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The 10 Best Under the Radar Cities For Millennials

Krista Diamond | September 19, 2016 @ 10:00 AM

It goes like this: You decide to move to Portland, Brooklyn, Austin, San Francisco or some other city that’s full of great jobs, interesting people and a million places to drink craft cocktails, discover new music and bask in each other’s awesomeness. On paper, it seems like an oasis of lush urban parks, employers who let you bring your dog to the office and indie coffee shops that already feel like home. But then you get there and discover that your new city’s golden age is already over. The job market is drying up, housing is expensive and people on the street have developed a habit of staring off wistfully into the distance and saying, “Man, I remember when this place was cool.”

If you’d like to be the one to get there first for a change, and you’d like the “there” in question to have affordable housing, a steady job market and a few locally owned brunch spots that you can ride your bike to, look to one of these 10 cities for a chance at the millennial dream.

San Antonio, Texas

In Austin, you need to work 111 hours a week in order to afford a two bedroom apartment. If you head just an hour south to San Antonio, that same apartment will cost you around $950 a month. In addition to that, the city’s low population density means that you can have a big backyard or at least classic hill country vistas rather than an intimate view of your neighbor’s kitchen. You can nestle into an urban bungalow or rent a house that feels like it’s in the country but is actually just a short drive from downtown thanks to an average commute time of 25 minutes. And speaking of downtown, San Antonio’s mission-style architecture is totally Instagram-worthy, and its River Walk is the perfect place to bar hop via water taxi or enjoy some great barbeque in an open-air setting. If San Antonio’s music scene, Tex-Mex cuisine, low unemployment rate and reasonable proximity to the beach (a two hour drive) don’t capture your heart, the Lone Star charm of the community is sure to. Some people might call San Antonio the new Austin, but it’s so much more than that.

Louisville, Kentucky

It’s the home of the most exciting two minutes in sports, but did you also know that Louisville is home to a huge urban forest, a thriving downtown and a ton of whiskey (95% of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky)? We’ll let that last fact sink in for a moment. Besides drinking your portion of the 120,000 mint juleps that are consumed in a two day period during the Kentucky Derby, you can take part in the goings on of an up-and-coming neighborhood like NuLu which is home to tons of young professionals, fun flea markets, and even a bar in a former church. You can also explore one of the largest Victorian neighborhoods in the country, along with art galleries, a 100 mile trail system and even a massive man made cavern beneath the city. If you’re outdoorsy, you’ll find tons of hiking, rock climbing and kayaking nearby. If you’re a foodie, you’ll find an incredible culinary scene. Louisville housing rates are 23% lower than the national average and crime rates are low, so wherever you choose to live, and whichever local bourbon you choose to imbibe in (We recommend Copper and Kings and Peerless for starters.) you’ll enjoy southern hospitality with a dash of hipster vibes.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

For some reason, when most millennials look for a new city to call home, they tend to go all manifest destiny and head west. One glance at Portsmouth is reason enough to choose east instead. Setting foot in the seaside city feels like stepping back in time—minus the lack of electricity and weird Pilgrim outfits. Portsmouth is equidistant from Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine, (a quick train ride in either direction) but less expensive and less crowded than both. It’s an intellectual hub and an active port which means fresh seafood and local diners where you might find yourself sitting in between a professor and a lobsterman. With just 21,000 people, Portsmouth has all the sophistication of a much larger city with the community of a small town. Additionally, Portsmouth’s famously low unemployment rate and high median income make it a veritable haven for young professionals. But don’t think that Portsmouth is all work and no play. The city’s cobblestone streets and brick buildings lend an air of discovery around every corner. Take a stroll along the Piscataqua River, leaf through a novel while sipping a cocktail at Book and Bar, explore art galleries, head out on a late-night harbor cruise and then meet friends for a 3am meal at the quirky Friendly Toast.  It may be the third oldest city in the country, but Portsmouth is poised to put the New in New Hampshire.

