When deciding whether to move to a new city, most people evaluate the cost of living there, the job prospects and quality-of-life aspects such as crime rate and access to good schools. But another important question to ask is: Will you enjoy living there?
Defining what makes a place "fun" to live in is no easy task. For some, it's having access to parks and biking trails. For others, it's having plenty of food and nightlife options to choose from. And for others still, it's having the ability to easily exercise their credit cards at local malls and boutiques.
That's why, when it came to determining what makes a place a fun place to live, we at U.S. News & World Report asked the public to help define it for us. In May, using Google Consumer Surveys, which targets general internet users in the U.S., we asked people across the country to tell us which leisure amenities are the most desirable: parks and outdoor recreation, restaurants, shopping venues, museums and other attractions, theaters and live music venues, professional sports, or bars and nightlife. Two thousand people – ranging in age from 18 to 65 and older – from all across the U.S. weighed in. The responses we received helped determine the methodology used to choose the Most Fun Places to Live.
The survey results also taught us a thing or two about what the average American defines as "fun." Here's what we learned.
The greener the better. According to the survey, fun means access to parks. Of the 2,000 people who responded, nearly 30 percent said that of the options listed, parks and outdoor recreation was most important to them. As a result, places with large amounts of green space and plenty of outdoor activities performed well on the Most Fun Places to Live ranking. San Diego – home to expansive shorelines and the beautiful Balboa Park – came in first place, while Portland, Oregon, with its Asian-inspired gardens and easy access to snow-capped Mount Hood, took the number three spot.
Playing is more fun than watching. Our survey tells us that Americans jump at the chance to be active outdoors, but when it comes to watching from the sidelines, they're not as enthusiastic. Less than 9 percent of respondents identified professional sports as the amenity they'd most like to have access to in their home towns.
You can't have fun on an empty stomach. More than 20 percent of the 2,000 people who took the survey identified restaurants as the most crucial leisure amenity, with voters in every age group (from millennials to retirees) ranking it right up there with parks in terms of importance. As a result, places like Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, performed very well on the list of Most Fun Places to Live. The city's blossoming food scene – composed of modern Southern cuisine, casual barbecue joints, award-winning farm-to-table experiences and everything in between – is partly to thank for its placement at number 11 on the list.
The theater trumps the bar. Bars and nightlife venues received the lowest percentage of the votes on our survey, with every age group except 25 to 34 ranking it at the bottom in terms of importance (and even then, less than 9 percent of participants ages 25 to 34 cited bars and nightlife as the most desirable amenity). Theaters and live music venues, on the other hand, received 9 percent of the total vote. As a result, places like Santa Rosa, California; Springfield, Massachusetts; and Madison, Wisconsin – which all have a high number of venues compared to the size of their population – performed well in this category.
We don't take shopping for granted. Residents often joke about never visiting their metro area's greatest landmarks, but the same doesn't go for its shopping malls. Of the 2,000 people who responded to our survey, 12.5 percent named shopping as the leisure amenity that is most important to them, while less than 11 percent said the same about museums and attractions. Although the numbers are close, Portland, Maine, may have its boutiques and galleries to thank more than its museums for its number nine placement in the rankings.
Continue reading for a more in-depth look at how we calculated the rankings:
How we ranked the Most Fun Places to Live
In order to identify the Most Fun Places to Live, we evaluated the 100 most popular metro areas in the U.S. using data from a number of different sources, including the United States Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics, The Trust for Public Land and TripAdvisor.com. This data was grouped into nine indexes and weighted according to the responses we received from the public survey, to which 2,000 people from around the country responded. Below is the Most Fun Places to Live methodology:
- Best Places to Live Score – 10 percent
Each of the 100 metro areas evaluated for this ranking was also evaluated for the 2016 Best Places to Live ranking, which takes into account factors like the cost of living, quality of life and job prospects in each place. This helped lay the groundwork for the Most Fun Places ranking because how much fun residents have is contingent on a place's livability. For example, having access to the country's best live music won't matter if you can't afford to buy a concert ticket.
- Visitation Score – 10 percent
Visitation rates are a good indicator of how fun a place is; New York City doesn't welcome thousands of visitors each year because it's boring. To get a sense of how many people visit each of the 100 most popular places every year, we looked at the total number of airline arrivals in every commercial airport located in each metro area in 2015, as reported by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics' Airline Origin and Destination Survey.
- Parks and Outdoors Score – 23 percent
Because the majority of our survey respondents said green space was the most desirable leisure amenity, the U.S. News Parks and Outdoors Index is the most heavily weighted data point in the Most Fun Places methodology. We looked at the total number of entries identified as parks on TripAdvisor.com and the average user rating they received. We also took into account the percentage of land area devoted to parkland and the average dollar amount per person spent on park maintenance and improvement, as reported by The Trust for Public Land.
- Restaurants Score – 19 percent
To evaluate the quantity and quality of restaurants in each metro area, we used TripAdvisor.com to determine how many restaurants there are per 1,000 people, and the average user rating they received. As an additional indicator of quality, we totaled the number of restaurants in each metro area that received a AAA Four or Five Diamond Award.
- Shopping Score – 10 percent
To measure the availability of shopping in each metro area, we used TripAdvisor.com to calculate the total number of shopping venues per 1,000 residents, and compared the average user rating for shopping venues across all 100 places.
- Attractions Score – 9 percent
To determine the accessibility and merit of attractions – such as museums, theme parks and historic sites – in each metro area, we determined the total number of attractions per 1,000 residents and the average attraction rating using TripAdvisor.com.
- Theaters and Live Music Score – 7 percent
To assess the quantity and quality of theater and live music venues in each metro area, we used TripAdvisor.com to total the number of venues and determine how many there are per 1,000 residents, and then calculated the average user rating.
- Sports Score – 7 percent
We used a number of different data points to measure the accessibility of professional sports in each metro area. First, we identified how many of the five most popular professional sports (NFL football, major- and minor-league baseball, NBA basketball, NHL and AHL hockey and MLS soccer) were represented by teams in each metro area. We then collected the seating capacities for each professional sports venue in order to calculate the number of available seats per capita, which represents how easily residents can attend games. Lastly, we looked at attendance rates (as published on ESPN.com) and total followers on Facebook and Twitter as an indicator of how popular the teams are.
- Bars and Nightlife Score – 5 percent
To gauge the accessibility of quality nightlife options in each metro area, we analyzed the total number of venues per 1,000 residents and the average user rating across all bars and nightlife venues using TripAdvisor.com.