America's Best Cities for Hipsters 2012
Related: America's Best Cities for Hipsters
It’s no wonder that pilsner originated in Seattle, where a local taste for the retro, artsy, and wee-bit ironic boosted it to the top of America’s best cities for hipsters, according to Travel + Leisure readers who voted in the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey. They ranked 35 metropolitan areas on culturally relevant features like live music, coffee bars, and independent boutiques. To zero in on the biggest hipster crowds, we also factored in the results for the best microbrews and the most offbeat and tech-savvy locals.
It’s our take on the debated term hipster, which can inspire eye rolls or admiration. Once used to describe counterculture types, hipster is now so prevalent it’s at a possible tipping point. Whatever your take, you generally know hipsters when you see them—most likely in funky, up-and-coming neighborhoods. A smirking attitude toward mainstream institutions means they tend to frequent cool, often idiosyncratic restaurants, shops, and bars—the same kinds of venues that appeal to travelers looking for what they can’t find at home. (Yelp.com now even has a search feature for “hipster” ambience.)
There’s also an eco-conscious influence in contemporary hipsterdom. Some of the trendiest places to shop in New Orleans, for instance, are thrift shops. In Denver and Minneapolis, hipsters gather in coffee-or-tea cafés that double as low-carbon-footprint bike shops. Upping the ante, Portland, OR, is the home of BikeBar, where you can pedal stationary bikes that actually generate electricity for the organic micropub.
Indeed, techie haven Seattle got some serious competition from the craft-beer-loving, food-truck-dining, and notoriously mustachioed Oregon city. After all, Portland arguably corners the market on quirkiness, the X factor of hipness. Portland-based TV and film casting director Lana Veenker says that clients frequently ask her to hire “Portland hipster types”—and it’s not hard.
“There’s a guy in my neighborhood who regularly takes his pet pig for a walk around the block, on a leash,” Veenker says. She also sees a guy in a Darth Vader costume tooling around town on his unicycle—with bagpipes. “It’s just par for the course around here.”
No. 1 Seattle
These northwesterners prove that a key to hipsterness is being ahead of the curve: they won the survey for their smarts, their tech savvy, and their high-octane coffee. As a result, the geek chic may be a little more buttoned-down here than in other cities. Look for representatives in the up-and-coming South Lake Union area, near downtown, or in former Scandinavian neighborhood Ballard, site of some of the city’s hottest restaurants, such as oyster bar The Walrus and the Carpenter.
No. 2 Portland, OR
They’re audaciously quirky, and they boast great beer, creative street food, and bicycle enthusiasts to back it up. In the North Williams area, you can experience several levels of Portland’s unique hipster zeitgeist: buying vintage clothing inside a double-decker bus at Lodekka; playing shuffleboard in the unmarked bar Vendetta; or pedaling on the stationary bikes that actually generate electricity for organic micropub Hopworks BikeBar.
No. 3 San Francisco
Hippies, part of another subculture movement, blossomed here during the flower power years of the 1960s. The tech age has certainly morphed the city’s hip denizens, who exist in pockets all over the Bay Area, such as the Mission District and South of Market, known as SOMA. San Francisco also ranked near the top of the survey for its fine dining and its diverse population—and for being easy to explore without a car.
No. 4 New Orleans
The Crescent City has a legendary café culture and a rich music and arts scene. The newest version of hipster bohemians are found in the Marigny area, a historic neighborhood with colorful architecture and good spots to sample the city’s top-ranking bar scene, such as the Hi-Ho Lounge and Mimi’s in the Marigny. To dress the part—and see why the city ranked near the top for both indie boutiques and flea markets—check out the local vintage shops, such as the Revival Outpost on Magazine Street.
No. 5 Portland, ME
These Maine folks have great palates for both food and beverages, winning fifth place for their coffee and the bronze medal for microbrews—like those found at Shipyard, Allagash, and Gritty’s. For caffeinated hipster-watching, go to Coffee by Design, which first opened on the once-seedy, and now thriving, Congress Street, where you can sip the same java made for local foodie magnet Fore Street restaurant.
No. 6 Providence, RI
This academia-rich New England city has a concentrated mix of artists and nerds, scoring high in the survey for its performance art and cafés. The artsy nerve center these days may be the downtown, multiuse space AS220, which boasts of stimulating Rhode Island’s “cultural mulch” through shows, a restaurant, a coffee bar, and a meeting space for the tech group Providence Geeks.
No. 7 Austin, TX
The Texas capital has long been a hotbed for live music as well as offbeat types, but the trendsetting locals also scored big points for being tech-fluent. The most cutting-edge part of town these days is East Austin, which is bustling with art galleries, such as Okay Mountain, and bars such as The Liberty, which offers both a beer garden and one of the city’s most lauded food trucks, the Asian-fusion-style East Side King.
