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. 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.
Data is revealing how post-COVID trends like remote work are affecting cities. Some smaller cities, like Baltimore and Tampa, are seeing a huge boost as people yearn for cultural hubs paired with a nexus of diverse, young talent. As Chris Fair, Resonance president and CEO, notes, “some of the biggest winners” over the past two years “have been so-called ‘second-tier’ cities ... reflecting a shift in demand toward more accessible and affordable cities.”
However, demand remains high for large urban centers like New York City and Chicago, where entrepreneurship and collaboration come unparalleled—proving that it takes more than a pandemic to take down some Goliaths.
How the cities are ranked
To determine which cities would be considered for this list, Resonance looked at U.S. cities with populations of more than 500,000. Each city was ranked based on a combination of qualitative evaluations from locals and visitors, as well as core statistics, including median household income and crime rates. Those ranking metrics covered 25 areas grouped into six core categories: Place, People, Programming, Product, Prosperity, and Promotion.
Place: Metrics in the Place category include how walkable and bike friendly the city is; the number of outdoor spaces, sights, and landmarks, and how many come 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), the size of its largest convention center, plus the number of attractions, museums, and major league sports teams. University rankings within each of these cities were factored into this category, too.
People: The People category takes into account the percentage of nonwhite citizens; the percentage of foreign-born residents; and the city’s population with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Prosperity: This category includes the number of Fortune 500 corporate headquarters located within each city; the number of “knowledge-based businesses” in professional, scientific, and technical services; cost-of-living adjusted earnings; and the poverty rate. While travelers typically don’t consider these things when deciding where to go, Resonance believes that a well-paid, economically secure population facilitates stewardship and innovation.
Programming: This is what you’d typically call the “things to do” category, which covers the number of performing arts and cultural experiences, restaurants, nightlife, and attractions recommended on TripAdvisor.
Promotion: 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 the best cities in the United States’ in 2023 to live in and visit.
1. New York City
Highlighted rankings: Place (1), Prosperity (1)
Why we love it: New York City has (once again) taken the top spot in Resonance’s annual rankings. Make no mistake: Being at the top for the past few years is no easy feat. But the Big Apple has proved its staying power with renovated airports, new hotels and museums enticing people to see the city.
Nowadays, there’s a lot to explore in NYC’s neighborhoods. Museums like the beloved Met and the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens have been undergoing renovations and expansions over the past year alongside the introduction of new destinations like the Bronx Children’s Museum and Museum of Broadway. Meanwhile, Central Park, the High Line, the Little Island—located on the Hudson near the Meatpacking District—and other outdoor spaces entice you to come outside to relax. Meanwhile, Midtown Manhattan has made a comeback with a revamped Tiffany’s, new hotels, and the opening of the Museum of Broadway.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to New York.
2. Chicago, Illinois
Highlighted rankings: Product (2), Place (3)
Why we love it: There’s plenty to celebrate in Chicago and not only because of its fantastic nightlife. The city saw the return of its epic concerts and free summer festivals, Sundays on State (when portions of iconic State Street turn pedestrian only), even meetings and conventions, marking a newfound energy after some long, hard winters. Restaurants have also popped up in full force; some noteworthy ones include Venteux, a French brasserie from Michelin-starred chef Donald Young, and Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar under chef José Andrés.
We wouldn’t expect any less of a metamorphosis from a city that’s historically been able to thrive in the midst of adversity. More than 150 years ago, the Great Fire destroyed over 2,000 acres of central Chicago and left nearly 100,000 people without homes. But the city hasn’t let disaster define it—instead meeting obstacles with a resilience you need to see for yourself.
“Chicago sees itself, since the fire, as a city able to withstand whatever,” Shermann Dilla Thomas, an historian and lifelong resident who offers guided Chicago tours, told AFAR. “It also makes us a city that doesn’t believe in small plans. After you get a blank canvas, the sky’s the limit.”
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Chicago.
3. Los Angeles, California
Highlighted rankings: Programming (2), Promotion (2)
Why we love it: While Hollywood’s prowess is the most commonly associated aspect of Los Angeles (the iconic sign turns 100 this year), the city’s restaurant scene in all its richness and diversity is just as intertwined with L.A.'s identity. Vanguards like La Cha Cha Chá, Alma, and even LA Plaza Cocina (a museum and teaching kitchen that honors Mexico’s culinary heritage) are exemplifying the need for outstanding dining experiences as people come back to the city’s tables. Museums rank no. 2 only behind NYC, with the Broad, the Grand, and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures cycling through big exhibits on Keith Haring, Basquiat, and a century of filmmaking, respectively.
When visitors come, L.A. wants them to explore the city in its entirety, with a $1.7-billion Regional Connector Transit Project—featuring a 1.9-mile underground light-rail system that tunnels across Los Angeles County—predicted to (finally!) open this month on June 16.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Los Angeles.
4. San Francisco, California
Highlighted rankings: Place (2), People (2)
Why we love it: San Francisco has long drawn people and companies alike—AFAR included—to the West Coast. Thanks to the Bay Area’s world-renowned universities like Stanford and UC Berkeley, San Francisco has one of the most educated and prosperous populations. While the city’s lack of affordable housing cannot be ignored, the migration of big companies to lower-taxed havens like Texas and Florida has produced a silver lining in lower house prices and rents.
