The 10 most exciting small cities in America


Would you believe that two of the top 10 are in New Jersey?

Back in May, we ran real estate blog Movoto's picks for the 10 most exciting (big) cities in America. It was an eclectic list, to be sure, and not without controversy. (Oakland came out as the No. 1 most exciting city in the nation. Nuff said.)

Now they're taking a crack at ranking the most exciting small cities, or "mini metros," those with populations of about 50,000.

They've tweaked the criteria a bit since last time around. This time, they aren't considering diversity as a factor, for instance, and they no longer care about how many Targets or Walmarts an area has. (The big-box retailers were negative indicators last time.) Instead, they're measuring how many of each of these the city has per capita:

• Nightlife (bars, clubs, comedy, etc.).

• Live-music venues.

• Parks, outdoor activities and other "active-life options."

• Fast food chains. This one is a negative indicator -- meaning a city scores better if it has fewer.

And for their final two criteria, they're looking at the proportion of residents age 20 to 34 (the bigger the better) and the proportion of restaurants that are fast food (the smaller the better). You can click here to read more about their methodology on the Movoto blog.

Again, their methods have yielded some surprises. Jersey, for example, makes two appearances on the list -- and so does a small city in Pennsylvania's Amish country. We don't know about you, but "exciting" and "Amish" are two words we don't hear together all that often.

So take a look at the rankings, then tell us what you think: How'd Movoto do this time?

10. Sarasota, Florida

The city placed first in the categories of live music and nightlife, but wayyyyy down the list at No. 88 for the youthfulness of its population.

9. San Marcos, Texas

Its population of 20- to 34-year-olds is a very high 44 percent, and it offers a plethora of outdoor activities.

8. Royal Oak, Michigan

Royal Oak didn't dominate any single category, Movoto says, but it "did quite well across the board," generally ranking in the 20s among its 100-plus competitors.

7. Lakewood, Ohio

Lake Erie helps provide the outdoor fun that's key to the Cleveland suburb's high ranking, and the nightlife scene is "pretty happening" too, Movoto says.

6. Manhattan, Kansas

The Kansas State University college town ranks third for its high proportion of young residents, and its nightlife offerings rank No. 15.

5. New Brunswick, New Jersey

New Brunswick's showing is strong in the categories of non-chain restaurants and for nightlife. Movoto makes a point of mentioning Clydz, which "serves unusual fare including wild boar, rattlesnake, and kangaroo. Weird, yes, but undeniably exciting."

4. Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Lancaster may be in Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish country, but it ranked seventh among 140 cities for its nightlife. And about a quarter of its residents are 20 to 34 years old -- making it 15th in that category.

3. Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Its strong finish in the active-life category (No. 4) helped propel Chapel Hill, another college town, to third place overall.

2. La Crosse, Wisconsin

La Crosse came in fifth for nightlife, 20th for active life and 11th for the youthfulness of its population.

1. Hoboken, New Jersey

That's right: New Jersey not only took two of the top 10 spots, but it claimed the highest ranking of all. Almost half of its population is 20 to 34 years old, the biggest proportion of any of its competitors. It also ranked third for nightlife and fourth for the relative scarcity of fast food chains.

Movoto Real Estate's Most Exciting Small Cities

CityPopulationRankLive Music RankFast Food RankNightlife RankActive Life RankNon-Fast Food Percentage RankYoung Residents RankBig Deal Score
Hoboken, NJ52,03412118321417.25
La Crosse, WI51,64723553520241115
Chapel Hill, NC58,4243299014449919
Lancaster, PA59,36042672751121521.25
New Brunswick, NJ56,160513144194617421.5
Manhattan, KS56,06965646154535324.5
Lakewood, OH58,852710327245422824.75
Royal Oak, MI58,410847412729291725.5
San Marcos, TX50,0019381266293225.75
Sarasota, FL52,8111011311798826.25
San Rafael, CA58,5021131441835727.25
Dubuque, IA58,1551239522517254528
Corvallis, OR54,998133359314238829.75
Grand Junction, CO59,8991325802112444229.75
Pocatello, ID54,77715114603710571830.5
Marietta, GA58,35915713983951630.5
Sanford, FL54,65117371071225832736.75
Revere, MA53,17918173674014438
Harrisonburg, VA50,9811959122383481539.5
Bradenton, FL50,672206136494110539.75
White Plains, NY57,403212234298184741.25
Idaho Falls, ID57,8992242983428624843
West Des Moines, IA59,2962378314091182543.5
Grand Forks, ND53,4562492633666661044.5
Kirkland, WA50,69725813410321082944.75
Charleston, WV51,018265113591928346.25
Saginaw, MI50,7902750925533376547.5
Medford, MA57,0332821512126222247.75
Redmond, WA56,56129912543151142048
Berwyn, IL56,800291189513111254348
Springfield, OR59,8692969543290333748
Hempstead, NY54,88332130248170192448.5
National City, CA59,387321041147030751948.5
La Mesa, CA58,1603419972383632648.75
Petaluma, CA58,92134104917491611348.75
Auburn, AL56,90836871334416132649.5
Lakewood, WA51,38537791151891702350.5
Gardena, CA59,49038441371152736750.75
Great Falls, MT58,8933989562888316152
Plainfield, NJ50,2444012791175473453
Pensacola, FL52,340415140261248253.5
West Haven, CT55,404421104909124156
Wheaton, IL53,46943552610314269058.25
Valdosta, GA57,597447012826911051258.5
Casper, WY57,8134461645782405558.5
West New York, NJ51,46446120131209152159.25
Arcadia, CA57,49747249333274513459.75
Elkhart, IN51,15248881186057725160
Southaven, MS50,37449105689818665960.25
Smyrna, GA52,65050411215091871460.5

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