordable rent, plenty of jobs, spots to break a sweat, happy and healthy residents, and endless opportunities to meet that special someone. For the full list of metrics used to put together this ranking, scroll to the bottom of the list.
Editor’s note: This list is presented in no particular order.
1. Seattle, WA
This seaport city is one of the most well-rounded locations on our list, offering everything from access to the great outdoors to a lively nightlife scene. Thirteen miles of greenways (peaceful roads for safer biking and walking) prove Seattle takes cycling seriously. Seattleites sure are smart cookies: The city is also one of the top 10 most-educated cities in America.
2. Boston, MA
With more than 100 colleges and universities in the greater Boston area, Beantown is full of 20-somethings. The historically square city has done a lot of loosening up in an effort to turn those students into long-term residents, such as hosting music festivals and investing in new public spaces like the Lawn on D. In fact, Boston has 90 percent of the 20 qualities (a thriving job market, affordable rent, nonchain restaurants) that are most important to young people in a city.
3. Washington, D.C.
D.C. isn't just about politics. Our nation’s capitol is ranked No. 1 on the American Fitness Index because of how healthy—physically and mentally—most Washingtonians are, thanks in part to easy park access. And considering home prices haven’t increased significantly since 2015, 20-somethings can actually afford to make a house a home in the greater D.C. area. Although the public transportation system can be a bit frustrating, the city is super bike friendly and walkable.
4. Minneapolis, MN
If your main concern is staying healthy, the larger of the Twin Cities might be right up your alley. Minneapolis came in second on the American Fitness Index for having lots of farmers markets, parks, and other rec facilities (think tennis courts and baseball fields). It's also one of the best places to live if you’re single or a recent college grad, making adulting there a lot less scary.
5. New York, NY
It’s no surprise the City That Never Sleeps landed on our list (again)—in large part due to its buzzing nightlife. Looking for love? With some of the best bars, clubs, and restaurants in the country, NYC has plenty of places to meet someone. And thanks to world-class museums, theaters, and landmarks, you'll never be at a loss for first-date ideas or weekend adventures. It's also a health-minded hub with juice bars and boutique fitness studios on nearly every corner. Sure the rents are high, but one in five millennials say the Big Apple is their ideal city to live in.
6. Austin, TX
Despite being one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, this proudly weird locale remains pretty cheap, making it a solid option for 20-somethings. Even better? With all the tech companies and startups that call ATX home, Austin has the third best job market in the country. And when you're not at work, you'll never be bored. In addition to hosting major events like SXSW and Austin City Limits, the city has more than 250 live music venues, a creative arts community, and a booming food scene (breakfast tacos, anyone?).
7. Chicago, IL
Even though it's more affordable than New York and San Francisco, the Windy City isn't cheap. But successful millennials seem to think it's worth it—in fact, they now make up the city's largest group of renters. That's partly because it's easy to walk, bike, or ride the L to Chicago's myriad restaurants, dive bars, and cocktail hotspots. The fact that 63 percent of Chicagoans are single doesn't hurt either.
8. San Jose, CA
San Jose is doing something right. Its median household income is a staggering $92,960, and it's the second healthiest city in America. That's probably why it also made its way into the top five least stressed places in the U.S. This killer combo makes San Jose a no-brainer, unless you're the type of person who hates money, health, and happiness.
9. St. Paul, MN
There's a lot to live up to when your slogan is “the most livable city in America." But St. Paul doesn't mess around. The city scored high on the American Fitness Index for both activity and movement. The reason? Nearly 15 percent of the area is parkland, meaning most of the population lives within a 10-minute walk to a park.
10. Denver, CO
Denver's start-up scene is one of the biggest reasons that 20-somethings are flocking to the Mile High City. A local research firm found that about one-third of the 1.6 million jobs in Denver are held by 19- to 34-year-olds. It's easy to meet other career-driven people during happy hour at one of the 100-plus craft breweries and microbreweries. Plus, the food scene is hot and affordable, while obesity rates remain low.
11. Miami, FL
One of the many reasons Miami is such a pleasure to live in: It's easy to get around. You can walk, bike, or take the reliable Miami-Dade Transit to any one of its colorful neighborhoods. And considering all the Cuban-inspired celebrations and sceney South Beach, it's no wonder Miami was named one of Travel + Leisure's Best Cities for Nightlife.
12. Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia might just be the perfect location for 20-somethings. It has nearly everything millennials are looking for (the most out of any cities on this list!)—jobs, cheap rent, parks and trails, local restaurants, solid pizza. And now that 19- to 34-year-olds make up nearly half the downtown population, retailers and restauranteurs are rushing to please, making Philly hotter than ever.
13. Madison, WI
Madison proves smaller cities can still offer big opportunities. Its economic engine is churning, creating new jobs for the recent college grads of several nearby colleges. And all that young blood is forcing the downtown area to transform. Retail shops are being traded for more bars and restaurants to please 20-somethings who value experiences over things.
14. Arlington, VA
Arlington is considered the No. 1 city for recent college grads. Twenty-somethings can spend time exploring the city’s rich historical sites such as the Pentagon, which makes for a surprisingly fun Tinder date (just trust us). Health-forward folks can frequent the FRESHFARM Market for—you guessed it—fresh fruits, vegetables, plants, herbs, and baked goods.
15. San Diego, CA
A common theme with West Coast locales is their residents' distinct lack of stress. And San Diego is no exception (it's one of the least stressed cities in America). The coastal city's array of beaches and nearly year-round sunshine are a huge reason why. See? Who says you can’t talk warmly about San Diego without referencing Anchorman?
16. Los Angeles, CA
Ranking high in nightlife and number of single people, Los Angeles is for lovers. Or swipe-righters. Or friends with benefits. Or, well, you get the picture. There are plenty of places to meet other good-looking single folks. Sure, traffic sucks, but living in a city where the average temperature hovers around 71 degrees, you’ll stop sweating the small stuff.
17. Portland, OR
The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland—at least, that’s what Fred and Carrie have been saying since 2011. With its large number of microbreweries and distilleries, Portland is where it's at if you’re looking to imbibe. Getting around is a total breeze, thanks to its bike-friendly ways, which is probably why this city made the top five of the American Fitness Index list.
18. Honolulu, HI
Hawaii’s capital city is where you go when you need a major change of scenery. Its blossoming arts district has theaters, galleries, and shops for creative folks looking to deviate from the norm. Honolulu is also one of the least stressed cities in America. You'll get why the moment you step onto the island.
19. Salt Lake City, UT
SLC has the best of both worlds: an urban atmosphere plus easy access to the mountains. It's the perfect playground for active and adventurous 20-somethings. Affordable housing and a solid job market make it one of the best cities for young people. And while there are still some widespread misconceptions about its beer laws, the city is actually home to a bunch of awesome breweries and unique cocktail creations.
20. San Francisco, CA
It's no secret that housing prices have soared in the Bay Area, but that hasn't stopped millennials from swarming the city. The tech world's promise of fame and fortune is the magnet for most, but it's the healthy lifestyle that keeps 20-somethings eager to settle here. SF provides access to fresh and healthy foods; makes it easy to walk, bike, or metro anywhere; and has exceptionally low stress levels.
Methodology: Every year Greatist gathers statistics from a number of sources to assemble our list of the 20 best cities for 20-somethings. (Check out last year’s list here.) Criteria considered for this year’s ranking included: fitness (based on the ACSM American Fitness Index plus bike friendliness, walkability, and access to the outdoors), cost of housing, public transportation, bars, dating scene, stress levels, and job prospects.
Do you think we missed a city? Feel free to send us an email, and we’ll consider it for next year’s list.