Being awesomely single ain't cheap. To help you find the best place to rock your bachelor(ette) lifestyle, we scanned the country for dating scenes that are as financially attractive as they are socially satisfying.
We focused on metropolitan areas with populations above 125,000 and a high percentage of singles, including the divorced and widowed, promising a deep pool of potential mates. Factoring in the financial aspect of being unattached, we screened for cities where household incomes typically are above the national median, increasing the likelihood that you can actually afford to go out. Plus, we eliminated areas with a high unemployment rate and favored places with a highly educated population because people with bachelor's or advanced degrees have a better chance of being gainfully employed.
We added the cost of living into the equation, to ensure that paychecks are plump enough to cover dating expenses. (Some pricier areas made the cut because incomes were high enough to handle inflated living costs.) Finally, we calculated a date-night tab — the average cost of a pizza, a bottle of wine and two movie tickets — to help you budget for your next night out.
Population and income data come from the U.S. Census Bureau. Cost-of-living data, including date-night tabs, is provided by the Council for Community and Economic Research, which tracks living expenses nationwide.
10. Milwaukee, Wis.
- Metro population: 1.2 million
- Percentage of unmarried adults: 51.3% (U.S.: 48.6%)
- Cost of living: 1.4% above U.S. average
- Median annual household income: $53,966 (U.S.: $53,046)
- Date-night tab: $34.22 (U.S.: $35.42)
Come for the jobs, stay for the happy hours. The largest city in Wisconsin has plenty of career opportunities to offer, with major employers including two big universities — the University of Wisconsin (the satellite Milwaukee campus) and Marquette University — and six Fortune 500 companies. And after work, bar-hopping bachelors and bachelorettes will fall in love with the social scene. "We have a lot of great bars," says Jenna Kashou, "Girl About Town" columnist for Milwaukee Magazine. "And because the city is cheap and easy to navigate, people go out a lot even in the dead of winter."
But it's not all about beer. Music fans enjoy tons of venues and numerous festivals throughout the year, including the annual 11-day Summerfest and the eco-conscious Rock the Green festival. Foodies can experience waterfront dining along the two-mile RiverWalk downtown or go a little farther south to the Walker's Point neighborhood for a buffet of farm-to-table restaurant options — a big movement in Milwaukee, says Kashou. If you need help making friends or finding activities, consider joining social groups NEWaukee or MKEfoodies.
9. San Francisco
- Metro population: 3.6 million
- Percentage of unmarried adults: 50.5%
- Cost of living: 62.5% above U.S. average
- Median annual household income: $77,183
- Date-night tab: $37.76
The singles crowd in San Francisco is well known for being entrepreneurial, creative and highly compensated. The biggest city on this list comes with the biggest paychecks: The median income is 45.5% above the national median. Unfortunately, your big budget may still feel stretched in one of the "Most Expensive U.S. Cities to Live In."
But you can find affordable activities to keep you busy in this fun-filled town. Free online calendar FunCheap.com recommends at least 50 worthwhile events each week for the budget-conscious in the Bay Area, such as museum gatherings, art walks, comedy shows and even dodgeball games. The site also offers a large section of completely free events. For offbeat and affordable dining options, go mobile with Off the Grid, a network of more than 150 gourmet food trucks serving 23 weekly markets in the area. Also note: The area's median age is 38.3, slightly older than the U.S. median of 37.2, giving San Francisco the most seasoned population on this list.
8. Trenton, N.J.
- Metro population: 298,613
- Percentage of unmarried adults: 50.5%
- Cost of living: 31.5% above U.S. average
- Median annual household income: $73,759
- Date-night tab: $38.89
It pays to live in the Garden State. The Trenton metro area, which includes the namesake capital as well as Princeton, and Ewing and Lawrence Townships, boasts the second-highest median income among our top ten cities, trailing only San Francisco. Just note that incomes vary widely throughout the area. In Trenton proper, for example, the median household income is just $36,727, but in Princeton, the median income reaches $106,686.
No matter where you live within the metro area, you're sure to find fun date destinations. In Trenton, get starry-eyed at the state planetarium, or pop over to nearby Hamilton for a romantic stroll around the Grounds for Sculpture, a 42-acre sculpture park and arboretum. In Princeton and across the state line in New Hope, Pa., you'll find great mom-and-pop shops, dining options, galleries and gardens. For bigger-city outings, New York and Philly are just a quick train ride away.
