After a hellish two years, few places on the planet are as ready to relaunch as NYC.
The greatest city in America—lauded and crowned in our ranking for the past seven years and in countless others for many more—was a ghastly reminder during the pandemic of the vulnerability of even the colossal and seemingly all-powerful; we saw here what awaited the rest of the country. And the world. As early cases spiked, Gotham became the nation’s nightmarish coronavirus core.
It was this city-scale tragedy that first landed in the crosshairs of the sniping haters declaring that the big, vibrant, cheek-by-jowl city experiment was finally over. But for resilient New Yorkers, those attacks of course merely steeled their resolve for better days amid the death, protest and malaise.
Those better days are here. And the city is doing everything in its power to bring back not only apprehensive New Yorkers whose hunger for regular bites of the Big Apple has for two years been sated instead by takeout or delivery and a scrolling thumb tic, but also the nearly 70 million people who visited in 2019 and invested $46 billion across its expansive quilt of neighborhoods (ranked #1 in the country, just one of more than a dozen subcategories NYC tops this year).
“Fortunately, we’re anticipating being back 85% of 2019 levels within the year,” says Chris Heywood, Executive Vice President, Global Communications at NYC & Company, the destination marketing organization of the five boroughs. “We have benchmarked 2024 to be back to previous record-setting numbers.”
First order of business: getting those not already here to town. Fortunately, the suspension of travel for more than a year expedited the long-planned transformations of New York’s international gateways. LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport all have new terminals, with the new Terminal B at LaGuardia alone boasting 35 gates (to say nothing of the FAO Schwarz on site). And, yes, a new Terminal C will soon be open, too. Newark Liberty International’s updated Terminal A opens with 33 new gates and construction will start later this year on a new, congestion-easing 2.5-mile elevated guideway train system. The infrastructure year ends with JFK’s Terminal 8 unveiling 130,000 square feet of new and renovated space. The New Terminal One at JFK opens later this decade.
Back on the ground, Moynihan Train Hall is a new 17-track expansion of Penn Station that, if you squint, can pass for a northern European transit hub from the future.
With so many expected arrivals, NYC is certainly making sure everyone has a place to stay. More than 9,000 new hotel rooms have either opened or will be coming online in this year, including the already opened (and headline-grabbing) Aman New York, an “urban sanctuary” on Fifth Avenue. Also open is the Ritz-Carlton, NoMad, a temple dedicated to the nearby and recently opened Madison Square Park; and the Hard Rock Hotel New York, a new property in Midtown. The buildout stretches across the city, with new Renaissance Hotels properties in Harlem and Flushing opening right about the time you read this. Moxy Hotels is also opening multiple locations in the Lower East Side and Williamsburg.
At street level the city’s firehose turns cultural, with massive museums (yet another subcategory in which New York rules the nation) going all in on expansions and new openings.
The Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, is undergoing a physical and programmatic expansion for a new cultural center, expected to debut later this year, that includes an interactive exhibit, archival collections, a 68-seat jazz club and store. And the Bronx Children’s Museum is also opening this year after moving to a new home in Mill Pond Park. Dia Chelsea is a new contemporary installation space opened recently, and the Frick Madison (formerly the Frick Collection) has a new residence in the Breuer on Madison Avenue in a building formerly used by the Met. Speaking of the Met, just last year New York’s 152-year-old cultural institution (housing 1.5 million objects and hosting 7 million visitors in a non-pandemic year) announced a $500-million reno of its modern and contemporary wing. Not as storied but equally New York is the new Museum of Broadway, the first permanent museum dedicated to the famed heartland of the stage, just opened in Times Square with a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of major theater productions.
And the big shows are back, too (with the odd COVID-related cancellation this past spring): Hugh Jackman returns for The Music Man; Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick star in a revival of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite… even Daniel Craig as Macbeth.
For those who prefer their urban exploration outdoors, classics like the High Line and Central Park are joined by the city’s newest green space, Little Island—2.4-acres floating on the Hudson near the Meat Packing District on the site of an old pier. Like most things here, you have to see it to believe it.
When it’s your turn to return to America’s best city, do yourself a favor and make time to see the phoenix rise from above: there are the classics, like the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock, but there are also new spectacular perches, like SUMMIT One Vanderbilt and its all-glass exterior elevators, called Ascent. Go up, look down and breathe out.
In a city famous for hyperbole, it’s not an overstatement to declare that L.A. teetered on the verge of the COVID-19 abyss multiple times over the past two-plus years. The numbers are grim, of course, with the city’s recording almost 4 million cases and 40,000+ deaths from COVID-19 as of early May 2022, and terms like “infection epicenter” on the lips of global media for the better part of 2020.
Deft public health measures by Mayor Garcetti have delivered a year now of infection and vaccine thresholds that have allowed indoor bars to welcome people again, and for crowds to cheer on the Dodgers and Angels, or to queue at Disneyland.
But the city has a long, long way back. As of early summer 2021, the unemployment rate was almost 10%, which was significantly higher than the national average of just 6.2%. L.A. sits well out of the Top 100 in this year’s Unemployment Rate and Income Equality subcategories, at #106 for both—lower in each subcategory than in 2020.
But given the pent-up demand to get past this devastation and on with California dreaming, breaking tourism records and rolling out one multi-billion-dollar infrastructure project after another, L.A. did not stay down for long.
The city was on a culinary trajectory like few others in America and the momentum has returned.
“In April , we were able to celebrate our first two-week Restaurant Week in the endemic era,” says L.A. Tourism and Convention Board president and CEO Adam Burke. “We didn’t have the 425 restaurants like pre-pandemic, but we had 325, which made this the largest Restaurant Week in the country this year.” This year’s event even featured a new, very apropos way to experience the celebration: “For the first time ever, we added the ability to take dishes from participating restaurants to go, so those not yet dining indoors could enjoy it, too,” says Burke.
All around the city, people are back at the table.
When it opened earlier this year on Olvera Street at LA Plaza Village, LA Plaza Cocina became the first museum and teaching kitchen dedicated to Mexican food in the U.S. Through an array of exhibitions, cooking classes, lectures, workshops and culinary festivals, the multidisciplinary venue aims to educate visitors and celebrate Mexico’s culinary heritage. The city’s Mexican heritage is also leading the bounty of new restaurants opening their doors. La Cha Cha Chá is Chef Alejandro Guzman’s new outdoor rooftop hot spot, featuring tacos, tostadas and more, all inspired by his Terraza Cha Cha Chá in Mexico City. Alma at the Grove is Grupo Hunan’s first U.S. restaurant, with a menu filled with fresh and local ingredients, highlighting a rich culinary history in a traditional hacienda space.
Is it any wonder that L.A. ranks #1 in America in our Restaurants subcategory?
“L.A. is the best food town in America because it’s also among the most diverse,” notes Burke. “We have Angelenos from 140 countries living here, and speaking 220 languages.” The city ranks #3 in our Foreign-Born Population subcategory, trailing only Miami and San Jose. “You get flavors and ideas that are from everywhere, but when they collide in this city, they’re from nowhere—except from L.A.”
The distinction flows through the city’s ascendant infrastructure, too.
The new SoFi Stadium, the largest in the National Football League at 3.1 million square feet, officially opened last fall to host the NFL’s Rams and Chargers home games. In February 2022, the hometown Rams ended the inaugural season by winning it all in dramatic fashion. Anything less wouldn’t be on brand with Tinseltown, after all.
An equally big story is about how all nine of LAX’s terminals are in the midst of a combined $14.3-billion modernization that includes the automated people mover (APM) train, scheduled to open in 2023. Mobility also makes it into the city with the new $1.7-billion Regional Connector Transit Project, featuring a 1.9-mile underground light-rail system that will provide a one-seat ride across Los Angeles County. Imagine traveling from the Metro Gold Line to Long Beach and from East Los Angeles to Santa Monica without transferring lines. It’s forecasted to open this fall.
And there are many openings, galas and new venues to get to without driving yourself.
Adding to L.A.’s #2 Museums ranking is the opening of the visually stunning Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, with its ongoing three-floor “Stories of Cinema” exhibit exploring the histories of moviemakers and their works. Dozens of exhibitions have opened or are planned for L.A.’s busiest art season in three years.
Given everything to experience in the City of Angels, it’s a good thing that more than a dozen notable hotels have opened in the past year, ranging from Venice Beach’s V Hotel, converted from a 1915 beachfront landmark, to the Minoru Yamasaki–designed luxury Fairmont Century Plaza. At least that many again are in the pipeline for next year.
San Francisco has embraced dreamers and seekers since the Gold Rush days. 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 the city ranks #2 in America in our People category, including #3 for Educational Attainment among its citizenry (a citizenry also ranked #4 in our Foreign-Born Population subcategory).
The promise of high salaries brings a torrent of global workers, who fuel the city’s ambition and ideas and drive its #11 ranking for Fortune 500 companies (more on that in a bit). The Bay Area’s entrepreneurialism is uniquely connected to its world-renowned universities, with Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, able to fill local knowledge and skills gaps and broker funding for nascent start-ups. Guidance and capital are rarely an issue for the right idea.
Still, the city has been deeply wounded economically—by the pandemic, the lack of affordable housing and what many see as regulatory overreach. Companies are leaving for Austin and Florida and the city has declined by seven spots in the aforementioned Fortune 500 subcategory since 2020. Its #63 Unemployment Rate ranking today sits six spots lower than it did in 2020.
In what could be viewed as a silver lining, house prices and rents have dropped significantly over the past two years—it was a long way down, after all.
Tourism, a golden goose that set records for the past decade, plunged 61%, from 26.2 million visitors in 2019 to just over 10 million in 2020, according to the San Francisco Travel Association. Total spending by visitors was down 77.7% from a record high of $10.3 billion in 2019.
The good news? Approximately 14.8 million visitors returned to the city in 2021, a 25% boost from 2020. And total visitation is anticipated to return to pre-pandemic levels by next year.
And while the city’s ambitious plans for a historic 2020 were shredded by the pandemic—monumental anniversaries like Golden Gate Park’s 150th and San Francisco Pride’s 50th, to say nothing of the Asian Art Museum closing its doors just months after it opened following a massive expansion—the city has never been more kinetic.
All of these delays have only filled a pipeline that will bring a flood of openings and opportunities this summer, led by some of the most daring bike and pedestrian infrastructure of any American city in memory. From just a few stretches of scattered lanes in 2013, San Francisco’s protected bike network now boasts 464 miles of bikeways, including 50 miles of new car-free/car-light streets in the past year alone.
The world has noticed, with the New York Times highlighting the city’s new weekend car-free two-mile stretch along its western shore (called the Great Highway) in its influential “52 Places to Visit This Year” roundup. “The throughway became a destination, a beach-front promenade flanking the raw expanse of Ocean Beach, and a community center,” they raved. “It’s also a telling microcosm of the ways in which our cities, and our values, shifted during the pandemic.”
In San Francisco, the aggressive pursuit of outdoor public spaces—from downtown’s new Salesforce Park, 70 feet above street level atop the roof of the Salesforce Transit Center, to the half-dozen parks, tunnels and spaces opening this year in the Presidio alone—was a clinic in opportunism. And given the city’s #6 ranking for Parks & Outdoors this year, that vision is nowhere near being recognized enough by citizens, never mind visitors.
“Mayor London Breed’s approach to managing COVID-19 was hailed as a U.S. model,” says Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, about the state of the city and its post-pandemic planning. “Throughout this pandemic, she has led vital programs to increase access to outdoor commercial, cultural and recreational activities. The City is creating a better urban experience for residents and visitors by taking proactive measures to make San Francisco a safer, cleaner and more livable city for all.”
San Francisco has a long history of reinventing itself while preserving what makes it unique and beautiful, he adds. “This decade is no exception with investments in the city’s outdoor spaces and parks, bikeways, arts institutions, unique neighborhoods and diverse communities.”
Few American cities fell harder both in visitor numbers and economically over the past 26 harrowing months than Chicago, even after the city deftly rode its gilded pre-pandemic decade.
But the hardship of 2020 and 2021 only meant that the Windy City was spring-loaded for a breakout 2022, powered by a fully operational O’Hare International, the top airport in the nation as measured by the number of direct destinations served. Meetings and conventions of all sizes are back, pouring into McCormick Place and its stunning Lake Michigan perch, ranked #1 in our Convention Center subcategory. The city’s quiet productivity is humming again, leaner and more efficient than ever, with the second-most Fortune 500 headquarters in the country, behind only New York.
Even amidst the pandemic, Chicago was named the top metro area for corporate investment for the eighth consecutive year in 2021 by Site Selection magazine, a business publication that tracks real estate and corporate development in cities with more than a million people. The reason? “Capital investments surged in 2021, especially into Tier 1 Metros, with Chicago breaking its own record for qualifying projects accumulated over a calendar year. Led again by logistics and distribution, the Windy City’s haul of 441 such projects eclipsed the mark of 424 it set in 2016.”
On the streets of Chicago’s #3-ranked Neighborhoods (locals are quick to tell you there are 77 within city limits), it’s summer in the city circa 2019. Sundays on State debuted in 2021 and is back making portions of the iconic State Street pedestrian-only during select Sundays. Free summer festivals are also returning to Chicago parks (such as Millennium and Grant), with the Millennium Park Summer Music Series rocking the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. If the joy and need to dance is everywhere, it’s by design, courtesy of Chicago SummerDance’s pop-ups, by the Night Out in the Parks events that take over the city’s #9-ranked green spaces after sunset, and by the programs at the Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park, with the party culminating in a mid-September SummerDance Celebration in Millennium Park. The nation’s second-best Nightlife (trailing only NYC) has had plenty of patrons looking to keep the party going this year.
