We talk a lot about superheroes, cartoon characters, and even the occasional royal figure here on the Movoto Real Estate Blog, but most of the time we’re telling normal folks like ourselves where the best and safest places are to live.
Every once in a while, though, we wonder what life must be like for the 1 percent—what sort of places they live in, and what sort of things they need. It’s for that reason why we decided to turn our ranking prowess toward finding the enclaves of our country where the truly wealthy reside.
What we found is that, when it comes to small cities and towns, there’s none richer—in terms of actual wealth or things the wealthy enjoy—than Bethesda, MD. In the process, we also determined the top 10 richest small cities in America, which are:
1. Bethesda, MD
2. Palo Alto, CA
3. McLean, VA
4. Redondo Beach, CA
5. Menlo Park, CA
6. Lexington, MA
7. Brentwood, TN
8. Foster City, CA
9. Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
10. Laguna Niguel, CA
10. Hoboken, NJ
Before you say it, yes, we know that’s actually 11 places. As you can see, there was a two-way tie for 10th place. You might also have noticed that six out of the 11 are in California. We’ll get to the specifics of why these places ranked where they did and how we put the whole thing together next—faster than a Bethesda resident can spot a real Hermès Birkin bag from a fake.
How We Made This Ranking
Even if you’ve read one of our Big Deal List rankings before, you’ll want to pay attention, because this one’s a little different.
In order to determine which small cities in the U.S. are actually the richest, we started with a list of 950 places with populations between 30,000 and 80,000 people according to the 2010 U.S. Census. We then ranked these places from 1 to 950 based on two categories: median household income and median home value, using data from the 2010 Census, with one being best.
The average of these two scores was used to determine the top 25 most wealthy small cities in the country. From there, we gathered further data on just these 25 places in nine additional categories we chose to encapsulate a truly rich place:
- Really expensive fine dining establishments per capita
- Really expensive clothing retailers per capita
- Really expensive jewelry stores per capita
- Luxury car dealers per capita
- Country clubs per capita
- Cosmetic surgeons per capita
- Distance to nearest polo field
- Distance to nearest yacht club
- Distance to nearest private airport
For the first six criteria, we used business listings and only considered businesses actually located within city limits. For the last three, we used the distance to the closest field, club, or private airport by actual driving miles.
Each place was given a score from 1 to 25 in the individual criteria, with one being best. We then averaged these rankings together into an overall Big Deal Score, with the lowest score being the richest small city.
Now that you know how we put the ranking together, let’s take a look at the top places and how they fared across all these various criteria. You might want to grab yourself a top hat and monocle to wear while you read for optimal richness simulation.
1. Bethesda, MD
|Polo Field Distance Rank||1||Luxury Car Dealers Rank||4||Really Expensive Jewelry Stores Rank||4|
|Private Airport Distance Rank||2||Plastic Surgeons Rank||4||Country Clubs Rank||6|
|Really Expensive Clothing Rank||3||Really Expensive Fine Dining Rank||4||Yacht Club Distance Rank||9|
If you know anything about Bethesda, this really shouldn’t come as any surprise. Not actually a city, but a Census-designated place of 60,858 located less than 10 miles from the U.S. Capitol Building, it shows just how inexorably linked money and power truly are.
You can see how Bethesda ranked across all our criteria above, and that’s in either the top 10 (or even top five) for everything. It was first in distance to a polo field (eight miles), second in distance to private jet facilities (six miles), and third in terms of really expensive clothing retailers per capita. Its lowest rank was in distance to a yacht club, and that was only ninth for the nine-mile trek required to hit the water in a luxury vessel.
Bethesda got into our top 25 with a median household income of $141,817 and median home value of $805,900 in 2010, but looking at our own listing data that last number is currently around $1.1 million in today’s market.
|Plastic Surgeons Rank||1||Really Expensive Jewelry Stores Rank||3||Private Airport Distance Rank||10|
|Luxury Car Dealers Rank||2||Really Expensive Fine Dining Rank||5||Yacht Club Distance Rank||10|
|Really Expensive Clothing Rank||2||Country Clubs Rank||9||Polo Field Distance Rank||19|
Home to Stanford University, Tesla Motors, and the late Steve Jobs, Palo Alto is one of the wealthiest spots in Silicon Valley, and one through which billions of dollars in tech money flows. This has contributed to its $122,482 annual median household income and median $1 million home value according to the U.S. Census.
