The Most Livable Cities in the U.S.
Every year, travelers anticipate the release of Mercer’s Quality of Living Study, an annual survey by the global HR company that ranks 231 of the most livable cities in the world — and serves as a reliable guide for aspiring expatriates. The study usually evaluates cities on a number of factors, including recreation, economic environment, public transportation services, socio-cultural environment, consumer goods availability and safety.
Europe usually dominates the list, and 2019 was no exception, with Vienna securing the top place once again. An impressive dozen other European cities sit happily in the Top 20, namely Zurich, Munich and Dusseldorf. For those Americans who find packing up their bags and moving to Europe a bit impractical, fret not — 17 U.S. cities nabbed spots on the comprehensive list as well.
America’s honorees include major coastal hubs like San Francisco and New York City as well as interior metropolises like St. Louis and Minneapolis. Read on find out the most livable cities in the U.S., which also happen to be some of America's best places to visit.
17. Detroit (world: 72)
A city in the throes of a cultural revival, Detroit is not the factory town it was 10 years ago — or one year ago, for that matter. An overflow of creatives has helped transform Michigan’s major city into a buzzing collection of hip bars, restaurants and cultural forums.
This renaissance is returning Detroit to its rightful place as a cultural epicenter. In addition to its Motown roots, which you can learn about at the excellent Motown Museum, the city is home to one of the finest historic art museums in the country. The Detroit Institute of Arts Museum was established in 1885 and stages both contemporary and classical exhibits, on par with New York City’s Met Museum; the latest exhibit, “From Camelot to Kent State,” assesses 1960s pop art.
Other notable galleries include the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, presenting pieces that grapple with Detroit’s manufacturing past and question-marked future; and the Detroit Artists Market, where local talent is distinctly put on display. If frigid winters aren’t your thing, visit Detroit in the summer — the lakeside gales that chill you to the bone in January are pleasantly refreshing in the warmer months.
* The world ranking highlights where Detroit and other U.S. cities appeared on Mercer's global survey.
16. St. Louis (world: 70)
The spirit of St. Louis is strong — as the gateway to the West, the city has always welcomed visitors with open arms, enough to earn it the No. 70 spot on Mercer’s global list.
Baseball, bar and craft beers are the impetus for a visit or relocation to St. Louis. Locals love the Cardinals with religious-like fervor, especially while enjoying a local brew.
Beers can be sipped at superb tap rooms like 21st Street Brewers Bar, which pours over 50 brews on draft in a renovated factory building; Narrow Gauge, home to a number of perfectly hopped IPAs; and 4 Hands Brewing Company, famous for its robust ales and tall boys (beers served to big drinkers in 24-ounce cans). And that’s to say nothing of the stalwart Anheuser-Busch factory, which first planted its roots here over 150 years ago.
After hours, out-of-towners and locals alike head to the city's live-music venues, where musicians strive to become the next Chuck Berry, Tina Turner or Miles Davis — all of whom have called St. Louis home.
15. Miami (world: tie, 66)
Gorgeous weather, a thriving Latin music scene, Art Deco architecture and authentic Cuban dishes — the list of reasons to visit Miami could fill this entire article.
Miami, like every city, has its downsides, including throngs of tourists, overpriced real estate and traffic that makes you wonder, “How did any of these people get a driver’s license?!” (The answer — driving tests are more lenient in Florida.)
But sip on a cocktail from the Wharf Miami at sunset, soaking in those South Florida evening skies of orange and pink, and you’ll find it hard to leave. Brickell and nearby Wynwood are the city’s trendiest districts, full of city-sanctioned graffiti, art museums and hip, buzzy bars.
By day, Brickell is the buttoned-up financial district, but come 5 o’clock, it becomes a downtown hot spot, a transformation that feels so Miami.
14. Los Angeles (world: tie, 66)
One of the two most sought-after cities in the U.S. — New York City wins this one — L.A. holds an enduring appeal for new transplants, travelers and longtime residents alike.
