Best Places to Live
Minnesotans often claim superior quality of life as compensation for six-month-long winters. But it also happens to be true: By any non-meteorological measure, the Twin Cities are hot. The metro boasts 30 Fortune 500 companies, a thriving arts scene, numerous colleges and universities, and abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation. Plus, lots of great places to live. Here we spotlight the communities acknowledged to be supremely livable, as well as some of our lesser-known gems.
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2009 MEDIAN SALES PRICE: $206,250*
HIDDEN CHARM: Bluff-top views of the High Bridge and downtown St. Paul
SHOPPING DESTINATION: Grand Hand Gallery
Part of the Summit Hill neighborhood, this pedestrian-friendly enclave nestles close to downtown and overlooks the Mississippi River. Technically defined by Summit and St. Clair avenues to the north and south, and Dale Street and Lexington Parkway to the east and west, Crocus Hill is as much a brand—much like Kenwood in Minneapolis—as it is a neighborhood. The lovely turn-of-the-century-or-earlier mansions, spacious wood-frame houses, row houses, and apartment buildings—as well as the occasional incongruous mid-century home—give it a demeanor all its own. Some of the prettiest parts of Crocus Hill are along the bluff, where little streets like Crocus Place end with cool views of downtown and the river.
Despite incursions of national chains and franchise restaurants, homegrown still predominates on nearby Grand Avenue. The sublime Grand Hand Gallery took over a former massage parlor and created a stylish venue for artisan wares, as well as regular openings and events for artists. Just down Grand is Barbary Fig, a Moroccan restaurant that is the epitome of funky, serving North African cuisine in an old house evocative of sun and sea.
The neighborhood hosts celebrations throughout the year—Grand Old Day welcomes summer, Boo Bash celebrates Halloween, and Paws on Grand pampers pets with treats and photo ops—all of which keeps this community lively and involved.
St. Anthony Park
2009 MEDIAN SALES PRICE: $244,600*
ARCHITECTURAL TIME CAPSULE: University Park
SUMMER HIGHLIGHT: Walk to the Minnesota State Fair
Near the geographic center of the Twin Cities, close to Interstate 94, Highway 280, and University Avenue, St. Anthony Park was planned as a suburban addition to St. Paul and Minneapolis. Although the lots aren’t as large as the country estates originally envisioned, the area still features curving streets and a park-like setting. The architecture is diverse, ranging from historic Victorians to contemporary homes. University Park is a small enclave between St. Anthony Park and Falcon Heights that was founded by the University of Minnesota for faculty-and-administration housing in the late 1920s. It’s a tour de force of 20th century residential architecture, with the work of Edwin Lundie, Winston and Elizabeth Close, and Ralph Rapson represented.
Nearly half of St. Anthony Park’s residents are renters, not surprising given its proximity to the U of M’s St. Paul campus and Luther Seminary; homeowners tend to be highly educated and prosperous professionals. The resulting diversity gives the area a charm and eccentricity all its own. How many neighborhoods urge you to buy local or have a grass-roots organization like St. Anthony Park Neighbors for Peace?
Neighborhood retail area Milton Square on Como Avenue houses Muffuletta, the ever-popular bistro where regulars cozy up with foodies to dine on one of the best patios around. Also nearby are Bungalow Pottery, Micawber’s bookstore, and the Bibelot Shop.
St. Louis Park
2009 MEDIAN SALES PRICE: $212,500*
SOLID VALUE: Home prices dipped just 6 percent since 2004
RETAIL-TO-COME: West End
This first-ring suburb has more going for it than a quick drive-through or A Serious Man might suggest. Remarkably stable housing prices for one thing: median prices have barely bobbled in the past five years—outstanding performance in this market. Blocks of post-war Cape Cods in the central Texa-Tonka area are just part of the picture in St. Louis Park. First-time homebuyers find plenty to choose from in these compact homes, while gracious-but-not-ostentatious Minikahda Vista, Westwood Hills, and other neighborhoods appeal to move-up buyers.
St. Louis Park’s schools, considered Schools of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education, are a magnet for younger families. Another attraction: One elementary school offers Spanish immersion.
