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The 10 most exciting small cities in America

Jennifer Karmon
Spaces
December 20, 2013

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

City Population Rank Live Music Rank Fast Food Rank Nightlife Rank Active Life Rank Non-Fast Food Percentage Rank Young Residents Rank Big Deal Score
Hoboken, NJ 52,034 1 21 18 3 21 4 1 7.25
La Crosse, WI 51,647 2 35 53 5 20 24 11 15
Chapel Hill, NC 58,424 3 29 90 14 4 49 9 19
Lancaster, PA 59,360 4 26 72 7 51 12 15 21.25
New Brunswick, NJ 56,160 5 131 44 19 46 17 4 21.5
Manhattan, KS 56,069 6 56 46 15 45 35 3 24.5
Lakewood, OH 58,852 7 103 27 24 5 42 28 24.75
Royal Oak, MI 58,410 8 47 41 27 29 29 17 25.5
San Marcos, TX 50,001 9 38 126 6 2 93 2 25.75
Sarasota, FL 52,811 10 1 131 1 7 9 88 26.25
San Rafael, CA 58,502 11 3 14 41 8 3 57 27.25
Dubuque, IA 58,155 12 39 52 25 17 25 45 28
Corvallis, OR 54,998 13 33 59 31 42 38 8 29.75
Grand Junction, CO 59,899 13 25 80 21 12 44 42 29.75
Pocatello, ID 54,777 15 114 60 37 10 57 18 30.5
Marietta, GA 58,359 15 7 139 8 3 95 16 30.5
Sanford, FL 54,651 17 37 107 12 25 83 27 36.75
Revere, MA 53,179 18 17 3 67 40 1 44 38
Harrisonburg, VA 50,981 19 59 122 38 34 81 5 39.5
Bradenton, FL 50,672 20 6 136 4 9 41 105 39.75
White Plains, NY 57,403 21 22 34 29 81 8 47 41.25
Idaho Falls, ID 57,899 22 42 98 34 28 62 48 43
West Des Moines, IA 59,296 23 78 31 40 91 18 25 43.5
Grand Forks, ND 53,456 24 92 63 36 66 66 10 44.5
Kirkland, WA 50,697 25 8 134 10 32 108 29 44.75
Charleston, WV 51,018 26 51 135 9 1 92 83 46.25
Saginaw, MI 50,790 27 50 92 55 33 37 65 47.5
Medford, MA 57,033 28 2 15 121 26 22 22 47.75
Redmond, WA 56,561 29 9 125 43 15 114 20 48
Berwyn, IL 56,800 29 118 95 13 11 125 43 48
Springfield, OR 59,869 29 69 54 32 90 33 37 48
Hempstead, NY 54,883 32 130 24 81 70 19 24 48.5
National City, CA 59,387 32 104 114 70 30 75 19 48.5
La Mesa, CA 58,160 34 19 97 23 83 63 26 48.75
Petaluma, CA 58,921 34 10 49 17 49 16 113 48.75
Auburn, AL 56,908 36 87 133 44 16 132 6 49.5
Lakewood, WA 51,385 37 79 115 18 91 70 23 50.5
Gardena, CA 59,490 38 44 137 11 52 73 67 50.75
Great Falls, MT 58,893 39 89 56 28 88 31 61 52
Plainfield, NJ 50,244 40 127 9 117 54 7 34 53
Pensacola, FL 52,340 41 5 140 2 6 124 82 53.5
West Haven, CT 55,404 42 110 4 90 91 2 41 56
Wheaton, IL 53,469 43 55 26 103 14 26 90 58.25
Valdosta, GA 57,597 44 70 128 26 91 105 12 58.5
Casper, WY 57,813 44 61 64 57 82 40 55 58.5
West New York, NJ 51,464 46 120 13 120 91 5 21 59.25
Arcadia, CA 57,497 47 24 93 33 27 45 134 59.75
Elkhart, IN 51,152 48 88 118 60 57 72 51 60
Southaven, MS 50,374 49 105 68 98 18 66 59 60.25
Smyrna, GA 52,650 50 41 121 50 91 87 14 60.5