America's Best Cities for Hipsters
Portland, OR, is known for its food trucks, but apparently that’s not the only local food on wheels. “One night, I walked by someone singing at the top of their lungs while dressed as a taco and on roller skates,” says Simon Tam, leader of the band The Slants. “It was just another ordinary evening out in Portland.”
No surprise, the city famous for its flagrant quirkiness ranked near the top among Travel + Leisure readers for a high density of hipsters—locals who embody the cutting edge of culture while also embracing simple, retro charms.
In this year’s America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers rated 35 major metropolitan areas for qualities such as wine bars, walkable streets, and great weather. To discern the biggest hipster concentrations, we combined the results for offbeat and tech-savvy locals; great microbrews and coffee bars; a buzzing live music scene; and plenty of flea markets.
This year, the top hipster cities included San Francisco, where Hayes Valley's Proxy Project features food and art in shipping containers, and Minneapolis, where residents love their polka-infused supper club. For travelers, following the trail left by hipsters usually pays off—both in good culture and a lot of fun.
That doesn’t make you a hipster, of course. “Perhaps the most ‘ironic’ thing about Portland,” adds Tam, “is that very few people will actually admit to being a hipster.”
No. 1 San Francisco
With its tech-fluent locals, trendsetting dining scene, and seemingly effortless sense of style, San Francisco takes the hipster championship this year. The nerve center is the gentrifying Mission District, where you can snack on cotton candy (it’s okay—it’s artisanal) at Batch Made market, or mow down pins and toss back a retro cocktail at Mission Bowling Club. Charles Chocolates sells handcrafted, small-batch goodies in edible boxes, reflecting the local passion for recycling. Proof that the city’s hipster population may be at capacity: Four Barrel Coffee recently made headlines for posting a snarky list of rules that included “not talking about annoying hipster topics.”
No. 2 New Orleans
As the birthplace of jazz, the richly cultured Crescent City has had its own version of hipsters since back when fedoras were considered mainstream. Away from the tourist crowds, Nola’s cool cats lurk in the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods, browsing the vintage vinyl at Euclid Records or mixing it up during the weekly spelling bee or TV nights at the Lost Love Lounge. Readers also gave the Who Dat community high marks for its sports bars and whoop-it-up weekends.
No. 3 Portland, OR
They slipped from last year’s No. 2 spot, but these farmers’-market-loving, facial-hair-friendly Oregonians still took first place in the offbeat resident category. For hipster-rich ambience, explore Southeast Division, where you can find trendy restaurant Pok Pok, ice cream shop Salt & Straw, and Roman Candle Baking, which serves some of the city’s top-ranked pizza, as well as local favorite Stumptown coffee. In the West End, meanwhile, you can unironically enjoy the pig-ear salad at Lardo.
No. 4 Providence, RI
With its high per-capita of nerdy students and artists, this Rhode Island city climbed two spots in the hipster rankings this year—but also scored well for having sophisticated locals. Downtown has an emerging hipster culture (consider the soon-to-open Dean Hotel, housed in a former brothel). On the west side, you can order vegan cuisine at The Grange, hear concerts at the Columbus Theatre (with a clever 1492 seats), or browse the vintage fashions, ceramic poodles, and kitschy kitchenware at Rocket to Mars.
No. 5 New York City
Surely New York has more hipsters, in sheer numbers, than any other city in the land—it’s just that sometimes you have to look for them. Start in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg, which has long been infamous for hipsters, and Queens’s Long Island City. At bar Dutch Kills, you can order a Presbyterian (rye, lime, and ginger) during the delightfully obscure-sounding Battle Axe Gleason happy hour, named after a corrupt 19th-century mayor. New York, which made the guilty-pleasure “Cronut” famous (at SoHo’s Dominique Ansel Bakery), also won the survey for its irresistible desserts.
No. 6 Denver
These fresh-air enthusiasts have long been on the cutting edge of microbrewing, and arcade bar 1Up in LoDo is a good example: hipsters quaff craft beers while dropping quarters into Donkey Kong and other ’80s-style video games. You’ll find more hipster magnets over in The Highlands area, site of the Urbanistic Tea and Bike Shop and healing boutique Invoke Magic. Perhaps no accident, the locals also ranked well for being easygoing.
No. 7 Charleston, SC
This genteel city sashayed into the hipster top 10 for walking the line between old-fashioned and old-school. King Street is a reliable hotbed for antiques and design shopping, and in the area around Upper High King, you can kick back at High Wire Distilling (which makes small-batch rums, gins, and whiskeys) or Bay Street Biergarten, which offers craft beers and a Bavarian menu inside a rehabbed train depot. Don’t let their polite agreeability fool you, however: these South Carolina locals also scored well for being plenty smart.
No. 8 Nashville
Music City jumped up 11 spots this year, and at the intersection of showbiz and honky-tonks, you’ll find this city’s twangy form of irony. In hipster-rich East Nashville, you can take Nashville Running Tours’ ’Stache and Dash jogging tour (about the length of a 5K) past hot spots like the old Slow Bar and The Groove record shop. A running tour is a natural in Music City, whose locals ranked highly for being super-fit and having a lot of civic pride.
