Top 10 Best American Downtowns

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As a country, the United States is probably better characterized by suburbia than by urbanity, by sprawling office parks rather than by dense commercial districts. Nevertheless, the concept of a “downtown”, or a centralized and distinct commercial district, first came into use in America, as cities developed along lines that created stark divisions between the 19th century urban core and the newer, less dense, residential neighborhoods of the 20th century.

The United States boasts countless defined city centers; some of which are small and derelict, while others are among the most impressive in the world. To further examine those commercial cores that tend towards the latter, here is a list of the top ten American downtowns. This list is based on size, vibrancy, architecture, businesses, and general aesthetics. While many smaller cities may boast impressive downtowns, this ranking focuses only on major metropolitan areas.

10. Milwaukee

milwaukee-downtown

Milwaukee likely has the smallest urban core on this list, a fact that certainly hurts the city’s ranking. But this lack of size is also a definite asset: the downtown area boasts upscale river walks, one of the country’s most vibrant loft districts, an impressive collection of museums and academic institutions (try the Pabst Theater if you enjoy absorbing plays while supporting one of America’s most popular home-grown brews), and, of course, easy access to the Lake Michigan beach. Furthermore, Milwaukee’s downtown is clean and easy to naviagte, with a lake-and-river setting that makes it seem like a more relaxed version of Chicago’s central core.

9. Detroit

It’s no secret that the city of Detroit has fallen on tough times. Its downtown core has fared much better than the surrounding neighborhoods, but still has its share of vacant buildings and a frequent dearth of foot traffic. Nonetheless, Detroit’s downtown is one of the most architecturally impressive in the country, largely because the city began to decline before others began urban renewal efforts.  These efforts would ultimately scar the cores of those cities. Detroit’s downtown, then, is a remarkable architectural testament to pre-World War II styles of construction. It also remains a center of employment in the greater metro areas, and it has revitalized in recent years with the addition of restaurants and sports facilities.  And you can’t forget the legendary automobile manufacturing meccas of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, the original symbols of 20th century American innovation.

8. Seattle

One of the country’s cleaner and more picturesque downtowns, central Seattle sits upon rolling hills and is in close proximity to excellent water views. Although the downtown may not be as large as that of an East Coast city, it offers an appealing mix of old and new and is the undisputed capital of the Pacific Northwest. Check out the Space Needle, Parsons Gardens, Pier 59, and the Salmon Bay Bridge for landmarks.

7. Boston

Since World War II, Boston’s downtown has suffered from the effects of highway construction and urban renewal.  But the Big Dig has removed the old highway and the area is booming now, with one of the best – and certainly one of the most interesting – downtowns in the country. In downtown Boston, you can visit Revolutionary-era historical sites and navigate narrow, twisting roads. You can visit some of the most appealing public squares and parks in the country. And the geographically small downtown core is packed with businesses in both the private and public sector. It’s no wonder Boston is often called the “hub of the world”. The proximity to the Charles River and some of the nation’s nicest neighborhoods is an added plus.

6. Miami

Downtown Miami has boomed in recent decades, as shiny new condominium towers have completely revamped the city’s skyline. These glass structures, interspersed with palm trees and newly opened restaurants, help characterize a downtown area that is increasingly vibrant and impressive.  Especially impressive are the beachside locations and the ethnic diversity that makes downtown Miami seem like a uniquely modern, global destination. There are still some classic historical landmarks for visitors to enjoy, including the Freedom Tower, the Ferdinand Magellan railcar, and the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

5. Philadelphia

Philadelphia boasts one of the United States’ oldest, largest, and more vibrant downtowns. This means that the area has much to offer. It is home to large corporations and convention centers, numerous cultural institutions, highly acclaimed restaurants, and historical sites from the Revolutionary era. All this gives downtown Philly an architectural identity that spans a wide range of years and styles. The city core also has residential neighborhoods interspersed with commercial ones, the combined effect of which gives the place a vibrancy and local color that most downtowns do not share.

4. San Francisco

San Francisco’s position on the list is due largely to two strong factors: size and geographic setting. On the size front, San Francisco boasts one of the largest downtowns when it comes to skyscraper proliferation, building heights, amount of office space, and geographic size. For its estimated GDP and number of large corporations that call it home, downtown San Francisco is certainly one of the foremost global financial centers. This size translates into a colorful street vibrancy that few cities share.  In addition, the area is geographically situated on steep hills right alongside the San Francisco Bay, thereby creating a unique and beautiful urban environment.

