Why Somerville, Massachusetts Is One of the Coolest Suburbs in America

published May 22, 2019
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Credit: Skip Murray

Somerville was chosen as one of Apartment Therapy’s Coolest Suburbs in America 2019. We showcased the burbs nationwide that offer the most when it comes to cultural activities, a sense of community, and simply a good quality of life. For more on how we define “cool” and what exactly counts as a suburb, check out our methodology here. To view Apartment Therapy’s other Coolest Suburbs in America 2019, head here.

Somerville packs a lot of history, personality, and sense of community into just over four square miles.

About 80,000 people call Somerville home, making it the most densely populated city in New England. The city—situated just north of Boston and Cambridge—has gone through sweeping changes in recent years, as the city gentrified. Housing prices have risen dramatically, and many beloved businesses have closed their doors.

But over the years, much of the city’s historic charm has remained the same. Old-school spots like Leone’s Sub & Pizza and Victor’s Deli have been serving up some of Somerville’s best slices and sandwiches for decades.

Catch a summertime midnight screening of classics at the Somerville Theatre, which was built back in 1914 for stage shows and the earliest motion pictures. Wander from one house to the next to hear local bands jam during Porchfest, a roving music festival that takes place on porches across Somerville each summer. Cheer on the Tufts University Jumbos at a soccer or baseball game on the school’s scenic campus. Or tour Prospect Hill Tower, a looming Somerville landmark built in 1903, and the site of the first flag flown to represent the United Colonies.

One of Somerville’s best perks: It’s remarkably close to Boston. The suburb is just a quick 20-minute ride on the Red Line train from Somerville’s Davis Square to Boston Common. Much of the suburb is within walking distance to other popular areas, such as Charlestown and Harvard Square.

Here’s a look at what makes Somerville great:

Median rent price:

$3,000, according to Zillow.

Median house price:

$821,300, according to Zillow.

Price per square foot (compared to city):

$612 in Somerville vs. $717 in Boston, according to Zillow.

Walkability score:

86, according to Walk Score.

Median household income:

$84,722, according to Census data from 2013 to 2017.

Population:

75,754 people, according to 2010 Census data.

What the suburb is known for:

It’s reportedly where the first flag of the United Coloniesstrung up above Prospect Hill in 1776—was flown. Another claim to fame: a Somerville resident reportedly invented marshmallow fluff. Now, the city celebrates its creation with an annual What the Fluff? Festival.

Credit: Courtesy of Pat Piasecki

Hidden gem:

The griddled hot dogs and chili cheese fries at Trina’s Starlite Lounge, a bar on the edge of Somerville. Check out the fridge while you’re there. It has its own Instagram!

Place that makes you happy to live there:

The center of Davis Square, which is always buzzing with people and live music. It’s the perfect place to sit with a cup of coffee and a good book.

Favorite activity for families:

Spending an afternoon in one of Somerville’s great parks. Don’t miss the giant slide at Chuckie Harris Park, an East Somerville playground that both kids and grown-ups love.

Favorite hangout for young professionals:

Aeronaut Brewing Co., where you can bring in your own food, grab a good beer, and play trivia after work.

Favorite place to catch a movie:

Somerville Theatre, a charming independent movie theater with seriously good popcorn and local beers on tap. Be sure to wander into the Museum of Bad Art in the basement!

Favorite teen hangout:

Assembly Row, an outdoor shopping center with a movie theater, a Lego store, and a J.P. Lick’s ice cream shop.

Favorite outdoor lounge spot:

Bow Market, an outdoor marketplace home to a bunch of fun small-scale stores and restaurants. Grab a plate of pierogies at Jaju, or fries and dip at Saus, and sit outside in the courtyard to people-watch.

Favorite date spot:

Backbar, a trendy cocktail bar in an alley in Union Square. The line can be daunting, but the drinks are worth the wait.

Average commute/traffic report:

Just over half of people in Somerville commute by car, and one-third use public transit, according to Trulia. Like everywhere in the Boston area, traffic is a headache during rush hour. The time between buses depends on the route, but the Red Line trains come every three or four minutes on a good day.

Favorite local bookstore:

There isn’t a dedicated bookstore in the city proper. But Porter Square Books—which toes the Somerville-Cambridge line—is the perfect spot to pick up a new novel.

Favorite place to get coffee:

3 Little Figs, a small, but cute coffee shop, which also happens to have some of Somerville’s best baked goods.

Favorite bar for when you want to be around people:

Any Somerville pub on a night when the Celtics, Patriots, Red Sox, or Bruins are playing. Two favorites: P.J. Ryan’s and Old Magoun’s Saloon.

