City Living Guide: What is it like to live in Rochester, MN?

Rochester, Minnesota is the third largest city in the state, situated in southeastern Minnesota on the Zumbro River. Home of the renowned Mayo Clinic, the city is often noted on the “best cities” lists as one of the best overall or one of the best in the Midwest. With its scenic setting, outstanding healthcare and highly rated educational systems, Rochester appeals to many. Let’s find out why as we look at those features as well as location, standard of living, job opportunities, housing and recreational options.

Large city with easy access

1. Large city with easy access

Minnesota is a state teeming with rivers and lakes, hills and plains, forests and prairies. It is the source of the mighty Mississippi River in northern Minnesota and borders Lake Superior, one of the five, fresh-water Great Lakes, to the northeast. Each of its distinctive seasons display a panorama of nature’s incredible splendor. Residents and guests enjoy a variety of sports, water adventures and recreational activities that change with the seasons. The state is known for its education, healthcare and business opportunities, and its people have a reputation for their midwestern values, goodwill and love of nature.

The area was originally home to the Ojibwe, Winnebago, Sioux and Dakota. Later, European travelers arrived including the French and English. In the 1800s, Rochester served as a stagecoach stop between Iowa and Minnesota, and in the mid-1800s, travel and commerce expanded with the arrival of the railroad. Today, the busy Rochester International Airport (RST) is served by Delta, American and United with direct flights to Atlanta, Minneapolis and Chicago. To accommodate international travelers, a customs’ facility was added in 1995, and 2018 proved to be a record-breaking year for the number of passengers served.

The city is served by several major highways and the I-90 freeway. Residents use public transportation, drive their own vehicles and ride bicycles as weather permits. The downtown district includes a system of skyways and underground walkways to provide comfortable access between buildings to avoid inclement weather and traffic.

Highly educated population and notable landmarks

2. Highly educated population and notable landmarks

With a population estimated at 116,000+ residents, Rochester, Minnesota has a youthful, educated population. While many residents are of European ancestry, the area is now attracting a more diverse population with an emphasis on professional and medical careers. In June of 2018, Rochester became the first American city to be designated as an Intercultural City (ICC). Originating in Europe, this supportive network program has extended to European cities and beyond and is noted for its mission of setting standards of excellence in governance, policies and practice.

As the Zumbro River flows through Rochester, it provides a beautiful valley vista for those working and living in the downtown sector. In contrast, but every bit as lovely, the rolling hills, woods and farmland surrounding the city provide a peaceful setting for those who prefer a quieter rural setting.

The Mayo Clinic is a well-known facility amid the many hotel options. Other notable landmarks are the Plummer Building, Mayo Clinic Historical Suite, Mayowood Mansion, Plummer House, Gonda Building and Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial. Also of interest are the Quarry Hill Nature Center and Quarry Hill Park. The Mayo Civic Center provides convention space and hosts events throughout the year.

Distinct seasons and natural beauty

3. Distinct seasons and natural beauty

True to Minnesotan tradition, the four seasons create a dramatic backdrop each year. Summertime features the Zumbro River flowing through Rochester and the extensive park and trail system. There are campgrounds and RV parks for outdoor enjoyment. Unusual in the land of 10,000+ lakes, Rochester does not possess a single natural lake but proudly sports the Silver Lake reservoir, a popular choice for walking, running, swimming, skating, biking and fishing. Residents also rent canoes and paddleboats for waterfront enjoyment. Soldiers Field Park is a treasured destination for ballgames, swimming, golf, picnics and ice skating in the winter.

Autumn in Rochester prompts colorful leaves and a beautiful river walk. Farmers markets continue to sell their produce and vegetables, and residents savor their trips to the pumpkin patch or apple orchard. Fall festivals come alive to celebrate the season’s bounty with food, fellowship and music. The many choices include the Fall Fest at Peace Plaza downtown, Oktoberfest, Quarry Hill Fall Festival and Harvest Moon Fall Festival at the History Center.

Winter glistens in all shades of white, from the frost on the trees to the first, pristine snowfall. Icicles hang from rooflines, and the river and lakes freeze over, accommodating ice fishing and skating. Sleds sail down hills amidst laughter and delighted screeches. The roads also see a change in driving habits as they become icy and snow covered. City crews are quick to salt or sand the streets and plow the roads for safer travel. Winter can be bitterly cold, and residents bundle up to venture outside, but for the most part, they don’t let the weather spoil their plans.

After a lengthy winter, spring is much appreciated with buds on the trees and the appearance of green grass. There is much more outdoor activity and winter clothing is stored in favor of warm-weather wear. You’ll see people back on the golf course and walking in the park. Kids are playing outdoors, and fans get excited about baseball and soccer. Gardens are planted, and flowers begin to bloom.  Finally, bicycles, motorcycles and convertibles make their appearance, and outdoor patios become popular once again.