3. Chicago

Known as the Loop, downtown Chicago more than lives up to the Second City’s reputation. By most measures it is the second-largest downtown in the country, after New York. Situated along both the Chicago River and the Lake Michigan shoreline, the Loop is home to the country’s second-largest financial district, its tallest skyscraper (second tallest after the Freedom Tower in New York is complete), and a distinctive history of innovation and architectural influence. But the Loop does not come second to New York in cleanliness and natural surroundings. On that second point, it sits right next to Grant Park and the lakefront, along with Navy Pier, Oak Street Beach, and several of the world’s premier museums.

2. Washington DC

Due to its lack of skyscrapers, few people consider central Washington when they envision America’s best downtowns. But height isn’t everything, and D.C. more than makes up for it by having a downtown that is both vibrant and clean.  Many of the United States’ most important buildings are contained within its limits, including the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial. Downtown Washington has office space that rivals New York and Chicago, along with a spill-over residential vibrancy that is perhaps only equaled by Philadelphia.  In addition, it has the National Mall and the Potomac in its front yard, and it is largely bereft of the highways that slice apart all too many downtowns.

1. New York City

New York City is America’s premier urban destination, and it’s quite easy to see why. In fact, the city has two main business districts, and each would surpass every American downtown on its own (besides the Chicago Loop). Despite its name, Midtown Manhattan currently stands as the city’s urban core and main commercial center. Midtown can get dirty and crowded, but it otherwise offers anything that one could expect of a downtown. It houses numerous international corporations, a vibrant theater district, one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations, and no shortage of dining options. Furthermore, it sits mere blocks away from the United Nations and from Central Park, the latter of which can compete with parks in Paris and London for its design and appeal.

post by Amanda Green


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116 Comments

      • nancy McLernon on

        Detroit, is the heart and soul of the civil rights movement,Motown voices and friendships living on the same streets.The strong proud auto workers. The magnificent Detroit Institute Of Art, the historic homes and buildings, Belle Isle and Canada a bridge away. Best of all the diversity of the city and the optimism fueling it’s repair after years of opporrtunism ,theft, unethical activity in city government. People in the city and outlying areas are sick of the thug like mentality and lies from city aristocrats, and are coming together to help repair what the millions of dollars looted from the city could have repaired and taken care of years ago.

        • TellItLikeItIs on

          Detroit is a ****hole, and everyone knows that. If it’s still in a state of recovery and repair, why should it be #1? You yourself state the prevalence of the “thug” mentality and millions of dollars looted from the city … ask anyone from Europe whether they’d rather visit New York City or … Detroit. If they’ve even heard of it. And no, I don’t live there, I live closer to Los Angeles.

        • Apparently it’s also easy to kick someone when they’re down.

          Don’t underestimate Detroit. I’m from Milwaukee. We were given up for dead too, about twenty years ago. The Midwest is still alive, and thriving, actually.

        • The Midwest is thriving. Detroit is floundering and has been for a long time. The trend for that city doesn’t show anything but continued decline. It’s going to take a major shift in leadership in the political and business community for Detroit to get anywhere near where it once was.

        • 313 respresenter on

          Detroit is making a comeback… hey If you never been there or son’t know whats really going on in Detroit.

        • I totally agree with 313, and disagree with 5minutes. Our organization is involved in a lot of the great things going on Detroit and has helped win grants for future projects as well. We recently took a tour of downtown Detroit with D-Hive and were impressed at the new projects and interest. If you want to read a great analysis of the problems Detroit has faced, here’s a great article:

          http://www.freep.com/interactive/article/20130915/NEWS01/130801004/Detroit-Bankruptcy-history-1950-debt-pension-revenue

  1. I understand the historical significance of D.C., but it should not be ahead of Chicago on this list. In fact, I don’t even think I would have placed it on this list; it’s ‘downtown’ area is not like any other on the list.

    #1 NYC – beats Chicago by sheer size.
    #2 Chicago – beautiful skyline, lives up to its motto “Urbs in Horto” (City in a Garden) with all the green space, the lake and the river juxtaposed with that skyline.
    #3 Seattle – again, beautiful skyline, this time juxtaposed with the mountain backdrop.

    • I grew up in Detroit. Made numerous weekend trips to Chicago, and now currently live in DC. NYC is definitely no. 1. You could make a case for either Chicago or DC being 2 and 3, respectively, but D.Cs. downtown wins. The restaurants and nightlife rival Chicago’s scene, but it’s the number of overall activities, free museums, etc. that tip the scale in DCs favor.

      • I would agree that DC should be somewhat ahead of Chicago. One could also make a case for SF at #2 or #3.

        The only ranking that cannot be debated is NYC at #1.

    • You sound like you’re pretty biased towards Chicago.. I like Chicago plenty but I think it’s actually a little too high on this list. Downtown San Francisco is far more interesting than Chicago.. the same holds true for Boston. I would put Chicago at 5.

      • You, like all of us, are entitled to your opinion, and entitled to tell us what that is.

