10 Cities That are Suddenly Exciting Thanks to Generation Y

Downtown Atlanta at night. Evilarry/Wikimedia Commons
The best cities change a little each time you visit. Unfortunately, they also tend to get more expensive. Room rates creep upward, and suddenly that hole-in-the-wall pizzeria you once counted on for cheap slices has caught on and is choked with a line winding around the block.

Faced with empty pockets and a tightening job market, college grads are foregoing America's most bustling metropolitan centers in favor of cities with lower prices. Enterprising young professionals often bring dynamic changes to the places they congregate, making them exciting destinations for travelers who want to be a part of the action. They say you can't beat the classics, but these up-and-coming U.S. cities give pricey mainstays a run for their money. They could just be the new classics.
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Bike rack in Denver, Colorado. Unsplash/Pixabay
A rapid increase in younger residents has transformed Denver into a hipster hangout as well as an active oasis. Hops enthusiasts should have no trouble finding an IPA or stout to quench their thirst at one of over 40 breweries in the city. While Denver is famous for being the birthplace of Coors, skip the brand-name brew and head to 1Up to sip craft creations while playing old-school arcade games, or visit in the fall to catch the Great American Beer Festival, held in September. Don't worry too much about your waistline—you can always burn the calories by hopping one of the bikes made available through B-cycle, which was the nation's first city-wide bike share.

Of course, the Mile High City is already a hot travel destination for another particularly potent reason. My 420 Tours offers every accommodation imaginable for travelers eager to enjoy newly legalized marijuana, while those who prefer not to partake can head to The Source or City O City for a jolt of good ol' caffeine.
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Sculpture in Austin during South by Southwest festival. NASA/Chris Gunn/Wikimedia Commons
Is Nashville officially over? With more than 250 venues and a festival every season, the self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World" more than lives up to its title. Held each year in March, South by Southwest (SXSW), is arguably one of the country's few major music festivals that has yet to become overly commercialized, though you may want to buy your ticket sooner rather than later. For those who prefer their concerts in moderation, Stubb's pairs its music with barbecue by the pound, while Holy Mountain and Cheer Up Charlie's host indie acts in an intimate setting.

When it comes to nightlife, Sixth Street is hard to top. Locals divide the strip into the more upscale west half and the lively east, otherwise known as the "Dirty Sixth," where hipsters and college students crawl down a promenade of sleazy clubs and trendy dive bars. Stop by one of the city's 1,000 food trucks for a snack between stops—try the beet home fries at Eastside King or the brisket burrito at one of The Peached Tortilla's multiple outposts.
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The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. Burdettekevin/Wikimedia Commons
The recently opened Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is a triumphant symbol of the cultural transformation Kansas City has undergone in the past decade. Its striking modernist exterior alone is worth seeing: a geometric structure evocative of the Sydney Opera House that makes an instantly iconic addition to the skyline. With boulevards and fountains designed to rival those of Europe, the largest city in Missouri achieves that combination of cheap and beautiful that broke post-grads find so hospitable. Take in statues and Spanish architecture at the Country Club Plaza, a 15-block outdoor shopping district that specializes in upscale labels.

Hot restaurants like Blue Bird Bistro and The Westside Local make their home in the up-and-coming Westside neighborhood, conveniently located next to KC's vibrant Crossroads Arts District. Hop between art galleries open for free from 6 to 9 p.m. the first Friday of each month after grabbing a bite. Wherever you go, make sure you get a chance to try Kansas City's famous barbecue.
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Bridge and skyline in Minneapolis. Jdkoenig/Wikimedia Commons
It may be hard to believe that the famous "Minnesota nice" can coexist harmoniously with the aloof attitude associated with hip areas, but Minneapolis and St. Paul are proof that coolness and kindness make a great combination. A diversity of industries and the lowest current unemployment rate of any major U.S. city have made the Twin Cities a smart place to move and a unique place to visit.

Known for the magnificent and terrifying Mall of America, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area is also a draw for thrift shoppers looking to escape the brand name behemoth. Try Rewind for '80s and '90s finds, or peruse the retro formalwear at Via's Vintage if you're feeling fancy.

It wouldn't be an up-and-coming city without a diverse music scene, and Minneapolis' mix of international acts and local talent doesn't disappoint. Catch a concert at the landmark venue First Avenue for a classic experience, or veer off the beaten path to the nonprofit Cedar Cultural Center for an eclectic program of music, comedy, and spoken word.
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Partygoers at a First Fridays Festival in Oakland. Sonny Abesamis/Flickr
While San Francisco continues to undergo rapid gentrification brought on by the tech boom, "Brooklyn by the Bay" has become a popular alternative for young folks who want the foodie culture and creative atmosphere without (for now) the cost. Despite inevitable comparisons to its prominent neighbor, Oakland is a great city in its own right, with a rich heritage and locals who are fiercely proud of their corner of the Bay.

A burgeoning foodie city such as this calls for a proper culinary tour. Begin with brunch at the iconic Brown Sugar Kitchen while you still have enough energy for a wait. Once you've had time to digest, get fancy at the Michelin-starred Commis, order a pie at Pizzaiolo, or grab one of Bakesale Betty's famous buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches if you're eating on the go.

