The Friendliest U.S. City Neighborhoods You Should Visit
While we travel to see new sites, try new things and learn new facts, it's the new people we meet along the way that can truly enhance a trip. But where will you most likely be welcomed warmly and possibly make new friends as you explore?
Recently, "National Geographic Traveler" magazine decided to answer that question by determining the friendliest urban neighborhoods in the United States. Working with a consultancy, the publication assessed 200 cities based on social media sentiment about their friendliness — plus walkability, home affordability, and prevalence of public spaces, restaurants, breweries and more — to determine which neighborhoods are the most welcoming to outsiders.
Here, we sing the praises of the city neighborhoods that stand out as leaders, while providing insights on what they have to offer visitors.
15. New York's Times Square/Hell's Kitchen
You wouldn't expect a neighborhood named Hell's Kitchen to be on a list of the friendliest neighborhoods in America, and once upon a time, you'd be right. In the blocks of West Side Manhattan, stretching from 34th Street to 59th Street, Hell's Kitchen was once a not-so-friendly area where crime was a serious concern.
Neighboring Times Square wasn't so hot, either. In the '70s, '80s and early '90s, Broadway was a place you didn't want to be after dark. But the efforts of urban planners, local administrators, police and then-mayor Rudy Giuliani turned things around, transforming Times Square into a pedestrian- and shopper-friendly destination filled with theatergoers long after the stage lights dimmed — and the effect carried over into neighboring Hell's Kitchen. (The turnaround in New York has been described as "one of the most remarkable stories in the history of urban crime.”)
Today, popular restaurants and attractions anchor a safe and exciting West Side for residents and out-of-towners to enjoy.
Must-See: Walk the nearly 1.5-mile The High Line, formerly an old above-ground train route and now lined with trees and gardens. The attraction runs from the Meatpacking District to the bottom of Hell's Kitchen.
14. Savannah's North Historic District
One of the oldest cities in America, Savannah, Georgia is filled with charming and historic homes and gardens that date back to the 18th century. In the city's early days, once-bustling warehouses and markets were filled with goods and materials carried on tall-masted ships sailing into port on the Savannah River; in modern times, a cobblestoned street continues to feature shops, markets and some of the finest seafood in the city.
River Street, located within the North Historic District, is one of the hottest places (figuratively and literally) to go when visiting the sweltering Southern city, especially on St. Patrick's Day, as one of the nation's largest parades fills the air with the sound of bagpipes.
Tour the historical homes and gardens of the city, including the birthplace of Girl Scouts' founder Juliet Gordon Low, and follow along with walking tours to learn of the storied past of Savannah.
Must-See: Bonaventure Cemetery is a fascinating (and spooky) attraction that was featured in a book and movie about a true-crime story that shocked the city: "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."
13. San Diego's Little Italy
One of San Diego's oldest neighborhoods began as — you guessed it! — an Italian neighborhood, as fishermen from Italy settled in southern California in the early 1900s. In the 1970s, Little Italy hit a decline as the fishing industry died out and buildings went vacant when families departed. The empty space was eventually snapped up by artists and designers and quickly gentrified into the hip and friendly neighborhood it is today.
Of course, authentic Italian food is easy to come by in old-school restaurants, but this neighborhood ideally located near Waterfront Park features many other styles of cuisine at its 70-plus restaurants with patios and sunset views. The neighborhood welcomes visitors with open arms during its Italian-inspired festivals, as well, including the Sicialian FESTA Fiesta.
Must-See: The new European-inspired Piazza della Famiglia is a 10,000-square-foot plaza featuring a fountain and restaurants that will make you feel as if you are actually enjoying Italy.
12. Myrtle Beach's Downtown
As one of the most family-friendly vacation destinations in the country, Myrtle Beach's Grand Strand is a 60-mile stretch of beaches hugging the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina. At its heart? A 1.2-mile boardwalk where kids, adults and even pets come together to enjoy the salty air. This district has it all: restaurants, amusement games and live entertainment.
