The Best Cities in the United States

Ratings reveal unexpected travel surprises in 30 smaller cities.

The most exciting travel story in America right now? The resurgence of cities large and small.

At Nat Geo Travel, we’re passionate about tales of urban renewal, about communities that have collaborated to improve their Main Streets, about smart cities that have pursued development policies that produce happiness.

For this story, we partnered with Resonance Consultancy, a global destination branding advisor, to identify the top U.S. small cities based on unconventional metrics that we think lead to happiness: green spaces, galleries, coffee shops, breweries, music venues, Instagrammable moments, and more.

Next we sorted U.S. cities into three groups based on their population: 40K-100K, 100K-200K, and 200K-600K.

Resonance combined core statistics with social media data (from Yelp, Instagram, and other sources) on nightlife, culture, restaurants, and the like to determine the city leaders for each population group in categories from meatiest (lots of steakhouses and delis) to greenest (most parkland), based on per capita results.

Finally, Traveler editors added in trending cities—towns that didn’t make Resonance’s final cut this year but look as if they could in 2019. Keep your eye on them.

Six places on our list (Boulder, Colorado; Honolulu, Hawaii; Charlottesville, Virginia; Santa Cruz, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Portland, Maine) also appear on a National Geographic list of the happiest cities in America. Happy places for locals are also rewarding places for travelers.

We hope our list of 30 cities inspires enlightening discoveries.