Miami is a great place to let loose and party, but it’s also a family-friendly destination with lots of activities for kids — just look at Zoo Miami, the Miami Children’s Museum, and Jungle Island. Besides the benefit of having beach weather in December, Miami is also known for its diverse culinary scene filled with Caribbean, Latin, Mexican, and Italian restaurants.
But living in Miami also comes with a hefty price tag. For some more affordable Miami alternatives, I rounded up five South Florida cities that also have stunning beaches, great restaurants, and outdoor activities for the whole family. The best part? You can pay less for housing and still visit Miami on the weekend.
Deerfield Beach is home to lots of family-friendly destinations like Quiet Waters Park, a 400-acre green space that includes a sprawling water park for kids, plus plentiful camping, fishing, and walking trails. While Deerfield Beach may not have high rises like Miami, it does have a boardwalk and fantastic waterfront dining like JBS on the Beach and Oceans 234. Overall, Deerfield Beach has a laid-back surfer vibe. Case in point? It’s also home to Island Water Sports, a family-run surf and skate shop that holds surf camps and lessons for students of all ages.
Located in the middle of Florida’s Gold Coast, which stretches from Palm Beach to Miami, Pompano Beach is known for its scuba diving, water sports, and access to public parks. The town’s main beachfront is dog-friendly and has a wide, sandy shore ideal for sunbathing or playing volleyball. There are over 50 public parks, and kids will love nearby Butterfly World, the largest butterfly park in the world. The newly opened Beach House and Oceanic Pompano, located near the Pompano Beach Pier, are great for Sunday brunches with friends. Pompano Beach has lots of local breweries and bars, but if you need something a little more upscale, you can head about 10 miles south to glitzy nightlife in Fort Lauderdale.
Florida has its own Hollywood, and the area has seen recent improvements with the addition of more shopping and dining options downtown. Hollywood Beach is the main attraction here, and its wide boardwalk is a great place for bikers, joggers, and scooters. Downtown Hollywood is full of eclectic stores and rivals Miami’s Wynwood with its creative street murals. There’s also the ArtsPark at Young Circle, a family-friendly park that hosts outdoor movie nights and live events. If you need some peace and quiet, head to the 1,500 acre Ann Kolb Nature Center for the nature trails and guided boat tours. Hollywood is also the home to the only guitar-shaped hotel in the world, The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
West Palm Beach has become an enclave for young families, thanks to a recent uptick in new businesses and shopping venues. The waterfront city’s main thoroughfare is Clematis Street, a dining and nightlife destination, while there’s plenty of art and culture at The Norton Museum of Art, and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. West Palm Beach is a little over an hour’s drive from Miami, and the beaches are just as nice (and a little less crowded). Some of the best beaches are Carlin Park, Ocean Beach Park, and Peanut Island, a public island that can only be reached by ferry or boat. Forget expensive Miami yachts — the ferry to Peanut Island is only $15 roundtrip, and you can bring your own food and spend the day there.
Boynton Beach has some of the cleanest, well-maintained beaches in South Florida, and on the weekends, locals hang out at Oceanfront Park. While Miami has the Florida Everglades, Boynton Beach has the Arthur S. Marshall Loxahatchee National Refuge, a 145,000-acre wetland where visitors can hike, kayak, or ride horses. The best restaurants in Boynton Beach are located near the water: Two Georges Waterfront Grille and Prime Catch are great places to enjoy a dinner with a view. Boynton Beach also has a great collection of art galleries and a downtown arts district full of vibrant street murals.
If you’ve ever spoken to a Chicagoan, you know they never shut up about their beloved Windy City. After a decade of living here, I have become, unfortunately, one of these folks. Maybe our dedication to the city stems from being sandwiched between endless East Coast/West Coast debates, while Chicagoans wait patiently for the opportunity to say, “Hey, we have beaches and boating, too!”
And it’s true — Chicago’s summers are teeming with outdoor activity, luring natives out of their cozy apartments and drawing tourists from all over. Considering what we put up with during the frigid winters, Chicagoans deserve all the delightful outdoor goodness. With that said, I do have a secret. Despite the stunning views of Lake Michigan, the ample activity along the lakefront trail, and festivals galore, my nature-loving heart belongs to nearby Rockford, Illinois.
Born and raised in Rockford, my memories of year-round outdoor activities are fond and plentiful. No matter the season, as my Chicago friends and I make plans for hiking or festival-going or picnicking, I always think: dang, we should be doing this back home. For Chicagophiles searching for an affordable alternative to the big city, Rockford’s outdoor adventures will make you a believer — and maybe even a transplant!
