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My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: 5 through 1

Finally, the wait is over for my Top 5 favorite large US cities.

I had no idea the list would garner as much attention as it has. I need to reiterate the point that this is NOT a list of the most walkable cities (although I plan on doing one of those down the road too). You can probably think of this list as “if someone forced me to live in one of these cities, which would I be happiest in.” Which is why, as people have pointed out, I have more west coast cities on this list than southern cities. A lot of that has to do with the natural environment, the tolerance of people, etcetera. Of course, the biggest factor in my list is walkability, so I think my most walkable and my favorite lists would be fairly similar.

Also, I gave some more thought to my list, and I really should have included New Orleans in my Top 20, maybe as number 20. I have not been there post-Katrina, but when I thought about some of the great neighborhoods I’ve visited there, I definitely overlooked it the first time. Another city that I’d love to visit again is Memphis. I think it also has potential to be in my Top 20.

Now, on with the Top 5!

Midtown Sacramento during a Second Saturday Art Walk

Midtown Sacramento during a Second Saturday Art Walk

5. Sacramento, CA – This is probably the biggest shock to most people reading this list, but hey, I have to include the place I live right? And since a large percentage of Americans have never been here, how can they argue? Well, there are certainly plenty of reasons to include Sacramento in the Top 5, and not just because it’s located very close to San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and Napa Valley. First, many probably don’t know that Sacramento has a Mediterranean climate—hot, dry summers, and mild (to cool), wet winters… with very little humidity! Second, Sacramento is the most racially integrated city in the US. We have one of the best, if not the best, urban tree canopies in all of the United States. We’re also at the epicenter of a lot of national movements like smart growth and complete streets (it certainly helps to be the capital city of a progressive state sometimes). In terms of walkability, I think my neighborhood, Midtown, is one of the best in the United States. It’s like living in a giant small town–I can’t go anywhere without seeing someone I know. There are several other great neighborhoods that border Midtown. Rather than go on and on about Sacramento, I will just give you an example. Our “Main Street” through town, J Street, is not an ideal street for walking and biking compared to its parallel streets. But nevertheless, I could walk about 53 blocks straight down J Street and most every block I’d consider to be pretty walkable. If not for a few interruptions in the grid, I could probably do that on about 10 other streets as well. I don’t feel I’d be able to do that in most other cities. For the bicyclists out there, I’ve heard that we’re the only city in America that has bike lanes on BOTH sides of one way streets, and we have a lot of bike lanes. We also have one of the best bike paths in all of America, the 36-mile path along the American River is truly amazing. Sacramento Photos

Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate Sculpture in Millennium Park - Chicago, IL

Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate Sculpture in Millennium Park - Chicago, IL

4. Chicago, IL – Chicago has forever been near the very top of my favorite American cities. I think it has the best skyline of all US cities, and the contrast with the beautiful Lake Michigan is spectacular. Thanks to Daniel Burnham, much of the Chicago lakefront is now parks and open space, including the awe-inspiring Millennium Park. Chicago has undergone a renaissance of sorts the last 15 years, with the crime-ridden public housing being torn down and replaced yuppie luxury housing (although there are some great projects that include displaced families). Every time I go back, there are more restaurants with outdoor seating, more bike lanes and cyclists, and more landscaping and greening. However, Chicago slipped a bit for me when I visited last summer. I got tired of dealing with the barriers to walking (including the most pushy and rude street people I’ve ever encountered). I also was disappointed with the transit system… though disappointment is understandable with the massive cutbacks the CTA has faced. The system is antiquated and in severe need of an update. I also do not miss those brutal Illinois winters or humid summers either. Overall, Chicago is a great city… and the best sports city in the world! Chicago Photos

Times Square - New York, NY

Times Square - New York, NY

3. New York, NY – I don’t think I need to write a novel about this magnificent city. I am amazed every time I go there how lively it is all 24 hours of the day. It’s also a very clean city. There are just a few reasons why it is not my number one city: 1) the weather 2) not green enough 3) insanely expensive 4) sometimes a bit too urban for my taste 5) It lacks the surrounding natural beauty of some other cities on this list. My fiancé and I both sometimes dream of living here, if only for a few years. Like most of these other cities, I can’t wait for the chance to go back again. New York City Photos

