#2. Santa Monica
Crashing waves, squawking seagulls and rolling skateboards are not typically sounds you’d associate with a downtown area, yet these are exactly the kinds of noises you’ll hear in downtown Santa Monica, Calif., a laid-back beach city overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Santa Monica landed near the top of all the metrics we measured while searching for the Top 10 Best Downtowns.
It’s low vacancy rate and affordability prove that it’s a highly desirable area, but also one that’s achievable for a diverse group of people. Workers and tourists more than double Santa Monica’s population during the day. The city contains a large collection of arts-related businesses, parks and restaurants, and people living in Santa Monica spend more time out and about than those in other cities. Residents here tend to visit the downtown area and go out to eat nearly twice as often as the average U.S. citizen. A network of sidewalks, bike lanes and paths makes Santa Monica the most walkable city on this list. All 8 square miles of Santa Monica are easily navigated by foot, bike or skateboard. And surfboards 6 feet long or shorter are allowed on city buses.
Central to Downtown Santa Monica is Third Street Promenade, a three-block pedestrian-only stretch filled with restaurants, shops and street performers that attracts an average 40,000 tourists each day. In a recent study of visitors to Santa Monica’s downtown, more than 57 percent said they lived nearby and another 48 percent said they come because of the variety and quality of stores. Those who chose to live downtown find themselves surrounded by a mix of entertainment options ranging from Pacific Park, an amusement park on Santa Monica Pier, and Muscle Beach to The Craftsman Bar and Kitchen and the Santa Monica Public Library. Downtown Santa Monica hosts one of the largest grower-only certified organic farmers markets in the country.