America's Best Cities for Night Owls
In these 20 cities, after midnight, the best dancing—and bowling, karaoke singing, and street food—just starts to heat up.
For Paul Cram, the best sporting activity in L.A. begins around midnight: people-watching.
“I’m a night owl,” says the actor, who recalls a parade of characters one night, about 1 a.m., at the Fatburger on Santa Monica Boulevard. “Several people wandered in from the local laundromat,” he says. “One woman and her little dog were dressed head-to-toe in hot pink. I also saw several drag queens in full sequins and feathers; the tallest had to crouch down to fit her headdress through the doorway.”
Thanks in part to that world-is-my-catwalk attitude, Los Angeles ranked among the top 10 cities that really come to life after dark. As part of the America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers rated 35 metro areas for such qualities as live music, cocktail lounges, coffee bars, and good people-watching—some of the same features that attract people who get their second wind around 11 p.m.
The best cities for night owls certainly have plenty of DJ-helmed nightclubs, singles scenes, and wild weekend appeal, including “reverse happy hours” in the wee hours. But they also offer thriving wine bars and sports bars, as well as excellent late-night cuisine and plenty of nonalcoholic fun. In New Orleans, San Diego, and Portland, for instance, movie theaters, bowling alleys, or donut shops may keep cranking well after midnight. We also factored in survey categories that create a something-for-everyone atmosphere: quirky locals, a gay-friendly vibe, and a noise level that stays up late, too.
Since last call in these cities can range from 1 a.m. to never, everyone has his own definition of late. For New Orleans bartender Colleen Vizents, after hours starts at about 1. “There are a dozen things going on at 1 a.m. in New Orleans, from concerts to burlesque shows,” she says. “But to be classified as ‘late night,’ karaoke must be going on somewhere.”
No. 1 New Orleans
Plenty of cities stay open late, but the Crescent City wins the Night Owl trophy by offering a wild weekend atmosphere that is relatively free of velvet ropes and high prices. A great example: the no-cover-charge, Saturday dance party at Hi-Ho Lounge on St. Claude Avenue, where the DJ spins funk, rare jazz, and “underground disco” until 3 a.m. If your feet get tired, the Prytania Theatre does midnight movies—The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Psycho, or Mean Girls—that are BYOB. For live music, the jazz masters at Preservation Hall perform at 10 p.m., while Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse does midnight shows on weekends (and again, no cover).
No. 2 New York City
The City That Never Sleeps must have nodded off just long enough to miss the first-place position, perhaps because some newer bars tend to close at 2 a.m. rather than the typical 4. But that doesn’t mean that New York has lost its after-hours mojo. Consider the 24-hour delis and diners like the East Village’s Ukrainian-flavored Veselka as well as Employees Only in the West Village, a nouveau speakeasy offering comfort food like truffled grilled cheese and bone-marrow poppers until 3:30 a.m. And thanks to the all-hours subway system, you also get round-the-clock free entertainment from the city’s highly ranked street performers.
No. 3 San Francisco
Foodies with insomnia can always eat well in San Francisco, which won the survey for both fine dining and wine bars. Up until 2 a.m., one of the hot places to linger these days is the recently revamped Tosca Café in North Beach, the iconic bar that now also serves food—such as crispy pig tails, lamb ribs, and classic cannoli. To dine where the local chefs do after they clock out for the night, go to Yuet Lee, on the north side of Chinatown; the specialty is pepper prawns, and wine is served in coffee-shop-style water glasses. It’s open until 3, though the lines get long after the local bars close at 2. Despite ranking as one of the priciest cities in the U.S., San Francisco offers a twinkling, free nightly show—the Bay Lights—on the Bay Bridge.
No. 4 Las Vegas
It can pay to stay up late in Las Vegas—and not just by loitering at the craps table. Thanks to the nonstop casinos and conviviality, more bars and restaurants are doing reverse happy hours, like SushiSamba’s discounted Samba Hour, from 11 p.m. until 2 at the Palazzo. No doubt, Vegas also offers the full spectrum of people-watching, whether you’re at Caesars’ new champagne lounge Fizz (open until 4), or peering over your steak and eggs at the 24-hour, Rat Pack–era diner The Peppermill.
