What’s a Better Place to Live, Denver or Austin?

A photograph of a beautiful lake, forest and mountain range in Colorado, USA. It shows a calm lake with a reflection of the pine trees and snow capped mountain range surrounding it

Changing locations is always an exciting prospect but can prove to be a tough choice. The final decision comes down to so many influencing factors, including the housing market, personal preferences for surroundings, practicality, and so many other minute details.

Moving does indeed involve lots of little details that can make your head spin! Sometimes, those small details can slip through the cracks and reappear with large consequences later. That’s why it’s so important to try and organize all the aspects of your choice in the beginning phases of your decision about a move.

While a lot of non-negotiable factors can influence a move, like job offers and the location of family, sometimes your choice can be more unrestricted. In cases like these, it’s good to research as much as possible to make sure that in the end, your decision can be confident and informed.

Two cities that have become increasingly popular locations are Denver and Austin. With one in Colorado and one in Texas, they offer different benefits and drawbacks that will suit individual families differently.

If you’re curious about which city would be the best landing place for you and your family to put down some roots, then keep reading!

Overview of Both Locations

Since both cities are great places to live with lots to offer, let’s start at the very beginning. If you’re unfamiliar with one or both of these cities, let’s learn more about them before we dig into the pros and cons of each.

Although both cities have similar trajectories for growth in population, culture, and economy, they each have very different origins, and therefore offer unique environments cherished by their residents.

Denver, Colorado

Denver, commonly called the mile-high city, has a great, panoramic mountain view. While the city provides great access to nature, it’s not itself in the mountains. Its proximity to them does influence a great deal about the city, including its weather.

The climate in Denver is mild but sunny and dry. You’ll get more sunshine in Denver than you would in Miami Beach or San Diego, just with fewer ocean views (none, to be precise). Denver is also dry, even in wintertime, with an average winter high of around 45 degrees. 

For this reason, Denver is a great place for outdoor activity. Mountain climbing, biking, and all other sorts of nature adventures are popular pastimes there. Matter of fact, Denver even has a bike-sharing system throughout the city to help people get around in Denver-appropriate style. 

And they don’t call it the mile high city for nothing. Its elevation is exactly one mile above sea level, meaning the atmosphere is a tad thinner, impacting things like how warm the sunshine feels and how quickly water boils.

Austin, Texas

The saying is that everything’s bigger in Texas, so is that the case for the state’s capital? Its inhabitants sure like to think so. It’s a huge tourist attraction, receiving even more visitors in 2017 than Rome or Hawaii. Sounds pretty big to us, too.

Did you also know that Austin has prehistoric roots? Artifacts date human inhabitation of the Austin area to around 9200 BC. Around 225 miles from the Mexico border, it’s been one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities recently. 

And the city’s history isn’t limited to the prehistoric era. Given its location, it’s played a huge role in many national historic events that are linked to preserved sites, which are now home to historic attractions, state parks, and museums.

Like Denver, Austin boasts a mostly dry and hot climate, although because of differing geography, there are some key differences. Winters are known to still get pretty cold in Austin, sometimes down to 20 degrees and lower in the wind. In the summertime, it can get into the triple digits. 

The Breakdown

A photograph of Austin Texas shot during the day. The photo includes a large body of water in the foreground ad several skyscrapers in the background

Now, let’s take a look at some of the most important factors you’ll be considering when you make your choice about where to live. We’ll discuss cost of living, size of the cities, crime and traffic statistics, culture and business, and also family-friendliness.

Is It Cheaper to Live in Denver or Austin?

When determining the cost of living, there are multiple areas to consider. Housing and transportation are important as well as food and utility costs and more. When you average out the totals from each category, overall, Austin, TX is the cheaper place to live

In many categories, the cities are neck and neck with competitive pricing. Some of the differences are marginal, but for consumer products, rent prices, and restaurant and grocery pricing, Austin offers the best value.

However, don’t let that give Denver a bad rep. It’s still a more affordable city to live in than many on the east or west coast. For a single person or young couple, monthly expenses are usually under $2000. However, the cost of purchasing a home can be up to two times more than the national average in some locations.

How Big is Austin Compared to Denver?

Comparing the two cities, Austin is the largest. At 274 square miles, it’s nearly the same spatial size as New York City. Denver clocks in at around 153 square miles. If you want to get technical, though, both cities occupy the same ratio of space as compared to overall state size.

