New York has been the star of the Best Cities show for the past four years, but COVID-19 made 2020 into a life and death drama for the city that called every assumption into question and turned the data on its head. In America’s top-ranked city for culture, the MOMA is helping parents teach art from home, the Metropolitan Opera is streaming performances, and Broadway, where the show must famously go on, is shuttered, a tragedy. A year ago, New York was reinventing shopping, with the mall of the future at Hudson Yards and Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus vying for supremacy in the chic city. This year, in the #1 shopping city in America, there is no breakfast at Tiffany’s. New York, of course, ranks first for Fortune 500 companies but now meetings are virtual and a generation of entrepreneurs is thinking hard about its life choices. In the city that never sleeps, #1 for Nightlife, night owls order delivery and dream fitfully at home. Restaurants, #2 in the country, almost instantly became take-out and delivery operations, accelerating a trend from dining out to eating in. Nobody knows when any of this ends, but New York knows a thing or two about coming back from terrible brinks. 9/11 is more than a vague memory. SARS came and went. However the world emerges, evolves or pivots out of our collective force majeure, it will happen here first. New York is, after all, #1.
Los Angeles has always had “star” power, but when Michelin announced in June 2019 that 24 Greater Los Angeles area restaurants had been awarded with its most prestigious accolade in its inaugural Michelin Guide California selection, it suddenly meant more than just A-listers and cinema cachet. Indeed, of the seven new two-star distinctions in the Guide, six are in L.A., further cementing its accolades as “the Most Exciting Food City in America.” Of course all that means little when sheltering in place has shuttered hundreds of the city’s exciting dining spots. The COVID-19 outbreak has launched L.A.—and Mayor Eric Garcetti—into the spotlight. The city was the first metropolis in the country to demand almost full closure, “and the biggest city to go to full closure of all nonessential businesses,” the mayor pointed out recently. Combine that foresight with California’s fast action on lockdowns, and L.A. is positioned to come back brighter. Its cultural and culinary leaders—so willing to step up and declare the city open for business after a series of natural disasters, helping the city rank #2 in our Promotion category—will be called upon again soon. They’ll do their best to keep their city’s #2 ranking in the subcategory of Facebook Check-ins and #3 for Instagram Hashtags and Google Trends. Anything to get the City of Angels off the ground.
San Francisco has embraced seekers since the Gold Rush days, when, seemingly overnight, people came from Asia and Europe, from across the continent and from the other side of the world for their shot at the California Dream. Along the way, these immigrants have sowed the seeds for the city’s open-minded attitude toward, well, everything. The result is a place that doesn’t just welcome differences, but actually encourages and celebrates them. No wonder it ranks #2 nationally in our People category, including #3 for post-secondary educated residents and #4 for Foreign Born residents. The promise of high salaries means a torrent of global workers fuel the city’s ambition and ideas, ranking it #7 in the nation in our Prosperity category, including #2 for Household Income and #4 for Fortune 500 Companies. Given its well-documented attempt at inclusivity and taking care of its own—from COVID-19 patients to the swelling homeless population. “We’re the city of St. Francis, and if we don’t lead on this, then shame on us,” said Joe D’Alessandro, CEO of San Francisco Travel. “As a DMO we’re taking a leading role on this… looking for small fixes until we can figure it out federally.” With that kind of local support, the city is charging into the current crisis well equipped.
Few American cities fell harder in visitor numbers in recent months than Chicago. Whether for business or pleasure, the city had been attracting tourism at record-breaking levels year after year. Indeed, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel took the city’s top job in 2011, an estimated 39 million people a year visited Chicago. By the time he wrapped up his final term in 2019, that number had ballooned to nearly 58 million annual visitors—an impressive tourism feat and perhaps the biggest success story of Emanuel’s mayoral tenure. In the last few years, the Windy City pursued and acquired some big-ticket draws, including the NFL Draft, the James Beard Foundation Awards and the Laver Cup. It also bolstered tourist-friendly attractions like the Riverwalk and events that showcase Chicago’s craft beer scene. Its #3 ranking in our Programming category—including #2 in the subcategories of Culture and Nightlife, behind only NYC—speaks to the plentiful buzz that Chicago was perfecting before everything ground to a halt. In the not-too-distant future, the Obama Presidential Center—to be set in Jackson Park—will become a marquee attraction on Chicago’s South Side. “I think President Obama’s library can do for tourism what McCormick Place has done for business travel in the city,” Emanuel noted during his time as mayor. The city’s #5 ranking for Museums among the country’s large cities will surely improve as a result.
The ubiquity of the U.S. capital in dramas on screens small and large (to say nothing of the real-life stuff) has escalated its resonance in the zeitgeist and helped propel it to the cusp of the Top 5 large cities in the nation. The winning of Amazon’s coveted HQ2 in nearby Arlington, Virginia, dominated local chatter last year—the 25,000 jobs created will be located in what Amazon calls National Landing, a newly minted place brand for the neighborhood near Reagan National Airport known as Crystal City. The jobs will improve D.C.’s already impressive #3 ranking in our Prosperity category, powered by its #3 spot for Household Income in the country and #6 for Fortune 500 Companies. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, 2020 was going to be one of the busiest ever for D.C. development, with Capitol Hill’s the Roost, a 12,500-square-foot community-based food hall, kicking things off. West Half, near The Yards Park, is also planned to open later this year and will feature views of Major League Baseball’s Nationals Park and includes a brewery, cafés and local grocery store. And Ward 7, two blocks away from the Minnesota Avenue metro station, will be home to Market 7, powered by a variety of black-owned businesses including a grocer and retail installations by local makers. The jewel in the city’s culinary crown will be the $250-million River Point, two blocks from Audi Field, between Capitol Riverfront and the Wharf, with piers, waterfront activity and new restaurants that include a veggie-friendly eatery by James Beard–winning chef Spike Gjerde.
You could say that San Diego is where California began. It was here that Spanish settlers established the region’s very first mission in 1769—251 years ago, on a hillside overlooking what is now known as Old Town San Diego. Two and a half centuries later, this city of 1.4 million (with an MSA population approaching 3.5 million) is one of the fastest-growing in the U.S. Its #2 ranking in our deep Place category—with Top ten finishes for Safety (#10) and Parks & Outdoors (#3). And, of course, there’s its weather. San Diego is as naturally endowed as any place has a right to be—its sublime 263 full and partly sunny days annually help place it at #5 in the nation, while the 23 beaches—70 miles of them—within the city limits make it synonymous with SoCal surf culture. After a festive 2019 celebrating its 250th, the city is now pausing somewhat to reap the fruits of a torrid few years of development. Of course, with the COVID-19 outbreak and California’s stringent shelter-in-place orders, San Diegans don’t really have a choice. When they do get back out of the house and into their beloved city, they’ll beeline for the famous eponymous zoo—which is one year closer to the opening of its $69-million children’s zoo, to be named after Denny Sanford, a San Diego philanthropist who donated $30 million to this endeavor, the largest single gift the San Diego Zoo has ever received.
The story of Las Vegas blossoming into a “real city” has usually been told of late with breathless praise for its economic success. Tourism—the number one economic driver for Southern Nevada—has long paid for Las Vegas’ roads, parks, school construction and teachers’ salaries. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), more than 41% of Southern Nevadans are employed directly or indirectly because of tourism. But this single reliance on the visitor economy also means that the COVID-19 outbreak has decimated Las Vegas like few other American cities. When Governor Steve Sisolak took the unprecedented step of ordering every casino and gaming operation—the lifeblood of the state’s economy—to shut down by midnight, March 17, citizens were thrust into an unimaginable financial crisis. Overnight, hundreds of thousands were furloughed or lost their jobs outright. Perhaps the city’s pursuit of transforming into a hometown will accelerate its rebound as the lockdown begins to lift. If there is a silver lining for locals, it’s that they’ll have the nation’s #4-ranked Programming, including #3 in Culture, #4 in Nightlife and #8 in Restaurants, all to themselves for a few months, all while helping fellow citizens put in the reps to once again host the world.
It’s fascinating what a well-educated, well-paid and diverse population can do for a city’s rankings. In the case of San Jose, the economic, cultural and political capital of Silicon Valley, it’s everything, and it’s given the city its highest-ever finish in our ranking. The city boasts the highest household income in the country. All that capital lures the best talent on the planet, meaning San Jose also tops our People category, with the smartest residents in the nation and the second-most diverse. The bounty of universities in the area is a performance driver all its own, creating symbiotic integrations with the tech companies in the city that have access to funding and innovation like few others. Given the optimal conditions of a lauded, coveted school and the on-ramp it provides to jobs in the same city, San Jose will continue to stock its talent pipeline for years to come. The region, home to Google, Facebook, Cisco Systems, eBay and PayPal, is #6 for Fortune 500 HQs eager for graduates. There are a massive number of corporate offices in the city—with rumored plans for a new Google campus that could house up to 25,000 employees—but given the plentiful prosperity, San Jose is an incredibly livable and worthwhile destination. As California’s oldest civilian Spanish settlement, the city has many museums spanning its fascinating history.
Miami’s natural attributes—turquoise Biscayne Bay lapping gleaming sand while sun-kissed bodies frolic everywhere—have always captured the world’s imagination and crystallized the city’s hedonistic brand. But it’s the city’s openness to immigrants (and, more recently, the LGBTQ community) that ranks it #4 in the country in our People category, including being the city with the most foreign-born residents. Indeed, the city boasts more than 100 languages spoken at home, according to the latest census. Miami’s historic embrace of a crossroads of the Americas has also meant a business advantage few other cities claim. It’s home to one of the largest concentrations of international banks in the U.S., as well as the largest hub—outside of Mexico City, New York and L.A.—of Spanish-language media. Set at the crossroads of Latin America both in geography and in culture, Miami intends to promote its connectivity and globalism, and the region’s selection as a host city candidate for the 2026 World Cup will go a long way in showcasing these qualities. The city is also continuing its aggressive pursuit of events and conferences, and last year it approved the hotel design for the new Miami Beach Convention Center—a 185-foot, 17-story structure to be completed by 2022.
A hub of higher education and home to the fourth-best-educated workforce in the nation, Beantown produces a steady stream of new talent to help attract start-ups and established companies alike. Future talent gravitates to Harvard, of course—the country’s top school (and a big reason why the city is #1 in our University subcategory and scored Top 5 in our Product category, which measures expensive, hard-to-build infrastructure like Airport Connectivity and Convention Centers)—as well as to Boston’s density of other world-class universities and colleges. The city is bursting with lecture halls, labs and classrooms of the more than 75 institutions of higher learning, and is energized by the estimated 200,000 post-secondary students creating stories, ideas, solutions and technologies that will help drive the economy and incubate innovation districts nationally and globally in the coming decades. New students flock here, to arguably the planet’s largest university town, by the tens of thousands every year and become smitten with the crooked narrow streets and storied pubs, blended with American optimism and East Coast connectivity. This is the birthplace of America, after all. And Facebook. No wonder Boston ranks #7 in our People category, including #4 for the percentage of the population with postsecondary education.
International immigration in the past decade has contributed to explosive population growth and has made Houston one of the most ethnically diverse big cities in America, with more than 145 different languages spoken at home, according to the latest census—about even with New York. No wonder its restaurants are ranked #4 in the nation, trailing just the big three of L.A, NYC and Chicago. The fourth-largest city in the U.S. is also home to the fourth-largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the country. Despite this, the city ranks a middling #47 for Prosperity, including #74 in our Employment ranking and #99 for Income Equality. The recent development of the Houston Spaceport, a hub for innovation, education and commercial spaceflight, is the future of the region’s space industry—and brings us all a step closer to space tourism. For now, Houston’s 22.3 million annual visitors (2018)—of which 3.28 million were international travelers—arrive and depart by more conventional means—at least they did before the city was devastated by the pandemic. The city ranks #7 for Airport Connectivity.