Lucky for them, there are many (many) new spots to grab dinner—early or late—in a city that ranks #3 nationally in our Restaurants subcategory. Chef José Andrés debuted Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar in December 2021 inside Bank of America’s new Chicago headquarters, near the Lyric Opera of Chicago. This spring, the city’s youngest Michelin-starred chef, Donald Young, debuted Venteux, a French brasserie in the new Pendry Chicago hotel. The Pendry, located in the landmark Carbide & Carbon Building, is just one of a dozen bold hotel openings in 2022.
The ubiquity of D.C. in dramas on screens small and large, combined with the shocking events of recent years—from the most-watched presidential election campaign in history to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol—means we’re all thinking about Washington. In fact, D.C. was the planet’s most-Googled U.S. city in the past year.
Given its omnipresence, there are few cities so poised to build on its exposure and surpass recent visitor records—for D.C., totaling 24.6 million visitors in 2019. Before COVID, 2020 was going to be one of the busiest ever for D.C. development, and a lost couple of years will only accelerate the city-building pipeline.
“Investment continues in the city with $10.3 billion in development, 29 hotels in the pipeline, eight of which are opening this year, and the near completion of phase two of the Wharf,” says Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC. Those 2022 openings include the AC Hotel Washington, DC Capitol Hill Navy Yard and the Pendry Hotel at the Wharf.
And speaking of the Wharf, phase two of the massive Southwest Waterfront development is scheduled to open later this year, adding luxe residences (this is a town with the third-highest Household Income ranking in the country, after all), 547,000 square feet of office space, new restaurants, a 1.5-acre park at the Marshall Park Landing, an expanded Wharf Marina and 95,000 square feet of retail space. New restaurants slated for the area include Philippe Chow’s Beijing-style Lucky Buns, Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls and Bartaco.
Food and dining are also helping D.C. pursue equity with Market 7, a sprawling food hall touting Black-owned businesses. The jewel in the city’s culinary crown is the $250-million RiverPoint, two blocks from Audi Field, between Capitol Riverfront and the Wharf, with piers, waterfront activity and plans for new restaurants. With all of this culinary investment, the city’s #17 Restaurants ranking will surely improve.
DC is also building on its Top 5 Museums ranking, with several high-profile reopenings, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the world’s only major museum solely dedicated to championing women artists, after its $66-million reno. Farther out, two museums—the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum—will have sites selected for buildout later this decade. Around the same time, the National Air and Space Museum will open its Jeff Bezos–funded 50,000-square-foot learning center addition that will house programs and activities related to innovation and careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. In the second-most educated town in America (ranked #2 for Educational Attainment), it should be a hit.
You could say that San Diego is where California began. It was here that Spanish colonists established the region’s very first mission in 1769. Today, it’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. It ranks #1 in our deep Place category, up a spot since 2020—with the top finish for Parks & Outdoors in America, up from #3 in 2020. 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 rank it #7 for Weather, while the 23 beaches—70 miles of them—within city limits make it synonymous with the lore of SoCal surf culture.
Speaking of San Diego storytelling, the city’s local tourism authority recently launched its new “Happy and You Know It” advertising campaign to stimulate demand during the upcoming spring and summer season—the slogan is designed to inspire visitation by reinforcing that happiness comes naturally in San Diego. Watch for the efficacy of the campaign to show up in future movement of San Diego’s #11 Promotion category, including #8 for both Instagram Hashtags and TripAdvisor Reviews.
There’s a lot to highlight for the city’s storytellers, starting with the #6-ranked attractions in the nation. The 3.2-acre, $87-million Denny Sanford Wildlife Explorers Basecamp is finally open, designed to immerse visitors in the sights and sounds of ecosystems around the world, from balmy rainforests to dusty dunes.
In what will surely be the exclamation point in the announcement that San Diego is back (as well as a nod to its #8 rankings both our Museums and Culture subcategories), Comic-Con resumed as an in-person event in late 2021, just in time for the much-anticipated opening of the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park’s former Hall of Champions building. Earlier this year, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) unveiled its long-awaited renovation and expansion of its La Jolla flagship campus.
Anticipated properties like the Guild, the Carté and Cormorant Boutique Hotel in La Jolla are keeping the hotel buzz going after last year’s massive Hotel Del Coronado reopening, phase one of a $400-million multi-year, multiphase reno.
After years of suburban-focused sprawl (only exacerbated by the pandemic), the city’s residential developers are also reinvesting in the city, enticed by last year’s expansion of the San Diego Trolley’s UC San Diego Blue Line that now runs all the way from the U.S.–Mexico border to UC San Diego in La Jolla to the UTC Transit Center, adding nine new stations. Each is expected to densify with residential and mixed-use development quickly. Another public transit investment was made by the #23-ranked San Diego International Airport (SAN) with the “San Diego Flyer,” a free daily electric shuttle bus between the airport and Old Town Transit Center.
Tourism—the #1 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, 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 decimated Las Vegas like few other American cities.
Which is why a Vegas visit in 2022 is a pilgrimage into American urban resilience (to say nothing of the disregard for previous public health measures). After all, this is Vegas, baby, home of the best Weather ranking in the country and its #1-ranked Attractions, and Americans—and the world—are returning. More than 2.6 million visitors checked into town in February alone, according to local numbers, which is a 70% increase year over year and just down 18 percent from 2019.
What they’ll find are new casinos and restaurants (of course) and none more buzzed-about and massive than the $4.3-billion Resorts World Las Vegas. Opened in late June 2021, it is ginormous, comprising three hotels, the 27,000-square-foot Awana Spa, an old-school “hawker-style” food court and a new, 5,000-capacity theater, which has the most massive stage in the city surrounded by 200 giant speakers outfitted with tech called “L-ISA Hyperreal Sound.” Anyway, it’s hosting Carrie Underwood’s residency. The fact that places like the Wynn were extensively renoed at a cost of $200 million during the pandemic is almost lost in the gilded fog of Vegas construction.
In addition to the fervor of buildout during the past two years, there is still more than $15 billion in new investment in the pipeline over the next several years, including the 2023 completion of the much-anticipated Fontainebleau and the $2-billion MSG Sphere under construction behind the Venetian. It has 17,500 seats, 580,000 square feet of programmable lighting, the largest and highest-resolution LED screen on earth, advanced acoustics and an infrasound haptic system enabling guests to “feel sound.”
Off-Strip is busy, too. The year-old Area15 (get it?) is bringing a less neon experience to the city with a soulful deconstructed strip-mall aesthetic, a rotating series of Burning Man–inspired art instillations, kid-friendly activities, concerts and vendors ranging from a retro arcade emporium to a distillery lab.
The project that has most people buzzing is what Elon Musk and his Boring Company have been up to: a 1.7-mile tunnel system that opened in June 2021 to transport visitors around the city’s sprawling Convention Center in Teslas. Over the next couple of years, the system will be expanded throughout the tourist corridor (Musk is promising 51 stations, probably because he is an alien).
Add two newish professional sports teams—NHL’s Golden Knights and, as of 2020, the NFL’s Raiders (plus the new Allegiant Stadium) and you have a town that’s ready to welcome (and do business with) 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 and California’s oldest civilian Spanish settlement, it’s everything. The city’s talent has propelled it to a Top 10 overall finish in 2022, even amidst the lagging pandemic and the crescendo in tech circles that “everyone is leaving the Valley.”
Despite crushing housing costs and a battered tech sector that is losing billions in shareholder value among the established giants that have powered San Jose over the past decade and a rise in interest rates that is spooking a lot of the venture capital that funds the bets necessary to fuel the region’s innovation, the city still boasts the most educated populous in the country, ranking tops in our Educational Attainment subcategory, with the second-most foreign-born talent (trailing only Miami). The combo puts San Jose tops in the country in our People category.
This is also the third-most prosperous city in America, with the highest Household Income ranking, and an Unemployment Rate ranking of #36 nationally, up three spots since 2020. A possible concern (but not surprising given the city’s economic relentlessness) is its #61 ranking for Income Equality.
San Jose doesn’t intend to lose its people—or jobs—for any sustained period of time. There’s just too much support from America’s titans of industry and innovation. The institutional prosperity in the city is perhaps most obvious in the bounty of universities that are performance drivers all their own, creating symbiotic integrations with local tech companies and offering 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 city, San Jose will continue to stock its talent pipeline.
The region, home to Google, Facebook, Cisco Systems, eBay and PayPal, is #3 for Fortune 500 companies in town (up three spots since 2020), trailing only New York and Chicago, and each is already ravenous for graduates as recovery plans hit full speed.
But the massive number of corporate offices in San Jose doesn’t just provide jobs: it’s also reshaping the very city—and region—where those offices are based.
The city’s 2014 adoption of the Diridon Station Area Plan to create a mixed-use urban destination near public transit was predicated on Google bankrolling things to bring the vision to life. The project, being built out over the next few years, promises hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space next to an intermodal transit station that, if the transit and rail funding stars align, will be a transportation hub for the state. In addition to the tantalizing prospect of high-speed rail links to San Francisco and the Central Valley, Diridon Station is also planned to be the hub for San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit when the connection is finished at the end of this decade.
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 #6 in our overall Product category, which measures hard-to-build infrastructure in subcategories like Airport Connectivity)—as well as to Boston’s density of other world-class universities and colleges. The city is bursting with lecture halls, labs and classrooms for the more than 75 institutions of higher learning in the area, and is energized by the estimated 200,000 postsecondary students (many who are excitedly back in the city after two years away) creating stories, ideas, solutions and technologies that will help drive the economy and incubate innovation districts nationally and globally for decades to come. New students have resumed flocking here, to arguably the continent’s largest university town, by the tens of thousands, becoming smitten with the crooked narrow streets and storied pubs, blended with American optimism and East Coast connections, like millions before them.
They’re definitely hitting it at the right time. Boston is Top 5 in our Household Income subcategory, with an unemployment rate that’s improved 15 spots since 2020, to #77 (which may seem disappointing, but is actually middle of the pack for our Top 10 cities).
With the pandemic (relatively) in the rearview, the city is getting back to its ambitious buildout as America’s newest (oldest) urban destination, buoyed by billions in federal stimulus funds and (until recently, anyway) cheap U.S. interest rates.
“Boston’s reopening is well underway,” says Martha Sheridan, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Citywide events are back, with major sporting events such as the Boston Marathon and the upcoming US Open injecting significant visitor spending into our economy. Hotel development is robust, new openings and 5-star renovations are a sure sign that recovery is unfolding as we would hope.”
Hotel inventory is projected to grow by almost 5,000 new rooms in the next five years alone, a 20% increase in supply, much of it planned for or, in the case of the 1,055-room Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport in the South Boston Waterfront near the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, already opened. Elsewhere, the Raffles Boston Back Bay Hotel, the first Raffles property in North America, is set to open in 2022. Downtown is also anticipating a half-dozen massive properties, none more so than the boutique 212-room Canopy Hotel by Hilton at Boston Haymarket, just steps from Faneuil Hall Marketplace and the Boston Public
The city’s cultural clout is also being reinforced courtesy of the Fenway Sports Group and Live Nation’s construction on the MGM Music Hall at Fenway, a 5,000-seat concert hall that will extend the storied ballpark, adding 91,500 square feet and four levels of new event space and amenities to the home of the Red Sox.
The city’s natural attributes have always captured the world’s imagination and crystalized its hedonistic brand. But it is Miami’s openness to immigrants (and, more recently, the LGBTQ+ community, and, even more recently than that, Silicon Valley migrants) that has the city ranking #1 in America for Foreign-Born Population and #4 in our vital, talent-centric People category. Today, a stroll in most of the city’s dozens of neighborhoods (ranked #30 nationally) is an audible adventure where you’re likely to hear many of the 100+ languages spoken here.
The world is noticing the open door. As the second-most Instagrammed city in the country, and Top 10 for Google Trends and Facebook Check-ins (we can’t bring ourselves to call it Meta yet), Miami ranks #6 in our overall Promotion category.
Miami’s story today is one of a place where the new distributed workforce comes to work (and, more importantly, play) from home. Take tech-lusting mayor Francis Suarez: as the pandemic was hitting, he helped erect a billboard near Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters that read “Thinking of moving to Miami? DM me.” Below was his handle.
But it’s not like Florida’s largest city is some erstwhile rookie clamoring for their slice of economic-development pie. Its historic role as a crossroads of the Americas has long provided a business advantage few cities can claim. It’s home to one of the largest concentrations of international banks in the U.S., as well as one of North America’s largest hubs—outside of Mexico City, New York and L.A.—of Spanish-language media. Miami intends to promote its connectivity and globalism, and the region’s selection as a host city candidate for the 2026 World Cup will help.
But its Prosperity performance does need attention. Miami ranks #28 for Fortune 500 companies, behind Tampa and tied with Cleveland, and has lost four corporations since 2020. It also sits outside of our Top 100, at #106 in our Prosperity category, a fall of seven spots since 2020.