No. 9 Portland, ME
While this flannel-shirted city dropped four spots this year, it still excels in such hipster essentials as good java (like at Bard Coffee, off Congress Street) and good performance art. The Portland Stage Company does experimental theater, while coop-plus-café Local Sprouts offers both vegan cinnamon rolls and poetry slams. And residents clearly know how to pull off that fisherman look: the city ranked in the survey’s top 10 this year for attractive locals.
No. 10 Kansas City, MO
Hipsters tend to be purists about their food. Midtown coffee bar Oddly Correct Coffee Roasters is so serious about its java, for instance, that they won’t let you muddy it up with cream or sugar. At The Local Pig, in the East Bottoms stockyards district, barbecue gets some hipster cred thanks to locally sourced meats and unconventional offerings like burnt-end bratwursts and Thai peanut sausage. Kansas City also scored well for its bounty of farmers’ markets.
No. 11 Seattle
In the face of sweeping hipsterism from other cities, Seattle slouched 10 slots from last year’s No. 1 position. But this techie city—home to the regularly decorated Lenin statue in Fremont—might be too hip to care. After all, locals already know they can hang at Capitol Hill restaurants like Oddfellows, with a brazen eco-friendly stance (at least 90 percent of the furnishings and takeout materials are recycled). For a great coffee bar that goes back to the grunge era, try Bauhaus Books and Coffee, where you can pair your espresso with a ding dong. The music-loving city also offers a wealth of good street performers.
No. 12 Chicago
The Windy City scored well for its sense of history, and the best hipster neighborhoods tend to have a reverence for the past. Take Logan Square, with its solid, working-class heritage as well as bicycle-friendly streets and inviting places to eat and drink. The art-and-music-filled Café Mustache and microbrewery Revolution Brewing hosts a prix fixe, beer-tasting dinner every Tuesday. Chicago also impressed readers as a fun girlfriends’ getaway.
No. 13 Savannah, GA
These quirky southerners clearly caught readers’ eyes, ranking near the top for good people-watching. For prime views, go to the Starland District, which has antiques, art, and hipster establishments like art café Foxy Loxy and Civvies New & Recycled Clothing. Readers also appreciated Savannah’s free attractions and the overall peace and quiet—both of which you can find at Bonaventure Cemetery, which offers complimentary tours.
No. 14 Boston
Cambridge certainly appeals to avant-garde intellectuals, but they like to do more than read. Tucked amid the bookshops you’ll also find Gather Here stitch lounge, where knitters can hang out with other granny square–making hipsters. In Boston proper, you can shadow the hipsters at the South End’s SoWa open-air farmers’ market, with food trucks, music, and indie design. The sports-loving town seems pretty friendly, too, according to readers, perhaps so long as you don’t mention the Yankees.
No. 15 Los Angeles
They may roll their eyes at the A-listers, but hipsters thrive all over L.A., from Hollywood to Silver Lake to the beach communities. If you want to dress the part, you can find plenty of skinny jeans and groovy sneakers at stores along La Brea. These southern Californians also scored well for being LGBT-friendly, and for making a great sandwich, like the classic subs at Rinaldi’s in Redondo Beach.
No. 16 San Antonio, TX
This family-friendly city balances its sense of culture with a healthy dose of kitsch. In Southtown, you’ll find food truck pod Alamo Street Eat Bar (featuring the Institute of Chili, where you can order waffle-based sliders, washed down with Texans’ favorite super-sweet soda, Big Red). And not too far from the Alamo, the defunct Pearl Brewery now acts as an edgy village square, with shops and an amphitheater overlooking the River Walk. San Antonio also ranked for being a good value.
No. 17 Honolulu
Steeped in nostalgia for Elvis and Spam, the Hawaiian capital is nicely in touch with its ironic side. For a more contemporary perspective, head to Chinatown’s eclectic spots like the ThirtyNine Hotel (which is a gallery, not a hotel), music venue The Dragon Upstairs, or budget-friendly martini bar Bambu Two. Honolulu scored highly for being pedestrian-friendly, and you can take a good art stroll through the Kakaako area, where street artists create new murals every year.
No. 18 San Juan, P.R.
The island city’s hipsters don’t really bother with frothy beach drinks: instead, you’ll find them sipping Puerto Rico’s only local microbrews at Old Harbor Brewery, drinking coffee at Café Cuatro Sombras, or listening to the salsa bands at the Nuyorican in Old San Juan. Chat up the folks next to you: the island city also ranked well for its happening singles scene.
No. 19 Santa Fe, NM
In this southwestern art city, cleanliness is next to quirkiness. Santa Fe impressed T+L readers for being cultural, but also for feeling safe and tidy. The city’s hippest zone is the Railyard, where you can scope out art galleries, a new bowling alley, the Euro-style Station Coffee House, and the artsy Jean Cocteau Cinema. Readers’ favorite times to visit were New Year’s and Valentine’s Day.
No. 20 Minneapolis/St. Paul
These Minnesotans scored well this year for their fashion sense, but they still fell four slots in the hipster sweepstakes. One stronghold of hipsterism is Northeast Minneapolis, between venues like Nye’s Polonaise Room (a ’50s-style Polish supper club) and the Ritz Theater with its sorta-surreal Ballet of the Dolls. In a similar spirit, you can see why this metro area ranked so well for its sweets at edgy Glam Doll Donut, which sells apple bourbon fritters and the Chart Topper, featuring peanut butter and Sriracha.