Atlanta has always been a crossroads—open to new ideas, and to the new arrivals who came to this lush, hot, rolling land when the city rose as a railroad terminus. Today, it’s still a transportation hub, with Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport one of the busiest airports in the world, with 80% of the U.S. population residing within a two-hour flight. It’s why the city ranks #4 for Airport Connectivity among all U.S. cities, as well as #4 for its Convention Center, resulting in an overall #6 ranking in our Product category. Atlanta, like most optimized hubs, also boasts efficient, inexpensive, direct public transit links to the city from its airport. It’s also a long-time business titan and ranks #9 in the nation for most Fortune 500 companies based in town.
A thriving desert metropolis, Phoenix offers some of the best Mexican food this side of the border, a number of fine museums, a vibrant artist community and 300 days of sunshine. Start your visit with a stroll through Roosevelt Row Arts District, or RoRo, as locals have taken to calling it. Art galleries, studios, restaurants and bars sit side by side in this walkable creative district in the downtown core—helping the city to a #12 ranking in the country in our Sights & Landmarks category. Don’t miss the Desert Botanical Garden, which, with more than 50,000 plants, has one of the world’s largest collections of desert flora. Want to see some cacti and succulents in their natural element? Take a close-up look at Camelback Mountain. Summit trails are not for the faint of heart, especially in 100-degree heat, but the base of the mountain offers easier and equally beautiful trails for beginners. Phoenix ranks #13 in the nation for its Parks & Outdoors. If you’re looking for a respite from the heat, visit the Phoenix Art Museum, where Carlos Amorales’ Black Cloud, a site-specific installation consisting of 25,000 individual, life-sized black paper moths and butterflies, weaves its way in a swarm up the walls and ceilings of a gallery space.
It’s not only city branding that’s big in Dallas, which is home to more than 10,000 corporate headquarters—the largest corporate head office concentration in the U.S. and ranked third nationally in our Fortune 500 Companies subcategory. Of course, a city with lots of corporate headquarters is a city that’s easy to get to; Dallas ranks first in the nation for Connectivity, a measure of direct flight access into a city’s principal airport. But the city isn’t just big money; it’s big on fun and culture, too. Dallas is also home to America’s sixth-largest LGBTQ+ community, with bars and restaurants concentrated in Oak Lawn, and to the Dallas Arts District, the largest contiguous urban arts district in the nation. On 20 square blocks of mixed-use space, museums like the Dallas Museum of Art, the Crow Museum of Asian Art and the renowned Nasher Sculpture Center—as well as theaters, symphony and opera venues and restaurants and bars—all contribute to a #20 ranking in Culture.
Seattle’s self-reliance and dedication to taking care of its own has fostered over 150 years of city-building on the far-flung northwest coast of the U.S., setting the stage for its current “it” status. In many ways, Sea Town reverse-engineered its success. With a focus on education and an optimized workforce, the very environment that launched and held on to Boeing (still the biggest local employer despite the relocation of its headquarters to Chicago) as well as Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser has also attracted more recent captains of industry, like Amazon, Costco and Starbucks. Keeping the talent pipeline stocked has always been Seattle’s secret—and it has paid off. Today, it ranks #11 in the nation for educated citizenry and #6 in our vital Household Income subcategory. The city’s boom has slowed significantly, with rising COVID-19 cases—despite being 22nd-lowest in the nation as of early July—and its highest-ever unemployment rate (ranked #86 nationally as of May 2020). At the same time, residents, workers and businesses have been hobbled by the closure of the West Seattle Bridge, the city’s busiest.
Since its Wild West beginnings, Denver has attracted people from a variety of cultures who’ve created a rich tapestry and a diverse cultural heritage. These days, an increasing number of companies are locating in Downtown Denver, which points to its reputation as one of the best places in the country to start and grow a business. The city ranks an impressive #11 nationally for Prosperity, including #30 for Employment as of May 2020 and #28 for tackling income inequality. But it’s not just an abundance of jobs and a lower cost of living that’s attracting a highly educated and in-demand workforce to the city. Blessed with 300 days of sunshine a year and surrounded by mountains, hiking paths and numerous indoor/outdoor spaces, the city is in the vanguard of the growing trend toward office wellness. Lest we forget, cannabis is legal in the Mile High City and the entire state of Colorado.
The rebellious Texas city—forged with the Longhorn State’s can-do persistence cut with a university town’s political activism and social diversity—has long attracted the misfits that didn’t quite fit into the south’s expectations. the city ranks Top 10 in our People category, including #8 for Educational Attainment. That foundation of thinking differently drew dreamers for decades, manifesting in one of the nation’s top music scenes. The city’s marketing organization, Visit Austin, trademarked the city as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” On any given night, the city’s various entertainment districts serve up performance experiences like nowhere else on earth. South By Southwest, the annual summit of film, interactive media and music festivals and conferences (plus a fair share of historic product launches like Airbnb) has seeded the area’s magnetism for new ventures. As such, monikers like “Silicon Hills” have followed campus openings by Apple, Facebook, Google, Oracle, Dell, Cisco and Hewlett-Packard. A skills shortage—tempered by the pandemic—is being mitigated somewhat by a steady flow of graduates pouring out from the University of Texas and new residents from both coasts.
Being the largest city in a region that generates more than $60 billion in tourism-related revenue every year (2020 being the notable exception) gets you plenty of lift from a rising tide. That’s a lot of visitors with a story to tell if you give them the means. Orlando knows how to get people talking. Its Top 10 ranking in our Promotion category drove its strong ranking among large U.S. cities, including the third-most TripAdvisor reviews of any metropolis. Orlando plans buzzy product releases with military precision—and has suffered deeply when confronted with an invisible enemy it couldn’t defeat quickly, its many high-budget tourism-reliant initiatives cut short, from SeaWorld’s new Sesame Street, rolled out for the show’s 50th anniversary, to LEGOLAND Resort’s debuted Lego Movie World. The city is also expanded its attention beyond family fun. The new Exploria Stadium houses the city’s MLS men’s and women’s teams, with seats for 25,500 fans. Orlando’s Restaurants ranking is also an impressive #12 in the country. As the world’s chefs focus on the post-pandemic opportunity in a place with so many diners on vacation, they’ll open outposts here. The NBA making its pandemic season hub in the city will help a little, but Orlando faces massive challenges in a state where infection rates are setting daily records.
As a global vacation destination, visited by more than six million tourists last year—up 16.2% in five years, according to local numbers, Honolulu is facing an economy that’s been devastated by the pandemic. It has among the highest rates of unemployment in the country and a long struggle back to rebuilding its visitor-focused workforce. Things were going in the right direction for the state at the beginning of 2020, with visitation and spending up 5% year-over-year as late as February. But with the pall of COVID-19 falling swiftly and mercilessly, local estimates are now warning of a 40% drop in tourism for this year, with 6,000 jobs lost as a result. But Honolulu will be back—it has the lowest COVID-19 infection rates among the nation’s cities with MSA populations of 500,000 or higher. Despite the economic devastation, it still simultaneously ranks Top 10 for household income (#8) and in tackling income inequality (#4). It’s also simply too coveted as both a destination and a hometown not to be a place to visit and to live, even amidst uncertain times. It ranked #3 in the nation in our layered Place category, trailing only the much larger centers of New York and San Diego, with its verdant, knife-edge topography exploding into the blue sky from rolling hills every few miles, creating microclimates and hypnotic scenery. The city is second in the nation in our Parks & Outdoors subcategory, led by its powdery beaches, some of the best and safest ocean swimming in the state (often with sea turtles and dolphins) and the option to head for the emerald Ko‘olau Range before or after work.
Given its deep foundation in the creation of the Union almost 250 years ago, Philadelphia is a dense, catalogued embodiment of American values and traditions, easily accessible and eagerly shared. Small wonder, then, that it ranks an impressive #13 for Programming, including Top 10 in the nation for Restaurants (#9) and Culture (#8). It’s home to places like the Liberty Bell Center, of course. And various must-see cultural centers with the term “Independence” in their names. It might be America’s birthplace, but the City of Brotherly Love only keeps one foot firmly rooted in its rich history. The other is stepping into the future, with the 11th-most Fortune 500 companies located here, a growing population and glittering skyline heading ever upward. Philadelphia is also a city rich in hometown pride, with locals reliably turning out to celebrate everything from Super Bowl victories to National Cheesesteak Day. Strong employment prior to the pandemic, driven by a diverse economy, meant population growth, a resilient real estate market and a boom in new construction. But with a poor ranking in Number of COVID-19 per 100,000 (#90 nationally as of July 8, 2020) and Income Equality (#95), the city will need to battle hard to win back the good times.
As the site of the George Floyd murder at the hands of local police officers that inspired a global movement against systemic racism and police transparency, Minneapolis has become a household name. In addition to their vital role in a fight for justice, residents have long advocated for their city, the results of which can be seen in numerous parks, bike trails and placemaking along a prime location on the mighty Mississippi. With 18 Fortune 500 companies—the most per capita of any American metro area—Minneapolis scores an impressive #8 for Prosperity. The city is also maintaining job opportunities amidst the outbreak, with a #30 ranking for Employment nationally as of May 2020. It also ranks #22 in our ranking of the Gini Index of Income Equality. The highly educated workforce (ranked #12 nationally for Educational Attainment) earns a comfortable living and enjoys easy access to the rest of the world via Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. Locals are eager to show off the Walker Art Center—which features contemporary works like the giant spoon sculpture, which has become a city trademark—and the Minneapolis Institute of Art, known affectionately as “Mia.” With a Top 20 ranking for Culture (determined by concerts, shows and events), the city’s heart still belongs to beloved hometown recording artist Prince, whose suburban home and studio, Paisley Park, opened as a museum in 2016.
Portland’s Left-Coast isolation, ambivalence toward established norms and legacy of cooperation and neighborliness—to hew trees and carve out one’s place among the encroaching wilderness—makes this one of the most earnest cities in America. It’s also one of most beautiful, ranking #11 for Sights & Landmarks and #15 for Parks and Outdoors. One of the zingers in the popular TV show Portlandia identified its lampooned target as “a place young people go to retire.” But it’s more like reinventing themselves, taking what was there all along, finding its best parts and doubling down on what works. The proof of its people is in Portland’s performance: its citizenry ranks #18 for both the Educational Attainment and Household Income subcategories. Portlanders get things done—including, as of July 8, 2020, ranking #7 in the nation for low COVID-19 infections per 100,000. As the eyes of the world focus on the city’s battle against shadowy federal military deployed there to quell Black Lives Matter protest, Portlanders are once again forging their reputation as an uncompromising citizenry.
Less than an hour’s commute from Washington, D.C., Baltimore offers a slower pace of life and significantly cheaper housing than its hyper-charged neighbor to the south. But the time to buy in one of Baltimore’s diverse, historic communities (the city ranks #17 for Sights & Landmarks) may just be right now—home prices have jumped nearly 10% since 2018. Baltimore is also home to world-class institutions like Johns Hopkins University and the National Aquarium, as well as a quirky culture that makes Charm City a place like no other. Johns Hopkins is Baltimore’s largest employer, and while this may be the biggest city without a single Fortune 500 company, Maryland boasts a $35-billion aerospace industry, and the defense contractor Northrop Grumman is a Top 5 employer of Baltimore residents. The city ranks an impressive #12 in the nation in our Prosperity category, including Top 10 for Household Income. Meanwhile, unemployment has been dropping steadily since 2010 and, as of May 2020, the city boasted the 19th-lowest numbers in the country. Baltimore earns a #14 ranking for Museums, and many—from historic ships to the highly acclaimed Port Discovery Children’s Museum—are clustered around the Inner Harbor, which for 50 years has served as a nationwide model for the reuse of post-industrial waterfront.