Still, the local tech and business community is helping. Earlier this year Miami-Dade County received a $100-million donation from the CEO of JPMorgan Chase to launch the Tech Equity Miami program to foster and support technology education at Miami Dade College, whose population is mainly Black and Latino.
The city is also ensuring that it remains among America’s—and the world’s—most dynamic urban destinations, especially for the art- and design-obsessed. Ironside, a former industrial site of abandoned warehouses and factories being redeveloped by the visionaries behind the successful Wynwood district, is being transformed into a magnetic hub of 60 restaurants, cafés, art galleries, showrooms and shops. It’s one of a dozen ’hoods (MiMo, Miami Modern, is currently buzzing) that are drawing new residents as much as toned sun-seekers and their insatiable hunger for new rooftop clubs and designer hotels. (Although there are plenty of those, too.)
Austin may get the attention, but the promise of the Lone Star State drawing Californians and New Yorkers is quietly being fulfilled in Houston. In the past year, immigration both domestic and international has swelled the metro population to well past seven million—an increase of almost 300,000.
And the people arriving are more educated (up five spots, to #48, since 2020) and more international (up two spots, to #8, in the Foreign-Born Population subcategory) than before the pandemic. Houston today is one of America’s most ethnically diverse big cities, with more than 145 languages spoken at home, according to the latest census—about even with New York.
No wonder it ranks #7 for Culture and, perhaps more remarkably, #4 for Restaurants, with a flurry of post-pandemic launches happening now—from food halls like Railway Heights and POST Houston to elevated Mexican at Chivos, Casa Nomad and Urbe (few cities globally do Mexican better than Houston).
The fifth-largest city in the U.S. has certainly stirred global curiosity with its economic might (#4 for Fortune 500 companies located here) and livability.
Seattle’s self-reliance was on full display over the past two-plus years. The city was where COVID-19 outbreaks first hit the U.S. But as the New York Times noted a year later, “The Seattle area has the lowest death rate of the 20 largest metropolitan regions in the country. If the rest of the United States had kept pace with Seattle, the nation could have avoided more than 300,000 coronavirus deaths.”
The resilience wasn’t just in public health. Despite an over-reported (and, as it turns out, temporary) exodus from the center to the suburbs, Seattle has avoided the economic impact that continues to hobble other cities. In fact, it remains a draw for Californians looking for (literally) greener pastures and pulled by the titans of industry in town, from Amazon to Zillow.
CBRE cites Seattle as the #6 market for commercial leases so far in 2022, most of it driven by tech firms. Another indicator of Seattle’s continued ascent? Its ranking for Unemployment Rate, improved by 50 spots since the start of the pandemic. Household income is sixth-highest nationally and the city has moved within one spot of being a Top 10 home to Fortune 500 companies.
Long a progressive beacon of diversity in Georgia, Atlanta and its rich legacy of American civil rights—the city is the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr.—powered the long-conservative state to flip to the Democrats in the 2020 election. The nation noticed, with more than 200,000 relocating to the city over the past year, with more mulling their options, indicated by ATL’s #6 ranking for Google Trends and Instagram Hashtags, and #9 for Google Search.
Good thing the city—already home to the seventh-most Fortune 500 companies—is planning for the influx, with bold projects downtown (like the 50-acre Gulch redevelopment called Centennial Yards, featuring 12 million square feet of residential, retail, and office space and 1,500 hotel rooms). Just east, along Peachtree, Mitchell and Broad Streets, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, dozens of historic buildings are being revived with a focus on public spaces and walkability.
Even Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (from where 80% of the U.S. population resides within a two-hour flight) is renovating, despite already ranking #4 for Airport Connectivity. Its ATL Next project is pumping $6 billion into modernization and connectivity.
It’s not only city sloganeering that’s big in Dallas. It’s economic reality. Home to more than 10,000 corporate headquarters—the largest concentration in the U.S.—and ranking Top 5 in the nation for Fortune 500 companies headquartered in town, the city is easy to get to. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is second only Chicago’s O’Hare in our Airport Connectivity rankings. A planned $3-billion Terminal F project, on hold during the pandemic, is likely back on the table, given DFW’s rebound of 62.5 million passengers in 2021—nearly 60% higher than 2020. The #11 ranking for Convention Center is going to ascend, too, now that city council has approved plans for a new $2-billion, 2.5-million-square-foot facility to be built adjacent to the current one by 2028. But Dallas is big on fun and culture, too. This is the home of America’s sixth-largest LGBTQ+ community. On 20 square blocks of mixed-use space, institutions 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, plus restaurants and bars—all contribute to a #18 ranking in our diverse Programming category.
The rebellious Texas city—forged by the Longhorn State’s can-do persistence cut with a university town’s social activism—is now simply a place that’s incredibly livable. Talk to any entrepreneur leaving Silicon Valley or Seattle and chances are they’ve considered Austin. The capital and talent inflow is staggering: Austin climbed 17 spots in our Fortune 500 headquarters subcategory since the start of the pandemic, to #33. Its Unemployment Rate ranking has also improved nine spots, to #36 nationally, as tech giants like Oracle (as in, the planet’s second-largest software company) move HQs to the city, joined by smaller job creators like BAE Systems. The #20-ranked University of Texas at Austin is also a talent magnet, focusing on research and a growing talent pipelines to the symbiotic private sector. That foundation of thinking differently has been pulling the creative class since long before it had a moniker, prompting local marketer Visit Austin to trademark the city as “the Live Music Capital of the World.” South by Southwest, the annual summit of business, music and creativity, is still going strong, an elder beacon for new ventures and a firehose of investment ranging from two new Thompson Hotels to a United Nations of restaurants opening in 2022 alone.
Being the largest city in a region that generates more than $60 billion in tourism-related revenue every (non-pandemic) year 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 to tell it. Orlando knows how to get people talking, even if its own story was somewhat muted during the pandemic.
Its #8 ranking in our Promotion category drove its overall ranking, including collecting the third-most TripAdvisor Reviews of any U.S. city. Orlando plans buzzy product releases with military precision—and suffered deeply when confronted with an invisible enemy it couldn’t defeat quickly. After its many high-budget tourism initiatives were delayed—from SeaWorld’s new Sesame Street to LEGOLAND Resort’s Lego Movie World—the city is making up for lost time with the massive South Terminal Complex at Orlando International Airport, with phase one of the $3.8-billion, multi-year project nearing completion right about now. Orlando’s #10 ranking for Airport Connectivity is about to improve.
Beyond the theme parks, you’ll find locals and visitors cheering for hometown pro soccer at the new Exploria Stadium—with plenty of placemaking around the emerging neighborhood.
With its secondary-city affordability and coveted lifestyle brand at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is an increasingly wealthy, healthy Millennial magnet. Case in point is its Top 10 ranking for America’s most-educated citizenry, plying their trades at large Fortune 500 companies ranging from stalwarts like Western Union, healthcare giants DaVita and Centene, and Molson Coors Beverage to the hundreds of start-ups in the emergent cannabis and burgeoning wellness industries. No wonder the Mile High City boasts a #9 Household Income ranking, up three spots since 2020.
But Denver plays as hard as it works. Amid 300 days of annual sunshine, the obsession with the outdoors today is matched by a commitment to the arts. Denver Art Museum’s Martin Building recently underwent an extensive, multi-year renovation that includes a new restaurant from award-winning Denver chef Jennifer Jasinski. The success of the city’s CRUSH Walls international street art festival even inspired Afar magazine to declare Denver “the Street Art Capital of the Country.” The city’s #20 ranking for Culture is up four spots since 2020.
As a global vacation destination, visited by more than six million tourists prior to the pandemic—up 16.2% over five years, according to local numbers—Honolulu was ravaged in the beginning, with month-over-month visitor spending dropping as much as 80% in 2020 and 2021 and almost 10,000 jobs lost in the city.
But as the Google searches by travel-hungry domestic tourists spiked (up 36 spots since 2020, to #45) and the Safe Travels program was lifted, Honolulu started buzzing once again.
Its Unemployment Rate ranking is up by eight spots since 2020, to #96 in the nation, and its citizens rank #37 for Educational Attainment (up four spots), while its Income Equality is among the best in the nation, at #6.
The visitor economy investment is also back, with The Mandarin Oriental Hotel and Residences, Honolulu, opening in mid-2022, its 38 stories rising 423 feet over the Ala Moana neighborhood and Waikiki. Not to be outdone, the iconic Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort is keeping it real with a new cultural center as part of its $80-million reno.
Given its deep roots in the creation of the Union almost 250 years ago, Philadelphia is a dense, cataloged embodiment of American values and traditions, easily accessible and eagerly shared.
Philly has always let its experiences do the talking, whether it’s walking history along the cobblestones of Old City or breathing in the urban green of Fairmount Park. The city’s stealthy urban tapestry houses the #6-ranked Neighborhoods in America, that, when combined with the #33 Parks & Outdoors ranking and #48 Safety score, make strolling aimlessly here a joy.
This will only improve with the recently opened central portion of the multiuse Delaware River Trail linking the city’s waterfront destinations.
Those in need of a more regimented history lesson will love the museums (ranked #7) in town, especially in light of recent investments like the 90,000 square feet of new public and exhibition space at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as part of the Frank Gehry–led expansion.
A thriving desert metropolis that’s now Top 5 nationally by population, Phoenix has seen the fastest growth of any major city in the past decade. According to the latest census data, it added 163,000 residents, bringing the core city’s population to 1.6 million, with its metro on the cusp of 5 million.
And what’s not to love? A growing roster of fine museums, a vibrant artist community and 300 days of sunshine—with the #6-ranked Weather in the country.
Get a street-level view of the city’s increasingly considered urban planning with a stroll through Roosevelt Row Arts District, or RoRo, as locals call it. Art galleries, studios, restaurants and bars sit side by side in this walkable creative district in the downtown core—helping the city to its #11 ranking globally in our diverse Place category, which measures a city’s Neighborhoods (#20), the quality of its Parks & Outdoors (#21) and its Safety (#49).
The newest addition to the downtown arts district is Pemberton PHX—part art exhibit and part foodie magnet, where locally loved restos like Baba’s Falafel and Saint Pasta host pop-up dinners year-round.
The smallest city by population in our Top 50, Provo is only the fourth-largest city in Utah. Still, with the 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 (ranked #35 in our University subcategory) and forms part of what’s become known as Silicon Slopes, Utah’s start-up and tech community that’s largely responsible for almost 60,000 new residents over the past year in the metro area. Easy access to water sports and ski resorts, plus the city’s own 53 green spaces (totaling 2,000 acres, plus 33 miles of trails), earns Provo an impressive #15 in our Place category, including Top 3 honors for Safety. But the real driver of this small but mighty city is its entrepreneurialism and second-best Prosperity in the country, including the lowest Unemployment Rate in our ranking and second-best overall Income Equality. Technology, healthcare and education are among the city’s major industries, with an economy that’s propelled by a highly educated population: Provo ranked #15 for Educational Attainment.
Minneapolis has become a household name as the site of the George Floyd murder at the hands of local police officers, an event that sparked a global movement against systemic racism and police violence. 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 almost a decade of visionary city-building called the Minneapolis Big Build. The city is in the throes of an unprecedented renaissance, with more than $1 billion worth of annual construction permits issued for each of the past four years. The investment has yielded (so far) the redesign of Nicollet Avenue, the U.S. Bank Stadium, The Commons park and a major reno of Target Center, home of the NBA Timberwolves, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Walker Art Center. There are a dozen more massive projects opening soon, including the new Water Works Park on the Mississippi riverfront.
This, on top of 18 Fortune 500 companies—the most per capita of any American metro area—ranks Minneapolis #8 in the nation for Prosperity, including an improvement of 18 spots (to #12) for our Unemployment Rate ranking since 2020.
Combining spectacular natural and built environments, Salt Lake City is no longer just a gateway to the great outdoors—it’s also a welcoming destination with ascendant Museums (up six spots since 2020, at #42), Nightlife (up eight, at #55), as well as… breweries, which over the past two years have multiplied once the local potency limits were relaxed.
The transformation began with the arrival of the XIX Olympic Winter Games 20 years ago, as the city thawed its reputation as an über-conservative cowboy town with Mormon family values to become the lifestyle magnet of quaint cafés and stylish restaurants it is today. SLC continues to pour millions into development projects and the beautification of its downtown, and 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 still the reason many adrenaline junkies travel and move here. And they work as hard as they play: Salt Lake ranks an astonishing #4 in our Prosperity category—up five spots since 2020, led by a #3 ranking for both subcategories of Unemployment Rate and Income Equality.
The City of Oaks is part of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, one of the country’s largest and most successful research parks—think high-tech and biotech, along with advanced textile development. The city also boasts three major research universities, which supply the pipeline of young, cheap talent that ranks #6 for Educational Attainment nationally. Is it any wonder, then, that Apple recently announced a $1-billion Raleigh campus that will open next year?
New arrivals are increasingly drawn to Raleigh for its affordable housing, its Safety (up an impressive 21 spots to #9 nationally) and rising Prosperity, with the #17 Household Income in the U.S. (up 3 spots since 2020) and a rising Unemployment Rate ranking (#28, a 19-spot improvement since 2020).
