All 50 State Capitals, Ranked From Worst to First
U.S. state capitals are much more than the homes of state governments or even a sing-song list of names we memorized in grade school. In fact, lots of state capitals are bustling, historic cities that can be the heart and soul of the states they represent.
But while some are thriving cultural hubs with dynamic rhythms, others can be pretty isolated and mundane or simply unaffordable. To put the debate to rest, we've ranked every state capital from worst to first.
Check out where your state's capital city falls on the list.
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50. Trenton, New Jersey
Date Founded: June 3, 1719
When It Became the State Capital: Nov. 25, 1790
Fun Fact: Trenton is nicknamed the "Turning Point of the Revolution."
*All state capital dates refer to when the city became an official state capital, even though some were capitals of regional territories before those territories entered statehood.
How Trenton Ranks
Trenton is the capital of New Jersey, but it also once served as the nation's capital in 1784. Its population is just over 90,000, and it is one of the most diverse cities in the country. Still, it has a very high crime rate well above the national average. It also has one of the worst economic well-being ranks in the nation and is one of the least balanced in terms of affordability.
If you happen to find yourself in this least-favored capital city, then a visit to Cadwalader Park can be a highlight. It's the city’s largest and oldest park and was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the same person who designed New York’s Central Park.
Where to stay: Quality Inn & Suites NJ State Capital Area
*Population numbers come from the United States Census Bureau, and all household income and cost of living stats are current through February 2023.
49. Carson City, Nevada
Date Founded: 1858
When It Became the State Capital: 1864
Fun Fact: The city limits extend west across the Sierra Nevada to the California state line in the middle of Lake Tahoe.
How Carson City Ranks
Carson City was founded in the 19th century during the great western migration to California. Since Nevada became a state in 1864, Carson City has been its state capital. Not only is charm almost nonexistent here, but its education, health and quality of life rank among the lowest of all the state capitals. Plus, you'd think the flashing lights and jingling slot machines of Reno and Las Vegas would have some impact on Nevada's capital city, but it offers a far more laid-back (read: boring) pace.
That said, it does have some things going for it. Carson City boasts one of the most diverse ethnic and economic communities in the country, and the median household income is about $62,217, which is higher than the national average of $55,000.
Where to stay: Gold Dust West Carson City
48. Augusta, Maine
Date Settled: 1754
When It Became the State Capital: 1827
Fun Fact: Even though the city wasn't officially settled until 1754, it was first inhabited by English settlers from the Plymouth Colony in 1628 as a trading post.
How Augusta Ranks
Augusta was one of the first inhabited towns in America. Since its inception, much of the city life has centered around the Kennebec River. As the country developed and highways were built, the city began to expand away from the river. But, today, there are ongoing projects to revitalize the historic riverfront, often peppered with fishermen casting off, while the area around the State House is known for its historic architecture and centuries-old sites.
Yes, Augusta is a state capital, but it feels much more like Small Town USA, making it one of the sleepier capital cities on this list. It's also unaffordable, which negatively impacts the quality of life.
Where to stay: Senator Inn & Spa
47. Hartford, Connecticut
Date Settled: Oct. 15, 1635
When It Became the State Capital: 1875 (after serving as co-capital with New Haven since 1701)
Fun Fact: Hartford is home to the Mark Twain House & Museum, which has restored the mansion that the famous author lived in with his family from 1874 to 1891.
How Hartford Ranks
Hartford is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. Settled in 1635, it’s home to some of the country's oldest buildings, parks and the oldest published newspaper, the Hartford Courant. In fact, following the Civil War, Hartford was the richest city in the country.
Now, however, it sits on the polar opposite of the spectrum. Its median household income is about $37,477, and it is one of the nation's least affordable capitals. It may still have some pretty buildings, but it lacks charm. Crime rates are also high. Thanks, but we'll pass on this one.
Where to stay: Hartford Marriott Downtown
46. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Date Founded: 1699
When It Became the State Capital: 1846 (despite the brief stint that New Orleans served as the state government seat after the Civil War)
Fun Fact: Baton Rouge means "red stick" in French.
How Baton Rouge Ranks
Louisiana's capital sits on the banks of the Mississippi River. It is known for its competitive job market, especially in healthcare and engineering, as well as a growing population that continues to be diverse. If New Orleans is too rowdy or expensive for you, this is a nice alternative with similar French Creole heritage and Mardi Gras festivities to boot.
Still, it's low on the list of capitals because of its high crime rate and relatively low education rate.
