Neighborhood Intel

Brick Underground’s best neighborhoods for recent college grads 2021

By Mimi O'Connor | June 16, 2021 - 12:30PM 

The Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant returns to the top spot this year.

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Just graduated? Congrats! Heading to New York City to start a new job (or perhaps look for one while you work the barista counter or bar?) Good for you. First thing’s first: You need to find a place to live, and doing that in NYC can be a daunting task—especially if you aren’t familiar with the landscape. 

To zero in on a place to live in one of the most complicated real estate markets in the world, you need to find a reasonably-priced neighborhood (for NYC anyway) where you might actually enjoy living. We’re here to help.

To determine Brick Underground's 2021 list of the best neighborhoods for recent grads, we turned to Localize.city—an AI-powered website that aims to tell renters and buyers what it’s like to live at any address in NYC. The team at Localize calculated affordability based on median rents for two-bedroom apartments (since most grads will be moving in with at least one other person—emphasis on "at least"). 

And for more guidance, be sure to check out our guide to "How to Move to New York City,” which is full of New York-style practical wisdom. Gung-ho about moving to New York but not interested in finding the apartment, furniture, and roommates by yourself? Check out a more-turn key approach to renting in NYC in "Brick Underground's guide to co-living spaces in NYC," where we break down the options for you. (It’s not a coincidence that many co-living companies, which tend to cater to a younger demo, operate apartments or entire buildings in many of the neighborhoods on our list.) 

Localize also factored in each neighborhood's commute to Midtown and the Financial District; nightlife options; popularity among 20-somethings; bikeability (Citi Bike stations, bike lanes, and cyclist injuries); and safety (violent, burglaries, and drug-related crimes, excluding marijuana-related drug crimes); as well as the quality of open space; neighborhood character; and new development. 

Urban planners at Localize also took into account current construction that could negatively impact quality of life, and completed construction, which brings new amenities and could impact pricing in the neighborhood. We pulled out each of the neighborhoods' highlights based on a five-point scale with five being the best. 

To learn about other neighborhoods popular among the post-college crowd that did not make this year’s cut, such as Clinton Hill, Concourse, and Bushwick, consult our previous guides from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.

Below, our top 10 picks for New York City neighborhoods that offer affordability, good times, and commutes you can live with (everyday).

1.    Bedford-Stuyvesant

Neighborhood character:  ✭✭✭✭✭
New development: ✭✭✭✭✭
Median two-bedroom rent: $2,499

Bed-Stuy is the place to be if you want to live in a neighborhood rich in culture, with lots of options for restaurants, bars and nightlife. Bed-Stuy’s dance and party scene is especially notable thanks to spots like rum bar and reggae den Lovers Rock and restaurant/bar and venue Bar LunÀtico, both of which survived the pandemic pause. 

“Bed-Stuy is booming in popularity among residents, business owners, and developers. An influx of new cafes, bars, and restaurants enliven the area’s suburban residential feel,” says Omer Granot, Localize’s president and COO. “Known for historic architecture and its sense of community, Bed-Stuy is a worthy alternative for recent college grads and those priced out of nearby Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Fort Greene.”

The neighborhood took the number two spot in 2019—down from number one the previous year—and reclaims the top spot for 2021. In addition to character and nightlife, affordability is a considerable draw—in two years, the median rent for a two-bedroom increased just $150. 

The neighborhood gets big points for character, thanks to a significant number of low-rise, architecturally-pleasing, townhouse-style buildings on tree-lined streets, which give the area a quiet and relaxed feel. 

And yet, new development is booming: Bed-Stuy leads the city as the neighborhood with the highest number of new development permits (22) filed as of earlier this year. These join existing buildings along the commercial thoroughfares of Fulton Street and Bedford and Nostrand avenues, where luxury buildings with amenities can also be found. 

Subway access can be great or not so great, depending on where in the large neighborhood you live. Its ranking for the commute to Midtown and the Financial District category garnered just three stars.

The north edge is serviced by the G train, the southern border by the A and C trains, and the eastern border by the J and M train lines. Those in the middle can walk, bike or take the bus. Speaking of bike lanes, Bed-Stuy has a vast network of them and many residents commute via bicycle. 

