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These Are The 10 Most Exciting Suburbs In America

Their big city neighbors usually get all the glory, but now it’s time for these lively locales to get their due credit as some of the country’s most electrifying places.

Randy Nelson

Content Manager

116 articles, 53 comments

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The words “exciting” and “suburb” are generally never uttered in the same breath. In fact, if you look at pop culture–particularly coming out of the 1980s–suburbs are set up to play the proverbial second fiddle to their bigger brethren. They’re shining beacons of the boring life, where the biggest thrills include mowing lawns on the weekend and picking the kids up from school on time.

Only that’s totally untrue.

After ranking the country’s most exciting cities–big and small–last year, we at the Movoto Real Estate Blog decided to start 2014 off by turning the preconceived notion that suburbs are boring on its ear. So, we applied the same Big Deal List formula responsible for rocketing places like Oakland, CA and Hoboken, NJ into the spotlight to the nation’s largest suburban cities. What did we find? Cambridge, MA is unquestionably America’s most happening ‘burb.

It wasn’t alone; we ended up ranking nearly 140 suburbs on numerous excitement factors, and 10 emerged as the absolute thrilling-est of the bunch. These are America’s Most Exciting Suburbs:

1. Cambridge, MA
2. Quincy, MA
3. Berkeley, CA
4. Miami Beach, FL
5. Santa Monica, CA
6. Lakewood, OH
7. Jacksonville Beach, FL
8. Tempe, AZ
9. Santa Clara, CA
10. Evanston, IL

Bravo to the Boston, MA area–not only did the historic city appear on our ranking of the most exciting big cities last year at No. 2 overall, but now two of its suburbs, Cambridge and Quincy, top this list. They inched out Berkeley, a suburb of Oakland, our most exciting big city and one of three California ‘burbs in this top 10.

How did we figure all this out, and what exactly constitutes “exciting” in our book? If you’ll keep reading, we’ll explain all that and more. We promise it’ll be exciting.

How We Found America’s Most Exciting Suburbs

Exciting Suburb Comic
For most people, math’s not very exciting. Yet math is the means by which we ranked the most exciting suburbs. Lots and lots of numbers went into the process, but it all started with 139: the number suburbs we looked at. These are the largest suburbs of the 50 largest cities in the nation.

The next number of importance was six: the number of criteria we used to determine how exciting a suburb is. We applied the same criteria to this ranking as we did for our two previous Most Exciting Cities rankings:

  • Nightlife per capita (bars, clubs, comedy, etc.)
  • Live music venues per capita
  • Active life options per capita (parks, outdoor activities, etc.)
  • Fast Food restaurants per capita (the fewer the better)
  • Percentage of restaurants that are fast food (the lower the better)

Each suburb was ranked from 1 to 139 across all these criterion, with one being the best possible score (like in golf). This was accomplished by looking at business listings for each city and U.S Census data—not, unfortunately, dining and dancing the night away in person. Once we’d done that, we averaged the individual criterion scores to produce an overall Big Deal Score, which was used to determine the final ranking (the lower the score the better in this case, too).

The cities which you’re about to read about below had the 10 lowest scores, but we went ahead and included stats on how the top 50 ranked across the board at the bottom of this post. That way, if your idea of “exciting” is spending a Friday night arguing over minutiae, you can do that. For everyone else, here’s the big picture on what made our top 10 shoot past the rest of the pack:

1. Cambridge, MA

Most Exciting Suburbs

Source: Flickr user EandJsFilmCrew

When most people think of Cambridge, they either a) picture classrooms full of students at Harvard and M.I.T. with their noses buried in books or b) say “Hey, isn’t that in England?” From now on, when we think of this Boston suburb, we’re going to think “excitement.”

True, a big part of Cambridge’s success in this ranking has to do with the fact that it’s home to not one, but two top-tier universities. Its population of 18- to 34-year-olds is, as a direct result, a whopping 49 percent, easily clinching a 1st place win for the city in this criterion by nearly 6 percentage points. Cambridge was also in the top 10 overall for active life options (third), live music (sixth), and nightlife (sixth).

Cambridge has one nightlife option for every 1,002 residents, and when they’re spots like The Druid and The Comedy Studio, that figure gets even more exciting. The city also ranked in the top 10 (10th, in fact) for its low percentage of fast food restaurants compared to all dining options (a mere 4 percent). This means your tastebuds will be subjected to fewer McDonalds and exposed to more A-grade eateries like Hungry Mother and Craigie On Main.

2. Quincy, MA

Most Exciting Suburbs

Source:Flickr user IanMurphy

Excitement clearly runs in the Boston area family. Located not half an hour from our No. 1 most exciting suburb, Quincy is nevertheless far enough away that it has its own unique scene. It’s one that, for instance, relies much less on a young population to get the fun times rolling, as its 13 to 34 crowd makes up a (much) smaller 27 percent of its populace.

