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The Best Cities in the United States in 2020

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San Francisco is one of four California cities to make Resonance’s top 10 best U.S. cities list in 2020.

Photo by Boris Vetshev/Shutterstock

San Francisco is one of four California cities to make Resonance’s top 10 best U.S. cities list in 2020.

New York tops Resonance’s annual list of the best cities in the United States based on criteria including diversity, weather, and even Instagram hashtags.

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To determine which cities would be considered for this list, Resonance looked at U.S. cities with populations of more than 500,000. Resonance separately ranked small U.S. cities with populations between 100,000 and 500,000.

Many of the factors that make the biggest cities in the United States great places to visit—like good weather, world-class museums, and quality restaurants—also make them great cities to live in full time. Resonance, a consultancy group in real estate, tourism, and economic development, considered these factors as well as user-generated data from social media to create a comprehensive ranking of the best cities in the United States for both travelers and residents.

Of course, many of the things that make cities so appealing to people have been dramatically changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants and bars across the country closed in March, some never to reopen, while museums that drew millions of tourists each year are still trying to figure out how to reopen safely. The rankings in this report have been adjusted to reflect the disruption caused by the coronavirus.

Each city was ranked based on a combination of user-generated data from locals and visitors from TripAdvisor and Instagram, as well as core statistics, including median household income and crime rates. Those ranking metrics covered 23 areas grouped into six core categories: Place, People, Programming, Product, Prosperity, and Promotion. 

Place: Metrics in the Place category include weather (specifically the average number of sunny days), safety (violent crime rate), as well as outdoor spaces (the number of parks and outdoor activities recommended by locals and visitors on TripAdvisor) and sights and landmarks (specifically the number of which were recommended by locals and visitors on TripAdvisor).

Product: The Product category is where the infrastructure of the city is considered, including its airport connectivity (the number of direct destinations served by the city’s airports), plus the number of attractions, museums, major league sports teams, and convention centers it has. University rankings within each of these cities were factored into this category, too.

People: The People category takes into account the percentage of the city’s population with a bachelor’s degree or higher, as well as its diversity (or percentage of foreign-born residents).

Prosperity: This category includes the GDP per capita as well as the number of Global 500 corporate headquarters located within each city. While travelers typically don’t consider these things when deciding where to go, Resonance believes that a well-paid, economically secure population generates innovation and economic growth, which eventually leads to more cultural institutions, more quality restaurants, and even better airport connectivity in the long run.

Programming: This is what you’d typically call the “things to do” category, which covers the number of performing arts venues, restaurants, and nightlife experiences, as well as shopping. This category is the most affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns, with the economic viability of many of these venues in jeopardy at the moment.

Promotion: While the number of TripAdvisor listings recommended by locals and visitors for restaurants and museums factors into previous categories, the Promotion category essentially ranks how popular each city is online. Resonance quantified this by looking at the popularity of each city in Google Trends over the last 12 months, as well as the number of Instagram hashtags, Facebook check-ins, Google searches, and TripAdvisor reviews shared online about each city.

Here’s how the United States’ best cities ranked in 2020, with all those things considered.

New York City took first place for the fourth year in a row.

1. New York City

Highlighted rankings: Place (1), Product (1)

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Why we love it: For the fourth year in a row, New York City took the top spot in Resonance’s annual rankings, also taking the number one spots in the place, product, and programming categories. But since the data was pulled to determine these rankings, New York became the nation’s COVID-19 epicenter. As New York slowly emerges from lockdown this summer, it looks quite different. Its top-rated museums are still closed and many of its residents have abandoned city living for the safety of the suburbs or countryside. But having survived 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers know not only how to get through tough times but also how to innovate in light of them. In the past few months, cultural institutions like MoMA and the Metropolitan Opera have taken their offerings online to educate and entertain people beyond the city limits for free. Restaurants that never offered takeout and delivery before instantly adapted to the new normal, while the three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park pivoted to cooking free meals for New Yorkers facing hunger. 

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to New York

Hollywood isn’t Los Angeles’s only tourism draw now.

2. Los Angeles, California

Highlighted rankings: Programming (2), Promotion (2)

Why we love it: Locals already knew Los Angeles’s restaurant scene was one of the best in the country, but the return of the Michelin guide to the city in 2019 gave it the recognition it deserved with six new two-star restaurants. It’s no surprise that Los Angeles took the top spot in Resonance’s restaurants category in 2020. But L.A.’s exciting dining scene isn’t the only reason it ranked highly on this list: It also ranked second when it came to museums, with several set to open soon, including the upcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

While the COVID-19 lockdown has limited access to restaurants and museums, Los Angeles is also developing public art projects that people can enjoy outdoors. Groundbreaking on Destination Crenshaw took place in February 2020, just before lockdown started. The 1.3-mile-long outdoor museum is being built by and for L.A.’s Black community and will feature works of art by Black artists along part of the new Metro rail line that is currently being built along Crenshaw Boulevard.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Los Angeles

3. San Francisco, California

Highlighted rankings: People (2), Prosperity (7)

Why we love it: As AFAR’s original hometown, San Francisco is one of our favorite cities in the United States for obvious reasons. But when you look at the data, it earned this top spot for reasons beyond our own personal preferences. Thanks to the Bay Area’s world-renowned universities like Stanford and UC Berkeley and high concentration of Fortune 500 companies, San Francisco has one of the most educated, diverse, and prosperous populations. That said, the challenges the city’s homeless population face cannot be ignored. But city officials along with the governor and San Francisco’s destination marketing organization are looking for fixes, including adding mental health housing.