Where to stay: Watermark Baton Rouge, Autograph Collection
45. Dover, Delaware
Date Founded: 1683
When It Became the State Capital: 1781
Fun Fact: The city was a "stop" on the Underground Railroad due to its central location between slave-holding Maryland and free Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
How Diver Ranks
Dover is one of the most historical cities in America, having been founded by William Penn in 1683. The city later went on to play strategic roles in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Today, it's considered a diverse capital with decent public schools. But it offers expensive rental options, a higher level of crime and a limited job market.
If you're visiting, though, you can find some pockets of charm, especially downtown, where several historic row houses, quaint restaurants and shops dot the streets.
Where to stay: Dover Downs Hotel & Casino
44. Jackson, Mississippi
Date Founded: 1821
When It Became the State Capital: 1821
Fun Fact: Demonstrations for the civil rights movement started in Jackson with the arrival of about 300 Freedom Riders, who rode from Washington, D.C., to protest segregation on public transportation.
How Jackson Ranks
Jackson was named for General Andrew Jackson (the president responsible for the Trail of Tears) to honor him for his role in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. The city later fell during the Battle of Vicksburg in the Civil War and was burned to the ground. Today, it is the most populous city in Mississippi and is known as being the City of Soul because of the many prominent names in blues, gospel, folk and jazz who have come through it. There is plenty of culture to explore in Jackson, especially in the Fondren District, which has seen the opening of the Museum Mississippi of History and the nearby Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. There are also a smattering of fun bars and restaurants.
Jackson is one of the most affordable cities in the nation, with a median rent of $905 and a median home value of $92,900. However, it's economic well-being is one of the lowest in the nation, with the median household income at $39,969 As a result, its quality of life ranking is also quite low compared to other cities on this list.
Where to stay: Fairview Inn
43. Jefferson City, Missouri
Date Founded: 1821
When It Became the State Capital: 1821
Fun Fact: Jefferson City is one of four state capitals not served by an interstate highway. The other three are Dover, Delaware; Juneau, Alaska; and Pierre, South Dakota.
How Jefferson City Ranks
Jefferson City sits on the northern edge of the Ozark Plateau, along the banks of the Missouri River. It is known for its domed capitol building, which overlooks the city. Its economy thrives on service and manufacturing.
Finding a more affordable capital than Jefferson City is difficult. The median rent is $671 per month, while the median home value is $168,300. Of course, with affordability often comes a lack of charm or interesting things to do.
Where to stay: Capitol Plaza Hotel Jefferson City
42. Frankfort, Kentucky
Date Founded: 1786
When It Became the State Capital: 1792
Fun Fact: Frankfort's Old Governor's Mansion, built in 1798, claims to be the oldest official executive residence still in use in the U.S.
How Frankfort Ranks
Founded in 1786, Frankfort is a small city with just over 28,500 people. In the 1960s, the city saw significant economic growth, but this cooled around the 1980s and has remained relatively stable ever since. It's one of the most affordable places to live in the country, where half the population rents and half the population owns.
Frankfort is very pretty, too, marked by historic red brick facades, the Old State Capitol, two distilleries and lovely views along the Kentucky River. It ranked ok in a 2023 WalletHub study for economic well-being, quality of education and health, and quality of life. Still, it didn't do great in anything except affordability, and there simply isn't enough to do to earn it a higher spot on this list.
Where to stay: Capital Plaza Hotel
41. Tallahassee, Florida
Date Established: 1824
When It Became the State Capital: 1824
Fun Fact: Tallahassee is known for its scientific research, and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory calls the capital city home.
How Tallahassee Ranks
Tallahassee is widely considered to be one of the best places to live in Florida, with both an urban and suburban feel, many parks and highly-rated public schools. Today, it is the main center of trade and farming in the Florida Big Bend and Southwest Georgia regions. It's also home to several universities, including Florida State University and Florida A&M.
Geographically, Tallahassee is closer to the Deep South than it is to Florida's tourist capital, Miami, so its culture can be most aligned with Southern roots and geography. Picture giant oak trees and Spanish moss. But compared to other capital cities, it's one of the least affordable, and its Southern charm isn't enough to boost its ranking.
Where to stay: Hotel Duval Autograph Collection
40. Charleston, West Virginia
Date Founded: 1788
When It Became the State Capital: 1877
Fun Fact: Actress Jennifer Garner graduated from Charleston's George Washington High School.
How Charleston Ranks
While it may be one of the top places to live in West Virginia, Charleston was given one of the lower rankings by WalletHub. It has an unusually high crime rate, much higher than the national average, with theft nearly double the rest of the country.
Still, Charleston prides itself on its wealth of cultural opportunities, like the West Virginia Dance Festival, free Symphony Sundays provided by the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra and more. Charleston is also home to roughly 50 places listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Where to stay: Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Charleston S
39. Bismarck, North Dakota
Date Founded: May 14, 1872
When It Became the State Capital: 1889
Fun Fact: Bismarck is named to honor German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, making it the only state capital named after a foreign statesman.