No. 8 San Juan, P.R.
The balmy island city may not be the first to conjure images of skinny-jeaned hipsters, but it does have the hottest dining scene in the Caribbean, and its locals rank in the top 10 for being tech-savvy. Perhaps ironically, the trendiest scene is found in Old Town (particularly in the area south of Calle Fortaleza, known as SoFo), where you can taste how the city ranked so well for ethnic cuisine, cafés, and street food. The city also scores highly for one key element of hip living: cool flea markets.
No. 9 Philadelphia
Fishtown, just north of Center City, is one hipster magnet, drawing folks to quirky venues like the combined bar-and-art-gallery Kung Fu Necktie. For the best of the city’s microbrews and java, check out Ultimo Coffee in Point Breeze, which operates in conjunction with “beer boutique” Brew. Hipsters in Philadelphia still have a deep appreciation for old-fashioned diversions: the city ranks highly for its theater and classical music.
No. 10 Denver
When they’re not mountain biking, hiking, or otherwise living up to their outdoorsy, athletic reputation, these trendy Coloradans gather in the Highlands neighborhood, just west of downtown—perhaps browsing the Urbanistic Tea and Bike shop, or Wild Yarns, which caters to a new breed of knitters. Denver’s biggest claim to hipdom, however, may be its No. 1 ranking for cool microbrews, found at spots such as Wynkoop Brewing Company. If you want a retro cocktail instead, check out the Lower Highlands’ 1920s speakeasy-style Williams & Graham, which serves the hard stuff over hand-cut ice cubes.
No. 11 Savannah, GA
These Georgians are not aloof elitists: they rank in the top 5 for being friendly, they’re proud of their city, and they like to make the most of the cocktail hour. You can mingle with local hipsters at the Seed Eco Lounge, which has a bamboo-topped bar, organic libations, and cocktail tables recycled from an old barn.
No. 12 New York City
New York would seem to be a hot spot for hipsters: it’s the No. 1 city for diversity and theater, and it ranked near the top for its unique shopping. And yet, the Big Apple missed the top 10—perhaps because the city’s hippest are far from the tourist zones, tucked away in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, or out in Brooklyn. Indeed, the best microbrew in the city may be in the artist-warehouse-loft-filled Williamsburg neighborhood, where you can tour (and taste) at the Brooklyn Brewery.
No. 13 Santa Fe, NM
Even if the city took the silver medal in the offbeat locals category, these cool southwesterners like to keep a low profile: the city also won the category for peace and quiet. All the better, perhaps, for making the most of the great shopping scene. The artsy New Mexico city won for its independent boutiques as well as the home décor and design shops. To see the locals whoop it up, come to the Plaza for live music on summer evenings.
No. 14 Chicago
While the locals in the Windy City didn’t strike voters as being particularly offbeat, the city thrives in other hipster-friendly categories, such as its theater and art scene. For the coolest neighborhoods, check out Ukrainian Village, which has both a literary and a diverse community, or Wicker Park, which has bookshops and lounges, as well as the city’s best Victorian architecture. After all, Chicago won the category for cool buildings.
No. 15 San Diego
The city’s thriving craft beer scene—such as the au courant brews at Green Flash Brewing—may have helped put this sunny city on the hipster map. But these active and good-looking folks do more than chug beer and listen to the surf reports: to shop among the city’s coolest, check out the design district that has sprouted in downtown’s Little Italy.
No. 16 Minneapolis/St. Paul
The Twin Cities don’t really qualify as gritty the way some hip havens do; the area ranks first for cleanliness in the survey and third for safety. But these Minnesotans have a lock on the arts-loving nerd factor, taking the silver for brains and fourth place for theater. These days, Uptown has a high density of interesting java places (not to mention the city’s best chai, brewed at Namaste Café); techie types, meanwhile, congregate in the North Loop area, home of One on One Bicycle Studio, a combination coffee-gallery-bike-shop.
No. 17 Boston
So steeped in tradition—the city ranks highly for its history, classical music, and all-American sports—Boston may not seem very edgy to T+L survey voters. The techie crowd around MIT and Cambridge, however, gave a boost to Beantown’s hip quotient. You can do some good people-watching, as well as check out up-and-coming artists, at Voltage Coffee & Art on Kendall Square.
No. 18 Los Angeles
In general, voters found Angelenos to be stylish and camera-ready, rather than quirky. For a bar scene and live music without any Hollywood flash, head to Echo Park, near Silver Lake, where you can hear cutting-edge bands at The Echo and The Echoplex, or shop for tunes the old-school way at Origami Vinyl. Or head to Eagle Rock, south of Pasadena, for a cup of joe at coffee shop Pat & Lorraine’s—the spot where A-list hipster Quentin Tarantino wrote Pulp Fiction.