2. Washington Heights

Commute to Midtown and the Financial District: ✭✭✭✭✭  
Neighborhood character: ✭✭✭✭✭
Median two-bedroom rent: $2,295

Washington Heights, which fell from the 2019 number-one spot on this list, has been known for some time as a place to get more space for less money. (A location at the northern end of Manhattan will do that, which is why, Granot says, the area attracts students, young professionals, and families.) But Hollywood is shining a bright light on the neighborhood this summer, with the release of the film adaptation of “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights.”

Spotlight aside, Washington Heights offers a relatively quick commute to Midtown (you can make it there in about 30 minutes) and it’s well-served by three train lines, the 1, A, and C. And, the fact that Manhattan Island physically narrows way uptown means the walk to the train is never too far. (Trust us, it’s a major plus.) Citi Bike is also well-represented here, and it’s easy to hop on the Hudson River Greenway, a bike and pedestrian path along the water. 

The neighborhood is home to a diverse Latin American community, and new restaurants have joined longtime celebrated Latin American and Dominican spots; popular additions include The Pandering Pig, Havana Heights, Fort Washington Public House, and Terravita. 

In addition to value, a strong community and character, Washington Heights provides incredible views of the George Washington Bridge and the Palisades across the Hudson, and numerous spots to enjoy nature. Green spaces include Fort Washington Park and the Highbridge Park, the latter of which recently received a $30 million renovation, and is, in fact, the site of that pool scene from “In The Heights.” The park also connects to the Highbridge, an elevated historic promenade over the Harlem River. 

3. Astoria 

Commute to Midtown and the Financial District: ✭✭✭✭✭ 
Neighborhood character: ✭✭✭✭✭
Popularity among 20-somethings: ✭✭✭✭✭
New development: ✭✭✭✭✭ 

Median two-bedroom rent: $2,300

Astoria has long been a bastion of affordability, retaining longtime residents and drawing young people looking for space and deals. (The median two-bedroom rent actually declined $100 since 2019.) It’s known for a diverse population, and incredible cuisine options to go with it. (Greek seafood restaurant Taverna Kyclades is legendary, and you’ll also find excellent sushi, plus Middle Eastern, ramen, Italian fare and more.) Popular nightlife spots and watering holes include The Bonnie (where you can also brunch), Sek’End Sun, Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden, and jazz club The Letlove In. 

Corcoran agent Lauren Bennett (who lives nearby in Sunnyside) describes the neighborhood as having a lively nightlife scene, with lots of outdoor dining along Broadway and Ditmars and Steinway avenues. 

Bennett says the large green space of Astoria Park is a jewel (it recently received a $30 million renovation), where a variety of free, community-based programming like yoga, outdoor movies and events take place. The neighborhood is rich in culture, too, with the Museum of the Moving Image, the Noguchi Museum, and Socrates Sculpture Park all located here. 

The “secret” of Astoria has been out for a while, and the neighborhood is seeing an influx of money in the form of residents and developers. “The area is gaining popularity among young professionals and new units are rising along the western waterfront to meet demand,” Granot says. (Like riverside luxury development Hallets Point.)

Astoria is not far behind Bedford-Stuyvesant in development activity: 21 new development permits are on file and 1,074 new units are planned for the neighborhood, the most in Queens, and third most in NYC.

Commuting is only getting easier here, with Citi Bike and ferry expansion to Astoria making commuting to Manhattan quicker, especially for those not living near the N/W stops. (For even more affordability, Bennett suggests looking in Astoria Heights, where rents are lower due to less access to mass transit.) 

4. Jackson Heights, Queens

Commute: ✭✭✭✭✭ 
Neighborhood character: ✭✭✭✭✭  
Popularity among 20-somethings: ✭✭✭✭✭
Median two-bedroom rent: $2,250

The Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights might not be as familiar to NYC transplants as Long Island City or Astoria, but this vibrant, international neighborhood has a lot to offer new arrivals. 

The borough is world-famous for being diverse, and Jackson Heights is where it really delivers. Jackson Heights native Michele Beaudoin, owner of Beaudoin Realty Group, praises the neighborhood’s “totally eclectic mix” of residents, and cuisines, like Thai, Latin American, Indian and Pakistani served at local restaurants. (Find them along Roosevelt Avenue, 37th Avenue, and Northern Boulevard.) 