No. 5 Chicago
The Windy City appeals to night owls for its highly ranked singles scene, sports bars, and hangover-soothing pizza. (Its cool buildings also happen to glitter nicely at night.) You can catch good views of the cityscape from one of the hottest nightclubs, the glass-roofed Studio Paris—open until 3 a.m. on Saturday nights—and you can also see gorgeous nighttime reflections off of the Cloud Gate sculpture at the edge of Millennium Park. To party alongside the indefatigable sport fans, pull up a chair in the three-story Sports Corner Bar & Grill, across from Wrigley Field, which keeps the games (or at least the recaps) on until 3 a.m. on weekends.
No. 6 Providence, RI
As much a college town as it is the state capital, Providence keeps late hours for students pulling all kinds of all-nighters. You won’t find just the dives open, either. Trinity Brewhouse—an excellent spot for a local microbrew alongside Providence-style grilled pizza—stays open until 2 a.m. The city also claims what may be America’s oldest food truck: Haven Brothers, which started in 1888 as a horse-drawn wagon and serves excellent burgers, fries, and shakes next to City Hall until 4 a.m. on weekends and 3 on school nights. The city also ranked in the top 5 for being LGBT-friendly; mingle at The Stable in downtown’s multiuse space AS220.
No. 7 Miami
In the No. 1 city for nightclubs, it’s not enough to just stay open until 2, 3, or even 4 a.m. Two clubs on downtown’s NE 11th Street now stay open 24/7: the warehouse-based Club Space and the new E11even, a 25,000-square-foot club that boasts of being part cabaret, part Cirque de Soleil. If you need a change of scenery, go to The Corner, where you can get a plate of deviled eggs until 8 a.m. on Saturdays. Readers’ biggest craving in Miami, though, is for ethnic cuisine, like the legendary Cuban sandwiches at Versailles, which stays open until 4:30 a.m. on Saturday nights.
No. 8 Portland, OR
Leave it to the capital of quirkdom—rich with live music and local Pinot Noir—to give late-night fun a surreal twist. Karaoke from Hell invites you to sing from its 400-song list, backed by a live band, downtown at Dante’s until 2 a.m. (and that’s even on Monday nights—for serious night owls). Ambassador Restaurant & Lounge, meanwhile, lets you perform karaoke until 2:30, aided and abetted by a fog machine. Plenty of the city’s great food carts stay open late, too, such as sandwich truck Pressed, which makes an epic Reuben. And if nothing but a Cap’n Crunch–encrusted pastry will do at 5 a.m., you’ll be relieved to learn Voodoo Doughnut is open 24 hours.
No. 9 Nashville
One reason the Tennessee city is legendary for live music is that its classic honky-tonks, along Broadway, stay open until 3 a.m. Every Saturday, you can take part in a nearly 70-year-old, late-night attraction: the free Midnight Jamboree concert at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, which starts at midnight and is broadcast on the Opry’s radio station, WSM. Afterward, grab a bacon-infused Old Fashioned with a plate of Tater Tots and horseradish crème frâiche in the chandelier-laden Patterson House, open until 3 a.m. Nashville also scored highly for good-looking locals and tasty barbecue.
No. 10 Los Angeles
No doubt, in this stylish, image-conscious city, good moonlight can take 10 years off your face. After hours, too, is when the stars come out, in more ways than one. On Sunset Boulevard, you can catch 10 p.m. shows at the Comedy Store or Laugh Factory, while movie buffs can go to the vintage-style New Beverly Cinema for midnight screenings (like a guilty-pleasure showing of The Warriors). For late-night munchies, head to Koreatown, which has a wealth of 24/7 restaurants like Myung Dong Kyoja, known for its noodle soups, dumplings, and kimchi.
No. 11 Austin, TX
This college town with its ever-edgy music scene has long kept late hours, and two of the most beloved breakfast-friendly restaurants—Magnolia Café and Kerbey Lane Café—stay open all night. These days, the clubs along Sixth Street and Rainey Street close around 2 a.m., but some neighboring food trucks like Angry Egg Roll stay open until 3. Austin also ranked well with readers for its Tex-Mex—like local chain Trudy’s, which keeps serving enchiladas and stuffed avocados until 2 a.m.
No. 12 Denver
The Mile High City is home to active types who may be too restless to sit still while nursing their fabulous beers. Look for them singing along at Howl at the Moon, the local branch of the “dueling pianos bar,” until 2 a.m., or scoring extra lives at arcade bar The 1Up, where you can play classic video games until 2 a.m. for a quarter a turn. And at craft-shop-meets-bar Upstairs Circus, you can toss back a few cocktails while also working on a DIY project until midnight—like a wooden six-pack carrier, personalized coasters, or an upcycled dog toy, a near-necessity in this canine-welcoming town.
