Massachusetts, the Bay State, is renowned for many things. It has some of the richest history and oldest buildings in the nation; some of our country’s best colleges; and, of course, Boston.
Bean Town is just one city, however, so we wanted to do all Massachusetts residents proud and determine which cities in the state are its very best. It’s the same thing we’ve already done with states like Washington and, a bit closer to home, New Jersey.
Of course, narrowing our selection down to a list of 10 and one winner overall—Marshfield—was not without a certain degree of challenge, but we figured Red Sox and Celtics fans are accustomed enough to dealing with that. When the results were tallied, the 10 best cities in the Bay State emerged:
What’s so great about Marshfield—and where on our list is Boston? Read on and we’ll explain how we came up with this order, and where each of these cities excelled most.
How We Conducted This Study
Just like with our other Big Deal Lists, the goal here was to take something subjective and, with a little bit of research, turn it into fact. This is where research came in. In order to find the 10 best cities in Massachusetts, we relied on the following eight criteria:
- Cost of living
- Crime rate
- High school graduation rate
- Median household income
- Median home value
- Amenities per capita (seafood restaurants, sports bars, Dunkin Donuts, museums)
- Amenities total (seafood restaurants, sports bars, Dunkin Donuts, museums, and distance from New York City—the further, the better!)
- The year the city was established (the earlier the better)
We started with a list of the 75 most populous cities, towns, and Census Designated Places in Massachusetts, then gave them a rank from one to 75 in each criteria listed above.
As far as amenities go, we chose seafood restaurants, sports bars, Dunkin Donuts, museums (as a measure of culture), and the distance from New York City, as pretty universal markers of a good life in Massachusetts. As every good Bay Stater knows, the further you are from New York, the better; if you’re close to a bar with the Celtics game on, you’re golden; and if you happen to be a short drive away from one of Massachusetts’ proudest products, Dunkin Donuts, then you’ve got it made.
From there, we decided to break this category up into both amenities per person and the total number of amenities per city, because while we recognize that it’s great to have a range of choices for each person, we didn’t want to dock cities because they have larger populations.
We also included the year each city was established, awarding a better score to those with more years under their belt, and thus, more history.
After we rated the cities, we averaged their individual criteria-level rankings together and gave each city an overall score. The lower that number, the better. To find out how all 75 places in our study ranked, jump down to the bottom of the post for a chart.
This town by the water came in on top, mostly because of everything else it is close to. It may be one of the furthest from New York on our list at 239 miles away, but you never have to go too far before you come across a restaurant, sports bar, museums, or even better, a Dunkin Donuts. This fact gave a relatively small city of just over 25,000 residents a high score when it comes to amenities per capita.
Marshfield also received an A+ in education, with a high school diploma attainment rate of 94 percent—that’s 7 percent higher than the Massachusetts average.
Reading (pronounced Red-ing) may not have scored many points for the amenities on our list, but it more than made up for this with its high median household income of $99,130, a crime rate 55 percent lower than the state average, and its high school diploma attainment rate of 95 percent.
Numbers aside, Reading is an idyllic community to raise a family—safe, affluent, at least 220 miles away from New York. Even without the most Dunkin Donuts per capita, Reading does get some pretty sweet credit for Cupcake City, home to some of the best cupcakes in New England.
Gloucester scored major points both for its total number of amenities and amenities per capita, with a population of just 28,789.
Gloucester is also further away from New York than some of the other cities and towns on our list— 248 miles away, to be exact—and got some history points for being one of the older towns in Massachusetts, incorporated in 1642.
Outside of all the numbers, though, Gloucester is an idyllic city on the water, and so beautiful that its views have been made famous in paintings by Fitz Henry Lane and William Morris Hunt, and in works of literature such as Rudyard Kipling’s “Captains Courageous”.
Watertown scored major points for being one of the first cities established in Massachusetts (it was founded in 1630). With such a rich history, it may not come as a surprise that it was one of the best ranked in number of museums per capita, with five in the area.
This Boston ‘burb also ranked better than many of the other cities on our list in terms of median home value, at $431,600. To put that into perspective for you, think of it this way: the Massachusetts median home value is $369,302 and the national median home value is $200,419. Clearly, Watertown’s real estate market is in no danger of drowning.
Founded in 1620, Plymouth scored a lot of points as not just one of the earliest cities in Massachusetts, but the entire country. It is reportedly the oldest municipality in New England and one of the oldest in the U.S. This historically rich city did well with modern amenities as well, with some of the most per capita and the total in Massachusetts.
Plymouth has an impressive number of seafood restaurants, museums, and a sprinkling of Dunkin Donuts throughout the city. To top it off, Plymouth is about 230 miles away from New York—a pretty healthy barrier (though residents of both may wish it was even further).
With a total score equal to that of Lexington, this Essex County town placed highly on our list for its high median income of $70,938, its crime rate 62 percent lower than the Massachusetts average, and its high median home value of $465,400.
Aside from the numbers, though, this affluent town is home to several points of interest, such as the famous Phillips Academy prep school, the gorgeous Andover Inn, the Chander-Bigsby-Abbot House, and of course, Jay Leno—the oldest act on late night television.
Much like our first No. 6, Andover, Lexington did well in terms of high median income—well, that might be an understatement. With a median household income of $130,637, Lexington is one of the most affluent towns in Massachusetts. It also has some of the priciest homes in the state at $682,600. To top it all off, Lexington has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the state—and the country—at 96 percent.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Lexington also has a crime rate 57 percent below the state’s average. It really does seem as though this Middlesex County town can do no wrong.
Most people know this city as home to two of our nation’s finest universities: Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It also boasts beautiful historic buildings such as City Hall, the Public Library, and the Asa Gray House. Plus, it has famous museums such as the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology. As our study shows, however, Cambridge is even more.
This city has dozens of seafood restaurants, museums, Dunkin Donuts, and more than a few sports bars (to watch the Red Sox, of course). It is also a decent drive from New York, at 213 miles away, putting it in fifth place when it comes to the total amenities, and eighth for amenities per capita.
Salem may be famous for the witch trials of the late 1600s, but these days it is known for known for much more—namely all of the things there are to do in the city. Salem comes in on top with its amenities per capita, and third with its total number of amenities. To top it off, Salem is a good 234 miles away from New York—plenty of distance for both parties.
Salem also earned points for its rich history and early founding date in 1626. Plus, with a cost of living 26 points above the national average, it is the most affordable city in our top 10.
The final place on our top 10 goes to Braintree—and it doesn’t take a genius to see why. Braintree ranked well with a high median household income of $81,146—that’s about $15,000 more than the typical Massachusetts home. It was also one of the earliest established towns in Massachusetts, founded in 1640.
Braintree certainly does have a rich history, coincidentally filled with some of our nation’s brightest. Braintree was the home of John Hancock, John Quincy Adams, John Adams, and Thomas Watson. In more recent years, Braintree has given us the actors Mark and Donnie Wahlberg and, most importantly, William Rosenberg, the brainchild behind Dunkin Donuts. Thanks, Braintree.
But Where’s Boston?
When the numbers were crunched, Marshfield was the winner—the Best City in Massachusetts. Which begs the question, where is Boston on our top 10? While Boston has rich culture, museums, and something to do every day of the week, the city simply didn’t rank well enough when it came to crime, income, or education to make the top 10. Still, that doesn’t mean Boston isn’t a wicked cool city.
Who is Movoto Real Estate, you might ask? Movoto is a national online real estate brokerage. Our blog has been recognized for its unique approach to city-based research by major news organizations around the world such as Forbes, CBS News, and The New York Times.