At the north end of the Grand Strand, O.D. Pavilion Amusement Park offers a fair-like environment for having fun in the sun. Away from the beaches — but not the ocean views — are so many golf courses, MB's (admittedly self-proclaimed) nickname is the "Golf Capital of the World."
Must-See: Take a ride on the 187-foot SkyWheel Ferris Wheel to enjoy sweeping views of Myrtle Beach, as well as an evening light show.
11. Anchorage's Rogers Park
A residential community filled with families, Rogers Park nestles right up to Chester Creek Greenbelt Park, providing a tranquil setting for anyone visiting Anchorage, Alaska for its natural scenery.
Through the park runs a 4-mile path extending from Westchester Lagoon to Goose Lake. Along this trail, families can bike, rollerblade, run, stroll and even ski during the winter months. If you want to get to know the people who live and work in Anchorage, this is the perfect place to do it!
Must-See: Head right to Rogers Park and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife — moose sightings are not uncommon!
10. Los Angeles' Downtown
Ask anyone where to go in Los Angeles and you'll hear about places like West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Little Venice and Beverly Hills. What you often won't hear about, or at least wouldn't until recently, is Downtown L.A.
For decades, the urban center of the City of Angels was rundown and tired, mostly avoided by locals and tourists alike. But an ambitious revitalization project that began in the '90s has done wonders in recent years — today, "National Geographic Traveler" finds this now-thriving hot spot to be one of the top 10 friendliest neighborhoods in the country.
Downtown is home to rich entertainment, with performing arts at Walt Disney Concert Hall, art museums in the Arts District and delectable dining in hip restaurants neighboring trendy see-and-be-seen bars. The area is considered L.A.'s culinary hub, and is just as much fun as its offshoot towns.
Must-See: Take a self-guided Art Walk through DTLA (the cool new moniker for Downtown Los Angeles) to explore its galleries and history.
9. Albuquerque's Old Town
Albuquerque takes pride in its history, which harkens back to Spanish explorers who settled here in the very early 1700s. Original narrow streets are filled with adobe homes that once belonged to the city's first residents, and restaurants offering traditional Mexican, Spanish and Southwestern cuisine are plentiful.
Grab a spot and get to know the residents, as the 18th-century San Felipe de Neri Church bell chimes the time. Walk around the brick-lined pathways to shop in more than 100 boutiques offering both modern and traditional Spanish wares, and pop into the numerous galleries featuring Southwestern artwork and jewelry.
As you explore, you'll feel transported by Old Town — its history, its culture and its inviting people.
Must-See: On weekends, be sure to book a table at Casa Flamenca to see traditional flamenco dancing in action.
8. San Francisco's North Beach
There is something about the warmth of Italian neighborhoods, as yet another makes NatGeo's list, this time in San Francisco.
North Beach, which doesn't actually offer beaches at the north end of the city, began as an Italian district and still offers plenty in the way of authentic Italian fare at charming cafes with streetside patios. But it's also evolved to become a dynamic, definitively California neighborhood with more than Italian charm on offer.
The spirit of San Francisco's Beat Generation lives on at City Lights bookstore, where anti-establishment writers and poets converged in the nation's first all-paperback bookstore. The iconic shop is located next door to Vesuvio, a throwback saloon where Kerouac and other Beat greats once convened.
Must-See: When you're done combing through books and enjoying an Italian feast, venture to nearby Telegraph Hill's 210-foot Coit Tower, built in 1934.
7. Austin's Second Street
From Austin City Limits to South by Southwest, Austin is renowned for being an alternative music city, and Second Street District is truly at the heart of it all. The downtown neighborhood is filled with live music venues, bars and restaurants, as well as people who share a common love for all three.
When not dancing alongside residents and visitors at a concert or raising a glass in a toast, shopping the area's boutiques is a good way to pass the daylight hours.
Must-See: Second Street Bridge is home to the largest colony of bats to live in a city, and every sunset between March and October, you can witness the flight of 1.5 million of the nocturnal creatures.
