America's Most Charming Accents
For Dallas-based Crissy Lintner, a certain kind of voice can transport her to another place—and even make her hungry.
“When I hear a Cajun accent, I picture hanging moss trees, French-style architecture, and good food,” she says.
No wonder: that vocal Creole is heard on the streets of New Orleans, whose locals scored near the top of the America’s Favorite Cities survey for their unmistakable accents. Every year, Travel + Leisure readers rank 35 U.S. cities for tangible features like great hotels as well as intangible qualities, such as a peaceful atmosphere and the refreshingly regional way that some locals talk. The friendly lilts in Savannah, GA, won for most charming accent, while two high-ranking island cities—Honolulu and San Juan, P.R.—confirm that some geographic isolation can make a city feel, and sound, unique.
Accents are “an important piece of our history that has been transmitted down,” says Bridget Drinka, a linguist and chairman of the English department at the University of Texas at San Antonio—another city that ranked in the top 10, one where the idea of “Tex-Mex” can extend beyond tamales and into speech.
While plenty of folks insist that regional accents have faded, linguists only partially agree. Relocation dulls some twangs, but the gradual blurring of class distinctions has also made it so that more people don’t feel the pressure to “lose” their down-home-sounding accents anymore, according to Allan Metcalf, author of OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word. “Local accents that used to be stigmatized,” he says, “now seem charming.”
Granted, some accents sound more charming than others. “The southern accent tends to be perceived as intimate, friendly,” Metcalf observes, “and the northern accent is perceived as intelligent—but not terribly friendly.” Indeed, Deep South and Texas accents dominate the top 20 survey results, while Boston (or Bahston) is the only northeastern city to crack the top 10.
Lintner admits that she does judge folks by their accent when she travels, but in a good way. “I trust someone with an authentic accent,” she says, “because they’re probably natives—and so they know the best hidden places to go.”
No. 1 Savannah, GA
Is it their welcoming demeanor, or just the way they drop their r’s when they talk? Either way, T+L survey voters feel Georgians exude southern charm, both with their friendly personalities and their lovable tendency to add syllables to words (like maybe ice cuh-ream, a category in which Savannah also won the survey). That local lilt can be downright soothing: the city also ranked first for peace and quiet.
No. 2 New Orleans
The “Who Dat!” mantra of Saints fans says a lot about the gumboesque local accent (with shades of Cajun, southern, and Italian) in the Crescent City. Folks even call the accent “Yat” (as in, saying “Whe-yat?” as short for “Where are you at?”). There are plenty of chances to hear it straight from the locals’ mouths: they ranked first for their civic pride as well as for their cafés and street performers. To blend in, just remember to call the city Noo AW-lins.
No. 3 Charleston, SC
In Rhett Butler’s old hometown, you’ll hear a variety of accents, from the traditional “Old Charleston” southern drawl to the Creole-influenced Gullah accent. Either way, T+L readers were smitten, embracing the civilized touches in the city, which ranked first for its fine dining and near the top for its quaint architecture.
No. 4 Nashville
Even if Music City is famous for elevating down-home-style crooners, these Tennesseans have added some city to their southern drawl. Readers enjoyed Nashville’s colorful people-watching and happy hours, and every night here may be ladies’ night: Nashville also ranked near the top of the survey for girlfriend getaways.
No. 5 San Juan, P.R.
No. 6 Memphis, TN
In this bluesy town, the local southern accents take on a grittier quality—a mix of city and country, and perhaps influenced by their neighbors in Arkansas. Readers found the whole city to be a bit on the gritty side, but loved the overall affordability and such simple pleasures as the flea markets and legendary barbecue.
No. 7 Honolulu
The local “pidgin” dialect—which blends English, Hawaiian, Japanese, and more—goes well beyond “aloha.” One of the most common local phrases that can confuse visitors is “da kine” (as in, “the kind”), which is used to refer to almost anything. Then again, voters found almost everything blissful here: the city ranked first for weather and near the top for romance.
No. 8 San Antonio, TX
The Texas twang can combine with a little south-of-border lilt in this family-friendly city, with its many Spanish speakers. That blend of Tex and Mex likely explains why the city also ranked so well for its queso-heavy ethnic cuisine. San Antone, as other Texans might say, also scored highly for its wealth of free attractions.
No. 9 Boston
No. 10 Minneapolis/St. Paul
No. 11 Providence, RI
Geography has definitely shaped the Rhode Island accent, placing it aesthetically partway between New England Yankee and the New Yawkers to the south. Readers also loved the city for its food (they could perhaps hang a warning sign at the city limits, for anyone trying to diet): Providence scored near the top for burgers, pizza, food trucks, and ice cream.
No. 12 Austin, TX
You could be served a “y’all” with a “dude” on the side: the Texas twang has been slightly altered in this tech-friendly town, thanks in part to all of the West Coast transplants who have settled here. Voters also ranked the locals as some of the best-looking people in the nation, even if they seem a little bit weird—which many Austinites would take as a compliment.
No. 13 Portland, ME
These Yanks may sound somewhat like their friends in Boston (want to take a day trip? Try going to Maine’s “Bah Habbah,” as locals might say). But they also boast their own lingo, such as calling lobsters “bugs.” Bugs or no, everything here seems to taste good when washed down with the local microbrews, which ranked at No. 3. The city won the survey, meanwhile, for feeling safe.
No. 14 Santa Fe, NM
This southwestern city charms folks with its sensory medley: the smell of roasting chiles, the visual feast of art, and the mélange of accents from locals speaking Spanish or Native American dialects (particularly Tewa) around town. Readers loved the city best in autumn, which is chile season, and ranked it at the top for cultural getaways.
No. 15 Atlanta
No. 16 Houston
Some people have said that hometown gal Beyoncé can’t shake her Houston accent, which may feature a bit more Gulf Coast drawl than other Texas twangs. Houstonians, meanwhile, may endure some of the worst summers in the nation, according to voters, but they rank respectably for their indoor diversions: theater and classical music, not to mention big burgers.
No. 17 Baltimore
Longtime locals speak “Baltimorese,” which is said to be a Philly accent mixed with a southern streak—for instance, if you’re thirsty, you might get a bottle of “wooder.” A good place to hear neighborhood folks (and throw back a few beer bottles) is the local sports bars. The city also ranked well for being affordable.
No. 18 Chicago
In the Windy City, with that midwestern flattening of sounds, your relish-topped hot dog may sound more like a “hat dag.” But it’s the local pizza that T+L readers liked best, whether the traditional deep dish or Neapolitan style. The diverse city also scored last for its weather—not enough of that “hat” weather to please visitors.
No. 19 Dallas/Fort Worth
Even in a big city, you can still hear that Texas twang, as well as a few regional quirks: when ordering a soft drink at a barbecue place, for instance, your waitress might call everything a Coke (as in, “Y’all want some Cokes? What kind?”). Meanwhile, locals here may obsess over their Cowboys and Rangers—as in, the sports teams—but they know when it’s time to keep the jersey in the closet: the city also ranked in the top 10 for its luxury stores.
No. 20 San Diego
Readers may associate San Diego with buff surfers in wet suits as well as the valley-girl-meets-surfer dialect that makes your beach blanket sound more like a “blonket.” That mellow culture also helped the city rank well for its bustling singles scene, the great charbroiled burgers, and the fact that your dog is, like, totally welcome here.