Despite the drop in our most exciting age group, there’s still plenty to keep the days and nights hopping in Quincy. It placed fifth overall in terms of active options with spots like Olindy’s standing out, and a respectable 25th for live music and nightlife. So, whether you want to belt out some questionably-in-key karaoke at Fuji 1546 or down a few pints at The Fours, you won’t be wanting for evening activities. Plus, any town that has a restaurant called The Fat Cat among its huge 96 percent of non-chain dining spots gets a thumbs up from this feline-friendly blogging crew.

3. Berkeley, CA

Most Exciting Suburbs

Source:City of Berkeley

This suburb of Oakland is right in Movoto’s back yard, so we’re more than a little familiar with what it has to offer in the way of excitement. Before you start saying “But wait, guys, isn’t it just a bunch of mellow hippie types,” though, we’ve got to stop you. This East Bay gem has plenty to offer excitement seekers of all hair lengths.

Of course, with UC Berkeley in town, the 18 to 34 group is going to be plenty large; it sits at 43 percent, to be exact. Plus, with it being part of the notoriously health conscious Bay Area, a sixth place finish for active life options isn’t unexpected (there are parks and yoga places everywhere). What you might not be expecting, though, is that this seemingly laid back suburb has a lot of nightlife.

From bars such as Jupiter and the Albatross, to world-renowned venues like the Greek Theatre, it’s a fantastic town to hang out with friends after dark or take in an A-list act.

4. Miami Beach, FL

Most Exciting Suburbs

Source: City of Miami Beach

From the Bay Area, we head to the extreme opposite end of the country for our No. 4 most exciting suburb. Miami Beach is America’s suburban nightlife creme de la creme, ranking first overall in both live music and nightlife with one spot for every 304 people. If you’ve ever turned on TV to a reality show, though, you probably know this, as they’re seemingly always living it up in some South Beach hotspot like LIV or Mango’s.

Miami Beach is, as expected, also a bastion for daytime excitement, placing sixth overall for active life options. It’s adjacent to the aforementioned South Beach, with its myriad boating, biking, and outdoor activity offerings. It’s also a great town to be a foodie, having placed fourth overall in terms of unique dining options–the best in our top 10–with only 2 percent of its restaurants being chains. If you’re ready to take a break from fast food, you can’t go wrong at places like Yardbird (where you may think you’ve died and gone to fried chicken heaven) and Cuban food paradise Puerto Sagua.

5. Santa Monica, CA

Most Exciting Suburbs

Source: City of Santa Monica

We’re trading a beach city in Southern Florida for one in Southern California at our No. 6 spot. Part of the mega-sprawl that is Los Angeles county, Santa Monica is pretty much the quintessential SoCal beach community, and its excitement can be felt by anyone who’s ever stepped foot on the Santa Monica Pier or the Third Street Promenade.

It placed second overall for active options, including the pier, its adjoining beach, and thrilling activities like the Trapeze School New York. For as much fun in the sun as it has to offer, Santa Monica continues to shine after the sun has set. The city came in third overall for nightlife and live music, bolstered by places including The Room and Harvelle’s.

6. Lakewood, OH

Most Exciting Suburbs

Source: Flickr user The Zender Agenda

Lakewood has been making quite a name for itself in the past few months, appearing on multiple rankings we’ve produced–including our Most Exciting Small Cities list. So, its appearance here comes as little surprise… even if it also made our list of best spots to retire. The young crowd is still strong in this Cleveland, OH suburb, however, making up 30 percent of the population and earning the city a 12th place finish for this criterion.

While the retirees snooze away, the youngins will play at places like West End Tavern. Residents of all ages benefit from exciting non-chain dining options such as Melt and Buckeye Beer Engine that make up the impressive 97 percent of restaurants in Lakewood that aren’t your average, mass-produced fare. The only area this city could have done much better in was active life options, where it placed 90th overall.

7. Jacksonville Beach, FL

Most Exciting Suburbs

Source: City of Jacksonville Beach

Our next suburb sits not on a lake, but on a much larger body of water: the Atlantic Ocean. Yes, we’re back in Florida, but this time it’s near Jacksonville rather than Miami. With the geography sorted out, it should come as little surprise to readers of this ranking that Jacksonville Beach was second only to Miami Beach in terms of nightlife and live music on a per capita basis. We’re talking places like Lynch’s, Engine 15, and the Shim Sham Room.

Also of zero surprise was this suburb’s fourth place finish for active life options, from beaches to waterparks to golf. Where Miami Beach absolutely trounced this fellow Floridian destination, however, was in non-chain dining options. Jacksonville Beach came in 50th for this criteria with 9 percent of its restaurants chains. Still, that doesn’t mean residents looking for some exciting eating options are out of luck, what with the likes of Eleven South and Salt Life Food Shack in town.

