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Top Spots to Live 2022: West of Boston

To the west, communities with plenty of trees and a small-town feel have been discovered by an influx of buyers.

Naomi Elliott for the boston globe

Explore the 2022 Top Spots to Live by region: City neighborhoods | North | South


Top Spot: Shirley

Median single-family price: $450,000

Increase since 2016: 54.1 percent

Before Alison Tocci came back to her hometown of Shirley to take over the family business — the Bull Run, a restaurant and music venue her parents started in the 1940s — she and her husband, George, had spent more than a decade running a concert series on a floating barge in Brooklyn. It was quite a change of pace from New York City, but continuing the family tradition in this small town west of Interstate 495 has been a dream come true. “It’s been an unbelievably rewarding journey,” she says.


Tocci lives in Shirley’s historic center, while the Bull Run stands on the site where local men began their march into Lexington and Concord during the Revolutionary War. “Even when the pandemic hit, I felt like it’s not our first rodeo in terms of hurricanes, wars, recessions . . . This thing has withstood quite a bit,” Tocci says. “The Bull abides — we’re not going anywhere.”

She likes that the town is near enough to both Boston and Worcester (and their airports), as well as the ocean, while affording a rural lifestyle. “Shirley has just got tons of open space,” Tocci says, including one of her favorite places, the 89-acre Farandnear Reservation. It does lack some modern conveniences — like its own gas station or grocery store, she notes. “It’s very, very small.”

But as much as she’ll always love New York, Tocci finds all the action she craves right in Shirley. “I walk into a completely different cast of characters every night,” she says, depending on who’s booked to perform at the Bull Run and what kind of audience they draw. “That’s my own little New York City microcosm right there.”


Runners-up in the under $600,000 category


Median single-family price: $580,000

Increase since 2016: 52.7 percent


Median single-family price: $450,000

Increase since 2016: 45.2 percent

Millis and Milford have both seen their stocks rise with home buyers who work along I-495. Millis is a bit further off the beaten track than Milford, but offers more open space and a school system with a 12-year Spanish immersion program. 2021 Top Spot Milford, meanwhile, is a small, relatively affordable city with its own full-service hospital.


Top Spot: Upton

Median single-family price: $615,000

Increase since 2016: 57.7 percent

Originally from upstate New York, Dan Lazarz and his wife had been living in Central Virginia when they moved to Massachusetts in the late 1990s. Their relocation specialist was nudging them to buy closer to Boston, but life near the Blue Ridge Mountains had left them longing for a similar rural-suburban setting, and they settled on the relatively remote town of Upton. “It was definitely much more affordable than communities inside 495,” Lazarz says. “We got a nice house for the money, and we weren’t too far outside of Boston.”

The Lazarz family grew, and so did the town, as major employers like EMC (now Dell EMC) and Fidelity opened nearby offices. But with 29 percent of the town’s land protected, including Upton State Forest, and the rest almost entirely residential, there’s not much of a commercial tax base in Upton itself. Lazarz, a fire protection engineer who’s also a volunteer firefighter, says the wave of newcomers joined longtime residents in pouring their hearts into the town, making up for services the small community couldn’t provide. The town of 8,000 also shares a school district (and a Spanish immersion program) with next-door Mendon.


“If you’re looking for a community where all your services are kind of given to you on a menu, Upton is probably not your place,” Lazarz says. But those who want to get involved with their neighbors through volunteering — whether on a town board, a school’s PTO, or a youth sports program — will feel right at home.

Runners-up in the $600,000-$800,000 category


Median single-family price: $705,000

Increase since 2016: 46.5 percent


Median single-family price: $661,000

Increase since 2016: 45.3 percent

Scenic Bolton boasts over 2,000 acres of conservation land — more than one-third of an acre per resident. Westborough, meanwhile, could have easily become one big office park or strip mall, given its location at the nexus of the Massachusetts Turnpike, Route 9, and I-495. But between its picturesque downtown, commuter rail service, and multiple lakes and parks, it balances small town charm with city-caliber conveniences.


Top Spot: Carlisle

Median single-family price: $1,250,000

Increase since 2016: 59.2 percent

Woodsy Carlisle can feel a bit out of the way compared with its neighbors (such as second runner-up Concord, with whom Carlisle shares a high school); it’s not on a highway, and has no commuter rail station. But life in Carlisle should never feel lonely, says 84-year-old Ellen Huber, a resident since 1964.


“Some people live at the end of a long driveway surrounded by woods, but no one should ever feel isolated here — unless they want to,” Huber says.

“It is very easy to get involved in town groups and events,” she adds, from library happenings to the annual Old Home Day, which features live music and games, road races, a children’s pet show, and a strawberry festival. Residents can also get involved with the nonprofit, weekly newspaper, the Carlisle Mosquito, Huber says — or catch up on local news by chatting with neighbors at the town transfer station, which has “friendly workers and the best swap shop anywhere.”

The town also boasts “great schools and a wonderful trails system,” Huber says, including the 1,000-acre Great Brook Farm State Park, and another 1,100 acres of town-owned conservation land — complete with an active cranberry bog.

Runners-up in the $800,000 and up category


Median single-family price: $810,000

Increase since 2016: 58.9 percent


Median single-family price: $1,416,000

Increase since 2016: 52.3 percent

Though it lacks a defined downtown district, Southborough boasts the same highway and transit options as neighboring Westborough — with a slight head start toward Boston, given its position inside I-495 — as well as St. Mark’s School and abundant open space. And Concord — historic home to authors Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau — continues to charm with its walkable downtown and pastoral landscape.

48 East Street in Uptonhandout image


48 East Street | Upton

Price: $745,000


Square feet: 3,506

Lot size: 4 acres

Bedrooms: 5 Baths: 3

This 1976 Garrison Colonial features an updated kitchen, three fireplaces, and a working 18th-century stove in the dining area, plus a separate one-bedroom guest apartment. (Listed by Derek Greene, The Greene Realty Group)

—Additional reporting by Kim Costigan

Explore the 2022 Top Spots to Live by region: City neighborhoods | North | South

Jon Gorey is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.