With all of the residents pouring into town to try before they buy, exciting hotel openings are plentiful. Placemaking matters here, too. The North Carolina Freedom Park opens in late 2022, honoring the African American struggle for liberty. Raleigh’s already improving Parks & Outdoors ranking (up six spots since 2020 and sitting at #52) will keep climbing.
Portland’s blissful isolation, ambivalence toward established norms and legacy of self-sustainability—to hew trees and carve out one’s place in the encroaching wilderness—makes this one of the most earnest cities in America.
Portlanders are among the most-educated citizens in the nation (#17) and have long built it themselves if they couldn’t find anything to their liking—from performance outdoor apparel like Columbia and Nike (based in nearby Beaverton) to daring hospitality brands like Ace and McMenamins. The honesty makes its way to the city’s brand, most recently seen in Travel Portland’s open letter inviting visitors back to the city, published in the New York Times and elsewhere, stating, “Some of what you’ve heard about Portland is true. Some is not.”
And the return is on. PDX’s Unemployment Rate ranking improved 37 spots since 2020, to #36. Its ranking for Google Search is up 13 spots, to #10, and, according to Redfin, rents increased here more than anywhere else in the country in 2021. The city boasts 85+ breweries (among the most per capita in the nation) and the 11th-best restaurants.
Madison’s enviable position as both capital of Wisconsin and the site of the state’s largest university (ranked #22 in the nation) has certainly fueled its livability in previous rankings (ours and seemingly everyone else’s). The city is firing on all cylinders, buoyed by high-paying work that’s long evolved from academia and public service to splinter into ascendant tech start-ups and satellite offices eager to recruit U of W talent in healthcare, IT and manufacturing amidst an unprecedented talent shortage for the usual talent-magnet culprits. To wit: tech, again—between 2015 and 2020, employment in high-tech industries climbed by 20.4%, or 3,842 jobs, compared to 8.9% nationwide. Also: the basic chemical manufacturing industry, which reported 61.3% job growth over the same period, according to the Bureau of Labor data. The employment boom has meant a significant increase in median household income, up four spots since 2020 and now Top 25 nationally. Also impressive is the Top 10 ranking for Income Equality. Even the big dogs like American Family Insurance Group have arrived in town, lured by its smarts (#7 for Educational Attainment) and relative, but fleeting, housing affordability.
The hospitality and revelry that’s defined Nashville over the past few decades has laid dormant since the start of the pandemic, but Music City is back in a big way in 2022. The home base for artists like Jack White, Kings of Leon and the Black Keys is reclaiming its live-music glory with June’s return of CMA Fest and Bonnaroo (after both were canceled last year), as well as dozens of other shows that have the city buzzing. Last year’s opening of the National Museum of African American Music, a vital center to educate the world, preserve a legacy and celebrate the central role African Americans played in creating the American soundtrack, is just one reason Nashville is up four spots to #26 in our Museum subcategory. Massive developments like the new home of the Nashville SC Major League Soccer team in Wedgewood-Houston—a 30,500-person soccer-only facility with double-tiered stands—will only fuel the city’s #24 ranking for Attractions, up 12 spots since 2020 (outdone only by its 27-spot rise in our Unemployment Rate ranking, to #18 nationally, and a 22-spot rise in Google Search, up to #24). The demand is driving a dozen hotels opening over the next two years, as well as the massive expansion of the city’s #28-ranked airport.
Less than an hour’s commute from Washington, D.C., Baltimore offers a slower pace of life and significantly cheaper housing than the hyper-charged capital. But the window to buy into one of Baltimore’s diverse, historic communities is closing fast—home prices in the city reached a 10-year record high a year into the pandemic and have been climbing ever since. No wonder the city’s beguiling urban pockets have powered its Neighborhoods ranking up five spots from 2020, to #12 in the country today. In fact, with the city’s crime rate dipping and its Parks & Outdoors ranking inching up, Baltimore is up 21 spots in our vital Place category.
And massive placemaking investment is only getting started in South Baltimore’s industrial Warner Street corridor, with plans for a new entertainment district between M&T Bank Stadium and Horseshoe Casino Baltimore being implemented. The city also boasts one of the most educated citizenry in the country (#15), partially the result of the nation’s #6-ranked Johns Hopkins University, which is also Baltimore’s largest employer.
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 never left, but this financial industry fun fact about the Berkshire Hathaway CEO’s 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 is #28 in the nation for Fortune 500 firms in town, boasting the most (eight) of any city with fewer than a million people. The city has been on a tear economically since 2020 and throughout the pandemic, ranking Top 5 in America for Unemployment Rate and, perhaps even more impressive, Top 20 for Income Equality. It’s resulting #7 ranking nationally for Prosperity is astounding. 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,” and its #29 ranking for Nightlife rocks, often fueled by hometown musicians, many from local record label Saddle Creek, inspired by the path once forged by artists like Bright Eyes and The Faint.
Oxnard, sandwiched between more famous Malibu and Santa Barbara, is an increasingly poorly kept secret, ascending nine spots in our ranking since 2020. This California city has too much going for it to stay under the radar. Its gorgeous weather ranks #3 in the country, and its direct access to seven beaches (four of them state beaches) and the coastal mountains means a #13 finish in our deep Place category, also helped by its low crime rate (ranking #13 nationally for Safety—improved by six spots since 2020). The city’s diversified economy, including agriculture, oil, shipping and business and financial services, makes Oxnard a magnet for both high-income (#7 for Household Income nationally) and foreign-born residents seeking opportunity in a high-growth California powerhouse. Oxnard ranks #14 for Foreign-Born Population and is up 15 spots since 2020 for Educational Attainment by residents, to #45. Proximity to L.A., just 60 miles east, has Oxnard capturing much of that city’s urban exodus (and their spending and investment power) over the past two years. Port Hueneme, right next door, is the only major navigable port in California between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay.
In Tampa, the natural and built environments are as in sync as Stamkos and Hedman. The city has low crime (an impressive #8 in the nation), pleasant weather in its 361 days of sunshine per year and sprawling, diverse #13-ranked Parks & Outdoors, up three spots from 2020), including, of course, nearby beaches like Fort De Soto Park and Clearwater. 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 newly renovated 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 #10 ranking in Attractions, up four spots since 2020. The pandemic hasn’t slowed the city’s economic heft, with its Unemployment Rate ranking up 15 spots since 2020, reaching #49 in the country. Tourism numbers are rebounding quickly, too. Good thing, considering more than 1,000 new hotel rooms were added since 2019, and another 1,000 are coming online over the next 12 months.
Sitting nearly 4,300 feet above sea level along the northern end of the Wasatch Mountains just 35 miles from Salt Lake City, Ogden appeals mightily to the avid outdoor set and SLC’s swelling workforce of affluent, educated and tech-skilled people now able to avoid big-city headaches with hybrid WFH set-ups. Ogden is not only an enticing new hometown to local transplants, it’s also the #1 city in America in our overall Prosperity category. It tops our Unemployment Rate subcategory (up two spots from an already impressive 2020 finish) and is second nationally for Income Equality. Its #18 Household Income ranking will be in the single digits in a couple of years, given the small city’s ascendancy. 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, Ogden being situated in the heart of the sector’s cluster, which sits two miles from Hill Air Force Base and its 25,000+ jobs. Local Weber State University ensures a talent pipeline and recently received a $50-million grant to keep training high-tech talent
A beguiling fusion of built environment and coastal transition landscapes—golden islands, channels and marshes—Charleston is one of North America’s most architecturally significant destinations, drawing design pilgrims and sharing its own, too (artist Shepard Fairey is a local). Emerging out of the pandemic, Charleston is poised to reclaim its place on travel itineraries and in the hearts of investors. It’s also up 12 spots overall since 2020. The anticipated Charleston Flatiron Hotel is coming online soon and, perhaps equally important, Bill Murray’s bar, Harold’s Cabin, has finally reopened. The city’s Unemployment Rate ranking has improved 29 spots since 2020, today sitting at #22 nationally. Its traditionally strong Place ranking remains in the Top 10, including #7 for its sublime Parks & Outdoors. A city rich in cultural, natural and military heritage, Charleston is #8 for Museums, and will improve quickly. Set to open in late 2022, 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.
Fast-growing Tucson has climbed our ranking seven spots since 2020, buoyed by its sense of place, ranking #12 nationally on the wave of its improvement in our Safety category (up 39 spots since 2020, to #46). Its #15-ranked Parks & Outdoors will get a boost from the global fascination with the nearby Saguaro National Park. Given the inflow of educated transplants seeking sun, solitude and affordable housing (and so improving the Education Attainment ranking of the city’s citizenry by 13 spots, to #57), Tucson is set for even bigger things. There has been 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% of residents are aged between 20 and 34. You can thank the University of Arizona (ranked #44 in our University subcategory) for the youthful bounce. New arrivals are often surprised by the town’s impressive 17th-best shopping in the country.
California’s state capital is prosperous and proud, ranking well for its natural attributes, including epic weather (#13) that nourishes this self-declared “Farm to Fork Capital” and its fertile surroundings. Although traditionally one of the Golden State’s wealthiest cities (ranking #23 for Household Income in the country), it’s still feeling the pandemic’s economic ravages in its #90-ranked Unemployment Rate, down 19 spots since 2020. The rising crime rate, including two fatal mass shootings in just over a month in early 2022 in busy downtown areas, also knocked Sacramento down nine spots overall since 2020. The City of Trees—residents claim more trees per capita here than anywhere besides Paris—isn’t a stranger to cataclysms: 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 and horse-drawn carriages. But the city isn’t content with a quaint past. The $180-million renovation and expansion of Sacramento’s SAFE Credit Union Convention Center (currently ranked a middling #46) is part of the city’s C3 project, along with the community theater and Memorial Auditorium.
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. On one end of the River Walk, there’s the five colonial missions, a UNESCO heritage site. 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. No wonder the city ranks #7 for Attractions in America. Well, chalk it up to the River Walk and the regular announcements about new sites ranging from “a world-record-setting themed roller coaster” to “SeaWorld San Antonio welcomes world’s tallest and fastest Screaming Swing.” But back to the River Walk: three massive hotels are opening along its path next year, including the innovative Artista San Antonio Hotel and the InterContinental and Thompson Hotel. Despite an overall drop of eight spots since 2020, the city is up five spots for Restaurants, powered by the talent coming out of the Culinary Institute of America.
Setting it apart from many Midwest metros, Ohio’s capital and largest city is one of America’s fastest-growing places—an economic powerhouse that’s also home to Ohio State University (#25 in our University subcategory). And Buckeye football isn’t the university’s only contribution to local culture: with more OSU graduates deciding to stay in a town that’s up six spots overall spots since 2020, Columbus is an emerging tech mecca with a thriving arts scene. The well-rounded economy, it seems, is resilient, with an Unemployment Rate ranking up four spots since 2020, to #32 nationally—buoyed by a growing number of start-ups, as well as top employer Ohio State and Fortune 500s (for which Columbus shares a #21 ranking, up six) like Nationwide Insurance and L Brands. Community events like Gallery Hop, when galleries stay open late and performers and artists hit the streets of Columbus’ Short North Arts District, are poised for big post-pandemic comebacks. The reason? Its ascendant Place ranking, up 13 spots since 2020, led by a much-improved Parks & Outdoors ranking and a 20-spot improvement in Safety, which today sits at #27 nationally.
In the face of poverty and injustice—and “natural” disasters compounded by both—NOLA has, over its three centuries, created a culture of presence, music and festivals that may pale in size to others in the world but never in intensity. It’s why the city ranks #6 in America for Programming, our category spanning shopping, dining and after-hours vibrancy. Given the need to celebrate, seize the day and revel in all that fusion of humanity and culture and sweaty new people and ideas, the city ranks #5 in our Nightlife subcategory. The French Quarter may be touristy, but the investment continues, by way of the One11, the area’s first new hotel in 50 years. More new investments include the new Four Seasons Hotel and Residences, housed in the former World Trade Center. Its new restaurant, Chemin à la Mer from local culinary icon Donald Link, honors its founder’s Louisiana heritage with French technique—an addition that’s sure to improve NOLA’s #35 Restaurants ranking. The Warehouse District’s new Museum of Southern Jewish Experience, dedicated to the Jewish people of the South, will do the same for the already impressive #3 Museum ranking.
America’s 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 improving to #16 in our ranking for Fortune 500 companies in town, up seven spots since 2020. Its Unemployment Rate ranking, knocked out by the early days of the pandemic, has roared back 22 spots, to #43 in the country. Overall, the city’s #52 rank for Prosperity is also up 22 spots since 2020. The already walkable downtown, too, just got a boost with the recently extended east-to-west hybrid streetcar system that runs an impressive four miles and 17 stops. The city is further investing in its economic innovation with massive investments like the medical school campus and innovation district funded by Atrium Health and Wake Forest Baptist—26 acres in Midtown that will help position Charlotte as a destination for research and innovation and create thousands of jobs this decade alone. But livability and culture matter here, too. A former Sears department store just reopened as the Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Center, new home to dozens of galleries, studios, theaters and classrooms.
