Whether you’re moving for a new job, higher education, or elevation, Boulder offers exceptional career opportunities, first-rate edification, and access to some of the most stunning nature around. With the most educated population in the nation and postcard-worthy views around every corner, Boulder’s a city like no other.
The city is situated where the Great Plains meet the eastern flanks of the Rocky Mountains. Western Boulder is nestled up against the famous Rocky Mountain foothills known as the Flatirons, an area that provides residents with extraordinary hiking, outdoor sports, and year-round leisure activities. Boulder is a liberal place filled with concern for the environment and idealism – sometimes said to be “25 square miles surrounded by reality” or “The Berkeley of the Rockies.”
Despite plentiful snowfall, Boulder residents enjoy 300 bright sunny days a year, and the city has earned an unsurprising reputation for being one of the best places to live in the nation. The small-town feel, safety, and friendliness of Boulderites make it an easy place to live, work, play, and stay for the long haul. Welcome to your new hometown!
Living in Boulder, CO: What to Know Before Moving to Boulder
From aerospace to outdoors, Boulder is a city with a thriving economy, a strong base of industry, creative entrepreneurship, and breathtaking natural beauty. This beautiful mountain city, situated at 5,430 feet above sea level, is home to an estimated 107,353 residents who are among the fittest and most educated in the country. Boulder is a dream for outdoor enthusiasts. Conservation easements, recreational open space, and nature preserves surround the city, adding up to thousands of acres that are open to the public.
Pros and Cons of Living in Boulder
- Safety – This is one of the safest cities in the country.
- Youth culture – Because of UC at Boulder, the young population has a median age of 28.7.
- Outdoor access – Unparalleled access to nature.
- Outdoorsy Culture – Everyone is up for a hike or adventure.
- Friendly – People are generally friendly and welcoming.
- Snowsports – You can be on a ski lift in half an hour.
- Insanely good beer – Lots of it is locally produced.
- Fantastic dining scene – Farm-to-fork, ethnic, and high-end cuisine.
- Housing market – Stiff and steep, with high demand and low supply.
- Cost of living – Housing and transportation bump up the cost of living.
- Little diversity – 91% white, making for a bit of a bubble.
- Heavy traffic – Lots of congestion despite the small size of the city.
- Culture – Can feel a little pretentious.
- Snow – Lots of it, every winter.
- Trails – While plentiful, the local trails are also very crowded.
- Property Tax: The property tax rate in Boulder is fairly low at only .61% – considerably lower than the national average.
- Sales Tax: Residents of Adventure City pay a combined sales tax rate of 8.845%.
- State Income Tax: Colorado levies a flat income tax of 4.6% on all residents, which is right on par with the national average.
Just under half – 48.2% – of Boulder residents own their homes. That’s quite high considering the median home value as of September 2019 is an astronomical $749,300. The city has topped the list of best housing markets for growth and stability for five years running. Home values rose 4.3% over the past year and are forecast to rise another 1.7% in 2020.
University of Colorado students put a demand on the rental market from late August through June. You can expect an average rental rate of $2,500 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, making rent $1,300 higher than the national average. Despite high prices, you can sometimes find better deals in neighborhoods such as East Boulder, Gunbarrel, and University Hill.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Boulder is higher than in most US cities, but many residents feel the quality of life is worth it. Like most expensive cities, incomes tend to align with the cost of living. The median income in Boulder is $64,183 – considerably more than the Colorado median income of $41,191 and just over $5,000 more than the national average.
With 100 being the US average, the Boulder housing index is 380/100, which rockets the Boulder cost of living to 186.9/100. Other standard expenses are within average range: groceries at 95.5/100, healthcare at 95.5/100, and utilities at 92.5/100, but transportation costs are above average at 109.5/100.
Based on Economic Policy Institute calculations, a single person living in Boulder can expect to get by on $3,793 per month, but a couple with two children will need to bring in $8,465 a month to live comfortably.
Weather & Natural Disasters
Boulder is world-famous for its high altitude and blue skies. June, August, and September are considered the prime months for enjoying outdoor activities comfortably in mild weather, while December and January, although the coldest, are premier snow sports months. The area averages 89 inches of snow per year, giving ample opportunity for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports. The December high averages 45°F with lows of 21, and January highs average 47 with average lows of 22.
