Denver is like a slice of San Francisco tucked into the mountains, says Lauren Begleiter.
She moved to the booming Colorado city in October, and hasn’t experienced much culture shock.
“The biggest surprise was that I had to drive everywhere. That affects everyone’s lifestyles,” she said. “You go out for just one drink so you can still drive home.”
The drinking culture is one of the reasons Begleiter left San Francisco. “Everything I did revolved around it,” she said of her nearly five years in the city. At 26, she’s “getting to a point where I can’t do that anymore.”
Begleiter sees herself entering a new moment in her life, in which she’s hiking, skiing and doing more of the “outdoorsy stuff.”
Denver is a city well-suited to such a lifestyle change. Ringed by mountains and blessed with ample sunshine, it’s equipped for sports by foot, bike, ski and snowshoe. Combine accessibility to nature with a burgeoning local tech industry and a manageable cost of living, and it becomes clear why “everyone in San Francisco knows someone who knows someone who moved to Denver,” Begleiter said.
“REI is in the center of the city,” according to 31-year-old Tamara Pitts, who moved to Denver in 2016 after five years in San Francisco.
Pitts’ office has a group chat devoted to after-work hike plans and “almost everyone” she knows owns a four-wheel-drive SUV — the better to reach the mountains with.
“San Francisco got me into the outdoors — sort of,” she said. “But they take it up a whole notch here.”
It’s easy to find a biking buddy or a group for a ski weekend because the city is full of young people, many of whom recently moved there, drawn by the promise of ample jobs and housing and a slower pace of life compared to the coastal metropolises.
It sometimes feels like a “boomtown,” said 35-year-old Erin Joy, like “you’re in on something that’s growing from the ground up.”
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Denver is one of the fastest-growing large cities in the nation. According to U.S. Census data, the city’s population grew by more than 100,000 since 2010 — an influx facilitated by a high quality of life (at a relatively affordable cost) and a local government eager to attract startups and new talent.
Denver recently placed No. 10 in a Business.org ranking of the nation’s top tech metros (San Francisco ranked No. 1). Venture capitalists infused more than $1.1 billion into Colorado startups in 2017 alone — a banner year for the blossoming state economy.
If the state’s intentions to position itself as a tech capital weren’t clear enough, a coalition of tech companies and governmental agencies recently launched a $500,000 ad campaign to entice Bay Area techies to move to Colorado.
“Innovation at elevation,” proclaimed a mockup for a BART station advertisement.
There’s certainly a vibrant tech scene, but it’s not quite like the Bay Area, said Mike Mierzejewski, who moved to Denver from Oakland last year.
The majority of companies in Denver feel small, up-and-coming, especially compared to the tech behemoths that reside over San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Mierzejewski said.
“It’s a work-a-lot culture” in San Francisco, he said. That facilitates strong bonds between coworkers — when work is life, how else does one meet friends? — but also competition.
“In San Francisco, I remember the startup world feeling so competitive and inaccessible,” said 23-year-old Rebecca Stifter. The law student moved to Denver in 2016 after two decades in the Bay Area. She plans to work with social enterprise startups after graduation.
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Denver entrepreneurs, Stifter noticed, seem “extremely open to collaboration, sharing their business stories and helping other founders be successful.”
“It is that vibe that comes with it being a smaller city with less resources,” she said. “People want to see other people be successful so they are willing to extend themselves.”
Most Bay Area ex-pats agree it’s easier to live in Denver, where the median home price hovers just above $400,000, and a standard two-bedroom apartment can be rented for about $1,700 a month. It’s not cheap, per se, but you get more bang for your buck compared to San Francisco.
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Mierzejewski lives in a spacious one-bedroom apartment in the trendy LoHi neighborhood downtown that “feels like you’re in a loft in SoMa.” He can walk to his office, to bars and restaurants and to the Broncos and Rockies stadiums. The complex has a pool, hot tub, fitness center, fireplaces and a clubhouse.
“In the Bay Area, that’s going to cost you at least $3,000,” he said. “Here, my rent is $1,600 — no roommates.”
Like San Francisco, Denver has experienced its share of growing pains. The refrains sound similar to those heard in the Bay Area. An excerpt from a recent Denver Post article seems clipped from The San Francisco Chronicle:
“The strain of Denver’s boom has been reflected in soaring housing costs, complaints about intensifying traffic, protests against gentrification and backlashes against development. Those pressures are likely to worsen as more people move to Denver, even if in smaller numbers.”
Still, the cost of buying a house in Denver is about half that of San Francisco. When you’re a former Bay Area resident, shellshocked by the high cost of entry into real estate, it’s easy to get swept up by the “hysteria of the growing market” in Denver, said Joy, an independent healthcare consultant.
Joy wanted to get in on the “hot market” so she bought a townhouse for $420,000 and moved in. Shortly thereafter, she quit her job and realized she did not want to live in Denver any longer.
“I’m a bit of a restless soul,” she said.
But there was the issue of the newly acquired house.
That was solved quickly. With so many people moving to Denver, it was easy to find renters. Now, Joy benefits from the growing real estate market from afar. She moved back to San Francisco in 2016 and currently lives in New York City.
“I specifically bought a place I felt would be relatively easy to rent out,” she said. “I banked on that and made an impulse move.”