No. 19 Nashville
A legendary music scene helped propel this Tennessee city past the velvet rope and into the hip top 20. To find the non-rhinestone set, go to East Nashville and The 5 Spot, a musician’s hangout, as well as the city’s first vegan restaurant, The Wild Cow. Or check out Bongo Java, a coffee spot that gained ironic fame for its NunBun, a cinnamon roll with an eerie resemblance to Mother Teresa.
No. 20 Kansas City, MO
This midwestern city proves that you don’t have to be exclusive or trendy to be hip. Kansas City won the survey for both its affordability and its crowd-pleasing barbecue—and ranked No. 2 for its sharp wireless coverage. Seek out the hipster scene among the rehabbed Crossroads District or Westport, both bustling with music shops, art galleries, and plenty of places to drink the city’s highly ranked microbrews.
No. 21 Las Vegas
Sin City hit the jackpot with readers for its party scene and over-the-top people-watching, but most hipsters probably avoid the mainstream Strip. Instead, look for them in downtown’s Arts District, where one “retro” hotspot has nothing to do with Sammy or Liberace: Insert Coins is a video game bar where you can play ’80s arcade classics such as Donkey Kong.
No. 22 Charleston
It didn’t make the top 20, but this Southern city has plenty of its own civic pride. The hot zone may be Upper King Street, where you can see why the city ranked No. 3 for shopping—especially for décor and antiques. For contemporary commodities, check out Affordabike, with its custom-made beach cruisers, or Magar Hatworks, which creates bespoke headgear.
No. 23 Memphis
The bluesy city has a unique authenticity that some hipsters embrace: It ranked in the top 10 for both live music and barbecue, and also scored well for being friendly. While The Cove in Midtown may be the coolest bar in town, it’s hard to resist hanging at the Hi-Tone Café, a music venue near Overton Park that used to be Elvis’s karate dojo.
No. 24 Baltimore
The Station North area has long been the city’s arts district, but you might find more of Baltimore’s quirkiness around Hampden. It’s the site of bar Rocket to Venus, shoe-and-chocolate emporium Ma Petite Shoe, and Atomic Books, where veteran hipster and filmmaker John Waters picks up his fan mail.
No. 25 Honolulu
Are hipsters not the sentimental types? This island city scored only so-so for its counter-culture, though it does rank No. 2 for both romance and sunny skies. Its strongest hipster indicators are that rich Kona coffee culture and the emerging generation of local foodies with a commitment to sustainability like sleeve-tattooed chef Ed Kenney of Honolulu’s Town restaurant.
No. 26 Houston
Like many cities, Houston gives nicknames to its trendy neighborhoods. Case in point: LoWe, short for Lower Westheimer, where you can hang out at Mediterranean-themed coffee shop Agora, dive lounge Catbirds, or El Real Tex-Mex within a historic 1930s theater. Houston also has two seemingly incompatible draws, according to readers: it ranked well for both luxury shopping and for being affordable.
No. 27 Anchorage
These Alaskans got credit for being different—after all, this may be the only big U.S. city where dogsledding counts as a major sport. In the Spenard neighborhood, you’ll find the highest concentration of microbrews (try Spenard Roadhouse), interesting cuisine (such as Himayalan-style Yak and Yeti), and one low-tech hipster magnet: Title Wave Books, a huge used bookstore.
No. 28 Miami
Miami shouldn’t feel too bad for scoring this low in the survey—after all, it still ranked near the top for its attractive, stylish locals, and its fabulous wild weekend potential. Trendy Miamians would perhaps rather dance, or check out good art, than download yet another app. In the hip Miami Design District and Wynwood Design District, you can go on Art Circuit gallery walks on the 2nd Saturday of every month.
No. 29 Washington, D.C.
Despite its rep for brainy denizens, the hipsters in our nation’s capital don’t take themselves too seriously. You’ll find them hanging around the U Street Corridor and at the Atlas District’s H Street Country Club, which features an indoor miniature golf course modeled after D.C.’s landscape. But readers were focused on the city’s more traditional attractions, rating it highly for museums and historic sites.
No. 30 San Antonio
Most visitors to this culturally rich city spend their time around the tourist-friendly River Walk and Alamo—and may miss the colorful scene around Southtown, filled with older homes, folk art, and dining that goes beyond the classic Tex-Mex. These days its culinary hotspot is The Monterey, a restaurant located in a converted Sunglo gas station, which is famous for its hopping patio scene, locally sourced ingredients and its creative offal dishes.
No. 31 Phoenix/Scottsdale
Perhaps voters associate the snowbird city—No. 3 for winter—with retirees, rather than young trendsetters. But local hipsters appreciate their predecessors—and shop for their stuff. Inthe Melrose District, you’ll find a gold mine of mid-century-modern fashions and furniture shops, featuring pieces from the city’s big growth spurt during the 1950s and ’60s.