Earlier this year, the Movoto Real Estate Blog decided to undertake a grand experiment to find new ways to answer that age old question of which places to live in this great country of ours really are the best. Not just the best overall, but the best for all sorts of things, from folks who like battling with giant foam swords to certified brainiacs, and even really snappy dressers.
After nearly a year of producing what we call our Big Deal Lists, we decided it was time to do something crazy: combine 15 of these accolade-packed rankings in order to proclaim our very own best cities for 2013. Where other lame overall best cities rankings factor in things like wine festivals and antique stores, or focus solely on boring stats like unemployment rates or cost of living, ours is all about the things we think make metros special—backed up by cold, hard data and produced through our patented process of Saturday Night Science.
It was an epic process—which we’ll detail in a bit—but when all of these seemingly incongruous rankings were fused together like in some mad scientist’s experiment, emerging from the smoke and sparks to claim its title of the best city in America for 2013 was Portland, OR.
This real gem of a place perched atop a veritable parthenon of metros determined by Movoto to be America’s 10 best:
These big towns made a big impact in 2013 for various reasons, and if you keep reading we’ll tell you exactly how they stood above their fellow metros to reach the pinnacle that is our overall best cities of the year. Before that, however, we should probably let you in on how we created this ranking.
How We Ranked the Nation’s Most Awesome Places
One cold December afternoon, Movoto’s Director of Marketing Chris Kolmar, rallied the blog team to discuss his latest plan. “Forget serious,” he said. “Go awesome.” The plan: to determine America’s best cities based on as many of our previous Big Deal Lists as possible. A formidable challenge, to be sure, but we’re never ones to turn away from difficult tasks. After all, we’re the folks who brought you the real-world value of Hogwarts from “Harry Potter” and figured out how to build a house out of Tetris pieces. Compared to those, this would be cake–or gingerbread.
We decided to take the Big Deal Scores from 15 of our national-level top 10 cities lists published in 2013 and average them out to produce an overall score for each city for the entire year. More specifically, we focused on a starting list of the 50 most populous cities in the country based on official 2010 Census figures.
Why not larger? Well, some of our earlier rankings only looked at 50 cities; more recent ones look at 100—or more. In order to keep things fair, we had to compare equal lists, so we settled on the 50 city cap.
As for the rankings we used to create this meta-ranking, they were:
1. Worst Dressed Cities (using the “losers” from this ranking)
2. Nerdiest Cities
3. Most Exciting Cities
4. Most Family Friendly Cities
5. Most Unhealthy Cities (using the “losers” again)
6. Smartest Cities
7. Most Saintly Cities
8. Hardest Working Cities
9. Most Steampunk Cities (remember the “go awesome” part?)
10. Funniest Cities
11. Worst Cities for Food Lovers (yep, the “losers” of this one, too)
12. Preppiest Cities
13. Best Cities for Meat Lovers
14. Best Cities for Movie Lovers
15. Best Cities for Home Buyers
Like we said earlier, the whole process was eerily reminiscent of Doctor Frankenstein’s mad scheme to build one person from the parts of others. Fortunately, in our case, the result didn’t wake up and start terrorizing the countryside–but we’re pretty sure it’s afraid of fire.
Anyway, now that we’ve told you how we met this meta-challenge, let’s take a look at how each of the top 10 cities ranked across the 15 different categories.
1. Portland, OR
|Movie Lovers: 1st||Healthiest: 6th||Best Dressed: 13th|
|Nerdiest: 2nd||Meat Lovers: 6th||Hardest Working: 13th|
|Food Lovers: 4th||Smartest: 6th||Home Buyers: 18th|
|Most Steampunk: 4th||Preppiest: 8th||Family Friendly: 21st|
|Funniest: 6th||Most Exciting: 10th||Most Saintly: 34th|
If you’re a nerd or movie lover, you can’t get much better than Portland, our best city in America. It’s also the most hipster city in America, but that fact didn’t have any sway over this ranking. The city naturally placed highly across a number of other categories as well, including Funniest, Food Lovers, Smartest, and Steampunk (or, in this case, Steamhipsters).
If you’re starting a family or buying a home, Portland could have placed (much) higher, but if Spock ears and foreign film festivals are your thing, you might want to ride a bike there right now. Just make sure it can fit all your stuff, because according to our findings, once you move to Portland, you won’t have any reason to leave.
2. Seattle, WA
|Hardest Working: 1st||Most Exciting: 4th||Movie Lovers: 12th|
|Food Lovers: 2nd||Preppiest: 5th||Funniest: 14th|
|Nerdiest: 3rd||Best Dressed: 7th||Family Friendly: 32nd|
|Smartest: 3rd||Most Steampunk: 9th||Most Saintly: 32nd|
|Healthiest: 4th||Meat Lovers: 12th||Home Buyers: 46th|
Our hardest working city in America put in a lot of effort to place this highly on our overall ranking. Still, in the battle of major Pacific Northwest metros, all the coffee beans in the world couldn’t help it place first.