Streetcar Stop at Portland State University - Portland, OR

Streetcar Stop at Portland State University - Portland, OR

2. Portland, OR – I have a serious crush on the city of Portland since my first visit last fall. In fact, it is number one on our places to move to if we left Sacramento. It’s more urban than I expected considering its population. To keep this short, I’m going to list 10 things I absolutely loved about it (not at all exhaustive): 1) So lush and green 2) short block sizes 3) the most breweries per capita of any US city 4) the streetcar, aerial tram, and free transit in the central core 5) the South Park Blocks at Portland State 6) the “lofty” Pearl District 7) the “small-townie” Alphabet District and Trendy Third 8.) Mount Hood looming over the city 9) the little ethnic food vendor stands all over downtown 10) Belmont Station and the funky Voodoo Doughnuts. That’s enough for you to get a flavor for why I love Portland. Portland Photos

So that leaves us with just one more city…

The Painted Ladies at Alamo Square - San Francisco, CA

The Painted Ladies at Alamo Square - San Francisco, CA

1. San Francisco, CA – With apologies to New Orleans and a few other cities, San Francisco is definitely the most unique city in the United States. Every time I go to San Francisco, and I’ve been there maybe 25 times now, it still takes my breath away. I’m always discovering new neighborhoods, each with their different or often funky character and I just cannot put away my camera. It’s certainly a challenging city from a pedestrian and bicyclist standpoint at times–the hills of San Francisco are ridiculously steep at times and vehicular traffic is quite hostile–but you could walk for days around the city non-stop and still not see all the wonderful neighborhoods it has to offer. It also rivals Seattle in terms of natural beauty. The architecture is uniquely distinctive, and it remains that way through most of the city, so you always know you’re in San Francisco. In terms of destinations to walk to and density throughout the city, only New York City can rival it. The public transit leaves a bit to be desired, but it’s much better than most American cities. There is one major reason why I don’t live there right now, and that’s the weather. I like heat in the summertime and I don’t like frequent foggy days. But if I want to have a fun night out on the town with friends, or grab some great ethnic food, you’ll find me in San Francisco. Like Tony Bennett, I leave a piece of my heart there each time I leave. San Francisco Photos

And there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the list. It took a lot more work than I imagined. Here is a recap of the list articles:

My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: Intro and 20 through 16

My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: 15 through 11

My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: 10 through 6

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My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: 10 through 6

My apologies on the long delay for this posting. I have accepted a new job and things have become a little crazy as you might imagine. More on that to come. For now, hope you enjoy the series:

Boston Common with high-rise housing units in the background

Boston Common with high-rise housing units in the background - Boston, MA

10.  Boston, MA – Boston is one of those cities I really like, but when I’ve gone there to visit, I haven’t felt that it had IT. The city just doesn’t match my aesthetic or my climate preference. I think I’m due for a revisit though… Boston has a fantastic urban park in Boston Common (pictured). One of the most historical buildings in the country,  Faneuil Hall, now functions as a market (with some great food). The T is one of the few subway systems in the country. And you can mention Boston without mentioning Fenway Park, can you? Don’t get me wrong, I love Boston, but I’m not jumping to move there. Photo credit David Berkowitz

A play on the famous Grant Wood painting in the Short North - Columbus, OH

A play on the famous Grant Wood painting in the Short North - Columbus, OH

9. Columbus, OH – So I might be a bit biased here since I essentially lived in Columbus part-time for almost two years, but I loved many things about Columbus from the first time I visited. I love art, and Columbus has my favorite art district in all of America–the Short North (be sure to go to a First Friday Gallery Hop). Aside from that, I could just name many of the great neighborhoods: German Village, Brewery District, Italian Village, Victorian Village, Arena District, Clintonville, and so on. What I love about Columbus is that it has great energy. It’s becoming very cosmopolitan and more walkable, but yet it maintains the charming character of its historic neighborhoods. Things to fix include the insane sprawl and mega arterials; the poor, dilapidated neighborhoods; the poor transit service, and a few other things. But it’s well on its way. Columbus Photos

5th Street in the Gaslamp Quarter - San Diego, CA

5th Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter - San Diego, CA

8. San Diego, CA – There are so many things to love about San Diego: the weather, the beaches, the high rise condos and apartments, the Gaslamp Quarter, beautiful Petco Park, Balboa Park, the Trolley, and many hip neighborhoods. So, why is it ranked this low? Because most of San Diego is a sprawling concrete wasteland with freeways running everywhere. In addition, the Trolley system I don’t feel is as good as everyone makes it out to be. And, it’s uber expensive. San Diego Photos