With Wasatch peaks to the east and Utah Lake to the west, Provo is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. It’s home to Brigham Young University and forms part of Silicon Slopes, Utah’s start-up and tech community. Its easy access to hiking, river rafting, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding and more—plus the city’s own 53 green spaces (totaling 2,000 acres, plus 33 miles of trails)—earned Provo #74 for Parks & Outdoors—an impressive feat considering it’s competing against the nation’s largest cities. That ranking, plus its #5 spot for Safety and #24 for Weather, earned Provo an impressive #7 overall ranking in our Place category. But the real driver of its performance among America’s Top 25 cities was its #2 ranking for COVID-19 infections per 100,000. Technology, healthcare and education are among the city’s major industries, with an economy that’s propelled by a highly educated population: Provo ranked #14 for Educational Attainment (with nearly 43% having earned a bachelor’s degree or higher). Coupled with its #78 ranking for Foreign-Born Residents (nearly 11%), Provo ranked #30 in our People category. A Google Fiber community, Provo is poised for growth, led by its recently launched $40-million airport terminal, adding more daily flights and an anticipated $300 million in additional economic activity a year.
The City of Oaks checks all the boxes for a bright, ambitious city of the new south: Raleigh is part of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, one of the country’s largest and most successful research parks—think high-tech and biotech research and advanced textile development. Ranked #26 for Prosperity among larger U.S. cities, including #20 for highest median Household Income, Raleigh is also a magnet for immigrants. It ranks #13 in our People category, comprising the subcategories of Education Attainment and Foreign-Born Residents. But it’s in education where Raleighites truly shine bright—ranking #7 in the U.S. for educated big-city citizenry. So what do all these smart people do for fun? They’re indoors and out: the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences attracts more than a million people annually; there’s a Contemporary Art Museum, bluegrass festivals and craft brews. While our rankings don’t tell the food story yet (the city comes in at #46 for Restaurants), the culinary scene is vividly imaginative: Bon Appétit granted one of its coveted Top 10 America’s Best New Restaurants for 2017 to a quirky and beautiful combination brewery, bookstore, flower shop and dim sum restaurant called Brewery Bhavana.
California’s state capital is peaceful and wealthy, ranking well in our Household Income category and even better nationally in the Safety subcategory. Its natural attributes also drive its livability, including epic weather courtesy of its Mediterranean temperatures. The City of Trees—residents claim more trees per capita than anywhere besides Paris—isn’t a stranger to cataclysmic fires: the Great Conflagration of 1852 burned 40 square blocks of the fledgling city, leaving what is today called Old Sacramento, with its cobbled streets, historic buildings, steam-hauled historic trains, horse-drawn carriages and the western terminus of the Pony Express. Hokey? Maybe, but it undoubtedly contributes to the city’s #20 rank for Place, a measure of neighborhoods, parks and outdoor activities. Some help from Mother Nature has stewarded the city toward declaring itself America’s “Farm to Fork Capital,” surrounded by fertile farms that feed a robust fresh-and-local ethos. Sacramento’s restaurants are only happy to tap the localism. Taste it for yourself at La Cosecha in Cesar Chavez Plaza, in the heart of the city. The place serves up another local attribute: the city ranks #19 for Foreign-Born Residents, with Time even declaring it “America’s most diverse city.” It’s also one of the most effective, as of July 8, 2020, at keeping the pandemic at bay, ranking #5 among the nation’s large cities for low COVID-19 cases per 100,000.
The city and its citizens spend their money wisely, including for the preservation of historic buildings and to revitalize neighborhoods like Germantown, which was established in the 1850s by European immigrants. Small wonder, then, that the city ranks #22 in our vital Sights & Landmarks subcategory. The music scene continues to thrive as well, particularly as a younger generation of musicians—Jack White and the Black Keys come to mind—have chosen to live and set up recording studios in town. You can start your visit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which traces the history of the genre. If you want to delve deeper into the personal stories of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and George Jones, well, they’ve got their own museums, too—at least they will when they fully reopen after the pandemic. With a #13 ranking for Culture, the city is finally getting the recognition it deserves for its long but subtle influence on the American fabric. Should you need a respite from culture and the #14-ranked Nightlife, the city offers a sprawling park system with more than 12,000 acres to explore by bike (B-Cycle bike-rental stations are located at greenway trailheads), or by kayak and canoe on the Harpeth River. Good thing about all that open space, too, given the high rate of infection rates in the city after some citizens ignored early warnings about the spread of COVID-19.
The genius of San Antonio is that, ever since 1941, it has sagely leveraged, grown and enhanced its greatest asset and attraction: the River Walk. The idyllic pedestrian promenade along the San Antonio River, extended from three to 15 miles in 2013, is a scenic urban lifeline that connects visitors to everywhere they want to be and anchors the city’s #7 ranking for Attractions among America’s large cities. On one end of the River Walk, there’s the five colonial missions—a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a key player in a #24 finish for Culture. On the other, the San Antonio Zoo, and in between, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Texas Golf Hall of Fame and dozens of other curiosities, eclectic stops and riverside cafés. Increasingly, Pearl is a destination within the destination: a mixed-use space in a former brewery, it’s a beguiling blend of retail, dining, offices, a riverside amphitheater, events and a campus of the Culinary Institute of America. Around the esteemed school, a host of grads and chefs have clustered, creating a smorgasbord of choices from Italian to ’cue to bakery to vegetarian cuisine.
Combining spectacular natural and built environments, Salt Lake is no longer just a gateway to the great outdoors but also a welcoming destination with a high cool quotient. The transformation began with the arrival of the XIX Olympic Winter Games in 2002, as the city thawed its reputation as an über-conservative cowboy town with Mormon family values and instead presented a slew of quaint cafés and stylish restaurants. SLC continues to pour millions into development projects and the beautification of its downtown. The city has matured into an urban experience as much as an outdoor one. Of course, the proximity of the Wasatch Range’s stunning canyons and 11,000-foot peaks is the reason many adrenaline junkies travel and move here. The city ranks #27 for Parks & Outdoors and #28 for Culture. The city’s #9 Prosperity ranking is also notable, driven by its Top 5 finish in our Gini index-based ranking of Income Equality.
In Tampa, the natural and built environments are in sync. The city has low crime (an impressive #7 in the nation), pleasant weather in its 361 days of sunshine per year and sprawling, diverse outdoor attractions, including, of course, the nearby beaches, like De Soto Park and Clearwater Beach, that help the city rank #16 in our Parks & Outdoors category. Chief among the parklands is the Tampa Riverwalk, a 2.6-mile continuous waterfront corridor along the banks of the Hillsborough River and the Garrison Channel. It’s bookended by the Florida Aquarium and the popular Ulele restaurant; in between, there’s the Tampa Bay History Center, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, the convention center and other stops of interest that contribute to Tampa’s #14 ranking in Attractions. In early 2018, another park was added to the mosaic of green spaces along the Riverwalk: The Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park’s 23 acres invite visitors to get onto the water, rather than simply admiring it, via row boats, canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. The shoreline, meanwhile, provides plenty of waterfront entertainment spaces for landlubbers.
In the face of poverty and injustice—and environmental catastrophes compounded by both—NoLa has created a culture of presence, music and festivals that may pale in size to others in the world, but never in their intensity. It’s why the city ranks #6 for Programming, our category spanning shopping, food scene, nightlife and cultural attractions. Given the need to celebrate, to seize the day, to revel in all that fusion of humanity and culture and sweaty new people and ideas, the city ranks #6 in our Nightlife category. After all, the party only begins in the French Quarter. It grows more refined and local as it weaves into Marigny, Bywater or the timeless jazz seduction of Frenchmen Street. NoLa also rules our Shopping category, scoring a #2 ranking, helped by the intoxicating treasures of Magazine Street convincing visitors that their finds are only available here and now. And they often are. In the last few years, the city has been renovating and expediting projects languishing since the Hurricane Katrina rebuild. Today, with one of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections among cities in the country, New Orleans is getting ready to rebuild again.
After suffering untold tragedy during the Tubbs wildfire in 2017, Santa Rosa is back stronger than ever, taking the top spot of all midsize cities in California. As the largest city in Northern California’s Wine Country, Santa Rosa enjoys excellent amenities both human and natural. It’s the kind of place that blends wine tasting and hiking with distinct museums, none more so than the Charles M. Schulz Museum, dedicated to the author of the Peanuts comic strip. The city ranks #9 for Safety and #18 for Weather. Its high household income (#9) draws educated citizens (#34), contributing to a safe place to live and work. As Santa Rosa rebuilds the neighborhoods destroyed by fire, it’s focusing on new development downtown near the SMART train station that connects the city to Marin County and ferries to San Francisco.
Madison’s enviable position as both capital of Wisconsin and the site of the state’s largest university certainly fuels its #13 ranking in Prosperity among American cities, including #29 for Household Income and the 19th-lowest unemployment rate as of May 2020 (more on that in a bit). And Madison’s prosperity is mostly evenly dispersed, evidenced by the city’s impressive #10 spot in our Income Equality subcategory. A hive of healthcare, IT and manufacturing powered by pipelines of talent out of the University of Wisconsin creates a symbiotic, sustainable relationship between academic infrastructure and economic performance. Indeed, Madison boasts the ninth-best educated citizens among the nation. With a Millennial population approaching 30% (according to a recent Brookings study), Madison is set to welcome even more with its still-affordable housing and one of the lowest historical unemployment rates in the country, as well as one of the nation’s lowest urban infection rates (#20 as of July 8, 2020). Distinct and emerging neighborhoods and venues are adding to the urban fabric—take Cap East and its 2,500-capacity Sylvee music venue, along with new restaurants and breweries that will satisfy residents missing the dance cards of larger cities.
The Old South is up to new tricks in Charlotte, a global banking powerhouse (the second most important in the U.S. after New York) and holder of the #23 spot in our ranking for Fortune 500 companies in town. Locals in the Queen City are smart, too: Charlotte ranks #33 in our Educational Attainment subcategory. The prosperity is easily accessed and distributed, powered by Charlotte’s #10 ranking for Airport Connectivity. People call their downtown Uptown, but the good news is that it’s all walkable. Beneath its bankerly surface, Charlotte offers unexpected attractions: the NASCAR Hall of Fame, for instance, where you can trace the sport from its moonshine-running roots to today’s multi-billion-dollar powerhouse. Glory Road is a banked ramp featuring historic cars and tracks, and racing simulators let you become a pitstop crew member, and see the world from the driver’s point of view.
Known as Park City because of its bounty of green space, Bridgeport is a deep-sea port that sits at the mouth of the Pequonnock River as it pours into Long Island Sound. It stands out for its Top 5 spot in our vital People category. Its residents are among the most educated in the entire nation, with a #5 ranking for Educational Attainment. (More than 18% of its population has a bachelor’s degree or higher.) It boasts a diverse demographic, standing at #13 for Foreign-Born Residents (nearly 30%). Connecticut’s largest city is also a wealthy one, #4 for our Household Income subcategory (with a 2019 median income of $45,441) and, even amidst the pandemic, the 19th-lowest unemployment rate in the country. It’s the poor performance in Income Equality (#107 nationally) that sinks the city’s overall Prosperity ranking to the mid-50s (#54). There’s plenty of innovation here, led by Vineyard Wind, the top U.S. offshore wind supplier. The company is beginning construction on Bridgeport’s Park City Wind as early as 2021. The electricity-generating hub will power 600,000 homes, drive close to $1.6 billion in economic benefits and create as many as 12,000 jobs statewide while saving residents up to $1.1 billion in energy costs.