High living standard and excellent services

4. High living standard and excellent services

With an average cost of living, Rochester is an appealing urban area. The city provides first-rate services, and the crime rate is low. The quality of education and healthcare is a plus, along with the attractive downtown setting. Career professionals, students and families are attracted to this lovely city, and they stay because of the sense of community, intellectual gratification and agreeable amenities. The city has a variety of businesses, schools, churches, shopping centers, hotels, museums, restaurants and golf courses.

The Zumbro River and its tributary creeks have caused severe flood damage over the years, and city leaders were determined to create a plan to minimize future damage from rising waters within the city. Working with the federal government, they implemented a plan in the late 1970s to help prevent future flood disasters for the city, its residents and businesses.

Partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Natural Resources Conservation District, a system of channels and reservoirs was designed and completed in 1996, now providing flood control for most of the city.

Excellent healthcare options

5. Excellent healthcare options

Minnesota is often cited as a state with exceptional healthcare providers and facilities. Residents are considered generally health conscious, and Rochester is no exception. The city has excellent clinics and hospitals, including Olmsted Medical Center, Zumbro Valley Medical and the celebrated Mayo Clinic.

The Mayo Clinic serves over 2 million patients each year, arriving from domestic and global destinations. Not surprisingly, the Mayo is a major employer, and many residents are medical professionals with a variety of specialties. The clinic has been skillfully serving the public with medical care for over 100 years and continues its education programs and research. The medical center includes the Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic Hospital, Methodist Campus and St. Mary’s Campus.

Educational opportunities for all

6. Educational opportunities for all

Residents of Rochester, Minnesota value education. There are many highly rated public and private schools, and a variety of higher education choices, including branches of prominent colleges and universities, such as University of Minnesota Rochester, Cardinal Stritch University, Minnesota School of Business, Augsburg University, College of St. Scholastica, Winona State University and St. Mary’s University.

Associated with the Mayo Clinic are Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences for graduate study and research. Other educational choices are Rochester Community and Technical College, Crossroads College, National American University Rochester, Nova Academy of Cosmetology and Rochester School of Hair Design.

In 2018, the distinguished Rochester Public Library was one of only five libraries in the country to receive the National Medal for making significant contributions to the community. It continues to make a difference to residents of all ages with well-designed activities, events and programs.

Job growth and low unemployment

7. Job growth and low unemployment

With low unemployment, short commute times and a growing medical and technology sector, job availability and professional growth are enticing in Rochester. By far the largest employer in Rochester and even one of the largest in the state, Mayo Clinic provides careers to a variety of medical staff. Many events are open to the public, including their Heritage Days, open house, historical museum and concerts.

IBM has been another iconic employer in Rochester with a history of impressive research, development and manufacturing. However, since the downturn in their business, the massive IBM complex has been sold and is now known as Rochester Technology Campus which leases to IBM, high-tech and medical-tech businesses.

Other major industries are healthcare, education, professional and technology, local government, manufacturing, hospitality, retail, and dairy producers such as Kemps and Kerry, a subsidiary of the Irish-based Kerry Group. The Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce strives to promote business success and collaboration in a thriving community.

Cultural center and activities

8. Cultural center and activities

Along the Zumbro River, the Mayo Civic Center provides ideal space for conventions and entertainment. The Rochester Symphony celebrates 100 years of musical excellence with its 2019/2020 season. Venues include the Mayo Civic Center and the Lourdes High School. In its early years, the orchestra performed at the Chateau Theatre, providing music for silent movies. Once a week in summer, local musicians, artists and restaurants man their booths along First Avenue for “Thursdays on First.”

In Rochester, you’ll find live music, theater, museums and art galleries. The glass-enclosed Rochester Art Center displays contemporary art and offers classroom, banquet and reception space. For theatre, music and dance performances, visit the Rochester Civic Theatre Company, and to experience a variety of creative productions, set a date for the Rochester Repertory Theatre Company.

The April 2019 grand opening of the Gray Duck Theater and Coffeehouse brought independent films, documentaries and classic films to Rochester on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. This microcinema seats 60+ people and can be rented for private events when films are not being shown.

The city has 3500 acres of parkland and 85 miles of paved trails, plus access to state trails. The Quarry Hill Nature Center is a popular destination with live animals, classes, an exploration cave, hiking trails and a variety of day camp themes and programs. The Minnesota Children’s Museum Rochester plans activities and events for children of all ages.