An artist paints the Dupont Circle Fountain - Washington DC

An artist paints the Dupont Circle Fountain - Washington DC

7. Washington, DC – Admittedly, Washington, DC is probably ranked too low on my list. But, really, the differences in my rankings of the remaining cities is very small, so it could easily climb to number one after my next visit. Obviously, there are many great things to see and do in DC. I spent a lot of time doing the tourist track and not getting to know the neighborhoods. However, I know it boasts one of the best transit systems in the country. It also has a great mix of really old, historical neighborhoods, and new, high-density, mixed-use developments. I also like the fact that it’s a little farther south than some of the other great US cities. I am dying to go back for a visit! Photo credit Shubert Ciencia

Sodo Neighborhood near Pioneer Square - Seattle, WA

Occidental Park - Seattle, WA

6. Seattle, WA – I think Seattle has the most beautiful natural setting of any city I’ve visited in the US. With the Puget Sound, natural lakes, evergreens, mountains, and Mount Rainier overshadowing the city, its location is breath taking. I also love many neighborhoods: Downtown, Pioneer Square, Sodo, Capitol Hill, the UW District, Belltown, Fremont, Ballard, and Green Lake are a few I visited and loved (among several others). The bike path system is spectacular (many thanks to my friend Pete Lagerway for that). And I’m incredibly jealous of their beautiful high rise condos and apartments, as well as the abundance of public art and parks. So, why would I rank Seattle at number 6? One obvious reason is the weather. The other bigger reason is that I felt Seattle was still too concrete for my taste. I think Seattle was quickly evolving before the economic meltdown, and I expect that it will continue afterward. It was really difficult to keep Seattle out of my top 5. Seattle Photos

I hope to not take such a long break between the next posting in this series, but my time to write will be extremely limited over the next few days. Here are links to the first two articles of this series:

My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: Intro and 20 through 16

My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: 15 through 11

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My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: 15 through 11

A view of Downtown Long Beach from Rainbow Harbor

A view of Downtown Long Beach from Rainbow Harbor

15. Long Beach, CA – I think Long Beach is still one of the well-kept secret gems of America. Sure, there are places around the city I would classify as ghetto sprawl, but, they are REALLY trying to make Long Beach into a hip and walkable city. The downtown has high rise condo and apartment towers, outdoor restaurants and cafes, a movie theater, hotels, a beautiful harbor, and even a bowling alley! It’s quite a nice place to visit… except for that horrible smog problem. On a personal side note, my photo of Long Beach was used in a CNBC article this week (also see page 7). Long Beach Photos

Fruitvalle Village at Fruitvale BART Station - Oakland, CA

Fruitvalle Village at Fruitvale BART Station - Oakland, CA

14. Oakland, CA – I get really tired of reading Oakland bashing on the Internets, especially when most people have never been there. The truth is, there are some fantastic neighborhoods in Oakland if you know where to look. The City is also doing a lot to encourage mixed-use development, especially near transit stations. Oakland has many diverse neighborhoods, some great food, and pretty good weather. Oakland would probably get a lot more *positive* attention if it did not have San Francisco to the west and Berkeley to the north. Oakland Photos

State Street in Winter - Madison, WI

State Street in Winter - Madison, WI

13. Madison, WI – I grew up just 2 hours from Madison, WI, and sadly did not see much of it until I was just about to move away from Illinois for the final time. What a beautiful downtown! I know that Madison has one of the best reputations for biking and walking of any city in the country. I can also say that the best beer I’ve ever had was from a microbrewery in downtown. The last time I was in Wisconsin, I briefly stopped in Madison and stumbled upon a fantastic Indian restaurant. If I get to spend more time in Madison in the future, I can see it easily creep up this list. At a minimum, I probably won’t go hungry or thirsty there! This photo (courtesy of Wade Johanson) is pretty much how I remember downtown: beautiful lights, a nice streetscape, and snow!