How Bismarck Ranks
Compact and quaint, Bismarck, North Dakota, is known for its epically long winters and short, agriculture-fueled summers. Downtown has a smattering of shops and restaurants, but it is otherwise a sleepy, quiet city.
So, how exactly did Bismarck crack into the top 40? It happens to be one of the most affordable capital cities in the country. The cost of living is low and incomes are relatively high compared to the national median. With that comes fairly good rankings for economic well-being, quality of life, and quality of education and health, earning it a surprising No. 17 spot on the WalletHub list.
But a lack of interesting things to do places it at No. 39 for us.
Where to stay: Radisson Hotel Bismarck
38. Pierre, South Dakota
Date Founded: 1880
When It Became the State Capital: Nov. 2, 1889
Fun Fact: Pierre is the second-least populous state capital after Montpelier, Vermont.
How Pierre Ranks
Pierre was founded in 1880 as a trading post that quickly grew into a bustling town. Today, it remains relatively isolated because it is not served by an interstate highway.
That said, one of the best parts about Pierre is actually getting there. The city sits on the Missouri River and visitors approach via the Native American Scenic Byway. Along the way, brace yourself for stunning countryside views and shots across the river.
Where to stay: Ramkota Hotel Pierre
37. Juneau, Alaska
Date Founded: 1881
When It Became the State Capital: 1959
Fun Fact: Juneau is the largest capital city in the U.S. by area at 3,254 square miles.
How Juneau Ranks
Juneau is the second-most-populous city in Alaska, after Anchorage. Unlike most other cities in the country, no roads connect it with the rest of the state. The only way to access it from the Alaskan mainland is by plane or boat.
It also has a strong Native American presence and is home to many different clans of the Tlingit people. While summers are short, they are certainly lived for in Alaska. The warmer months make Juneau a premiere jumping-off point for hiking, boating, zip lining, and whale-watching in the country's most beautiful state.
Where to stay: Frontier Suites Hotel in Juneau
36. Columbia, South Carolina
Date Approved: March 22, 1786
When It Became the State Capital: 1786
Fun Fact: Columbia was the site of the South Carolina Secession Convention, which in 1860 marked the departure of the first state from the Union leading up to the Civil War.
How Columbia Ranks
Columbia is one of the best places to live in South Carolina, thanks to its high level of diversity, solid public schools, access to the outdoors and pleasant weather year-round. In fact, it cracked the top 15 in WalletHub's rankings for quality of life. The median rent in Columbia is $1,007, and the median home value is $193,100, making it an affordable capital city.
Columbia also sports its vintage vibe, with tree-lined streets, mom-and-pop shops and historic sites. The nearby University of South Carolina breathes in a youthful air in the form of bustling bars and restaurants.
Where to stay: Graduate, Columbia
Population: 1 million
Date Incorporated: April 30, 1907
When It Became the State Capital: 1959
Fun Fact: Honolulu became the permanent capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom when King Kamehameha III moved it from Lahaina on Maui in 1845, but it wasn't until years later when Hawaii became a state that Honolulu became its official capital city.
How Honolulu Ranks
The largest city in the Hawaiian archipelago, Honolulu sits on the island of Oahu and is the gateway to the rest of the islands. It's a vacation capital, with high-end hotels, culture, cuisine and ancient traditions. It also is a hub for business and military defense. It is the least affordable capital in the country, though that number is offset by relatively balanced economic well-being, education and an extremely high quality of life. Honolulu also benefits from a wealth of outdoor activities, beautiful weather, diversity and a strong focus on health and fitness.
Downtown is where visitors will get a taste of the "real" Hawaii, away from the tourist-blanketed beaches of Waikiki. Foodies will delight in the veritable cornucopia of Polynesian and Asian restaurants spread across the city. There are also art museums and the only royal palace in the United States. Of course, if it's the beach you're looking for, you are never more than a short walk or drive to the ocean.
Where to stay: The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort
34. Helena, Montana
Date Founded: Oct. 30, 1864
When It Became the State Capital: 1889
Fun Fact: In 1888, about 50 millionaires lived in Helena, which at the time was more millionaires per capita than in any city in the world.
How Helena Ranks
Forget the California Gold Rush. Did you know that Helena, Montana, was one of the highest-producing regions of gold in the country? In fact, by the late 1800s, more than $3 billion worth of gold was extracted from the land surrounding Helena. Today, it's a place that enjoys the great outdoors, with plenty of recreation opportunities in the area, from mountain biking and fishing to skiing. Helena has a small population of just over 33,000 but an influx of young professionals breathing new life into the area.
