America's Best Cities for Nightlife
Or, to put it more diplomatically: "There's an underlying 'hum' to the city," says Todd Obolsky, a travel writer and author of A Hedonist's Guide to Miami. "Miami is like a beehive—a bunch of people who can't sit still, who want to be noticed and who are looking for the next big rush."
That buzzing activity landed Miami near the top of Travel+Leisure's list of America's best cities for nightlife. Every year, readers vote on what they love most (and like least) about 35 different major cities—from luxury hotels to big-name restaurants. To find the most raucous scenes, we looked at the nightlife rankings—which encompass live music, cocktails, and the singles scene—and also factored in the results for noise.
The definition of "noise" may be in the ear of the beholder, but a glance at the top 10 party-crazy cities reveals a cacophony of car horns, slot machines, thumping music—and maybe a few beer bottles smashing against the floor. Of course, commotion doesn't always translate into a screamin' good time. Orlando (No. 28) has plenty of ruckus-making visitors, according to the survey, but the party scene runs up against that 8 p.m. bedtime.
Most of the big nightlife winners ranked well in other party-friendly categories, such as great neighborhood joints and lots of can't-avert-your-eyes people-watching. (New York City, capital of "Whaddayoulookinat?" came in at No. 3.)
Cities with compact, bar-heavy neighborhoods like Austin's Sixth Street also tend to have better party cred. "Chicago has a great neighborhood-based bar scene," says Shawn Hazen, who works for Roscoe's, a gay bar in Boystown—the neighborhood that borders Wrigleyville. "You have the gayest street in Chicago, one block from the straightest street in Chicago," he says. "It makes for some pretty funny interactions."
Chicago also offers proof that you don't need warm weather to keep the party going. "I've seen people check their coat at the beginning of the night and then run up and down the street all night long without it—do a shot, dance a little, then go to the next club," says Hazen. "You gotta keep warm."
No. 1 New Orleans
No one can deny Bourbon Street its role in making Nawlins the champ of over-the-top partying. But AFC voters love this city for its smaller details too. New Orleans also won for its bar scene, its neighborhood joints, and the fascinating people. When it's time to sleep it off, check into one of the city's cool boutique hotels.
No. 2 Las Vegas
In Vegas, the No. 1-ranked city for both noise and wild weekends, it can be tough to escape the raucous party vibe, even when you're just walking through a hotel lobby or waiting in line for coffee. While the Strip acts as the mother ship for commotion, you can usually find a 24-hour party at the Fremont Street Experience, too.
No. 3 New York City
The Big Apple ranked as the least relaxing city in the AFC survey, which—depending on how you want to spend your time—can be a good thing. It's also the No. 1 city for diversity: each neighborhood has its own brand of crazy, from bottle-service clubs in the Meatpacking District to dive bars in the East Village. Your wallet may have the worst hangover: voters branded NYC the most expensive city in America.
No. 4 Chicago
People love to chow down in the Windy City, which ranks first for its pizza and third for big-name eateries. But you don't get into the top 10 of wild weekends just for overeating. Wrigleyville, Wicker Park, and Boystown all know how to throw lively parties.
No. 5 Austin
Combine a huge university town with a renowned live music scene—the epicenters being on downtown's Sixth Street or on SoCo (South Congress)—and it's no surprise that the city scored the No. 4 slot for wild weekends. But the hoopla here may be fairly isolated. AFC voters declared the locals generally brainy and health-conscious, and the city ranked a pretty mellow No. 22 for ruckus.
No. 6 Miami
It's in the top 10 for noise and the bottom five for family vacations: sounds like the recipe for a wild night, right? The party scene in South Beach is anything but sloppy (or cheap): AFC voters took note of how well-dressed the see-and-be-seen locals are, and how pricey those cocktails can be.
No. 7 San Juan, P.R.
In a prime vacation destination-filled with romance, all-in-one-resorts, and nearly perfect weather, according to voters—every night can be Saturday night, and it's perhaps never too early in the day to enjoy a rum drink. Some of the craziest partying takes place on New Year's Eve; readers rated San Juan as the No. 2 city for toasting a New Year.
