Wherever tech companies go, higher rents follow. The opportunities for finding jobs, venture capital for your start-up, or just achieving the next level of your career can justify the increased cost of living when you’re apartment hunting. But it’s not all about price. One thing to think about when you’re moving to a tech hub is the overall vibe. Areas that don’t have a ton of entertainment options might be a better fit for those who are working 24/7, while those who want better work-life balance will thrive better in neighborhoods with nightlife.
Using data from the country’s most concentrated tech areas, median rents, and our insider knowledge of neighborhoods, we’ve found the top cities where STEM jobs—and relatively affordable apartments—are easier to find than an idea for the next industry-disrupting unicorn.
Great views in a thriving entertainment district
Located about 12 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., Rockville is the center of the biohealth industry, with affiliated health and science research industries growing as a result. It’s also a city that feels like suburbia. Restaurants and shops are in strip malls, with one notable exception: Rockville Town Center. This neighborhood is a great choice for renters who want to be able to walk to restaurants, cafes, and most importantly, the Metro. If you work from home, you’ll be happy the neighborhood isn’t deserted during the day, as the Social Security Administration and all of Rockville’s government offices are clustered here (time your visits to the Starbucks on East Middle Lane accordingly). At night, you can meet friends at The World of Beer gastropub, then walk across the street to the Regal Cinemas Rockville Center.
Located in Rockville Center is the modern apartment tower The Upton. Here, you’ll find a sleek studio for well under Rockville’s median rent of $2,600, and you’re high up enough to see the skyscrapers leading up to D.C. and miles of lush trees.
San Jose, California
Colorful apartment in a food-lover’s paradise
It takes less time to name the tech giants who don’t have a presence near San Jose than the ones that do—this is Silicon Valley. But high rents almost overshadow the innovations that come from the HQs based here. (San Jose’s median rent is $3,495.) Yet, it’s still the most affordable city in this tech hub, and it also has a more down-to-earth feel compared to other Silicon Valley locales. Time is money in tech, an easy commute is important. The West Valley neighborhood is a standout, with its proximity to 280, San Tomas Expressway, and CA-85. Though it’s definitely a commuter neighborhood, Saratoga Avenue is restaurant heaven. Crave comfort food? Go to Harry’s Hofbrau, where carved turkey is the specialty. Mexican fare? Cross over 280 to Tacos Santiaguito, a beloved taco truck. Japanese? Look behind the taco truck for Shabuway (specializing in hot pots) and Tomisushi.
These are the restaurants you’ll know by heart when you live in this open one-bedroom at Park Kiely, just off Saratoga Avenue. Its high-end fitness center makes sure you won’t gain weight from all that good food around the corner (or the commute).
Raleigh, North Carolina
Spacious loft near all the nightlife
Raleigh has a low cost of living compared to more famous tech centers—the median rent is $1,395. Maybe because of this, the city is one of the best places for startups to flourish (there are 500+ and counting). Citrux and Lulu have their HQs here, while IBM and Cisco have local branches. The wealth of well-paying jobs has led to a boom in trendy restaurants in downtown Raleigh, making it a particularly hot neighborhood for young professionals and ambitious creatives. It’s walkable and bikeable, whether you want a quick commute to jobs here—or the wonderland of bars, restaurants, and music venues. Most of the city’s best hangouts are on Fayetteville Street, including the popular bar The Haymaker. Bring friends and order the Get Rich or Rye Tryin’, one of the many punchbowl cocktails meant for sharing.
This contemporary one-bedroom at The Edison Lofts is near Fayetteville Street and makes the aforementioned bar a mere block-and-a-half walk away. You can also walk to City Plaza, a venue that hosts music festivals, in seconds.
Gallery-like space near legendary tech companies
You’ve got Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft—and so many more start-ups we don’t have time to name. Seattle is quickly becoming San Francisco 2.0, though it still outranks the OG tech hub for affordability (the median rent is $2,895). The Eastlake neighborhood is one of Seattle’s fastest growing, particularly for millennials. Why? It might just be the casual vibe. Eastlake Avenue features comfy dive bars (Zoo Tavern), relaxed coffee shops (Voxx Coffee), and good pizza (Pazzo’s on Eastlake), all against the backdrop of the gorgeous Lake Union. And it’s a relatively easy commute from many of Amazon’s offices, as well as Microsoft’s in Redmond.
