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Denver vs Boulder: Which is Better?


Thinking about moving to Colorado and can’t decide between Denver and Boulder? You’re not alone! Both cities have their unique perks and quirks. 

Denver has the energy of a big city, with lots of things to do and a strong job market. Boulder, smaller and surrounded by nature, is known for its relaxed atmosphere and outdoor activities.

Let’s compare the two, helping you figure out which city suits you best.

Cost of Living

Boulder is notably more expensive than Denver. The overall cost of living in Boulder is approximately 10.7% higher than in Denver. To put it in perspective, if we assign Denver a cost of living index of 100, Boulder would stand at around 110.7. This difference is largely driven by housing costs, where Boulder’s housing is a staggering 76.2% more expensive than Denver’s. For example, if the average home cost in Denver is $576,000, in Boulder it would be around $997,100, a significant leap. On the other hand, rent prices in Denver, CO are 19.4% higher than in Boulder.

Additionally, healthcare expenses in Boulder are marginally higher, about 1.9% more than in Denver. However, salaries in Boulder are not proportionately higher to offset these costs. In fact, moving from Boulder to Denver could lead to a positive change in disposable income due to the lower cost of living in Denver, despite a slight, around 0.9%, decrease in salary.

Weather

Denver and Boulder, located in Colorado, experience distinct seasonal changes similar to NYC and Chicago. However, Denver, known as the ‘Mile High City’, has a climate influenced by its altitude. It tends to have more sunny days on average, with milder winters compared to cities further east. 

Snowfall is common, but it usually melts quickly due to the sunny weather that follows. Boulder, located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, experiences slightly cooler temperatures overall. It also gets more snow than Denver, especially during winter storms that can bring heavy snowfall to the area. Both cities enjoy a semi-arid climate, meaning summers can be hot and dry.

Public Transportation

In terms of public transportation, Denver has a more extensive system compared to Boulder. The Regional Transportation District (RTD) operates in both cities, but Denver benefits from a larger network of light rail and bus services. The light rail in Denver connects various parts of the city and even extends to the suburbs. Boulder, while having a reliable bus system, lacks the extensive rail network found in Denver. However, Boulder is known for being extremely bike-friendly and walkable, especially in and around the downtown area and the University of Colorado campus.

Job Opportunities

With an average salary of $82k, Boulder has higher salaries than Denver, where the average is $79k. but Denver, as a larger city, has a more diverse job market. It’s known for its booming tech industry, telecommunications, and a growing number of startups. The energy sector, particularly renewable energy, is also significant in Denver. 

Boulder, on the other hand, is recognized for its educational and research institutions, particularly the University of Colorado Boulder. It’s also home to many technology companies and startups, with a strong emphasis on scientific research and development. While Boulder offers excellent job opportunities, the sheer size and diversity of Denver’s job market provide more options across various industries.

Cuisine

Denver’s culinary scene is diverse, featuring everything from high-end restaurants to local eateries. Some notable places include Tavernetta, known for its Tagliatelle with Maine lobster and Calabrian chile; Gozo, offering a Mediterranean-inspired menu with dishes like truffle fries and prosciutto pizza; and D Bar Denver, a dessert spot celebrated for its cake and shake combination​​.

Boulder, recognized as “America’s Foodiest Town,” has a rich food scene with a focus on farm-to-table experiences. It’s home to several acclaimed restaurants, including Frasca Food and Wine, known for its Northern Italian cuisine; The Med, offering Mediterranean fare; and The Buff Restaurant, a popular brunch spot. Boulder’s food culture is greatly influenced by its proximity to over 850 farms, promoting fresh, local produce​​.

Both cities were acknowledged by the Michelin Guide. Denver’s Basta and Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine were among the restaurants recognized​​.

Lifestyle

Denver, as the state capital, offers a wide array of museums, historical landmarks, and cultural attractions. It’s also known for its shopping destinations like the 16th Street Mall and Cherry Creek Shopping Center. Denver’s urban high-rise architecture contrasts with Boulder’s old-town American aesthetic, featuring log cabins and low-rise buildings​​.

Boulder, set at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, is closer to outdoor activities like hiking and mountain biking. The city is famous for its natural scenery, including the Flatirons, and offers a more laid-back, nature-oriented lifestyle. Boulder’s lifestyle is also influenced by its numerous health food options and focus on fitness and well-being​

Crime Rates

Denver’s crime rates are higher compared to Boulder but that doesn’t there are no safe areas in Denver. The violent crime rate in Denver is rated at 30.7, and the property crime rate is 50.8. These rates are on a scale where 100 represents high crime​​.

Boulder’s violent crime rate is 13.5, and its property crime rate is 40.9, which are lower than Denver’s rates.

Boulder has experienced an increase in violent crimes, but overall, the city’s crime rate is lower than many comparably sized U.S. cities and university towns. The city’s violent crime rate is lower than the Colorado average​​​​.

Commute Times

While Denver has a longer average commute time compared to Boulder, both cities have a diverse range of transportation options, with a notable portion of Boulder’s population using alternative modes like biking and walking.

The average one-way commute time in Denver is approximately 25.3 minutes, which is slightly shorter than the U.S. average of 26.4 minutes. The majority of people in Denver (69.9%) drive their own car alone, followed by those who carpool (8.1%), work from home (7.6%), and use mass transit (6.8%)​​.

In Boulder, the average one-way commute time is about 19.1 minutes, which is shorter than both the national and Denver averages. Here, 50.9% of people drive their own car alone, while a significant 12.8% work from home, and 7.9% use mass transit. Boulder also has a higher percentage of people who bicycle (8.8%) and walk (9.1%) compared to Denver​.

The Quality of Life Index

The Quality of Life Index in Boulder, CO, includes various metrics by Numbeo:

  • Safety Index: 70.69 (High)
  • Health Care Index: 67.79 (High)
  • Climate Index: 62.36 (High)
  • Property Price to Income Ratio: 11.46 (Moderate)
  • Traffic Commute Time Index: 35.67 (Moderate)
  • Pollution Index: 37.26 (Low)​​

In contrast, Denver’s Quality of Life Index has a score of 152.33 (High), based on the following components:

  • Purchasing Power Index: 104.50 (High)
  • Safety Index: 53.15 (Moderate)
  • Health Care Index: 69.25 (High)
  • Climate Index: 56.28 (Moderate)
  • Cost of Living Index: 82.84 (High)
  • Property Price to Income Ratio: 6.18 (Low)
  • Traffic Commute Time Index: 36.80 (Moderate)
  • Pollution Index: 44.48 (Moderate)​​

Comparatively, Denver exhibits a high overall Quality of Life Index score, with strong scores in Purchasing Power and Health Care, but a moderate rating in Safety. Boulder, while not having an overall score available, shows high ratings in Safety and Health Care but has a higher Property Price to Income Ratio, indicating more expensive housing relative to income.

Boulder offers a desirable quality of life that helps attract and retain a talented workforce. Boulder is known for its moderate climate, abundant open space, excellent public schools, and healthy lifestyle options. The city also has a wide choice of housing, a variety of dining, shopping, art, and cultural activities, and is close to the amenities of Denver​​.

Denver vs Boulder Overall

Both Boulder and Denver offer high-quality living conditions, each with their unique strengths and characteristics. Denver scores higher in the Quality of Life Index, indicating a more favorable balance across various life aspects. Boulder, though lacking an overall index score, is notable for its safety, health care, and natural environment.



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