In health, like in real estate, location matters.
The newest research from personal finance website WalletHub found that those living on the West Coast were the healthiest in the nation based on factors ranging from premature death rates, percentage of residents with health insurance and the average cost of medical visits.
The study also took into account the number of acres of parkland, gourmet food shops per capita and percentage of active adults. The data was based on more than 170 of the most populated US cities.
San Francisco took top honors as the healthiest city in the nation; two other West Coast cities—Seattle and San Diego—rounded out the top three. The goal of the research was to learn which cities were making it easier to be healthier places to live, notes WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez.
Nine of the top 10 unhealthiest cities in the nation—including Brownsville, Texas; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Huntington, West Virginia—were located in the South. Gonzalez believes the plethora of food deserts (areas where buying healthy food is difficult), lack of green spaces, percentage of adults without health insurance and low percentages of active adults led these cities to receive low marks in the ranking.
WalletHub isn’t the only organization to bestow top rankings on the City by the Bay: The consulting firm Mercer ranked San Francisco No. 1 for Quality of Life; Runner’s World magazine named San Francisco the Best Running City in the US and real estate website Redfin ranked it the Best Place to Live Without a Car.
Katie Morell, 37, calls San Francisco an “aspirational place to live” and believes that iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and Fisherman’s Wharf draw people in, but the temperate climate, gorgeous surroundings and outdoor lifestyle keep the love affair going.
After relocating from Michigan in 2004, Morell, a journalist, began exploring the city on foot, running through storied neighborhoods like the Presidio, walking across the Golden Gate and kicking her shoes off to wander along Baker Beach. The hilly streets helped her kick her workouts up a notch.
At Lands End, a park in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Morell appreciates the difficulty of the trails (the stairs provide an extra cardio workout) as well as views of the Legion of Honor museum, Cliff House, Sutro Historic District, USS San Francisco Memorial and Sutro Baths ruins. Looking out over the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, she says, “You can see people surfing in February.”
WalletHub awarded San Francisco top marks for its green space and walking trails as well as its healthy food scene. In fact, San Francisco is home to more gourmet food stores and farmers markets per capita than any of the other cities included in the data.
Another strong point: The city has options for community supported agriculture (CSA)—a system in which consumers contract with local farms to receive seasonal produce each week throughout the season—to increase access to fresh, local produce. Gonzalez believes the temperate climate and extended growing season help increase access to this abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, which makes San Francisco a great city for vegans and vegetarians.
The iconic Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is as much a tourist attraction as a place to buy local foods. Morell enjoys checking out the market stalls where vendors sell everything from produce, pastured meats and eggs to fresh bread, local honey and preserves.
“The healthy lifestyle and outdoor activities are a big part of the reason we love living here,” Morell says.
With more than 6,400 acres of parks and miles of hiking trails, it’s not surprising that Seattle is known as The Emerald City.
“It’s an incredibly green city,” says Cecily Kaplan.
Kaplan, 60, moved to Seattle in the 1980s and says its natural areas, walkability and local food scene are her favorite things about the Pacific Northwest city. (WalletHub agreed, awarding Seattle high marks for the number of running and walking trails.)
A little drizzle doesn’t stop residents from exploring outdoor gems like Carkeek Park or the Arboretum Waterfront Trail, where the sights and sounds of Interstate 520 are juxtaposed with the lush arboretum and kayakers gliding across Union Bay. Green Lake Park, which Kaplan, a director of a senior center, calls “the Central Park of Seattle,” is a favorite spot for walking, biking and rollerblading. Dog-walking website Rover also ranked Seattle as its most dog-friendly city in the US thanks, in part, to the number of dog parks.
“A lot of people come here to live or vacation because there are so many opportunities to be outdoors and active without leaving the city,” Kaplan says.
The parks are wonderful but Kaplan also enjoys exploring local neighborhoods. (Seattle is often called “a city of neighborhoods” because each district has its own unique character.) Kaplan heard about Seattle Stairway Walks, a series of self-guided walks that include public stairways, and she picks a route to follow when she feels inspired to explore the city on foot—and when it’s time to refuel, Seattle is tops for healthy food.
Farmers markets like the Capitol Hill Farmers Market and University District Farmers Market sell fresh local produce year-round; many local farms also offer CSA shares to satisfy the demand. In addition, locally sourced foods are a staple on many restaurant menus.
Kaplan, who follows a vegan diet, says, “Being vegan here is not hard.” She loves the plant-based menus at restaurants like Plum Bistro and Pizza Pi and often shops at Vegan Haven, a market that specializes in vegan foods. Community gardens are plentiful in Seattle and Kaplan rents a plot to grow vegetables, which she donates to a local nonprofit.
“There is a lot to love about living in Seattle,” Kaplan adds.
While Southern California is infamous for its traffic jams, smog and dense urban development, San Diego bucks the trend. San Diego is known for its beautiful weather—the city averages 266 sunny days per year—green spaces, healthy food scene and access to a huge range of outdoor activities.
“We can surf in the ocean; go skiing or hiking in the mountains; go camping in the desert—it’s all right here,” says Jacki Lowe, 55, a physician assistant and lifelong San Diego resident. “Our city is all about being outside and, because of the weather, people have lots of opportunities to get out and enjoy it.”
As an avid hiker, Lowe appreciates the myriad opportunities to hit the local trails: She often hikes to the pinnacle of Cowles Mountain with her dogs in tow. The 4.3-mile trail to the top provides a great workout, but the real reward is the view, which stretches out across the city. “It’s a great place to sit, take in the view and think of all of the reasons I love living here,” she says.
The San Diego Museum of National History has a hiking group, and Lowe calls the guided hike of the week a great way to explore new areas of the city. Waterfront Park and Balboa Park, which spans more acres than Central Park, are popular places to walk, run, rollerblade or picnic on sunny afternoons. Fun runs, bike races and other outdoor activities are held almost every weekend, Lowe says, adding, “You can always find something to do outside.”
Although WalletHub awarded San Diego major points for green space, the abundance of healthy food options helped this Southern California city stand out. More than 70% of residents reported eating healthy foods, which Gonzalez says is not surprising given that San Diego had the lowest obesity rates of all of the cities included in the data. The city also has an impressive number of healthy restaurants and farmers markets.
“We have a long growing season and a lot of restaurants base their menus around what’s in season,” says Lowe. “Farm-to-table and vegetarian restaurants are huge here.”
Where your hometown is might play a role in your health, but Gonzalez notes, “There are lots of opportunities to get out and get active or enjoy healthy foods no matter where you live.”