Since both cities are the capitals of their respective states, it makes sense that both would be major-sized cities in their states. Austin is the fourth largest city in Texas, while Denver is the largest in Colorado based on population. 

As of 2019, almost 951,000 people lived in Austin and a little over 705,000 lived in Denver.

Denver vs. Austin: Culture and Business

Because both cities boast similar enough benefits to be considered competitors for many booming industries, they both have a lot to offer in the realms of culture and business. Many different industries find a wealth of skilled workers in both cities.

Interestingly, in Denver vs. Austin, the tech scene has shared a very similar trajectory. The same can be said for many new, burgeoning economic and business opportunities. Typically, the cities that can attract the majority of the well-educated, younger-generation workers have the most successful economies, and Denver and Austin are neck and neck.

Residents who have experienced both say that the competitive business climate is very similar in each city, and that the culture and entertainment offerings are also equal in opportunity, but different in style.

Denver has three major sports teams as well as a number of colleges and art and history museums. Although it doesn’t have a very long history itself, the city does have a lovely, historic downtown area that locals enjoy for the walkable atmosphere complete with lots of fine dining and entertainment.

One of the main attractions of Denver is its proximity to mountainous regions and all of the sporting opportunities this offers for residents. For those who enjoy nature, Denver is the gateway to loads of adventure.

Austin, on the other hand, is one of the music capitals of the nation. Its mix of Latino and Southern-influenced culture creates an easy, laid-back sort of environment from which comes lots of comfort food and a special brand of western philosophy that birthed the city’s motto of “Keep Austin Weird”.

Art, culture, and cuisine are readily available in the city, which has numerous areas and neighborhoods that will all differ slightly in their offerings and their environment.

Crime and Traffic in Austin and Denver

A photo of a highway transportation system highway interchange in Austin Texas. It shows a convulted series of roads with traffic. The city of Austin is in the background

Unfortunately, both cities would not make the list of safest places to live in the United States. Given that they are both large, metropolitan cities that are also the capitals of their states, crimes are more likely to happen because of the population density and environment.

Compared to each other, Austin is a 7 and Denver is a 6 on the safety scale, meaning that they are safer than only 7% and 6% of U.S. cities, respectively. 

In Austin, you have a one in 245 chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime. The city has a .03% murder rate, 1% robbery rate, and 2.49% assault rate. 

Denver residents have a one in 133 chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime. Of course, this figure is based on population, meaning that while Austin’s violent crime rate is 4%, Denver’s is 7%. Denver’s corresponding murder, robbery, and assault rates are .09%, 1.66%, and 4.79%, respectively.  

When accounting for traffic, one should expect to run into their fair share of it in any metropolitan city. Austin was recently ranked as the tenth worst city in the U.S. for commuters facing traffic, while Denver came in at number 22 on the same list.

In practical numbers, what that amounts to for commuters is around 84 hours of yearly traffic delays for a simple 30-minute commute in Austin, Texas. And in Denver, it translates to around 61 hours a year sitting in traffic. That’s around 3.5 days in Austin and 2.5 days in Denver that motorists lose to gridlocks.

Is Denver or Austin a Better Place to Raise a Family?

Although both these cities are large, metropolitan areas with lots of hustle and bustle, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they would make poor choices for a young family. Both cities are large and have different neighborhoods and areas that would be well suited for raising a family.

While both cities come across as young and hip, they both have school districts and suburbs and family-oriented benefits to consider. In Denver, average suburb homes are priced in the $500,000 range, while in Austin, a suburb home will set you back an average of $415,000. 

Your parenting style and the type of childhood you envision for your kids will impact your choice, too. Denver is the perfect city for parents who want to raise an active and on-the-go family. Close to all sorts of outdoor activities and downtown city amenities like culture and dining, Denver is a great place to raise an urban and on-the-go family.

Austin is wonderful for eclectic families who can embrace the “Keep Austin Weird” motto. There’s a little bit of something for every type of interest, and the school districts are reported to be some of the best around. For music lovers, there aren’t many better places to settle down than Austin, especially if you’re looking to get your kids excited about music, too.

One small detail that sets Austin apart is its lack of income tax. Likewise, social security and pensions aren’t taxed either, adding to its affordability for families looking for a new place their kids can call home. 

What’s Different and What’s Similar?

