The 10 most underrated cities for millennials

by Amanda Machado

This list is for the rest of us. The ones who didn’t score that hip Manhattan job after graduation. The ones who didn’t snag a rent-controlled apartment when they had the chance or move to a big city right before it “exploded”. The ones who want what every other twentysomething  wants, but worry they can’t afford to live where it happens.

Here are a few cities that argue maybe you can (millennial rich kids, if you’re reading this: please stay where you are. Don’t ruin the rent for the rest of us).

Portland, Maine

This Portland may not get nearly as much love as the one on the west, but it needs to. It has a great beer scene, plenty of events catering to the young professional crowd, and an average rent that could make Bostonians begin rethinking their life choices. And, unlike that other Portland, this one comes with an ocean view and all the lobsters you can dream of.

Eats: Hugo’s is a popular foodie stop. But for more budget, cultural cuisine, try Empire  for authentic Chinese with a music venue upstairs, Pai Men for a great noodle house, or Tu Casa for Salvadorian food and BYOB. For brunch, get the Fried Green Tomato Benedict from Hot Suppa.
Drinks: Bissell Brothers or Rising Tide are great for craft beer. If you’re looking for nightlife with a little more “bro”, try 90’s Night every Thursday at Bull Feeney’s, or equally ridiculous ’80’s Night every Friday at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge Bubba’s Sulky Lounge.
Hang: During winter, check out any of the indie coffee shops along Munjoy Hill (like Hilltop Coffee Shop Hilltop Coffee Shop) or visit the museums of downtown’s Arts District. The city also hosts a First Friday Art Walk, with open galleries and free wine year-round. In the summertime, locals love swimming at East End beach or tubing down the Presumpscot River.
Millennial plus: Running with Scissors Art Studios recently bought a building downtown for an artist studio collective that serves over 50 artists by helping them “share equipment, space, community, ideas, support, and tools.”

Special thanks: Emma Thieme 

Athens, Georgia

The center for the University of Georgia, Athens has always had college-town energy. But lately, Athens has attracted a growing population of chefs, musicians, and young professionals from big cities around the world to call this slower paced, southern town their home. That’s probably because with Athens, you get small town atmosphere with big city perks. The population is just over 100,000 and yet the city provides nature, sports culture, affordability and a live music scene that’s one of the best in the country. And for the South, an area that usually loves its spread-out cities and wide open spaces, Athens is fantastically dense (as writer Scott Smith mentioned “It is pretty easy to live your entire life in a three mile radius”), making the city both bike-friendly and easy to live in without a car. And if you need the big city, Atlanta is only an hour away.

Eats: Stop at Jittery Joe’s for coffee in a building that was once a 1940’s Quonset hut. The Grit is a great go-to breakfast spot, or try Mama’s Boy for a southern brunch. For fine dining, try 5&10, founded by Canadian celebrity chef Hugh Acheson. Try Cali-N-Titos for Cuban food, DePalmas for Italian, or Last Resort Grille for southern food with a wine bar.
Drinks: There is a crowd of bars around the two square miles of downtown, all rarely charging cover, most offering free live music and drinks that won’t break the bank. Some favorites: Terrapin Breweries, Globe Athens, Walker’s Pub, Copper Creek, or Trappeze Pub. Creature Comforts Brewery, started by two UGA alumni, won a Bronze Medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival and was named one of the “Best New Breweries in the U.S.” by The Daily Meal.
Hang: Watch art-house films at Ciné (come early to first peruse their gallery for local artists), or go to a concert at Georgia Theatre. Take a day trip to a nearby lake for watersports or up to the mountains for great hiking.
Millennial plus: Mic called it one of the seven cities where “millennials can still live the American Dream.”

Albuquerque, New Mexico

In the Albuquerque outdoors, choose your own adventure: you can ski in mountains just 20 minutes away, kayak the Rio Grande running through town, or rent a bike through the city’s bike-share program. The weather helps: an average of 280 sunny days a year (the city’s Facebook page argues you have an 85% chance of sunshine in the wintertime). But the city’s also great to explore inside: the city’s diversity (the University of New Mexico has one of the largest number of Hispanic and Native American students and faculty in the country) and gorgeous old-school southwest architecture provide plenty of cultural history for days without the sun.

