These Are the Friendliest Cities in America 2016
As a Nashville native, Meagan Nordmann thought she knew all about friendly locals—until she flew to Albuquerque.
“Before my plane had even landed in The Land of Enchantment, I had probably 20 tweets from locals offering to take me out for coffee,” says the digital marketer, who recently relocated to the New Mexico city. “I dare say, Albuquerque is even friendlier than Nashville. I suppose this is one of the reasons locals here jokingly call it ‘The Land of Entrapment.’ ”
That group-hug mentality is indeed one reason why the Southwestern city—as well as the affable folks in Tennessee—made Travel+Leisure’s top 10 for friendly cities. In the most recent America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 38 metro areas for such inviting features as wine bars, pizza and luxury shopping—along with the conviviality of the locals who might be serving drinks, ringing up your order or just offering directions outside your hotel.
Geographically, the top 15 winners represent a distinct advantage among heartland cities—though one could argue that the size of city, not the location, may be a better indicator of heart. The winning cities also ranked well in the survey for some concrete features that make it easy for locals to show off their sunny demeanors: pedestrian-friendly streets, cool boutiques, coffee houses, and even communal, picnic-table-equipped food truck pods.
The friendliest cities have certain intangible qualities, too. Charleston’s high ranking may come in part from its slower-paced lifestyle, says Isabelle Furth, a p.r. exec who lives in Washington D.C. (a city that, ahem, did not make the top 15 this year). “I remember walking into an upscale boutique in Charleston and being offered sweet tea and a cookie,” says Furth. “The soft Southern accents don’t hurt, either.”
Travel + Leisure’s America’s Favorite Places survey opened on 10/8/2015 and closed on 04/15/2016. It was open to everyone, and ran alongside a sweepstakes. The open-response survey asked respondents to submit their favorite place and rate it in over 65 categories, including affordability, notable restaurants, and public parks. Cities are defined as governed bodies with a population over 100,000.
No. 15 Atlanta
Despite a little big-city brusqueness—Atlanta locals also made the top 20 for being rude—you can still find plenty of Southern hospitality in this Georgia hub. As an alternative to downtown’s business hotels, for instance, you can check in at the friendly boutique Ellis Hotel, which stocks the mini bars with Sugar Daddies and Pez dispensers. Indeed, the city scored well overall for its sweets, like the beloved Coca-Cola cupcakes at West Egg Café or the peach cobbler at the Gone with the Wind-themed Pittypat’s Porch. Like Scarlett herself, Atlantans also got points for their excellent fashion sense.
No. 14 Portland, Oregon
It’s not hard to get these hip Oregonians to chat: just ask them about their favorite local brews, caffeinated or otherwise. You can sample the most famous local coffee in a social setting, for instance, at the daily public tastings at Stumptown’s Annex location. Or, you can tour the local craft breweries with other hops lovers on two different tours–BrewCycle and Pedalounge—that employ giant, Dutch-style group bicycles. Certainly, the city is bike-friendly, too, ranking at No. 1 for its non-car culture. The Portland Bureau of Transportation even offers free guided bike rides, Portland By Cycle, on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings during much of the summer.
No. 13 Louisville
As the home of its own Urban Bourbon Trail, the Kentucky city has a festive mindset: it also won the No. 5 position for unique festivals, like spring’s Kentucky Derby Festival, September’s Bluegrass and Bourbon Experience and summer’s original Lebowski Fest, dedicated to the 1998 Coen brothers film. For a year-round quirky diversion, check out WHY Louisville in the NuLu area—a gift shop and roadside attraction with a wax statue of Colonel Sanders and the Kentucky Rushmore mural (which also depicts Sanders, as well as other native sons Muhammad Ali, Abraham Lincoln, and Secretariat). Louisvillians are not all kitsch, though: the city ranked in the top 10 for its notable restaurants, like Seviche. Helmed by a three-time James Beard Award nominee, it combines Latin flavor with Kentucky flair by way of local-bison empanadas, or avocado ice cream topped with a bourbon-chocolate shell.
No. 12 Honolulu
With their near-paradise weather—which ranked at No. 2 in the survey—these Hawaiians have little reason to be crabby. Plus, they seem to ache to share their customs with visitors: you can get free lessons in ukulele, lei-making or lomilomi massage almost every day at Waikiki’s Royal Hawaiian Center (after shopping, of course—the city ranked at No. 13 for luxury retail therapy). If you want to take a ukulele home, choose from the well-crafted wooden instruments at The Ukebox (which also gives free lessons daily). While Honolulu did not score very highly in the bakery category, that may be because the readers’ favorite dessert here is frozen— like the classics at Waiola Shave Ice, which dates back to 1940.
No. 11 Houston
The big-business environment may have kept Houston out of the friendliest top 10, but the locals’ general lack of snootiness—and, no doubt, the generous use of “y’all”—still charmed readers. To pick up a little of their Texas-friendly vibes, you could try dressing like them: Shop along Lower Westheimer to pick up high-end hand-me-downs at consignment shop Couture Blowout, and then accessorize with some belts, bags, or cowboy footwear from the famed Tejas Custom Boots. For a break, stop in at one of the local wine bars—like Bacchus or Vinoteca Poscol—which ranked at the top among this year’s voters.
No. 10 Austin
The Texas capital is a highly social town. You can find chatty locals jogging around Lady Bird Lake (they ranked at No. 5 for being fit), taking a dip in the bracing waters of Barton Springs, or just waiting in line for the legendary brisket and trimmings at East Austin’s Franklin Barbecue. The city also ranked well for brainy locals and bookstores—and you can find both at BookPeople, the city’s nerve center for readings and book signings. Granted, these locals might want to be more than friends: Austin also ranked in the top 5 for its singles scene.