Nebraska’s largest city has always worked overtime to carve out its place on the banks of the Missouri River in pretty much the middle of the (contiguous) country. Billionaire Warren Buffett’s decision to stay in Omaha—where he lives in a modest home he bought for $31,500 more than 60 years ago—has always been a source of curiosity. But the Berkshire Hathaway CEO’s hometown loyalty doesn’t surprise Omaha locals, who know that their city is one of the best spots in the country to start a business, raise a family and let your hair down on a Saturday night. Thanks in no small part to Buffett, Omaha earns our #5 ranking for Prosperity, with the most Fortune 500s (eight) of any city with less than a million people. It also boasts the second-lowest unemployment rate as of May 2020, and an impressive #16 ranking on the Gini Index of Income Equality. But it’s not just stalwarts like Mutual of Omaha that keep this city bustling: a growing tech sector has earned Omaha the nickname “Silicon Prairie.” It’s important to note that Omahans work to live, too, as evidenced by its #31 ranking for Nightlife and #40 for Shopping in the country (pre-COVID-19, anyway).
Situated at the base of Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs is a wonderland for those who love adventure, unsurprisingly ranking #26 in our Parks & Outdoors subcategory nationally. But after you’ve burned off calories hiking the Garden of the Gods or biking Cheyenne Mountain State Park, there are plenty of opportunities to refuel. What used to be a chain-dominated restaurant-scape has pivoted dramatically with new arrivals and old networks. Today, the fare is increasingly raised and grown locally, and the long-standing brewing tradition adopted by start-ups is thriving. Even the springs in Colorado Springs are being marketed for their terroir. It all comes together—or will come back together, fully, once the effects of social distancing have passed—during mornings at Ivywild School, a local community marketplace for groceries or coffee to go, and during evenings at new spots that seem to open monthly. The city is also getting the word out about its rise, including piquing plenty of interest with its #37 ranking for TripAdvisor Reviews and #39 ranking for Facebook Check-ins. While the city’s size keeps its economic performance middle-of-the-pack, it ranks an incredible #6 on the Gini Index of Income Equality. It’s also had, as of July 8, 2020, the 12th-lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the country.
America’s gateway to the West has always been an understated city of neighborhoods (ranking #15 among American large cities for Sights & Landmarks) and cultural elegance. It performs well (#20) for Nightlife action in bars and clubs, and ranks #24 for Culture, our measure of concerts, shows and major cultural events (not surprisingly, Miles Davis is a native son). There’s often a correlation in the rankings between good nightlife and prosperity, and St. Louis is no exception—it ranks #15 for Fortune 500 companies that call it home. But humankind can’t live by nightlife alone, especially if children are involved, so there’s always the zoo, and there must be a visit to the mind-blowing (for any age) City Museum. Not surprisingly, the city ranks #17 in our Museums subcategory.
Oxnard, sandwiched between more famous Malibu and Santa Barbara, is an increasingly poorly kept secret. This California city has too much going for it to stay under the radar. Its gorgeous weather ranks #3 in the nation, and its direct access to beaches and the mountains of the Coast Ranges give it a #44 ranking for Parks & Outdoors. The city’s diversified economy, including agriculture, oil, shipping and business and financial services, makes Oxnard a magnet for both Household Income (#7) and Foreign-Born Residents (#16), giving the city a #24 rank overall in our vital People category. Also notable is the fact that the city is in the Top 20 for low COVID-19 infections (as of July 8, 2020, ranking #19 nationally). Port Hueneme, right next door, is the only major navigable port in California between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay. For the few people who don’t like boating or beaches, Oxnard boasts not one but two automotive museums (this is California, after all), as well as the Heritage Square historic district, a unique collection of century-old Craftsman and Victorian homes.
Setting it apart from many Midwest metros, Ohio’s capital and largest city is one of America’s fastest-growing, a forward-thinking economic powerhouse that’s also home to one of the largest college campuses, Ohio State University. And Buckeye football isn’t the university’s only contribution to local culture: with more OSU graduates deciding to stay in town, Columbus is an emerging tech mecca with a thriving arts scene. The city earned a decent #37 ranking for Prosperity, thanks to historically low unemployment (although only ranking #36 amidst the pandemic, according to May 2020 data) and a well-rounded economy buoyed by a growing number of start-ups, as well as top employer Ohio State and Fortune 500s like Nationwide Insurance and L Brands. So what do locals do when they’re not working? The first Saturday of the month means Gallery Hop, when galleries are open late and performers and artists hit the streets of Columbus’ Short North Arts District. For a less traditional take on the arts, there’s Otherworld—a 32,000-square-foot warehouse packed with immersive installations created by more than 40 artists. All of it adds up to a respectable #39 ranking for Culture as part of the city’s overall #30 ranking for Programming.
Fast-growing Tucson is buoyed by its sense of place, ranking #10 for Weather and #18 for Parks & Outdoors. The city is poised to ascend up future national rankings, due to a torrent of new investment in all manner of green and common space. Its new Sun Link LRT is sure to improve quality of life, creating a focus on fewer cars and more walkability that’s designed to pull the sprawling population together, closer to downtown. Urban innovation that taps its outdoor bounty by increasing access to it is not a hard sell for a town where almost 25% are aged between 20 and 34. You can thank the University of Arizona (ranked #45 nationally in our University subcategory) for the city’s youthful bounce. The city is also hanging in economically, with the sixth-lowest unemployment rate in the nation, as of May 2020. It must be all that great shopping in town, for which Tucson ranks #16 in the country.
Few East Coast American cities blend the urban with the natural as beautifully as Virginia Beach. With 38 miles of coastline at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia Beach has long been a vacation destination for folks looking to escape the sweltering summers of Washington, D.C. But Virginia’s largest city is coming into its own, with a growing Millennial population drawn by a strong economy, affordable housing and thriving local food scene. Tourism remains a top industry, netting the city more than $850 million annually, but corporate employers like Amerigroup and GEICO round out the local economy. The Hampton Roads metropolitan area is also home to major U.S military installations, and—an unusual and welcome asset in an era when local food reigns—the city’s 23,000-acre Pungo neighborhood is devoted to agriculture, which remains a $120-million industry. The pristine, endless sandy beach, charmingly framed by a three-mile, 140-year-old boardwalk, is the city’s top draw, earning Virginia Beach a #10 ranking in our Place category, powered by its second-lowest crime rate in the country (#2) and its eighth-lowest rate of COVID-19 infection rates as of July 8, 2020. The wider region boasts 4,000 acres of parks and federal protected lands, crisscrossed by 120 navigable miles of rivers and canals.
Affordable yet packed with culture, sports and plenty of delectable food (if you haven’t had KC barbecue, you haven’t quite lived), Kansas City offers a perfect balance of big city amenities like great jobs and a healthy economy combined with an easygoing Midwestern vibe that locals and visitors love. If you absolutely must work, then Kansas City isn’t a bad place to do it. Routinely ranked as one of the best cities for working women, KC’s top industries are healthcare and government, but it also has a burgeoning tech scene, which is in large part thanks to it being the first home of the Google Fiber network. It’s likely you won’t be bored in Kansas City—whether you love cheering on the Royals or the NFL champion Chiefs or you prefer perusing the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art or the American Jazz Museum. And if you don’t feel like doing any of those, you could always visit any or all of the 48 publicly operated fountains throughout the city. Besides the good weather (which ranks at #33), Kansas City makes a perfect nesting spot for young professionals and families of all shapes and sizes due to its affordability, its increasingly diverse population and its world-class universities like Kansas City Art Institute and UMKC.
Durham is one of America’s top college towns and at the heart of it is Duke, a private research university that has a global academic reach and counts among its game-changing alumni Melinda Gates and Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook. Duke ranks #6 in our University category. In a city that ranks #6 for Educational Attainment and #35 for Weather, it’s not surprising that the 55-acre Sarah P. Duke Gardens and lively neighborhoods like Rockwood and South Square are mere steps away from the campus. And just as Duke University connects Durham to the world, Raleigh-Durham International Airport, a 20-minute drive from campus, puts this small North Carolina city on the flight paths of nine carriers. With 400-plus nonstop flights per day to more than 50 destinations (before the pandemic), and its Refresh campus improvement program in full effect, this facility earns Durham the #23 spot among large American cities in our Connectivity subcategory.
America’s most architecturally significant destinations. This easy yet kinetic seaside American treasure draws pilgrims from all over the world, propelled by global travel media and the promise of legendary Southern hospitality from an ideal, forgotten epoch. The city comes in at #15 for Place, including a #7 ranking in the country for Parks & Outdoors. A city rich in cultural, natural and military heritage, Charleston nabs a Top 10 spot in our Museums category. Set to open next year, the International African American Museum will illuminate the influential, under-reported histories of Africans and their descendants in South Carolina, highlighting their diasporic connections throughout the nation and the world. The museum’s defining feature will be its location at the historic site of Gadsden’s Wharf. Nearly half of captive Africans forced to North America in the slavery era arrived through Charleston, and today millions of Americans can trace their ancestors here.
Sure, there’s Southwest Florida’s first Westin property. But people are coming here to live. It’s not only the safest city in the nation, it’s also one of the most beautiful, ranked #8 in our Parks & Outdoors subcategory. What Cape Coral lacks in the soft, sandy beaches of its neighboring islands it more than makes up for in riverfront vistas and outdoor pursuits galore. It’s also one of the most accessible, with Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW)—ranked #30 for Connectivity—a mere 30-minute drive after baggage claim. The city is attractive to students, too, who are drawn to the easy lifestyle and a dozen colleges and community colleges within 50 miles of the city center. Increasingly, graduates are putting down roots. According to Yahoo Finance, more than 50% of Millennials in the region own homes—the third highest rate in the nation. The booming Pine Island Road and Pine Island Village development will go a long way to sate residential demand in the area.
In 2014, Portland, Maine, decided to officially declare what pretty much everyone knew. “Yes. Life’s good here,” is a patented city brand that some might interpret as a little smug, if it weren’t for the fact that Portland keeps working to make life even better. The city ranks #37 for Place, our measure of the natural and built environment, but that’s hardly a contest: there are six unfairly picturesque lighthouses in the area, and the city’s weathered wharfs, cobblestone passageways and historic buildings thrive in the fresh salt air, so much so that the city’s waterfront Commercial Street was declared one of the 10 best streets in the country by the American Planning Association. The Old Port holds equal charms, particularly at night, when live music, waterfront pubs and Maine’s justly famous microbreweries unleash merriment. A #41 ranking for Sites & Landmarks is hardly surprising. The city is also an impressive economic performer, ranking #25 in our Prosperity category, including #30 for Household Income and #18 for Income Equality, despite a lack of Fortune 500 companies locally.
Long known as Elm City, New Haven prides itself on its tree-lined streets and charming historic homes, with a #67 rank for Sights & Landmarks among America’s cities. Cost of living is higher than elsewhere, as is crime, but most residents say they wouldn’t trade the bustle of students, workers and tourists for the diversity and vibrancy it brings. The town also boasts Yale University, which has educated many of the country’s best and brightest; it’s also the cultural and economic center of this leafy city, whose residents take full advantage of all the resources on offer in a capital of power and prestige. Yale earns New Haven a #2 ranking for University, and about 35% of adult residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, earning New Haven a solid #42 rank for Educational Attainment. Yale (including its medical center) is also the city’s largest employer and largest taxpayer, making this effectively a company town. New Haven has stood firm in the face of the economic crisis, boasting the nation’s sixth-lowest unemployment as of May 2020 numbers. Yale’s world-class museums and picturesque gothic campus—it could easily stand in for Hogwarts—might be enough of a draw for visitors, but the rest of historic New Haven is also beguiling to visitors and new residents.
