The lighter side of real estate

These Are The 10 Smartest Suburbs In America

If you’re feeling a bit too brainy for your hometown, a move to one of these 10 suburbs might be just what the professor ordered.

Natalie Grigson

Staff Writer

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According to the Movoto Real Estate Blog’s latest analysis, not only are America’s suburbs more interesting than you thought they were, they’re also among some of the smartest cities in the country. But which suburb is the smartest of them all? That honor goes to Santa Monica.

Here are the 10 smartest suburbs in America:

1. Santa Monica, CA
2. Evanston, IL
3. Berkeley, CA
4. Cambridge, MA
5. Towson, MD
6. Cupertino, CA
7. Scottsdale, AZ
8. Newton, MA
9. Seal Beach, CA
10. Alameda, CA

If you’ve ever thought that California was filled with beach bums, surfers, and valley girls, well, you’re right—but with half of the smartest suburbs in the state, it’s also clearly filled with well educated and intelligent people.

But more about our top 10 cities, both in California and elsewhere, later. For now, let’s study up on how exactly we created this ranking.

Our Methodology

We started by collecting data for 109 different suburbs using business listings,, and the U.S. Census American Community Survey. Then, we ranked them from one to 109 in the following criteria:

  • Colleges and universities per capita
  • Public libraries per capita
  • Museums per capita
  • Percentage of students with bachelor’s degrees or higher
  • High school graduation rate
  • rating (based on test scores for the area)

We averaged these rankings into one overall Big Deal Score, where the lowest score was the best and brightest suburb, none other than Santa Monica.

If you’re curious about how we defined a suburb, we considered any large population center near one of the nation’s 50 largest cities, but also factored in whether or not the place was called a suburb on Wikipedia, in the list of inner-ring suburbs, or in any official capacity.

To check out how the top 50 smartest suburbs ranked in our analysis, you can head to the bottom of the post for a complete table. Otherwise, let’s dive into this honor roll of places, starting with our most brainy spot.

1. Santa Monica, CA

Smartest Suburbs in America

Source: William Short Photography

So much for any stereotypes about Santa Monica residents being vapid, beach-loving, wealthy… okay, they may still be some of these things, but they’re also really intelligent and cultured.

According to our analysis, this suburb had the sixth most museums per capita out of all 109 places. It also ranked 10th overall for the percentage of its population who have bachelor’s degrees or higher (64.5 percent) and 11th for the number of nearby colleges and universities per capita.

2. Evanston, IL

Smartest Suburbs in America

Source: City of Evanston

It may be no surprise that Evanston made our list, what with it being home to one of the best universities in the country and all.

Because of Northwestern and several other nearby colleges and universities, Evanston earned most of its points in the category of universities/colleges per capita.

That wasn’t the only subject it excelled in. Evanston also had the ninth most museums per capita, and the eighth most bachelor’s degrees or higher among residents—65.39 percent.

Considering that the average attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher in the U.S. is a mere 28.5 percent, this is pretty impressive.

3. Berkeley, CA

Smartest Suburbs in America

Source: Flickr user Kai Schreiber

Over the years, Berkeley has earned itself quite the reputation. It is known for its academia, its natural beauty, and, of course, a mix of old hippies and young hipsters. All true, to be honest, but at least the smart factor we can discuss empirically.

Of all of the suburbs in the U.S., Berkeley had the most colleges and universities per capita, so it’s no surprise that it also had the sixth highest percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees or higher.

And when residents aren’t busy studying for exams or, well, writing up exams, they can kick back and relax at one of the many museums nearby.

4. Cambridge, MA

Smartest Suburbs in America

Source: Flickr user igemhq

Sure, California suburbs did take up a majority of the spots in our top 10, but almost a third of the brainy ‘burbs were in the Northeast—two of which were in Massachusetts.

The first Massachusetts suburb is no real surprise, as Cambridge has quite the reputation as being cultured and well-educated.

By well-educated, we mean really well-educated. Not only did it have the second most universities and colleges per capita, but 73.8 percent of residents held bachelor’s degrees or higher.

To put that into perspective, just take a look at Camden, NJ where only 7.62 percent of residents had college degrees.

5. Towson, MD

Smartest Suburbs in America

Source: Flickr user Rashida S. Mar B.

Another honor student from the Northeast, Towson, MD did well in our analysis nearly across the board.

Out of a possible 10, it was awarded a score of nine for its students’ stellar test scores. Of course this probably has to do with a lot of factors—good teachers, good schools, etc.—but it certainly couldn’t hurt that this suburb had the 10th most libraries per capita in the U.S.

With 61.94 percent of residents holding bachelor’s degrees or higher, you just know that these kids’ parents are teaching them well.

