Our 20s are the time when we officially take our first flight into the world. This is the time when a person is building their career, setting goals for themselves and trying to achieve them. All the same, you might be trying to find love and most importantly, figuring out who you are and what you want from life. For such a time in life, the kind of place you live in can determine how you achieve these goals while setting the tone for the rest of your career trajectory, as well as your exploration of your private life.
A few factors are important in deciding the kind of place you choose to live in your 20s. The employment opportunities in that place, the relative cost-of-living and the presence of venues for a life outside of work and a chance to pursue your hobbies. So, let’s look at a list of at least 10 cities that would be ideal for you to spend your 20s in.
Best Cities For 20 Somethings
- Cambridge, Massachusetts
- San Francisco, California
- Washington DC
- Seattle, Washington State
- Chicago, Illinois
- Berkeley, California
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
- San Jose, California
- New York City, NY
1. Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge is a city with high standards, be it in terms of education, job opportunities or the general quality of life. While it is most well-known for being home to Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it is also a major centre for biotechnology, politics and tourism. The city has an area of 7.10 square miles (18.38 km2) and a population of 118,927 as of 2019. Cost-of-living index of Cambridge is 181.8, so clearly, it is super expensive when compared against the national average that stands at 100.
When it comes to economy and employment, the City of Cambridge is the largest employer after the two aforementioned universities, closely followed by bio-medical firms like Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Biogen and Novartis. There are a number of other such medical research firms as well as high-technology firms like Google, IBM Research, Microsoft and Phillips that have offices in the city. Cambridge is also a hotspot for non-profit organisations and think tanks like the National Bureau of Economic Research, Cultural Survival and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
A city with a strong student population along with many people pursuing lucrative careers is bound to not be short of restaurants, cafes, bars and an eclectic nightlife. This also means that one has opportunities to pursue hobbies at ease. Take an acting or improv class, learn pottery, maybe try your hand at making a sculpture. Cambridge is one of the best places to spend your 20s in and you should take advantage of everything this city has to offer.
Median Home Value: $907,901
Median Rent: $2,000
Median Household Income: $103,154
Also See: Top 10 Cities of Massachusetts
2. San Francisco, California
The 16th largest city in the United States that is famous for its Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz has a large single population and is perfect for meeting new people. But that is not all there is to it. San Francisco is a global city that runs of a high level of talent and a very strong labour force. Starting a career in this city has the potential to propel you to great heights. The city covers an area of 231.91 square miles (600.65 km2) and has a population of 881,549 as estimated in 2019.
The cost-of-living index of San Francisco is a staggering 269.3, so it is a city where life is far from cheap, considering the national average is 100. But the thriving economy takes care of the needs of its citizens very well. The service industry here is very diverse, branching into leisure and hospitality, education and healthcare, government services, trade, transport and healthcare. Finance and tourism are pivotal to San Francisco’s economy but biotechnology, medical research and high-technology have been increasing their foothold in the recent decades. This is also a city that is a great space for people looking to have their own businesses.
Life in San Francisco is an exciting ride. There are enough eating places to satisfy every kind of taste bud and the nightlife is one of the best in the country. The city takes pride in its effortlessly liberal and multi-cultural populace. There is always something to do and excitement is always just a stone’s throw away. It doesn’t get better than San Francisco to spend your 20s in.
Median Home Value: $1,425,867
Median Rent: $3,280
Median Household Income: $112,449
3. Washington DC
Washington DC, the capital city of the United States, formerly the District of Columbia, is the fourth best place to live in the country and is littered with history and free museums. Spending your 20s in this city will be the most educational part of your life that you could ask for. The total area of the city is 68.34 square miles (177 km2) and it has a population of 689,545 as last estimated in 2019.
Washington DC’s cost-of-living index is 152.4 which makes it more expensive than the national average of 100. The greatest number of jobs in the city are in the business and professional service sector. The city is also home to the headquarters of top notch law firms, defence contractors, civilian contractors, NGOs, trade groups and just about any organisation you can think of. A huge chunk of Fortune 500 companies is headquartered here as well. Tourism is the second-largest industry in Washington and the related economy is worth billions. Let’s just say that a job in the capital of the United States can set your career plans on to a greater level than you could anticipate.
For everyday life in the city, remember that it is the capital city of the country. There’s literally nothing that you won’t find here, whether it be after-work entertainment, a presentation of the arts, a different kind of cuisine or just a random course to satisfy a hobby. And this fact makes the city an ideal choice for such important years of your life.