A photo of the Famous Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver. It shows a series of rock steps carved into a hill with a large red colored rock wall behind it

So let’s go back through a rundown of the pros and cons and what makes each city a unique and appealing place to live. While the two state capitals do have many similarities, there are small, unique differences that set them apart and make them a good choice for equally unique families. 

Similarities of Denver and Austin

Both Denver and Austin are comparable in their ratio of square footage to population size. They are both some of the largest cities in their respective states, and each is the capital of its state. 

Because of their important statuses, both these cities are well known as being hubs of culture, activity, and excitement. They both offer opportunities for entertainment and adventure in their own special ways. Due to the exciting culture and social environment of each city, they’re both considered hip, young cities. 

This contributes to the economy and industry growth of these places as well. As they both attract a young and skilled workforce, both have good economies, low unemployment rates, a good quality of living standard, and somewhat comparable costs of living. 

The two cities are also on par with each other for crime rates, which reflect the fact that both Austin and Denver are large, metropolitan areas with many neighborhoods and distinct areas with varying vulnerability to crime. 

While we’re on the negatives, both cities are doozies for commuters, who will experience lots of gridlocked, stand-still traffic in both places. Drivers in both Austin and Denver can expect to lose at least a few days each year to waiting in traffic on the drive to and from work.

How Denver and Austin Differ 

While these two cities are very similar on the surface, delving deeper reveals the true differences that set them apart. Denver’s history is relatively modern, only being settled in the mid-1800s. On the other hand, Austin has been settled in some way, shape, or form since the prehistoric period, according to archeological findings.

Because these two cities are located in vastly different areas of the U.S. and their histories are unique, the resulting culture and atmosphere are equally as special in each. Denver offers a bustling and exciting city equally known for its culture and its outdoor adventures.

Austin is a haven for all things eclectic, a well-known center for food and music and the melding of southern, western, and Mexican cultures. This unique flavor comes out in the art and cuisine as well as in the overall attitude of its residents, who take great pride in Austin’s weirdness.

Even though the cities are somewhat comparable in cost of living, Austin still provides the cheaper option. Housing costs and utility costs are less expensive due to the deregulation of the electricity industry in Texas, which aims to allow more competitive utility pricing for residents. 

The weather in both places is also suited to different types. Denver is arid and hot, albeit still very sunny and mild. Austin can get more temperature extremes both in the winter and summer and is subject to more rain. 

Another key geographical difference is the elevation. Denver is a mile above sea level, which doesn’t sound like much until you do the math. It turns out that golf balls go 10% further in Denver and alcoholic drinks have more of a potent effect on your body at Denver’s elevation.

Overall Best Contender

If you’ve stuck with us until the very end, you can see why comparing these two cities is so tough. Each is kind of like a diamond in the rough, special and unique in its own way. The only way to really know which city best fits your preferences and the feel you’re going for is to pay each one a proper visit, but we know that’s not entirely practical for everyone.

So, when comparing each city in all of the categories we’ve discussed, Austin, Texas emerges as the better place to live. Although it only has a slight edge on Denver in most of the areas we’ve talked about, it is an edge nonetheless.

The crime rate is slightly lower, the cost of living slightly more affordable, and the area of the city larger, meaning that there are more options for housing and styles of neighborhoods that could suit the needs of a wide array of families.

Speaking of families, Austin also comes out ahead as the best place in which to raise a family from financial, educational, and practical standpoints. Austin also boasts public healthcare and no sales tax.

If you’re still curious, Austin was also recently ranked as the best U.S. city to be quarantined in, as well as the best city to start a business, and the best city to date in. While Denver is an appealing city with lots of benefits and attractions, Austin takes the cake as the best city not only to raise a family but to walk through multiple seasons of life in.

Related: Pros and Cons of Living in Texas

Final Thoughts

If you’re considering moving to either Denver or Austin, we hope that your decision has become a little more clear after reading about the unique appeals and drawbacks of each city. But, at the end of the day, you’re the one who will be moving there, so don’t take our word for it! 

Make sure that you choose the city that is best suited to your individual preferences, needs, and goals. Whether you’re seeking to start a family, find adventure, put down roots, or anything else, your decision of where to move will affect all these aspects of your life. 

Years down the road, you’ll want to look back and be happy with your choice. So whether you choose to make Austin, Texas your new home or Denver, Colorado, we wish you happy researching and the best of luck in picking out your new hometown.

Related: Pros and Cons of Retiring in Colorado