Pros and cons for living in Rochester

9. Pros and cons for living in Rochester

As with all cities, there will be pros and cons, depending on your point of view. Let’s discuss possible negatives, which start with weather and nature. Conditions in Rochester can be quite windy. Summers are beautiful but can be very hot and humid, and winters are admittedly cold. With these extremes in temperature come the difficulty some drivers have getting around in winter on the snow and ice. Heating and cooling costs can be higher than elsewhere, and warm winter clothing is needed to brave the season. Flooding is also a possibility, although the city has invested considerable time, energy and money into changes that minimize the likelihood of these disasters.

Sports fans may be disappointed to find a lack of professional sports teams but are generally reassured with the proximity to the Twin Cities and multiple sporting events within a reasonable driving distance. If you crave a large variety of cultural events, you may also be disappointed, but again, the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro is close by and adds a wide range of selections to your list of possibilities. Some people may prefer a greater degree of diversity in population, but the city is drawing people of all backgrounds and beliefs for educational and work opportunities.

On the other side of the coin are a multitude of positives. The Rochester area is consistently rated as a leader for healthy, happy lifestyles. The city is synonymous with premier healthcare, and residents are friendly, helpful and family focused. You can find educational and occupational opportunity, your favorite indoor and outdoor activities, and shopping and entertainment options. Getting around in the city is convenient with its skyway and underground walkway system. With a strong economy, Rochester has much to offer employees and business owners alike.

Housing is available in many styles and at many price points. Choices include urban, suburban and rural locales. There’s something for everyone. Retirees also love Rochester for its healthcare, safety, golf courses, library, senior housing and assisted living options. With a gorgeous river, expansive park system and lovely hiking trails, residents walk, exercise and enjoy healthy living at a relaxed pace.

Neighborhoods of Rochester

10. Neighborhoods of Rochester

As a commercial center and medical hub, Rochester attracts families and individuals. Many are in professional careers and advancing quickly. Finding a home and neighborhood to fit their lifestyle is not a problem. As a predominantly white-collar community, housing options and neighborhood choices are plentiful and as varied as their residents.

The city is efficiently divided into four quadrants. The Northeast encompasses parks, lovely two-story and older story-and-a-half homes as well as newer neighborhoods and homes. The Northwest contains businesses, single-family homes, townhomes and Quarry Hill Nature Center. In the Southeast, you’ll find older, reasonably priced, single-family homes, and older homes and upscale newer homes in the Southwest. There are golf courses in both southern quadrants.

A few of the neighborhood choices are friendly Kutzky Park, Viking Hills, active Downtown, the charming, historic Pill Hill in the Southwest section, artsy Cooke Park, nature-loving Cascade Lake, trendy Uptown, North River Court, Meadow Park, Shorewood, and Baihly Woodlands. Many of these neighborhoods have seen recent renovations and improvements.

Real estate options for your lifestyle

11. Real estate options for your lifestyle

The Rochester real estate market offers older and newer single-family homes, townhomes, condos, investment properties and commercial real estate options. If you are considering a home purchase in Rochester, there are a wide variety of homes, neighborhoods and pricing. The city attracts young professionals, students, families, a dedicated workforce and retirees.

City Living Guide: What is it like to live in Rochester, MN?

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The river lends natural beauty to the city’s landscape, and the many parks and hills add charismatic appeal to this stunning valley. The wide range of housing offers possibilities for every preference, and the commute to work is much quicker than in major cities. Whether you are relocating for employment or retiring and downsizing, Rochester is full of promise for your comfort and contentment.

Your realtor and mortgage professional will be help you understand the local market and values, and they will know which neighborhoods suit your priorities and finances. Minnesota real estate tax continues to hold close to the national average and property values continue to increase.

An experienced realtor is a treasured resource

12. An experienced realtor is a treasured resource

Interviewing prospective realtors in Rochester will pay off, so be sure to take the time to find one that has experience and has already gained the trust of others. You can ask friends and colleagues for referrals to realtors who have served them well, check or read online reviews. Buying a home is a major decision and, quite likely, your largest purchase. Your realtor will provide the knowledge and expertise necessary to make a wise decision.

Mortgage rates are still favorable for home buyers, and housing is generally affordable if you look in areas that your realtor has recommended for your budget. In Minnesota, spring typically sees a surge in real estate activity, but homes are on the market in every season.

City Living Guide: What is it like to live in Rochester, MN?

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Now that you know more about Rochester and what it might be like to live there, you can look further into the various neighborhoods and acquaint yourself with options for education, employment, shopping and recreation. This Minnesota river valley city combines urban life with a captivating natural setting. You’ll find plenty of adult and family-friendly recreational activities and business opportunities for achievement and upward mobility. If you’re looking for a more relaxed pace, there’s plenty of that in Rochester, Minnesota.

Best of luck with your house hunting! If you have enjoyed this article and learned more about what to consider when buying a house in Rochester, please share it with a friend who might also benefit. Thank you!

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