No. 9 Albuquerque
The New Mexico city made the friendly top 10 for its affable citywide demeanor: it ranked well for its lack of noise, great weather, and overall relaxing vibe. The locals also seem to have a healthy sense of humor: You can spend the night in a rehabbed psychiatric hospital (the sleek Hotel Parq Central), or pick up sweets related to the city’s connection to Breaking Bad, like the faux crystal-meth candy from The Candy Lady or even the “Blue Sky” donuts at Rebel Donut. Just don’t spoil your appetite: Albuquerque also ranked well for its street food, and has a large presence on the state’s so-dubbed Breakfast Burrito Byway: two classic spots are Frontier and Burrito Lady.
No. 8 New Orleans
In the city that triumphed at No. 1 for quirky locals, wall-to-wall festivals, and wild weekends, readers clearly felt they could be themselves here. Since the city ranked in the top five for nearly every nightlife category, locals might seem even friendlier after dark: you can come as you are to the no-cover-charge, Saturday night dance party at The Hi-Ho Lounge (with DJ-spun funk, jazz and “underground disco” until 3 a.m.), or pull up a stool to the tabby-cat bartender at beloved dive bar Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge (known to attract fun-loving celebs like Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney). No coincidence, the city also ranked at the top of the survey for vivid people-watching.
No. 7 Pittsburgh
These Pennsylvanians got high marks for being exuberant—they ranked at No. 1 for sports-team passion—but they know how to make nice in the off-season. If you want to break bread with them, go to one of their famed (and No. 6-ranked) sandwich places—like Primanti Bros., where the sliced-bread sandwiches are topped with coleslaw and French fries, or Peppi’s, where you can butter up the Steelers fans by ordering a Roethlisburger (named for quarterback Ben, and topped with ground beef, sausage, eggs and cheese). Pittsburgh also made the top 20 for its mass transit: the buses and light rail are accommodatingly free within the city’s Golden Triangle zone.
No. 6 Charleston
Not only do these South Carolinians rank as some of the best-mannered people in the nation, they're also some of the best coiffed, ranking at No. 3 for being pretty. Charleston also scored No. 1 for its pretty (and hospitable) architecture: You can stay in the John Rutledge House Inn, the only home of a Constitution signer that is now a B&B. Since the city also ranked near the top for home décor and antique shopping, you can take some of the hospitable vibe home: check out the Matouk and Sferra linens at The Boutique, off Washington Square, which, despite all the crystal and china, also welcomes dogs (assuming they are well-mannered, too).
No. 5 Oklahoma City
The folks in Oklahoma’s state capitol struck readers as having few pretensions: they ranked as the least rude and the least snobby in the nation (but, alas, also as the least stylish). But perhaps they just have a misunderstood fashion sense: some of the best shops in the artsy Plaza District have a serious streak of kitsch, like the retro boutique Dig It and the in-your-face vintage of Bad Granny’s Bazaar. To channel a little more of the city’s grandmotherly karma—and see why the city was perhaps underrated for its wild side—order a slice of Bird Dog Buttermilk (peaches, raspberries and brown sugar oat crumble) at the neighborhood’s Pie Junkie.
No. 4 Kansas City
These helpful Missourians clearly made readers feel at ease: the city ranked at the top for being both affordable and having good drivers. The locals also warmed the hearts of readers with their barbecue, which won the survey this year. While you can’t go wrong with the classic burnt ends at either Arthur Bryant’s or Gates Bar-B-Q (with its “Hi, May I Help You?” sign), carnivorous foodies also love The Local Pig, near the East Bottoms stockyards district, which boasts of using only humanely raised meats and gets creative with lamb, rabbit, and duck, along with dishes like burnt-end bratwursts and Thai peanut sausage.
No. 3 Minneapolis/St. Paul
If they’re weren't so darn nice, you might have to loathe these Minnesotans, who also ranked at the top of the survey for being smart and super-fit. Plus, they know how to entice visitors, earning the silver-medal spot for free attractions like the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (currently showing an exhibition of pieces from the royal Habsburgs) and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (home to Claes Oldenburg’s Spoonbridge and Cherry). To bond with the locals over one of their well-ranked craft brews—they took the bronze medal for beer in this year’s survey—go to Dangerous Man Brewing Co., where, just to be nice, patrons are invited to join in community volunteer projects. Speaking of perceived danger, the Twin Cities also ranked near the top for feeling nicely non-threatening.
No. 2 Salt Lake City
These outdoorsy locals apparently treat visitors like family. In that spirit, the city also ranked near the top for being both kid-friendly and having a sense of adventure; outside of ski season, you can combine the two at Snowbird—by hiking, mountain biking or riding its twisting Alpine Slide and Mountain Coaster. If you come to ski in December, though, you can see why the city also ranked at No. 3 for Christmas lights. Year-round, readers’ favorite food in SLC was the burger, in part because the city has its own regional quirk: pastrami-topped wonders, like the originals found at Crown Burgers.
No. 1 Nashville
With a song in their hearts—and probably one on their lips, too—these Tennesseans won the survey for making visitors feel welcome. Not surprisingly, they also won the survey for their music scene: you can mingle with the locals at the singer-songwriter-loving Listening Room Café; the rehabbed, music-plus-eats Acme Feed & Seed; or at lovable dives like Santa’s Pub, the double-wide-trailer-housed bar managed by a suspiciously jovial bearded fellow. Nashville also ranked at No. 11 for its cheery food trucks, like Biscuit Love and Smokin Thighs. All that smiling is apparently good for the skin: Nashvillians also made the top 10 for their good looks.