Median Home Value: $678,709
Median Rent: $2,156
Median Household Income: $62,843
4. Seattle, Washington
People in Seattle like to complain about the rain, traffic and graffiti but they don’t like to leave the city. Seattle has made a permanent place for itself in the list of ‘Top 10 cities to live in the US’ and is not going to budge anytime soon, maybe because people here make good money and care for the environment. The city is spread over an area of 142.07 square miles (367.97 km2) and has a population of 753,675 as of 2019.
The cost-of-living index of the city is 172.3, so it is clearly not for the light of pocket. Seattle is a very business driven economy with a majority of the employment coming from companies running operations in the city, a lot of which are Fortune 500 categories. Tourism is another huge industry in Seattle and it is a lucrative business to be involved in a related industry. Seattle places a strong emphasis on clean energy and the operations run in the city are oriented towards that.
Seattle is known as the ‘Emerald City’ as a reference to the forests surrounding the area. People of Seattle love their theatre and music and definitely their sports. It holds annual festivals each year and the 5th Avenue theatre hosts both local and international stars. Living in Seattle in your 20s is like living in a place that is oriented towards accomplishing your goals with you – both personal and social.
Median Home Value: $824,666
Median Rent: $2,500
Median Household Income: $92,263
5. Chicago, Illinois
The moment you step in Chicago, have that deep-dish pizza the city is so famous for and you will get your first reason to stay in Chicago. The second would be how the city is a global hub of finance, industry, education, technology and culture. Chicago is spread over an area of 234.21 square miles (606.60 km2) and houses a population of 2,693,967 as of 2019.
The cost-of-living index of the city is 106.9, which is not much higher than the national average of 100, especially considering we’re talking about a city like Chicago. When it comes to the economy, other than its business and finance credentials, Chicago employs the third-largest number of science and engineering jobs in the country. Manufacturing, printing, food processing and publishing along with a strong labour pool keep the economy of Chicago on its feet. And tourism brings in a lot of money to the city.
The tourists and the residents enjoy Chicago for its location at the waterfront and its nightlife. There are also many establishments – both upscale and regular for the people to sample and explore. You can also visit a few other places that are Chicago’s claim to fame like the country’s first ever planetarium, the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry. Also, the lakefront is a major part of city-life. For all of that, choosing to start or spend your 20s in the city is a great idea, and it doesn’t hurt that you can eat all the deep-dish pizza you want before your metabolism takes a hit due to middle-age.
Median Home Value: $288,168
Median Rent: $1,395
Median Household Income: $58,247
6. Berkeley, California
Berkeley as a city is known for its liberal attitude, ethnic diversity and its food. It is one of the best rated places in California and is an urban-suburban mix of culture. The place has also scored big on the list of the ‘Healthiest Cities in America’. Berkeley covers an area of 17.66 square miles (45.73 km2) and has a population of 121,363 as of 2019. One of the most expensive cities in the US, the cost-of-living index of Berkeley is 235.2, meaning it is more than twice the national average of 100. But to be fair, the economy of Berkeley is relative to it with its focus on business driven activities. The city is home to forerunners in their respective field of business like Chez Panisse, Peet’s, Fantasy Studios, 924 Gilman and others. Small businesses are heavily promoted in California so it is a good beginning point for start-ups.
Berkeley was named the third best city to live in America by Niche and you can see why, considering the ease of commute, quality of education, the low crime rate, the excellent weather, the nightlife that remains dynamic owing to the largely young population and finally, the scope of employment. There are also many points of interest in the city like the Berkeley Art Museum, the History Centre, the Rose Garden and the Repertory Theatre along with many others. Berkeley is one of the most cultured and educative places to start and live your 20s in.
Median Home Value: $1,488,754
Median Rent: $2,095
Median Household Income: $85,530
7. Boston, Massachusetts
One of the strongest contenders for the title of ‘The Best City in America’. Boston possesses a host of qualities owing to its history, industry and geography and that makes it a global hub for trade, finance, education and culture. An aspirational city to be a part of, Boston covers an area of 89.62 square miles (232.11 km2) and it has a population of 692,600 as last estimated in 2019. The cost-of-living index of the city is 162.4, so your wallet would need some weight for a good life here.
When it comes to the economy, Boston’s education sector brings a chunk of employment and money to the city. Healthcare, biotechnology, high-technology and tourism are other prominent legs of the economy. Considering that most of the population of Boston is from the student community and working professionals, innovation is highly encouraged. Boston ranks as the thirteenth most competitive financial service centre and the 12th largest economy in the world. Living in Boston presents you with endless opportunities for your life, your career and the chance to make a life here should not be let goof.
