Considering a move to Pennsylvania and wondering about the pros and cons to consider? Here are some of the things that should be on your list!
I’m originally from Denver, Colorado. I grew up in the Denver suburbs, then lived in Massachusetts for a number of years before returning to live in Boulder. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever leave Colorado, to be honest, but then life happened.
After visiting Pennsylvania many times to see my partner’s family (he’s from Philly), I accidentally moved to Philadelphia in the middle of the night a few years ago. We had booked plane tickets for March 10, 2020 to Philadelphia, just a few days before the entire US shut down. My partner and I decided to stay in Philadelphia and “wait things out” for a few days, which turned into several months as everyone struggled to navigate the pandemic.
In total, I spent about six months living in Philadelphia in 2020 before moving to Ireland. It was an anxious time, but I appreciated the chance to really get to know Pennsylvania while I was there.
Living in Pennsylvania Pros and Cons
I want to state outright that there are doubtlessly people who have lived in Pennsylvania longer, or who have more nuanced opinions about the state. However, I wanted to share my thoughts as someone who has lived in a number of places, including Colorado, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ireland, and France. (I also studied abroad in Jordan and lived with a host family.)
I visit Philly often, have a sister living in the city, and my partner is from the Philly suburbs, so I fact-checked this post with them to make sure it’s accurate.
So, here are the pros and cons that I suggest you consider before moving to Pennsylvania. This list is an overview of the things I loved (and didn’t love so much) while I was living in the Keystone State, with some helpful input from friends and family.
Pros of Living in Pennsylvania
Here are some of the best parts of living in Pennsylvania, from my perspective anyway. These are the things that I miss, admire, and the things I look forward to experiencing when I go back.
1. Fantastic food
When I think of Pennsylvania, I think of the fabulous food. Whether it’s buttery Amish soft pretzels dipped in sweet mustards or Italian treats from Isgro’s Bakery that you waited an hour to get, there’s a bonafide craftsmanship Pennsylvanian cuisine. To say nothing of the cheesesteak sandwiches, for which Philly is arguably most famous.
Philadelphia in particular is a hub for great restaurants, from intriguing budget eats to high end dining. When I visit the city, I usually try to hit a few of my favorite spots like John’s Water Ice, Bánh Mì and Bottles, and Function Coffee Labs. I also had an amazing meal at Cheu Fishtown on a trip to Philly and have been meaning to go back.
2. Fabulous coffee
The coffee in Pennsylvania is good enough that I needed to include it as its own bullet on this list. Philadelphia in particular has an incredible coffee scene, and it’s the standard to which I compare new cafes and coffee roasters. As a coffee lover, I can say confidently that the Philadelphia coffee scene trumps the best coffee in Cork and most of the top coffee shops in Denver.
3. Interesting landmarks
Although DC can sometimes get all the credit, there are American historical sites throughout the state of Pennsylvania, especially in Philly. In Philadelphia, you can visit the Liberty Bell, Edgar Allen Poe’s house, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There’s also Independence Hall, where the nation was founded and the spot where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.
On the other side of the state, Pittsburgh is home to the Fort Pitt Block House, a residence that was built in 1764. When the rest of Fort Pitt was demolished in 1792, the Block House was left untouched and you can still visit it today.
4. People have character
If there’s a word that I definitely wouldn’t use to describe the people in Pennsylvania, it’s dull. Everyone I’ve ever met from PA has had a lot of character, including interesting hobbies, often big personalities, and usually lots of opinions. I love it.
Having all of these individual characters makes for a pretty interesting overall culture. Here’s an example: a friend was playing in an all-levels intramural softball league in Philadelphia. I had the opportunity to go to one of their games and my friend pointed out that there were dedicated spectators every week.
Two older men with no known relation to any of the players would pack coolers and go to the softball fields every Sunday to watch the adult intramural games. They were full blown spectators, shouting encouragement to the team, openly disagreeing with the reps, and cheering for their favorite players. Apparently this was just part of a normal weekend for these guys, and it was frankly very fun to get to see them enjoying the game.
5. Unique restaurants and foods
Pennsylvania has a number of its own foods that you won’t find almost anywhere else. Not only are there the obvious choices, Philly cheesesteaks and Philly pretzels, there are Amish pretzels, water ice, and gelati, to name a few.
Many people from Pennsylvania don’t even know that their foods are unique. I’ve met people from PA who learned in their teens and 20s that other Americans have never heard of “water ice,” which, if you’re curious, is sort of a mix between a slushie and a snow cone.