A climate of year-round weather is incentive enough to visit or move to L.A., although Los Angelites can sometimes act a bit too smug about this blessing. A downside here is the notorious traffic, which means it can take hours to move just a few miles. This is also not where you want to go if you’re pinching pennies.
But set aside those caveats, and you have an exceedingly enjoyable destination promising an overwhelming array of things to do. Take in the cinematic cityscape from Griffith Observatory, soak in the sun at the Santa Monica Pier or browse through fresh produce at the Original Farmer’s Market.
And that's to say nothing of a revitalized downtown alive with culture, a culinary scene to rival any city in the world and — of course — a bevy of bodacious Pacific beaches.
13. Houston (world: tie, 66)
America’s fourth-largest city is a coastal center of commerce, space technology and arts. Houston enjoys a year-round warm climate that makes it enjoyable in the winter months, though it can be humid in the summer.
The food scene in Houston is nationally renowned and a great purpose for a visit. A galaxy of Tex-Mex and barbecue restaurants cover the sprawling metropolis, infusing flavors from across the border with Southern staples and fresh catches from the Gulf.
Houston is also home to world-class museums of astonishing diversity: Learn about WWII history at the Holocaust Museum Houston, medical science at the Health Museum, artistic masters at the Museum of Fine Arts, and science and history at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Texas’ most popular museum (the dinosaur-fossil collection in particular wows).
Just outside the city, the Space Center Houston shines a light on NASA’s extraordinary feats of space exploration.
12. Atlanta (world: 64)
Atlanta is growing rapidly — in fact, it’s the third-fastest growing metropolitan area in the nation. This means the city, famously home to trendy neighborhoods and some of the best Southern food the U.S. has to offer, is more exciting than ever.
Three top-of-mind tourist attractions are within walking distance of each other: Centennial Olympic Park, the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola. From here you can take a quick drive to the stylish Buckhead neighborhood, where a crop of new restaurants, luxury hotels, chic shopping options and exciting nightlife meet. The neighborhood’s idyllic Chastain Park is one of many examples of Atlanta’s unique blend of nature and urban sprawl.
If you’re looking for a more historic Atlanta experience, visit Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights or the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.
11. Dallas (world: 63)
Move over, Houston: The Lone Star State’s most livable city is actually Dallas. Although Austin is the capital and Houston is the largest city, no city feels more Texas than Dallas, with its cowboy-booted culture and mix of down-home and upscale attractions.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area’s large size — everything is bigger here, remember — means that this is a city most easily explored by car. Check out affluent Highland Park, home to a number of arts establishments; Downtown, the nightlife hub of Dallas; and Uptown, with wide tree-lined roads and trendy restaurants.
Dallas is home to a flourishing LGBT community and is renowned for its drag culture and rainbow-adorned cowboy bars. Primarily anchored in the Oak Lawn neighborhood, the gay community here doesn’t stray away from Texas’ Christian roots — Dallas is where you’ll find the LGBT mega-church, the Cathedral of Hope.
10. Minneapolis (world: 61)
The Twin Cities — Minneapolis and neighboring capital city St. Paul — are home to a diverse population of local Minnesotans and many immigrant communities, making for a beguiling mix of cultural influences.
The Twin Cities themselves are actually considerably different, with Minneapolis modern and updated and St. Paul more historic and old-school. Of the two, Minneapolis comes out on top as the most livable.
Although the winters in Minnesota are famously brutal, Minneapolis is still a city that can be explored in every season — the Minneapolis Skyway is an indoor pedestrian walkway that spans seven miles and connects many downtown buildings.
In the summers, Minneapolis comes alive and is ripe for exploration. There are countless trails, parks, lakes and outdoor recreation areas around the city, making it easy to enjoy the splendors of Minnesota nature.