At the ultra-modern Waterton Apartments, you’re mere blocks away from both I-5 and 520—and a half-block away from coworking spot Vybe Hub. Its floor-to-ceiling windows frame particularly nice views of Lake Union and the surrounding neighborhood, bringing plenty of light into your place even on Seattle’s many rainy days.
Pet-friendly studio in the heart of downtown
Just like SXSW, Austin’s vibe went from laid-back to kinda-Type-A in the past few years. Yet there’s still lots of culture here, and an indie spirit that makes this city different than other tech hubs. It’s also more affordable, with rents trending upward from the median of $1,950. Tech giants like Google, Apple, IBM, Microsoft located their offices in NW Austin, but the most exciting neighborhood for tech is downtown—it’s the most popular choice for young startups and mobile dev companies. The energy is all-business until evening, when things really pick up. There’s a great bar on every block, but 6th Street is downtown Austin’s most famous entertainment district, affectionately called “Dirty Sixth.” Here, you’ll find beloved venues like Maggie Mae’s, the famed Alamo Drafthouse dine-in theater, and cool speakeasies like Firehouse (you have to find a secret sliding bookcase door to get in).
If you want to walk everywhere, this studio at Whitley Apartments is ideal. When you need to leave downtown, you can hop on the light rail, just two blocks away.
Sunny apartments directly on the Metro
D.C. isn’t just about government anymore. Every major tech company has a presence here, not to mention the many intelligence-based jobs in the city. The tech sector grew by 50 percent over 10 years and is still expanding. But getting in on it doesn’t come cheap: D.C.’s median rent is $3,250. Northwest Washington, D.C. is more affordable for techies, especially if you’re just opening shop. Tax credits have made it possible to find an address for your start-up in this area, particularly in the city’s new “Tech Corridor” along 7th St NW. When you find time to sleep, do it in Columbia Heights, a neighborhood one Metro stop away. You’ll find new construction, lower rents, and a diverse mix of restaurants and bars, particularly the mom-and-pop kind that have all but disappeared elsewhere in D.C.
Highland Park at Columbia Heights Metro makes a commute from your studio as easy as walking out of the building’s front door. And there’s another rare benefit to living here: You’re right across the street from Target.
San Diego, California
Luxe two-bedroom near all the highways
If it’s sunshine you want, head to San Diego. Once primarily known for its tourist industry and military base, San Diego has invested in attracting startups. Want to work for a more established company? Qualcomm is also here. Since San Diego pretty much offers gorgeous weather no matter the time of year, rents can be high (the median is $2,775 per month). For maximum convenience, head to Kearny Mesa. A few corporate HQs are located here, turning this area into a business-retail district that’s informally known as Spectrum. The neighborhood is also bordered by the 52, 15, 805, and 163, so you can basically get anywhere with ease. This area is very popular with the 35-and-up crowd. It’s a quiet neighborhood that’s all about relaxed options like the Quantum Brewery, old-school steakhouse The Butchery, and sports bar Elbowroom.
You’ll be in the middle of it all in your apartment Avion at Spectrum, where you can get a two-bedroom for less than the median rent. Also notable? Many units have soaking tubs, a nice feature after a long day of meetings.
Stylish studio in the Boston ‘burbs
Innovation starts on the campuses of MIT and Harvard. But like the universities, Cambridge is a neighborhood that’s hard to get into. (It’s not just because the median rent is $3,300, but because there just aren’t a ton of options due to demand.) Across the river in Boston, affordability is out the window. As a result, more and more professionals are moving to nearby suburbs and taking advantage of Boston’s robust public transportation system. Belmont is adjacent to Cambridge but offers way more rental options. Though the median rent is still high at $3,500, Belmont offers newer apartments in luxury communities rather than student flats. Though the Belmont is more residential, the city’s cultural offerings are as easy as getting on the Red Line at the Alewife T station to get to Harvard Square, Boston Common, and beyond.
Literally on the Belmont-Cambridge border is The Royal Belmont, a complex you’d easily mistake for a resort hotel. Studios are designed with grown-up tastes in mind, with high-end finishes and appliances. After all, you’ve worked too hard to live like a student.
Originally published July 10, 2017; updated January 17, 2018.