The 15 Unfriendliest Cities in America
Michaela Hall admits that people in Washington D.C. don’t always make a good first impression.
“We avoid making eye contact, we bump you without saying excuse me, and we wear earbuds to drown out any questions you might ask—because being polite takes time,” says the D.C.-based travel blogger. “Most of us are employed by government agencies, nonprofits, or some other entity set on saving the world,” she explains. “So in the morning, we are rushing to make a difference.”
Saving the world, we assume, isn’t always pretty: D.C. made the top 5 for its less-than-friendly locals. In the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, Travel + Leisure readers ranked 38 cities for their most magnetic features, from bakeries to nightclubs to the locals, who might have impressed readers as being particularly good looking, quirky, or friendly…or, the opposite of those things. While cities like New Orleans and Minneapolis/St.Paul got accolades for rolling out the red carpet, 15 other cities, or at least their locals, didn’t seem to make that connection with readers. To be fair, the surliest cities also tend to be the biggest and most fast-paced, which may give visitors an air of indifference—whether it’s intentional or not.
Related: America's Rudest Cities
Of course, finding a city’s friendly locals may just be a matter of knowing where—and when—to look.
At the end of a typical day, says Hall, the rushed and rude folks of D.C. are actually pretty happy to sit down and have a philosophical chat about their day’s work. “D.C. is full of nice people,” she says, “if you meet us during happy hour.”
No. 15 Chicago
Whether you think it’s the City of Big Shoulders or cold shoulders, Chicagoans made the top 20 in T+L's annual reader's survey for being both smart and cool. One of the best ways to break the ice with locals is at one of their neighborhood bars, which ranked in the top 10. As friendly neighborhoods go, try Old Town: you can get a root beer float spiked with Stoli at Marge’s Still, the oldest tavern in the city, or check out the conversation-starting wall art at Old Town Ale House. Nearby, you can confirm the locals’ good senses of humor, and the city’s No. 6 ranking for theater, at Second City or stand-up haven Zanies Comedy Night Club.
No. 14 Providence
These New Englanders struck readers as being bookishly aloof—No. 10 for rudeness, and No. 1 for being geeky. Even so, Providence ranked well in the survey for welcoming LGBT travelers and girlfriend getaways: both factions will feel comfortable at The Dean Hotel, which features a crowd-pleasing karaoke bar, beer hall and Euro-style cocktail lounge. Providence also charmed readers with its top 3-ranked baked goods, sandwiches and pizza: to get all three at once, go to one of the locations of LaSalle Bakery, which is known for its “bakery pizza” (with just sauce as a topping), and its beckoning prosciutto di parma sandwiches, which are literally tied up with a bow.
No. 13 Seattle
If you’re the type who stumbles over the lingo while ordering your coffee, this Washington city can be a little intimidating—even if Seattle ranked behind Portland this year for java. For a friendly coffeehouse atmosphere, try spots like West Seattle’s C&P Coffee Company (which features live music, poetry readings and vegan doughnuts) and downtown’s Moore Coffee Shop, known for its kitty-and-puppy latte-foam art and sweet-and-savory waffle menu. Seattle also made the top 15 this year for its live music, and during the sunny, finally-not-raining summer, your can catch free live shows three times a week at lunchtime around the City Hall Plaza.
No. 12 Baltimore
Friendly or not, Baltimore locals impressed readers as being nicely quirky. And while Baltimore has seen its share of turmoil lately, it still works hard to keep its nickname of Charm City: The cheer-spreading Baltimore Symphony Orchestra offers a number of fun ongoing concerts, like its Behind the Music-style “Off the Cuff” series (how did Stravinsky diss Rachmaninoff?), while the SuperPops series features themes like “Classic FM” and “Pixar in Concert.” Baltimore also scored well with readers for its brunch: In the neighborhood of Hampden—where longtime locals may call you “Hon”—the morning meal can include cornmeal-fried-oysters and eggs, at farm-to-table Woodberry Kitchen, or crabcake Benedict at the aptly named Café Hon.