Eats: Try Nob Hill for modern classics or Los Ranchos for classic New Mexican. For foodie flavor with a southwest twist, try the Pueblo Harvest Cafe Restaurant & Bakery, which “incorporates Native flavors into contemporary cuisine.” Church Street Cafe offers vegetarian and vegan breakfast and brunch and The Grove cafe and market is great for seasonal, locally sourced food.
Drinks: Marble Brewing Co. has award-winning, locally brewed craft beer in an outdoor setting. Or you can try the other breweries in town: La Cumbre Brewing Company, Tractor Brewing Co. , or Bosque Brewing. If wine and foodie snacks is more your thing, go to St. Claire Wine and Bistro.
Hang: Hike the Sandia Mountains (La Luz Trail is popular). The 16-mile Paseo del Bosque Trail was recently named one of the 20 Best Bike Paths in the West by Sunset Magazine. The city also has some of the most fun skate spots anywhere. If you want to stay indoors, explore the rich cultural history of the area at the National Hispanic Cultural Center or the Indian Pueblo center.
Millennial plus: In the Citylab article “In Laid Back Albuquerque, Millennials See A Chance to Live Well”, the number one word Albuquerque millennials used to describe their city: “livable.”

Special thanks: Nick Pachelli 

St. Petersburg, Florida

This is the Bay Area practically no one ever talks about (and full disclosure: my hometown), but it deserves it’s own conversation. It’s been ranked (based on number of jobs, salaries, rent and millennial population) the best city in Florida for millennials with its millennial population increasing 6% since 2010. And just like the San Francisco Bay, St. Petersburg sits next to other dynamic cities and towns — Tampa, Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Sarasota, to name a few — that together bring a wealth of diverse attractions and people. Pick a vibe and one part of the Bay will certainly bring it to you.

Eats: Red Mesa Cantina serves Latino fusion with weekend brunch specials, two full bars and live music. If you’re looking for a Florida Keys-esque tiki bar kind of night, visit the The Getaway.
Drinks: Take your pick at craft breweries: Green Bench Brewery (has an on-site tasting room and beer garden), Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, 7venth Sun Brewing in nearby Dunedin, Peg’s Cantina/Cycle Brewing (which serves craft beer close to the beach) and more. Or if you’re looking for a rowdier night, head over to MacDintons.
Hang: The Dali Museum has the world’s largest collection of the artist’s work outside of Spain. Catch an outdoor concert at Jannus Live. Check out the Saturday Morning Market from October to May (or the smaller summer market at Williams park). And of course, enjoy the fact that it’s 70’s degrees in January and stay outside: bike the 38-mile Pinnelas Bike Trail, go jet-skiing in the bay, or swim/snorkel/kayak/paddleboard at any one of the nearby award-winning beaches (Caladesi Island, Sarasota, Pass-A-Grille, take your pick).
Millennial plus: Their craft beer scene made Matador call the area one of the best places in the country for beer. And the year-round outdoor weather is just aching to be enjoyed by someone other than the retirees.

Photo:  Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

San Antonio, Texas

When we say “millennial” in the United States, around 20% of who we’re talking about are young, professional Latinos. So a city with a 60% Latino population, a growing population of twenty-somethings, and a great quality of life for an affordable price had to make the list.  From 2010-2013, San Antonio had a 9.2% growth in residents ages 20-29. Almost a third of residents are now between the ages of 18-34, making the city young, diverse and yet still close-knit. As friend and resident Kelly Murguia told me “There is this familia feel here that is palpable in every experience.” And unlike nearby Austin, this town doesn’t have crowds of techies, hipsters, and newcomers bringing higher rent.

Eats: Bakery Lorraine was once named one of the 23 Bakeries Around the World You Must Eat at Before You Die. Have brunch at The Guenther House, a restored home, museum, and restaurant known for their traditional breakfasts (including southern style biscuits). Have dinner at The Monterey where the owner’s philosophy is their food should be “delicious, inexpensive, and a hell of a lot of fun to eat.” Paloma Blanca has been the city’s most highly Zagat rated Mexican restaurant for three years in a row, but truly you can take your pick at any of the Mexican spots in town.
Drinks: The Friendly Spot  is an outdoor “Texas Ice House” with over 250 bottled brews and 76 on draft, along with sangria and a mimosa Sunday Sunday brunch. Each week, they show movies and games on a big screen. The SoHo Wine & Martini Bar provides a cozy lounge, with live jazz and house music and every-flavor martinis (including carrot cake, spicy cucumber, and crème brûlée). Or go to Tucker’s, the San Antonio stop for soul and funk music dance parties on the weekend, and  Gospel brunches on Sundays.
Hang: The historical Pearl area is an area of shops, apartments, cafes, and restaurants next to what used to be a 19th century brewery. They have a Farmers Market twice a week and have store sales and live music every first Thursday of the month. Visit the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, one of the largest “community-based, multidisciplinary organizations” in the United States. At night, Hi-Tones is a candle-lit, vintage vibe kind of place with live acts ranging from “rockabilly” and electronic to punk and Latin fusion.
Millennial plus: Esquire Tavern – a bar opened in 1933 to celebrate the end of Prohibition — has been named one of the 25 best bars in America.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The industrial Pittsburgh of the past is practically gone, and in it’s place is a young, thriving city that still manages to keep a small-town friendliness. Tech is getting on the scene, but so is a wide range of small, locally owned businesses and art spots. It’s also a sports fanatic’s dream town.