The neighborhood has been home to a significant Latin LGBTQ+ scene since as far back as the 1920s, and hosts its own Pride parade each year. Travers Park is the neighborhood green space, which was recently updated. Facilities include basketball, tennis and handball courts, as well as a weekly greenmarket. You’ll probably find more families here than in the “hipper” neighborhoods of Queens, but a younger crowd is discovering Jackson Heights, as the arrival of businesses like modern bowling alley Bowlero seem to indicate. 

The housing stock includes a mix of large, prewar apartment buildings, and single- and multi-family houses; there is also a Jackson Heights historic district. 

Citi Bike is not in Jackson Heights yet, but if you have your own wheels, you can take advantage of the Open Street 34th Avenue, which is car-free 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Jackson Heights also has bike lanes.)

Transportation to Midtown is easy: you can get to Manhattan in less than 30 minutes via the 7, F, E, R, or M trains. (Roosevelt Avenue is the stop with all the trains but the M and R also stop at 65th Street if you live on the edge of the neighborhood.)

5. Upper East Side

Commute: ✭✭✭✭✭ 
Nightlife: ✭✭✭✭✭ 
Open space: ✭✭✭✭✭
Popularity among 20-somethings: ✭✭✭✭✭
Median two-bedroom rent: $3,000

Yes, the Upper East Side is one of the tonier neighborhoods in New York City, but it’s also a popular landing spot for new grads for a variety of reasons: Commute to Midtown, nightlife, and lots of other young people new to the city. While this is a neighborhood with multi-million townhouse-lined streets, you don’t have to have a trust fund to live here. 

“For the location, the Upper East Side remains relatively affordable and has a variety of large apartment buildings,” Granot says. If you’re looking to save some cash, look for a walk-up or a non-doorman building, which are cheaper, for obvious reasons. 

Depending on where you work, a commute to Midtown can be as quick as 15 minutes (the 4 and the 6 run along the main artery of Lexington Avenue). The addition of the Second Avenue subway line (the N, R, and Q) has made living farther east, where rents are typically more affordable than the area’s center, a bit more convenient. (The line is limited to three stops and runs from 72nd Street to 96th Street.) The neighborhood is also well-served by Citi Bike. 

If you’re single and looking to mingle, there’s no shortage of bars and restaurants on the Upper East Side, including upscale cocktail bars, classic Irish pubs, craft beer joints, and much more. (Second and Third avenues are filled with options.) The Penrose is a popular spot for drinks and food, other places to eat without breaking the bank are Up Thai, Heidi’s House by the Side of the Road, and J.G. Melon. 

The neighborhood also has the bonus of being close to so many of those classic NYC spots: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guggenheim Museum, and of course, Central Park. 

6. Greenpoint, Brooklyn

New development: ✭✭✭✭✭
Median two-bedroom rent: $2,950

You’ll have to dig a little deeper into your pockets if you want to live in Greenpoint (it’s the second-priciest neighborhood on our list). One reason is that developers are rushing to meet demand: 1,523 new units are planned for the area, which is the most for any neighborhood in the city. Fresh new buildings mean higher asking rents. 

But it’s still cheaper than its neighbor, ur-hipster neighborhood Williamsburg. “It’s more affordable,” says Jacob Henderson, an agent at Corcoran. “People get priced out of Williamsburg and they move further down the train line.” That said, Henderson recently rented out an entire 20-unit new development in two weeks; rents at that building range from $3,200-$3,300 for a one bedroom, and $3,800-$4,200 for a two bedroom. More luxury apartments recently debuted at the waterfront Greenpoint Landing. 

Greenpoint is full of repurposed warehouses and factories that have become desirable places to live, work, and play, particularly on the neighborhood’s west side by the East River. You’ll find lots of bars and restaurants of all kinds here, from old school “real Brooklyn” spots (Peter Pan Donut & Pastry, for example) to buzzy and inventive places like Oxomoco, Chez Ma Tante, Paulie Gee's, Esme, and Di An Di. There's a popular independent bookstore, Word, and Greenpoint also boasts hotspots such as the Warsaw music venue and multiple dance clubs. 

While the neighborhood did see some businesses go under during the pandemic, nightlife continues to thrive here, with activities including the Skyline Drive-in on the East River and axe-throwing at Bury the Hatchet. 

