The Best Places to Live 2005

When it comes to house hunting, what’s on your wish list? Good schools? An easy commute? Low prices? (Insert maniacal laughter from real estate agents here.) These days, that holy triptych seems impossible to find around Boston.  

“We just don’t have enough land to build on, plain and simple, and because of that, the prices are outrageous,” says Greater Boston Association of Realtors president Laurie Cadigan. “Most people will give up the commute or the size of the home before they’ll sacrifice the quality of the town. [But] that’s a tough compromise.”

Well, what some might call compromising, we call defining your priorities. Sure you want low prices — but at the cost of an hour-long commute? Is a town with pretty good schools and a welcoming committee preferable to one with high SAT scores where you don’t know your neighbors?  

When choosing the best towns, the real question is, Best for whom? In this age of specialization, the one-town-fits-all ideal simply doesn’t exist. We took 22 different types of homebuyers and set out to find the top towns for each one. Then we read the tea leaves, cast the chicken bones, and consulted not a few real estate agents and statistics to come up with this list of Boston’s best suburbs and hottest city neighborhoods (for which purposes we stretched our boundaries to encompass Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline). If you do find that one perfect town with everything, let us know. We’ve got a down payment ready.

Runners-up: Arlington, Natick, Newton, Waltham
If you’re going to spend a million for a waterfront tear-down, why drive half an hour up the Expressway just to have dinner? So goes the thinking in the lotus land of Hingham, which has a lineup of culinary gems to rival most second cities. Rustic Kitchen just opened its first locale outside of Greater Boston here, joining Stars on Hingham Harbor, Tosca, and Caffè Tosca — all of which are still standing room only on weekends. On the slightly more affordable side, a stretch of abandoned storefronts along Moody Street in Waltham is being transformed into a vibrant culinary section.

Runners-up: Bedford, Melrose, Sudbury
For the budget-minded: Brockton
Thoreau may have been the father of the environmental movement, but Walden Pond’s current legacy is more summer playground than natural shrine. Walden Pond State Reservation has 400 acres of land and pond, offering plenty of elbow room for hiking, cross-country skiing, and canoeing. Indoor fitness pursuits are available at any of this small town’s six fitness centers, including the Thoreau Club — a tennis and swimming emporium that is anything but Thoreauvian in scale. For a more urban workout, they don’t call Brockton the “city of champions” for nothing: Gym rats here follow in the footsteps of native son Rocky Marciano as they climb into the ring at boxing clubs across the city.