Advertiser Disclosure

The Best Places for 20-Somethings

June 24, 2013
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Many 20-somethings are graduating from college and on the hunt for a job — a hunt that may require them to relocate. NerdWallet took a look at the best metropolitan areas in terms of both social and economic environment for professionals in their 20s.

We ranked U.S. metropolitan areas according to the following criteria:

  1. Is there economic opportunity? Many people in their 20s are just starting their careers and are looking for job opportunities. We looked at the unemployment rate and the median income per year of an individual to assess both the availability of jobs and the quality of work.
  2. Will you find peers in your age group? 20-somethings tend to flock together, so we included the percentage of the population between the ages of 20 and 29.
  3. Will you be able to find housing? We looked at the median cost of rent per month as well as the percentage of households that were rented to assess the size and cost of the rental market.
  4. Will you find cultural events and activities? We gauged recreation and entertainment by looking at the ratio of arts, entertainment and recreation businesses per 1,000 residents.
  5. Can you afford to live there? We looked at the general cost of living, based on the prices of everyday goods like movie tickets and pizza, to see how expensive the city was, relatively speaking. Twenty-somethings often carry student debt and have very little savings as they start their careers.

For more information, check out our Cost of Living Calculator and City Life tool.

Best metropolitan areas for 20-somethings

1. Washington, D.C., and Arlington-Alexandria, Virginia

The greater Washington D.C. area has one of the highest median incomes in the nation. This is an area of great economic opportunity for 20-somethings to start their careers, and many of them live in Adams Morgan and U Street, home to a great selection of restaurants, nightclubs and coffee houses.

2. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, California

San Francisco and its surrounding communities come in second on our list with a high median income. While the cost of living and rent may be on the higher side, San Francisco provides multitudes of economic opportunity and a thriving social scene. Lower Haight and Mission are especially popular with young professionals due to the plethora of coffee shops, restaurants and events.

3. New York City-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, New York and New Jersey

Many recent graduates head to the New York metropolitan area, which has one of the highest populations of 20-year-olds in the nation. Be sure to get out and socialize with the huge concentration of entertainment options, including the parks and trails of New York. Head to the East Village for great entertainment options like restaurants, bars and comedy clubs.

4. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California

The Bay Area is on the list again. Silicon Valley, unsurprisingly, sees many young professionals working in the technology industry coming in floods — and many are settling in the hubs of Mountain View and Palo Alto, headquarters to companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. Accordingly, the median income is one of the highest in the nation, a whopping $63,980 per year.

5. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Massachusetts

The greater Boston area has plenty of universities, and many graduates stay in the area, so it’s no wonder the metro has a high percentage of 20-somethings. The median rent and the cost of living are also the lowest of the top five cities on our list, making this a relatively affordable area. Many 20-somethings move to Southie because of its affordable rents and great entertainment options.

6. Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu has the lowest unemployment rate on our list, which means it’s a great place for those looking to start their careers while enjoying the benefits of living in Hawaii. Downtown Honolulu is always popular for its art galleries, restaurants and bars — be sure to hang out on First Friday when art galleries and restaurants host comedy, poetry and dance performances.

7. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut

The Bridgeport metropolitan area boasts a high median income and a lower cost of living and rent. Downtown Bridgeport recently experienced a revitalization with many new residents and businesses moving in. Be sure to stop by Baldwin Plaza and the Waterfront Park. Bridgeport also has the highest number of entertainment options per 1,000 people, so there’s always something to do.

8. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, California

Los Angeles is a young city, with over 15% of its population age 20-29. Part of that is due to the numerous colleges in the area, as students settle down in the city after graduation. Santa Monica is a popular beach community with an active bar scene, while Venice Beach next door is more down-to-earth. The cost of living and rent are much lower than our previous two Californian metropolitans, which is great news for cost-conscious young professionals.

9. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington

The greater Seattle region has a high percentage of residents ages 20 to 29. There are plenty of economic opportunities for young professionals, with a number of Forbes 500 companies in town, such as Microsoft and Amazon. Belltown is a popular neighborhood, home to Seattle attractions like Pike Place Market and Olympic Sculpture Park, as well as apartments, restaurants and live music venues. Lower Queen Anne is also popular and a bit cheaper than Belltown.

10. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, California

The San Diego area rounds out our top 10 list. This sunny city has a low cost of living and a fairly high average salary, making it an attractive destination for young professionals looking for great weather and economic opportunities. Hot spots are Hillcrest, next to Balboa Park, with plenty of restaurants, cafes, clubs and boutiques. North Park is also popular and home to a local craft beer scene.

Best metropolitan areas for 20-somethings

Scroll right to see all data categories.

 Metropolitan areaIncome in the past 12 months (2012)Population age 20-29Median rent per monthRenter-occupied housing unitsCost of living indexUnemployment rateEntertainment per 1,000 peopleOverall score
1Washington D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, VA$61,86114.4%$1,39136.4%150.95.0%23.261.4
2San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA$57,28513.9%$1,34546.3%168.36.2%23.058.9
3New York City-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY/NJ$50,85614.1%$1,18748.9%229.67.5%33.858.3
4San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$63,98013.8%$1,46043.1%157.06.6%5.955.7
5Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA$55,28414.5%$1,16338.7%142.85.7%37.255.6
6Honolulu, HI$42,74715.7%$1,41945.2%169.73.9%6.654.9
7Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT$62,02711.1%$1,21732.2%148.47.3%47.052.9
8Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA$42,52715.3%$1,21450.8%131.38.4%40.550.1
9Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA$52,70814.8%$1,03740.0%116.25.2%24.748.8
10San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA$45,66916.9%$1,23746.7%134.47.0%8.947.7
11Columbia, MO$37,20123.8%$80732.7%95.74.4%19.746.5
12Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL$37,81813.1%$1,07837.5%108.17.2%72.246.3
13Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN/WI$49,53513.9%$85829.4%110.84.9%44.445.8
14Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT$54,14512.7%$96232.6%124.67.8%44.644.9
15Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY$46,62214.0%$86034.0%109.76.5%47.043.8
16Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, ME$44,84911.4%$88730.5%110.25.7%61.743.6
17Madison, WI$45,59917.0%$86454.2%109.85.2%15.243.5
18Provo-Orem, UT$41,76920%$81833.4%95.94.3%16.143.0
19New Haven, CT$50,77513.4%$101836.4%131.08.1%26.241.9
20Baltimore-Towson, MD$51,90914.1%$1,07333.2%118.06.7%18.241.8


The overall score was calculated with the following measures:

  1. Economic opportunity: Cities with the lowest unemployment rate and highest median income of an individual for a year’s worth of work from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census data.
  2. Demographics: Cities with the largest population of people ages 20-29 from census data.
  3. Housing: Cities with the lowest median rent per month and the highest percentage of renter-occupied housing units from census data.
  4. Cost of living index: Cities with the lowest cost of living from the Council for Community and Economic Research.
  5. Social life: Cities with the most art, entertainment and recreation businesses per 1,000 residents from census data.

We looked at the 103 most populous U.S. metropolitan areas for this analysis.

Seattle image by Ron Henry.