No. 13 Honolulu
A nice mix of mai tais and people-watching keeps this island city lively well after the beach has gotten dark. Bars and nightclubs stay open as late as 3 a.m., and even some of the best shopping—at Waikiki’s Royal Hawaiian Center, Luxury Row, and Waikiki Beach Walk—is available until a later-than-usual 10 p.m. To satisfy your 24-hour sweet tooth, go to Liliha Bakery and Coffee Shop, known for its signature chocolate-filled “coco puffs,” coconut-filled Haupia cakes, and Filipino ensemadas, washed down with Kona coffee. Despite all that caffeine and sugar, Honolulu locals also scored well for being easygoing.
No. 14 San Diego (tie)
Surfers like to hit the waves early—and sometimes the best way to do that is never to go to bed. Happily, the East Village Tavern and Bowl, on the edge of downtown, does a reverse happy hour: lanes drop to just $3 a game from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.‚ and the Tavern side of the establishment is a great place to explore the city’s acclaimed craft beer scene. Afterward, head to Hillcrest, where the 24-hour taqueria La Posta de Acapulco starts serving huevos rancheros and other breakfast items at 2 a.m. Despite its party scene, readers also gave San Diego props for cleanliness.
No. 14 San Juan, P.R. (tie)
Even if you’re not a natural night owl, it’s tempting to stay up too late when your only obligation for the next day is to score a chaise lounge close to the hotel pool. These days, one of San Juan’s hottest nightclubs is Club Brava & Ultra Lounge—where you can dance to DJ music alongside the good-looking locals until 6 a.m. on weekends (and while the dress code is no sneakers or shorts, these stylish residents may not need to be told). But for dancing to live salsa music, go to Nuyorican, which also offers chorizo pizza until 1 a.m.
No. 16 Seattle
In the No. 2 city for coffee, it may be no surprise that Seattle folks often end up wide awake well after bedtime. Classic café Bauhaus Books and Coffee keeps its espresso machines cranking until 1 a.m., while Anchors Down, in funky Ballard, serves java-infused cocktails—like a Stumptown-and-stout martini—until 2 a.m. on weekends. For a classic snack, head to one of the Dick’s Drive-Ins (a local institution that counts Bill Gates as a fan), where burgers start at $1.35 and doors stay open until 2 a.m.
No. 17 Boston
Beantown is ready to boost its ranking for night owls: later this year, the T trains and buses will start running until 3 a.m. on weekends—a two-hour extension. Clearly, the brainy locals aren’t using that extra time just for their study groups, though some of the most elegant cocktail lounges sound like a good cover, with names like The Brahmin, in Back Bay, and Scholars, near Faneuil Hall. And there’s another good reason to take mass transit here: while the locals scored as among the most friendly and sophisticated folks in the U.S., they also ranked among the most unruly drivers.
No. 18 Philadelphia (tie)
Happy hour does not equal early bird in Philly, where bars like Sansom Street Oyster House and Alla Spina save their specials (like $1 oysters, or half off on local drafts and beef-fat French fries) for the end of the evening. And in this highly ranked city for street food, rival cheesesteak purveyors Geno’s and Pat’s King of Steaks, across the street from each other, both stay open 24 hours. As proof of its cultural street cred, the PhilaMOCA (Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art) hosts 10 p.m. and midnight screenings of films.
No. 18 Savannah (tie)
In the hometown of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, some of the biggest thrills start late. Savannah Ghost Walks offers a 10:30 p.m.-to-midnight walking tour of the city’s most notable ghosts, hidden burial grounds, and exorcisms. (If you get spooked, don’t be afraid to hold hands: Savannah ranked near the top of the survey for romance.) Meanwhile, since many bars in this cocktail-loving town stay open until 3 a.m., you’ll find hangover-preempting locals at the local 24-hour Waffle House, or at the open-all-night Parker’s Market Urban Gourmet, where you can pick up late-night cheese grits and European chocolate.
No. 20 Portland, ME
If you want to party all night—and if by “party” you mean shop—head just outside of this Maine city to Freeport, where the L.L. Bean flagship stays open 24 hours. (Many of its neighbor outlet stores stay open until well after 9 p.m. during the summer, when Portland ranked No. 1 with readers.) While you can sip the local brews at micropubs in town—such as Sebago Brewing Co.—until about 1 a.m., you might chase your beer with some highly ranked pizza. At Otto, open until 2 a.m., specialty slices include the apple, bacon, and red onion, or the meatloaf and mashed potato.