Boston has the reputation of being ‘the intellectual capital of America’, for its culture of music, literature and the arts, which are encouraged by the civic support they receive. It need not be said that a city like Boston carries an endless quantity and diversity of food and ethnic culture, which blend seamlessly into the city’s landscape. To reiterate a previous point, grab the chance to live in Boston and the city itself will make the most of your time for you.
Median Home Value: $667,793
Median Rent: $2,115
Median Household Income: $71,115
Related: Moving to Boston – Relocation Guide
8. Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis is mostly famous for its white-collar atmosphere and architecture. The city has a culture that revolves around its water-bodies, some of which are its thirteen lakes, wetlands, the Mississippi River, creeks, a few waterfalls and others. Minneapolis covers an area of 57.49 square miles (148.89 km2) and a population of 429,606 as last estimated in 2019.
The cost-of-living index of Minneapolis is 106.5, making it only somewhat more expensive than the national average. Minneapolis is a major financial centre and the second largest economic hub in the Midwest, behind only Chicago. A number of Fortune 500 companies are headquartered here with a few foreign companies that run offices in the city.
Minneapolis happens to be a city liberal in its thought and approach to its citizens. It is also one of the few places where the hustle and bustle of a big city exists harmoniously with a family-friendly atmosphere. The schools are quite good and there are plenty of parks and community-centred activities for the family and the interested single. If you are someone who already has a family or plans to start one soon enough while keeping your career priorities just as high, Minneapolis is the place for you.
Median Home Value: $315,809
Median Rent: $1,195
Median Household Income: $62,583
9. San Jose, California
The ‘Capital of Silicon Valley’, the place of constant innovation is one of the richest cities in the country and has a GDP to rival that of many countries. It also helps that the Mediterranean weather is quite pleasant and conducive to the everyday life of the general populace. San Jose covers an area of 181.36 square miles (469.72 km2) and has a population of 1,021,795 as of 2019.
The cost-of-living index of San Jose is 214.5, making it a very expensive city. The companies running operations in San Jose have as many as 1000 employees, some of which include Adobe, Brocade Communications, Cadence Design and others. The area around the city has more than a fair share of engineering and computer companies, giving the place the name of ‘Silicon Valley’. Tourism and media also play a major role in the employment and revenue generation for the city.
One of the first things to see in the city is the public art, which is not only protected but encouraged. The city is also where performance arts thrive. Some of the companies are Opera San Jose, Ballet San Jose, City Lights Theatre Company and others. The city also has a prominent culture of sports and residents often head over to the stadiums to watch their favourite team at play. San Jose is quite the place to spend your 20s in and the city carries the potential to shape your personality into a driven and well-rounded individual.
Median Home Value: $1,163,794
Median Rent: $2,100
Median Household Income: $109,593
Also See: Moving to San Jose
10. New York
Continuing about great personalities from the previous section, let’s acknowledge that there is no other city in the entire world with as towering and endearing a personality as New York. This is where everybody wants to live, this is where life is at its best and this is the kind of city that one falls in love with. New York City, or simply NYC, covers an area of 468.19 square miles (1212.60 km2) and has a population of 8,336,317 as of 2019.
The cost-of-living index of NYC is 187.2, making it higher than the national average. When it comes to the economy of New York, it is understood that this is where there is literally any and every kind of job. Be it in banking, finance, healthcare, education, service industry, filmmaking, fashion, media, a start-up or perhaps something unconventional and never ever heard of, there is scope for it in New York. That’s why they say that if you make it in New York, you have made it everywhere else.
Life in New York is all about the hustle, but there is something about the city that lends it an element of magic despite everything that seems to be tough. Life is not perfect but it can be in New York. Spending your 20s here or your 30s or just about any time, New York teaches you to live and love life like no other person and place, that too in a super competitive and fast paced life. So, if you are going to be staying in New York, treasure this time and you will soon be finding yourself telling people about all the interesting lessons and stories NYC gave you.
Median Home Value: $649,490
Median Rent: $2,495
Median Household Income: $63,998
You should prioritise two things in your 20s- saving money and exploring life. While both may seem contradictory to each other, figuring out the balance is the key to a happy life. So, pick a place that gives you the opportunity to do both. A lot of the places that are great for your 20s can be heavy on your bank account, so make the choice keeping in mind your relative income and cost-of-living. Also, it is crucial to understand how the city of your choice will affect your future career trajectory. Once you make your choice, you must start your journey with a smile and some confidence and make the most of this time that will teach you some of the most important and probably the first real lessons of your life. Welcome to the real world. It sucks, you are gonna love it.