Walking around San Francisco, public relations exec Christina Farr regularly sees people on the street she knows—from Twitter, that is. Just how plugged-in is the city? “Everyone I know has an idea for a tech start-up,” she observes, “even my mom.”
That pervasive digital culture sent San Francisco to the top three of America’s Techiest Cities. As part of the annual America’s Favorite Cities (AFC) survey, Travel + Leisure readers ranked 35 major cities on qualities such as microbrews, live music, and street food. Readers also judged how tech-savvy the locals seem, and the reliability of wireless coverage; we combined the two sets of results to come up with our list of the techiest cities.
Scanning the top 20, one sees a clear correlation between brainy locals—another AFC category—and those cities’ tech communities. The Seattle and San Francisco areas, for instance, support heavyweights such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple. Boston, Providence, and Austin, meanwhile, enjoy the benefits of academia and an atmosphere that spurs innovation.
Savoir faire doesn’t always equate with good phone signals, however. Salt Lake City came in second place for its wireless coverage, but only 20th when it came to tech-savvy. And while New York City has plenty of brainpower, its spotty signals dragged it down to No. 17. “Any call I make from inside my office has to be for less than 30 seconds, or it’s a goner,” says Pete Meyers, co-owner of travel site EuroCheapo.com. He found the opposite in Austin: “The sheer mass of cafés, bars, and even food trucks that offer Wi-Fi made getting a signal a breeze.”
While you wouldn’t plan a visit just based on speedy downloads or lack of dropped calls, some cities foster a tech culture that creates its own attractions. According to a Cornell University study, the glass-cube-fronted Apple Store in midtown is now New York City’s fifth-most-photographed landmark. In Portland, OR, you can shop for used gear at an all-tech thrift shop, and in San Diego, a popular app will help you find the city’s hottest new microbrews.
These pervasive tech opportunities can become almost all-consuming. “In San Francisco, we are surrounded by breathtaking natural landscape and architecture, which we rarely stop to enjoy,” says Farr. “But we regularly capture it on our iPhones.”