My favorite Pennsylvania food is a buttery Amish pretzel, dipped in sweet mustard. You can find them all over, but my favorites are from a stand in the Ardmore Farmers Market.
6. Weather is generally mild
Being part of the mid-Atlantic, Pennsylvania has milder weather than New England or areas in the south. While the weather gets hot in the summer and the winter sees plenty of snow, you won’t find the harsh winter months that are commonplace in New England.
I fell in love with the fabulous springtime, full of blossoming flowers and colorful butterflies. April is my favorite month in Pennsylvania, when the magnolia trees are in full bloom.
The notable exception to Pennsylvania’s mild weather is its tendency to get hit by both hurricanes and tornadoes. Although it’s nothing like Florida or Oklahoma, respectively, there still can be extreme weather systems in the state.
7. Great pro sports teams with enthusiastic fans
Ok, I didn’t actually experience the professional sports scene when I was living in Pennsylvania because it was the pandemic. However, in speaking to friends and family who have lived in the state, I was assured that I couldn’t leave this one off my list.
Pennsylvania sports teams are a big part of living in the state. Whether you’re an Eagles fan or a Steelers fan, you’ll be in good company in PA.
8. Housing is more affordable than many other US cities
At one point while I was living in Pennsylvania, my partner and I seriously considered trying to move to the state. We were drawn in by the aforementioned great food and quality of life, but also the relatively affordable housing. After moving to Boulder, we were definitely intrigued by the lower prices and comparably larger spaces that we were able to afford.
It’s not just me who feels this way. Housing is a major expense for most Americans, and the cost of housing in Pennsylvania is 13% lower than the national average. So, it’s at least a bit more affordable than many other places in the US.
9. Beautiful green spaces
Pennsylvania is home to 19 National Parks, one National Forest, 20 State Forests, and 116 State Parks – that’s a lot of green space! On top of those numbers, there are also plentiful city parks, including Fairmount Park in the Wissahickon Valley, one of the largest city parks in the US.
So, whether you enjoy hiking, trail running, or just walking your dog in the great outdoors, it’s easy to get outside.
Cons of Living in Pennsylvania
Living in Pennsylvania is, sadly, not all roses. Here are some of the cons that you might want to consider before moving.
10. Public transit is lacking
You won’t be in Pennsylvania long before you start to notice that the public transit leaves a lot to be desired. The trains and buses in Philadelphia, for instance, struggle with issues of safety and sanitation, leading to problematically low ridership.
Whether you’re trying to travel across the state or within the city of Philadelphia, you’ll have an easier time if you can drive and avoid relying on public transit. Everyone I know who lives in Pennsylvania has a car, and it would be hard to imagine living in the state without one.
11. It’s not the safest
Crime is a concern for anyone living in Pennsylvania, not just those taking public transit. Locals often cite concerns about personal safety and property crime, especially in Philadelphia. Gun violence is a particular concern. Recently, the Philadelphia Eagles released a video featuring a local poet who lost her brother to gun violence in honor of National Gun Violence Survivors Week.
However, there’s less crime in Philadelphia than other similarly sized metropolitan areas, about the same as New York City. US News and World Report gave Philly a score of 7.9/10. For comparison, Denver, Colorado received a score of 6.6/10.
12. Threat of ticks and Lyme disease
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is endemic for Lyme disease. Ticks are very common throughout the state, and PA reports more cases of Lyme disease than any other state in the US.
Lyme disease is a nasty disease caused by bites from infected blacklegged ticks. It’s the most common vector-borne disease in the US and can cause fever, headache, fatigue, and skin rashes. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause joint, heart, and nervous system issues.
You can protect yourself by avoiding places where ticks are common, such as tall grass or brushy areas. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts can deter ticks from biting you, and wearing light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot any ticks that might be crawling on you.
13. Sports fans can get rowdy
Philadelphia is famous for its rowdy sports fans. Here’s a video of Eagles fans mourning the February 2023 Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Fans are known to riot, climb traffic lights, and loot after big sports games.
Residents in Philly who want to avoid the chaos after a sports game typically choose to just stay home when major sports teams are on. This, combined with living a short distance from the most central parts of the city, can help protect you from the commotion on the streets.
Still, you’ll probably experience some rowdy fans at the grocery stores or at restaurants on game day. They’re big fans, and they’re sure to be out to show their support.