        Having said that, I think that other than NYC, there is no city in the United States with the cultural pedigree that Chicago has. If you don’t know, look at this:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_museums_and_cultural_institutions_in_Chicago

        I’ve lived in Chicagoland (as we call it) for 26 years and still haven’t exhausted all that the city has to offer.

        Why do we Chicagoans chirp so loudly? Because we have something to chirp about.

        • I would argue that Chicagoans “chirp so loudly” because they have something of an inferiority complex, and feel a bit neglected in the Midwest. Chicago isn’t in a very desirable location, and this hurts its relative status. People want to live in NYC or California, not between Gary and Peoria.

          IMO, Chicago is Top 5, but no higher. NYC absolutely destroys Chicago, and SF, Boston, and DC top Chicago.

        • Dude, you’re from Denver. SMH. You shouldn’t even be allowed to comment. NYC should be number 1. But Chicago is clearly a close 2nd. Followed by Beantown and Philly. Each of the cities are soooo much better than Denver.

        • Northside Neuman on

          I think someone dropped you on your head Denverboy…

          Chicago isn’t in a desirable location?

          You mean on the shores of one of the largest fresh water lakes in the World. That has the largest municipal harbor systems in the United States allowing for boat moorings for over 6,000 recreational sailing & motor slips. A geographical location that connects the two most important waterways in the U.S. the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Mississippi River. Not to mention Chicago is the transportation nexis of the Western Hemisphere. Every major road, railway, airplane, pipeline and freight carrying cargo ship passes through Chicago moving East to West or North to South from the coasts or from the Gulf up to Canada. Chicago is also the nexis for the United States fiber optic data systems, which is why the region is the fastest growing market for data storage facilities in the country.

          Only New York and Chicago compete in regards to architecture and as financial centers. Only the Smithsonian Campus in Washington D.C. can best the size of Chicago’s cultural collections on display along Grant Park and the Museum Campus.

          Chicago’s Central Business District added over 50,000 residents over the past decade, not even Manhatten can make that claim….

        • Northside Newman, your Chicago bias is showing.

          The Rustbelt is NOT a desirable area. Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit and others are also on Great Lakes or their tributaries, yet no one would claim that Cleveland was super desirable relative to, say, NYC or SF just because it’s on Lake Erie.

          Chicago has very low home prices, very low home price appreciation over time, and very high vacancies.

          Chicago has the second worst unemployment rate in the nation, and the second worst population loss in the nation, after Detroit. Chicago has a very weak economy and poor fundamentals.

          I have no idea what you’re talking about re. population gains. First, it’s irrelevant to relative desirability (places like Wyoming and North Dakota have extremely high proportional population gains relative to, say, California, yet no one would claim WY is more desirable than CA), and second, you’re wrong re. stats. Manhattan gained over 100,000 in the last decade, Chicago lost over 200,000 in the last decade. Not sure how loss of 200,000 is greater than gain of 100,000.

          Chicago also is in no way comparable to NYC in terms of finance, architecture or museums. They’re on two totally different levels. Chicago is not a financial power outside of derivatives, and has no globally recognized museums like Met, MOMA or Smithsonian.

          Chicago does have a great skyline though, and an attractive downtown. It’s clearly the #2 skyline in the U.S., with #3 nowhere close to Chicago. It probably has the #2 downtown in the U.S., though DC and SF are in the same general weight class.

      • I disagree. As an urban planner, I have WAY more fun following Chicago’s development than I ever will following San Francisco’s. They’re different creatures, with totally different strengths and weaknesses. Chicago has several problems, no doubt. But San Francisco has huge problems which are routinely soft-pedaled by the coast-heavy media.

        Homelessness, absurd disparities in wealth, rents and property values that are insanely high, earthquakes, etc.

        And Chicago has severe racial and ethnic discrimination, an incomplete transit system (though maturing far more quickly than SF’s, a ridiculous homicide rate, a dirty political environment, etc).

        It’s like comparing paintings. Both cities are world capitals, in their own rights. Chicago is the capital of the American Midwest, and of the Great Lakes. San Francisco is a Pacific Gem.

  2. OK, I’m exposing myself as a proud Chicago-area resident here, but this website: http://www.diserio.com/top15-skylines.html has Chicago as #2 in the world behind only Hong Kong.

    Not saying that list is better than this one, but it is definitely larger and uses a more defined methodology, which it explains. It’s interesting to read if you liked this list.

    • Honestly, the ranking you posted is silly. Skylines have nothing to do with the quality of a downtown. Paris has no skyline, but arguably the most beautiful core on earth.

    • Why is it that people from Chicago always have delusions of grandeur about their city. While it’s a very nice city in many aspects, there are far more interesting cities in America– namely NYC, San Francisco and Boston, to name a few. Chicago is definitely in the top 5 in America but if you are talking about the global level.. sorry.. Chicago is not even in the top 10 and probably not in the top 20 most beautiful cities in the world.