Eats:  Waffles INCaffeinated is perfect for a funky breakfast. Gaucho is great for straight-up Argentinian meat, served on a wood slab. For nice seafood, try Monterey Bay Fish Grotto. And for the more adventurous, do a crawl through the Strip District trying the area’s Italian, Russian, Korean, Greek, Halal, and more (there’s even an exotic meats store where you can find camel). Eat, drink and people-watch on the sidewalk and you’ll be sure to spot some characters.
Drinks: East End Brewing serves beer in a derelict warehouse. For something stronger, stop by Wigle Whiskey (Sometimes, they host “labeling events”: label bottles by hand and they’ll give you as much booze as you can handle).
Hang: The city has three rivers to play in, and parks for incognito beer-drinking when the weather warms up. In the summertime, Schenley Park hosts Cinema in the Park next to the Phipps botanical gardens on the lawn. The 335 mile Great Allegheny Passage starts at Point State Park in town and goes  straight down to Washington D.C. for runners and bikers to explore. The city’s 65 colleges and universities also means there are arts and cultural events to fill up every weekend: a professional ballet company called the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and more.
Millennial plus: In the recent article in The Atlantic What Millennials Love About Pittsburgh,  residents raved “If you have a passion you want to pursue, it’s easy to do it here.”

Special thanks:  Tyler McCloskey

Richmond, Virginia

Richmond gives you the cobblestone streets, gas lanterns, and general old-city-historic-vibe that people pay big bucks for in Boston, but here it’s half the price. The city’s also only two hours from D.C., but it’s got more than enough of its own American history to keep you satisfied. And though most would never think to head to Virginia to get their foodie fix, Richmond has the culinary awards to brag along with top contenders.

Eats: Perly’s Restaurant & Delicatessen — a Richmond institution for more than 50 years — serves traditional Jewish deli food (potato and duck pierogi, latkes, etc.) on wooden benches. Croaker’s Spot is the place for traditional Southern food. And for the foodies, take your pick: Have breakfast poutine at The Roosevelt, whose chef is a James Beard semifinalist (their Mezcal cocktails are popular too). Sally Bell’s Kitchen won the James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award this year. Pasture is the place for farm-to-table. Visit Lemaire to eat from chef Walter Bundy who comes from the famous restaurant The French Laundry. The Sunday supper clubs at The Dog and Pig Show also offer special menus on the last Sunday of the month.
Drinks: Legend Brewing is Virginia’s oldest brewery pub but check out Capital Ale House for the largest collection of craft beer.
Hang: Richmond is the only U.S. city where you can experience Class IV whitewater rafting in an urban setting. It’s also a great training ground for paddling and stand up paddleboarding. Check with RVA paddlesports for instruction. For a lazier day, organize a picnic at Maymount, a 100-acre former estate of a wealthy businessman that has now been transformed into a nature park and museum. Visit the Poe Museum for the world’s finest collection manuscripts, letters, and memorabilia from the famous writer. Catch a concert at the historic venue The National in downtown or check out a comedy show or take an improv class at Coalition Theatre.
Millennial plus: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has free admission, drinks on Friday nights, and has been hailed by the Wall Street Journal and others for collections comparable to those of cities like New York or D.C.

Des Moines, Iowa

This place is “Dead Moines”  no longer. Almost a third of the population is now under the age of 35, and the 25-34 age range is Des Moines’ fastest–growing population. The newly renovated East Village has also brought its own version of Iowa hipness. Meanwhile, the city’s so cheap Today called it the best city in American “where regular folks can live the rich life”: the city’s cost of living is  almost 10% below the country average, and the median home price is still just over $150,000.

Eats: Try the “Dead Moines” at Zombie Burger. Go to RoCA for craft cocktails and small plates. Flying Mango has award winning BBQ and Fong’s Pizza has unique Asian-inspired dishes like Crab Rangoon pizza.
Drinks: Kill your whole night at Up-Down, the vintage video game bar with classic arcade games. Try the Daytrotter Pale Ale at Exile Brewery.  Or, Court Avenue Brewery is housed in the historic Saddlery Building in the Court Avenue district in downtown. Della Vita offers forty wines in three sizes. The city’s oldest gay bar is the Blazing Saddle.
Hang: Stroll through the Saturday Downtown Farmers’ Market, which hosts more than 20k people, and nearly 300 entrepreneurs from across the state. Shop at Raygun for a subversive t-shirt or check out the vinyl selection at Porch Light Antiques. Catch a movie with a beer at the Flix Brewhouse and Theatre or see live music at Gas Lamp or Wooly’s. Visit the Des Moines Social Club, an arts and entertainment non-profit venue located in a renovated, art deco Firehouse in downtown. They offer theatre shows, art galleries, circus classes, live music, and courses for kids, all “for the purpose to use the arts as a catalyst to create unprecedented community engagement.” The city’s growing music scene also includes first class festivals like 80/35 and Hinterland.
Millennial plus: Square One DSM, Gravitate and other local organizations have begun creating a startup culture that’s attracting young workers with their co-working spaces, networking events, funding and other opportunities.