7. Boulder, Colo.
- Metro population: 245,234
- Percentage of unmarried adults: 50.1%
- Cost of living: 3.8% above U.S. average
- Median annual household income: $67,403
- Date-night tab: $35.11
Small city, big brains. Expect an intimate social scene with elevated opportunities for high-level intellectualizing in Boulder. The second-smallest city on this list is the most highly educated, with a whopping 58% of residents holding a bachelor's or advanced degree. That's more than double the 28.5% share of degree-holders in the U.S.
The Colorado mountain town ranked among our "Best Cities for New Grads," and older singles will find just as much to love. The unemployment rate is a low 4.4%, versus 6.5% for the U.S. as of December 2013, and the median income is 27.1% above the national level. So chances are you and members of your social circles are all gainfully employed. Not that you'll need a fat paycheck to find the fun here. Just head outside for all the hiking, biking and climbing you can handle. Or stay sweat-free with more-chill activities and events, such as beer tasting tours, outdoor movie screenings (which do move inside for winter) and artistic performances at the many cultural institutions, including the Boulder Symphony Orchestra, Boulder Ballet and Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.
- Metro population: 2.2 million
- Percentage of unmarried adults: 50.9%
- Cost of living: 14.0% above U.S. average
- Median annual household income: $68,616
- Date-night tab: $36.80
An inflated income can help you stay afloat in this waterfront city. With typical earnings coming in 27.1% higher than the national median, Baltimore residents should be able to handle the above-average living costs. Plus, compared with neighboring Washington, D.C., where living expenses are a hefty 42.6% above average, the harbor town is a bargain.
With the extra room in your budget, you can afford all the good times offered by Baltimore. The Inner Harbor's numerous bars and restaurants (definitely try the crab cakes), as well as the National Aquarium, Camden Yards and cruises on the bay, can always give you something fun to do on your next date. And whether you like rock-and-roll, hip hop, jazz or electronic music, you'll find a live music venue to entertain you any night of the week.
5. Austin, Tex.
- Metro population: 1.4 million
- Percentage of unmarried adults: 49.3%
- Cost of living: 7.3% below U.S. average
- Median annual household income: $59,646
- Date-night tab: $37.03
The blend of Austin's economic powerhouse status and its funky, cool vibe makes it a prime spot to find successful yet laid-back singles to chill with. Throughout the Great Recession, the metro area held strong, with relatively low unemployment, and even managed to add jobs, earning it the top spot on our "Best Cities for the Next Decade" list in 2010. Since then, the local job market has continued to improve, and the unemployment rate was just 4.5% as of December 2013, compared with 6.5% for the U.S.
On top of being gainfully employed, residents of the Texas capital typically enjoy healthy wages plus low living costs — a financially winning combination. So your budget will have ample room for all the quite affordable social events the city has to offer. Of course, you'll have the South By Southwest festival in your backyard every March, but you can also enjoy live music, often for free, at more than 250 venues around town throughout the year. Foodies can find an abundance of eclectic dining options, far beyond the unsurprisingly tasty barbecue and Tex Mex, including Top Chef: Texas winner Paul Qui's eponymous fusion restaurant.
4. Columbus, Ohio
- Metro population: 1.5 million
- Percentage of unmarried adults: 49.6%
- Cost of living: 12.7% below U.S. average
- Median annual household income: $54,628
- Date-night tab: $35.15
Ohio's capital offers a diverse social scene at a deep discount. The local living costs are the lowest of all the cities on this list, but affordability isn't due to lack of action. For a free taste of the music and art scene, check out the Short North Gallery Hop the first Saturday of every month. Sports fans can catch the Columbus Clippers, the triple-A affiliate of baseball's Cleveland Indians, at Huntington Park for as little as $6 a ticket. There's no charge to smell the roses at Whetstone Park, home to 13 acres of the romantic blooms in season. (For other affordable date ideas in Columbus, see "Best Cities for Cheapskates.")
Ohio State University's student body does influence the local dating scene, but considering the city's median age is a grown-up 35.2, it's not all about late-night frat parties off High Street. "There are so many smart, ambitious guys and girls being spit out into the dating scene each year by the universities," says Jackie Mantey, a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Columbus Alive, a weekly entertainment magazine. In fact, the Intelligent Community Forum, an economic and social development research firm, selected Columbus as one of the world's top seven intelligent communities for the past two years.
