When it comes to the top U.S. destinations to visit or consider moving to, sprawling urban areas are not always the best option.
That’s why National Geographic rounded up a list of the best small cities in the U.S. After crunching the numbers, the publisher released their picks for the top cities under 600,000 people based on a number of criteria.
Specifically, National Geographic took a look at key “happiness” metrics, such as how many “Instagrammable moments” a destination offered, as well as the number of green spaces, galleries, coffee shops, breweries, music venues and more. They then combined those stats with data gleaned from social media sites like Yelp and Instagram in order to come up with a list of the best small cities of 2018.
So whether you’re looking to plant your roots somewhere new or just find a cozy destination for a weekend getaway, here—in no particular order—are the 30 best small cities in the U.S., according to National Geographic.
Hickory, North Carolina
This North Carolina city impressed National Geographic with its many local, independent shops, from tattoo parlors and craft breweries to vintage clothing boutiques.
Columbia, South Carolina
If you’re lucky enough to visit this Southern city, you might want to partake in Columbia’s most treasured food: barbecue! BBQ joints are everywhere in Columbia, earning it the distinction of “meatiest city” by National Geographic.
Because of Omaha’s vibrant music scene and affordability landed this Midwestern city on National Geographic’s list.
If your dog is your best friend, then what better place to go to Pensacola? This dog-friendly Florida beach town has two dedicated dog parks and more than a few restaurants that allow pooches in. Not to mention your pup will probably enjoy the warm weather just as much as you!
Rich in Civil War and African-American history, this Maryland city is also attractive to hikers and bikers because of its location along the C&O Canal National Historical Park trail.
Bluegrass, bourbon and bacon: these three “Bs” are everywhere in this Kentucky city. Louisville is also well known as home to Churchill Downs, which hosts a little horse race every year called the Kentucky Derby.
Portland is synonymous with quite a few things: seaside landscapes, lobster rolls, cobblestone streets and lighthouses to name a few. This gives the city plenty of Instagrammable appeal.
Newport, Rhode Island
A visit to Newport, Rhode Island is like a visit to the past, thanks to the city’s charming architecture and cobblestone streets. Tourists can take a ride in an antique carriage or spend a day at one of the seaside town’s beaches.
For a small city, this central Florida town has more than its share of dog-friendly restaurants and pet stores. Lakeland also boasts a collection of ten Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, the largest single location of the famous architect’s work.
Kansas City, Missouri
Considering its relatively modest population, Kansas City has a first-class art scene. It also has over 200 fountains in the city, a number that rivals that of some European cities.
What’s not to love about Honolulu? The tropical paradise boasts a lot of beautiful, Instagrammable scenery as well as plenty of music venues, art galleries and art stores.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge boasts warm weather and a rich French Creole heritage. It also has an unusually high number of hair salons and grooming spots exist in Baton Rouge, making the citizens of Louisiana’s capital city an especially well-groomed population!
Asheville, North Carolina
With more than 36 craft breweries and brewpubs in town, there’s no shortage of good beer in this North Carolina city! Asheville also boasts a burgeoning art scene with plenty of local galleries.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Parks and trees abound in this green Michigan city, which is home to the University of Michigan. This pedestrian-friendly town boasts no less than 159 city parks.
Rapid City, South Dakota
Located not far from Mount Rushmore, National Geographic calls attention the city’s ongoing public art/history project called City of Presidents.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
This sunny New Mexico town gets a thumbs up for its craft brewpubs. Albuquerque also hosts an annual hot air balloon festival every October that draws visitors from all over the country.
Spokane has a lot to offer, including easy access to nature. Notably, National Geographic gave high marks to this city’s coffee shops and record stores, which make for a relaxing, culture-filled city.
The high number of bookstores and college grads make Charlottesville the most literate town on National Geographic’s list. The city is also rich in colonial-era history.
Latte lovers and nature enthusiasts may find Olympia, Washington, to be the perfect combination of those two interests. The city boasts a large amount of coffee shops per capita, as well as plenty of green spaces, like the 314-acre Priest Point Park.
Our secret is out in a BIG way. @NatGeo Traveler just named Olympia one the Best Small Cities in the US. We got recognized for being the "Most Caffeinated" and having the "Best Green Spaces"-so shout out to @OlyPARD staff who keep our parks looking great AND drink tons of coffee! pic.twitter.com/NTk51SodO0
— City of Olympia (@cityofolympia) January 18, 2018
Charleston, South Carolina
With a growing art scene, Charleston is the place to visit for a cultural getaway. The city ranks high on National Geographic’s list for cities with a large number of art galleries and schools.
Santa Cruz, California
Love live music, the beach and a progressive mindset? Then set your GPS to Santa Cruz, a beach town about 1.5 hours south of San Francisco. The laidback town is a haven for rock and folk music fans.
— City of Santa Cruz (@CityofSantaCruz) June 23, 2016
Forget Napa; Healdsburg is the perfect location to do some wine tasting in northern California. Located in Sonoma County, this quaint town was spared from the wildfires that recently damaged vineyards and businesses in the area.
Thanks to its large number of butchers, delis and steak restaurants, National Geographic labels Reno as one of the “meatiest” cities in the U.S. As the second largest tourist destination in Nevada, the town is also ripe with casinos.
Love getting around on two wheels instead of four? Then you may want to check out Madison, Wisconsin. National Geographic lauds the city’s bike-friendly culture. The city offers a plethora of parks and an engaged, educated community thanks to the University of Wisconsin located there.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is synonymous with a good time, so it’s no surprise that it made National Geographic’s list! With its many bars, music clubs and restaurants, as well as annual events like Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz Festival, there’s always something to enjoy in the city nicknamed the “Big Easy.”
Your pooch will feel right at home in dog-friendly Annapolis, Maryland. From its many waterfront restaurants to historic architecture like the statehouse that dates back to 1772, there’s a lot to explore in this charming city, whether you’re on two feet or four.
Anchorage isn’t just a stopping point on a cruise; the city has tons to offer, including opportunities to see wildlife up close, both on the streets as well as at the nearby Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Plus, National Geographic points out that the city seemingly runs on caffeine, and boasts 5.98 coffee shops for every 10,000 residents.
— Visit Anchorage (@VisitAnchorage) May 20, 2014
Greenville, South Carolina
Meat lovers should add Greenville, South Carolina, to their travel bucket lists. The town made National Geographic’s list because of its large amount of butchers, delis and steakhouses. Located in upstate South Carolina, this city has a small-town feel and a number of annual food festivals to explore. There’s also a gorgeous natural waterfall right off the main street.
Scoring points for its number of music venues, vintage clothing boutiques and craft breweries, Boulder is also a wonderful destination for cycling enthusiasts thanks to its many bike paths all over the city. In fact, you can even grab bike supplies and a beer at Full Cycle’s bike shop/tap room and espresso bar.
Home to more than 30 craft breweries, this beer-loving town is also very scenic, thanks to its natural hilly terrain and an array of bridges than span over three rivers. Pennsylvania’s second largest city is also home to the Andy Warhol Museum and touted as the best city for sports fans.
— Visit Pittsburgh (@vstpgh) February 14, 2018
Which city on this list most appeals to you?