14. Summers are humid
Having grown up outside of Denver, the relatively high levels of humidity during the summer were killer. Sometimes the weather was simply too hot and sticky for me, leading to some long, miserable (and sweaty) days. Not all of the buildings have air conditioning, so be sure to double check that there’s a cooling system before renting a house or apartment.
The worst part about the Pennsylvania heat is the associated enormous, biting insects. It seems there are never more bloodthirsty bugs than when the weather is miserably hot in the middle of July. I’m not a scientist, but I’m telling you the bugs in PA are bigger.
15. There’s no direct access to the ocean
If you’re someone who loves to go to the beach in the summers, you might be disappointed by the beach access in eastern Pennsylvania. When I asked my partner, who grew up in Pennsylvania, about the pros and cons of living in Philly, he said, “You have to go through the state of New Jersey to get to the beach.”
That said, the beaches along the Jersey shoreline are very beautiful and sandy. In case you’re wondering, his favorite beach in New Jersey is Avalon Beach. It’s quieter than many of the other beaches along the shore, but there aren’t many restaurants or cafes so you’ll need to pack a beach bag and a cooler.
16. People yell at you on the streets
I’ve never been anywhere else in my life where people just yelled at me on the streets. Literally, I’ll be walking down the sidewalk in Philadelphia and someone will start shouting at me. The something could be the fact that my shoe was untied or simple catcalling or something nonsensical.
It was strange and hard to adjust to, but locals seem to develop an intuitive sense of what they should and shouldn’t listen to when walking.
When in doubt, don’t engage. Just keep walking and hopefully the shouter will direct their ire in another direction.
17. The Mexican food doesn’t compare
For all of the great food in Pennsylvania, there’s one noteworthy omission: Mexican food. Being from Colorado, I can help but comment on the Mexican food in Pennsylvania. While there are a few places serving interesting and exciting burritos and tacos, the scene pales in comparison to Colorado or California.
This seems especially true if you’re a vegetarian, like me. There just don’t seem to be as many stand out options. However, I’m nothing if not dedicated and I’ll keep trying places – if I find a great spot, I’ll update this post to include it.
FAQs: Living in Pennsylvania Pros and Cons
Still interested in moving to Pennsylvania? Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Is Pennsylvania a good place to live?
In general, yes – Pennsylvania is a good place to live. The cost of living is lower than other areas in the United States, there’s great food, and the state has lots of green spaces. When I lived outside of Philadelphia, I was always the most impressed with the food scene – something I consider important to my quality of life in a city.
What do I need to know before moving to Pennsylvania?
The first thing you need to know before moving to Pennsylvania is where, exactly, you’d like to live. Are you drawn to the hip and bustling birthplace of the United States, Philadelphia? Or is there a more rural area in your sites?
Once you decide where in PA you’d like to move, you can start looking for housing, work, and generally settling. You might be interested in my guide to making friends as an adult or dealing with homesickness.
Are Pennsylvanians friendly?
I would use a lot of positive words to describe people from Pennsylvania, but “friendly” probably wouldn’t be one of them. People in Pennsylvania are genuine, enthusiastic sports fans, and creative in the ways that they navigate the cities.
A friend once told me, “People from the west coast are sweet and people from the east coast are salty.” I’d definitely say that people in Pennsylvania are salty – and that’s perfectly ok! Not everyone has to be sweet.
Conclusion: Living in Pennsylvania Pros and Cons
There are lots of fabulous pros to living in Pennsylvania, the Keystone State. People in Pennsylvania have character, there’s fabulous food, and you’re close enough to New York to pop over for a day trip.
Philadelphia in particular has its own culture, which is unlike any other city I’ve been to in the US. I once asked my then-roommate what Philadelphia was like because she’d previously lived there. I’ll never forget her answer; she proclaimed, “People in Philly just don’t give a f*ck.”
I’ve taken it to mean that there’s just a general nonchalance to the city, where everything is run by a series of formal and informal networks. See a parking space with a lawn chair in it during the winter? Keep moving, that one’s reserved.
Still wondering if a move to PA is right for you? When researching for this post, I asked a friend who lives in Philadelphia about the pros and cons of living in Pennsylvania and they said, “Pros: the sports fans are fanatical. Cons: the sports fans are fanatical.” So, I suppose it would be worthwhile to do some soul-searching to decide how you feel about fanatical sports fans!