10 Most nerd-friendly cities in America

Published April 14, 2013

| Movoto Blog

I’m a nerd and proud of it. As a kid growing up in the ’80s, though, there were few things more terrifying than the prospect of being deemed a nerd for my love of comic books, computers, role-playing games, and myriad other “nerdy” pursuits.

Thinking back on it now, it seems crazy that things considered so mainstream and even cool nowadays could get anyone subjected to near constant ridicule at the hands of their peers, but, oh boy, did they ever. I was the poster child for every known form of physical and psychological torture kids are capable of inflicting on one another.

That was then, this is now.

These days, nerds are cool. TV shows like “King of the Nerds” and “The Big Bang Theory” are extremely popular, comic books and video games are part of mainstream popular culture, and a “Star Trek” movie is one of the most anticipated films of the year by nerds and non-nerds alike. The folks who landed the Curiosity rover on Mars are national heroes. This guy is a star.

If you hadn’t already guessed, my fellow Movoto bloggers are all pretty nerdtastic. So, naturally, when we recently got to talking about what some of the best cities in the U.S. are for various types of people -- see our recent look at the top towns for gamers -- the idea of determining where nerds (aka “my people”) would most feel at home came up.

After coming up with our criteria and crunching the numbers, it was Atlanta -- also Movoto’s top gamer city -- that took the crown. Here’s the list:

The 10 Best Cities for Nerds:

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Portland, OR
  • Seattle, WA
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Boston, MA
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Miami, FL
  • San Jose, CA
  • Denver, CO

Read on to find out how I came up with the listing criteria. I’ve also broken down our data to figure out which cities are best for specific types of nerds.

How’d We Do It?

Nerds love data -- and I knew I’d need a lot of it in order to figure out the best places for them to live. Luckily, I’m basically my own target audience, so I was able to search my feelings like a Jedi Master in order to come up with the criteria I’d look for when determining what makes a city nerd-friendly. Here’s what I came up with:

Number of annual comic book, video game, anime, and sci-fi / fantasy conventions

  • People per comic book store
  • People per video game store
  • People per traditional gaming store
  • People per computer store
  • People per bookstore
  • People per LARPing group
  • People per science museum

Distance to the nearest Renaissance faire

Coming up with the criteria was the easy part; tracking down all of the data for the 50 most populous cities in the U.S. was going to require plenty of time at my computer chugging Mountain Dew. Once I had everything I needed, I was able to rank each city for the individual criteria (scored from one to 50, with lower being better) and average those rankings into an overall top 50 list from which I could declare 10 as being the best for nerds.

Conventions: Where Nerds Gather

There’s no place better to let your nerd flag fly than at a convention or con. There are ones devoted to pretty much every nerdly pursuit, with the big ones involving video games, comic books, anime, and sci-fi / fantasy. Some, like San Diego Comic-Con and Dragon*Con in Atlanta are international in scope, attracting nerds from around the globe.

Armed with a list of the major annual cons, I was able to determine a rank for each city based on the total number held there. Los Angeles came out on top with 12, including Anime Expo and Comikaze Expo. Second place was a tie between Atlanta (which has a whopping five sci-fi / fantasy cons each year!) and Dallas, both with seven. Third place was a tie between Seattle and Denver with five each.

Comic Book Heroes

For weekly nerd gatherings, nothing beats your local comic book shop, where new books arrive every Wednesday. To figure out how many of these hallowed halls exist in each of our top 50 big cities, I turned to Yelp. As it turns out, Portland has the most comic book shops based on population. You’d think that Los Angeles would be a close second, but Portland was actually followed pretty closely by Sacramento and Las Vegas. Excelsior!

Where Gamers Score Their Wares

Video game stores serve dual purposes, providing both a place for gamers to fuel their hobbies and a non-virtual venue for them to congregate. If you read our recent report on the best U.S. cities to be a gamer, you’ll know that Atlanta earned the high score based on several different criteria.