Whichever season you go, schedule your trip to include the first weekend of the month. That way, you'll catch the appropriately named First Fridays Festival, an explosion of art, music, and (of course) food along Telegraph Avenue. Take a minute to peruse the open galleries around which the event is organized—that is if you can tear yourself away from the food trucks.
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The Hotel Congress in Tucson. StillWellMike/Flickr
With its diverse heritage of Spanish conquistadors and outlaw cowboys, Tucson is fostering a hip scene in a historic setting that is just beginning to be appreciated. A number of improvement initiatives have reenergized the city following a slight decline brought on by the recession, notably Sun Corridor Inc., an economic development agency that creates job opportunities by promoting arts and innovation in the surrounding area.

Stay at the famous Hotel Congress to see firsthand how history and culture intermingle in this quirky city. Known as the place where elusive bank robber John Dillinger was captured, the 20th-century building now does double duty as a concert venue. Bar-hoppers can continue onto nearby Fourth Avenue, a happening strip lined with watering holes and funky stores like Pop-Cycle, which sells clothes and curios made from repurposed materials. Check out Sky Bar's solar-powered café during the day and its "astronomy bar" at night, where science experts and rookies alike will be wowed by the vast Arizona sky.
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Sculptures in a park along the Atlanta Beltline. Robert Neff/Flickr
While the growth of Atlanta's younger population has slowed in recent years, a large-scale redevelopment initiative called the Atlanta BeltLine has stimulated an economic and cultural renaissance that's drawing millennials back into the city center. Founded in 2005 and set to be completed by 2030, the project is transforming miles of old railroads into a combination of parks, public transportation, and housing. With many parks and trails already open, public events such as Art on the Atlanta Beltline are quickly becoming community favorites.

Choose from trendy new restaurants to experience Atlanta's rebranding as a truly cosmopolitan city firsthand. Cooks & Soldiers serves Basque-inspired tapas with a playful atmosphere, while Twin Smokers BBQ and Gravy offer hearty fare to travelers with an appetite. No trip is complete without a visit to the bohemian Little Five Points neighborhood, where Atlanta's independent theater scene flourishes in spaces like the Variety Playhouse, 7 Stages, and The Horizon Theater Company.
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Mosaic mural by Isaiah Zagar on Philadelphia's South Street. Beyond My Ken, Wikimedia Commons
Ambitious recent grads are flocking to the Birthplace of America for its high starting salaries and low unemployment rate, bringing their creative energy to a city already rich in culture. While Philly certainly has its fair share of famous museums—the iconic "Rocky steps" of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are a must-climb—don't overlook its lesser known gems. Try the delightfully creepy Mütter Museum for weird science or the Rosenbach Museum and Library for its collection of rare books and manuscripts.

Philly's alternative scene is headquartered at South Street, where frequent festivals and markets ensure there's always something new and exciting going on. Visit during summer to catch one of the city's unique pop-up parks and beer gardens. Once you're sick of cheesesteaks, new restaurants like P'unk Burger, U-Bahn, and William Street Common offer their spins on bar bites and comfort food, from locally sourced to inventively reworked. Bring your own bubbly and make mimosas for a boozy brunch at local favorite Honey's Sit N' Eat, or grab a pastry on the go from one of South Philly's many Italian bakeries.
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Farmer's market in Madison's Capitol Square. Kznf/Wikimedia Commons
More than just the stomping grounds of its namesake university, Madison combines the diversity of a state capital with the charm and spirit of a college town. In a few years, the intimate, bike-friendly city will look a lot more formidable as comprehensive development projects add height to the city's skyline, but five surrounding lakes and more than 200 miles of biking and hiking trails ensure plenty of options for outdoor fun.

To fuel up, head to the Dane County Farmer's Market, the biggest producer-only market in the country and the main source of Mad City's foodie credentials. During precious warm weather, its location in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol allows tourists to multitask shopping and sight-seeing. Madison has no shortage of entertainment options to satisfy culture vultures, with venues like the Overture Center for the Arts and the Monkey Business Institute offering a happening mix of comedy, theater, and improv.
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Lucky Strike tower in Durham, NC. Ildar Sagdejev/Wikimedia Commons
An abundance of job openings has made Raleigh the second-fastest growing city in the country, while a young, liberal crowd in Durham is transforming what was once a gritty tobacco town into a trendy spot for art and theater. Explore the first-rate museums and parks of a thriving state capital in Raleigh, beginning with the must-see North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, where museum-goers can catch local innovators lecturing on their research for free. Choose between the equally beautiful Pullen and Umstead parks to get some exercise before supporting the local community with a cup of coffee from Oak City, a company that hires adults with special needs to package its product.

Head westward to Durham for a vibrant arts scene and whimsical culinary creations. The city's creative spirit is visible in projects like The Scrap Exchange, a nonprofit reuse center that collects used materials to sell to local artists and businesses. Spice up your itinerary with one of its ITS classes, or visit The Carrack to see art that has been produced in a zero-commission space. On the performing side of things, the Manbites Dog Theater stages cutting edge productions in a cozy space. Leave plenty of time to eat out: Heart-stoppers such as Monuts' maple-bacon-bourbon donut and Geer Street Garden's delicious, amorphous "Pile" deserve your undivided attention.
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