Safe (the “Safest City in America!” if you listen to loud and proud Mayor Dee Margo, even though we have it at #3 in the category), progressive and increasingly basking in the fruits of its 2012 $500-million bond initiative that funded a Children’s Museum, new arena, cultural center and more—all downtown—the city is also cooking in the literal sense, ranking #43 for its culinary scene. But the boom is tapping the city’s history, too. “The city mothballed its streetcar system in the 1970s,” said Destination El Paso CEO Bryan Crowe. “We brought back the perfectly preserved streetcars to service our newly expanded medical schools.” Today the streetcar travels a 4.8-mile route in two loops through El Paso’s uptown and downtown areas. Fortified by its roots as a cowboy town, El Paso is leveraging its regional pride by enticing scattered locals back home, while embracing its border-city advantage. A #7 ranking in our Foreign-Born Residents subcategory points to the city’s population mostly of Hispanic origin (80%). It doesn’t get more Tex-Mex than here, where many residents speak a foreign language—in this case, overwhelmingly Spanish—at home.
Richmond may radiate a “genteel and understated nature” as the New York Times observed, but things happen here. It’s a wealthy city, ranking #19 in Prosperity, including #18 for the presence of Fortune 500 companies in town. The city is also faring well so far in mitigating job losses amidst the economic crisis, with the 23rd-lowest unemployment rate in the nation as of May 2020. Richmond also punches above its weight in our deep Place category—with a #26 ranking for its Sights & Landmarks, a subcategory that tracks neighborhoods. Experience modern Richmond in the neighborhood of Jackson Ward, once the epicenter of the city’s Black culture; the restaurants and galleries of Broad Street reward exploration on foot or bike. The James River Park System sees more than a million visitors a year clamber over rocks in the river, launch paddleboards and kayaks, swim and inner tube. But it’s the artistic face of Richmond that surprises the most: there are more than 100 murals painted in the city by artists from around the world and, every September, the RVA Street Art Festival invigorates neglected areas, benefits Richmond arts charities and puts on a great local party.
With deep roots as an original American town, first as a Connecticut River trading post in 1633 and today as one of the country’s most prosperous and well-educated cities, Hartford’s investment in city building is paying off. It has America’s oldest public park, respects visionaries with things like a sculpture park dedicated to Abraham Lincoln and is home to Katharine Hepburn’s gravesite. It revels in its role nurturing Mark Twain’s childhood imagination, which would fuel the celebrated author for decades. But Hartford doesn’t dwell in the past: ranking #10 in our Prosperity category (including #15 for Household Income, #23 for Fortune 500 Companies and the eighth-lowest unemployment rate in the nation as of May 2020), this “insurance capital of the world” is investing in its thriving arts and entertainment scene, a revitalized riverfront and even more parks and public gardens. With a #17 ranking for Educational Attainment by its citizenry, it seems like the smart thing to do.
It’s difficult to overestimate the powerful influence a strong sports brand can have on the perception and profile of a city. Indianapolis might owe its fame to the century-old auto race known as the Indianapolis 500 but this Midwest metropolis has plenty to offer, even if you don’t have a need for speed. Come for the sparkling airport, world class cultural institutions and bustling nightlife, stay for affordable neighborhoods and family-friendly entertainment. True to its reputation as the capital of speed, Indianapolis has a workforce that fuels a diverse economy anchored by three Fortune 500s—ranking it #31 nationally—and has some of the shortest commutes of any metro area. Indy has plenty of attractions to call its own, too. Destinations like the picturesque Canal Walk promenade, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (the largest institution of its kind in the world) helped earn Indy an impressive #15 rank in our Attractions category.
It’s the Gateway to the West (at least before air travel), Steel City, City of (440!) Bridges, Andy Warhol’s hometown and birthplace of the NFL’s “Stillers,” (if you pronounce it in Pittsburghese). In fact, sports tourism is huge in Pittsburgh, home of the Penguins, Steelers and Pirates. According to a study done by the three sports franchises, over the last five years sports tourism led to numerous jobs, $6 billion in direct/indirect spending and $73 million in state and local tax revenues. The city knows how to kick back, too: it ranks #29 for great nightlife and #31 for its culinary scene, making it a place of work and play. Even when the teams are traveling, sports venues continue to generate direct spending. In summer 2019, Heinz Field hosted Garth Brooks and the largest crowd ever in that venue, according to Jennifer Hawkins, executive director of SportsPittsburgh. The city lands at #16 for Professional Sports Teams, a subcategory under the larger Product category. It’s also home to Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which helps drive its #15 University ranking and an overall sense of practicality and stewardship (and why urbanist and author Richard Florida launched his career here). Case in point; the city had the ninth-lowest COVID-19 infection rate as of July 8, 2020, among the nation’s large and midsize cities.
Diverse cultures, authentic art and dynamic traditions have helped shape a centuries-old story in Albuquerque. There’s the vintage neon glow of Route 66, the pink hues of the Sandia Mountains at sunset and the cottonwood bosque of the Rio Grande. ABQ ranks #47 in our Product category—indicative of deep infrastructure and local investment—including a #19 ranking in the Museums subcategory. In a city rich in cultural heritage from Spain, Mexico and, of course, its Indigenous peoples, the architecture is as diverse as the languages heard on the sidewalks. The cuisine is also influenced and inspired by a colorful (and spicy) palate: green and red chiles are staples—even in desserts. Despite this daring gastronomy, people still won’t believe you when you tell them that Albuquerque ranks #34 for Restaurants in America. ’Burque, in local parlance, is also a cultural hot spot, stacked with more than 100 galleries, a symphony orchestra, theaters and even an opera scene that’s getting national attention. It also seems to be resilient in the face of the health and economic crisis, with the 13th-lowest rate of COVID-19 infections in the nation as of July 8, 2020, and the 13th-lowest unemployment rate as of May 2020.
Detroit is a city on a long, long roller-coaster ride: it’s been on top of the world, it’s been as low as you can go, and tomorrow will undoubtedly bring both new hills and new thrills. Call it Motor City, the D, Comeback City… they all apply and more. Certainly, Comeback City was appropriate in spring of 2018, when Detroit emerged from bankruptcy, where it had struggled since 2013. And there were encouraging words for the tourism industry—which, before the pandemic, welcomed 19 million visitors annually, who spent more than $6 billion. The city even ranks #15 for Instagram Hashtags. The 6.6-mile QLine streetcar—named after Quicken Loans, which bought the naming rights—has been operational on the Woodward Corridor for a few years. Yet more than $7 billion in investment has poured into the corridor route since 2013. More than 200 development projects have been completed, are under construction or planned throughout Downtown, Midtown, New Center and the North End. The city’s #13 ranking for Fortune 500 Companies should improve with all the new infrastructure.
Boise, with an almost 20% population spike in the past decade, is an American West boomtown where access to the outdoors, a strong economy—thanks to its booming tech sector—and a lower cost of living than many other cities similar in size is drawing people in from all over the country. Despite ranking outside of the Top 50 overall, Boise finished #19 in both our deep Place category, including #11 for Safety. It’s also a place where things get done and local business hustles, ranking #31 in our Prosperity category, led by 13th-lowest unemployment rate in the nation amidst the pandemic, as of May 2020. Known as the “Austin of the North,” Boise’s tech scene is becoming well known at a rapid pace. It’s anchored by the tech giant Micron Technology and blossoming in all sorts of interesting start-ups. Also adding to its allure are mountains, a desert and a river all within striking distance. Floating the Boise River, hiking around the foothills or fishing at the Swan Falls Dam all make it possible for Boise to perform so well in our Place category, which ranks Weather (#27) and Parks & Outdoors (#41), among other factors.
Sitting nearly 4,300 feet above sea level along the northern end of the Wasatch Mountain range just 35 miles from Salt Lake City, Ogden appeals mightily to the avid outdoor set. But it has an urban wild side too, with events like the annual Witchstock fest (complete with a Zombie Crawl) and the family-friendly Harvest Moon Celebration. Outdoor products form one of the city’s key industries, along with IT and life sciences (specializing in biopharmaceuticals and medical devices). Another is aerospace and advanced manufacturing, the city being situated in the heart of the sector’s cluster two miles from Hill Air Force Base. Combine these powerful industries and you get one of the most well-off—and overlooked—cities in the nation. Ogden ranks #2 among American cities in our coveted Prosperity category, including tops in the Gini Index of Income Equality and #17 for Household Income. Ogden not only creates wealth for citizens, it distributes it, too. Given the city’s #104 ranking in our Promotion category, don’t feel too bad about never having heard about this gem. The state is investing in the city’s future, with a new 5.3-mile bus rapid transit line from downtown to Weber State University and McKay-Dee Hospital. Scheduled for a 2022 completion, the $91.9-million project calls for 1.8 miles of exclusive bus lanes and a transit center on campus.
Cincinnati has been simmering just under the surface of national tourism awareness for a few years now, but in 2018 it leaped into the top 10 of the list every place wants to be on. At #8 on the New York Times 52 Places to Visit in 2018, Cincinnati earned some enviable and well-deserved awareness, particularly for its programming strengths. The city ranked high in our report as well: Cincinnati is #32 for Culture, #28 for Restaurants and #26 for Nightlife. The architecturally glorious 140-year-old Music Hall recently reopened and is home to the symphony, ballet and opera; it joins an expanded Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati and a new home for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company to give the Over the Rhine neighborhood real cultural chops. The huge interactive fountain facing the Music Hall in Washington Park is an all-ages frolic and a pure pleasure for families day and night. The city ranks #26 for Attractions.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, some 23 million tourists visited the Milwaukee area in 2016—and that number has been climbing ever since (pandemic notwithstanding), resulting in an economic impact of more than $3.7 billion for the city in 2018 alone. So what’s luring these millions of tourists to this urban center in the American Heartland? On America’s third coast, Wisconsin’s largest city combines cherished traditions and modern attitude. It celebrates its beer brewing heritage and offers a vibrant farm-to-table culinary scene—an obvious asset to a city with a century of feeding and brewing for a continent. A jack of all trades but master of none in our categories, the city will improve based on its ascent as a cruise ship destination. In 2019, 10 passenger ships docked here, more than double from 2018. In 2022 plans are for Viking to launch new Great Lakes cruises, with 20 that start or end in Milwaukee. Plans to expand the downtown Milwaukee convention center (the Wisconsin Center) are also moving forward, with construction expected to begin next year and sure to improve the city’s #44 ranking for its convention center.
Set on the Des Moines River among the state’s famous rolling cornfields, Iowa’s state capital is a business mecca with an artsy side, bustling late into the evening with a blend of daring culture and heartland hospitality. Add in the low, low cost of living, and is it any wonder that prairie-cool Des Moines, which earns our #17 ranking for Prosperity, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the Midwest? Des Moines earns an impressive #24 ranking in our Household Income subcategory. Also impressive is the city’s Top 10 performance (#9) in the Gini Index of Income Equality. Major corporate outposts of Nationwide and Wells Fargo round out the thriving finance and insurance sector, which boasts a $3-billion annual payroll. And in the golden-domed State Capitol, lawmakers are working to ensure a friendly business climate with temptingly low corporate taxes. Business might be booming, but that doesn’t mean cost of living is: Des Moines remains affordable, with housing costs at about two-thirds the national average. With that, the burgeoning cultural scene, and friendly Midwest attitude, you get a combination that is attracting increasing numbers of young talent who appreciate the feeling that—in the words of one recent young arrival—all of Des Moines is one “large living room.”