Port Angeles, Washington

Yes, you first heard about Port Angeles in the Twilight movie, but trust us, it’s much cooler than that. The sleepy city once played a key role in the logging industry, but has since reinvented itself as a tourist destination/mecca of adventure. If you like nature, you’ll love living in Port Angeles. The city sits at the gates of Olympic National Park, home of mountain goats and glacial lakes so turquoise you’ll swear you’re hallucinating. Step outside your door in Port Angeles and you’ll be just steps away from paddling the foggy coastline, exploring tide pools, camping on the beach, climbing jagged peaks and soaking in natural hot springs once the day is through. The cost of living is low, and the sense of community is strong. You’ll find cozy coffee shops, restaurants like the Next Door Gastropub that pride themselves in using local ingredients, plenty of cultural events and one seriously beautiful lavender farm. Because Port Angeles is situated in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, it’s actually significantly less rainy than other parts of the state and gets a whopping 300 days of sunshine. That’s 300 days where you can hike, kayak, and even hop on a ferry to Canada just because you feel like it.

Henderson, Nevada

Remember your spring break trip to Las Vegas? While you were club hopping and champagne popping, you probably weren’t thinking, “Hey, this is a place where I could really see myself settling down.” Amidst the slot machines and strip clubs, it’s kind of hard to see Las Vegas as a place where people actually live. That’s why it’s so easy to overlook the nearby city of Henderson. Located just 15 minutes east of The Strip, Henderson offers great views of Las Vegas and easy access to the party without the chaos that comes with living inside of it. The weather is warm and sunny and the streets are lined with palm trees. For fans of nearby California, it’s a lot like living the SoCal life without the price tag. The cost of living is low and you’ll have your choice of 27 master-planned communities to call home along with 80 miles of trails, bike lanes and the 320 acre Lake Las Vegas, a man made lake where you can paddleboard, swim or drink and dine by the water. Nightlife offerings along the historic downtown stretch of Water Street give the city a unique character that you just won’t find at the big casinos down the road. Henderson already offers a short commute to Las Vegas, walkability, and an increased focus on catering to young renters, but one of the most pleasant surprises of all is the fact that unlike its big city neighbor, it’s consistently ranked as one of the safest cities in America.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sioux Falls just might be one of the greatest towns you’ve never heard of. Its population increased by 22% between 2000 and 2010 and is still on the rise, making it the 47th fastest growing city in America. And it’s not just the number of residents that’s looking up for Sioux Falls. There’s a high number of white collar job opportunities (Wells Fargo and Capital One both have offices in town) thanks to a lack of state income tax. Add in a low unemployment rate and low cost of living and you’ve got a recipe for easy living. Located on the banks of the Big Sioux River, you can see the namesake falls from a downtown park. There’s also a 16 mile multi-use path if you love pedaling or walking to work. And if you prefer commuting by car, you’ll like the fact that Sioux Falls is one of the safest driving cities in the country—a welcome relief if you’ve lived in more well-known millennial driven cities like Los Angeles. Because Sioux Falls makes up 29% of the state’s population, if you live there, there’s a feeling that you’re at the center of the universe. Cultural opportunities like a revitalized art scene, more than 650 restaurants and the annual Downtown Riverfest contribute to that feeling. Even if you’re not sold on Sioux Falls quite yet, plans are in the works to keep the positive changes coming without sacrificing local charm, making this city one to watch.