  3. I think I agree with the list, with the exception of Detroit and Milwaukee, and I grew up in Detroit until moving to DC four years ago. Metro Detroit’s urban sprawl and the lack of any legitimate public transportation system downtown (the people mover doesn’t count) is the very reason as to why the downtown is NOT the center of employment in the greater metro area. Also, “you can’t forget the legendary automobile manufacturing meccas of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, the original symbols of 20th century American innovation,” <—— Neither Ford nor Chrysler are even located in downtown Detroit. Ford is located Dearborn and Chrysler-Fiat is located in Auburn Hills.

    You could easily replace either Detroit or Milwaukee with either Dallas or San Antonio. Actually, you could probably replace both Detroit and Milwaukee with Dallas and San Antonio.

    • The list is correct, at least w/regard to Milwaukee, a surprising array of architecture, museums, and very pedestrian friendly. Dallas & San An (w/exception of River Walk) big, sterile towers connecting nothing, but corporations.

    • Sorry MDP, but I have to disagree with your comment about Dallas & San Antonio replacing Milwaukee. I lived in Downtown Milwaukee for 15+ years, moved to San Francisco 3 years ago and now reside just blocks away from the San Antonio River Walk. Although San Antonio has wonderful people and a rich culture, it does not have a vibrant livable downtown for locals, and I’m afraid that the Texas sprawl mentality will keep it from becoming the local gem that it should be. Milwaukee has many residential options along with services that are essential for daily living, such as two grocery stores. (San Antonio cannot support even one grocery story in its downtown). You will also find all kinds of successful neighborhoods that surround Milwaukee’s downtown area, and every one of them has services and businesses that make them unique. Now, if only the Wisconsin weather would improve……

      • San Antonio has more residents downtown than Milwaukee, plus the Riverwalk has been expanded and developed with the new museum reach. The residents you are talking about for Milwaukee are not in the downtown core of millwaukee but outside the downtown area. San Antonio has hundreds of restaurants, clubs, galleries, and is much more lively than Milwaukee. SA has many new areas that are being redeveloped hemisfair park, the Pearl district, new electric street cars. San Antonio does has several grocery stores in the downtown area, they are small scale but they are scattered around downtown and have delivery service. The city also has a large bike share program with 20 downtown stations. Milwaukee does not. San Antonio, Austin, Portland, New Orleans, San Diego, Baltimore should be listed above Millwaukee.

        • Mike,

          We could go round and round on this issue as to what constitutes downtown areas of Milwaukee and San Antonio. As a matter of reference, I am using zip code 53202 for Milwaukee and zip code 78205 as the main downtown area for San Antonio. If you go to City-data.com and plug in the above two zip codes the stats will show that there are many more housing units in downtown Milwaukee.

          We all have our personal opinions on what we value in a downtown area and what makes a livable city and I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree!

        • San Antonio’s downtown covers several zip codes. San Antonio has a lot of historical conversions rather than all new construction. It does have many new construction projects underway though.

        • “San Antonio has more residents downtown than Milwaukee”

          List your sources. I think you are wrong on this one. Downtown Milwaukee is one of the more densely populated downtowns among similarly sized cities. Thousands upon thousands of condos and apartments have been added downtown and near downtown Milwaukee over the last 15 years alone. I know this is not a trend unique to Milwaukee, however it is a trend that continued far longer than in other cities across America. Nothing in Texas belongs on this list except for maybe Austin. Dallas and Houston are horrendous sprawling nightmares with no character whatsoever.

    • Actually Detroit is the center for employment in this area. Outside of the Big Three downtown Detroit host a sizable number fortune 500 companies. Finance is big industry in Detroit for instance and downtown Detroit has Ernst & Young, Deloitte etc. Also many people in the Metro area work for the city or wayne county, which is also downtown. And within the past couple of years with more and more companies relocating downtown from the burbs, Detroit is still the center of employement for the Metro area

    • Detroit is on there for the gorgeous buildings. It’s up there with South Beach when it comes to beautiful Art Deco architecture. Next time you’re in the D try actually looking, You will see beautiful details in stonework and tiles along with vaulted ceilings.

  4. I can’t believe Detroit was even listed. I live & work here. The crime is unbelievable. I wouldn’t walk anywhere alone & I know the city. There is no shopping or public transportation. Terrible place for visitors. I have actually never met one person that has just “come to Detroit for the weekend” like the other cities. People only come to Detroit for a reason that makes them come- usually work related & then they go to the suburbs anyways!

    • I live in the historical downtown district of Detroit. Read what they said it was ranked based on archictectual significance. You dont appreciate fine architecture then thats you. But there are those that appreciate great architecture abbuted next to the Detroit River. So many things to do here too!
      By the way I have been all over the world and I have never been in a major city without crime. So dont exaggerate.

