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This Perfectly Ordinary South Bay Suburb Is America’s Happiest City

Written by Peter-Astrid KanePublished Jan. 14, 2023 • 11:00am
People participate with their pets in Halloween costumes at the Sunnyvale Pet Parade contest on Oct. 30, 2022. | Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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A financial technology company analyzed the nation’s most populous places using a hard-to-quantify question: What’s the happiest city in America? The answer is essentially found in the city’s own name: Sunnyvale, California.

Smart Asset graded the 200 biggest cities by 13 metrics, including life expectancy, percentage of the population with health insurance, average commute time, concentration of restaurants and nightlife, crime rates and percentage of residents earning $100,000 or more. The resulting composite figure gave the top nod to the fairly low-key bedroom community in Silicon Valley. 

Sunnyvale—not to be confused with Sunnydale the SF neighborhood or the town where Buffy the Vampire Slayer lives—is a South Bay suburb wedged between Mountain View and Santa Clara, with Cupertino to the south. With a population of 155,000, it’s the Bay Area’s seventh largest city, only a little bigger than Charleston, S.C.

What makes Sunnyvale stand out? More than any other factor, it’s an affluent place, with a greater percentage of six-figure-earning residents than anywhere else, plus the third-lowest poverty rate. Almost 57% of residents are or have been married, the fifth-highest in the country, while violent crime is the ninth-lowest.

While the survey did not explicitly include racial and ethnic diversity, Sunnyvale is hardly some 1950s time capsule. It’s plurality white (43%) with sizable concentrations of Asian Americans (40%) and Latinos (18%).

While California remains a perennial right-wing punching bag owing to its high cost of living, progressive political culture and the number of U-Hauls bound for Reno, a large number of Californians apparently like where they live. No fewer than five of the 10 happiest cities are found in the Golden State, and were 11 of the top 25.

Behind Sunnyvale, the highly diverse East Bay city of Fremont ranked as the fourth-happiest city in America, while the fast-growing and Republican-leaning Sacramento suburb of Roseville came in at seventh. San Jose itself was eighth, with the Southern California edge cities of Santa Clarita and Irvine rounding out the top 10. Santa Rosa and Hayward ranked highly as well.

America’s unhappiest place is Birmingham, Alabama, followed by Newark, New Jersey, and Memphis, Tennessee. As for San Francisco, reviled by the comments section on every article from coast to coast, we are the 14th-happiest city in the United States.

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Peter-Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]


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