Known as “The Queen City of the Hudson,” Poughkeepsie, a two-hour drive or 90-minute train ride north of New York City, makes its America’s Best Cities debut in 2022, with an impressive Top 40 finish. But this is also one of the nation’s oldest cities, founded in the idyllic Hudson Valley on the banks of the Hudson River more than three centuries ago by Dutch colonists. It has all the magnetism that would tempt a big-city pandemic exodus: a peaceful downtown (population of about 30,000), with the town ranking as 14th-safest in the country; a college-town levity (Marist College is right in town, with Vassar College and another handful of schools nearby) and historic architecture and walkability that ranks it in the top third in the nation in our vital Place category (#33), including Top 25 for Weather. It also boasts 22 parks within its MSA, including the iconic Hudson State Historic Park bridge. Despite its diminutive size and population, Poughkeepsie, perhaps fueled by New Yorkers with the means for a second property or full relocation, ranks Top 10 in America in our overall Prosperity category, with #10 for Household Income and #9 in our Unemployment Rate subcategory.
Few East Coast American cities blend the urban and natural like Virginia Beach. With 38 miles of coastline at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, it has long been a respite from D.C.’s sweltering summers. Nature abounds, with the #17 ranking in our Place category, including #17 for Parks & Outdoors. The pristine, endless sandy beach, charmingly framed by a three-mile, 140-year-old boardwalk, is the city’s top draw, made even more enjoyable by the sixth-lowest crime rate in the country. Virginia’s largest city is rebuilding its massive visitor economy post-pandemic with initiatives like the Get Outdoors Pass, which grants discounted admission to a range of outdoor attractions and activities—together ranked #26 in the nation. But it’s the city’s ascent in our Programming category that’s noteworthy: Shopping is up nine spots, to #53 nationally, and Culture is up 13, to #74. The kinetic ViBe Creative District is a neighborhood for multidisciplinary artists that always has something on in its industrial spaces and among its colorful murals. This summer and fall events calendar will be particularly epic, from the world’s longest-running surf competition in late August to boardwalk art shows in the cooler days of late October.
America’s gateway to the West has always been an understated city of neighborhoods (ranking #19 in that subcategory) and cultural elegance. It performs well for Nightlife (#18, up two since 2020)—not surprisingly, Miles Davis is a native son—and ranks #23 for Programming, led also by a #21 finish for Restaurants. This was always a stealthy food town, but no longer, with recent openings like the Mediterranean-forward Casa Don Alfonso, the first in the U.S. for Mario Iaccarino, a Michelin-starred Italian restaurateur, in the Ritz-Carlton St. Louis. More accessible is the newish City Foundry STL food hall, serving an atlas-worth of goodies. The city is also investing in its infrastructure, especially as it bolsters its ability to attract meetings and events once more. The AC Next Gen Project that will update and expand the America’s Center Convention Complex downtown should be open next year, improving the #15 Convention Center ranking. New downtown hotels offer sweet perches from which to explore new placemaking—like the non-motorized Brickline Greenway and its connection to city parks, and Laclede’s Landing, a converted warehouse district overlooking the Mississippi that will boost the city’s nightlife and dining even more.
Affordable yet packed with ascendant culture, sports and plenty of delectable food (that KC ’cue!), Kansas City offers a perfect balance of big city amenities like great jobs and a healthy economy combined with an easygoing Midwestern vibe. Routinely ranked as one of the best cities for working women, KC boasts strong improvement in our Unemployment Rate subcategory (up 13 spots since 2020, to #22 in the nation), and has moved up eight spots for Fortune 500 companies located in town, to #42. With one-bedroom downtown rentals hovering around $1,000, free high-speed internet and a trolley system (also free) that makes parking downtown a nonissue, priced-out talent is fueling a burgeoning tech scene in a place that was the first home of the Google Fiber network. The city is brimming with ambition. It was here, after all, where in the late 1800s city leaders promised “more boulevards than Paris, more fountains than Rome.” Today there are 200 fountains, 48 open to the public. The city’s distinct sense of place is rooted in its Top 25 ranking in our Culture subcategory and #30 for Museums, which feature only-in-KC places like the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the National World War I Museum and Memorial.
Connecticut’s largest city is also one of America’s oldest, first colonized in the mid-1600s and local entrepreneurialism grew exponentially (and industrially) once the railroad link was established in 1840. With its 90-minute train ride from New York City, the city maintains a wealthy and educated citizenry—as it did when entrepreneurs like P.T. Barnum (of circus fame) not only ran businesses but also the town itself (Barnum was mayor).
Bridgeport ranks #4 in America for Household Income, behind D.C. and ahead of Boston. The prosperity is driven by its talented workforce, the fifth-most educated in America and #13 in our Foreign-Born Population subcategory. The result is an enviable #5 ranking in our People category. It’s also a safe place to make your mark, ranking #12 for Safety, up two spots since 2020.
But not all is idyllic in town. The city is down nine spots overall since 2020 and, despite its affluence and education, Bridgeport still lags in reducing unemployment—which, at #94, is down a stomach-churning 75 spots since 2020. Income Equality falls out of the Top 100 entirely, at #110.
Sure, there’s Southwest Florida’s first Westin property—still gleaming from a $15-million remodel last year. As well as another big reno just completed at Boca Grande’s historic Old Florida Gasparilla Inn. But people are coming here to live. It’s not only the safest city in the nation for the second year in a row, it’s also one of the most beautiful, with 400 miles of canals, among the most of any city on the planet. Not surprisingly, it’s ranked #6 in our expansive and important Place category. What Cape Coral lacks in the soft, sandy beaches of its neighboring islands it more than makes up for in riverfront vistas, abundant wildlife and outdoor pursuits galore. It’s also one of the most accessible, with Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW)—ranked #31 nationally for Connectivity—a mere 30-minute drive after baggage claim. But this place is a secret no longer, with housing that a couple years ago would hover around $200,000 today selling swiftly for $300,000 and more. Rents are following suit, driven by the 25,000 new residents who arrived in town in the past year, joining the annual student migration into the dozen colleges and community colleges within 50 miles of the city center.
Situated at the base of Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs is a wonderland for those who love their freedom and adventure. But it’s the urban experience that surprises many, with a love for terroir and local sustainability exuding a palpable pride of place. Places like Ivywild School, a local community marketplace for groceries or coffee to go, share good vibes with newly opened spots like The Well food and beverage hall. The city is also magnetic, even during—or more likely because of—the pandemic’s urban exodus from larger centers, as it grew by approximately 30,000 people year over year.
And they’re bringing their smarts along with their $8,000 mountain bikes. The city ranks #21 in the nation for Educational Attainment, and the local outpost of the University of Colorado is up eight spots since 2020 to #82. The move to remote work has also powered the city’s Household Income ranking, up six spots to #29, complemented by the fourth-best Income Equality in the country, up two since 2020. But it’s not all Rocky Mountain highs. Colorado Springs is down nine spots overall since 2020, saddled with spiking unemployment and higher crime.
Milwaukee as a tourist destination? Some 23 million visited in 2016—and tourism was rising until the pandemic, with a local economic impact of almost $4 billion in 2018 alone. Located on America’s third coast, Wisconsin’s largest city combines cherished traditions and open arms. It celebrates its beer heritage (ranking Top 25 for Nightlife) and offers a vibrant farm-to-table culinary scene—built from a century of feeding and brewing for a continent. In 2019, 10 passenger ships docked here, doubled from 2018. Plans to expand the downtown Milwaukee convention center are proceeding and the project builds on a downtown renewal kickstarted by the Northwestern Mutual Tower & Commons in 2017, Fiserv Forum (home of the NBA Bucks) in 2018 and the BMO Tower. Milwaukee’s freshest news is the rebirth of Bronzeville, a vibrant African American district in the early 1900s before racist urban policy bulldozed it. Organizations led by people of color have contributed $400 million so far, with the reopening of America’s Black Holocaust Museum earlier this year drawing praise and even more curious tourists for years to come.
In this long-time business center for the energy, biosciences and aerospace sectors, binary thinking just doesn’t cut it. Yes, a new $288-million downtown convention center boasting 200,000 square feet of exhibition space and a 35,000-square-foot ballroom resulted in a #23 ranking in our Convention Center subcategory, up 17 spots since 2020. But there’s also the only urban whitewater-rafting facility in the world—an official Olympic and Paralympic training site the city is building as the globe’s finest rowing racecourse 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. No wonder the city is up nine spots to #62 for Parks & Outdoors and recently received a multi-year grant from the Outdoor Foundation, dedicated to equitable outdoor access for all.
The city is increasingly a new hometown for thousands of families, too, drawn by its astonishing affordability and the seventh-best Unemployment Rate in America. Small wonder it’s up 16 spots overall since 2020. But its 17-spot drop in our Promotion category means OKC still remains a secret—for now.
Boise, with an almost 20% population spike in the past decade, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, in one of America’s fastest-growing states. Just in the past year, 50,000 people have moved here, freed to work from home while reveling in the outdoors (a short drive will access ski resorts and epic wineries) and a lower cost of living (for now), where two-bedrooms rent for just over a grand and house prices start with a 3 (for now). It’s not like locals—whether old or new—are short on cash. A strong economy is booming, with tech sector corporations over-regulated on the West Coast relocating to Idaho’s more welcoming climes and emboldened by OGs like Micron Technology and the blossoming start-up ecosystem the tech giant has sown. Household Income is up four spots since 2020, at #51, more and more Fortune 500 companies mean a four-spot improvement to #33—and the already-low Unemployment Rate is improving, bringing the city up five spots to an impressive #8 in that subcategory. All of this success comes without the usual detriment to Income Equality (up six spots, to #34) or Safety (up seven spots, to an incredible fourth-best nationally).
Safe (the “Safest City in America!” if you listen to loud and proud former mayor Dee Margo, even though we have it at #5 in our subcategory), progressive and proudly Latino, this West Texas city bordering New Mexico and Mexico today basks in the 10-year-anniversary of its $500-million bond initiative that funded a children’s museum, new arena, a cultural center and more—all downtown. A quintessential minor-league downtown ballpark and a reborn transit system mothballed in the ’70s demonstrates an innovative pride of place that more small cities should endeavor to emulate. These days, that streetcar travels a five-mile route in two loops, servicing the city’s newly expanded medical schools, and through El Paso’s uptown and downtown areas, inspiring self-propelled urban exploration that has yielded a four-spot improvement in our Programming category since 2020 (now #58), led by the six-spot jump in the city’s #37-ranked Restaurants. Suffice it to say that EP’s steak and Mexican joints can hold their own against any city. The city benefits from its direct cultural and economic ties to Mexico and Latin America, with its population mostly of Hispanic origin (80%) and ranking #7 in our Foreign-Born Population subcategory.
Indianapolis might owe its fame to the century-old auto race known as the Indy 500, but this Midwest metropolis has plenty to offer, even if you don’t have a need for speed. Come for the red-hot economic growth, stay for affordable neighborhoods where the median sale price of a single-family home averaged $251,000 in 2021, according to the MIBOR Realtor Association. True to its reputation as the capital of speed, Indianapolis is home to workers who fuel a diverse economy anchored by three Fortune 500s—ranking it at a tie for #42 nationally—and some of the shortest commutes of any metro area. More impressive is the city’s #9 ranking in our Unemployment Rate subcategory, up 17 spots since 2020.
Play is big here, too. Attractions like the picturesque Canal Walk promenade and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (the largest institution of its kind in the world) helped earn Indy an impressive #15 ranking in our Attractions subcategory. Urban vibrancy gets a boost with the $300-million transformation of what was once the world’s largest Coca-Cola bottling facility into the Bottleworks District, featuring the new Bottleworks Hotel and Garage Food Hall, the city’s new culinary hub.
Richmond has always radiated a “genteel and understated nature,” as the New York Times observed in a sugar-coated acknowledgement of the cruel history of this capital of the Confederacy. The city today is a radiant blood diamond stepping bravely toward confronting a past that slavery built, and becoming stronger and more vital to the union for it. Its ranking in our vital Place category is rising quickly, up an astonishing 23 spots since 2020, to #54, with the city’s Safety up eight, to #47.
The Richmond region has always embraced green space, with gems like the James River Park system a destination for both the active (kayaking and rafting) to the pensive who just want to read under the shadow of a willow oak. The city’s Parks & Outdoors ranking is up 11 spots to #46 and will improve as Confederate monuments are reimagined as inclusive public spaces across the city.
Speaking of education, the city’s #29-ranked Museums just got a boost with the $30-million reno of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, including regional partnerships with institutions around the state, like a long-term partnership with the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.
Detroit has been on top of the world—“the arsenal of democracy” in the 1950s, as Motor City revved—and in the depths. But while the bulldozing of 20,000 (and counting) vacant structures since 2016 is ongoing, the city is rising, with more residents seemingly arriving than leaving (finally!). The city’s ranking in our Unemployment Rate subcategory improved 43 spots since 2020, to #63 overall. Prior to the pandemic, 19 million visited annually in 2019, spending more than $6 billion. The city even ranks #15 for Instagram Hashtags—pandemic slowdown and all—and Top 25 in the nation in our economically key Promotion category. The city’s new “Detroit Wins” campaign aims to communicate globally, “here’s an authentic region of the country,” says CVB CEO Claude Molinari. Vital infrastructure like the 6.6-mile QLine streetcar—named after Quicken Loans—connects the Woodward Corridor and is free to ride for the rest of 2022. More than $7 billion in investment means more than 200 projects are ongoing or complete throughout the city. Its already impressive #11 Fortune 500 ranking should improve with all the new buildout. A $60-million 30-mile Joe Louis Greenway, for walking and biking, will improve Detroit’s #56 Parks & Outdoors ranking.