Lakefront Trail, Meet Rock River Recreation Path
I love a lakefront path. Biking, jogging, or just walk-gossiping with a friend against the background of a vast body of water is a special type of pleasure. Rockford has all of that and more along its Rock River Recreation Path. Nestled along — you guessed it! — the Rock River, downtown Rockford’s bike path is expansive and passes along a variety of must-see spots. Art installations, Sinnissippi Park’s gardens and nature conservatory (more on that below), and my favorite, the Rockmen Guardians! Meet new people, stretch those legs, and enjoy the view.
So you want to visit a garden? How much time do you have, pal!? Rockford is truly gaga for gardens, with a variety of options to choose from throughout the city. As I mentioned before, along the Rock River Recreation Path is Sinnissippi Gardens, complete with its Nicholas Conservatory.
An absolute must-see for Rockford? Anderson Japanese Gardens. Friends, I am darn-near obsessed with this world-renowned Japanese garden. Enjoy a sound bath! Attend group yoga in the gardens! Sit quietly beside the massive koi pond and contemplate life’s greatest mysteries! This place is enchanting.
In Chicago, there’s a different festival every weekend in the summer. While I’m grateful for the opportunities, they soon blend together with the same vendors, performers, entrance fees, while the transportation woes overwhelm me. Rockford, on the other hand, knows how to party. Rockford City Market in particular has absolutely blown up in the past few years. A Friday staple, Rockfordians flock downtown to enjoy food, music, and shopping.
Tons of other festival options abound. I’m a big fan of the annual Festa Italiana (arancini is life), Greek Fest, vintage fairs, farmers markets, and the majorly popular and already sold out for 2021 Screw City Beer Fest.
I go hard for holidays, and so does The 815 (a cool way to say “Rockford.”) If you are looking to be incredibly creeped out this Halloween, the Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens is home to one of Rockford’s oldest (if not, the oldest) homes and consequently, a bunch of ghosts. I’ve been on a paranormal investigation there and I’m still not convinced I didn’t conjure something and bring it home with me.
For my fellow freaks for fall, Edwards Apple Orchard is a quaint and cozy spot to sip cider, feed some goats, pick your own apples, and succumb to the siren call of apple cider donuts. Rockford’s Stroll on State event is “the Rockford region’s kick-off to the holiday season.” If you want to feel like you’re in the best Hallmark Christmas movie you’ve ever seen, run, don’t walk to the Stroll. And lastly, my personal favorite, Williams Tree Farm in neighboring Rockton, is not just where one chops down their own tree. It’s also a place for horse-drawn wagons, wandering farm pups, and llama sightings.
Immerse Yourself In Nature
Canoeing and hiking in Chicago is a little surreal when right above the treeline you can spot the tips of skyscrapers. Rockford boasts the real deal, right in your backyard. Severson Dells Nature Center has a variety of programming for folks of all ages. Whether prancing through a butterfly garden, taking a guided moonlight hike, or joining in on a canoe convoy, visitors can soak up the great outdoors and never have to worry about their parking meter expiring.
It would be remiss of me to leave out the great Rock Cut State Park, where visitors can hunt, fish, camp, cross country ski — you name it. Plus, abundant wildlife is always lurking around the corner. Good luck driving to my Aunt Cindy’s house without spotting a hawk or deer. (As every Apartment Therapy reader surely knows, one must pass the state park to get to my Aunt Cindy’s house.) Happy hiking, friends!
Every year, tens of thousands of people travel from all over the world to settle down in Toronto. The city is a multicultural destination, and its “street meat” (which you can feast on for mere pocket change) is practically unrivaled.
While Toronto’s real estate prices aren’t exactly budget-friendly, the city is home to 140 neighborhoods (and counting!), and not all will siphon your savings. Here are five areas that offer the energy of Toronto without the million-dollar price tag.
If you’re familiar with Toronto’s cultural hot spots, you’ll know that The Danforth is the city’s Greektown. Though the east side of The Danforth has historically been known for its aging population, affordable real estate prices are coaxing more young families to settle in the neighborhood as of late. And though they come for the affordable real estate, they stay for the delicious food. East Greektown is lined with restaurants, bakeries, bars, and grocers that tout loads of authentic, tasty eats and drinks.
Guildwood is situated along one of Toronto’s most Instagrammable attractions, the Scarborough Bluffs. The Bluffs offer scenic views of Lake Ontario and access to walking trails, parks, and one of the most popular beaches in all of Toronto, Bluffers Park. Guildwood is also full of amenities, many of which can be found at the Guildwood Village Shopping Centre, as well as plenty of educational options, making it a great place for families to settle down. For students and young professionals, the area is served by the Guildwood GO station and is a short commute to the University of Toronto Scarborough campus.
