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My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: 20 through 16

I’ve been meaning to do a list like this for a long time, but it’s not the easiest list to put together—I felt I actually had to visit most of the largest 100 cities in the United States before I could create my list. I’ve had the good fortune to visit many of the cities on the list, especially those that I believe are the most walkable. Walkability is the most important quality for cities on this list, but it’s not the only factor. Weather, transit service, amenities, access to water, and other factors were also important.

It should be noted that there are a few cities that I have not visited (or spent enough time in) that I think could crack my top 20. Some of these include: Philadelphia, Denver*, Pittsburgh*, Milwaukee*, Minneapolis/St. Paul*, Louisville*, Nashville*, Charlotte, and Baltimore (cities with an asterisk I’ve been to, but not spent enough time there recently to judge). Please see my comment in the comments area below for my background on why I feel confident creating this list.

The Indiana State Capitol - Indianapolis, IN

20. Indianapolis, IN – Indianapolis has seen a lot of recent revitalization of its downtown. The city circle is one of the most beautiful public spaces in all of America. Indianapolis Photos

Plaza de Cesar Chavez - Downtown San Jose, CA

19. San Jose, CA – For a city that’s synonymous with urban sprawl, there are many things to like about its downtown. Like Indy, San Jose has a great public space in Plaza de Cesar Chavez. It also has very nice weather and close proximity to many amenities of the Bay Area. San Jose Photos

Downtown Cleveland Skyscrapers by Night

18. Cleveland, OH – Despite being labeled the poorest city in America and home to some of the worst foreclosure problems, Cleveland does have some redeeming qualities. One of my favorite spots: Little Italy. They also have a new BRT line! Photo courtesy of Joshua Rothhaas

Fountain Square - Downtown Cincinnati, OH

17. Cincinnati, OH – Cinci has a nice location along the Ohio River. It has some very livable neighborhoods and a nice urban downtown. That’s the good news and we’ll leave it at that. Cincinnati Photos

Wilshire & Vermont Metro Station Transit-Oriented Development - Los Angeles, CA

16. Los Angeles, CA If it were not for the massively wide and congested streets, LA would probably be a really incredible city. It’s actually more dense than most people think, and it has one of the best transit systems in the country (seriously!). LA is definitely a city to watch as they plan to add tens of thousands more people to their downtown. Los Angeles Photos

Thanks to John Williams for featuring this article in Centerlines.

UPDATE: I also decided that I should have included New Orleans in my original Top 20.

My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: 15 through 11

My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: 10 through 6

My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: 5 through 1

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Rob April 2, 2009, 5:35 am

    You should do some more traveling and spend more time in cities first before you write such an article.

  • Eric Fredericks April 2, 2009, 7:45 am

    Rob, I respectfully disagree. I would wager that I’ve been to more US cities than 98% of Americans. When I go to these cities, I try to visit as many parts of the city as I can, spend several days there (usually riding transit systems, walking , and/or biking), and I usually take hundreds of photos. And I don’t even think it’s necessary to do that really, I think I can get a feel for a city within 5 minutes of being there. Those cities with an asterisk above, some I’ve actually been to like 6 times and I still didn’t include them.

    Besides that, I’ve only released 5 cities so far… and these are MY favorites. I certainly think I’m entitled to my opinion every now and then.

  • Peter April 15, 2009, 2:00 pm

    Hi Eric. I couldn’t find your city walkability rankings from #1 to 10. Are they on this site?

    Hey — since you’re a guru on this subject, perhaps you could make a recommendation for us. We have moved to Florida for a better climate, but don’t find any of the cities here to be interesting. We previously lived in pedestrian-friendly cities which have TONS of cool neighborhoods, including Toronto, New York, Montreal and Baltmore (well, Baltimore was the exception. Baltimore actually didn’t meet out standards because it didn’t have nearly as many neighborhoods as the other three. It’s not a “BIG” walkable city like Toronto, New York, San Francisco, Boston or Montreal. We love all five of these cities. All five have so much to offer, have so many great funky neighborhoods, and are incredibly historic/pedestrian-friendly and vibrant. The problem is that they are all located in cold winter climates (even San Francisco is too cold for us). Miami has a great climate, but the only interesting neighborhood is South Beach — and we’re kind of “done” with it. Miami is just too new to be an interesting city. It’s mostly just sprawl and no urban density. So, we’re ready to move on to somewhere else and are considering LA. Will Greater LA do it for us? Only a VERY big city will meet our standards because we need a place that has DOZENS of cool neighborhoods, where people are on the streets walking and enjoying life. Chicago would probably meet our standards, but it would pose the same problem all over again — winter weather. We hate waiting for winter to end every year so that we can enjoy a measley 5 month summer. I know that LA has \great weather year-round…but is it a “real” city? Any suggestions?