With the tech industry so infatuated with aesthetics, it’s no surprise that Palo Alto came in first for the number of cosmetic surgeons per capita. It placed second overall for luxury car dealerships (including Tesla) and hyper-expensive clothing stores. Its No. 3 rank in high-end jewelry stores rounded out its best placements overall.
3. McLean, VA
|Really Expensive Clothing Rank||1||Luxury Car Dealers Rank||6||Private Airport Distance Rank||10|
|Really Expensive Jewelry Stores Rank||1||Polo Field Distance Rank||6||Yacht Club Distance Rank||10|
|Plastic Surgeons Rank||5||Really Expensive Fine Dining Rank||7||Country Clubs Rank||19|
Returning to the D.C. metro area, McLean is another CDP located extremely close (12 miles) from the U.S. Capitol. In this case, that proximity makes it an ideal home to numerous members of Congress… and their wealth. The median household income here was $179,066 as of the 2010 Census, with a median home value of $895,500.
McLean placed first overall in our “really expensive jewelry stores per capita” criterion, which is a little disconcerting to think about when you consider who pays the salary of many McLean residents (hint: it’s us). Oh, and it was also tops in per capita high-end clothing stores, too.
Maybe we can find some comfort in the fact that its residents have to travel around half an hour to play polo, or drive about 12 miles to hop aboard a yacht?
|Yacht Club Distance Rank||1||Really Expensive Jewelry Stores Rank||6||Plastic Surgeons Rank||9|
|Private Airport Distance Rank||4||Luxury Car Dealers Rank||7||Really Expensive Fine Dining Rank||9|
|Really Expensive Clothing Rank||4||Polo Field Distance Rank||8||Country Clubs Rank||19|
Residents of this extremely affluent seaside community in California, on the other hand, can basically roll out of bed and onto their yachts in the morning (if they don’t just live on them already, that is). Despite placing fifth overall, Redondo Beach actually has the lowest median household income in our top 10: “only” $98,816 annually. The median home value here in 2010 was $720,500.
In addition for placing first in terms of yacht club distance, Redondo Beach was fourth overall for both high-end clothing retailers per capita and distance to private jet facilities. We’re guessing, though, that at least one yacht there probably has its own helipad.
|Really Expensive Jewelry Stores Rank||2||Really Expensive Clothing Rank||5||Plastic Surgeons Rank||14|
|Really Expensive Fine Dining Rank||3||Country Clubs Rank||8||Polo Field Distance Rank||16|
|Yacht Club Distance Rank||3||Luxury Car Dealers Rank||8||Private Airport Distance Rank||14|
Home to Facebook and the many multi-millionaires it alone has made, this city of 32,026 is just a short hop (no private jet required) from our No. 2 spot, Palo Alto. In 2010, a year before Facebook moved here, the median household income was $113,774 with a median home value of $1 million.
This city’s best finish was for high-end jewelry stores, where it placed second overall. Really expensive fine dining was a close third, as was distance to the nearest yacht club. We’re sure Mark Zuckerberg must like that.
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|Private Airport Distance Rank||1||Country Clubs Rank||7||Really Expensive Clothing Rank||11|
|Really Expensive Fine Dining Rank||2||Luxury Car Dealers Rank||8||Really Expensive Jewelry Stores Rank||11|
|Polo Field Distance Rank||5||Yacht Club Distance Rank||10||Plastic Surgeons Rank||22|
Steeped in U.S. history (it was the site of the “shot heard ‘round the world” that started the Revolutionary War), this town of 31,394 is also swimming in cash. Households here make a median annual income of $138,095 and the median home value as of the 2010 Census was $689,100. That might not be much by Mark Zuckerberg standards, but it’s a lot for Massachusetts.
At just five miles from town center, Lexington placed first for distance to private jet facilities and came in second for high-end fine dining overall. It ranked 22nd for cosmetic surgeons, so chances are there’s more plastic in people’s wallets here than in their faces.
|Luxury Car Dealers Rank||1||Private Airport Distance Rank||9||Really Expensive Jewelry Stores Rank||11|
|Polo Field Distance Rank||3||Really Expensive Clothing Rank||11||Country Clubs Rank||14|
|Plastic Surgeons Rank||7||Really Expensive Fine Dining Rank||11||Yacht Club Distance Rank||20|
From Dolly Parton to Garth Brooks and beyond, country music’s finest call Brentwood home. Their earnings have contributed to the $133,304 median household income here and median home value of $489,700.