No. 8 Nashville
This Tennessee city won the live music category, and no wonder: you can hear all kinds of music in bars and restaurants along Broadway, in the 12South area. After 5 p.m. the city loves its longneck bottles—it's in the top 10 for beer—and those friendly locals make it easy to stay out late.
No. 9 Providence
You don't need a big state to throw a huge party, as the Rhode Island capital can attest. The city is notable for its diverse population (including lots of rabble-rousing college students), live music, and even great performance art. Overall, the fun here seems based on simple pleasures: great beer, fun neighborhood joints, and affordable prices.
No. 10 Los Angeles
The City of Angels may have ranked a B-list No. 15 for party-starting live music, but locals find plenty of other ways to cause a commotion. The possibilities for a wild night—from dodging paparazzi to negotiating the freeways—add that all-important element of unpredictability. And the A-list sense of style can be irresistible.
No. 11 San Francisco
With so many neighborhood scenes—from the Castro to the Mission District or the Tenderloin—the party options are wide ranging. No surprise, AFC readers gave this culturally rich city high marks for its diverse locals, its cocktail culture, and the all-important espresso pick-me-ups after a late night out.
No. 12 Denver
The Colorado capital seems to encourage a play hard, party hard philosophy. Living among those extreme outdoor spaces, the locals were voted the buffest in the land-and they top off the day with some of the best beers. A good place to find both is in LoDo, also known as the Lower Historic Downtown District.
No. 13 Portland, OR
In this down-to-earth Oregon city, "crazy" might just mean parking your bicycle without a lock. Indeed, voters put it in the bottom 10 for noise and in the top 3 for being tidy. But with more working microbreweries than anywhere else in the U.S.—and as the top city for microbrews, according to voters—Portland guarantees a good night out (try your luck in the Pearl District, for instance).
No. 14 Boston
Noted for one historic rowdy party—albeit one that featured more tea than booze or loud music—Beantown struggles a bit for party cred. Voters gave the city high marks for beer, but even higher marks for classical music. To find the crazier fun, check out downtown's Union Street, Faneuil Hall, or Lansdowne Street near Fenway Park—especially after a Red Sox game.
No. 15 Memphis
The city has plenty of reasons to sing the blues, according to voters: it came in last place for romantic getaways, attractive locals, and even for being green. But that great music (not to mention a soul-nourishing dinner of top-ranked barbecue) apparently made voters want to drown their sorrows with gusto.
No. 16 Savannah
In one way, Savannah doesn't fit into the crazy nightlife model: it ranked No. 2 for its Spanish-moss-covered peace and quiet and No. 2 for hushed-tone B&Bs. But thanks to the fun-loving Historic District—which has no open-container laws for your beer or cocktail—this Georgian city makes the list. Keep your eyes peeled: the city also ranks No. 2 for interesting people-watching.
No. 17 Houston
This oil town has a long history of hard-partying honkytonks, but today's business-friendly city has developed a more sophisticated approach. On Washington Avenue, you can find all-organic cocktails, "skinny" margaritas, and all manner of beer. And after drinking up, you can stumble onto the Washington Wave, a jitney that offers safe rides for a nominal fee. AFC readers were even happier to enjoy Houston on a full stomach: it ranked first for burgers and fifth for barbecue.
No. 18 Washington, D.C.
Is that noise the sound of people whooping it up, or just getting into another heated debate? Certainly, in one of the least relaxing cities in the U.S., people need to let off steam. Often the most fun in our nation's capital is being had in Georgetown or Adams Morgan. You don't need a designated driver, either—you can use the efficient mass transit system.
No. 19 San Diego
If you could still take a six-pack or a bottle of wine onto the city's most popular beaches, San Diego might have found a slot higher on this nightlife list. But most people prefer the mellow vibe, along with that first-place weather. The locals ranked near the top for being in good shape and good-looking—a compelling argument for not staying up all night.
No. 20 Seattle
The locals here fall in the middle in terms of noisemaking, and their chattering might be due more to all that quality caffeine, rather than actually cutting loose. Even though the Emerald City won third place for its hoppy microbrews, beer got edged out by coffee, which ranked No. 1 with voters. You can use your nervous energy to hike or pedal around the city's lush parks, then stay up late for the city's live music and cocktails in Capitol Hill or Belltown.