The lighter side of real estate

These Are America’s 10 Best Cities for 2013

These are the nerdiest, smartest, hardest working, most exciting, and downright best cities in the country according to a year of studying what makes America’s metros so great.

Randy Nelson

Content Manager

119 articles, 53 comments

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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:

1. Portland, OR
2. Seattle, WA
3. Atlanta, GA
4. San Francisco, CA
5. Washington, DC
6. San Diego, CA
7. Raleigh, NC
8. Denver, CO
9. Miami, FL
10. Las Vegas, NV

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

Movoto's Best Cities in America 2013

Source: Wikipedia user Cacophony

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

Movoto's Best Cities in America 2013

Source: Wikipedia user Daniel Schwen

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

Movoto's Best Cities in America 2013

Source: Wikipedia user Brett Weinstein

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

Movoto's Best Cities in America 2013

Source: Wikipedia user Joshualeverburg1

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

Movoto's Best Cities in America 2013

Source: Wikipedia user Wendy Harman

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

Movoto's Best Cities in America 2013

Source: Wikipedia user Tomcio77

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

Movoto's Best Cities in America 2013

Source: Wikipedia user Mark Turner

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

Movoto's Best Cities in America 2013

Source: Wikipedia user Hogs555

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

Movoto's Best Cities in America 2013

Source: Wikipedia user Marc Averette

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

Movoto's Best Cities in America 2013

Source: Wikipedia user Lasvegaslover

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.

(click to enlarge table)

Movoto's Best Cities in America 2013

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posted on: December 19, 2013
[views], 8 comments


  1. Heath

    In the master table it looks like the Funniest and SteamPunk ranks have the same value. Did that error find its way to your results?

    Further, given the abundance of colleges and universities, % of people with degrees and advanced degrees, placement on other “most educated” lists from other media outlets, and with the most colleges and universities per capita, I’m not sure how Boston didn’t even place on the smartest list. I think perhaps your research methodology or your numbers are flawed or skewed.

    • Randy Nelson in response to Heath

      Hey, Heath! Thanks for the comment. There actually was an error with the transcription of the original Funniest ranking, which changed the order of the top 10 slightly. It’s been fixed, however, and the top 50 table (along with the mini-tables within the post) have been updated accordingly.

  2. Robert Au

    Mr Nelson

    Please do not call San Francisco San Fran. Please use San Francisco.

    Thank you

  3. Jeff P Slatton

    Thank you for keeping San Antonio in the bottom 10. People need to stop moving here.

  4. Ranger Dan PArsons

    Hmmmm! All I know is that when I consider cities I’d like to live in, that those are the exact same, and I mean exact, criteria I am looking for. I mean it’s all about meat and nerds as far as I’m concerned. Being the preppiest best dressed nerdy carnivore makes for outstanding quality of life. I do prefer my ladies to look like something out of “Hell Boy”.

  5. Al

    More NYC hate what else is new

  6. fdvhgf

    WHO MADE THIS LIST?! What a joke! LOL this list is HORRIBLE! for the top two items. ARE YOU INSANE???

    I just moved AWAY from Seattle, because I would easily call it #1 for the MOST MISERABLE CITY ON EARTH. No sunlight ever, except two months in summer. A dreadful perpetual drizzle. Tons of hipsters and nonexciting introverts with low social skills. It’s no wonder Seattle has the highest suicide rates in the whole United States.

    And PORTLAND IS WORSE! Tons of hipsters and just WEIRD PEOPLE. Watch “Portlandia” – it’s not far off from the truth!

    Whoever put Seattle and Portland at the top of this list has to be a loser hipster despised by the world. Dumb ass. That, or they’ve never actually lived in the cities and are just talking out of their ass.

  7. JACK

    TOTALLY RIGHT ON COMMENT….for sure on Portland, Oregon….SICK SICK PEOPLE/.


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