Favorite alone spot:

Powderhouse Park, a grassy hill with a centuries-old stone tower, built as a windmill and later used to store gunpowder in the time leading up to the Revolutionary War.

Favorite free cultural activity to take part in:

Porchfest, when bands play tunes on porches all across the city. Grab a group of friends and wander from one neighborhood to the next for a free roving music festival.

Most walkable area:

Almost all of Somerville is easily walkable. Pick a lunch spot or a park and start exploring from there.

Signature food:

A slice of pizza from Leone’s Sub and Pizza. Chris Evans—a Boston-area boy—was once surprised during an on-air interview with several of the signature square pizzas. He screamed: “It’s Leone’s!”

Favorite boutique:

Two Little Monkeys, a consignment shop with gently used children’s’ clothes, books, strollers, and toys.

Favorite bike trail:

The Somerville Community Path is beautiful on a sunny day. It’s perfect for a breezy bike ride or a long walk with friends.

Favorite spot for an Instagram:

Pack a picnic lunch—I’d suggest sandwiches from Dave’s Fresh Pasta—and head to Prospect Hill Park. You can’t miss the view.  

Favorite brunch:

Check out The Neighborhood Restaurant & Bakery, which appeases customers with free coffee while they wait out the long lines for Portuguese-style breakfast plates.

Favorite free activity:

Wander around one of Somerville’s street fairs during the summer. Grab an Italian ice and check out goods from some of the city’s coolest makers.

Favorite grocery store:

Somerville’s winter farmers market, housed in an old armory, is overflowing with amazing fruits, veggies, and baked goods from around the area. The same goes for the summer farmers market in Union Square.

Favorite place for a workout:

Go for a jog or grab a Bluebike for a ride on the community path. It’s free, tree-lined, and runs all the way through neighboring Arlington!

Favorite place to take an out-of-towner:

Sacco’s Bowl Haven, a famous candlepin bowling alley with a lively vibe. Sacco’s also houses Flatbread Company, a Northeastern chain that dishes up wood-fired pizzas and keeps an array of local craft beers on tap.

Worst place to find parking and easiest place to find parking:

Somerville isn’t known for easy parking. It’s best to look for a spot on the main streets, and make sure to have a few quarters handy for the meters.

What the neighbors say:

Neighbors say they love the proximity to the city, the countless options for dinner or a drink, the sense of community, and the vibrant arts scene. “The best thing about Somerville is the amount of artists per capita and the art-related events and art spaces to visit,” says Alison Drasner, an artist and Somerville resident.

It’s also more affordable than other popular spots in the greater Boston area. “The city has cheaper rents relative to Cambridge, without compromising too much on access to public and walkability,” says resident Leo Guyshan.

Favorite annual event:

Somerville Open Studios is a Somerville tradition, where galleries and studios open their doors to celebrate hundreds of local artists.

What I miss about the city:

Being able to walk to Boston Harbor or the Charles River.

What I never miss about the city:

Crowded sidewalks.

Favorite local home store:

Magpie, a tiny boutique in Davis Square, is right when it says it sells “shiny things for your nest.” They have a cute, curated selection of home decor, gifts, and cards.

Favorite local diner:

Kelly’s Diner serves up hearty breakfast plates in a two-piece dining car from 1953.

Favorite neighborhood for yard sales:

Head down Highland Road, which stretches from Davis Square to Union Square. In warm weather, there’s no shortage of yard sale signs tacked up on telephone poles.

Favorite house/garden walk:

Prospect Hill, where you can meander around streets lined with shady trees and check out big, beautiful homes built more than a century ago.

Favorite dog park:

Zero New Washington Street Dog Park, which has a series of obstacles for pups to play on.

Favorite salon/spa:

Yelpers love Ball Square’s Salon Cu for its reasonable prices, creative cuts, and friendly staff. A bonus: It’s right by Lyndell’s Bakery, so you can snag a cheap donut-and-coffee combo after your appointment.  

Favorite resale and antique store:

A slew of vendors set up shop in Davis Square every Sunday in the summer for the Somerville Flea, where you can score cool vintage furniture, art, and home goods.

Why do you think your suburb is cool?

Somerville strikes a great balance. It’s quiet, but incredibly close to the city; lively, but not too crowded; cool, but also community-oriented. There’s never any shortage of things to do, but it’s easy to duck out for a quiet walk on the community path. I love just taking a book into Davis Square on a sunny Saturday, grabbing a coffee from one of the good spots, and listening to my favorite neighborhood musician play guitar.

Credit: Apartment Therapy