McCarren Park is a lively and large green space in the neighborhood, with softball fields, a track and recently renovated workout area, and hosts events throughout the year. Greenpoint is also home to the smaller, leafy McGolrick Park, as well as the waterside WNYC Transmitter Park. The new, state-of-the-art Greenpoint Library and Environment Education Center opened in late 2020. 

Hotspots Williamsburg and Long Island City are a quick bike ride away, but getting to Manhattan is more of an effort. Greenpoint is only served by the G train, but it connects with multiple Manhattan-bound trains in Long Island City and the L train in Williamsburg. You can also hop an NYC Ferry to downtown and midtown (East 34th Street) as well as points south on the Brooklyn waterfront at India Street. 

7. Central Harlem

Open space: ✭✭✭✭✭ 
Neighborhood character: ✭✭✭✭✭
Median two-bedroom rent: $2,550

Harlem delivers that elusive combination of being a rich and vibrant community on its own, while also providing quick and easy connection to the heart of Manhattan and beyond. Magnus Tonning Riise, an agent at Bohemia Realty Group and a Harlem resident of seven years, names the ease of travel virtually anywhere in the city as a huge asset.

“Almost every train goes through Harlem. You’re never dependent on just one line,” he says. 

In addition to being able to get from 125th Street, one of the neighborhood’s main arteries, to Columbus Circle in less than 15 minutes, Riise points out that the area is also an excellent launching pad to points further, thanks to a Metro North stop that whisks you out of the city, and the M60 bus that will ferry you to Laguardia Airport in about an hour. Citi Bike is well-represented in the area and makes it easy to get across town, but, Riise says, “It’s worth noting that uptown is a little hillier than the rest of Manhattan.” (That also means you get great views of the city and water.) 

The neighborhood’s proximity to parks is notable—green spaces surround it. The northern, quieter end of Central Park is to the south, Morningside Park is to the west, Marcus Garvey Park to the east, and further north is St. Nicholas Park. 

It is, of course, a neighborhood rich in culture and history: Landmarks and institutions include the Apollo Theater, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and legendary soul food restaurant Sylvia’s. A multi-use building housing a African Burial Ground Memorial is in the works for 126th Street, a site of much development. 

Plenty of restaurants and bars serve the area’s mix of families, young professionals and students: popular spots include Red Rooster, Harlem Public, Seasoned Vegan, Melba’s, Lolo’s Seafood Shack, and many more. (Both nearby Columbia University and City College of New York drive a need for affordable options and places to meet up.) 

The big avenues provide places to shop for necessities: Harlem has a Whole Foods, H & M, T.J. Maxx, Burlington Coat Factory, and a multiplex AMC is located on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. 

There’s a wide variety of housing in Harlem: You’ll find whole blocks of beautiful townhouses (some broken up into apartments, some not), low-income housing, apartment buildings, and yes, new, higher-end development. 

“Harlem has a very residential feel. It still feels like a neighborhood,” Riise says. “People will talk to you on the street or in the grocery store. It feels like Manhattan but still has personality.” 

8. Ridgewood, Queens

Ridgewood did not get a five-star rating in any of our categories (but did score four stars for neighborhood character, bikeability and nightlife options.) 
Median two-bedroom rent: $2,215

Ridgewood returns for a third year on this list, with virtually no change in the median two-bedroom rent—but that doesn’t mean the neighborhood has remained the same. “Bushwick and Williamsburg hipsters, artists, and musicians are relocating just across the borough’s border to Ridgewood, Queens,” Granot says. 

And while the neighborhood did lose some businesses during the pandemic, Henderson, a long-time renter in the area who now owns a two-family (the townhouse market is heating up here, too), confirms that new businesses are “constantly popping up.” (Which is not without controversy.) Further evidence of change: The Strand, a new luxury rental building in “Ridgewick.” 

“Ridgewood is quieter than Bushwick, with the same conveniences, and you can get a more affordable apartment than in Greenpoint and Williamsburg,” Henderson says. 

A diverse neighborhood with quiet, tree-lined residential streets as well as industrial areas, Ridgewood is more spread out and lacks the density of places like Greenpoint or Bushwick. It is also home to four historic districts, which helps the area retain its charm. 

But new businesses continue to open alongside veteran shops such as Rudy’s German Bakery & Cafe, and often make use of the neighborhood’s large-scale spaces. 