3. Iowa City, Iowa
- Metro population: 126,829
- Percentage of unmarried adults: 54.0%
- Cost of living: 4.3% below U.S. average
- Median annual household income: $53,756
- Date-night tab: $31.40
The smallest metro area on this list proves you don't need to be in a big city — or have a big budget — to be single and fabulous. In fact, Iowa City offers the lowest date-night tab among the top ten cities. Credit the University of Iowa and its students' small budgets for pushing living costs below the national average and making it easy to find a good happy hour and cheap eats. The university, along with its hospitals and clinics, is also the city's largest employer by far and helps keep the local unemployment rate down to 3.1%, as of December 2013.
So you might forgive all those co-eds for making you feel old. The area's median age is 30.5, far greener than the national median of 37.2 and the youngest of all the cities on this list. Still, you can find plenty of sophistication and culture. The downtown pedestrian mall offers a range of dining and shopping options, as well as galleries, museums and theaters. Every Saturday night throughout the summer, you can catch a free outdoor movie on the University Pentacrest or, on certain Saturdays, a free concert at the Weatherdance Fountain Stage. Another fun date venue (at least for any bibliophile), the Iowa City Literary Walk is a public art display that celebrates poets, playwrights, novelists and journalists with ties to the town.
2. Ann Arbor, Mich.
- Metro population: 287,046
- Percentage of unmarried adults: 54.2%
- Cost of living: 1.7% above U.S. average
- Median annual household income: $59,063
- Date-night tab: $34.89
- If you're hoping for a more mature dating scene that transcends dive bars and tailgates, you can find it here. The downtown area offers an array of dining options, from Asian fusion to Ethiopian to French wine bars. If your hankering is for more audible than edible pleasures, head to the Ark, also downtown, where you can find acoustic performances of folk and roots music almost every night. Outdoors, you can enjoy the many parks, hiking and biking trails, and canoeing and kayaking spots along the Huron River, which runs through downtown.
The University of Michigan and its students undoubtedly boost the dating scene in Ann Arbor. Of all the cities on this list, the college town sports the highest percentage of singles and the second-most-educated population, with more than half of the residents having earned a bachelor's or advanced degree. The Wolverine nation also skews the local median age younger — 33.1 years old, versus the nation's 37.2 years. (Not surprisingly, Ann Arbor is also one of our "Best Cities for New Grads.")
1. Santa Barbara, Cal.
- Metro population: 343,712
- Percentage of unmarried adults: 52.2%
- Cost of living: 7.2% below U.S. average
- Median annual household income: $62,723
- Date-night tab: $32.83
The city of Santa Barbara may have high living costs, but the overall metro area offers more affordability — and a sunny climate for both its residents and their finances. For example, the median home value in the city proper is a pricey $880,500. But in Santa Barbara county, it's a more attractive $482,400, and in Santa Maria (the biggest city in the county), it's just $267,200. And with the metro area's typical household income coming in at 18.2% above the national median, a financially fit populace means a highly eligible dating pool.
Date destinations abound. According to SantaBarbara.com, there are 720 restaurants, bars, nightclubs and breweries. Enjoy plenty of opportunities for long walks on the beach, plus hiking and biking trails for a more-active outing. Another romantic option is taking a scenic tour through the county's wine country. In fact, the 2004 oenophile film Sideways was set in the Santa Maria Valley, spotlighting Byron Vineyard and Winery, Foxen Vineyard and Au Bon Climat.
1. Bloomington, Ill.
3. Ann Arbor, Mich.
4. New Haven, Conn.
5. Los Angeles
7. Santa Cruz, Calif.
8. Trenton, N.J.
9. Richmond, Va.
10. New York
Kiplinger updates many of its "best places" rankings annually. Above is last year's list of the best cities for singles. Keep in mind that ranking methodologies can change from year to year based on what data were available at the time of publishing, changes to how the data were gathered, switches to new data providers and tweaks to the formulas used to narrow down the pool of candidates.
Rapacon joined Kiplinger in October 2007 as a reporter with Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and became an online editor for Kiplinger.com in June 2010. She previously served as editor of the "Starting Out" column, focusing on personal finance advice for people in their twenties and thirties.
Before joining Kiplinger, Rapacon worked as a senior research associate at b2b publishing house Judy Diamond Associates. She holds a B.A. degree in English from the George Washington University.
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