That’s not to take anything away from Seattle’s major accomplishments, which include placing in the top five cities for Food Lovers, Smartest, Nerdiest, Most Exciting, Healthiest, and Preppiest. Plus, we’ve got a pretty good feeling that if we end up doing a Most Caffeinated Cities ranking next year, this burg will have that in the vacuum-sealed bag.
3. Atlanta, GA
|Funniest: 1st||Smartest: 2nd||Home Buyers: 20th|
|Meat Lovers: 1st||Food Lovers: 3rd||Healthiest: 23rd|
|Most Steampunk: 1st||Movie Lovers: 3rd||Hardest Working: 29th|
|Nerdiest: 1st||Preppiest: 3rd||Family Friendly: 36th|
|Best Dressed: 2nd||Most Exciting: 8th||Most Saintly: 41st|
As you can see, Atlanta performed extremely well, placing first in four categories, second in two, and third in another two. That means it placed in the top three for more than half of the available categories. It also placed first on our Top 10 Cities for Gamers ranking, but that wasn’t included in this ranking due to the fact that it only covered 30 metros in total.
This trend of Atlanta excelling actually led to some joking here at the Movoto office, as we were convinced for a time that the city was going to place first on every ranking we did. Thankfully, the metro exhibited some Southern hospitality and let some other cities shine—at least some of the time. Portland is thankful for that, we imagine.
4. San Francisco, CA
|Best Dressed: 1st||Most Exciting: 3rd||Funniest: 14th|
|Food Lovers: 1st||Smartest: 4th||Meat Lovers: 19th|
|Preppiest: 1st||Hardest Working: 6th||Most Saintly: 28th|
|Most Steampunk: 2nd||Nerdiest: 11th||Family Friendly: 38th|
|Movie Lovers: 2nd||Healthiest: 13th||Home Buyers: 48th|
San Francisco was our best dressed, tastiest, preppiest city of 2013, taking first in all three of those categories. In fact, the City by the Bay had more first-place finishes than any other metro in our top 10.
Why wasn’t it first overall, then? Well, dear reader, that’s not the way it works. While San Fran was tops in those categories—and did just swimmingly in Movie Lovers, Steampunk, and Smartest—low rankings in things like Family Friendly, Home Buyers, and Most Saintly brought its average down. Still, placing fourth overall is nothing to be sour (dough) at.
5. Washington, DC
|Smartest: 1st||Movie Lovers: 10th||Funniest: 20th|
|Best Dressed: 5th||Most Steampunk: 12th||Most Saintly: 21st|
|Most Exciting: 5th||Healthiest: 14th||Family Friendly: 29th|
|Food Lovers: 7th||Preppiest: 17th||Meat Lovers: 31st|
|Hardest Working: 9th||Nerdiest: 19th||Home Buyers: 38th|
Despite what you’ll hear from political commentators on both sides of the isle, Washington, DC is full of smart people. So smart, in fact, that among the 50 cities we looked at for this study, it placed first in the Smartest category. That was its only first-place finish, though; its next-highest accolades were in the Exciting and Best Dressed columns, where it came in fifth.
Perhaps it would be time better spent for detractors of our women and men in office to focus on the fact that DC placed 21st for Most Saintly?
6. San Diego, CA
|Best Dressed: 8th||Smartest: 13th||Hardest Working: 20th|
|Healthiest: 8th||Most Saintly: 13th||Family Friendly: 23rd|
|Preppiest: 10th||Nerdiest: 13th||Funniest: 26th|
|Most Exciting: 12th||Most Steampunk: 14th||Home Buyers: 28th|
|Food Lovers: 13th||Movie Lovers: 15th||Meat Lovers: 30th|
We caught some heat this year over the fact that San Diego didn’t rank higher on our Nerdiest list–what with it being home to the world-renowned San Diego Comic-Con–but we don’t just hand out such accolades based on gut feelings; it’s all about the data, and few things are nerdier than numbers. No, this sunny city by the sea came in 13th in that category, placing highest for Best Dressed and Healthiest, where it came in eighth.
If you’ve read our list of things to know before you move to San Diego, you’ll see that both of those accolades are richly deserved. Unfortunately, we didn’t factor in things like amazing fish tacos, or this Southern Californian burg would probably have placed higher.