    • where do you work? I willing to bet its not really in Detroit. You’re probably one of those suburbanites that don’t cross 8 Mile. While yes there are no chain stores, there is shopping in dowotown. Do you research as well, dowtown crime is comparable to any other city. Terrible place for visitors? please fill in those who come from all over the world for the many festivals that downtown Detroit hosts. DEMF, International Auto Show, Jazz Festival, The Hoedown etc are just a few that millions of people go to every year. Matter of fact DEMF is the biggest techno/house festival. And also don’t forget that Comerica, Joe Louis and Ford Field are downtown, many restaurants and bars, great theatres, the riverwalk etc.

      • THANK YOU. Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Historical Museum, Science Center, Wayne State facilities (granted these are technically Midtown), don’t forget Eastern Market too! Dequindre cut!

  5. The ONLY way you can comment on this list is if you have been to these cities- and if you have, then make your own list. No need to bash Detroit because it is easy to do. Yes, Detroit has some issues, but if you spend time there (as I often do) you will realize what it has to offer. Detroit isn’t just coming back it IS back, and getting better each day. Look for Detroit to move up this list each year.

    • No, not quite. Downtown Detroit itself is definately better than it used to be, but the rest of the city itself is a lifeftime away from being resurrected. My gosh, 40% of the city is abandoned or burned out.That is a fact. Doesnt sound like its ‘back’ to me in the least. Besides, people dont move into a city because it allegedly has a good downtown. Its the rest of the city that matters, and thats where Detroit fails miserably.

      • downtown chatt resident on

        Some people do locate to a city for its good downtown. If one lives, works, and has all daily needs downtown, there is no reason to leave.

  6. As a college student, I am there AT LEAST weekly. So many things to do. Yes, crime is outrageous in other parts of Detroit. We’re discussing Downtown!

  7. Wow, I can’t believe downtown San Diego did not make this list because it certainly has a lot going for it. First off, San Diego’s downtown core is very walkable, but it also has good mass transit, serviced by bus, trolley and trains. Plenty of dining/entertainment options in the Gaslamp District and Little Italy. Shopping in and around Horton Plaza. Housing ranges from low rise apartment buildings to townhouses to lofts to high rises with spectacular views of San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The vast majority of downtown SD is very clean and safe. Balboa Park (1400 acres) is one largest and most beautiful urban parks in the country. The Padres play downtown at Petco Park. The Convention Center hosts Comic-Con and many other huge conventions. Coronado Island and a huge beach beach is a 15 minute drive or ferry ride away. Oh yeah, the weather, 60’s and 70’s year around with plenty of sun.

    I’ve visited many of the cities on this list and I’ve lived in both Manhattan and Boston. I love both of those cities, but I can’t say I prefer either one over San Diego as a place to live full-time.

    • I agree with you George. I visited San Diego for a week 2 years ago and fell in love with the city. I wouldn’t be surprised if my final destination was San Diego, and I’m an East Coast guy.

  8. I have explored eight of the ten cities listed–all but Philly and Seattle. I would say this list is remarkably on target and well done. It is nice to see the inclusion of my hometown of Milwaukee which is an unsung gem undiscovered by most. It is much like Chicago on a more manageable scale with many buildings of architectural significance–both historic and new. The lakefront and riverwalk are embraced unlike some cities which turn their backs on the water–Toronto immediately comes to mind. Even Chicago’s lakefront is tragically detached from the city by a freeway with a water view. Milwaukee’s former mayor John Norquist was a particularly fine steward of all that is good about urban life. He now heads the Congress for New Urbanism based 90 miles south in Chicago.

  9. I have been to several of these cities and agree with their inclusion. I live in metro Detroit and love going into the city. I have never felt like anything bad would happen to me there and have found that most people want to say “hi” and are very friendly. The architecture is amazing, too. I recently wandered into The Penobscot building and The Guardian and both are gorgeous. Talk about stepping back in time! I could go downtown every day for a month and find some old, magnificant building to tour.

    Also, Detroit boasts the 2nd largest theater district in the nation (New York is first). The Detroit Tigers, Detroit Lions and Detroit Red Wings all play downtown. There are many great museums, a great symphony…. the list goes on.

      • Sorry, I didn’t realize you were the authority on this. I do apologize. And, excuse me for being passionate about the area I live. My guess is if we could actually see you, you would have a hard time giving your opinion because people who are so negatively opinionated and have enough time to make so many negative comments are usually cowards. I’m actually from Ann Arbor, which isn’t considered part of metro Detroit, so, I think my opinion does count.

        My guess is the city located near you isn’t on the list, thus the bitterness.