Durham, one of America’s top college towns—anchored by Duke, a private research university with a global academic reach and alumni like Melinda Gates and Apple CEO Tim Cook—has fallen 10 spots in our ranking since 2020. While Duke retains its #6 spot nationally in our University subcategory, the city’s Safety (down 28 spots, to #68) and Household Income (down five, to #58) show the effect that lockdowns and fewer students have had on Durham’s usual vibrancy. And just as the university students have dipped, so has the airport that connects Durham to the world. Raleigh-Durham International Airport, a 20-minute drive from campus and a vital part of putting this small North Carolina city on the flight paths of almost a dozen carriers pre-pandemic, is down 18 spots since 2020, to #41. But its Refresh improvement program is working to bring the world back. After all, a city that boasts one of the top educated citizenry in the nation at #8 for Educational Attainment, and some of its best weather (#35), to say nothing of its public spaces like the 55-acre Sarah P. Duke Gardens steps from campus, will not stay down long. Its #22 ranking in our Unemployment Rate subcategory (up 12 since 2020) will see to that.
It may be Maine’s capital, but at just over half a million people, the other Portland is our smallest highest-ranking city. Frankly, we’re surprised it hasn’t broken the Top 50, given its special blend of post-pandemic urban attributes: smart people (#13 for Educational Attainment), Safety (#22) and natural endowment (#27 for Parks & Outdoors). It was Portland’s 35-spot drop in Unemployment Rate ranking (down to #63 in the country) along with its collapse in Google Search (down 33 spots, to #57) that dragged this ascendant city down. But expect better things soon, given local investment and, um, more global factors. Let’s start macro: the New York Times cited numerous climate change experts that chose Portland as a highly resilient city, not prone to seawater flooding (it’s high up), air pollution (remote!) or wildfires, with plenty of fresh, clean water. Expect more googling… soon. More locally, the city is seeing unprecedented development, led by the Old Port’s Portland Foreside, the largest development project the city has seen in decades, to be completed by 2026. The mixed-use neighborhood will consist of more than 60 businesses and 600 housing units in a 10-acre, eight-block district where trains were built for more than a century.
Cincinnati has simmered with urban vibrancy for a few years now, but as second-tier cities are finding their mojo, Cincy is ready to serve. Already an economic force—with a Fortune 500 ranking of #16 and an Unemployment Rate ranked at #32, an improvement of seven spots since 2020—the city is investing in its ability to get business done. A new downtown district surrounding the Duke Energy Convention Center should be completed by 2025, which will drastically improve the city’s already impressive #18 Convention Center ranking. A new, massive business hotel is also part of the plan, joining notable new properties like the Lytle Park Hotel on the stunning grounds of its eponymous urban park, and the Kinley Hotel, a downtown boutique property that’s restored a stately 1910 building and whose Khora restaurant has helped elevate the city’s Restaurant ranking to #28 nationally. The 21c Museum Hotel bridges hospitality with the city’s emergent arts and culture clout, and the reopening of the architecturally glorious 140-year-old Music Hall means a proper home for the symphony, ballet and opera. The expanded Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is also the new home for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and gives the Over the Rhine neighborhood real cultural chops.
They call it the City of Arts and Innovation, but Riverside, on the outskirts of L.A., 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 nickname, Riverside is also home to the Riverside Metropolitan Museum (helping raise its Museum ranking by seven spots to #77) and Fox Performing Arts Center, a 1929 theater built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style in the heart of downtown—just one reason behind Riverside’s fast-rising Neighborhoods ranking (up 21 spots since 2020, to #73). The city boasts one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse populations (ranked #15 for Foreign-Born Population), with citizens of Hispanic descent making up 53% of the local population, while nearly 44% of citizens speak a language other than English. Like a reflection of the community around it, University of California, Riverside (ranked #38 in our University subcategory) is one of the nation’s most ethnically varied postsecondary institutions. Riverside also performs well in our Place category (#21), which includes Safety (#34) and the third-best weather in the country—that is, only if you enjoy 277 days of sunshine annually.
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 in the city’s other 400 acres of parkland, residents—who have grown by 30,000 over the past year—are canoeing or kayaking along the Myakka River or the area’s 80 miles of freshwater canals. Then there’s Warm Mineral Springs Park, a peaceful pond packed with minerals and boasting a year-round temperature of 85 degrees. Combine North Port’s natural attributes with a balmy clime (ranking #3 for Weather) plus one of the lowest crime rates in the nation, at #2 for Safety (up two spots since 2020 and now behind only the fellow Floridian city of Cape Coral), and the Sunshine State city lands in our Top 25 for the important Place category (#22). Its finances are healthy: the 2019 opening of CoolToday Park, the Atlanta Braves’ spring training facility, is expected to pump millions into the economy over the next decade, while the West Villages community is an economic mainstay. All that new talent has boosted the city’s Educational Attainment by 13 spots, to #48 in the country.
As young talent reconsiders big cities, Des Moines checks a lot of (search) boxes—literally: Google searches for this city are up 22 spots since 2020, to #56. Iowa’s state capital is a business mecca—financial services and insurance businesses hold corporate court here—with an artsy side, bustling late into the evening with a blend of daring culture and heartland hospitality. The city’s Culture ranking is up 10 spots since 2020, to #65 nationally. Add in the low, low cost of living (average rents are well under a grand and houses list under $200,000, according to Rocket Homes), and is it any wonder that prairie-cool Des Moines, which saw 30,000 new residents in the past year alone, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the Midwest? Des Moines also ranks #29 for Educational Attainment among its citizenry—always a good sign for paving the way for future talent. Also impressive are the city’s major corporate outposts of Nationwide and Wells Fargo that round out the thriving finance and insurance sector, which boasted a $3-billion annual payroll (and helped the city rank #18 nationally in our Unemployment Rate ranking and #33 for Household Income… in a place where housing costs are about two-thirds the national average… in a state capital).
Young professionals are lured to Jax for jobs as well as for the low cost of living. In fact, more than 100,000 moved to the city in the past year. Jacksonville has been delivering for new talent, even throughout the pandemic. The Wall Street Journal, working with Moody’s Analytics, declared the city a Top 5 strongest job market in America earlier this year, and we can confirm: Household Income is up seven spots from 2020, to #54, and Income Equality is up five spots, to #63. The region also boasts supply-chain resiliency as a logistics hub with a seaport, two major interstate highways and plentiful rail and air connections. Firms are eyeing the city and its #33 Fortune 500 ranking (up four spots since 2020). Also compelling is the homegrown talent pipeline filled by higher education institutions like the University of North Florida as well as Florida State College at Jacksonville. But nature is the true payoff here, with just a short drive to beaches and the country’s largest urban parks system (ranked #23 for Parks & Outdoors). Boosting the city’s outdoors is the newly consolidated 7 Creeks Recreation Area, with more adventure opportunities and 5,600 uninterrupted acres, representing one of the most expansive new networks of parks in America.
Diverse cultures, authentic art and dynamic traditions have shaped 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 #37 in our Product category—indicative of deep infrastructure and local investment—including a #18 ranking in the Museums subcategory. In a city rich in cultural heritage from Spain, Mexico and, of course, local Indigenous Peoples, the architecture is diverse. 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 that Albuquerque ranks #38 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. Its shopping, ranked #16 in the country ahead of places like Boston and D.C., may be even more surprising than the restaurants. New hotels are opening and the Avanyu Plaza, destined to be a business and cultural corridor in the heart of Albuquerque, is into phase two, with dozens of hotels, restaurants and shops moving in as you read this.
It’s Steel City, City of (440!) Bridges, Andy Warhol’s birthplace and home of the NFL’s “Stillers.” Sports tourism is huge here, home also to the Penguins and Pirates. According to a recent study, sports tourism has contributed $6 billion in direct or indirect spending and $73 million in state and local tax revenue since 2016. There’s art, too, home to #24-ranked museums, including one dedicated to local son Warhol, and another to the city’s steel industry, called Rivers of Steel. Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center power the city’s #16 University ranking and an overall sense of practicality and stewardship (and why urbanist and author Richard Florida launched his career here). New Pittsburgh residents often marvel at the city’s joyful walkability, hills everywhere, made more fun by Mount Washington’s funiculars—the last such operating inclines in America and remnants of a system that once contained 17 around the city. What still very much exists here is beer, and Pittsburgh Brewing is writing the city’s next chapter with a 40-acre site along the Allegheny River that will feature a restaurant, outdoor event venue, store, beer museum and marina in an 1883 complex that once fabricated glass for cars, planes and buildings.
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, including a tie at #31 for Fortune 500 Companies, and seemingly pandemic- proof employment numbers. The city ranked #12 in the country in our Change in Unemployment Rate subcategory. Its performance in our Prosperity category is even more impressive when you consider that the city is one of the smallest, by population, in our ranking. 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 soon, will enable testing of large-scale structural systems and will be a hub for research, academic, government and industrial partners throughout the state.
With deep roots as an original American town—first as a Connecticut River trading post in 1633 that colonized Podunk settlements and then today as one of the country’s most prosperous and well-educated cities—Hartford’s investment in placemaking is paying off. It has America’s oldest public park, respects visionaries with honors 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. And, yes, you can visit his home (now the Mark Twain Museum). But Hartford doesn’t dwell in the past, even as it plans for its 400th anniversary in 2035: ranking #22 for Household Income and #28 for Fortune 500 companies in town, 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, especially as the Hartford400 investment is secured. With a #18 ranking for Educational Attainment by its citizenry, it seems like the smart thing to do. Another order of business: improving the high unemployment rate—Hartford ranks #91 nationally in that subcategory—that pulled the city down 13 spots overall since 2020.
Anchored on the shore of the Hudson River, state capital Albany holds the political power despite being overshadowed by that other New York city downriver. Incredibly connected by road, rail and the #73-ranked airport in America, Albany offers a prosperous place to put down roots. Not surprisingly, the state capital attracts an educated citizenry (#24 in our Educational Attainment subcategory) and is home to a dozen schools, led by #27-ranked University at Albany, SUNY. It has also attracted talent throughout the pandemic, many from New York City, and has grown by approximately 20,000 new residents over the past year. Albany is also a capital of culture and boasts an enviable location, with the Berkshires, Adirondacks and burgeoning Finger Lakes Wine Region—and, yes, the Big Apple—all just a few hours away. The city prides itself on its history, and its 18th- and 19th-century homes and compact, walkable core let people take to the streets, enjoying an emergent dining scene that’s poised for big things post-pandemic. The lifestyle is powered by economic resilience with not only #28-ranked Household Income in the country, but also impressive ranking in Income Equality (#14) for talent new and old.
It’s easy to love Louisville. These days, the city is loving itself back, with ambitious projects to enhance its finest attributes. Start with the Churchill Downs renovation that has the country talking: the legendary racetrack is getting a new grandstand and visitor improvements to make the 2023 Running of the Roses an unveiling for the ages. The the epicenter of bourbon culture is home to 2,500 restaurants, several manned by James Beard honorees, that are responsible for the city’s #36 Restaurants ranking. With 1.8 million Louisville Slugger bats made locally every year, lumber of choice for legend Babe Ruth, it’s no surprise that the eponymous Hitting Science Center just opened as a hub for exercise scientists, athletes and curious ball fans. If your idea of legendary is The Greatest, there’s the three-level Muhammad Ali Center, a powerful ode to the Louisville native son. With all the investment in its iconic history and industry, the city’s #35 ranking for Attractions will improve quickly in the coming years. As will the stealthy culinary scene, which will have another local hub at the $28-million-dollar mixed-use Paristown development that is opening over the next two years.
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 school, one of the best design schools in the country and a major culinary institute, Providence sure packs a big punch. The city boasts Brown University, ranking #8 nationally in the University subcategory. Another source of boasting: plenty of fresh air to go along with the fresh perspectives of academia and serious cultural clout, which ranges from the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art to the WaterFire Arts Center. Bring a warm coat and comfy shoes, though, because this walkable city dazzles with its pocket urbanity, from Brown’s historic campus on 18th-century College Hill with its stunning Georgian-style homes to 30 miles of waterfront and some of the most illuminating walking tours in the country to spotlight the #41-ranked Neighborhoods. Fortunately there are an incredible 400+ restaurants in the city, including Farm Fresh RI’s brand-new, 60,000-square-foot food hub, or Italian newbie Bellini Providence in the Hotel Beatrice, Providence’s first boutique property in a decade. No wonder the city’s Prosperity has improved 25 spots since 2020, sitting at #58 today.
No two cities have ascended our overall ranking since 2020 as much as Ogden, Utah (up 25 spots), and Tulsa (up 18). We’re not surprised. The city is a couple of years removed from cutting the ribbon on the $465-million, 66.5-acre Gathering Place urban park, funded by Tulsa philanthropist George Kaiser and named one of Time magazine’s World’s Greatest Places. The city followed that up in 2020 with the opening of Greenwood Rising, a new history museum and memorial marking a century since the city’s race massacre, when dozens of Black Tulsans were murdered and hundreds more injured by a deputized white mob that destroyed what was at the time the wealthiest Black community in the country—known as Black Wall Street. Confronting a tragedy that was kept quiet for decades has earned the city respect across the planet. Tulsa has also worked the secondary city angle to perfection well before pandemic-necessitated digital nomadism, playing up its jaw-dropping affordability and the fact that it is the smallest American city with its own ballet, opera and symphony. The Tulsa Remote program also promised a $10,000 stipend and resettling help to talent who would relocate for a year. To date, almost 1,500 people have made the move.