7. Raleigh, NC
|Preppiest: 2nd||Most Steampunk: 10th||Nerdiest: 20th|
|Most Saintly: 6th||Smartest: 11th||Meat Lovers: 20th|
|Home Buyers: 7th||Healthiest: 17th||Food Lovers: 23rd|
|Family Friendly: 9th||Most Exciting: 19th||Best Dressed: 24th|
|Funniest: 9th||Movie Lovers: 19th||Hardest Working: 34th|
Second only to San Francisco on our top 10 list in terms of preppiness, and Las Vegas as far as its appeal to home buyers goes, Raleigh didn’t place first in any particular category. It is the Most Saintly city to appear in the top 10, however, at sixth overall, so that’s definitely something to tell the congregation about.
We like to think that the fact Raleigh placed 34th overall for Hardest Working just means that its residents prefer to spend their time doing nice things for others, hence the aforementioned Saintly ranking. Also, since it ranked 10th for Funniest, we’ve got to wonder how many wood-related jokes this “City of Oaks” has heard.
8. Denver, CO
|Meat Lovers: 5th||Funniest: 10th||Most Exciting: 14th|
|Most Steampunk: 6th||Nerdiest: 10th||Hardest Working: 22nd|
|Movie Lovers: 8th||Food Lovers: 11th||Most Saintly: 23rd|
|Healthiest: 9th||Preppiest: 13th||Family Friendly: 39th|
|Smartest: 9th||Best Dressed: 14th||Home Buyers: 45th|
Denver is the Mile High City, and in the case of our data, we’re looking at a mile high stack of meat products. We apologize for the beefy, salty mental imagery, but we can’t help the fact that Denver’s highest-ranked category was Meat Lovers. Fortunately, it was served with a side of Steampunk, where it placed sixth, and despite all the potentially artery-clogging food stuff, Denver managed a ninth place finish for Healthiest overall (and for Smartest, too).
Looking a little further into the rankings, it would make sense for Denver to have a wide variety of quality meat products to sample, given its 11th place finish for Food Lovers. It’s not exactly the best place to look for a house if you’re a carne connoisseur, however; it placed 45th out of 50 in terms of being a good market for home buyers.
9. Miami, FL
|Best Dressed: 3rd||Most Steampunk: 8th||Healthiest: 16th|
|Meat Lovers: 4th||Nerdiest: 8th||Most Exciting: 26th|
|Smartest: 5th||Funniest: 11th||Hardest Working: 28th|
|Food Lovers: 6th||Home Buyers: 15th||Family Friendly: 45th|
|Movie Lovers: 7th||Preppiest: 15th||Most Saintly: 46th|
It might not be very family friendly (45th) or saintly (46th), but boy if Miami doesn’t look good. The Florida metro’s highest rank was in Best Dressed, where it placed third overall, but it got high marks for Meat Lovers (fourth) and Smartest (fifth) too.
Actually, Miami earned itself several top 10 finishes, with the likes of Food Lovers, Movie Lovers, and Nerdiest. Hardest Working was pretty low at 28th, but we suspect that’s due to all the nightlife, which in turn takes us back to those near-last-place finishes for Family Friendly and Most Saintly.
10. Las Vegas, NV
|Home Buyers: 1st||Preppiest: 4th||Smartest: 28th|
|Funniest: 2nd||Food Lovers: 5th||Most Exciting: 30th|
|Meat Lovers: 2nd||Best Dressed: 6th||Family Friendly: 40th|
|Most Steampunk: 2nd||Nerdiest: 7th||Hardest Working: 44th|
|Movie Lovers: 4th||Healthiest: 28th||Most Saintly: 44th|
We’re not sure what’s more surprising about Sin City–that it wasn’t the least saintly city in our top 50 (it was 44th) or what it was only the 30th Most Exciting (Oakland, CA, which didn’t make out top 10, placed first for that).
Some of Las Vegas’ other ranks were rather unsurprising. It came in second for Funniest and Meat Lovers, fourth for Preppiest and Movie Lovers, and fifth for Food Lovers. All right, we’ll admit that a second-place finish for Most Steampunk is pretty surprising. It was Home Buyers, however, where this famed desert paradise took its lone first-place finish. In other words, if you’re looking to make any of our 10 best cities home, Las Vegas is the one where you’ll have the easiest time doing so.
There Are the Best, Then There Are the Rest
We started this process with 50 cities; you’ve just seen how and why the top 10 we ended up with made it through our gauntlet to victory. You can see exactly how all 50 fared in the table below.
It’s been a fun year of math, metrics, and metros here on the Movoto Real Estate Blog, and we hope you’ve enjoyed the results of all that number-crunching as much as we’ve enjoyed putting them together. We’ll be back in the new year with even more new ways to think about your favorite cities–until then, join in the discussion about our final 2013 ranking in the comments below. Oh, and if you live in Portland, you have exactly 12 months to gloat, so start counting.
Note: The order of our top 10 has changed slightly since this post was originally published, but the actual cities in the top 10 have not.