America's Snobbiest Cities 2013
So what if they’re a little conceited? These snobby cities have plenty of reasons to feel like winners.
When you browse Santa Fe’s galleries, a love of art isn’t necessarily enough.
Ysmay Walsh makes a point to dress up when she gallery-hops along the city’s Canyon Road. “I feel like I have to step up my game a bit, because I wanted to be taken seriously at the galleries,” says the founder of residential guide MetroSeeker.com. “Without a certain appearance or air about yourself, gallery owners barely acknowledge you when you walk in.”
That attitude helps explain how the otherwise diverse and quiet Santa Fe made the top 20 snobbiest cities, according to Travel + Leisure readers. In the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, we asked readers to rank 35 major metropolitan areas for features such as trendy food trucks or good-looking locals.
To determine which city has the biggest nose in the air, we factored in some traditional staples of snobbery: a reputation for aloof and smarty-pants residents, along with high-end shopping and highbrow cultural offerings like classical music and theater.
But we also considered 21st-century definitions of elitism: tech-savviness, artisanal coffeehouses, and a conspicuous eco-consciousness (say, the kind of city where you get a dirty look for throwing your coffee cup in the wrong bin).
The “winners” included cities with distinctive cultures, such as Seattle, with its concentration of espresso-drinking software engineers, and Charleston, SC, where a quaint southern tradition blends with a modern foodie scene.
Locals can be “snobs” about one local feature—say, the music scene in Austin—and then blasé about another (a casual fashion sense, also in Austin). Yet some cities show flashes of velvet-rope-style attitude.
“In Miami, very few people initiate a hello,” jokes Tandaleya Wilder, president of Florida public relations firm She Got Game. “After all, it’s hot down here, and if you’re not a celebrity, why waste your breath?”
No. 1 San Francisco
San Francisco has cultivated its reputation as a serious foodie city, and readers gave it high marks for both fine dining and ethnic cuisine, even if they did also experience some sticker shock. To shop at hip boutiques, browse galleries, and dine among the cognoscenti, check out the Hayes Valley neighborhood and its Absinthe Brasserie & Bar. Any snobbiness didn’t stop San Francisco from being acknowledged for its welcoming attitude: the city also ranked first in the survey for being gay-friendly.
No. 2 New York City
The fast-paced manners of New Yorkers may put off some visitors, but there’s no denying that the Big Apple has ample reasons to be proud: it ranked at the top of the survey for its theater and art scene and for dressing to the nines. Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, with its exclusive clubs and stiletto-heeled crowd, is one see-and-be-seen area, as is Williamsburg. That said, many New Yorkers’ definition of cool has more of a laid-back, off-the-grid feel: an example is Brooklyn’s Greenwood Park, a beer garden with 60 brews on tap and a bocce league.
No. 3 Boston
In this college town steeped in history, visitors may detect a certain air of superiority: after all, the locals rank near the top for their Ivy League–worthy brains and for supporting old-school culture, such as the symphony. On Harvard Square, you can tap into that brainpower by browsing high-concept bookstores—from Grolier Poetry Bookshop to Schoenhof’s Foreign Books. But there is one realm where Bostonians falter: their driving, which ranked near the bottom of the survey.
No. 4 Minneapolis/St. Paul
Perhaps readers felt intimidated by these bookish, indie-music-loving, craft-beer-drinking hipsters, who also ranked highly for being exceptionally tidy. If these Minnesotans feel self-satisfied, is it any wonder? They also scored well for being fit and outdoorsy; you can join them at the Chain of Lakes, where, depending on the season, folks are hiking, paddling, or even ice-surfing.
No. 5 (tie) Santa Fe, NM
Georgia O’Keeffe’s old stomping ground certainly ranks as an A-list art town with readers: it won the survey for being a cultural getaway and scored highly for its museums. Beyond the galleries and boutiques of Canyon Road, the New Mexicans also came across as being pretty affable—but it may depend on your topic of conversation: the city ranked near the bottom for its sports bars.
No. 5 (tie) Seattle
In this city of coffee connoisseurs and tech-savvy early adopters, it can be easy to feel hopelessly out of step. To relive the city’s pre-Internet tech scene, check out the Museum of Flight (home of the original Air Force One) or Everett’s Flying Heritage Collection, launched by Microsoft alum Paul Allen. And you don’t have to be schooled in contemporary art to appreciate the city’s Olympic Sculpture Park and its view of Puget Sound.
No. 7 Chicago
It’s not just hot air: one reason that the urbane Windy City made the highfalutin top 10 is its renowned theater scene, although it’s hard to call the sketch work at Second City, or the improv at iO Chicago Theater, snooty. A favorite among serious architecture buffs, Chicago did win the survey for one great (culinary) equalizer: pizza.