Excelsior on Grand, the city’s recent re-creation of an “urban center,” in which residents live, work, eat, and shop in close proximity, has paid off in boosting nearby retail despite complaints about parking. Trader Joe’s, Max’s, OPM, and the Guild are just a few neighborhood retailers. St. Louis Park also scored a new lure, the Shops at West End. Though ill-timed recession-wise, it’s already home to hot restaurants Crave and Cooper, Rainbow Foods, and a spanking new Showplace Icon movie theater, which sports reserved seats and serves food and drink. More shops are following suit, despite the economy.
2009 MEDIAN SALES PRICE: $252,500*
TOWNS WITHIN THE TOWN: City of Medicine Lake (year-round); Art Shanty Town (each January)
SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: Music in the Park
Plymouth, home to many a cul-de-sac, is not just a quintessential bedroom/commuter ’burb: Nearly a quarter of the 70,000-plus residents live and work in Plymouth. That’s one reason the suburb 15 miles northwest of Minneapolis ranked #1 on Money magazine’s 2008 “Best Places to Live” survey. Others include reasonable home prices, one of the top school districts in the state, and numerous outdoor amenities, including the Hilde Performance Center, a band shell that hosts Music in the Park. The annual pre–Fourth of July concert, starring the Minnesota Orchestra, ends with some of the best—no kidding—fireworks in the state.
Even in a town that’s all chain restaurants all the time (we’re hard-pressed to name one that’s not represented), a few independent places are hidden away in strip malls: Latuff’s (an area institution for more than 30 years wherein pizza reigns) and Jake’s City Grille. And then there’s Cowboy Jack’s, where happy hour (two each day) and Country Western rules.
But don’t go to Plymouth for the restaurants, go for the parks. Clifton E. French Regional Park wraps around the north shore of Medicine Lake and offers 310 acres of trails for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing; picnic and play areas; and a boat launch, swimming beach, and fishing pier. Plymouth boasts 68 miles of trails or designated bike routes, as well as the end of the Luce Line Trail System. Another paved trail winds around most of Parker’s Lake, the center of another city park along County Road 6.
Most Plymouth homes have been built since 1980, as the city expanded west of Medicine Lake, and feature de rigueur suburban amenities such as double garages and deep lots on quiet well-kept streets. But there are a few surprises: the City of Medicine Lake, for example, is a tiny enclave within Plymouth of just 368 residents and 165 households on a peninsula that juts out into the lake. There’s also the Art Shanty Town that materializes on Medicine Lake each winter, created by local artists for the entertainment and edification of well-bundled and adventurous visitors.
2009 MEDIAN SALES PRICE: $285,500*
HIDDEN CHARM: 1:588
SHOPPING DESTINATION: Paisley Park Studios and Prince
Chanhassen, home of the University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum and Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, added another claim to its fame this year when it ranked #2 on Money magazine’s 2009 “Best Places to Live” survey. It has also earned kudos as a great place for families—Family Circle magazine ranked Chanhassen in 2007 as one of the 10 best cities in the country to raise a family. Not too surprising, since Chanhassen has a strong sense of community; low living costs, crime rates, and commute times; and wonderful educational and recreational opportunities.
The city of 20,000-plus residents has grown rapidly in the last 10 years (nearly 20 percent of the housing stock was built in the past decade). Area homes are new and they’re big, with an average of 3,121 finished square feet. Chanhassen boasts 11 lakes, and we’re not talking ponds: Lake Minnewashta, Lake Lucy, Lake Ann, Lake Susan, and Lotus Lake provide plenty of lakeshore and the full smorgasbord of Minnesota recreational opportunities. The city’s 34 parks supply acres of public green spaces. And let’s not forget its most famous park: Paisley Park Studios, Prince’s local recording complex. It also boasts several handy golf courses, with the award-winning Hazeltine in nearby Chaska.
Chanhassen is partly in Hennepin County, but mostly in Carver—the fourth healthiest county in the state, according to a recent survey. Downtown Chan maintains a certain small-town charm, but also offers easy access to Byerly’s, Target, Lakewinds Natural Foods, and, of course, the legendary Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.