Despite snowy winters, residents enjoy about 300 days of sunshine. July highs top out at an average 88 degrees with lows of 57. Humidity isn’t a factor, so summer temperatures are great for outdoor activities.
The same geographical conditions that make Boulder idyllic to live in also put the city at some risk of natural disasters. Earthquakes pose a minor threat, but flooding is a far more significant risk. In 2013, the city experienced major flooding that affected many residents. The city is also at risk of wildfire, although this threat affects the county more than the city. Boulder has produced a resilience plan for future disaster events and hosts free community training to make citizens aware of how to respond to disasters.
Economy & Job Market
Boulder’s booming economy is based on a large number of federally-funded research facilities, the university, and several growing cutting-edge industries. The city’s economy is steadily trending upward, and at 2.9%, experiences the highest job growth rate in Colorado. Major industries are aerospace, bioscience, cleantech, IT/software, natural products, and outdoor recreation.
The largest employers in the city are IBM, Boulder Valley School District, Boulder Community Health, City of Boulder, Boulder County, Medtronic, Array BioPharma, NOAA, UCAR/NCAR, and the University of Colorado Boulder.
Job seekers can look for employment on traditional internet platforms such as indeed.com, glassdoor.com, simplyhired.com, ziprecruiter.com, plus executive recruiting agencies. Check out the University of Colorado Job Board, and Andrew Hudson’s Job List, Colorado Nonprofit Association. For tech jobs, check out Built in Colorado.
Traffic and Transportation
The Regional Transportation District (RTD) and Community Transit Network (CTN) serve Boulder with bus services. Regionally, you’ll find services including bus, rail, shuttles, paratransit, service for special events, and can easily get down to Denver using public transportation. The transit system is relatively easy to use but is somewhat expensive.
Commuters complain about traffic, which may come as a surprise for a city of just over 100,000 residents with a footprint of 25 square miles. However, with over 100,000 jobs in the Boulder city limits, more than half of them are filled by people living outside the city limits. More than two-thirds of those commuters travel in single-occupancy vehicles, contributing to rush hour traffic. Construction on the Foothills Parkway underpass further exacerbates the traffic situation. Here, lane closures and reduced speeds are expected to affect traffic until completion in 2020.
Boulder’s major thoroughfares can get you around and out of town efficiently if you avoid rush hours. 28th Street is the major north-south highway through town, and Highway 119 runs east-west through the center of the city. In downtown, northbound Highway 7 intersects with 119 and eventually connects to Hwy 36 up to Estes Park. Highway 93 runs south from downtown to Golden, CO. Drivers heading to Denver take 28th Street south where it turns into Highway 36 for a 25-minute drive to the big city. Northeast of town, Highway 119 connects to I-25 north to Fort Collins.
Even though commuter traffic is bad, many residents rely on in-town walking, biking, and public transit. Boulder has an exceptional walk score of 73, with some neighborhoods hitting 100. Downtown tops the list with a walk score of 99 and a transit score of 100. Pioneer Square and First Hill are not far behind. The overall bike score in Boulder is 70, with many neighborhoods in the 80s and 90s.
What to Do in Boulder
People move to Boulder for the phenomenal outdoor opportunities, healthy lifestyle, and liberal culture. Foodies have no trouble finding their groove in this farm-to-table beer-loving mecca. There’s plenty of shopping, and arts and culture buffs find lots to see and do. From the plains to the Flatirons, here’s a shortlist of what you can expect in your new hometown.
Farming is not the first outdoor activity that comes to mind when most people think of Boulder, but the county brims with farms – over 850 of them, in fact. Many are just outside of town and well worth visiting, especially with kids. However, if you can’t go straight to the source, The Boulder Farmer’s Market happens on Wednesdays and Saturdays from April to November. Beyond that, there are many farm-to-table restaurants in town from which to choose. Boulder has the second-most microbreweries per capita in the country, so finding a place to quaff some hoppy, golden suds shouldn’t be a problem.
