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.
On the heels of a two-year-long crisis, data is revealing how post-COVID trends like remote work are affecting cities. Some smaller cities, like Provo, Utah, home to Brigham Young University, are seeing a huge boost as people yearn for cultural hubs paired with wide, open spaces that don’t come as easily in a megalopolis. 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—Ogden, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Charleston, SC, and Milwaukee—reflecting a shift in demand toward more accessible and affordable cities.”
However, demand remains high for large urban centers like New York City and Los Angeles, 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 weather (specifically the average number of sunny days), safety (violent crime rate), as well as outdoor spaces and sights and landmarks (specifically the number 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 the city’s population with a bachelor’s degree or higher, plus its diversity (or percentage of foreign-born residents).
Prosperity: This category includes the number of Global 500 corporate headquarters located within each city, median household income, post-COVID unemployment rate, and income equality (which is measured through the distribution of income across income percentiles). 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 and cultural experiences recommended from TripAdvisor, restaurants, and nightlife experiences, as well as shopping.
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.
“Of course, the pandemic has upended our cities as a whole and, for many of us, changed what we consider to be desirable in a place to live, work, or play,” said Fair.
Here’s how the United States’ best cities ranked in 2022.
1. New York City
Highlighted rankings: Product (1), Programming (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 two hellish years is no easy feat. But the Big Apple has proved its staying power with renovated airports and new hotels enticing people to see the city as Broadway’s lights come back on.
Nowadays, there’s a lot to explore in NYC’s neighborhoods (where it ranked #1). 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 new Little Island—located on the Hudson near the Meatpacking District—and other outdoor spaces entice you to come outside to relax. When you’re ready, make your way back to NYC’s bustle and revisit the city in full movement.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to New York.
2. Los Angeles, California
Highlighted rankings: Restaurants (1), Promotion (2)
Why we love it: While Hollywood’s prowess is the most commonly associated aspect of Los Angeles, the city’s restaurant scene in all its richness and diversity is just as intertwined with its identity. The strong return of L.A. restaurants shot this city to the top spot in the Restaurants subcategory, thanks in part to the city’s Latinx food and culture. 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.
And if movie stars and celebrated restaurants weren’t enough to put Los Angeles on the map, the 2022 Superbowl victory of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams in the SoFi Stadium gave people plenty of reason to visit. 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 open in the fall.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Los Angeles.
3. San Francisco, California
Highlighted rankings: Household income (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.
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.
“Throughout this pandemic, [Mayor London Breed] has led vital programs to increase access to outdoor commercial, cultural, and recreational activities,” Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, told Resonance. “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.”
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to San Francisco.
4. Chicago, Illinois
Highlighted rankings: Connectivity (1), Nightlife (2)
Why we love it: There’s plenty to celebrate in Chicago and not only because of its fantastic nightlife. The city is seeing the return of free summer festivals, Sundays on State (when portions of iconic State Street turn pedestrian only), and other events, marking a newfound energy after some long, hard winters. Restaurants are also popping up in full force, earning Chicago its #3 ranking in the subcategory; some noteworthy ones include Venteux, a French brasserie from Michelin-starred chef Donald Young, and Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar, which opened December 2021 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,” said Shermann Dilla Thomas, a historian who offers guided city 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.
5. Washington, D.C.
Highlighted rankings: Google searches (1), Educational attainment (2)
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 like the Wharf, where the second phase of the $3.6 billion revitalization project is expected to be completed later this year. When the development opens, expect luxe residences, swanky hotels, new restaurants, a 1.5-acre green space, and an expanded Wharf Marina.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Washington, D.C.
6. San Diego, California
Highlighted rankings: Parks (1), Attractions (6)
Why we love it: With 263 days of sunshine a year and 70 miles of beaches within its city limits, San Diego ranks highest in the Place category (to nobody’s surprise). But there’s much more to this Southern California city than good weather and gorgeous scenery. The city ranked #6 in the Attractions subcategory, after all, boosted by sights like the world-famous San Diego Zoo (which is home to more than 12,000 rare and endangered animals).
More recently, Comic-Con came back, and its 2021 return also marked the opening of its namesake museum in Balboa Park’s former Hall of Champions building. With much to enjoy in this sunny city, people are coming and residential and mixed-use developers are taking opportunities like the extension of San Diego Trolley’s UC Blue Line to turn former suburban sprawl into an urban paradise.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to San Diego.
7. Las Vegas, Nevada
Highlighted rankings: Weather (1), Attractions (1)
Why we love it: Las Vegas has always gotten buzz for its attractions, but sights like the $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas encapsulate the idea that the city’s going bigger and better. Opened in late June 2021, the property includes three hotels, a Southeast Asian hawker-style food court, and a new, 5,000-capacity theater. And there’s a lot more—like $15 billion more—investment money headed to the city, including the 2023 opening of the Fontainebleau and MSG Sphere entertainment venue. That’s good news, considering more than 40 percent of southern Nevadans work in the tourism industry.
Step off the Strip, and you’ll see the city is still abounds with projects like Elon Musk’s 1.7-mile tunnel loop, connecting tourists across the Las Vegas Convention Center campus. Year-old entertainment venue Area15 is also drawing the creative crowd, offering art installations, VR experiences, concerts, and the like.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Las Vegas.
8. San Jose, California
Highlighted rankings: People (1), Household income (1)
Why we love it: San Jose is proving that Silicon Valley’s hasn’t lost its appeal, with a well-educated, well-paid, and diverse population shouldering the city’s #8 ranking on the list. It’s the third-most prosperous city in the country and attracts innovative types as the home of Fortune 500 titans like Google, Facebook, eBay, and PayPal.
While San Jose ranks much lower for product and programming (#38 and #43, respectively), the wealth of its residents is likely to attract more top-notch cultural institutions and restaurants sooner rather than later. For now, 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.
9. Boston, Massachusetts
Highlighted rankings: University (1), Educational attainment (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 five 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 will extend the legendary ballpark to accommodate four new levels of event space; it is set to open this fall.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Boston.
10. Miami, Florida
Highlighted rankings: Foreign-born population (1), Instagram hashtags (2)
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 first 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.
“Miami has moved into the top 10 for the first time,” says Resonance President Chris Fair, “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.”
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.
Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Miami.
The rest of the top 20 cities in the United States:
11. Houston, Texas
12. Seattle, Washington
13. Atlanta, Georgia
14. Dallas, Texas
15. Austin, Texas
16. Orlando, Florida
17. Denver, Colorado
18. Honolulu, Hawai‘i
19. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
20. Phoenix, Arizona
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 21, 2022, to reflect new rankings.
Correction: This article originally appeared online on June 21, 2022; it was updated on June 23, 2022 to clarify that Washington D.C.'s Wharf project is $3.6 billion and not $2.5 billion.
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