Anchored on the shore of the Hudson River, Albany holds the political power despite being overshadowed by that other New York city downriver. Incredibly connected by road, rail and the #58-ranked airport in America, Albany offers a prosperous place to put down roots, resulting in Top 25 Household Income and well-ranked Educational Attainment of its citizenry (#27). New York’s Capital Region is not all politics, though—Albany is also a capital of culture, and it boasts an enviable central location, with the Berkshires, Adirondacks and burgeoning Finger Lakes Wine Region—and, yes, the Big Apple—all just a few hours away. Running the Empire State may be big business, but Albany is also a college town, home to a State University of New York campus that helps the city earn a #22 ranking in our University subcategory. Albany prides itself on its history, and its 18th- and 19th-century homes and compact, walkable core let visitors and locals take to the streets, enjoying an emergent dining scene that’s poised for big things post-pandemic.
Young professionals are lured to Jax for jobs as well as its low cost of living. With just a short drive to beaches and the country’s largest urban parks system (giving it a #21 ranking on our Parks & Outdoor subcategory), Jacksonville isn’t a bad place to hang your beach hat. With top jobs in aerospace, financial services and IT, Jacksonville is home to companies like Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Mayo Clinic, JP Morgan Chase, Citi, Johnson & Johnson and Aetna, giving the city high marks in our Fortune 500 Companies subcategory (tied at #37). Jax also has bragging rights to a diverse workforce, making it a more inclusive and welcoming city for all types of workers. With 22 miles of beaches and access to the winding St. Johns River, Jacksonville is filled with natural amenities to enjoy nearly all year round in the Florida sunshine. And if outdoorsy activities aren’t your idea of a good time, you could always indulge in the local sports scene—whether you’re cheering for the Jaguars or their quirkily named minor league baseball team, the Jumbo Shrimp.
They call it the City of Arts and Innovation, but Riverside, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, also lays claim to being the birthplace of the California citrus industry, a fact honored at the 248-acre California Citrus State Historic Park. Living up to its name, Riverside is also home to the Riverside Metropolitan Museum and Fox Performing Arts Center, a 1929 theater built in Spanish Colonial Revival style in the heart of downtown. The city boasts one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse populations, ranking #15 in the Foreign-Born Residents subcategory. Hispanic citizens make up 53% of the city’s population, while nearly 44% of citizens speak a non-English language. Like a reflection of the community around it, University of California, Riverside (ranked #36 in our University subcategory), is one of the nation’s most ethnically varied post-secondary institutions. Riverside also performs well in our Place category (#23), which includes Safety (#34) and the third-best weather in the country—only, that is, if you enjoy 277 days of sunshine annually.
As a long-time business center for the energy, biosciences and aerospace sectors, this is a city where linear thinking just doesn’t cut it. Yes, there is a new $288-million convention center opening downtown in late 2020, boasting 200,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 35,000-square-foot ballroom and 50,000 square feet of additional space paired with a prime location near the Myriad Botanical Gardens. But there is also the opening of the only urban whitewater rafting facility in the world. Already designated as an official Olympic and Paralympic training site, Oklahoma City is creating the finest rowing racecourse in the world while investing $25 million in a public whitewater kayaking facility for all skill levels. This builds on the 2016 opening of the city’s whitewater rafting facility, Riversport OKC, one of only six man-made whitewater courses in the country. The city was also chosen as one of four communities to receive a multi-year grant from the Outdoor Foundation, which aims to make getting outside part of the fabric of peoples’ lives by providing repeat experiences of fun, joy and learning in the outdoors for kids and families of all backgrounds. The city’s #20 ranking in Weather certainly helps everyone get outside, as does the city’s success in keeping COVID-19 relatively low, ranking #17 in the country as of July 8, 2020.
Sarasota County’s North Port has the distinction of being the only metro in Florida to have an entire state forest within city limits. When they’re not hiking, biking or horseback riding in the 8,600-acre Myakka State Forest or on the city’s other 400 acres of parkland, residents are canoeing or kayaking along the Myakka River or North Port’s 80 miles of freshwater canals. Then there’s Warm Mineral Springs Park, a peaceful pond with up to 51 minerals and a year-round temperature of 85 degrees. Combine North Port’s natural attributes with a balmy clime (ranking #45 for Weather), plus one of the lowest crime rates in the nation, at #4, and the Sunshine State city lands in our Top 25 for the important Place category (#22). North Port has targeted five key industries for growth: healthcare, education, light manufacturing, hospitality and retail trade. Its finances are healthy: the 2019 opening of CoolToday Park, the Atlanta Braves’ spring training facility, is expected to pump $34 million into the economy over the next 30 years, while the West Villages community is an economic mainstay: construction is expected to continue for at least another 50 years, with 10,600 new homes being built in three phases beginning as early as 2021, although delays caused by the pandemic are likely.
The Paso Fino, Friesian and Lipizzaner: these are among the 50 breeds at Kentucky Horse Park, a major draw in the city known as the Horse Capital of the World. However, there’s far more to this Bluegrass Region metro than thoroughbreds and ponies. The birthplace of bourbon made our Top 50 for Nightlife, at #48, with everything from party-bike bar hopping to the Bluegrass Trail for craft beer lovers. With Kentucky’s largest mall, the city ranked #57 for Shopping. Those two subcategories contributed to the city’s overall #66 spot for Programming. “Lex” is also relatively big on TripAdvisor, ranking #53 for total reviews, which helped its #71 Promotion ranking. Lex can toot its own horn for the $220-million, 800,000-square-foot mixed-use City Center downtown, in the final stages of opening with two hotels, luxury condos and more. Then there’s the $275-million expansion to Lexington Convention Center’s Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center, originally slated to be fully open by 2022, although the COVID-19 outbreak will inevitably delay the project.
Higher education thrives in the Heart of the Commonwealth: Worcester is home to 10 colleges and universities and more than 35,000 students. New England’s second-largest city ranks an impressive #32 for People, including #36 for Educational Attainment (more than 30% of residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher) and #41 for Foreign-Born Residents (more than 21%). With manufacturing, education and healthcare driving economic performance, the city also has a growing professional, scientific and technical sector and a Prosperity ranking of #51 among American cities. The city is investing in its future with multiple major projects in the works. One CitySquare is a part of a multiphase $565-million redevelopment downtown, with housing, hotels, parking, a hospital expansion and more. Main Street Reimagined is an $11-million overhaul in collaboration with the Urban Culture Institute to increase walkability, incorporate public art and instill a sense of place on the city’s main strip.
Look back through its history far enough and you’ll discover that Rochester, just a shade above a million in population today, was one of the country’s first boomtowns. The fertile Genesee River Valley fueled a boom in flour mills, then manufacturing, then again with world-rattling innovation, from Kodak to Western Union to Xerox. Today, the third-largest city in New York State may no longer boast the head offices it once did, but the redbrick, old-world charm, stately homes (now so affordable) and legacy of research and development remain entrenched. Several of the region’s universities (including the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology, ranked #17 nationally in our University subcategory) have renowned research programs. The city’s ranking of #32 in Educational Attainment by citizens and Top 50 in Safety speak volumes about the good hands that steer this former industrial titan.
It’s easy to love Louisville. The city checks lots of boxes as a tourism destination to visit and a place to live: first, it’s prosperous (tied at #37 for Fortune 500 companies located here). Then, there’s its uncountable varieties of craft bourbon and some 2,500 restaurants, several manned by James Beard honorees—giving Louisville a #39 ranking for Restaurants. The city is also the birthplace of the Louisville Slugger, baseball bat of legend Babe Ruth—you can visit the factory and museum, and watch the manufacturing of one of the 1.8 million bats that are made here every year. If your idea of a home run is The Greatest, there’s the three-level Muhammad Ali Center. And, of course, the most famous horse race in the world. If you miss Derby Day, you can bet on Churchill Downs’ on-site museum to deliver the flavor. No surprise that Louisville is #31 in our ranking for Attractions; those are only a few of myriad offerings that run the gamut. This is a city with a Museum Row—and a #35 ranking in our Museums category.
There are few American cities with a rebirth story like Cleveland’s. More than 50 years after the Cuyahoga River (in)famously caught fire in 1969, Cleveland today is poised like it hasn’t been since Otis Elevators employed thousands and the town was known as “The City of Champions” thanks to professional sports domination. Consider that, since 2000, the city has been the recipient of an 80% increase in reported Millennials living within its borders. A huge attribute of this insane rise is the increasingly diversified university and college landscape and the welcoming environment catering to student life. So is a still-healthy number of Fortune 500 companies in town (#23 in the nation) and relatively affordable, plentiful housing stock. Tourists, too, continue to flood in, with 19.2 million—a new record—arriving in 2018. They’re drawn by Cleveland’s compact and revitalized downtown—with its impressive cache of underrated 19th-century architecture and stately industrial streetscapes—all walkable and dotted with daring restaurants tucked next to old favorites like Sokolowski’s University Inn, recently lauded as one of the best cafeterias in the country. The city, keen to keep its ascent going, is already positioning for a new COVID-19 reality, and is lauding its access by car and its less-crowded sites and landmarks.
The smallest state in America has a capital city with plenty of big ideas, a lot of very smart and creative people and a happening nightlife. Home to an Ivy League college, one of the best design schools in the country and a major culinary institute, Providence sure packs a big punch for such a small city. The city boasts Brown University, ranking #8 in the University subcategory among all large U.S. cities. It also boasts plenty of fresh air to go along with the fresh perspectives of academia. Start your ramble at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, which offers a collection featuring some 84,000 artifacts from ancient Rome, Egypt and Greece, as well as modern Eames furniture and Frank Lloyd Wright stained-glass windows. Brown University’s historic campus on 18th-century College Hill is not far, and you can wander the tree-lined streets, where an impressive collection of beautiful Georgian-style homes sit side by side.
From the fishing pier and sandy beach at Castaways Point Park to the fully handicapped and special needs accessible playground at Inspiration Park, Palm Bay values its 29 green spaces. Along with the 200-acre Fred Poppe Regional Park, golf courses, Turkey Creek Sanctuary and beaches, so much park space earned the coastal city #35 spot for Parks & Outdoors. Combine the natural endowment with one of the country’s lowest crime rates (#8) and the result is a #28 ranking overall for Place, a category that also includes Sights & Landmarks and Weather. Manufacturing thrives here, led by defense and semiconductor firms. Being four miles to the Florida Institute of Technology and 48 miles to the John F. Kennedy Space Center, the Space Coast city also has a growing technology industry. Looking ahead, Palm Bay seeks to revitalize its Bayfront district adjacent to Indian River Lagoon, a plan that would include an accessible public waterfront, with a recommended budget of $29 million, by 2024.
While often overshadowed by its coastal peers, Fresno, the largest inland city in California at almost one million people, is much more than a farming town. The city is also a hub for manufacturing, education, and healthcare. Its central location, about halfway between Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, propel its convention center to #54 in the country. Of course, farming is important too. Fresno County’s economic output from agriculture adds up to $8.3 billion annually, providing ample opportunity for its large foreign-born population (#14). The city’s revitalizing downtown is poised to transform even more within the next decade with the arrival of California’s high-speed rail system. For now, it’s the center of a vibrant farm-to-table restaurant scene (#5). Near-perfect weather (#8) and easy access to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks also make Fresno popular with the outdoors set, increasingly looking for solitary pursuits in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Situated in the Ozark Mountains with more than 200 days of sunshine a year, Fayetteville has plenty of outdoor play to offer. Home to the University of Arkansas and its nearly 28,000 students, the Natural State municipality is also considered the entertainment capital of northwest Arkansas, with everything from live music to street performances. The city is financially solid, with a Top 25 overall ranking for Prosperity in America (#24), including #50 for Fortune 500 Companies, and seemingly pandemic-proof employment numbers. The city boasted the third-lowest unemployment rate in the nation as of May 2020. It also ranks well in our People category, with plenty of diversity (#46 for Foreign-Born Residents). Key industries include education and technology, with civil engineering about to get a major boost: the U of A’s new $13.8-million, 37,4000-square-foot Civil Engineering Research and Education Center at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, due for completion next year, will enable testing of large-scale structural systems and will be a hub for research, academic, government and industrial partners throughout the state.