Boulder has a surprisingly rich array of arts and culture for its small size. The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art hosts an ever-changing array of contemporary artists, while the Museum of Boulder at The Tebo Center is an education in all things Boulder, covering history past, present, and future. The University of Colorado Art Museum offers up a massive permanent collection of art objects as well as carefully curated temporary exhibitions. UC also boasts an impressive collection of artifacts and specimens in its Museum of Natural History, including a hands-on Discovery Corner for kids. For more casual art exploration, take a walking tour of the public art on the streets of Boulder. For performing arts fans, there’s much to take in, from classical music to Shakespeare.
Nature lovers enjoy over 60 parks in the city, including athletic fields, playgrounds, plazas, and skate parks. Water lovers flock to the Boulder Reservoir to boat and swim, and the City of Boulder features five recreation centers with indoor and outdoor pools for year-round swimming. With over 300 miles of bike lanes, routes, and trails, cyclists enjoy one of the top cycling destinations in the US. Hikers don’t have to go far to find trails at all levels, from leisurely to grueling – right in Boulder’s big backyard. The Boulder area has ten top-rated golf courses waiting for you to tee up, and on the outskirts of town, there are opportunities for horseback riding, hot air ballooning, rock climbing, kayaking, river rafting, sledding, and skiing.
If you’re a sports fan, you may find a complaint with the lack of professional sports teams in Boulder. However, Denver, just 25 miles south, is home to the Denver Broncos (NFL), the Colorado Buffaloes (NCAA D1), The Colorado Rockies (MLB), Colorado Avalanche (NHL), Colorado Rapids (MLS), and the Denver Nuggets (NBA). So, never fear, you can still get your sporting fix, but you’ll have to drive down the road to get it.
Schools and Universities
The Boulder Valley School District operates 31 schools in the City of Boulder. The school district is generally considered exceptional, with three of the 13 high schools in the city ranking among the top high schools in the country. Overall, schools in Colorado graduate 93% of students. Schools that rank 9 or 10 out of 10 according to greatschools.org are Fairview High School 10/10, Boulder High School 9/10, Summit Middle Charter School 9/10, Bear Creek Elementary School 9/10, Foothill Elementary School 9/10, Mesa Elementary School 9/10, and High Peaks Elementary School 9/10.
The Boulder area is home to two four-year institutions, the prestigious University of Colorado at Boulder, and the private Naropa University. Despite its reputation as a party school, UC is a well-regarded university with exceptional degree programs in Biological Sciences, Business, Engineering, Journalism, and more.
Boulder is generally a safe city; however property crime is higher than the national average. The property crime index is 40.9 compared to the national average of 35.4. Violent crime is much lower at 13.5 compared to the US average of 22.7. You can check out the crime map to see the safest places to live in and around Boulder.
Boulder residents rely on several providers for their utilities:
- Gas and electricity: Xcel Energy is the primary provider of electric service and gas for Boulder. To start, stop, or transfer electric service call 1-800-895-1999 or for gas service call 1-800-895-2999
- Water and sewage: The City of Boulder Water Utilities is the water utility, operated by the city of Boulder. To open an account, call their service line at 303-441-3260.
- Trash collection: Western Disposal Services takes out the trash in the city of Boulder. To begin service, call their customer service line at 303-444-2037.
- Internet and cable: For internet and cable, residents can choose between Comcast/Xfinity and Century Link. To begin service with Comcast/Xfinity, visit the webpage. For Century Link, go to the website linked above or call 1-855-263-9576.
Best Neighborhoods in Boulder, CO
Almost anywhere in Boulder is a great place to live, but these neighborhoods take the cake!
Central Boulder lies just east of downtown and is primarily a residential neighborhood. The borders, roughly defined and depending on who you ask, are Foothills Parkway to the east, 26th Street and 29th Street to the west, Iris Avenue to the north, and Baseline Road to the south. This community is the go-to place for families with kids who want to be walking distance from downtown and close to everything. Sixty percent of the Central Boulder community are renters, which is no surprise considering the relatively inexpensive cost of renting relative to buying.