Price- and location-wise, Harwood is one of the best neighborhoods in Toronto for first-time buyers and young professionals, particularly those who want to stay close to the downtown core. Harwood is downtown accessible (under an hour by transit), and the area contains the trendy Stockyards District, the Stock Yards Village shopping center, and rows of townhouses that are much more affordable than anything you would find nearer to downtown. And it’s right next door to the Junction, which Time Out dubbed Toronto’s Coolest Neighborhood.
Though Keelesdale–Eglinton West is removed from downtown Toronto, it’s less than an hour away by public transportation and just as bustling — minus the street traffic. Along Eglinton Avenue West, you’ll find four blocks of eclectic shops known as the Eglinton Hill BIA. The Eglinton Hill BIA dates back to 1997 and is the go-to locale for street festivals and sidewalk sales. It’s also lined with some of the best Caribbean, Portuguese, and Italian eats the city has to offer.
Mimico is a scenic waterfront neighborhood located in the west-end of Toronto that provides an unencumbered view of the Toronto skyline and a lively lineup of festivals, events, and concerts throughout the year. In July and August, live entertainment comes to Mimico through the Friday Night Summer Music Series. In the fall, Mimico hosts a magical pumpkin parade. Then in December, the Etobicoke-Lakeshore Christmas Parade lights up the neighborhood. Because of Mimico’s proximity to Lake Ontario and downtown Toronto, real estate prices are on the high end, but they still fall short of the Toronto mil, and you can find affordable rental buildings along the Lakeshore.
“It took 28 offers for us to buy a house in Seattle,” a Reddit user shared in a recent post. “They will have to bury me in this house. I’m never leaving.”
That experience is actually common in the hot Seattle real estate market, so many home shoppers are looking to the suburbs to score a better deal. Though the median home value in Seattle is $863,058 and the median monthly rent is $1,595, there are still nearby suburbs with homes for under $600,000. Here are five affordable suburbs of Seattle to consider packing up for.
Median home value: $556,979
Median monthly rent: $1,275
Home to airplane manufacturer Boeing, you’ll have plenty of career opportunities in this waterfront community 30 minutes north of Seattle. Everett has a charming downtown complete with a dreamy historic theater. A $3 ferry ride gets you to Jetty Island, the longest stretch of sandy beach in Puget Sound. Breweries, restaurants, and distilleries also abound here.
Median home value: $593,722
Median monthly rent: $1,410
Thanks to a new light rail station that will connect Mountlake Terrace to Seattle, this affordable suburb is worth a look. Seattle real estate agent Jia Tang recommends Mountlake Terrace to commuters because I-5 gets you to Seattle in 15 minutes. In addition, restaurants, cafes, and parks make Mountlake Terrace a popular (but not too popular) place to live.
Median home value: $815,365
Median monthly rent: Unavailable
If you’re the outdoorsy type, Duvall is the suburb for you. Tang says Duvall offers many hiking, biking, and trail running spots. More rural than the other options on this list, Duvall offers quieter living, charming local shops, and a 35-minute drive to Seattle. There aren’t many rentals in Duvall, so this area is best for buyers.
Median home value: $795,218
Median monthly rent: $1,473
Tang recommends this waterfront town for its mix of urban and suburban living. Spend the day in Edmonds exploring the farmers market and local beaches, or drive 20 minutes south to Seattle for big-city amenities. “Edmonds is affordable, very safe, and there are good schools,” she says. “A lot of people come here to retire because there are lots of condos with water views.”
Median home value: $654,202
Median monthly rent: $1,778
Maple Valley is a growing commuter town 30 miles southeast of Seattle, where new subdivisions, communities, and local businesses pop up frequently. “It’s a great place to raise a family because housing is still relatively affordable, and there’s land for new construction,” Tang says.
You’ll have access to all the nature you can handle. Take a sunny stroll through Lake Wilderness Arboretum or hike the Maple Valley Gnome Trail (yes, really) with the kids. It’s also an easy seven-minute drive to Tiger Mountain State Forest, a beloved 13,745-acre hiking destination with hiking trails, camping spots, and classic Pacific Northwest scenery.
Competition is stiff right now, but hang in there. Seattle real estate agent Katie Melton tells her clients that aiming for the suburbs allows more room to compete. “It will happen,” she says. “A lot of factors are working against you in this market, so it’s not you.” She recommends not getting too emotionally invested in a home until you sign a contract. “I also remind clients that they will be successful in their search,” she adds. “I’ve never had a client not get a house.”