Brentwood has more luxury car dealers per capita than anywhere else in our 25 wealthiest small cities, to the tune of one for every 6,176 people. Also, even though most country songs about horses focus on the kind ridden by cowboys, this Nashville suburb placed third for distance to a polo field.
|Yacht Club Distance Rank||4||Polo Field Distance Rank||9||Really Expensive Jewelry Stores Rank||11|
|Private Airport Distance Rank||5||Really Expensive Clothing Rank||11||Plastic Surgeons Rank||13|
|Luxury Car Dealers Rank||8||Really Expensive Fine Dining Rank||11||Country Clubs Rank||19|
Located mere minutes from Movoto’s headquarters in San Mateo, CA, Foster City is one wealthy little 30,567 person spot right on the bay, that, among other things, is home to Sony’s PlayStation division. Although, with a median household income of $114,720 and home value of $847,900 that might actually be PayStation.
Foster City’s best rankings came in yacht club distance, proximity to private jet facilities, and luxury car dealers per capita. It ranked fourth, fifth, and eighth in those, respectively.
|Country Clubs Rank||1||Luxury Car Dealers Rank||8||Polo Field Distance Rank||16|
|Really Expensive Fine Dining Rank||1||Really Expensive Clothing Rank||11||Private Airport Distance Rank||18|
|Yacht Club Distance Rank||5||Really Expensive Jewelry Stores Rank||11||Plastic Surgeons Rank||22|
Six hours south of Foster City, but still located on the water, Rancho Palos Verdes is home to some of the Los Angeles area’s most prime seaside real estate. That explains its median home value of $973,900 in 2010, but its median household income of $119,778 is also sky-high.
Residents can spend that money on fine dining like nowhere else, as Rancho Palos Verdes ranked first overall for hyper-expensive cuisine. It was also first for country clubs per capita and, owing to its coastal location, fifth for distance to the closest yacht club.
10. Laguna Niguel, CA (tie)
|Polo Field Distance Rank||2||Really Expensive Clothing Rank||8||Country Clubs Rank||16|
|Luxury Car Dealers Rank||5||Really Expensive Fine Dining Rank||11||Private Airport Distance Rank||16|
|Yacht Club Distance Rank||5||Really Expensive Jewelry Stores Rank||11||Plastic Surgeons Rank||21|
The first of our No. 10 richest small cities is also in the L.A. area, located just down the coast from Rancho Palos Verdes. That said, its median household income and home value are fairly close to our No. 9 spot, too, at $100,589 and $679,500, respectively.
Where it fared best was in distance to the nearest polo field (ranked second) and a fifth-place finish for both its number of luxury car dealers per capita and distance to the nearest yacht club. We think that’s pretty impressive, even if hometown Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney doesn’t.
10. Hoboken, NJ (tie)
|Private Airport Distance Rank||6||Plastic Surgeons Rank||10||Really Expensive Jewelry Stores Rank||11|
|Yacht Club Distance Rank||7||Really Expensive Clothing Rank||11||Polo Field Distance Rank||12|
|Luxury Car Dealers Rank||8||Really Expensive Fine Dining Rank||11||Country Clubs Rank||19|
Already a familiar sight on our Big Deal Lists for being one of the country’s most exciting small cities, Hoboken has turned out to be one of the richest as well. It made our short list of top 25 most wealthy small cities via a median household income of $108,998 and home value of $532,100.
What pushed it into the top 10 when we started looking at amenities for the rich was a generally great performance across the board, placing no lower than 12th in any single criterion. Its best ranks were for private airport and yacht club distance, at sixth and seventh overall, respectively, and an eighth place finish for luxury car dealers per capita.
Isn’t That Rich?
Even if you’ll never be part of the 1 percent, you at least now know where to venture to see how they truly live: Bethesda, MD—or any of the 25 other places you can see in our full ranking of the wealthiest small cities below. Oh, and if you liked this, be sure to check out our look at the country’s 10 preppiest places. Just be sure to pop your collar first.
Featured image source: Flickr user Kingston
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