Five U.S. presidents spent time here, as well as countless members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, Hollywood stars and captains of industry. Yale University (#3 in our University ranking)—founded in 1701, it’s one of America’s oldest institutions of higher learning—has educated many of the country’s best and brightest, but 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. The fact that more than a third of adult residents have at least a bachelor’s degree earns New Haven a #37 ranking for Educational Attainment, up five spots since last year. Yale (including its medical center) is also the city’s largest employer and largest taxpayer, making this effectively a company town. The pandemic continues to hit this college hub hard as a result. In 2020, unemployment was at 8.4%, ranking #36. This year, unemployment levels hover at 4.5%, ranking a concerning #84 nationally. Fortunately, a good walk is always possible, with 350-year-old parks like New Haven Green (now with free wifi!) that have helped the city’s Parks & Outdoors ranking improve four spots since 2020.
Higher education thrives in Worcester, home to 10 colleges and universities and more than 35,000 students. New England’s second-largest city ranks an impressive #31 for University, thanks to schools like Clark University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute drawing students from all over the country. Given the academic chops, it’s not surprising the city ranks #40 for Educational Attainment among its citizenry (more than 30% of residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher). With manufacturing, education and healthcare driving economic performance, the city also has a growing professional, scientific and technical sector. Worcester 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 and placemaking on the city’s main strip. The investments are prudent, as Worcester is poised, as many educationally endowed second cities around the country are, to capture new residents looking for more affordability, room and safety (for which Worcester ranks Top 20 in the country) away from urban centers.
There’s more to the Horse Capital of the World (450+ local horse farms!) than thoroughbreds. The heart of bourbon country is also the smallest city by population in our ranking, yet still made our Top 50 for Nightlife, at #49, 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 Lexington’s overall #62 spot for Programming. But it’s the city’s culinary scene that’s boiling over, up nine spots since 2020 and sure to improve from its middling #69 ranking in future lists. A flurry of new openings includes French spot Frank and Dino’s, the NYC Korean hot pot chain and do-it-yourself ramen joint KPOT Korean BBQ & Hot Pot, and truly only-in-Lex picnicking-among-goats at the Horse Lodge. Culinary entrepreneurs (yes, we’re including bourbon distillers here) also have a new home in the old Greyline Station bus terminal, opened earlier this year as a year-round public marketplace featuring a farmers’ market, local restaurants, retail shops, offices and outdoor entertainment venue. Adjoining Julietta Market has stalls that start-ups can trial to serve as a stepping stone to a retail spot.
Sure, it gets cold in Grand Rapids, but that doesn’t keep residents of Michigan’s laidback second city from living all four seasons outdoors. That might mean picnicking or paddling along the Grand (the state’s longest river), pursuits soon to be even more fruitful once the $55-million Grand River Greenway Project revitalizes the locally loved waterway with a network of parks and trails that will surely improve the city’s #59 Parks & Outdoors ranking—which already considers the city’s 1,200 acres of green space. A string of nearby Lake Michigan white-sand beach towns also adds to the freshwater bounty. But it’s in its urbanism that Grand Rapids, up three spots overall since 2020, shines brightest. With the existing rustbelt palette of stately homes, ornate downtown warehouses and Edwardian mid-rises, it blends reuse (an inspiration often used by the 40+ breweries in town) with walkable, safe streets (Safety is #15). A hotel boom over the past decade means 15+ downtown properties, including the newly opened boutique gems Morton Hotel and The Finnley. The city is economically buzzing, with a 40-spot improvement in its Unemployment Rate ranking since 2020, to #58, and an impressive #16 ranking for Income Equality.
The state capital on the banks of Susquehanna River with views of the Appalachians’ Blue Ridge 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 also boasts an impressive group of Fortune 500 companies (tied at #33 nationally). With six local college campuses in and around town, Harrisburg has the smarts to fill the pipeline of the 40,000+ government jobs alone, ranking #60 in the nation for the Educational Attainment of its citizens. Harrisburg’s safety (#37) and convention center size—the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center offers more than a million square feet of exhibition, meeting and banquet space—make it poised to capture the returning conventions market to further bolster its economy. Harrisburg University is getting a major lift, too: a new $130-million, 386,200-square-foot building opened last year and houses its Health and Science Education Center, as well as a hotel and restaurant.
From the fishing pier and sandy beach at Castaways Point Park to the fully accessible playground at Inspiration Park, Palm Bay values its 29 green spaces, which made riding out the pandemic a little easier here. When that natural endowment comes with one of the country’s lowest crime rates (ranking #10 in Safety), getting outside is natural. So is making a living. Manufacturing thrives here, led by defense and semiconductor firms. Being four miles to the Florida Institute of Technology and less than 50 miles to the John F. Kennedy Space Center, the Space Coast city also has a booming tech industry. That economic firepower means the city ranks #63 nationally in our overall Prosperity category, with the #49th-best Unemployment Rate ranking in the nation and a #29 spot in Income Equality. This economic resilience is even more impressive given the disappearance of the area’s cruise industry since the pandemic. Looking ahead to the city’s recovery, Palm Bay is planning 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.
The “Air Capital of the World” (so named because of its pro-aviation business environment and the largest concentration of aerospace manufacturing employees in the nation) performs consistently across all our categories, with Prosperity (#53), led by the city’s impressive #19 ranking in our Income Equality subcategory, and Promotion (#55), led by a Top 25 finish for most-Googled cities in the past year, being notable. But a bit more on the city’s revving economy: its Unemployment Rate ranking is up 23 spots since 2020, to #51. The city is also a cultural beacon—often cited as the coolest in the state—with big-city arts icons like the Wichita Grand Opera and Ballet Wichita that have moved its Culture ranking up four spots since 2020, to #59 in the nation today. The culinary scene, with its 1,200 restaurants and 30 food trucks, ranks #56, up two spots since 2020.
Development is everywhere: in the Historic Delano District (where cowboys caroused in the late 1800s) with a new extended-stay hotel; and downtown, where the new $75-million Riverfront Stadium for Minor League Baseball opened last year and developers are turning four vacant buildings into a hotel, health school, culinary college and student housing.
Few American cities boast a rebirth story like Cleveland’s. More than 50 years after the Cuyahoga River (in)famously caught fire in 1969, Cleveland today is back to its “City of Champions” self. Increasingly diversified universities and colleges welcome students with open arms… and with the more than 40 breweries, growing urban wineries and increasingly lauded restaurants that don’t just fill bellies, but mission statements. Take the recently New York Times-profiled EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute in Cleveland’s Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood, which teaches former prisoners culinary trades and gives them a place to get their footing. It’s just one reason why the city ranks #39 in the nation for Restaurants. The city is full of this kind of practical ambition and doing the right thing: from the newly renamed MLB Cleveland Guardians to the work of the new Cleveland Talent Alliance that aims to make the city “one of the fastest growing and most diverse, inclusive and welcoming metro areas in the Midwest by 2030,” according to David Gilbert, president and CEO of Destination Cleveland. Young talent has plenty of reasons to stay, from affordable housing to a revitalized, walkable downtown with an impressive cache of 19th-century architecture and stately streetscapes.
While often overshadowed by its coastal peers, Fresno, the largest inland city in California at more than one million people for the first time in its history, 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, has long drawn entrepreneurs seeking connection to California’s power centers. Of course, farming has contributed to the economic resiliency. Fresno County’s economic output from agriculture adds up to $8.3 billion annually, providing ample opportunity for its large foreign-born population (ranked #16 in the nation). Local household incomes are up eight spots since 2020, at #86. 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 and hundreds of new condo and loft units. For now, it’s the center of a vibrant farm-to-table restaurant scene (#43), with a slate of restaurants, breweries and even a long-anticipated downtown wine bar sure to improve the city’s culinary ranking. Near-perfect weather (#8) and easy access to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks mean plenty of day trips.
With storied Dutch roots, Pennsylvania’s third-largest city boasts four major hospitals, 12 postsecondary 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 Air Products & Chemicals (an international industrial gases company with $10 billion in sales in 2021 alone) and PPL Corporation (one of the largest regulated utility companies in the country), Allentown ties at #42 nationally for Fortune 500 head offices in town. Its incumbent prosperity is powered by a Household Income ranking of #36 nationally, as well as impressive Income Equality (#18). Walking among the historic homes and century-old industrial buildings is a joy in the 19th-safest city in America. The sense of place is growing with the local Neighborhood Improvement Zone’s recent approval of $21 million to upgrade downtown’s outdoor Grand Plaza with a food hall, outdoor area and new retail and office space.
Welcome to America’s oldest Amish settlement. 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 for the country’s oldest continually running theater (the circa-1852 Fulton Opera House), along with its central location on the New York–Washington distribution corridor 80 miles west of Philadelphia. From 1700s architecture to modern art galleries, there’s history in every step here. With a #31 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 #32 in the country in that subcategory. Business is very good, too. 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’s $48-million Proton Center just opened last year. The economic activity has propelled Lancaster into the Top 30 of America’s most prosperous cities (#29), including a Top 5 overall finish for Income Equality.
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 support a #51 ranking in University. Manufacturing and logistics are also major parts of the economy, providing opportunity for Stockton’s diverse population. 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 is once again playing host to numerous outdoor festivals and concerts that take advantage of the excellent weather (#12). Stockton ranks Top 10 in the country in our Foreign-Born Population category and the city continues to grow, with more than 30,000 having moved here over the pandemic. An ambitious cultural might is on the rise, too, with a $2.5-million renovation of the Haggin Museum’s fine art galleries and local street murals that have never been more vibrant.
The smallest city in our ranking—after 15,000 new residents pushed the population past our half-million threshold—shines as bright as its Gulf of Mexico white-sand beaches. History and proximity to Alabama help explain the vibe: Southern hospitality, ironwork balconies and historic bars. Over the course of its 440-year history, Pensacola has been ruled by the British, the Spanish, the French, the Confederacy and the United States—hence, its nickname of “The City of Five Flags.” Pensacola has rigorously preserved its historic architecture, ranking #70 for Neighborhoods and #46 in our deep Place category. Of its 52 miles of sugar-white beaches, Pensacola Beach is the pearl, with TripAdvisor ranking it 11th-best in the country—helping power the city to #20 in our Parks & Outdoors subcategory. Its pier is one of the longest in the Gulf and the nearby Gulf Islands National Seashore is the longest stretch of protected seashore in the U.S. No wonder every second home here seems to have a bike or kayak on its porch. But people do work here. More than 500 companies in town specialize in aerospace and defense, cyber security, advanced manufacturing and professional services, with more remote talent arriving daily in pursuit of the beach and no state personal income tax.
The Central Valley city has plenty of sun (with the 11th-best Weather ranking in the country) making it a unique hub for warm-weather agricultural products, including almonds, tomatoes and grapes. All that agricultural labor has attracted a large foreign-born population (#17 in our subcategory, up six spots since 2020), and the city’s proximity to Silicon Valley gives it the #60 Household Income in the country—while keeping an impressive #13 ranking for Income Equality. The increase in foreign-born talent combined with its rise in economic equity has moved Modesto up 11 spots overall in our ranking since 2020. 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 (#35) 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 (#103 nationally) will improve as well, as should its concerning high Unemployment Rate ranking (#104), which remains 11 spots lower than in 2020.
Every year, our data aligns to surface a handful of urban gems, possibly overlooked and definitely ascendant. This compact city nestled up against the Blue Ridge Mountains is one. But it’s no secret, as the 30,000+ new residents in the past 12 months will attest, drawn here by a downtown that would make a European swoon. The walkable, dense heart has 100+ restaurants, including Husk BBQ (immortalized by the late Anthony Bourdain) and chefs with James Beard nods (The Anchorage’s Greg McPhee and Adam Cooke at Topsoil Kitchen & Market) who are set to improve the town’s middling #70 Restaurants ranking. Sated, you can walk among ornate 19th-century warehouses and repurposed midrises, and rest contemplatively at stunning Falls Park on the Reedy and its 40-foot natural waterfall right by Main Street, then nerd out on the engineering that built the artfully cantilevered Liberty Bridge over said falls. Don’t forget to decide which of the almost 20 breweries in town will fill your growler this evening. Not surprisingly, the city’s Parks & Outdoors ranking is up a deserving 10 spots, to #67. Greenville is also flexing economically, ranking #18 for Unemployment Rate (up 33 spots since 2020), led by surging demand in healthcare (GE), auto engineering (Michelin) and education.
Seattle’s real estate gold rush has as many losers as winners, and those who missed out are continuing to head to this beacon across the Cascade Mountains, sparkling with big-city amenities and ambition—from breweries to placemaking. Few places in the nation have benefited from the work-from-home movement more than this Eastern Washington city, up five spots overall since 2020. Its Unemployment Rate ranking is up an amazing 47 spots from two years ago, to #36 nationally, which is also where it finishes for its Income Equality ranking. The nightlife (#52 in the country) matches a feisty and growing culinary scene (#73 for Restaurants, up six spots since 2020). Spokane is the urban heart of Washington’s Walla Walla, Yakima and Columbia wine regions. The bounty of the land can be savored 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 a craft beer boom that today includes 30+ breweries (and rising quickly). The city is also tucked amongst accessible wilderness—a river spanned by gondolas rushes right through downtown—delivering on a longtime motto of “Near Nature, Near Perfect.” No wonder the city’s Google Search ranking is up 14 spots since 2020.