Still, “San Francisco’s rate of population decline was the worst among large U.S. counties between July 1, 2020, and July 2, 2022,” reports Resonance. “The city and its surrounding Bay Area counties saw a net population loss of more than 250,000 people in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Equally terrifying is the city ending 2022 with a 27 percent office vacancy rate, according to local numbers. Even the proudest locals wring their hands as companies leave for Austin and Florida. And then tweet about how you should, too. But life goes on for those who choose to stay and fight for ‘everyone’s favorite city.’”
For those opting to stay, the city emphasizes that you don’t have to leave San Francisco to get to greener pastures, with outdoor developments that include 464 miles of bikeways and the new Salesforce Park downtown. The city’s Great Highway is also of note; with a pandemic-born desire for socially distanced exercise, it now features a car-free, two-mile stretch along SF’s western shore on the weekends.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to San Francisco.
5. Washington, D.C.
Highlighted rankings: Prosperity (3), Promotion (3)
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 exhibitions, there are many neighborhoods worth exploring—Brookland, NoMa, Shaw, and the LGBTQ-friendly Logan Circle to name a few—that show the city isn’t relying on its history to attract locals and visitors.
What makes D.C. a city worth visiting now are new developments—$9.6 billion of them, says Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC. “The city has added new hotels, museums, rooftops, Michelin-rated dining, and more for travelers to explore. A few upcoming highlights include… MLS All-Star Week in July, DC JazzFest over Labor Day Weekend and Theater Week this fall.”
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Washington, D.C.
6. Miami, Florida
Highlighted rankings: Place (4), People (3)
Why we love it: Miami has historically been a meeting point for the Americas, making it a no-brainer that its foreign-born population ranked high on the list. But in this city, diversity goes beyond nationality; the city’s allure for the LGBTQ community and ex–Silicon Valley techies gives it a sense of welcome that many people, especially in the social media and cryptocurrency worlds, are embracing.
Last year, Miami moved into the top 10 for the first time, and it continues to rise in the ranks in 2023. It’s likely “a reflection of the migration of investment and talent to the area and its appeal as a destination for visitors relative to other U.S. cities over the last two years,” says Resonance President Chris Fair.
While Miami could rest on its open-minded reputation and beachside location to draw people, the city is also putting in the work to stay relevant. On Miami’s Upper East Side, a former industrial site of abandoned warehouses and factories is being transformed into a center for more than 60 restaurants, cafés, and shops known as Ironside. And it helps that Bon Appétit named Miami the 2023 Food City of the Year.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Miami.
7. Boston, Massachusetts
Highlighted rankings: Place (7), Product (4)
Why we love it: Boston is home to more than 75 institutions of higher learning—including Harvard and MIT—giving it the top spot in the University category and a high ranking in the Educational attainment 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.
The old city is getting some upgrades, including a 5,000-room increase in the next four years across planned hotels like the 1,055-room Omni Boston Hotel and Raffles Boston Back Bay Hotel. Things are also cooking in the entertainment realm, with Live Nation’s construction of MGM Music Hall at Fenway. This 5,000-seat concert hall, which opened in August 2022, extends the legendary ballpark to accommodate four new levels of event space.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Boston.
8. Seattle, Washington
Highlighted rankings: Place (9), Prosperity (6)
Why we love it: Off in the far-most corner of the Pacific Northwest, the pine-scented idyll of Seattle is one of the country’s best-kept secrets, with a high quality of life that comes from continued investment from big tech and (literally) greener pastures. Amazon and Microsoft—two of the cities biggest employers—draw talent from around the globe; though recent layoffs hit the city, real estate prices have finally started to come down from the clouds, making it an interesting time to double down on Seattle.
Wondering what you’ll get when you arrive? Top-notch boating and hiking, food and drinks, theater and music. This year marks the return of Bumbershoot, the Labor Day weekend music and arts festival that has been on a pandemic hiatus for the last three years; it turns 50 in 2023.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Seattle.
9. Houston, Texas
Highlighted rankings: Product (5), Programming (7)
Why we love it: “Houston today is one of America’s most ethnically diverse big cities,” reports Resonance, “with more than 145 languages spoken at home, according to the latest census—about even with New York. No wonder it ranks no. 7 for Culture and its prism of festivals, from international film festivals to some of the country’s biggest Juneteenth celebrations. Next year, the city welcomes America’s first Ismaili Center, commissioned by His Highness the Aga Khan as a place of dialogue between faith and the world, East and West, and humanity and nature.”
Dare we say it: The food in Houston is some of the best in the Lone Star state.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Houston.
10. San Jose, California
Highlighted rankings: People (1), Prosperity (2)
Why we love it: “It’s fascinating what a well-educated, well-paid, and diverse population can do for a city’s performance,” reports Resonance. “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 another top 10 overall finish in 2023, even amid a battered tech sector and the crescendo in tech circles that ‘everyone is leaving the Valley.’
“San Jose still boasts the most educated citizenry in the country. It’s also home to the second-most foreign-born talent (trailing only Miami). The combo puts the city tops in the country in our People category yet again this year.”
Travelers can check out places like History Park, an open-air museum featuring local architecture that has been saved and relocated over the past few centuries, including a Chinese temple, an entire hotel, and a trolley barn.
The rest of the top 20 cities in the United States:
11. Las Vegas, Nevada
12. Atlanta, Georgia
13. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
14. Denver, Colorado
15. Dallas, Texas
16. San Diego, California
17. Orlando, Florida
18. Austin, Texas
19. Minneapolis, Minnesota (new to top 20 in 2023)
20. Portland, Oregon (new to top 20 in 2023)
To see the full list of the 100 best cities in the United States, visit bestcities.org.
This article was originally published in 2020 and was updated on June 2, 2023, to reflect new rankings.
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