No. 11 Orlando
The unfriendly vibes in this theme park mecca may not reflect the actual locals, but rather the tired feet and low blood sugar of the multigenerational visitors: as no surprise, Orlando won the survey for family vacations. To take a load off yourself—and experience the city’s unsung reputation for non-chicken-finger cuisine—go to Winter Park: The Ravenous Pig and its sister restaurant Cask & Larder embrace locally sourced ingredients through creative Southern fare, like a pork porterhouse with green garlic marmalade, or boar with potato dumplings. As an alternative to the big brand hotels, stay at the Alfond Inn, a boutique hotel that houses a contemporary art collection from neighboring Rollins College.
No. 10 Dallas
It took more than a Texas twang to charm readers—but at the very least, Dallasites look fashionable while giving folks the brush-off, according to the survey. Indeed, shopping in Big D opens up some of the city’s poshest but most endearing qualities: At Northpark, you can tour the mall’s art collection (which includes a Warhol), and the downtown flagship of Neiman Marcus is home to luxe lunch spot Zodiac (where your meal begins with a popover and strawberry butter) as well as some of the city’s highly ranking Christmas lights. Proving that they’re not just beer drinkers, the Texans ranked in the top 15 for wine bars—like Cork, on shopper-friendly McKinney Ave., which has a 48-wine tap system that administers one-ounce tastes.
No. 9 San Francisco
Many San Franciscans would likely own up to the fact that they can be snobs—especially when it comes to gourmet issues like wine and chefs. But not all of the foodies take themselves seriously: at The Hidden Vine on Merchant Street, you can sample up to 180 wines while playing bocce ball outside, or you can immerse yourself in the stylish tiki-palace kitsch at the Fairmont Hotel’s Tonga Room (for happy hour, sip a Scorpion Bowl for two, made with spiced dark rum, brandy, citrus and almond orgeat syrup). As proof that San Francisco has not lost that Summer of Love feeling, Antenna Theatre offers the Magic Bus tour (“not a tour, but a trip,” as the motto reads), a psychedelically-painted ride through Haight-Ashbury, Chinatown and North Beach. And indeed, love still reigns for some readers, who ranked the city at No. 3 for romance.
No. 8 Los Angeles
The SoCal denizens struck readers as hip, gorgeous, and kinda snooty—and you might also encounter some tourists’ elbows while trying to take a selfie on the crowded Walk of Fame. To mingle with unpretentious locals, take a roll of quarters to downtown’s 82, a “barcade” that pairs retro pinball and video games with cocktails like The Dude (vodka, gomme syrup, and cold brew coffee; or, stretch out your beach blanket on the sands of Malibu’s idyllic El Matador State Beach. And while L.A. ranked highly for its chef-driven cuisine, not every chic spot has anti-social attitude: the menu Le Comptoir at the Hotel Normandie focuses on seasonal vegetables and offers just eight counter-style seats. Adding to their allure, Angelenos also ranked as highly fit.
No. 7 Las Vegas
Sin City won the silver medal for wild weekends, but much of its raucous demeanor clearly comes from the bachelor-and-bachelorette parties. For a more wholesomely affable evening on the Strip, try the Brooklyn Bowl in the LINQ, with 32 lanes as well as live music and Blue Ribbon cuisine. To party with actual locals, stray off the Strip and head downtown to bars like Commonwealth, a pre-Prohibition-style bar with a speakeasy annex, The Laundry Room. Vegas also scored in the top 5 for its spa vacations, from the Shanghai-style Mandarin Oriental—with its stress-reducing laconium room and views of the city—to the Turkish-bath-style Sahra Spa & Hammam at The Cosmopolitan, and the bourbon-infused sugar scrub at the Delano’s Bathhouse. Spas are a good strategy, too, for removing yourself from the city’s No. 2 ranking for noise.