6. Cupertino, CA

Smartest Suburbs in America

Source: Courtesy of the Cupertino Union School District

This affluent California ‘burb may not have as many nearby universities and colleges as, say, Berkeley, but it more than makes up for this with its younger students.

Of all of the places we looked at, Cupertino students ranked the highest for their test scores. It also had a 95 percent high school graduation rate, better than 100 other suburbs in the U.S.

No surprise, really, when you consider that 74.24 percent of residents hold bachelor’s degrees or higher. These kids are learning from the best.

7. Scottsdale, AZ

Smartest Suburbs in America

Source: Flickr user Michael Ging

If you’re at all surprised to see Scottsdale, AZ on our list, you clearly haven’t been there.

This suburb of Phoenix, AZ may be known for its affluence and luxury, but more than all of that, it is known for its art scene. Case in point: it has the 14th most museums per capita out of all of the suburbs we looked at.

It’s also  a good place to educate your children. It earned a 10 out of 10 for test scores, plus 94 percent of high school students in this city graduated with a diploma.

Compare that to the 32 percent in San Elizario, TX, and it’s no wonder Scottsdale made our top 10.

8. Newton, MA

Smartest Suburbs in America

Source: Flickr user Daniel J. Sierdaski

Boston, MA may get the credit for a rich culture and academia, but that’s just because it’s close to this intelligent suburb, are we right, Newton residents?

Of all of the suburbs we looked at, this one had the very highest percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees or higher: 75.04 percent. That’s almost three times the national average.

This city isn’t just impressive at the college level—it also scored well for its public schools, with a rating of nine out of 10, and, with a 95 percent high school graduation rate, ranked the ninth best in this category.

9. Seal Beach, CA

Smartest Suburbs in America

Source: Flickr user Ryan Mickle

Seal Beach is yet another suburb disproving any stereotypes that you thought might be true about Southern California. Well, at least as far as intelligence goes.

Tied with our other California city, Cupertino, schools in Seal Beach had the highest ranking from, a perfect 10.

Locals probably spend all of their time studying it up in one of the city’s public libraries, for which it ranked fifth most per capita. No, just kidding, they’re probably all at the beach—just instead of Cosmo, they’re reading Chaucer.

10. Alameda, CA

Smartest Suburbs in America

Source: City of Alameda

Where our other East Bay ‘burb had Alameda beat in its number of colleges, Alameda came in with a much higher number of libraries per capita—the 12th most in the country, in fact.

In addition to being brimming with books, Alameda had more museums per capita than 93 other suburbs we looked at. No wonder schools here earned an 8 out of 10 overall.

Being Brainy In The ‘Burbs

When it comes to academia, culture, and a reputation for intelligence, it seems as though big cities get all of the credit. Sure, places like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Boston certainly have their fair share of bright beings, but that’s just because half of them commute from places like these. Yes, we’re talking about you, Santa Monica.

If you’re starting to feel like your brains might be a little too big for your hometown, there’s a simple answer: you can move. And unlike your math homework, that’s something we can help with.

Smartest Suburbs in America

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posted on: September 23, 2014
37,082 views, 2 comments


  1. Robin

    As with any such survey the criteria are suspect. Take GreatSchools ranking for example: it’s based only on test scores, which do not accurately reflect the depth and quality of education, especially in the sciences or arts. And number of libraries: yes Evanston has a library with 2 dinky branches offering mostly DVDs and James Patterson novels, but the library overall spends a pittance per capita and has a much poorer collection than nearby communities like Skokie that didn’t make the list. And universities? Okay, Evanston has the venerable Northwestern, and is close to a couple of community colleges; this somehow puts it above Cambridge, which has Harvard (and far more schools within a short drive) and Berkeley which has, well…Berkeley?

  2. SaMoJoJo

    Thank you for paying Santa Monica such a huge compliment. Indeed we live in a great city…but we have a question – how does your article define a suburb? As Santa Monica is an incorporated city, we don’t think of ourselves as a suburb of Los Angeles. This has caused as much conversation around town as our top ranking in your article.
    As a Santa Monica resident who grew up in the New York City suburbs, the story’s algorithms don’t necessarily jive with reality. Santa Monica’s residents and daily visitors, many of whom are affiliated with the entertainment industry or Silicon Beach technology, are certainly a brilliant bunch. We have virtual realities nailed, but we don’t necessarily grasp the depth and scope of our planet. Santa Monica’s history is little more than a century old. We take holidays that are adventure-oriented as compared to historic sight-seeing. Old is often misunderstood and considered undesirable. Refined cities in South America are 8 hours away and the Continent is at least an 11-hour flight. Experience leads one to believe that East Coasters from the affluent suburbs around Manhattan tend to be more erudite and sophisticated group….but thank you for the kudos…


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