  • Vanessa May 11, 2009, 2:46 pm

    Peter – I just moved to Los Angeles this year from the Bay Area and I love it here! I was nervous about moving because I had to learn how to drive (I grew up in Manhattan and had never owned a car before) and because I thought L.A. was going to be a nightmarish, smoggy, sprawling wasteland. L.A. is definitely a “real city” and I actually think that Los Angeles is a much more interesting and vibrant than San Francisco. L.A. has endless neighborhoods to explore, great architecture, world-class museums/cultural offerings/restaurants/etc…, and beautiful botanical gardens, parks, and hikes. And, while I wouldn’t recommend living here without a car, it is definitely possible to set up your life so that you don’t have to drive everyday.

  • jennie June 1, 2009, 4:49 am

    What was your answer to Peter on his April 15th blog wanting a great city with nice weather.

  • Rudy Wobito June 7, 2009, 12:12 pm

    I cannot beieve that you did not include Philadelphia in your top ten. It easily one of the most walkable and beautiful cities in the country. I am very disappointed.

  • Rudy Wobito June 7, 2009, 12:15 pm

    San Francisco was the absolute worst city that I have ever lived in.

    My top 10
    1. NYC
    2. Chicago
    3. Philadelphia
    4. Los Angeles
    5. Washington DC
    6. Boston
    7. Seattle
    8. Portland
    9. San Francisco
    10. Miami/South Beach

  • Rosalie October 6, 2009, 3:24 pm

    See! No one even cares about Kansas City. I’ve looked on like thousands of websites like this, with thousands of different opinions and yet not one has Kansas City been mentioned. Not even on a top 100 list. It makes me so sad to know that I live in a magnificent city that most people probably haven’t even heard of. Hello! Kansas City is the city of fountains (which are amazing ecspecially the JC Nichols Memorial Fountain), best BBQ (look it up I’m not making this up), Heart of America (as in middle), beautiful skyline, perfect blend of normal life and nature, and don’t even get me started on haw beautiful and wonderful KC is (I mean have you seen the Country Club Plaza). There are so many reasons we all love KC. You should check it out, I’ll admit it is not the best city ever (by a long shot) but it is still awesome. someday I’ll make Kansas City the #1 city in America, again (it was like as important as New York is now like a long time ago, because of the Missouri and Mississipi Rivers (that is like the one bad thing, we’re landlocked and the only water is so brown it just looks like a river of mud)) If you visited here you’d all like it too.

  • Rosalie October 6, 2009, 3:24 pm

    See! No one even cares about Kansas City. I’ve looked on like thousands of websites like this, with thousands of different opinions and yet not one has Kansas City been mentioned. Not even on a top 100 list. It makes me so sad to know that I live in a magnificent city that most people probably haven’t even heard of. Hello! Kansas City is the city of fountains (which are amazing ecspecially the JC Nichols Memorial Fountain), best BBQ (look it up I’m not making this up), Heart of America (as in middle), beautiful skyline, perfect blend of normal life and nature, and don’t even get me started on how beautiful and wonderful KC is (I mean have you seen the Country Club Plaza). There are so many reasons we all love KC. You should check it out, I’ll admit it is not the best city ever (by a long shot) but it is still awesome. someday I’ll make Kansas City the #1 city in America, again (it was like as important as New York is now like a long time ago, because of the Missouri and Mississipi Rivers (that is like the one bad thing, we’re landlocked and the only water is so brown it just looks like a river of mud)) If you visited here you’d all like it too.

  • Rosalie October 6, 2009, 3:25 pm

    oops sry bout the double post

  • Rosalie October 6, 2009, 3:42 pm

    Oh yea! So there is no confusion I was talking about Kansas City, MO.

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