No. 6 Miami
The Florida city may be playing hard to get with readers: it ranked at No. 1 for its singles scene, as well as its good-looking locals and nightclubs. Indeed, you can do some A-list rubbernecking at Cavalli or the W South Beach’s Wall, but to tap into a less velvet-rope-oriented music scene, go to Little Havana’s classic spots like Hoy Como Ayer on Calle Ocho. Miami also ranked at No. 3 for beach getaways: For a mellow beach scene, go to Key Biscayne, across from downtown, where Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park has nice hiking trails and Virginia Key Beach has a mellow lack of crowds and great views of the skyline.
No. 5 Boston
Beantown denizens put off readers with their Brahmin-like brains and their skillful backtalk: they ranked at No. 5 in the survey for both intelligence and rudeness. Readers were most impressed, though, by the city’s sense of history and culture, and such treasures need not sit behind glass: You can shop for cool antiques and collectibles at the SoWa Vintage Market, or check out the artists at the Greenway Open Market, each Saturday from May through October along the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The market also features a few mobile versions of the city’s bakeries, which ranked in the survey’s top 10: you can nosh on lavender or spicy-chocolate cookies from Third Cliff Bakery, or individual pies from Boston Cream Pie Company. And if you’re wandering downtown, look for the BID Ambassadors (from the Boston Business Improvement District), folks in orange shirts who are there to pick up litter, water plants, and give friendly directions.
No. 4 Washington, D.C.
The power brokers and backroom dealmakers have clearly given D.C. a contentious vibe. To see the locals practice their more conciliatory skills, go to the happy hour at Le Diplomate, on the buzzing 14th St., where the urban spirit of L’Enfant lives on with steak au poivre, pommes frites, and a long list of French wines. Our nation’s capital also ranked at No. 1 for free attractions; while the museums along the National Mall are steeped in art and history, they also can have a sense of humor, from the Lichtenstein of Mickey Mouse at the National Portrait Gallery to the sea of plastic balls on display this summer at the National Building Museum. And since it’s sometimes fun to watch folks bicker, our nation’s capital also made the top 10 for interesting people-watching.
No. 3 Philadelphia
The concept behind the City of Brotherly Love may have some limits, according to readers. Perhaps visitors came to town wearing a New York Rangers or Giants jersey, and clashed with the locals who rank at No. 5 for their sports-team zeal. But the home of the giant LOVE statue still ranked in the top 5 for its arts scene—like the Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden, nicely tucked behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art and overlooking the Schuylkill River. To break bread with the Philly locals, start with their sandwiches, which ranked at No. 3, like the acclaimed cheesesteaks at Cosmi’s Deli in South Philly, or the humbly welcoming Underdogs, which serves such creative dogs as the Back in the Day, topped with a cod fishcake, mustard, and chopped onions.
No. 2 Detroit
Motor City ranked near the bottom of the survey for some of its “welcoming” features: the city came off as noisy and, perhaps ironically, for having lousy drivers. But readers changed their tune come meal time: Detroit ranked in the top 10 for both burgers and diners, like chili-dog mecca American Coney Island, or Corktown’s Mercury Burger & Bar, where the Flint Burger is topped with green olives, mayo, and cheddar. The home of Motown also made the top 20 for its concerts, like those at musical landmark Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, which boasts of being the world’s oldest jazz club and is also known for its excellent fried chicken.
No. 1 New York City
Sure, the Big Apple won the survey for its art, theater and luxe shopping, but perhaps readers just can’t forgive those brusque cabbies—or the fact that NYC also ranked as the most expensive city in the nation. Readers may have forgotten, too, that NYC is also home to the friendliest neighborhood in the U.S.—Sesame Street—parts of which will be on permanent display at Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image by later this year, with the opening of the new Muppet-filled Henson Gallery. In the meantime, NYC also scored near the top for its best affordable luxury: pizza. New Yorkers tend to be effusive when asked about their favorite slices, but you can’t go wrong with the classics (starting at $2.75) at Joe’s Pizza in the Village.