Central Boulder is a hub of the city, so you can expect to find plentiful amenities such as a good smattering of hotels, many cultural institutions, lots of shopping, and plenty of excellent restaurants. Multiple public transportation routes run through Central Boulder, so it’s easy to get around without a car. Most people who live in the neighborhood are happy to hop on a bicycle for various nearby errands, as parking can be difficult downtown and the major thoroughfares running through the neighborhood can make cycling faster than driving.
- Population – 16,713
- Home Price – Median home value $629,257
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,410
- Employers – Ball Aerospace & Technologies, Boulder Community Health, Cool Energy, Emerson, Google, LogRhythm, Siemens Power Generation, Qualcomm, Twitter, Zayo Group
- Schools – Bear Creek Elementary School, Community Montessori School, Shining Mountain Waldorf School, Whittier Elementary School, Casey Middle School, Summit Middle Charter School, Boulder High School, Watershed School
Something to try: Visit the Dairy Arts Center to see an exhibition or a dance performance.
Just south of downtown, Chautauqua is bordered to the west by the Flatirons, to the east by Broadway, to the south by King Avenue and the Flatirons, and to the north by Aurora Avenue. Nestled into the base of the Flatirons, this neighborhood is as scenic as it is historic. Made up of only a dozen streets, this is an exclusive and coveted neighborhood noted for its sprawling Victorian houses interspersed with modern homes on large, heavily treed lots. Owners occupy over 60 percent of the neighborhood, and the rental options are mainly condos and townhomes.
The downsides to Chautauqua are the steep price of homes and the fact that the neighborhood is overrun with tourists on their way to hike the Flatirons. On the upside, Chautauqua Park is home to concerts, festivals, and exceptional programming for children with plenty of nature hikes and campfire gatherings for kids of all ages. There are also several amenities within reach, such as a Whole Foods and a range of shopping and dining options at the Base-Mar shopping center. Downtown Boulder is a short bike ride away. All in all, this is a stunning neighborhood for anyone who can afford it.
- Population – 5,622
- Home Price – Median home value $847,700
- Rent Prices – Median rent $2,500
- Employers – Agilent Technologies, Endoshape, Gravity Renewables, IBM, Lexmark, Lockheed Martin, Nest, Northrop Grumman, Oracle, University of Colorado
- Schools – Flatirons Elementary, Manhattan Middle School, and Boulder High School
Something to try: Visit Colorado Chautauqua Auditorium and see a performance at the venue that put the neighborhood on the map.
Less than ten minutes from downtown Boulder, East Boulder is sometimes referred to as the
“Brooklyn of Boulder,” thanks to somewhat more affordable real estate and a proliferation of hip small businesses. The neighborhood is bordered to the west by Foothills Parkway, to the north by Jay Road, and to the south by South Boulder Road. This area wasn’t much historically but has evolved into a desirable neighborhood where young people love to live and work. With 65% of the locals owning, you can easily imagine the vested interest in the community that most neighbors feel.
In East Boulder, expect to find a growing tech industry that’s pumping cash into the local economy. The result is a thriving clutch of restaurants, independently-owned coffee shops, microbreweries, record shops, and tons of fitness-oriented businesses. In fact, if you’re into CrossFit, dance studios, or any indoor fitness, this may be the neighborhood for you. You’ll also find plenty of galleries, local hangouts, and theater in East Boulder.
All things considered, this is one of the coolest neighborhoods for young professionals, artists, and folks who prefer a mountain view to the Brooklyn Bay.
- Population – 3,257
- Home Price – Median home value $537,000
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,359
- Employers – Backcountry Access, Boulder Valley School District, Boulder Brands, Emerson, Google, HEAD Winter Sports, Micro Motion, Sherpani, Twitter, Zeal Optics
- Schools – Douglass Elementary School, Whittier Elementary School, Columbine Elementary School, Nevin Platt Middle School, Casey Middle School, Boulder High School
Something to try: Check out the Aerial Dance Festival put on by Frequent Flyers.
A 20-minute drive northeast of downtown, Gunbarrel is considered by some to be a suburb but has grown so rapidly in recent years that one cannot overlook it as one of the best places “in” Boulder to live. Bordered by Jay Road to the south, North 95th to the east, Lookout Road and Whiterock Ditch to the north, and I-119 to the west, the area is peaceful, scenic, and by Boulder standards, affordable. The neighborhood was created thanks to the IBM plant that was built in Boulder County in 1965. The homes here are newer, but the community is longstanding and growing. That 68% of Gunbarrel residents own is a testament to the relatively lower cost of buying and speaks well to the future of the area.