Sure, it gets cold in Grand Rapids, which ranks a dismal #98 for Weather, but that doesn’t keep residents of Michigan’s laid-back second city from living all four seasons outdoors. That might mean paddling along the state’s longest river, taking in ArtPrize (the annual international art competition), sampling brews at the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival—or simply enjoying life in the growing city that retains its small-town feel. Locals insist that you can’t miss the stunning Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, a sprawling complex of botanical treasures accented by the work of international artists. But that’s not the only celebration of creativity in this cultured city. Architecture buffs will want to schedule a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Meyer May House, and the enormous Alexander Calder statue outside City Hall can also be found on the city’s official logo. Grand Rapids is clean, friendly and safe (with a stellar #13 ranking in Safety), making it a prime spot to raise a family. Kids can romp through some 1,200 acres of parks, as their parents enjoy the option of cycling to work along one of the city’s many trails, even if it’s just for Active Commute Week, which sees residents ditching their cars for bikes, kayaks and other human-powered modes.
The state capital on the banks of Susquehanna River with views of the Appalachians’ Blue Mountain is the economic heart of about 400 surrounding communities, including Hershey. With the government as the main employer, other key sectors include health services and technology. Home to City Island, a mile-long 63-acre oasis accessible by car or walking bridge that was used as a resting spot for soldiers during the Civil War, historic Harrisburg ranked well for Prosperity (#28), including an impressive group of Fortune 500 companies in town (tied at #37). Truly impressive is the city’s #7 ranking for its performance in the Gini Index of Income Equality. The city also landed at #73 for Product, a category that includes Convention Center size. The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center boasts more than a million square feet of exhibition, meeting and banquet space. Harrisburg University is getting a major lift: a new $130-million, 386,208-square-foot building set to open in fall 2021 will house its Health and Science Education Center, as well as a hotel and restaurant.
With storied Dutch roots, the state’s third-largest city boasts four major hospitals, 12 post-secondary institutions and (of course) the Lehigh Valley IronPigs Minor League Baseball team. Healthcare, technology, energy, manufacturing, professional services and transportation dominate the city’s robust economic scene. With major employers such as Fortune 500 companies Air Products & Chemicals (an international industrial gases company with $8.9 billion in sales in 2019 alone) and PPL Corporation (one of the largest regulated utility companies in the country), Allentown ranks strong for Prosperity among American large cities (#40), including #38 in the country for Household Income and an impressive #13 for performance on the Gini Index of Income Equality. It’s also safe, ranking #16 in our Safety subcategory. The local sense of place will only increase with the Neighborhood Improvement Zone’s recent approval of $21 million in financing for New York developers to upgrade downtown’s outdoor Grand Plaza (formerly PPL Plaza) with a food hall, outdoor area and new retail and office space.
The country’s oldest Amish settlement is here, its members getting around by horse and buggy and living without electricity. Pennsylvania Dutch Country—or Red Rose City, as Lancaster is also known—is further distinguished for having been the state capital for a single day, by its 29 covered (or “kissing”) bridges and the country’s first theater (the 1852 Fulton Opera House), and its central location along the New York–Washington distribution corridor. From architectural styles dating back to the 1700s to modern art galleries, Lancaster ranked #58 in our Culture category. With a #33 ranking for Shopping (vintage clothes, country quilts, antiques, contemporary jewelry and more), it landed at #69 overall in our Programming category. It’s also safe, ranking #27 nationally for its low crime rate. Manufacturing, food processing (Kellogg Company operates here), finance and insurance are major employers. So is healthcare, a sector that’s growing: the Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute is building a new $48-million Proton Center, scheduled to open in late 2021. The economic activity has propelled Lancaster into the Top 20 among America’s most prosperous places, despite its small size, including Top 3 for its performance in the Gini Index of Income Equality.
The Air Capital of the World (so named because of the manufacturing of aircraft, its pro-aviation business environment and the largest concentration of aerospace manufacturing employees in the nation) performs consistently across all of our categories, with Product (#69) and Programming (#70) being notable. The former includes Attractions (#59) and Museums (#56), and Wichita has draws such as Sedgwick County Zoo, the Mid-America All-Indian Center, Ulrich Museum of Art and the Kansas Aviation Museum. Situated on the Arkansas River, the city scores well for Programming, too, with Restaurants ranked #58 in the country, with more than 1,200 establishments and 30 food trucks, as well as #63 for Culture (check out Wichita Grand Opera and Ballet Wichita). Development is occurring all over: in the Historic Delano District (where cowboys caroused in the 1870s and ’80s) with a new extended-stay hotel, and downtown, where the new $75-million Riverfront Stadium for Minor League Baseball opens this year (even though the season was at risk) and where developers are investing at least another $75 million to turn four vacant buildings into a hotel, health school, culinary college and student housing. The city has been able to contain the pandemic as well, with the 11th-lowest infection rate in the country as of July 8, 2020.
Long and erroneously viewed as a faded Rust Belt afterthought overshadowed by Toronto’s global ascent and the tourist magnetism of Niagara Falls, Buffalo has quietly gone about its work of reinvention. The second most populated city in the state, behind New York City, had simply invested too much capital—intellectual, economic and especially architectural—over the past two centuries to not strive for its former prosperity as home of the Erie Canal and one of America’s largest steel, grain and banking centers. It’s still the only city in America where the country’s three most iconic architects have buildings standing: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House (which is now a museum), plus the recently restored Frank Lloyd Wright Graycliff complex; Louis Sullivan’s Guaranty Building (today an office building and bank); and, perhaps most impressive, the Henry Hobson Richardson-designed “Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane,” with grounds by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The site’s 13 buildings are slowly being repurposed—into a luxury hotel and co-working spaces, to start. Buffalo already ranks Top 25 in our Sights & Landmarks subcategory and will only improve. Given its #22 ranking for Google Search, new tourists and affordability-hunting residents are poised to help the reinvention post-pandemic.
Nobody needs to coach this South Carolinian city on how to leverage the internet to tell its story. Columbia ranks high across a wide range of metrics, including #19 in Google Search, confirming that, over the past year, people have been interested in this ascendant southern city. Columbia also ranked #57 in TripAdvisor Reviews, meaning that people are regularly talking about it. So what’s the buzz? Well, Columbia is the capital of South Carolina and the State House is a splendid tribute to Greek revival architecture situated in a sprawling garden filled with monuments. The Riverbanks Zoo & Garden extends for 170 acres along the Saluda River and features an aquarium, a zoo with more than 2,000 animals and an inspiring botanical garden. The local economy is driven mostly by healthcare, education and defense, with two active military installations in the vicinity.
A once-sleepy agricultural town, Stockton has recently gained kudos as a more affordable bedroom community for Silicon Valley. But there’s plenty going on within its city limits. Healthcare and education are the city’s largest sectors, thanks in large part to the University of the Pacific, which helps give the city its #47 ranking in Universities and #48 ranking in Household Income among U.S. midsize cities. Manufacturing and logistics are also major parts of the economy, providing opportunity for Stockton’s high ranking in Foreign-Born Residents (#8). Despite being an inland city in California’s Central Valley, Stockton has the unique advantage of being home to a deep-water port connected to the San Francisco Bay. Its revitalizing downtown just welcomed its tallest building, a California Superior Courthouse, and, until social distancing went into effect, the city played host to numerous outdoor festivals and concerts that take advantage of the excellent weather (#12).
A border city with a strong automotive industry, McAllen has seen a recent economic bump with the ratification of the USMCA trade deal. The metro area hosts 42 automotive suppliers employing 40,000 people, mostly high-skilled workers. McAllen has recently focused on attracting companies from across the border, and saw a major success with the opening of a new facility for the Mexican manufacturing company Tetakawi. This diverse city ranks #6 in Foreign-Born Residents, attracting people from near and far due to its strong manufacturing economy. Others come for the quality of life. McAllen ranks #25 in our Place category, with its excellent weather (#16) and low crime rate (#18). The city has a vibrant theater scene, including local troupes and touring Broadway productions, which are sure to thrive once again once social distancing is lifted.
A walker’s paradise, downtown Knoxville is a treasure trove to explore and discover, from vibrant murals to local music venues, historic sites and museums. Instead of playing second fiddle to nearby Asheville and Chattanooga, Knoxville is finding its own groove and becoming an increasingly prominent destination for food lovers of all tastes—the state’s first James Beard Award–winning chef, Joseph Lenn, operates J.C. Holdway right downtown. What makes the food scene so spectacular is the collaboration of local chefs with other chefs, brewers, distillers and wine makers. Group efforts, like a longtable dinner along the middle of a downtown street in 2017, have resulted in a number of unique culinary experiences. Knoxville’s scintillating fusion of small-town charm and big-city amenities inspires locals and visitors alike to share their findings across social media platforms. In doing so, they’ve helped the city rank #67 in our Promotion category, which looks at the quantity of stories, references and recommendations shared online about a city. Also worth noting is how the well the city appears to be controlling the pandemic, ranking #3 in the country for COVID-19 infections per 100,000 as of July 8, 2020.
Tennessee’s second-largest city is an American icon that’s been quietly adding to the national lore from the bluffs and floodplains that line the eastern bank of the Mississippi River for more than two centuries. The heart of the Delta Blues and famously home to Graceland, the “spiritual birthplace” of Elvis, it’s the lesser-known Music City, USA, when compared to Austin and Nashville. But those two can’t hold a guitar to Memphis’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. Or its barbecue. With so many stories to tell, the city ranks an impressive #30 nationally in our Museums subcategory—home to the aforementioned Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum, and #39 for Culture. With that in light, it’s not surprising that people are talking about the city these days: Memphis ranks a notable #27 in the nation for TripAdvisor Reviews. But the city is also an ascendant business center, with legacies like the country’s first Black millionaire, J.E. Walker, and ranks #31 for Fortune 500 Companies with corporate titans including FedEx and AutoZone headquartered here. Affordable housing—and hundreds of millions being invested in new downtown living this decade—makes Memphis poised to stay top of mind for world changers for another two centuries.
Can a park bring a city into the 21st century? When Tulsa philanthropist George Kaiser decided to create the Gathering Place, he made no small plan, aiming for a space that would “bring together people throughout the Tulsa area to rediscover that we are all bound together by commonalities, especially the hopes and dreams we have for our families.” In short, Kaiser, one of the 100 wealthiest people in the world, wanted a park that would do nothing less than break down inequalities and attract and retain talent. So he invested $465 million into 66.5 acres. The result rocketed the former Oil Capital of the World into international headlines, and earned it every possible award, including a spot on Time magazine’s World’s Greatest Places list. Kaiser takes the long view. “A single new community commons cannot dramatically change the trajectory of a city by itself, of course. But so much else is also happening in Tulsa at the same time that we feel the Gathering Place can help serve as the catalyst for a more vibrant and dynamic city.”
A quest for diversity is part of Greensboro’s past, and events that transpired in the city helped shape African American legacy. Today, Greensboro is a city that draws history buffs, antique furniture shoppers and foodies. In North Carolina, fertile farmland is a great source of pride, and Greensboro residents have a strong connection to the land and the food they put on the table. Locals and visitors come together around food—at markets like Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, which has been around since 1874, and at unique experiences like the Barn Dinner Theatre. While the town may be steeped in historical significance, it continues to look forward, especially as it tends to its #65 Restaurant ranking. Greensboro’s downtown nightlife (ranked #57) offers a special kind of American sensibility and charm, thanks to street corners humming with buskers and bands, and cafés vibrating with acoustic performances.