Sixth Street by Night - Austin, TX

Sixth Street by Night - Austin, TX

12. Austin, TX – I had really high expectations for my visit to Austin last year. And I learned one important thing… to add “for Texas” to the end of of the sentence “Austin is very walkable.” There are many great things about Austin: the nightlife, the high rise condos and apartments, bike paths, music, the funkiness of the city, etcetera. But, I still found it to be very car-centric and didn’t have the cozy feel that many East and West Coast cities have. I definitely think it’s worth visiting if you’re in Texas, because it’s the best city I’ve visited there. The flagship Whole Foods store alone is worth the visit–that place is amazing! Why does Austin top Madison on my list? Because of a) the weather; and b) I know it better. Austin Photos

A view of Waikiki from Diamondhead - Honolulu, HI

A view of Waikiki from Diamondhead - Honolulu, HI

11. Honolulu, HI – One of the most beautiful spots for a city I’ve ever been to… unfortunately the sprawl and auto-obsession sometimes distracts your attention away from the beauty a little too much. Nonetheless, there are walkable areas of the city. Especially the Waikiki area. Yes, it’s very touristy. But, they’ve done a great job making it more pedestrian-friendly. In addition, Honolulu does have a great bus system called… wait for it… The Bus! Don’t forget to stop by Leonard’s Bakery for some tasty malasadas. Honolulu Photos

My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: Intro and 20 through 16

My Top 20 Favorite Large US Cities: 10 through 6

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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

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I am excited to announced that it appears I have successfully moved Walkable Neighborhoods from Textpattern to WordPress! I am still tweaking the design, but you are welcome to check it out. There are, of course, a few glitches which will be painfully obvious. The biggest problem is that NONE of my images moved over. The problem was that I was using a special plugin in Textpattern that placed some code in my posts that WordPress cannot interpret. So, I am going to have to go back and redo all of those old posts. I needed to do this anyway.

I’ve been using WordPress on a few other sites (see fremontpark.net for one), and I decided that it’s just so much more user-friendly and seems to have a lot more momentum going for it. Textpattern seemed to be dying, and while I loved the customization capabilities, it was just too cumbersome and complicated for my needs. With WordPress, I can whip out new designs pretty easily… the code and the function is a little more separated for my tastes. There are a plethora of plugins to choose from that will also add some great functionality to the site once I implement them.

The main reason for the switch is the ability to post articles more easily. I found it pretty difficult and time consuming to post how I wanted to in Textpattern. So far with WordPress, it seems much better. I hope I’m right.

I’ve decided to hold off for now on the Top 20 Cities series for now. I couldn’t wait any longer to make the website changes.

And by the way, yes, we are back to the name Walkable Neighborhoods instead of neighborhoods.org.  Everyone still referred to this site as Walkable Neighborhoods anyway, and I think it is more effective in letting people know what we’re about. I am still working behind the scenes on some big projects and I’m hoping with this move, I will be able to intergrate things a little better.

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The video above is Lance Armstrong biking down N Street Through Midtown Sacramento. The video below is of Floyd Landis. You can hear the crowd yelling “Floyd! Floyd!” See more photos and video of the 2009 AMGEN Bike Tour.

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Fabian Cancellara wins the AMGEN Tour of California time trial

Cyclist during 2009 Amgen Tour of California Time Trial

Cyclist during 2009 Amgen California Time Trial

Fabian Cancellara won the Tour of California Sacramento time trial. (Note: this is not Cancellara pictured). He finished the 2.4 mile course with a time of 4 minutes, 32.90 seconds. Lance Armstrong finished with a time of 4:37.17. The rain held off for the entire race, with just a few sprinkles during Floyd Landis’s run. More news, photos, and videos to come…

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Videos and Photos from the 2009 AMGEN Time Trials in Sacramento

The time trials are underway as I type this. The crowds on the street are great! Here is a video and some of my first (not necessarily the best) early photos of the time trial. The rain is holding off… for now. Lance Armstrong still to come! Some drunk guy keeps yelling “Dig Deep” at every rider that passes by.

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Video of the Sacramento Community Bike Ride – AMGEN Tour 2009

Sorry for the quality, I had my dog on the leash. See more of my photos and videos of the 2009 AMGEN Tour.

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Sacramento Community Bike Ride – AMGEN Tour 2009

The Sacramento bicycling community came out in full force this morning for the 2009 AMGEN Tour of California Community Bike Ride. There was a solid stream of bicyclists along N Street for about 30 minutes. It was quite a site to see. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson was leading the pack, decked out in full cyclist gear.

Here are some highlight photos so far. More to come in this photo gallery.

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