The outskirts of Helena don't offer much outside of suburban sprawl. Still, the city’s historic core speaks to its past and offers certain cultural attractions like the Cathedral of St. Helena, the State Capitol landmark and the Holter Museum of Art.
Where to stay: The Carolina Bed & Breakfast
Population: 1.6 million
Date Settled: 1867
When It Became the State Capital: Feb. 14, 1912
Fun Fact: Phoenix is the most populous state capital in the country.
How Phoenix Ranks
Phoenix is Arizona’s political capital and cultural hub. Boasting performing arts venues like Phoenix Symphony Hall, the Arizona Opera Center and the Orpheum Theater, and dozens of museums, there's a reason why Phoenix is one of the tourism capitals of the Southwest.
Plus, it’s a relatively affordable place to live, with the median household income at $64,927. That said, Phoenix lacks originality. Strip malls and chain restaurants are more common than unique mom-and-pop establishments.
Where to stay: Marriott's Canyon Villas
32. Albany, New York
Date Settled: 1614
When It Became the State Capital: 1797
Fun Fact: Albany is the longest continuously chartered city in the country and one of the oldest-surviving European settlements from the original 13 colonies.
How Albany Ranks
Originally settled by Dutch colonists in the early 17th century, Albany grew to become an epicenter of trade and transport due to its strategic position between the Hudson River and Erie Canal. The city fell into decline in the latter part of the 20th century, but it has been working to revitalize and renovate to highlight its culture and tech industry.
While economic well-being in New York’s capital city is on the low end, Albany is by no means void of things to do. It’s home to the New York State Museum, a public art collection, and historic brownstones. It sits at the halfway point between the Hudson Valley and the Adirondacks, making it the gateway to New York state's natural beauty.
Where to stay: Crowne Plaza Albany - The Desmond Hotel
31. Des Moines, Iowa
Date Founded: 1843
When It Became the State Capital: 1857
Fun Fact: Even though actor Jason Momoa was born in Honolulu, he was raised by his mother in Des Moines.
How Des Moines Ranks
Des Moines is the most populous city in Iowa and a major center for the U.S. insurance industry. But even more, Des Moines is a hub for entrepreneurial startups and has a thriving local arts scene.
Plus, this capital city hosts the Iowa State Fair, which has earned the reputation as the best in the country — reason enough to visit to see what the buzz is all about.
Where to stay: Hotel Fort Des Moines, Curio Collection By Hilton
30. Little Rock, Arkansas
Date Founded: June 1, 1821
When It Became the State Capital: 1836
Fun Fact: Built in 1928, Little Rock's Willow Springs Water Park was one of the first water theme parks in the U.S.
How Little Rock Ranks
Situated on the banks of the Arkansas River, Little Rock was founded in 1821. Today, its population is just under 220,000, and it is one of the top cultural, economic and political centers in the South. Little Rock is one of the more affordable cities in the nation, with one of the lowest median rents at $940, but it also has the lowest quality of life rankings from WalletHub.
For visitors, though, Little Rock doesn't disappoint, with its beautiful green residential neighborhoods, growing restaurant scene and paths for biking and walking. The capital is also surrounded by vast nature, so you're never far from a beautiful walk in the woods.
Where to stay: Little Rock Marriott
29. Topeka, Kansas
Date Founded: 1854
When It Became the State Capital: 1861
Fun Fact: Known as the "Free State Capitol," Topeka's Constitution Hall served as the headquarters of the Lane Trail to Freedom on the Underground Railroad, the primary slave escape route and free trade road.
How Topeka Ranks
Topeka, Kansas has had a vital role in American history. First having served as a stopping point along the Oregon Trail, it later became a popular Free State town leading up to the Civil War. It was also here that the Supreme Court passed the Brown v. Board of Education case, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, declaring that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Today, it is one of the more affordable capitals in the nation.
While Topeka does not have a ton in the form of entertainment, it does have a rising Arts & Entertainment district, known as NOTO Arts Center. The new hub is proving to be the cultural heart of the city, with shopping, restaurants, antique shops and more.
28. Montgomery, Alabama
Date Incorporated: Dec. 3, 1819
When It Became the State Capital: Jan. 28, 1846
Fun Fact: Rosa Parks was arrested here on Dec. 1, 1955, starting the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott.
How Montgomery Ranks
Montgomery is the second-most-populated city in Alabama, following Birmingham. It was incorporated in 1819 and became the state capital in 1846. In 1861, Montgomery was the capital of the Confederate States of America, which later moved to Richmond, Virginia.
Today, the city is recognized for its revitalization projects, universities and cultural attractions, like the Civil Rights Trail, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. It's also an incredibly affordable city, with a median rent of $939. However, Montgomery ranks among the lowest in terms of economic well-being, quality of life and level of education.
27. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Date Settled: 1719
When It Became the State Capital: 1812
Fun Fact: Each year in January, Harrisburg hosts the Pennsylvania Farm Show, the largest free indoor agriculture exposition in the country.
How Harrisburg Ranks
Because of Harrisburg’s strategic location in south-central Pennsylvania, the state capital has played a crucial role in several events in American history, like the Westward Migration, the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. During the 20th century, Harrisburg was one of the most economically successful cities in the country, relying heavily on manufacturing, agriculture and government. In 2010, Forbes named it the second-best place in the country to raise a family, and the city has thrived throughout even some of the nation’s darkest economic times.
At the turn of the 21st century, downtown Harrisburg underwent a revitalization, making it a go-to destination for events, from nightclubs to jazz festivals and public art exhibitions. It has two main performance centers: the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts, and the Forum, a 1,763-seat concert and lecture hall that is home to the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.
26. Lansing, Michigan
Date Settled: 1835
When It Became the State Capital: 1847
Fun Fact: The state capital was moved from Detroit to Lansing due to concern about Detroit's proximity to British-controlled Canada, which captured Detroit in the War of 1812.
How Lansing Ranks
The Lansing area, or Mid-Michigan, is known for its educational, cultural and governmental positions. Nearby Michigan State University is an anchor for the community, with over 50,000 students, research facilities, medical schools and law schools. Lansing is also the site of the Michigan State Capitol, Supreme Court, the Library of Michigan and four national insurance company headquarters.
As one of the most affordable capitals in the country, the median rent is $889, while the median home value is $95,400. Visitors will want to check out the city’s Old Town district as well as the Potter Park Zoo.
25. St. Paul, Minnesota
Date Incorporated: March 4, 1854
When It Became the State Capital: May 11, 1858
Fun Fact: Author F. Scott Fitzgerald was from St. Paul.
How St. Paul Ranks
St. Paul was founded as a trading and transport center on the banks of the Mississippi River. It also affords a strategic position near the Minnesota River and connects directly with Minneapolis, with whom it makes up the Twin Cities. A great capital city for families, St. Paul has a wide variety of diversity, a good school system and an above-average value for cost of living. Rent is slightly below the national median, while homeownership is slightly above.
St. Paul attracts visitors with its historic charm, bolstered by wide tree-lined streets, brick buildings and a classic vibe. Beer aficionados love the city for its high concentration of breweries and craft beer bars.
24. Oklahoma City
Date Founded: April 22, 1889
When It Became the State Capital: 1907
Fun Fact: The Oklahoma City Museum of Modern Art is home to the world's most comprehensive collection of Dale Chihuly glass.
How Oklahoma City Ranks
For travelers exploring the iconic Route 66, Oklahoma City is a popular pass-through. Known to locals as OKC, it is one of the cowboy capitals of America. That's because it has one of the largest livestock markets and is especially known for its entertaining horse shows.
While it ranked at No.12 on the WalletHub list, there is little charm to it outside of its Bricktown River Walk Park.
Date Founded: Jan. 6, 1821
When It Became the State Capital: 1821
Fun Fact: Indianapolis is home to about 200 farms that have agricultural land within the municipal boundaries.
How Indianapolis Ranks
Indianapolis, the capital of Indiana, is one of the largest hubs in the Midwest and happens to be one of the best places to live in the state. Its economy hinges on finance, insurance, manufacturing, education, healthcare and other industries. It also has the nation's largest collection of monuments dedicated to veterans and war heroes outside of Washington, D.C. Indianapolis is an affordable place to live, with the median rent at $962 and the median home value at $156,300.
Indy, as it's known to locals, is so much more than its legendary speedway. The city has several art museums, the White River State Park and several walking and biking trails. Be sure to check out the Broad Ripple neighborhood for the best in Indy eating and drinking.
22. Cheyenne, Wyoming
Date Founded: 1867
When It Became the State Capital: 1890
Fun Fact: The city's 10-day Cheyenne Frontier Days event is the largest outdoor rodeo in the U.S.
How Cheyenne Ranks
Conjuring up images of sweeping plains, looming mountains and leathery cowboys, Cheyenne is one of America's original prairie towns. It was founded in 1867 and seemed to spring up overnight with the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. Today, it's a charming capital city with plenty of museums and culture.
It is also one of the most affordable capital cities in the nation. The median rent is $907, while the median household income is well above the national median at $70,705. There is a high employment rate and opportunity for business growth as well.