      • Hey Tony,

        I lived, went to school, and worked down town Detroit, now live in Denver. And you know something? I would go back in a heartbeat.

        I have been to Philly, Chi-town, NYC, and Boston…I can tell you that nothing beats the Detroit area.

        The only reason I even moved away from my precious city, and it is my precious city is the fact that my wife lived out in Denver.

        Yes I would totally put Detroit on this list. It still is a great city, and always will be a great city and beats any city out there.

        Besides, I gotta say, I still like the fact that I can tell jobbers like yourself that I am from Detroit and you cringe in fear. There’s no city in the world that can give that feeling to others outside of it, and still be awesome.

    • That Detroit statistic is not backed up by any thing tangible except an article on the pro-Detroit website, experiencedetroit.com. I was an actress in NYC and Chi and grew up in on the North Shore of Milwaukee, and have lived in Minneapolis for years. Wikipedia states, “The region is second only to New York City in live theater per capita and is the third-largest theater market in the U.S. after New York City and Chicago…” When I lived in Chi, I heard the same thing about Minneapolis, but never about Detroit, and I was there often because a friend worked at the Free Press.

      My oldest son and I were in MKE last year and it was super safe to walk alone after dark, on the NE side of downtown. Having been to DTW in the past six months, I wouldn’t be caught dead without a knife-carrying muscle-bound man with me after dark on the streets of Downtown DTW, and since the husband doesn’t carry a knife…

  10. Good list. I’ve been to every city on this list a few times…….there really are only a few other cities that arguably can make this list. The US, outside of the older parts of the country, primarily the East Coast and Midwest, doesn’t have many great down towns.

    Other cities San Diego, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Providence, Portland and maybe in a decade, Salt Lake City. That’s about it.

  11. Detroit in the top Ten? ARE you kidding me? It has improved over the years but a top 10 ranking is ridiculous. Evidently these people have not been to Detroit. I have a very hard time believing downtown Detroit is better than really good downtowns like Minneapolis, Atlanta, Indy, Cleveland, Houston or the Vegas Strip. Nonsense!!!!

  12. This list is silly. A metro area’s quality of life is not defined by the overall size, cleanliness or liveliness of the downtown core. Just look at Portland, OR and Salt Lake–small downtowns but high quality of life. And there are many other examples.

    • This list doesn’t attempt to say anything about the quality of the metro areas. This is a top 10 list of American DOWNTOWNS. I would agree that the list would have to be quite different if you were ranking by quality of life for the metropolitan area. If you want a list about quality of life in American metropolitan areas, there are about a million more relevant lists you could be commenting on.

      If you read the paragraph at the beginning, you’ll notice that these are the only aspects the author was considering when she made this list: “This list is based on size, vibrancy, architecture, businesses, and general aesthetics.”

      She also acknowledges that some smaller cities might have better downtown areas than some of the cities on the list, but I guess you have to draw a line somewhere of what constitutes a major metropolitan area: “While many smaller cities may boast impressive downtowns, this ranking focuses only on major metropolitan areas.” Remember, she’s still only talking about the DOWNTOWN areas.

  13. I cant believe Indianapolis didnt make the list, especially when Detroit did! WTF? Indy’s downtown is very active almost every day and has seen a total turrnaround from the 1980s. There is always something going on, especially on Sat nights. The Super Bowl in Feb is just one of them. Indy has a clean and safe downtown. Museums within a short distance, the Canal Walk, Circle Center, hotels, the Colts, Pacers, Indians, lots of green space and part of the Monon Trail. Indy is often under-rated.

    • DT Indianapolis is good, I’d say its better than Milwaukee to be honest. Still, I wouldn’t consider either to be one of the 10 best downtowns. It’s definitely in the top 20 though.

  14. The people writing this article/survey did not do their research on Detroit and have evidently not been there. With the exception of GM (Renaissance Center), the other of the Big Three are in the suburbs outside the city and have done NOTHING for downtown Detroit. Ford is in Dearborn and Chrysler-Fiat is in Auburn Hills.

    Ive been all over the country and have my own list (no particular order):

    New York
    Chicago
    Washington DC
    Philadelphia
    Seattle
    San Francisco
    Houston
    Atlanta
    Cleveland
    Minneapolis

    • Houston?! Houston has a nice big skyline, but that is it. It’s nothing but office buildings and parking lots in its downtown. Very few restaurants, very little shopping, very few residents, very little nightlife, very few cultural institutions…downtown Houston is basically a glorified office park. Houston is a good city overall, but downtown is its weakest point. I don’t think I’d put DT Houston on a list of 25 best downtowns to be honest.