9. Pittsburgh (world: 59)
Pittsburgh has grown from a steel manufacturing hub to a bustling city that is constantly redefining itself.
One compelling aspect of this revitalized metropolis is its standout architecture. Stylish contemporary buildings stand beside reimagined old factories, Art Deco stunners and gothic courthouses. For a day trip, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural marvel Fallingwater, a house built into a waterfall, is located just over an hour south of Pittsburgh. And then there's the city's remarkable bridges; there are more of the engineering marvels here than anywhere else in the world, earning Pittsburgh the nickname “The City of Bridges.”
Too few are aware that Pittsburgh is also on the cutting edge of the arts scene. At the avant-garde Mattress Factory, exhibits have explored everything from civil rights in South Africa to solar power to sensory deprivation. The Andy Warhol Museum houses the works of the iconic pop artist, a Pittsburgh native. And Randyland is just-plain weird in a completely delightful way — a yellow house where guests can explore vintage toys from around the world, painted furniture and colorful murals.
When you've had your fill of artistic wonders, ride the Duquesne Incline, a century-old cable car, to take in views of the city skyline.
8. Philadelphia (world: 54)
We think that Philly is under-the-radar cool — and Mercer seems to agree. The city perfectly balances small-town charm in its quaint neighborhoods with the metropolitan glamour of Center City.
At first glance, Philly appears to be a city that can be done in a weekend: See the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the “Rocky Steps” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, then shop the local vendors at the Reading Terminal Market and head back home.
But visitors to the City of Brotherly Love are catching on to what locals have long known — Philly is like an onion, with multiple layers to peel back. You could easily fill several days exploring its rooftop bars, live-music venues (jazz and, yes, opera are big here) and restaurants, which serve so much more than the famous Philly cheesesteak.
This is also a city that takes its sports scene (very) seriously; catch a 76ers, Phillies or Eagles game to mix with locals who are ride or die for their hometown favorites.
7. Washington, D.C. (world: 53)
True, the most notable features of the nation’s capital are political in nature: the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, White House and Capitol Building immediately come to mind. But zoom out a bit, and you’ll find there's so much more to D.C. than politics (though that will always be the elephant in the room).
Tons of superb (and free) museums, including the National Air & Space Museum and International Spy Museum, explore most everything you could imagine. A thriving nightlife scene includes — surprise — some of the nation’s best punk-music venues. And there are many fascinating art galleries, including the Renwick Gallery, featuring cutting-edge exhibits like a chromatic wall of skulls and a lattice installation of vibrating colors.
A visit to D.C. is most spectacular during cherry blossom season. For just a few days every spring, the city’s 3,800 cherry blossom trees — a gift from Japan — come into full bloom. The city welcomes about 1.5 million visitors during this extraordinary time.
6. Chicago (world: 49)
Whatever inspires you to travel — architecture, food, drinks, music, shopping, nature, culture, sports, reflective bean sculptures — Chicago is guaranteed to have it.
Make sure to stroll along the lakefront for postcard views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan. And don’t forget to indulge in the city’s culinary delights. Yes, there’s superb fine-dining here, but casual dining is the city's real forte. Deep-dish pizza is a classic, as is the Chicago-style hot dog. Add in delectable donut shops, sizzling taquerias and so much more comfort food, and you have an ideal place to bring your drawstring pants to.
The Windy City earned its nickname for a reason — avoid visiting Chicago in the winters, when winds from the Great Lakes bring a whole new meaning to frigid. The summers are gorgeous, though, with every neighborhood from flamboyant Boystown to residential Jefferson Park at their best.
5. Seattle (world: 46)
Tech-savvy Seattle is the quintessential example of Pacific Northwest beauty. Located on the Puget Sound, it is one of America’s most gorgeous cities, especially in the summers.
Heavy rainfall year-round lends to lush greenery in the warmer months, best explored via abundant walking and hiking trails within and around the city. The winter promises great skiing at many nearby mountains, so really there’s no bad time to visit Seattle.