This compact city nestled up against the Blue Ridge Mountains is doing a lot of things right, and its #58 ranking in our Product category proves it has invested well in its institutions and attractions. From the Museum and Gallery at Bob Jones University, one of America’s finest collections of paintings from Italian masters like Giotto di Bondone, to the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library, which allows visitors into the home where the baseball legend lived and died, Greenville’s cultural credentials earn it a #48 ranking in our Museums subcategory. The Greenville Convention Center, with 280,000 square feet of exhibit space and 60,000 square feet of meeting space, is minutes from the Greenville Downtown Airport and historic downtown Greenville, earning the city a #31 ranking in the Convention Center subcategory. While Falls Park on the Reedy is a lovely natural oasis in the center of the city, the artfully cantilevered Liberty Bridge next door is an equally impressive destination—a pedestrian walkway above the falls (named in honor of the now disbanded Liberty Corporation, a media company originally based in Greenville). The city is peppered with such gems, ranking an impressive #50 in our Attractions subcategory.
Seattle’s real estate gold rush has as many losers as winners and those who missed out are headed to the beacon across the Cascade Mountains, sparkling with big-city amenities and ambition, from breweries to city planning. The thumping nightlife (#48 in the country) matches a feisty and growing culture and arts scene (Programming ranks #63 nationally), and, prior to the pandemic, seemingly weekly restaurant openings. The city’s #79 Restaurants ranking is only going to improve, given the presence of three James Beard–nominated chefs and their seeming competition to open as many restaurants as possible between them. Growing coverage in the national media—from the Wall Street Journal to the L.A. Times—will only help Spokane’s culinary star rise. And so will the wineries. The city is the urban heart of Washington’s Walla Walla, Yakima and Columbia wine regions and the bounty of the land can be tasted not only in restaurant wine lists, but also at tasting rooms throughout the city. Speaking of Yakima, it produces 75% of the country’s hops—more than enough to justify Spokane’s craft beer boom, which should be approaching 25 breweries by the time you read this.
If the fact that Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, hailed from here doesn’t grab your attention (and you’re not intrigued by The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum), perhaps the fact that the city is within New England’s Knowledge Corridor (the region surrounding Springfield and Hartford, CT, with 29 colleges/universities educating more than 170,000 students) will. The economic engine of Western Massachusetts, which forms part of the biotech industry’s Super Cluster, tied at #37 for Fortune 500 Companies and reaching #70 in our Household Income category. The birthplace of basketball—don’t let Canadians tell you otherwise—also ranked highly for its size in our People category, at #64, with a #55 ranking for Educational Attainment (with nearly 19% of the population having a bachelor’s degree or higher) and #57 for Foreign-Born Residents (nearly 10%). Manufacturing, healthcare, education and life sciences keep the economy robust. Since 2018, more than $400 million in new projects have been announced, including the forthcoming $37-million hotel complex at the old York Street Jail site, a $14-million Educare school and an orthopedic surgery center at Baystate Health.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, few American cities were as ascendant as Alabama’s largest. With a confluence of culinary talent (awards), downtown revitalization and impressive economic projections, Magic City was on its way. But despite the crisis, the city’s economy—the one Forbes predicted as a Top 10 most promising job market based on net employment outlook for the first quarter of 2020—is holding resilient. According to May 2020 numbers, Birmingham had the nation’s eighth-lowest unemployment rate. And when people do return to its streets, the city will work hard to resume its culinary trajectory, with long-time favorites like Nikki’s West and John’s Diner hopefully reopening quickly, along with Frank Stitt’s trio of award-winning restaurants: Highlands Bar & Grill (a James Beard Foundation Outstanding Restaurant), Bottega and Chez Fonfon. Clearly, the city’s #61 Restaurant ranking is only temporary. Also poised to welcome back eager residents and in-the-know tourists are the handful of restored historic theaters—from the Lyric, which reopened in 2016, to the Alabama Theatre. On the horizon is the reopening of the art-deco Carver Theatre, which served the African-American community during the apex of the civil rights movement.
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens was once the family home of F.A. Seiberling, cofounder of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. With five buildings dating back to 1912, including the Tudor Revival Manor House, and 10 gardens on 70 acres, it’s the city’s first National Historic Landmark and the nation’s 6th largest historic home open to the public. The estate is symbolic of the wealth that persists in Akron today. One of the world’s leading polymer centers, the city is home to more eight Fortune 500 companies, tied at #37 in that subcategory, and #63 for Household Income. Not surprisingly, Akron’s strongest performance is in our Prosperity category, at #68. The city is making the single largest infrastructure investment in its 189-year history. Akron Waterways Renewed is a $300-million project that includes the nearly $200 million, 6,000-foot-long Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel, an integrated plan that could be in the works all the way to 2040. In other development news, downtown’s Bowery Project, a $42-million renovation of six historic buildings, is projected to create 2,000 jobs and $245 million in revenue over 20 years.
The Central Valley city has plenty of sun (with a #11 ranking nationally) making it a unique hub for warm-weather agricultural products, including almonds, tomatoes and grapes. All of that agricultural labor has attracted a large foreign-born population, ranking #23 nationally, while the city’s close proximity to Silicon Valley gives it a relatively high household income (#60). Also worth noting is Modesto’s strong performance (#17 national) in the Gini Index of Income Equality, ensuring that the city’s prosperity is relatively inclusive. In the coming years, the commute from Modesto to the world’s largest tech companies will get a lot easier with a new rail service that takes advantage of the city’s historic train station and will serve as a catalyst for downtown development. Modesto’s already high Place ranking (#36) is set to ascend with a new downtown vision prioritizing pedestrian access. Given its focus on restaurants, shops and nightlife, the city’s poor ranking in our Programming category (#105 nationally) will improve as well.
Southern hospitality, civil rights and the blues: some things are deeply embedded in Jackson’s very character. The City with Soul also stands out for hosting both the Dixie National Livestock Show and Rodeo (the largest such annual event east of the Mississippi River) and the USA International Ballet Competition. The Magnolia State capital is the sole North American city to stage this two-week long event, which draws the world’s top dancers every four years. The engaged, arts-and-literature-loving town, home to Jackson State University, ranked #58 nationally in our Museums category and #66 for Convention Center size; the 333,000-square-foot Jackson Convention Complex right downtown is LEED-certified. State and federal governments, along with the University of Mississippi Medical Center, are major employers, while the city has identified advanced manufacturing, IT, and food processing among its targeted industries. Among several new developments is a 30,000-square-foot, $13-million project in the arts district of Fondren, a neighborhood in revival, that will include a tiki bar, bowling alley, burger restaurant and more.
Just across the Tehachapi Mountains, a two-hour drive from Greater Los Angeles, Bakersfield has a vibrant economy and culture all its own. Its economy is dominated by agriculture, energy, and transportation and logistics, attracting its large foreign-born workforce (ranked #17 nationally). Kern County, where Bakersfield is located, is the top oil-producing county in the U.S., accounting for 10% of the nation’s production. Bakersfield’s amazing weather (#2) has made it a hub for solar power generation, with numerous commercial and utility scale arrays constructed or proposed. As the home of the Bakersfield Sound, a unique country music genre made famous by Merle Haggard, the city is no cultural slouch. It ranks #60 in Restaurants and #27 in our important Place category. It’s no wonder that with Bakersfield’s easy proximity to California’s natural wonders, combined with its affordable housing prices, the city is one of the most popular cities for Millennials in the country, according to a recent National Association of Realtors report.
The largest city in Arkansas coaxes talent and investment with aggressive tax breaks and some of the most affordable housing among state capitals. In fact, Little Rock ties at #37 nationally when it comes to attracting and retaining Fortune 500 companies. Chalk it up to southern hospitality, but a combination of business-friendly taxes and competitive incentives helps as well. A powerful and diverse corporate presence distinguishes Arkansas’ capital city, situated on the banks of the state’s namesake river—a fact that will likely surprise many people unfamiliar with this southern city, and stands as more proof that city officials have sharpened their pencils on the economic development front. Dillard’s Department Stores, Windstream Communications and Acxiom are just a few of the national and multinational corporations headquartered in a city that has, in the past, suffered from an undeserved reputation as the capital of an underdeveloped state known mostly for the Ozark Mountains and other wilderness (and as the place where former president Bill Clinton cut his political teeth).
“The Cuse” is the economic hub of the central New York region. But after two centuries of industry, Syracuse is reinventing itself as—appropriately—the Green Apple. A decade after its founding, the Clean Tech Center (a clean-energy business incubator program and one of the first of its kind in the country) today boasts 30 businesses—and growing. The commitment to cleaner industry and livability extends to daring city planning, with the city set to remove a 1.4-mile stretch of Interstate 81 that has sliced through its downtown since the 1950s. Replacing it will be a “community grid” focused on reconnecting neighborhoods, easier mobility and placemaking. It’s all going to entice the thousands of University of Syracuse students (attending the #24-ranked University in the nation), as well as the legions of others attending the area’s college and professional schools to put down roots. The city’s 150 parks, two hospitals and two large summer jazz festivals, which give the city a #68 ranking in our Culture subcategory, will only help the retention cause
Internationally famous for hosting The Masters golf tournament each spring, Augusta was rocked earlier this year when the city’s largest event was cancelled for only the second time ever due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (The first time was World War II.) Still, this layered and beautiful city of stately avenues that share the urban grid with the Savannah River and the Augusta Canal (and the iconic train tracks), seems to be holding up well, with the 10th-lowest unemployment rate in the country as of May 2020. Once the pandemic passes, the city can continue its economic ascent—and not just from the return of the 200,000 golf fans, pros and media annually. The city is a military center and already houses Fort Gordon and its 20,000 employees. Things will really take off in the next few years with the announcement of a U.S. Army Cyber Command facility in the city. Combine the expected job growth with average housing prices around $100,000 and a #32 ranking in our Safety subcategory (and #39 for Weather) and you have one compelling home town.
Tucked at the base of Lookout Mountain, on the banks of the Tennessee River, Chattanooga earns its Scenic City moniker, as well as its “Best Town Ever” accolades by Outside magazine in 2015. The town certainly boasts the adrenal bonafides: from climbing the Tennessee Wall to all manner of self-propulsion on the river to trail running and mountain biking just outside city limits. To say nothing of craft breweries like Heaven & Ale to speed recovery time. No wonder it ranks #37 in our Parks & Outdoors subcategory. But despite the natural bounty and serenity, Gig City boasts internet speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second supplied by the publicly owned Electric Power Board (EPB). It’s also possible to drive to Nashville and Atlanta in under two hours. Companies with deep talent needs in town include Volkswagen and Blue Shield of Tennessee. The city is also nurturing business start-ups with the biggest business incubator in Tennessee, as well as the biggest downtown innovation district of any U.S. city its size. Oh, and the median price for a single-family home is $187,000, according to local realtors, and rising quickly.
The first thing Dayton might bring to mind is airplanes, being the place where the Wright brothers developed and manned the world’s first flying machine. You can immerse yourself in all things aviation at spots such as Huffman Prairie Flying Field and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. However, the Gem City is also the state’s epicenter of the arts. The Bach Society, Dayton Opera, Dayton Ballet, Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and the Dayton Playhouse are just some of the organizations that thrive here, and the Contemporary Dayton and Dayton Art Institute are but two of several galleries. Dayton performs well in our Culture subcategory, at #53. Along with a #70 ranking for Nightlife, the city hit #77 overall for Programming, a category that also includes Restaurants and Shopping. With strong manufacturing, healthcare and IT sectors, Dayton is the state’s aerospace hub today and in the future, with investments like the Air Force Life Cycle Management System’s recently awarding the University of Dayton Research Institute a 10-year contract worth $28.5-million to provide F-15 sustainment engineering studies.