  15. Where’s Downtown San Jose? Have you been to Downtown San Jose? If you have, what’s wrong with it? It has everything a downtown should have. I’ve been to most downtowns, and they’re grittier, ditier, less safe and not as dyanamic as San Jose’s

    • I don’t recall anyone saying there is anything wrong with DT San Jose, but you honestly think it is one of the 10 best downtowns in the country? Its certainly fine and has all of the essentials, but what makes it of the 10 best?

      • I’ve been to Minneapolis and Detroit, and Downtown San Jose is certainly better than those downtowns. I even think Downtown San Jose is better than Portland’s and Washington’s, too. Haven’t you been to Downtown San Jose?

  16. Overall a decent list, but I’d make a few changes. I wouldn’t put Downtown DC so high. DC has a lot of great neighborhoods outside of Downtown, but the Downtown itself is just office/government buildings one after another and museums. There isn’t a large variety, and hardly anyone lives in Downtown DC. I spent a few years there, so I know it well. DC is working hard to expand and further develop its downtown though, but for now, I don’t think I’d place it above Chicago, SF, Philly, or Boston. I think it will outdo them one day though due it’s tremendous growth and wealth. Milwaukee is fine and is getting better, but it’s certainly not top 10. Same with Miami. Miami is a great city, but it’s downtown isn’t great. Miami Beach is great though, but it’s not downtown.

    My Top 10:

    1. New York
    2. Chicago
    3. San Francisco
    4. Philadelphia
    5. Boston
    6. Washington
    7. Seattle
    8. Portland
    9. Minneapolis
    10. Detroit

    • Taylor Blackwell on

      You obviously haven’t been to DC in a while. I am a native, having recently moved back after 11 years away and I was astonished. DC’s downtown is full of new restaurants, shopping, theater, clubs, bars and plenty of condos. when I grew up here, the sidewalks rolled up at 5 when the government workers left to go home. Now, when the government offices close, there are plenty of folks here, taking in a game at Verizon Center, seeing a show at the Shakespeare Theater, having dinner/drinks at any one of a number of places here. You should come back and visit…I think you would be surprised. There are plenty of people that live and work in downtown DC. It really does deserve a place on this list.

    • TexasBoy: Chicago is way too high on your list. San Fran and Boston are both nicer downtowns. I agree with the addition of Portland but not Minneapolis. Why did you include Detroit but take off Milwaukee? Milwaukee’s downtown far exceeds that of Detroit but I wouldn’t put it higher than 8 on the list.

  17. Surprised to see Milwaukee on the list. Mostly cause it’s often over looked because of proximity of Chicago. I agree we do have a good downtown and depending on where your at it’s pretty foot accessible. If we get the transit system in better shape I would be even more pleased.

  18. I agree with the Pittsburgh Fail comment, the author of this list has obviously never been to Pittsburgh. There is honestly no other skyline and downtown area like it on the face of the planet, absolute and total failure. Detroit? Cut it out.

    • I agree. Pittsburgh definitely belongs on this list. Detroit has no business on this list and its very inclusion calls the author’s credibility into question.

  19. I’ve been to every city on this list with the exception of Milwakee. Washington DC’s downtown is clean and fairly vibrant, but nowhere near that of Chicago or San Francisco. NYC has the most impressive, vibrant and crowded downtown, but San Francisco should be a close second. Downtown San Francisco is the 2nd most densely populated and has more going on then Chicago’s- though smaller in terms of area.

    1. New York City
    2. San Francisco
    3. Chicago
    4. Boston
    5. Philadelphia
    6. Honolulu
    7. San Diego
    8. Houston
    9. Miami
    10. Dallas

  20. What is this fascination with DC being ranked as in the top 5 on this site. DC is the nation’s capitol but the downtown can not compare to San Francisco, Chicago, or Philadelphia. Philadelphia is the 3rd most populous downtown in the United States. I live in Philadelphia’s Center City which can boast to having the 3rd most populous downtown area with over 58,000 people who live in it. The city’s CBD employs about 220, 000 people and it’s downtown feels like a downtown with a vibrancy of people.

    1. New York City
    2. Chicago
    3. San Francisco
    4. Philadelphia
    5. DC
    6. Boston
    7. Seattle
    8. Houston
    9. Miami
    10. Dallas

  21. Detroit kills any city in any sporting event Still ! indianapolis is a suburn cause there was nothing there ever besides a waste of a super bowl which wasnt considered a “super” bowl based on it ratings

  22. Chicago has an inferior complex? The city that invented the skyscraper is second to none. You ignorant peeps just accept that Chicago is one of the most beautiful cities in the USA and the world. If you don’t agree, you’ve obviously never been to the city. Deal with it people that NYC and Chicago are miles ahead of any downtowns in the USA. Sf is a distant third IMHO 🙂

  23. I totally agree that Denver isn’t that great, and I never said it was. But Chicago (IMO) is in no way comparable to NYC. That’s like comparing Kansas City to Chicago or something. NYC absolutely kills Chicago.