The Emerald City is always buzzing, in part thanks to its native coffee culture, and it’s never afraid to tackle new trends and ideas. (Its tech scene innovation is starting to rival Silicon Valley’s.)
Embrace Seattle’s quirkiness by checking out the Museum of Pop Culture, soon to be showcasing a Minecraft exhibit; organ-pipe weather vanes at the Sound Garden on the shores of Lake Washington; intricate records of ghosts at the Metaphysical Library; and of course the Space Needle, not necessarily quirky but still iconically Seattle.
4. New York City (world: 44)
New York City is the veritable center of the universe — a collision of cultures in only a few square miles that makes it the most potent example of America’s moniker, “the melting pot.” The ceaseless forward-motion of the city is both addicting and exhausting at the same time. But one thing’s for sure, you will never be bored.
Albeit a little more romanticized than the reality — thank you, Carrie Bradshaw — New York really does have it all. Food, so much food; endless nightlife options for every orientation; gorgeous skyline views; a theater scene to beat all theater scenes; and even nature, found not only in Central Park but in little pockets of greenery throughout the city.
There is a neighborhood for your every mood: quiet Park Slope, chic Chelsea, buttoned-up Financial District, creative Bushwick, secluded Forest Hills. But really, no one attitude can accurately capture any district, or even street, in New York City.
3. Honolulu (world: 37)
It’s Honolulu — do you really need an explanation of why you should visit?
It is no surprise that Honolulu is the United States’ third-most livable city, a magical paradise that is both beautiful and safe.
The epicenter of Honolulu culture and nightlife is the Waikiki neighborhood, home to pristine beaches and glitzy hotels that shimmer like the sea. Away from the pristine white sands, boutique shops, galleries and high-end restaurants are common tourist draws.
Indeed, there’s so much more to do in Honolulu, and across the island of Oahu, than lounge on the beach (though you should absolutely lounge on the beach). Hike through the island’s tropical rainforest to Diamond Head or Manoa Falls, or spend a few hours exploring the Dole Plantation, source of all things pineapple.
And make sure to spend an afternoon of remembrance at the Pearl Harbor Museum to fully understand the solemnity and importance of that site, not to mention the little island’s massive significance in American history.
2. Boston (world: 36)
Historic attractions, spectacular buildings and wicked good food make up the fabric of Boston, a city that easily satisfies its famously proud locals and curious out-of-towners. Enjoy a stroll through Boston Common park, enjoy a Red Sox game at Fenway Park and get ready to eat: New England lobster rolls, fresh cannolis in the North End and the best clam chowder of your life are all waiting to be enjoyed here.
The remarkable history of this city is marked by an extensive collection of revolutionary artifacts that demand any visitor's attention. Colonial connoisseurs can explore the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile walk that guides visitors through Boston’s most significant historical sites, like Paul Revere’s house, the Boston Massacre site, the Old State House and more.
Check out picture-worthy Acorn Street in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, a quaint one-lane cobblestone street with Victorian brick houses and tree-lined views.
And don't leave without exploring the city's youthful, edgy side in areas like Davis Square, Allston and Brighton, home to hipster cafes, tattoo shops and live-music venues hosting the hottest indie acts.
1. San Francisco (world: 34)
San Francisco exemplifies California’s unfair diversity — within a few hours drive, you have the beach, the city, world-renowned vineyards and some of the country’s best skiing.
San Francisco has always been a city that is constantly redefining itself, but the rapid growth of nearby Silicon Valley has exponentially changed the area in recent years. Underneath the fog, eclectic creatives coexist with innovative techies, and proud hippies explore city hot spots alongside tons of college students.
When the mist clears and the sun peeks out, the city reveals those iconic shimmering views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.
While S.F. (as locals say) is America’s most livable city, according to Mercer, it is also America’s most expensive — the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,460.
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