21. Springfield, Illinois
Date Founded: April 10, 1821
When It Became the State Capital: 1839
Fun Fact: Due to the rise of the Democratic party in the 1840s and 1850s, President Abraham Lincoln, a leader of the Whig Party and later the Republican Party, barely won his home city in the 1860 presidential election.
How Springfield Ranks
Springfield's biggest historical claim to fame is its former resident, Abraham Lincoln, who called the city home until he moved to the White House. Today, his memory is one of the main draws for tourists, who come to see the presidential library, his former home and his tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery.
When it comes to affordability, Springfield is among the top capital cities in the country. Rent is incredibly low compared to the national median, at $852 per month. The median household income is more than $57,596, which is not bad for the cost of living.
20. Lincoln, Nebraska
Date Founded: 1856
When It Became the State Capital: 1869
Fun Fact: Designated as a refugee-friendly city by the U.S. Department of State in the 1970s, Lincoln has since welcomed several refugees from Iraq and the Middle East.
How Lincoln Ranks
Lincoln was founded initially in 1856 as the village of Lancaster. In 1869, the name was changed to Lincoln, and it became Nebraska's capital. Today, it is arguably the best place to live in the state. It’s a tech-forward city and is the home to the University of Nebraska.
It’s also quite diverse, with large populations of Vietnamese, Sudanese, Yazidi and Burmese people calling Lincoln home.
19. Salem, Oregon
Date Founded: 1842
When It Became the State Capital: 1859
Fun Fact: The Native Americans who originally lived on the land where Salem is now located named it "Chim-i-ki-ti," which means "meeting or resting place."
How Salem Ranks
Since Oregon became a territory in 1851, Salem has been its political seat. It then became an official state capital when Oregon earned its statehood in 1859. Today, it is the second-largest city in the state and is at the center of the Willamette Valley (Oregon wine country). It also has three universities and enjoys a high economic well-being, with a median household income of $62,185.
Just an hour south of Portland, Salem residents love how green their capital is, with its riverfront park as well as the Willamette Mission State Park, located just outside the city limits.
18. Richmond, Virginia
Date Founded: 1737
When It Became the State Capital: 1780
Fun Fact: Poet Edgar Allan Poe grew up in Richmond, and now the city's oldest stone house serves as a museum dedicated to his life and works.
How Richmond Ranks
The present city of Richmond dates back to 1737 and was an important site during the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Today, its economy is fueled by government, law and finance. While Richmond is far from the most affordable capital in the state and has a relatively low education score, it offers a high quality of life for its citizens.
Richmond has ample opportunity for outdoor activities, is one of the most diverse places in the nation and has pleasant weather year-round. Young professionals are flocking to the city and bringing a frenetic art scene, delectable dining and late-night watering holes. Plus, the state capital is at the doorstep of boundless outdoor opportunities, from hiking trails to whitewater rafting on the James River.
17. Salt Lake City
Date Founded: 1847
When It Became the State Capital: 1896
Fun Fact: Salt Lake City has been called the "least stressed-out city" in the U.S. by several outlets, including CNN in 2014, citing the city's low cost of living and abundance of jobs as factors.
How Salt Lake City Ranks
Salt Lake City is considered a great but untouched capital city—a hidden gem that people are slowly discovering. Maybe it's because of its access to unparalleled nature or the fact that it retains a small-town vibe. Whatever the reason, those who are drawn to Salt Lake City love the coffeehouses, yoga studios, rising organic restaurants and art scene.
Nearby Park City also doesn’t disappoint when it comes to mountain towns, especially for those wanting to hike and skii.
16. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Date Founded: 1610
When It Became the State Capital: 1912
Fun Fact: Santa Fe is the oldest state capital in the U.S.
How Santa Fe Ranks
Santa Fe is one of the great American capital cities, with a combination of histories and cultures from Native American to Mexican and Spanish. Today, it is a hub of art, music and food. In fact, Santa Fe is recognized by UNESCO's Creative Cities Network, and highlights include its many art galleries, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and the newer Meow Wolf art collective.
Santa Fe provides a good quality of life for its residents, and visitors can see why with its beautiful weather, a high emphasis on health and fitness, and a wide array of outdoor activities.
Date Incorporated: Dec. 29, 1847
When It Became the State Capital: 1868
Fun Fact: Atlanta recently became a hub for film and television production, injecting about $9.5 billion into the state's economy in 2017 alone, because of an income tax credit that makes it more affordable to film here.
How Atlanta Ranks
Atlanta is one of the biggest capital cities of the South, known for its culture, art movements, green spaces and cuisine. Visitors love its Centennial Olympic Park, built for the 1996 Olympics, near the huge Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola.
The city is also the hometown of Martin Luther King Jr., and continues to honor and remember him today, with his legacy shown throughout the historic Sweet Auburn district.
