I recently went to Miami for the first time. It was only my second time in a state I have tried arduously to avoid. A 2000 vacation to Spring Training when my high school buddy was with the Braves in Orlando had permanently and adversely affected my opinion of the state. This opinion that has only been emboldened in the recent decade by “Florida man” and other such anecdotal material. Enough people have opined breathlessly on how amazing and wonderful Miami is, so I obviously wasn’t expecting a clone of Orlando, but was nonetheless unimpressed.
A colleague, who makes no secret about Miami being one of his favorite cities – “I’ve been there 300 times!” – brought up the excellent observation that I neither spent the prerequisite $5000 for bottle service in South Beach nor spent the majority of my time on the beach. Fair enough. Regardless, The quote that sparked this email thread was, “Miami is not even in my top 15 American cities.” We toyed around with a little bit of discussion and then he said that that would be a perfect conversation to memorialize, so let’s get to it.
#1 – Los Angeles. Here is the latest paean to the city that I wrote for Quora a few months back: in short, I find it hard to believe that any city – at least that I’ve seen – has the breadth of activities, food, cultureS, quirks, people, ideas, space and creativity. Super glad that my birth lottery dictated I was born here, and no matter how fun a vacation may be, I am always excited to come back.
#2 – New York. Every time I go, the first three days are amazing and then I think about living there and become claustrophobic and suffocated. It’s amazing, and I truly believe the adage “if you make it there…” Absolutely wonderful city in every regard, but just “too much city” or my L.A. ass to challenge for the top spot.
#3 – Las Vegas. I mean, it’s the best of the best and the worst of the worst but all the rules are laid out carefully before you go. You know *exactly* what you’re getting into. However you pursue your day (and night) is up to you and therein lies the pleasure (or pain, if that’s your vice).
#4 – San Diego. I used to think the city was too casual, too said, to Republican, too white. Then I realize the diversity the city and the stupendous nature of the cuisine. It is also a city that I could very much see myself living in, and the proximity to Mexico is a huge plus for me/my family.
#5 – Seattle. Kind of a “home-field advantage” for me, if you will, as I was a resident from 2002-2003. The secluded nature of the city and the fact that it’s a city in the middle of a rain forest make it unique and extremely interesting. I also find it’s a city that revels in its overlooked nature and the arts and technology that come out of there are unparalleled for the city of that size. The food, specifically the seafood, is amazing – and the proximity to Canada is a plus in this case.
#6 – San Francisco. Although the rise of Silicon Valley (and Silicon Beach) has detracted from the level of tech innovation and overall excitement in the city, it is truly a World City of Renown, and frankly reminds me more of a European city than anywhere in the United States. The food is good, though not as great as it once was, and the weather, especially during the summer, is the pits. But I have fun there and I get genuinely excited when the work schedule brings me that direction.
#7 – Washington D.C. I initially thought I ranked the city too high but I’m sticking with it.The summers are ghastly with humidity, the winters are frigid with snow but around every corner, literally, is United States history in its most literal sense. There is also a different energy here than any other city I’ve visited, directly attributed to the cast of characters plugged in to the city’s main industry – politics. It has the best, most efficient mass transit for my money in the United States, good food and a fine collection of old-school bars give it some much-needed flavor. Strictly based on gravitas it also holds extra points in my mind.
#8 – New Orleans. For sheer fun, and I’m not talking about Bourbon Street, this city literally can’t be beat. Grown-up fun of all kinds or you don’t feel the need to be in your 20s to party balls off. The music scene is incredible, the selection and variety and uniqueness of its culinary scene is stupendous, and it’s deceptively walkable, even on the outskirts. That said, I wouldn’t want to spend more than five days here consecutively and don’t feel the need to go back every year.
#9 – Savannah. I kind of can’t believe how enchanting, mystical and whimsical this city is. The vision of southern hospitality is alive and well here. The people are probably the most generous and kind that I’ve met in the states. The food is great, everywhere you walk feels like a novel, and drinking is highly encouraged when it’s not Sunday. Really cool place that I’m willing to bet it’s similar to Charleston (where I have not been but is high on my list).
#10 – Austin. Kind of like New Orleans, but clean and with a different cuisine. Also literally too hot during the summer and I say this as somebody who spent my youth on the streets of the San Fernando Valley where 110° wasn’t abnormal. It just *really* feels like the sun is hotter during the summer there. That said, Congress and Sixth are two of the coolest, most fun boulevards I’ve experienced domestically where the music is awesome and the drinks are dirt cheap. I’m not a huge fan of TexMex so it gets derogatory points for it’s overrated food scene, but the outstanding barbecue is worth having time and time again. Some funky, great hotels and I’m always a fan of universities so to have UT in the middle of the city is a huge plus.
Atlanta – Cool, fun, probably didn’t see enough Flavor to give it a real ranking.
Philadelphia – Believe it or not, just misses this list. Amazing and underrated food scene, tough but approachable people, really cool history.
Hawaii – I mean if I can include the whole state this definitely makes the list. Top five, in fact.
Palm Springs – Really, really fun if you’re in the right places. And great for a romantic getaway.
Portland – I know it’s supposed to be hipster central so if I love Seattle and Austin why doesn’t Portland get much love? Basically because I feel that it’s trying a little too hard even though it really is a great city. It’s also smaller than I would have imagined for it outsized reputation.
Denver – I went during the Spring and I loved it but I have a feeling that it would’ve been better if I was there during winter. Didn’t amaze me but it was definitely a cool city.
Miami – see intro.
Chapel Hill – The University of North Carolina campus alone is worth a mention.
Charlotte, St. Louis, but both pale in comparison of “worst”ness to Orlando.
Charleston, Dallas, Boston, Detroit, Phoenix, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Providence, Minneapolis, Nashville, Madison