For this list, I was only concerned with the number of video game stores per population. After acquiring that info from Yelp, I found that this honor unsurprisingly went to our top gaming city, Atlanta, which has an impressive ratio of one video game store for every 16,016 residents. Las Vegas was second and Miami came in third.

Of Dungeons and Decks

With video games taken care of, I looked at the world of analog gaming. Having grown up playing Dungeons & Dragons and being on the slow descent into a minor addiction to Magic the Gathering as I write this, I can appreciate the role traditional gaming plays in the life of a nerd. So, any city that’s going to satisfy that aspect of nerdom is going to need plenty of tabletop/card/role-playing game stores.

Using Yelp, I tracked down how many of these shops each city has and compared that to their population estimates. Portland rolled a natural 20 on the rest of the list to come in first, followed by Sacramento and Minneapolis.

This Totally Computes

What’s nerdier than computers? Well, maybe pocket protectors, but there aren’t entire stores devoted to those (although that would be kind of rad).

I was able to use Yelp to figure out how many computer stores exist in each of the top 50 cities and compared that to their populations. It should come as no surprise that Silicon Valley’s biggest city, San Jose, ranked No. 1 with one computer store for every 1,991 people. Portland and Phoenix came in second and third, respectively.

Bookstores Are Not Dead

Science fiction and fantasy are two staples of nerd life, and while I’d already considered sci-fi / fantasy conventions as great nerd city criteria, I knew that I’d be remiss if I didn’t factor in places where my nerdy brothers and sisters could feed their need for the printed page. I considered focusing purely on dedicated sci-fi / fantasy book stores, but while those are typically better shopping experiences for genre fans, you can thankfully pick up sci-fi and fantasy books at almost any store.

According to Yelp’s data, Atlanta has the most bookstores per population, with one per every 2,529 people. Coming in second was Seattle followed by Oakland in third.

How Do You Spell Adventure? L-A-R-P

If they’d been around when I was younger, I’d have been a LARPer. LARP stands for “live action role-playing” and it’s just about what it sounds like. It’s a way for nerds to dress up as (and act like) their characters and go on real-world adventures, fighting monsters portrayed by other nerds using foam weapons. LARPs have been the subject of multiple documentaries such as “Darkon” and “Monster Camp,” and are actually becoming pretty widespread.

I figured that any truly nerdy city would have at least one, so I used LARPlist.com to track them down and figure out where the best LARP group to potential player ratio existed. That honor went to Atlanta, with second place going to Portland and Raleigh coming in third.

Hanging with Ye Lords and Ladies

I like to call Renaissance faires “LARPing for the rest of us,” since it’s a way for nerds to immerse themselves in a fantasy-adjacent medieval world at the level they feel most comfortable with. Want to dress up as a knight or a princess? You can, but it’s not required to participate. The downside is that you sometimes have to deal with gawkers, but I find that if you just drink a few leather mugs full of mead you don’t mind them as much.

I turned to Google Maps on my quest to pinpoint the nearest Renaissance faires to each of the 50 biggest cities and ranked them by distance, with fewer miles being better. Omaha, Nebraska actually sits atop this throne with its faire a mere eight miles from city center. Atlanta and Los Angeles ranked second with both being 21 miles from their faires, with Portland placing third at 22 miles away.

They Blinded Me with Science

For my final criteria, I left the realm of fantasy for one rooted firmly in fact. Science Museums are a great place to learn more about the world we live in, the wonders of space, and other traditionally nerdy things. They’re also, as I learned, much more common than I thought -- which I think is a great thing.
Based on Wikipedia’s list of U.S. science museums, I was able to calculate how many each city had per population.Washington, D.C., did best, followed by Atlanta and Tucson.

Finding Nerdvana

It’s pretty clear that when nerds eventually take over the world, their new capital will be Atlanta. If you want to get a jump start on the crowd, grab your foam swords, comic book boxes, and bags of dice -- the city where the real cool people live is calling.

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