No. 8 Providence, RI
These New Englanders seem to embrace a café-culture attitude: after all, the city ranks No. 3 for cafés (such as the techy, artsy AS220) and No. 4 for cutting-edge performance art. Even its No. 1–ranked burgers exhibit a little healthy pretension: the sliders at beloved Harry’s Bar & Burger are 100 percent Hereford beef, and you can wash them down with a local beer (served, quirkily, in a 68-ounce boot).
No. 9 Washington, D.C.
The locals ranked as some of the unfriendliest in the nation, but the cultural scene—such as the no-admission-charge Smithsonian—is very democratic, and the city ranked first in the survey for free things to do. If you want to dine like a local power broker, though, check out the mod Rasika West End, which exemplifies the city’s fine ethnic cuisine and counts Michelle Obama as a fan.
No. 10 Charleston, SC
That refined, Old Charleston drawl may have you instinctively calling the locals “ma’am” and “sir.” The city seems to be owning its genteel attitude, too: the hot lunch spot these days is Slightly North of Broad, which combines locally sourced southern fare with innovative cuisine, and cheekily goes by the acronym SNOB. The city also ranked near the top for antiques, design shops, and romance.
No. 11 Portland, OR
This eco-conscious, foodie city certainly does not subscribe to a conventional form of pomposity: it ranks near the top for flea markets and won the survey for microbrews and street food. Folks take that street-food cuisine seriously, though: Pok Pok, a popular Thai spot, even takes reservations. To sample the food truck scene, head to Cartopia, a collection of trucks at SE Hawthorne and 12th Avenue.
No. 12 Savannah, GA
With its idyllic, strollable streets, this Georgia city exudes a charming version of self-importance: it won the survey for both architecture and the locals’ lilting accents. And while the city also takes pride in its vibrant opera scene—on display during the summer Voice Festival—the pretension can go only so far. According to readers, Savannah ranks higher as a party town.
No. 13 Nashville
Long before the Grand Ole Opry came to town, Nashville was known as the Athens of the South, with its well-heeled and distinctly un-hillbilly crowd. Today, the foodie culture sometimes attracts celebrities; at sushi bar Virago, in the Gulch, you might see famous residents like Nicole Kidman or Sheryl Crow. Nashville also extends the red carpet to compulsive email-checkers: it won the survey for its excellent wireless coverage.
14 (tie) Kansas City, MO
The city’s trio of big museums and the Kauffman Center—home to the city’s symphony, ballet, and opera—are proof that this city cares about more than just its famed barbecue. And while such cultural attractions are indeed state of the art, they remain accessible; Kansas City won the survey for affordability.
No. 14 (tie) Philadelphia
The home of the Liberty Bell showcases plenty of historic pomp: you can tuck into a braised rabbit at the City Tavern, where George Washington and other founding fathers once dined. Today’s up-and-comers, meanwhile, mingle on the outdoor cocktail lounges facing Rittenhouse Square, or down in South Philly’s Passyunk Square. The city’s most prevailing “haughtiness,” however, may involve face paint and foam fingers: the locals ranked highly for being sports-crazed.
No. 16 Los Angeles
The city that gave the world both Hollywood and Rodeo Drive managed to land outside the snooty top 10—perhaps because readers found its cultural offerings to be too mainstream. For some A-list people-watching, book a table at one of the city’s best hotel restaurants, such as Culina, at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, or the revamped Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air. Just remember: on the city’s congested freeways, right-of-way may be determined by your most recent box-office earnings.
No. 17 Houston
A combination of a rich arts tradition and luxury shopping helped this oil town rub shoulders with the nation’s snobbiest. To shop like a socialite, check out Abejas, Dao Chloe Dao, or—for a little cowboy bling—Pinto Ranch. (You can also buy lots of designer look-alikes on Harwin Drive.) Some would say, however, that Houston is not so effete: the city ranked in the top 10 for its jumbo, unfussy burgers.
No. 18 Portland, ME
The Old Port is a great place to be a beer snob: check out Novare Res Bier Café, which boasts 500 different kinds of bottles and 25 taps. Readers may have found the quaint Maine city a tad exclusive—it ranked poorly for varied hotel options—yet they did deem Portland very welcoming in one way: it won the survey for feeling safe.
No. 19 Austin, TX
Rivals have long labeled the students at the University of Texas as “tea sippers,” and the whole city resonates with a brainy, offbeat vibe. While the hipsters hang out in East Austin, it’s hard to beat downtown’s Driskill Hotel, the former home of a cattle baron, for grande dame charm: it also offers easy access to Sixth Street’s music scene and overall wild side.
No. 20 San Juan, PR
This island city can boast about its high caliber of shopping and dining, as well as stylish locals. Coffee aficionados, meanwhile, won’t want to leave town without picking up some beans from Old San Juan’s Finca Cialitos or Cuatro Sombras. The most coveted time of year to be here, according to the survey, is New Year’s Eve.