Special thanks: Jacqueline Kehoe

Boise, Idaho

Sure, there’s hardly any skyline or other towering presence to make the city noticeable from a distance, but millennials would be foolish to dismiss Boise. Forbes named Boise one of of the best cities for young professionals: only 5% unemployment,  a median salary of just under $50,000, and a third of the population holding a bachelor’s degree. Others are already on board: Men’s Health named it the best city for men (and Women’s Health named it the fourth best place for women), Outside Magazine named it the best town in the Western U.S., and Conde Nast recently called it “ the west’s best kept secret.” Its location at the foot of the Rockies, on the convergence of three rivers, make it the perfect place for the outdoorsy: you can hike, ski, raft, and mountain bike incredibly close to town (the area North of Boise is the largest designated wilderness area in the country outside of Hawaii and Alaska). And the winters are a whole lot milder than you might imagine, with moderate snowfall from time to time and temperatures hovering around the 30’s with plenty of sun.

Eats: Bleubird is the happening spot for lunch sandwiches. Cafe Vicino is great for Italian. Go to Boise Fry Company for their dozens of fry varieties and dipping sauces (the company also shops local for all its ingredients).
Drinks:  The Modern Hotel and Bar not only has delicious, stylish drinks (with artsy names like the “Hemingway Daiquiri”), but also hosts every evening performances by musicians, poets, playwrights, and writers in their courtyard. The Press & Pony is great classic cocktail bar where you can even experience a drink  served alongside a flaming pine cone.  Cloud 9 Brewery, 10 Barrell BreweryBoise Brewery, and Payette Brewing (one of the most widely distributed craft beers in the northwest) give a good tour of the craft beer scene. The nearby Snake River Valley also has a growing wine scene (try wines from Cinder, a winery just outside the city). You can also visit Bodovino for a wine bar in town.
Hang: Spend a snowy day reading at Hyde Park Books. See a free or low cost concert at The Record Exchange and Neurolux, featuring  emerging northwest artists. In the summer, explore one of the many trails near town or the 30-mile path that runs along the Boise River through the city. Each year, residents can also see Shakespeare under the stars in a beautiful outdoor amphitheatre during the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
Millennial plus: Stop by the Freak Alley Gallery for the largest art mural gallery in the northwest.

Providence, Rhode Island

Friend and long-time resident Sam Siedel said it best: “Whatever you do, DON’T move to Providence.  Unless you want to live in a place that is big enough to be a real city, but small enough to be truly bikeable and to always run into someone you know.  Or unless you want to live in a racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse place.  Or unless you want to live somewhere where you can afford to be an artist or start a business (without having a trust fund).  Or unless you want to live within a few hours of New York, Boston, and beaches, without paying New York, Boston, or beach prices. But otherwise, definitely don’t move here.”

Eats: Johnson and Wales University’s culinary program is famous for training some of the best chefs in the country, including alumni like Tyler Florence and Emeril Lagasse. Many of the school’s alumni have stayed in Providence to run the city’s best restaurants: Birch’s, Gracie’s, and Nick’s on Broadway to name a few. For ethnic food from around the world: try Peruvian food at Los Andes Restaurant, or any of the Italian restuarants, and bakeries on Federal Hill. For finer Italian organic dining with a view of the river, head to trendy Bacaro Restaurant. For baked goods and bread, visit Seven Stars Bakery. Make sure to try the colossal cookies from Meeting Street Cafe.
Drinks:  Go to The Avery for your classic speakeasy complete with craft cocktails. Or, for a different vibe, go to Ogie’s Trailer Park. Trinity Brewhouse has a collection of craft beers on tap. For something a bit more quirky, The Duck and Bunny is a cafe/bar and self-proclaimed “snuggery.”
Hang: Visit the city’s gallery night the first Thursday of each month between March and November, or check out exhibits at the RISD Museum anytime of year. Catch a show Trinity Reperatory Company, a concert at Lupos Heartbreak Hotel, or an independent film sitting on the comfy couches of Cable Car Cinema.
Millennial plus: See spoken word and other artistic performances at AS220, an artists’ collective and non-profit organization that owns several historic buildings in town to provide a space where the city’s residents can learn and develop their art.

Photo: PWCVB/Nicholas Millard