  24. Detroit’s downtown has fares better than the rest of the city? That is downtown is like a ghost town. There is empty store fronts every where down there. I’m from Colorado and the fact that you put Detroit in this list and not Denver debases all your credibility.

  25. I’m from Miami, Miami’s downtown is pretty irrelevant, nothing much goes on there except work, and nighttime is pretty depressing.

    • I agree. Putting Miami on the list made the other choices suspect. I worked in downtown Miami for several years—boring, dirty and dangerous.

  26. I was just in Kansas City, while it’s not top 10 worthy, it is definitely bigger and more impressive than I thought it would be.

  27. Washington, DC does not belong ahead of Chicago in this ranking. Credibility is lost with that one. But at least everyone seems to be in agreement that Los Angeles belongs nowhere on this list and, although in the same status as NYC and Chicago on many levels, L.A. downtown is not comparable to them. However, it must be said: if Detroit and Milwaukee made the list, well then, isn’t L.A.’s downtown as good as those?

    • I’d argue it’s much harder to define the “downtown” area of L.A. than most of the other cities on this list. L.A. just keeps going and going and going, and while it has a lot of nice stuff, it’s all very spread out and you could easily lump attractions 45 minutes away from each other into some definitions of “downtown.” L.A. doesn’t have so much of a core, it’s more of a sprawling mass of activity, the heart of which is difficult to pinpoint. Detroit and Milwaukee both have very clearly defined downtown areas, and while maybe (probably) the Los Angeles metro area is better than Detroit’s or Milwaukee’s, its downtown is definitely not as cohesive or vibrant.

      • What?! Perhaps you have never been to Los Angeles. It does have a well defined downtown. Of course Los Angeles is polycentric, but it does have a defined downtown. And to not put it on this list might be a bit shortsighted. Although not the best measurement, didn’t you see GQ’s recent article on it?

  28. Really thrilled to see Detroit mentioned!! Recently traveled there (and I live in New York), and was thoroughly impressed.

  29. DETROIT? I have been to downtown Detroit. It is certainly making a comeback. Campus Martius in the middle of it is very nice with lots of programs. But Outside of that it’s D.E.A.D. dead after 5pm. Yes there are some stadiums and attractions, but when you compare the lack of street life to, say, New Orleans, or Portland, or Pittsburgh, or Minneapolis…the inclusion of Detroit is a giant gaping hole in this list’s credibility. Maybe it deserved a #11 “special mention” spot for being the Most Improved? Sure. But #9 for the whole country? What a joke! I’m laughing my ass off.

  30. look,, look at the stats,,nyc by far ,the largest downtown,,and most dence,,largest city in the us and Canada,,,alot more buildings than Chicago,toronto,,la,,etc,,,largest metro,,,city alone,,8.4 million,,HELLO,,,,thats more people than la,,Chicago combined,,lol…about 3 times the population of canadas biggest city Toronto,,lets get real,,, its called mid town nyc…undisputed,,the biggest,,and the biggest skyline in north America,period,,,its massive,,nyc,,,

  31. its a joke,,,,,lol just the city of ny,,has more people than canadas largest metro,,,toronto lol.. boston small,,town,,,philly, midsize ,,1.5 million..again nyc a lot bigger,, I know,,what im saying,studied enough on this subject,,, ok here look- largest citys usa,,,by far nyc…8.4 mil,,,2, la 3.8 mil..3. Chicago,2.7 mil..4, hus texas 2.2 mil.,philly and phen az,close tie, at no 5..6…at 1.5 mil.. canadas biggest city toronto,,[whitch nys blows the skyine away lol],,has 2.7 mil ,metro close to 6 mil..look it up any1 if you don’t believe me,,, stats on nyc,,bigger than other cities in us and Canada,,,,tallest skyscraper in the western hem,,,by far biggest police force,,fire dept,largest rapid transit sys,, subway,,busiest ,bus line,,more cabs,,busiest bridge, in the world ,the gw,,,lic tunnel,,busiest tunnel ,,I said enough,,theres more,,but well leave it at that,,,so when you talk about other city ratings,leave nyc out of it,,cause,,you cant compare oranges to [THE BIG APPLE] ..PS-NY IS STILL AND ALWAYS WILL STAY AHEAD BUILDING MORE BIGGER AND BETTER ,,NEVER WILL CATCH NYC IN POPLUATION,,AND SKYSCRAPERS.NO OF BUILDINGS,,OVER A CERTIN HEIGHT, BIGGEST SKYLINES IN THE WORLD,,NYC,,,HONGC CHINA,,,,,nyc metro-22 million,,lol.. la metro-13 mil..Chicago metro-9.7mil.. canadas Toronto metro-around under 6 mil..thank you, that says it all…

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