Rochester was one of the country’s first boom towns. The fertile Genesee River Valley powered torrid entrepreneurship in flour mills, then manufacturing, then 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 stately homes—now so affordable, at an average price of $180,000, according to Zillow—remain. And so does the city’s legacy of research and development. The region’s universities (including the #18-ranked University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology) have renowned research programs. The pipeline of talent could turn the trickle of companies opening up in the city into a torrent as the war for skilled talent intensifies post-pandemic. The city already has an enviable foundation of industries ranging from Kodak legacies like optics, photonics and imaging to biotech, energy innovation and IT services. Its #35 ranking in Educational Attainment speaks volumes about the good hands that steer this former industrial titan. But things are dire. No other city (other than New Haven) has fallen the 17 spots that Rochester has since 2020, hobbled by its Unemployment Rate (down 22 spots), Household Income (down five) and Safety (down six).
Downtown Knoxville’s walkable heart features museums, vibrant murals, local music venues, and historic sites. And investment is pouring in. A $22-million hotel in the Old City joins a forthcoming publicly owned multiuse stadium and the ongoing Stockyard Lofts project. 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, with the state’s first James Beard Award–winning chef, Joseph Lenn, running J.C. Holdway right downtown. What makes the food scene so spectacular is the collaboration, most recently activated at the new Marble City Market, downtown Knoxville’s newest dining destination. Expect the #55 Restaurants ranking to improve soon. Knoxville’s superpower isn’t just pocket urbanism: the city features more than 150 miles of trails and greenways, paddle-friendly rivers and forest trails, all within a quick bike or drive. Or, in the case of the 1,000-acre Urban Wilderness park, right within city limits. No wonder Knoxville ranks #40 for Parks & Outdoors. The city may live middle-of-the-pack in our Promotion category (#57) but the secret is out among Americans seeking a new hometown, with an 18-spot rise in Google Search since 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 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 is the only city in America where the country’s three most iconic architects have buildings still standing: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, plus the recently restored Frank Lloyd Wright houses of Graycliff; Louis Sullivan’s Guaranty Building; and, perhaps most impressive, the Henry Hobson Richardson–designed “Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane,” with grounds by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The complex’s 13 buildings are slowly being repurposed—into a luxury hotel and co-working spaces to start. Is it any wonder that the city ranks #26 nationally for Neighborhoods? Or #35 for Instagram Hashtags? It’s also up 13 spots for Safety since 2020 (at #58)—at least it was before May’s racist mass murder.
Like most state capitals, South Carolina’s Columbia is an economically diversified, highly livable jewel too often overlooked by tourists and potential residents. While Columbia’s #68 ranking in our Promotion category isn’t exactly making the city blow up online, its #58 in TripAdvisor Reviews means that the people who know are regularly talking about this city. So what’s the (nascent) buzz? Well, there are plenty of perks to being in the capital, and the State House is a splendid tribute to Greek Revival architecture, situated in a sprawling garden filled with monuments. Five-year-old Segra Park (formerly Spirit Communications Park) is back hosting both minor league Fireflies games, and shows and public events. Speaking of residents, their Educational Attainment is ranked #51, a testament to the #48-ranked University of South Carolina, which adds a youthful dynamism to the historic urban stock here—the Vista warehouse district being just the latest example, where rehabbed architecture welcomed the city’s first Aloft hotel a few years back and today is a good place to order a bourbon and get your bearings. If you’re lucky, you may get invited to a fashion week soiree or a USC event. You are in Southern hospitality country, after all.
Famous for hosting the Masters golf tournament each spring, Augusta was rocked in 2020 when the city’s largest event was canceled for only the second time ever (the first time was during 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 those iconic train tracks) is back, up nine spots overall since 2020. With pandemic recovery afoot, the city can continue its economic ascent—and not just from the return of the 200,000 golf fans, pros and media annually. Augusta is a military center and already houses Fort Gordon and its 20,000 employees. Things will really take off in the next few years when a new U.S. Army Cyber Command facility opens fully, further improving the city’s #17 ranking for Unemployment Rate. Local tech firms like Unisys, ADP and Raytheon are also hiring aggressively. Combine the expected job growth with median housing prices well under $200,000 (although up almost 20% in the past year, according to Zillow), and a #21 ranking in our Safety subcategory (an improvement of 11 spots since 2020) and you have one compelling hometown. The #40-ranked Weather doesn’t hurt, either.
Just across the Tehachapi Mountains, a two-hour drive from Greater Los Angeles, Bakersfield has a vibrant economy and culture distinctly its own. Economically dominated by agriculture, energy and transportation and logistics, it’s a magnet for a large foreign-born workforce (ranked #18 nationally). Kern County 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 and Buck Owens, the city is no cultural slouch, with a #94 ranking for Culture that should rise as the city continues investing in a historic downtown arts and culture district that’s packed with murals, sculptures, galleries, theaters and stage houses. New restaurants have improved the #56 Restaurants ranking by four spots since 2020. With Bakersfield’s easy proximity to California’s natural wonders combined with its affordable housing prices, it’s no wonder that the city is among the most popular for Millennials, according to a recent National Association of Realtors report.
After taking over the title of state capital from Detroit in 1847, Lansing became an industrial hot spot, with auto manufacturing driving its growth. General Motors remains a major employer, but Lansing’s economy diversified into insurance, insurtech, medtech and IT businesses. Little wonder it ranks #49 for Fortune 500 companies and #27 for Income Equality. Downtown revitalization is bearing fruit, with two hotels—a Hyatt House and AC Hotel by Marriott—opening in 2023 as part of the mixed-use Red Cedar Development project that includes much-needed student, senior and market-rate housing, and a 20-acre public park and amphitheater overlooking the Red Cedar River. Charming character homes surround the Capitol Building, and trails line the banks of the Red Cedar and the Grand, yielding a #68 spot for Parks & Outdoors. Leafy East Lansing is home to Michigan State University, ranked #38 nationally. MSU’s 5,300-acre campus features three medical schools (two human medicine, one veterinarian)—the most in the country—and was the first to offer a graduate degree in nuclear physics. The new 194-room Graduate East Lansing hotel also just opened nearby.
If the fact that Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, hailed from here doesn’t grab your attention (and if 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, Connecticut, with 29 colleges and universities educating more than 170,000 students) will. The economic engine of Western Massachusetts, which forms part of the biotech industry’s Super Cluster, is tied at #33 for Fortune 500 companies. The birthplace of basketball—don’t let Canadians tell you otherwise—is home to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and Springfield is doubling down on its Hoop City brand, pursuing a state-of-the-art multi-sport complex next door. The city also shows well for smart citizens, with a #48 ranking for Educational Attainment, up seven spots since 2020 (with nearly 19% of the population having a bachelor’s degree or higher). 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.
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’s Unemployment Rate ranking is Top 15 nationally, up 10 spots since 2020. A powerful and diverse corporate presence distinguishes Arkansas’ capital city, situated on the banks of the state’s namesake river, that may surprise many—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 corporations founded 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 Bill Clinton). But the city is also an increasingly coveted hometown, with great weather (#42) and a Top 50 ranking nationally for its diverse neighborhoods. Surprises like the ESSE Purse Museum, focusing on “the evolution of 20th-century American woman through the bags she carried and their contents,” showcase the city’s subdued irreverence. The recently reopened William J. Clinton Library & Museum, gleaming after its pandemic reno, helped the city finish #58 in our Museums subcategory.
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 boasts 42 automotive suppliers employing 40,000 people, mostly high-skill workers. It’s also attracting companies from across the border and saw major success with the opening of a new facility for the Mexican manufacturing company Tetakawi. This diverse city welcomes newcomers (#6 in our Foreign-Born Population subcategory), attracting residents from near and far with its strong manufacturing economy. And, it must be noted in this era of escalating house prices, incredible home-ownership affordability. In fact, the city was lauded as “the most-affordable city for first-time homeowners” by Move.org last year, with a regional median home value of $87,100. New residents arrive for the quality of life that locals love. McAllen ranks Top 25 in our deep Place category, with its excellent weather and low crime rate (both ranking #16 nationally). The city has a vibrant theater scene, including local troupes and touring Broadway productions, which are thriving again with public health measures lifted.
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 is the lesser-known Music City, USA. But those two can’t hold a pick to Memphis’ contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. Or to its barbecue. With so many stories to tell, the city ranks #28 nationally in our Museums subcategory—home to the aforementioned Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum, and #37 for its storied neighborhoods. It’s not surprising that others are telling the city’s stories these days: Memphis ranks a notable #27 in the nation for TripAdvisor Reviews, #30 for Instagram Hashtags and #31 in our overall Promotions category. And business is good, with a #33 ranking for Fortune 500 companies, with corporate titans including FedEx and AutoZone headquartered here. Affordable housing—and new downtown investment—have Memphis buzzing. Memphis Central Station was just reno’ed and houses train arrivals with the Central Station Hotel and onsite French fine-dining spot Bishop.
With a confluence of culinary talent (and 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 promising job market based on net employment outlook in early 2020—is holding resilient, albeit without the pandemic’s economic aftershocks. The Unemployment Rate ranks #22 in the country, but is still 14 spots lower than in 2020. Yet the past two years seemed to make Birmingham even more magnetic: the city attracted 30,000 new residents over the past year—many of them highly skilled folks who improved its Educational Attainment ranking by 11 spots since 2020, to #68. Post-pandemic, the city will resume its vital work educating the world about its history as the battlefield of America’s Civil Rights Movement and how Barack Obama signed a proclamation naming the Birmingham Civil Rights District a national monument in one of his final acts as president. The city’s long culinary simmer, with its #66-ranked restaurants, is about to boil over globally, powered by dozens of new hot spots, including five-time James Beard finalist Rob McDaniel’s Helen and, soon, Parisian-inspired Bar La Fête from local power duo Kristen Hall and Victor King.
Tucked at the base of Lookout Mountain on the banks of the Tennessee River, Chattanooga has earned its Scenic City moniker, as well as its “Best Town Ever” accolades by Outside magazine… twice. The town certainly boasts the adrenal bonafides: from climbing the Tennessee Wall to all manner of self-propulsion just outside of city limits. To say nothing of eight (for now) craft breweries—like Heaven & Ale—to speed recovery time. No wonder it ranks at #32 in our Parks & Outdoors subcategory, up five spots since 2020. Despite the natural bounty, Gig City boasts internet velocity supplied by the publicly owned Electric Power Board (EPB). It’s also two hours from Nashville and from Atlanta. Corporations in town include Volkswagen and BlueShield of Tennessee, and new start-ups are emboldened by 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 $293,000, according to Redfin, up 14% year over year. The #71-ranked restaurant scene is up four spots since 2020 and, in addition to Southern favorites like Easy Bistro, now includes spots like new restaurant incubator Proof, which provides low-barrier opportunities for chefs to test out their concepts.
A quest for diversity has long been part of Greensboro’s legacy, 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 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 #63 Restaurants ranking. Greensboro’s downtown nightlife (also ranked #63) offers a special kind of charm, thanks to street corners humming with buskers and bands, and cafés vibrating with acoustic performances. But the city is also an economic engine of the region—one that’s about to get more powerful with the recent news that Toyota plans to build a $1.3-billion electric-vehicle battery plant near town, employing at least 1,750 people. But there’s work to do on the #67-ranked Safety, which plunged by 43 spots since 2020, going from 3,021 crimes per 100,000 residents to 4,508.
Located 25 miles inland from the Tampa Bay area, Lakeland has its own coastline—mainly in the form of its many lakes that have, from time immemorial, provided sustenance and a home to dozens of Native American tribes. Today, the same lakes and surrounding trails and parkland help the city’s #62 ranking in our Parks & Outdoors subcategory. Their pedestrian access from the city’s downtown, as well as the ability to fish, boat and birdwatch within minutes of leaving the house all contribute to the city’s ascendant livability in recent years (this is Lakeland’s second-ever appearance on our America’s Best Cities ranking). Also notable is the city’s #28 ranking for Safety, and its affordability amidst a national housing price surge. According to a study by Move.org last year, Lakeland is the third-least expensive housing market in the country, with a median home price of $150,800. Is it any wonder that the city welcomed 35,000 new residents over the past year? But it’s not all leisure and outdoors in Lakeland: the area also draws Frank Lloyd Wright fans, who come to see a dozen of his buildings at Florida Southern College, the world’s largest single site of the architect’s work.
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 and 10 gardens on 70 acres, it’s Akron’s first National Historic Landmark and the nation’s sixth-largest historic home open to the public. We bring this up because the estate symbolizes the wealth that persists in Akron today. One of the world’s leading polymer centers, the city is home to eight Fortune 500 companies, tying for #42 in that subcategory nationally. Not surprisingly, Akron’s unemployment rate is also keeping up with the national recovery, at #51 up three spots in that subcategory since 2020. The city is making the single largest infrastructure investment in its 190-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 city is also buzzing culturally, with the Akron Art Museum turning 100 this year and the city’s Museums ranking up 14 spots since 2020, to #74.