And while COVID-19 has closed the city’s iconic museums, including SFMoMA and the de Young Museum, for now, the Asian Art Museum has a massive expansion project to look forward to with 13,000 additional square feet of gallery space and a 7,500-square-foot rooftop terrace.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to San Francisco

Millennium Park is just one of Chicago’s many scenic outdoor spaces.

4. Chicago, Illinois

Highlighted rankings: Product (2), Programming (3)

Why we love it: Chicago’s frigid winters may hold its ranking back in the weather category, but thanks to its expansive parks and vibrant neighborhoods it still ranks within the top 10 in the Place category. Its number three Programming ranking also reveals that its restaurant and nightlife scenes are no longer second fiddle to larger metropolises like New York. Some popular restaurants, including Au Cheval, shifted to delivery during the COVID-19 lockdown, while others like Girl and the Goat have reopened for outdoor dining. 

Chicago’s popularity shows in its massive growth in tourism over the past decade. During Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s terms between 2011 and 2019, Resonance says the number of visitors to Chicago each year blossomed from 39 million to 58 million while also generating 22,000 new tourism-related jobs. While those numbers are surely affected by COVID-19, we will be watching Chicago’s comeback story closely.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Chicago

In addition to its famous monuments, Washington, D.C.’s culinary scene has become another major tourism draw for the capital.

5. Washington, D.C.

Highlighted rankings: People (3), Prosperity (3)

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Why we love it: Unsurprisingly, the nation’s capital scores well for its many free museums, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture and other Smithsonian institutions like the National Air and Space Museum. In addition to all of its history, there are lots of new things happening in D.C. that make it worth adding to your post-COVID list of places to go—especially if you’re interested in traveling for food. A 12,500-square-foot food hall called the Roost is slated to open in Capitol Hill in 2020, followed closely by the West Half with a brewery and cafés near the Nationals’ ballpark, and Market 7, which will be a hub of Black-owned businesses, including a 7,000-square-foot food hall in D.C.’s Ward 7 area.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Washington, D.C.

Just beyond San Diego’s skyline are miles and miles of beaches.

6. San Diego, California

Highlighted rankings: Place (2), Programming (7)

Why we love it: With 263 days of sunshine a year and 70 miles of beaches within its city limits, San Diego ranks highly in the Place category (to nobody’s surprise). But there’s so much more to this Southern California city than good weather and gorgeous scenery. Its excellent restaurant scene surely took a hit from the COVID-19 lockdowns. But keep an eye out for reopenings, including chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins’s El Jardín restaurant in Liberty Station, which uses local produce from its namesake garden alongside indigenous Mexican ingredients. 

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to San Diego

The Bellagio in Las Vegas is open once again with masks required in all public spaces.

7. Las Vegas, Nevada

Highlighted rankings: Product (4), Programming (4)

Why we love it: A city built entirely around its tourism industry, Las Vegas easily dominated the attractions category and placed highly in restaurantsnightlife, and culture. Its desert locale also contributes to nonstop sunshine and a top rating in the weather category. The COVID-19 closures brought Las Vegas to a screeching halt in March, but the first wave of hotel reopenings in June 2020 offered a sign of hope for the city’s economy and the return of tourism. 

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Las Vegas

8. San Jose, California

Highlighted rankings: People (1), Prosperity (4)

Why we love it: San Jose probably isn’t on many leisure travelers’ must-visit lists. But the capital of Silicon Valley continues to climb these rankings because its residents are some of the most diverse and highly educated people in the country. They are also some of the best paid because of all the top tech headquarters based there. (San Jose has the highest household income in the country.)

While San Jose ranks much lower for product and programming, the wealth of its residents is likely to attract more top-notch cultural institutions and restaurants sooner than later. For now, travelers can check out places like History Park, which reopened to the public on June 22. This open-air museum features local architecture that has been saved and relocated over the past few centuries, including a 140-year-old Chinese temple, an entire hotel, and a working trolley line.

Miami’s waterfront location makes it a wonderful place to live and visit.

9. Miami, Florida

Highlighted rankings: People (4), Promotion (6)

Why we love it: A perennial winter escape for many East Coast residents, Miami’s good weather and miles of public beaches also make it an ideal city to live in. It’s home to the most foreign-born residents in the country, which means travelers can seek out a wide variety of cuisines, art, and cultural experiences in neighborhoods like Little Havana and Little Haiti.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Miami

10. Boston, Massachusetts

Highlighted rankings: Product (5), People (7)

Why we love it: Sure you know Harvard, but did you know that Boston is home to more than 75 institutions of higher learning? Because of its top University category ranking and its highly educated population, it also ranks highly in the People category. But it’s not only students who come to Boston. As the oldest large city in America, it draws millions of tourists each year to see historical landmarks along the Freedom Trail, including the USS Constitution and the King’s Chapel

Travelers can look forward to more hotel options with 5,000 new rooms slated to open within the next five years, including the Newbury Boston in what used to be one of the first Ritz-Carlton properties in the United States.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Boston

The rest of the top 20 cities in the United States are:

11. Houston, Texas

12. Atlanta, Georgia

13. Phoenix, Arizona

14. Dallas, Texas

15. Seattle, Washington

16. Denver, Colorado

17. Austin, Texas 

18. Orlando, Florida

19. Honolulu, Hawaii

20. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

To see the full list of the 100 best cities in the United States, visit bestcities.org.

This article was originally published on June 22, 2020, and was updated on August 4 , 2020, to reflect new rankings.

>> Next: The World’s 25 Best Cities of 2020

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