You’ll find excellent Mexican, Dominican, Italian, Ecuadorian, and Nepalese food here, as well as several breweries/beer gardens (Evil Twin Brewing, Queens Brewery, Bridge and Tunnel Brewery). Newer businesses include Porcelain, Rolo’s, and Nha Minh, the last of which is located in all-ages performance/community space Trans-Pecos. Nowadays is a popular spot with a large outdoor space for drinks and events, Topos Books is the neighborhood’s used bookstore/cafe.

It’s not the place to be if you need a park of Prospect or McCarren caliber: Ridgewood’s Grover Cleveland Playground is small, and the athletic field is often closed.  

For commuting, the M is the main train with the L servicing a small portion of the neighborhood. A trip to Manhattan can take 40-50 minutes, but Citi Bike has arrived in Ridgewood, making travel to neighboring areas in Brooklyn quick and easy. (Although it is on a hill, so getting home is more of a workout than leaving.) 

9. Sunnyside 

Safety: ✭✭✭✭✭
Median two-bedroom rent: $2,300

Parents worried about you moving to the “big city”? Sunnyside, Queens is the only neighborhood on our list to get a five-star rating for safety. 

If you want the nightlife and activity of a place like Greenpoint, Astoria, or the Upper East Side, Sunnyside is probably not for you. Corcoran’s Bennett, who has lived in Sunnyside for two years after 12 in Long Island City, describes her neighborhood as “a bit more low-key.” 

Where Sunnyside really shines is affordability and commute: the 7 train can get you to Midtown in less than 20 minutes. Perhaps that’s why the neighborhood is a Citi Bike desert; that said, protected bike lanes arrived to the area in 2018, and the mayor just named Sunnyside as a location for one of the city’s new “Bike Boulevards.” The parks here are nice, but small. 

You’ll find large prewar apartment buildings here, as well as the charming Sunnyside Gardens, a landmarked district where attached brick townhouses share an internal courtyard. 

Although not as loaded with options for food and drink, Sunnyside does offer variety in cuisines and formality. Takesushi gets high marks for Japanese, Philomena’s for artisan pizza, SoleLuna for Italian and Ricas Pupusas & Mas for El Salvadorean, plus you have the restaurants of nearby Woodside and Long Island City to enjoy. Alewife Brewing on 39th Street offers a large outdoor space to hang out, and an extensive menu of its craft beers. 

“This neighborhood adjacent to LIC is attracting attention from developers,” Granot says, noting the proposed Sunnyside Yard is a game-changer for the neighborhood. “[It’s] a mega development that, if undertaken, would forever alter the landscape.” 

10. Flatbush, Brooklyn

New development: ✭✭✭✭✭
Median two-bedroom rent: $2,200

You won’t find the conveniences and services in Flatbush that you do in other Brooklyn nabes like Greenpoint or even Bed-Stuy. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different. (And Flatbush is hardly lacking in places that will take your money for food, drink, and entertainment.) 

Further into the borough (which helps with affordability), Flatbush is a little more spread out and offers a more relaxed feel. A big draw here is the 500-acre Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux-designed Prospect Park, which is directly north of the neighborhood. In addition to 500 acres of open green spaces, woods, hiking and biking trails, the park has an ice-skating/roller-skating rink, a zoo, sports fields, an Audubon Center, boat rentals, and a bandshell, where an annual concert series (with many free performances) is held. 

Adding to the area’s unique feel is the section often referred to as Ditmas Park, a pocket with wide, picturesque tree-lined streets and Victorian houses on large lots. (It’s easy to forget you’re in New York City here.) But it’s not all pastoral calm here. Flatbush Avenue is a major thoroughfare with lots of retail, big box stores, and even the recently restored Kings Theatre, which hosts major concerts and events. For quaint Brooklyn shops, bars, and brunch, head to Cortelyou Road. 

The main way you “pay” for this singular Brooklyn mix is with the commute. It’s not horrible—you can get to Manhattan on an express train, the B or the Q, but budget about 45 minutes to get to Midtown. (You can also catch the 2 and 5 trains on the east side of the neighborhood.) Citi Bike has yet to make its way into the area, but if you have a bike, there are lanes for you. 

The appeal of Flatbush is not lost on developers; in fact, “new development” is the only category in which the area scored a five-star rating. “Developers have taken notice and 19 new development permits have been filed in Flatbush,” Granot says. 

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