6. Boise's Hyde Park
Not to be confused with London's famed park, Idaho's Hyde Park is an 11-acre park filled with trails. What better way to get to know the people of Idaho than by enjoying its great outdoors?
Located in Boise's North End neighborhood, you can shop and dine around the concrete blocks, as well, with plenty of trees providing shade at al fresco restaurant options.
Must-See: Visit Hyde Park during its annual Street Fair, which has been featuring arts and crafts and a chance to connect with friends for 40 years.
5. Charleston's French Quarter
Just shy of Charleston, South Carolina's Historic City Market is a neighborhood that was originally walled off from the rest of the city. Home to French settlers who arrived in the 1700s, the French Quarter is now open for everyone, and there is a lot to see: pastel-hued colonial homes, art galleries and boutiques, the eight-acre Waterfront Park, and an old market converted into a museum of African-American history.
The French Quarter is at the heart of downtown Charleston's tourist attractions, with King Street serving as one of the most upscale areas to stay and dine when visiting the city.
Must-See: Don't miss shopping at the four-block City Market, which has been selling goods since the 1790s. You're likely to find a few trinkets to take home with you.
4. Seattle's Capitol Hill
Diversity is definitely the draw at Capitol Hill, where everyone is welcome at the varied indie shops, restaurants and nightclubs. Highlighted as the LGBTQ epicenter of Seattle, residents from across the city have dubbed Capitol Hill the coolest of the cool.
This is the place to go for nightlife, offering a chance to dance into the wee hours of the morning under disco balls and strobing lights in multi-level clubs like Q Nightclub and the Cuff Complex.
Must-See: Take part in Capitol Hill's Block Party or Seattle's PrideFest, both taking place during the summer, for the best chance to encounter some friendly faces.
3. Chicago's Wicker Park
The trendiness continues when you visit Wicker Park in Chicago, which has been home to live entertainment, dancing and nightlife since the 1800s. From quirky boutiques to trendy shops, dive bars to wine bars, art galleries to record shops, this neighborhood at North Michigan Avenue has it all, serving as the Midwest's answer to Capitol Hill.
Bonus: Neighboring Ukrainian Village, a residential 'hood filled with Orthodox churches and quiet row homes, tied with Wicker Park on NatGeo's list. Both locales are filled with some of the city's trendiest eateries, plus locals who will charm you with their Midwestern good-heartedness.
Must-See: Check out the historic churches found in Ukrainian Village during the day, before you wine and dine your way through Wicker Park in the evening.
2. Hawaii's Waikiki
It would be pretty difficult to be in an unfriendly mood when living near one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Perhaps that is why Oahu island's famed surf beach, Waikiki, lands at No. 2 on NatGeo's list of the friendliest cities.
Featuring glass-lined high rises, waves crashing on golden-sand shores and the looming Diamond Head Crater, Waikiki offers a truly unique setting. Moreover, it's the state's capital, ensuring nightlife, shopping, entertainment and dining are plentiful.
When visiting, hike Diamond Head to enjoy even more spectacular views, and try hanging 10 on a wave like the king of Hawaii surf, Duke Kahanamoku.
Must-See: Visit the open-air maze of shops at International Market Place, which fully updated its Polynesian setting in 2016.
1. Boston's Back Bay
The heart of Boston to many, Back Bay is beloved for its brownstone- and tree-lined streets, luxurious shopping along Newbury Street, fine and casual dining, and greenways along Commonwealth Avenue and the Esplanade. It's also where the famed Boston Marathon comes to an end, is within steps of the oldest baseball stadium in America, and is where countless college and university students live in harmony with young professionals and families.
NatGeo has deemed this once-swampland neighborhood along the Charles River the friendliest neighborhood in America — and we have to admit, we agree!
Must-See: Visit Back Bay on Patriot's Day to cheer on the marathon runners before catching an afternoon Red Sox game to get the true local experience.