8. Tempe, AZ

Most Exciting Suburbs

Source: Tim Trumble

The second-youngest city in our top 10, a full 44 percent of the residents in this Phoenix, AZ suburb are between the ages of 18 and 34. That’s not bad for a state that many people associate with retirement (Florida bucked that trend on this ranking, too). You might also find it hard to believe that Tempe is a nightlife hotspot for similar reasons, but it is, placing ninth overall for clubs, live music, and associated after dark attractions like the Mill Cue Club and Big Bang, a dueling piano bar.

One area where Tempe shook its stereotype for the sort-of-worse was activity options, as it placed 22nd overall for those. It’s also note quite the daring dining destination of the other nine suburbs that comprise our top 10–in fact, at 59th overall for non-chain restaurant percentage, it’s the worst. Don’t tell that to people who swear by vegetarian delight Green or the Four Peaks Brewing Company ale house, though.

9. Santa Clara, CA

Most Exciting Suburbs

Source: City of Santa Clara

If you’d asked anyone in the Movoto office to guess the top 10 most exciting suburbs in the country, Santa Clara would honestly not have been in the running. This ranking isn’t about preconceived notions, though; it’s about what the data says and exposing the truth. The truth is, then, that this San Jose, CA suburb is exciting.

A big part of that is due to the considerable percentage of 18 to 34 residents (31 percent) and the fact that Santa Clara placed 20th out of 139 for nightlife. The number of karaoke joints like Arirang Music Studio are simply mind-boggling, too. Oh, and this city is also home to the California’s Great America theme park which, while perhaps not one of the country’s top-tier parks, is definitely a lot more exciting than most cities’ carnivals.

10. Evanston, IL

Most Exciting Suburbs

Source: Flickr user Acererak

As Ol’ Blue Eyes used to croon, Chicago is a wonderful town. Evanston’s placing in our top 10 has us wondering “Evanston, Evanston, what an exciting town” wasn’t Sinatra’s second choice for lyrics. While the Chairman of the Board wouldn’t have sung the praises of Evanston’s 49th place finish for live music, at least he’d have enjoyed a dish at Dave’s, one of the town’s many non-chain restaurants (it ranked 23rd for those).

Oh, and Evanston has a group of 18- to 34-year-olds who make up 32 percent of its total population. We wonder how many of those wouldn’t know a tune by the Sultan of Swoon if we played it for them?

Can You Feel The Excitement?

We think we accomplished what we set out to do: show that suburbs are definitely more than meet the eye. They’re not all full of 40-somethings obsessed with youth soccer and typesetting the minutes for their neighborhood watch meetings. They’ve got lots of things to do—day or night. Especially Cambridge, MA, where any egghead from M.I.T. can tell you that “suburb” is just a word; Excitement is a way of life.

Want to talk about our ranking, or share what makes your hometown exciting? Let’s hear it in the comments below.

(click to enlarge table)

Most Exciting Suburbs in America

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posted on: January 29, 2014
239,370 views, 27 comments

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27 Comments

  1. Paul

    Austin, TX didn’t make this list? REALLY!? I’ve been to all these places, and given the music scene, the club scene, the culture, the history, the nature, the … well anything and everything you could want … personally find Austin favorable in comparison to some of these listed — all these are good — check out Austin some time! <>

    • joe verdoorn in response to Paul

      Good comments, cant understand the apple and peaches comparisons between cities and suburbs or how They missed Austin, even on the long list!!!

      • Chris Kolmar in response to joe verdoorn

        Hey Joe,
        Simple: We didn’t include Austin because it’s not a suburb, it’s a city. Several Austin suburbs are part of the list.

        • joe verdoorn in response to Chris Kolmar

          I can buy that, but how Tempe Cambridge Santa Monica and other cities make your list and not Austin. You need to make clearer explanation of the criteria used to define suburban and cities.

          • Chris Kolmar in response to joe verdoorn

            We did it based on population size. We looked at the suburbs of the 75 biggest cities. So there are definitely some suburbs that are, in fact, cities in their own right.

            It’s all relative and part of the fun to argue about :)

        • Bruce in response to Chris Kolmar

          Quincy, Ma isnt a City??

          • bill zamzow in response to Bruce

            FYI: Quincy MA is incorporated as a City. Not much of one, but thus a city nonetheless.

        • Gwen in response to Chris Kolmar

          Could you tell me how Bellevue, Washington fared? It has a lot of retail including a lot of fast food restaurants so I am guessing that brought its score down, but it would be interesting to know the score just the same.

  2. Theodore

    I want to personally Thank You for the props for the Shim Sham Room in Jax Beach, Florida. Florida’s Biggest small city!

    Much Love!

    Theodore Von Sham

  3. TJG

    I have my own ideas as to why, but can you explain why you make a low number/share of fast food joints such a big share of the score?