Sacramento, California

It’s a little strange that the state capital is such an unsung hero. Tell people you’re moving to California and they’ll assume you’re talking about Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego. However, it turns out that Sacramento actually exemplifies many of the things that draw people to the Golden State in the first place. The city boasts sunny weather, one of the best urban forests in the world, a robust economy, midcentury modern homes and a surprisingly great wine scene. Whether you feel like playing tourist and taking in the history of Old Sacramento, kayaking the Sacramento or American River, or getting dolled up for a night out in Midtown amongst the bright young things who flock from wine bars to dive bars, there’s always something to do in Sactown (you don’t have to call it that). And if you’re game for a weekend away, you can take advantage of Sacramento’s prime location between Lake Tahoe and the Pacific Ocean. Sacramento may have a lot of California history, but over the past few years, local business and culinary efforts have breathed some new energy into town. Best of all? Rent prices are cheap compared to the rest of the state. You can find a one bedroom in a desirable Sacramento neighborhood for around $1000 a month. Try doing that in San Francisco.

Des Moines, Iowa

It’s called the Silicon Prairie for a reason. If you want to work in tech but don’t want to live somewhere that’s overpriced and overcrowded, look to Des Moines. The Iowa town is a truly special place that pairs Midwestern kindness with an emerging tech scene. Outside of tech, if you’re interested in working in the insurance industry, education or media, the job market can offer you a lot of opportunities. The population has increased by 7.4% since 2010 but rent remains cheap (one bedroom apartments go for about $800 a month).  There are a lot of awesome neighborhoods, and thanks to a 19.2 minute average commute, great public transportation and an emphasis on biking to work, it’s possible to live anywhere and still be a part of the action. The trendy East Village is especially hot right now. There you’ll find speakeasies, antique shops and tony little bistros. Throughout the city, there’s a diverse range of theater, opera and a noteworthy jazz scene including the long-anticipated jazz club Noce, that hosts flapper-style soirees along with local and national acts. In the summer, there’s Jazz in July, an annual event that takes place when the weather is warm and the air is ripe for dancing outside. Oh, and don’t forget about the Iowa State Fair. There’s a reason it appears in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Seeing fried butter is believing.

Missoula, Montana

Author Norman Maclean once said, “The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana.” The state’s second largest city is part university town and part outdoorsy paradise. Surrounded by more than 60,000 acres of wilderness, the city of about 70,000 is the kind of place where you can fish for trout all day and then head downtown for a nice meal and a book signing at one of many esteemed local book shops. In the summer, you can tube the Clark Fork River, explore the Bob Marshall Wilderness or make the trip to Glacier National Park. If you’re more of a beer drinker than a mountaineer, head to Big Sky Brewing and experience the famous Moose Drool Brown Ale. Paired with the brewery’s signature outdoor summer concert series, it’s a match made in Montana heaven. In the winter, the weather is milder than other parts of the state, but still perfect for skiing, snowshoeing and seeking out wildlife. And if you love sports, football season at the University of Montana is such a big deal you’ll forget it’s not the NFL. When it comes to western cities where you can hike, ski, drink beer and still get dressed up occasionally, it’s easy to focus on Colorado, but Missoula is not only more beautiful, more laid back and less pretentious, it’s quite possibly the best kept secret in the mountains. Get there before everybody else does.

Laramie, Wyoming

You already know about Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado, but take a drive north and just over the border you’ll find a cowboy town where you can enjoy mountain life without feeling disconnected from the rest of the world. Laramie, a city of 30,000 people, is poised at 7,165 between the Snowy Range, the Laramie Range and offers endless possibilities for adventure in either direction. Best of all, you don’t have to choose between your weekend camping trip and your Friday night out on the town. Unlike the nearby capital of Cheyenne, which is often maligned as uneventful, Laramie is a young town that’s bustling with events, bars, restaurants and the state’s only university. If you like art, check out the university’s incredible art museum, an architectural gem in its own right. The historic downtown looks so much like an old western that you’ll consider investing in a pair of cowboy boots. Of course, if you prefer starlight to city lights, grab a few pointers (and some gear) from the pros at downtown’s Cross Country Connection and head to nearby Vedauwoo in the Medicine Bow National Forest for some of the best rock climbing in the country. With Denver just 130 miles away, it’s a wonder that Laramie feels like such a true western outpost. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

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