14. Columbus, Ohio
Date Settled: Feb. 14, 1812
When It Became the State Capital: 1816
Fun Fact: Columbus was once known as the "Buggy Capital of the World," due to having more than 20 buggy factories.
How Columbus Ranks
Peppered with a flourishing dining, tech and artistic scene, Columbus is a capital city for young professionals.
Thanks to Ohio State University's presence, it's not a terribly expensive city either. The median rent is $1,061, with a median household income of $58,575.
13. Concord, New Hampshire
Date Settled: 1659
When It Became the State Capital: 1808
Fun Fact: Concord's State House is the oldest capitol building in the country in which the state's legislative branches meet in their original chambers.
How Concord Ranks
The city of Concord, or, rather, the area where Concord now sits, has been inhabited for thousands of years. First, the Pennacook tribe called it home, and then settlers began taking over toward the end of the 17th century. Today, the architecture is still reflective of the city's colonial past, with some of its earliest establishments still standing at the northern end of Main Street.
Concord is quiet and neat-looking, dominated by its State House. Concord's residents emphasize health and fitness as well as the outdoors, which is why it's an above-average place for families. But the cost of living is high, with median rent at $1,160, compared to the median household income of $73,156.
12. Boise, Idaho
Date Founded: 1863
When It Became the State Capital: 1890
Fun Fact: Boise is home to the only human rights memorial in the U.S., the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial.
How Boise Ranks
Did you know that Boise is one of the trendiest capitals in the country? It's true. Downtown Boise is refreshingly urban, with upscale restaurants, bars and a flourishing art scene. It even has one of the largest Basque populations outside of Spain.
Boise is also one of the best capital cities for outdoor enthusiasts, as it has a large network of hiking trails, forests and rivers, featuring some of the best whitewater rafting in the country.
11. Montpelier, Vermont
Date Settled: 1787
When It Became the State Capital: 1805
Fun Fact: The city is named after the French city of "Montpellier" as a way to honor France's aid to the American colonies during the Revolutionary War.
How Montpelier Ranks
Montpelier may be a capital city, but it's a small town with fewer than 10,000 residents, making it the least-populous capital in the country. Still, people love it precisely for that reason.
While the winter is cold, there is always something exciting to do. Residents value the outdoors, health and fitness, and its downtown has a nice collection of small restaurants, cafes and shops.
10. Olympia, Washington
Date Incorporated: Jan. 28, 1859
When It Became the State Capital: 1889
Fun Fact: Olympia was home to the Olympia Brewing Company — internationally known for its Olympia Beer — for more than 100 years from 1896 until new owners closed the facility in 2003.
How Olympia Ranks
Olympia is one of the top-rated places to live within Washington state, thanks to its mix of urban and suburban environments and a high percentage of young professionals. Olympia has some of the best public schools in the country and a community suited for families. It values outdoor activities, health and fitness, and has an above-average job market.
One of the birthplaces of the grunge movement, music is still one of the pillars of Olympia—just head over to Fourth Avenue to see street musicians honing their craft. Rough around the edges, Olympia has a strong dive bar scene and is at the doorstep to some of Washington state's best outdoor adventures.
9. Sacramento, California
Date Incorporated: Feb. 27, 1850
When It Became the State Capital: 1854
Fun Fact: Sacramento is the fastest-growing major city in California, as a key political, financial, educational and healthcare hub for the state.
How Sacramento Ranks
The center of California's political backbone, Sacramento is one of the largest cities in the state and is one of the largest capitals in the U.S. Its history spans a variety of cultures, including indigenous people, Spanish settlers and Gold Rush immigrants.
Sacramento is one of the best capitals in the U.S. for a good quality of life. It has fantastic weather, access to outdoor activities, a high emphasis on health and fitness and wide diversity. But this is California, which means it’s an expensive place to live, with the median rent standing at $1,434.
8. Providence, Rhode Island
Date Settled: 1636
When It Became the State Capital: 1832
Fun Fact: Like Rome, Providence is a city that claims to be founded on seven hills.
How Providence Ranks
One of the oldest cities in America, Providence was founded in 1636. Today, it's a center of education, with seven higher-learning institutions, and is the third most populated city in New England. While Providence has one of the lowest affordability scores, it has one of the highest quality of life ranks.
Plus, its population is exceedingly diverse, and there is a growing number of young people. In fact, Providence's university culture has paved the way for trendy fusion restaurants, welcoming bars, theater, cafes and colorful street art.
7. Nashville, Tennessee
Date Founded: 1779
When It Became the State Capital: 1843
Fun Fact: In 2018, The New York Times named Nashville "the hottest destination for bachelorette parties in the country," likely due to its five blocks of bars with live music and no cover.