    • TJG in response to TJG

      Never mind; I see the question was answered on the “most exciting cities” article.

  4. AR

    Cambridge, Berkeley, and Santa Monica are hardly suburbs. They are cities in their own right.

  5. Bill Zamzow

    I have spent serious time and/or lived in 5 of the 10 cities listed in this article.

    I also know enough about research methodology to be able to say without any fear of challenge that this survey’s methodology is DEEPLY – if not fatally – flawed if Quincy came up #2 UNLESS by exciting this survey means one’s personal safety is at risk in the Q.

    Oh, and for a truly VALID review of Quincy, see becausemollysaidso.com/2014/01/30/quincy-2nd-in-excitement/

  6. Ryan Minniear

    We are Santa Monica residents and although we are excited to see Santa Monica make the Top 10, we don’t feel that it is a suburb. It is more of an urban village.

  7. dk12

    How are Cambridge and Quincy suburbs? Cambridge is part of the core urban area of greater Boston (mapc.org), and Quincy isn’t exactly suburban either. This is like saying Brooklyn is the most exciting suburb of Manhattan.

    • TJG in response to dk12

      Because Brooklyn is actually a part of NYC, whereas Cambridge and Quincy are independently incorporated, with their own mayors, city councils, etc.

      • jim in response to TJG

        So really, this list should be called “the most exciting urban areas that are, due to quirks of history or geography, not a legal part of the core municipality.” There’s really nothing suburban about Cambridge, Santa Monica, Berkeley, Evanston, Miami Beach, etc.

        • TJG in response to jim

          A suburb is nothing more than a smaller city/town/village within close proximity to a much larger one. If you limit the list to farther-out suburbs that look like the neighborhood in Edward Scissorhands, you’re going to have a list containing zero items.

          I have a feeling that when people here are griping that “that’s not really a suburb,” what they’re really thinking of is exurbs.

        • Meliflaw in response to jim

          Quite. Berkeley is a small city; it is not a suburb of anywhere, and I’m surprised to find a real estate site stating such a silly thing.

          • TJG in response to Meliflaw

            I’m really confused as to what some of you think a suburb actually is. Just because something doesn’t “feel” like a suburb doesn’t mean it isn’t one. In fact, the fact that it doesn’t feel like a typical suburb is a big part of the reason why several of these cities are on the list.

            If you’re part of the “Metro X area,” and you’re not X, then like it or not, you’re a suburb of X.

  8. Daniel

    The US Census Bureau calls it the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy MA-NH Metro Area. But they’re just suburbs, they’re not part of the core urban area at all.

  9. Veronica

    Affordability should figure somewhere in the calculations. If you’re going to live in the ‘burbs, there should at least be some savings on rent. Also: “That way, if your idea of ‘exciting’ is spending a Friday night arguing over minutiae, you can do that.” = “if you don’t agree with our arbitrary rankings that are completely based on numbers and involve no actual research, you’re a poopy head.” Stay classy, Movoto!

  10. Karen

    Quincy born and bred! Wouldna thunk it, though. Above Berkeley and those other cool places? Well, certainly Quincy is the site of the original Dunkin’ Donuts, that’s true. And it’s where the Dropkick Murphys started out. Great clams at the beach, direct access to the Blue Hills, and the main library designed by Bullfinch. Okay, there are some cool things. I guess I’m glad my middle son is moving to my hometown this weekend, I’ll be back there more often! I’ll have to check out what everybody’s talking about.

  11. Paul

    Quincy MA isn’t a half hour away from Boston, it’s 1 second over the town line from Boston. Cambridge is across the Charles from Boston- these are both more neighborhoods of Boston than they are suburbs. Don’t suburbs have to be driven to from the city, not stepped into?!

  12. Sue

    As a long time Quincy resident, I can tell you it is not exciting at all. Heroin use is on the rise and you can’t even go into Quincy Center at night without witnessing at least one fight.

    The clams are good though.

  13. Tom

    Miami Beach is not a suburb. Miami is made up of 2 cities. Miami Proper and Miami Beach. The city of Miami Beach has its own 8 suburbs starting from the town of Surfside (87TH TR.) to the town of Golden Beach including N. Bay Village and Fisher Island.

  14. Steve

    Someone, maybe someone at movoto, needs to invent some new terms to differentiate the many types of suburbs. Many of the comments here are because suburb is such a broad term that any ranking of suburbs is fundamentally flawed. It’s like putting division I, II, & III football, basketball, baseball, soccer, & volleyball teams in one ranking or giving out Emmy’s in a ranked order, 1 category only for all TV shows. Inner-ring suburbs, exurbs, etc are not sufficient terms. We need new terms for cities that have their own suburbs but are close enough to be a suburb of a bigger city. Get creative movoto.

 

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