Even before the pandemic, they were leaving major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami and moving to less populated cities across the US. One of these cities was Phoenix, Arizona.
In 2019, 5,958 millennials migrated to Phoenix, according to SmartAsset, which used the most recently available US Census Bureau data. The migration meant that 23% of Phoenix’s population was millennials. In April, CNBC reported that the trend of moving to Phoenix continued during the pandemic, citing data shared by LinkedIn and U-Haul.
“Young, wealthy people are increasingly opting to put down roots in Arizona, a sign of the changing demographics that challenge the state’s longstanding reputation as a haven for retirees,” Insider’s Natasha Solo-Lyons wrote in July. “In particular, the capital of Phoenix … has attracted relocators from coastal and Midwestern cities seeking a cheaper, more laid-back life.”
Phoenix is now the fifth-largest city in the US, overtaking Philadelphia. According to census data, it has seen the fastest growth of any major city in the past decade. In that time, it added 163,000 residents, bringing the city’s population to 1.6 million.
The city’s median age is now 34, the New York Post reported, citing the census data.
Insider spoke with several Phoenix residents of various ages to find out what it’s really like to live in the city and why people love it so much.
“It’s been somewhat of a sleeper city in that the things people most commonly associate with Phoenix tend to be minuscule fragments of what we’re truly about,” KJ Philip, who has lived in the city for 40 years, said. “Living in Phoenix is a bit more casual and laid back than other major cities, and everything is more approachable than you might expect.”
“Living in Phoenix is truly living in a vacation destination,” said 26-year-old Kylie Leslie, who has lived in Phoenix for four years. “There are so many attractions, resorts, hikes, museums, and restaurants to pick from.”
Stephanie Larsen, a born and raised Phoenician, agrees.
“Living in Phoenix is like always being on vacation,” Larsen, 26, said. “There are so many different things you can see and experience. It’s hard to be bored.”
Temperatures stay relatively mild during the fall and winter months, settling between the 60s and 80s.
“[I love] being able to enjoy the destination majority of the year,” Leslie said. “Many destinations are only nice in the spring or summer months. Phoenix is absolutely beautiful nine months a year. That allows much more time to be outside […] exploring the city and all it has to offer.”
“[I hate] the heat in the summer,” Leslie said. “This is typically when I try to take vacations to escape the heat. The fantastic weather the rest of the year definitely makes up for it.”
“You can enjoy the suburban life during the week, explore fun downtown vibes on the weekend, and still manage to find yourself hiking in the middle of the desert while never leaving Phoenix,” Larsen said. “Living here is like getting the best of multiple cities all in one.”
Because the city is so large, one native said she still hasn’t visited every pocket of the city.
“I have lived my whole life here in Phoenix and haven’t seen a fraction of it because Phoenix is so spread out,” Larsen said.
There is public transportation that takes residents to some parts of the city, but not all of it.
The Valley Metro light-rail system is 28 miles long and operates 18 to 22 hours per day. The street-level train, which serves Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe, stops at stations every 12 to 20 minutes.
“I live in downtown Phoenix so I take the light rail to and from work most days. Apart from the summer, I am able to walk to work, restaurants, and nightlife,” Leslie said.
But the light rail system isn’t accessible for everyone.
“Transportation is a very big struggle in Phoenix,” Larsen said. “If you are not in the core of Downtown Phoenix or the Mill Avenue area, public transportation is non-existent. Because of that, everyone drives everywhere making for congested streets.”
Since public transportation is limited, drivers can expect to experience traffic, although it’s not as bad as in other large cities.
“I own a car and drive often,” Sarah Boyd, a 31-year-old native, said. “Being able to navigate our city is incredibly easy. We have a large valley, but you can access each end in about an hour or so. Traffic is becoming a little heavier, but it’s nothing like other major cities.”
However, according to the 2021 Urban Mobility Report from Texas A&M Transportation Institute, traffic in the city actually dropped from 2019 to 2020, most likely because of the pandemic.
Residents in Phoenix spent 25 hours sitting in traffic in 2020, compared to 56 hours in New York City and 46 hours in Los Angeles.
As for housing, rent is relatively cheap, but it’s getting more expensive.
According to Apartment List, rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Phoenix costs $1,545 a month on average, compared to $3,805 in New York City and $2,639 in Los Angeles. For a two-bedroom, the average rent is $2,006, compared to $5,748 in New York City and $3,870 in LA.
“For me, housing is very comfortable,” Jevaughn Williams, a 21-year-old who moved to Phoenix three months ago, said. “I live near midtown Phoenix, and it is very centrally located to other areas. However, my housing is not very affordable. I love my apartment complex very much, but I may not even be able to stay there another year if the prices continue to rise.”
According to Apartment List’s October 2021 report for Phoenix, the city’s rents have been rising for 15 consecutive months. They have increased by 27% when compared to the same time last year, the report said.
The median home price is $360,000 in Phoenix, according to Zillow. But in Scottsdale, which is part of the Greater Phoenix area, the median home cost is $700,000.
But housing prices did jump significantly in Phoenix during 2020. In fact, prices went up 30% in Phoenix and Scottsdale, but experts say prices are expected to come down this fall.
Plus, job opportunities in Arizona are on the rise post-pandemic.
In July 2021, the national job recovery rate was 70%, but in Arizona, the rate was 87%, according to the Arizona Commerce Authority. Plus, the private sector regained 100% of the jobs from before the pandemic.
Residents said the most popular neighborhood in the city to live and explore is Downtown Phoenix.
“Downtown Phoenix is a really fun area,” Williams said. “I like how close the bars and restaurants are, so you can walk between them. Also, since the Footprint Center [sports arena] and Chase Field are downtown, I can go to a concert then have some fun after.”
The best nightlife is also found in Downtown Phoenix.
“There’s an outdoor culture here, so rooftop bars and beer gardens are always a scene — regardless of the season,” Philip said.
She added, “Pools don’t close at sunset either. In fact, some bring in DJs until the wee hours of the morning. We’re also home to a prominent drag scene, including a variety of national titleholders, and you can bar — or drag show — hop seamlessly in the Melrose District.”
The Greater Phoenix region also has some great areas with vibrant downtown neighborhoods.
“With many suburbs included in Greater Phoenix, I love spending Saturdays exploring the downtowns of Phoenix, Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale, and more,” Leslie said.
Residents say one of the best parts of Phoenix is its variety of cuisines.
Food in Phoenix is a mix of Native American and Mexican cuisines.
“The food scene in Phoenix is incredibly diverse. I especially enjoy the Phoenix-spin on Mexican cuisine at our local restaurants,” Leslie said.
Philip added, “Phoenix’s Black-owned, vegan food scene is really taking off. While a lot of these concepts started as pop-ups, the movement is gaining momentum as these small-business owners continue working to create new spaces for reaching both loyal and new customers.”
Beyond the culture and lifestyle, the people of Phoenix also can’t get enough of the sunsets.
“As corny as it sounds, they never get old,” Philip said. “Some of my favorite sunsets have been set against live music at a rooftop bar, on a paddleboard at the Lake Pleasant, and at the top of Dobbins Lookout at South Mountain Park and Preserve.”
And the best place to see the sunset and sunrise is from a hot air balloon — a Phoenix staple.
“For sunrise, though, nothing beats a hot air balloon ride,” Philip said, adding, “After two decades of Phoenix adventures, there are still places on my bucket list.”