How Nashville Ranks
Nicknamed “Music City,” Nashville is also known as the “Songwriting Capital of the World.” The city was founded on the Cumberland River in 1779 and has been an important railroad center throughout history.
Today, it is home to several national universities as well as country music studios, live music halls and restaurants. A visit to the local honky-tonks or Grand Ole Opry House will give you a better understanding of just how special this place is to the music world.
Date Founded: Nov. 17, 1858
When It Became the State Capital: 1881
Fun Fact: Each year, Denver hosts the Great American Beer Festival, which holds the world record for most beers on tap.
How Denver Ranks
In the last few years, the word has gotten out about Denver, and the population is simply surging. It's one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. And why shouldn't it be? It has innovative dining, a lively arts scene and flourishing nightlife. It also acts as the doorstep to some of the world's best skiing and hiking.
When it comes to state capitals, Denver is one of the best. It's good for families with a strong love of the great outdoors and is a diverse city with ample job opportunities.
5. Raleigh, North Carolina
Date Chartered: Dec. 31, 1792
When It Became the State Capital: 1792
Fun Fact: Raleigh is one of few capitals in the nation that was specifically built to serve as a state capital, and one of the reasons for its chosen location was its close proximity to Isaac Hunter's Tavern, a popular hangout among the state legislators.
How Raleigh Ranks
Raleigh, along with Chapel Hill and Durham, makes up what’s known as the Research Triangle because of the vast amount of tech and scholarly institutions throughout the area. And it has several museums, galleries, restaurants and live music venues that make it a decidedly cool place. Its museum of natural science is the largest in the Southeast.
Raleigh is also an outdoor-loving community that is wonderful for families, with stellar public schools, a booming job market and lots of diversity.
4. Annapolis, Maryland
Date Founded: 1649
When It Became the State Capital: 1776
Fun Fact: Annapolis served as the temporary national capital of the U.S. from 1783 to 1784.
How Annapolis Ranks
Annapolis sits at the point where the Severn River meets the Chesapeake Bay, making it one of the maritime capitals of the country. Today, it is a bustling port city as well as home to the U.S. Naval Academy, which was founded in 1845 and occupies the site of old Fort Severn.
Life in Annapolis is all about the water, meaning residents care deeply about being outdoors and maintaining health and fitness. The city oozes historic charm with colonial architecture (think street lamps and cobblestones), and waterfront dining and shopping. The best place to soak up the Annapolis culture is its historic district, where you'll find the City Dock, St. John's College and more. You can take a water taxi to Eastport from here, which has an additional array of dining options and outdoor experiences.
3. Austin, Texas
Date Settled: 1835
When It Became the State Capital: 1845
Fun Fact: Locals have adopted the city's unofficial slogan, "Keep Austin Weird," which refers to their support of small, local businesses in an effort to keep the community from being overrun by large corporations.
How Austin Ranks
Austin's surging population has brought with it a dynamic music scene, world-class dining, a thriving tech scene, art, hotels, and dozens of bars and restaurants.
World-famous music festivals like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits attract hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, but it’s the talent playing on any given night at the city’s local music venues that have earned it the title of “Live Music Capital of the World.”
2. Madison, Wisconsin
Date Founded: 1836
When It Became the State Capital: 1848
Fun Fact: The height of Madison's skyline is limited by a state law that requires all buildings within 1 mile of the Wisconsin State Capitol to be less than 1,032.8 feet above sea level to preserve views of the building throughout the city.
How Madison Ranks
Madison is another jewel of a capital city. Tucked between Mendota and Monona Lakes, it is known for being environmentally conscious. Plus, it has a friendly population and a big emphasis on the great outdoors. It is gay-friendly, has plenty of parks and boasts a university vibe thanks to the handful of colleges in the city.
The ultimate college town, Madison has breweries and local restaurants galore, making it one of the best capital cities to visit and in which to live.
Date Settled: Sept. 7, 1630
When It Became the State Capital: 1788
Fun Fact: Boston is a city of firsts for the U.S., including the country's first public park, first public or state school, and first subway system.
How It Ranks
From the cobblestone streets in the historic district to the charming waterfront, the luxury hotels, modern restaurants and collegiate atmosphere, Boston is an educated, cosmopolitan, but decidedly quaint capital city. Not only is Boston the No. 1 capital city in America, but it also happens to be one of the top tourist destinations in the country.
From world-renowned symphony performances to gritty punk rock bars, sports fan mania, hearty seafood in the Seaport District, a vibrant Chinatown and deep Italian roots, Boston is cultural and diverse. And while Boston is certainly a pricier capital city to both live in and visit, it does afford its residents a high quality of life, with a wealth of outdoor activities.
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