This neighborhood is sprawling and lush, with wildlife and wetlands at Twin Lakes and ample access to hiking and cycling trails. The area features organic farms, tons of microbreweries, and a peaceful, safe environment surrounded by open spaces. Gunbarrel boasts an abundance of retail options and restaurants, and Boulder is only 15 minutes away if you want more variety.
The Boulder College of Massage Therapy and the Southwest Acupuncture College are in Gunbarrel, which means plenty of affordable treatments are available. In the summer, events like races and festivals abound. Gunbarrel is a great neighborhood for young professionals, students, and families who want to raise children in a quieter, less-trafficked area than Boulder proper.
- Population – 9,321
- Home Price – Median home value $455,100
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,424
- Employers – Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Hain Celestial Group, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Medtronic, Research Electro-Optics, NOAA, University of Colorado
- Schools – Heatherwood Elementary, Platt Junior High School, Boulder High School
Something to try: Visit the Celestial Seasonings tea factory and experience olfactory nirvana.
What was historically an industrial zone, North Boulder, known locally as NoBo, has blossomed into a fantastic new frontier for Boulder residents. This massive area is bordered to the east by I-36, to the south by Iris Avenue, and to the west by Wonderland Hills and Wonderland Lake. This neighborhood has emerged in recent years as an art hub and is a destination for those seeking art events, galleries, and the cool public art scene. The vast majority, 74%, of residents own, which makes North Boulder a haven for young families.
All of the recent growth gives this area a fresh, vibrant feel and has yielded a plethora of great restaurants, breweries, wineries, and artisanal-focused local businesses. With Wonderland Lake bordering the neighborhood, there are plenty of spectacular views and access to nature.
You’ll find some excellent ethnic cuisine in NoBo, without the hassle of parking or the throngs of tourists found in the southern reaches of the city. There’s an independent grocer, Lucky’s Market, and a huge community recreation center with extensive facilities, an indoor pool, and a gymnastics program. The icing on the cake is that the neighborhood is served by one of the RTD’s main bus lines, so downtown Boulder is just a few miles south.
- Population – 11,930
- Home Price – Median home value $591,040
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,216
- Employers – American Recreation Products, Blue Canyon Technologies, Boulder Brands, Boulder Community Health, Boulder Valley School District, New Hope Natural Media, Zayo Group LLC
- Schools – Crest View Elementary School, Centennial Middle School, Boulder High School
Something to try: Check out the First Friday Art Walk to see all the fresh, new talent on the rise.
In the shadow of South Boulder Peak, South Boulder, known to locals as SoBo, is a choice neighborhood for families. Bordered by Bear Creek Ditch to the east, Greenbriar Boulevard to the south, the foothills of South Boulder Peak to the west, and Skunk Canyon to the north, this is a residential area surrounded by nature. 60% of the residents here own their own homes, and locals will tell you that the area has retained its authenticity over the decades.
You’ll encounter a wide range of housing types in SoBo, from student rentals to condos and townhomes. But single-family homes with big yards on wide streets make up the majority of the properties here. As you might guess, this is an idyllic place to raise children.
There are plenty of retail shops, restaurants, and shopping opportunities in the neighborhood. Additionally, sitting in the middle of so much open space means that there’s no shortage of opportunities to get out into nature, be it walking, hiking, or cycling. But for tamer recreation, look to the Harlow Platts Community Park or the South Boulder Recreation Center. The neighborhood is walkable enough for you to be able to enjoy dinner and a drink without ever having to fire up an engine.
- Population – 16,230
- Home Price – Median home value $563,993
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,580
- Employers – AstraZeneca, Boulder County, Clovis Oncology, N30 Pharmaceuticals, NCAR, NOAA, Northrop Grumman, University of Colorado
- Schools –Bear Creek Elementary School, Mesa Elementary School, Southern Hills Middle School, Fairview High School
Something to try: Tour the National Center for Atmospheric Research and get a feel for what’s happening high overhead.
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