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South Lake Tahoe is Zillow’s most popular city of 2021, leading a West Coast near sweep of the most in-demand places of the year, including the most popular vacation town, beach town and small town.
Based on Zillow page-view traffic, available housing inventory, price appreciation and other housing barometers that indicate consumer demand, Zillow analyzed thousands of ZIP codes within the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas to create a ranking of the site’s most popular U.S. cities.
The most popular places on Zillow reflect a couple of trends we’ve been seeing throughout the pandemic. Notably, those who can now work remotely, at least occasionally, are exploring new opportunities in areas that offer relative affordability and year-round outdoor living.
Most popular on Zillow overall: South Lake Tahoe, California
South Lake Tahoe boasts vacation-style living along the largest freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada. The city also landed first place in Zillow’s rankings of most popular small towns and vacation towns.
Its high number of views on Zillow — 5,469 page views per listing — helped catapult it to the No. 1 spot. Lake Tahoe offers home buyers a small-town vibe, with an easy commute to the Bay Area and Sacramento to the west, and Carson City and Reno to the east. The typical home in South Lake Tahoe is valued at $692,792.
Rounding out the top three are Calabasas, California, a Los Angeles suburb teeming with A-list celebrities; and Malibu, a Southern California city known for its jaw-dropping beachfront homes.
Most popular beach town: Newport, Oregon
The city of Newport, along Oregon’s central coast, had a high number of page views per listing and one of the highest numbers of listings on Zillow mentioning the word “beach” in its description. The typical home in Newport is valued at $428,534.
For reasons similar to those for Newport, Naples, Florida, and Lincoln City, Oregon, completed the rankings of top three most popular beach towns.
Most popular retirement town: Lavallette, New Jersey
Using the latest available U.S. Census data, Zillow defined “retirement towns” as areas where at least 33% of the population is over the age of 65 and has no children or other relatives (other than their spouse) living in the home. This charming city, nestled on the Barnegat Peninsula in Ocean County, New Jersey, offers residents plenty of amenities. Lavallette has one of the highest numbers of retirees in its population and the most page views per listings out of all the regions Zillow analyzed for this category. The typical home value in Lavallette is $874,325.
Next on the list are Dunedin, Florida, on the Gulf Coast between Clearwater and Tarpon Springs, and St. Pete Beach, Florida. Seven out of the 10 most popular retirement towns are in Florida.
Most popular small town: Calabasas, California
Zillow defined “small towns” as cities with populations of between 15,000 and 25,000. After South Lake Tahoe on this list is Calabasas. Calabasas is not your everyday small town. The typical home here is valued at more than $1.5 million, and the area is known as a hot spot for celebrity residents. Zillow surfers also spend time exploring dream homes in Evergreen, Colorado, which came in third in this category, behind South Lake Tahoe and Calabasas.
Most popular vacation town: Big Bear Lake, California
Vacation towns have been trending since the start of the pandemic, with areas that have the highest numbers of vacation homes seeing more interest on Zillow and higher pending-sales growth than the nation at large.
Big Bear Lake is a highly sought-after area for lovers of the outdoors. This Southern California city has all the amenities vacationers seek, including plenty of parks, lakes, mountains and hiking trails. Additionally, the city has one of the highest inventories of housing units that are for secondary, vacation or recreational use.
Other vacation towns that ranked high on Zillow’s list include California’s Lake Arrowhead, a community in the San Bernardino National Forest; and Holmes Beach, Florida, a city on Anna Maria Island, about an hour’s drive from Bradenton.
Most popular college town: Tempe, Arizona
Tempe, just outside of Phoenix, is home to Arizona State University. The city has one of the largest populations of undergraduate and graduate college students among all the cities analyzed, as well as one of the highest number of page views per rental listing.
Zillow’s second-most-popular college town is Claremont, California, home to The Claremont Colleges, a consortium of seven colleges, including Pomona College, Claremont Graduate University, Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College and Keck Graduate Institute — all sharing one campus in the city.
Ranking third is Narragansett, Rhode Island, home to University of Rhode Island.
Each of Zillow’s most popular city indexes is designed to highlight cities most desired by Zillow users based on a mix of factors pertinent to each category. Zillow housing indicators and variables were weighted for the final index to prioritize page views per listing and affordability with growth potential. Scores reflect data from January 2021 to November 2021. The analysis used ZIP codes to map those to cities. Places with small ZIP code populations, not included in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey data, were omitted from the analysis.
Zillow analyzed the following main variables:
- Typical home values from October 2020 to October 2021
- Year-over-year growth in typical home values from October 2020 to October 2021
- Zillow page view counts per listings from January 2021 to November 2021
- Median sales count from January 2021 to November 2021 (excluded cities with fewer than 25 median sales a month)
- Median listings from January 2021 to November 2021 (excluded cities with fewer than 50 median listings a month)
 South Lake Tahoe, California, ranked No. 1 in three separate categories, including “most popular overall,” “most popular small town” and “most popular vacation town.” South Lake Tahoe was omitted from the “most popular vacation town” and “most popular small town” indexes, and the city that ranked second-highest in these particular categories was named the most popular.
 Based on Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI); as of October 2021.
 Listing description data was included in index scoring for the “most popular beach town” category. Zillow defined “beach towns” as areas where more than half of listings mentioned the beach, and excluded all cities that don’t feature the word “beach” in at least 50 listings on Zillow.
 Based on ZHVI; as of November 2021
 Zillow defines “vacation towns” as areas where more than 33% of the housing units are designated for non-primary use. Based on 2019 ACS Data.
 In this analysis, “college towns” are defined as cities with the share of an area’s population of college students at least 20% or more based on 2019 U.S. Census data; also used were ZIP code–level populations, aggregated to the city level.