PopulationMetro: 1,002,411
Arizona’s second city is ascending fast, with bold city leadership, placemaking and food scene dating back millennia.

At a shade over a million residents, Tucson just snuck into our Best Cities ranking. And we’re happy it did because this is a city you’ll be hearing about a lot more in the coming decade.

With an impressive #20 ranking in deep Place category, spanning metrics like Air Quality, Weather and Parks & Outdoor Activities, it beats out giants like L.A. and Hong Kong. It ranks an amazing #2 on the planet for Air Quality, with its Weather—always sunny and well over 100 degrees more often than not from June to September—ranking #17 on the planet.

And Tucson is poised to ascend rapidly due to a torrent of new investment in parks (already ranked #51 on the planet), the new Sun Link LRT, and walkability designed to pull the sprawling population together, closer to downtown.

Place 71
Product 9
Programming 8
People 48
Prosperity 36
Promotion 5

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 20 and 34. You can thank the University of Arizona for the city’s youthful bounce. Also, for the museums (including a biosphere) and planetariums that keep visitors busy, as do the casinos, caving adventures and Old West tours.

Emboldened city leaders have been swinging for the fences, first by telling the world that Tucson is “The Winter Training Capital of America,” made possible by the area’s five mountain ranges long used as Stairmasters by cyclists and triathletes in the know.

More recently, Tucson wasn’t satisfied with its 700 miles of bike lanes. The result? Even more incentives to cycle, facilitated by new mixed-use bike boulevards along less popular driving roads—more than 150 miles worth.

La Placita Village

Despite its obsession with placemaking and incorporating the built environment with the natural, this town knows how to kick back, too, as indicated by its impressive shopping (ranked #52 in the world) and deep Mexican culture, with the border less than 20 miles away.

Tucson’s low ranking in our Culinary subcategory will ascend quickly as more people discover that Tucson is a booming foodie Mecca. It’s the oldest continually farmed city in North America (extending back more than 4,000 years) and the first recipient of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network designation for gastronomy, designed to prioritize food as part of cultural heritage worth protecting. And devouring.