The Hippest City in Every State Gallery
The Hippest City in Every State
Every U.S. state has its own story and its own history, as well as different opportunities in terms of entertainment, leisure, and gastronomy. With nearly 20,000 incorporated municipalities in 50 states, it’s hard to know where you should go when you’re planning a trip to any particular one. Luckily for you, The Daily Meal knows just which places are popping with up-and-coming culinary scenes, bustling nightlife, and impressive venues for arts and music.
You may be surprised to find that the “hippest city” in California isn’t actually Los Angeles, nor is Massachusetts’ best scene in Boston. When determining what’s “hip,” or seriously cool and up-and-coming, we took a look at which cities show an active and innovative lifestyle in terms of food, art, music, and other forms of recreation that may be unique to the area. Basically, where is it that the young’uns go? So if you’re looking for a road trip that will take you to the hottest destinations across all 50, check out our guide to the hippest city in every state.
Alabama’s largest city is where it’s at, with an active nightlife and tons of music venues. The cultural and economic hub of the state, Birmingham is home to tons of art galleries, theaters, museums, and shopping and entertainment centers, as well as cultural events such as Birmingham ArtWalk, the Birmingham Folk Festival, Sidewalk Film Festival, and Southern Heritage Festival. The food scene here is impressive too; check out one of America’s best hot dogs at Gus’s or try a Hamburger Fon Fon at Chez Fon Fon, one of the nation’s best burgers. You’ll also find the state’s most expensive restaurant here, Highlands Bar & Grill, as well as one of America’s best fried chicken spots at Little Donkey.
The beautiful town of Ketchikan is a popular Alaskan cruise ship port and has been known as a small, scenic tourist destination. There’s a lot of nightlife and entertainment here, however, with plenty of venues as well as lots of opportunities for outdoor adventures such as zip-lining, kayaking, hiking, and fishing. The art scene here is one of Alaska’s most prolific, and Alaska Native art in particular can be found at multiple studios and shops.
A diverse city with a strong artistic scene and fantastic Southwestern cuisine, Tucson is a must for anyone visiting Arizona. The Sonoran Dog, a unique hot dog wrapped in bacon and griddled until crispy and stuffed into a split-top bun, is one of the best hot dogs in the country and can be found at El Güero Canelo. You’ll also find the best doughnuts in Arizona at Young Donuts in Tucson, which also has a lively nightlife. Tucson is pretty big on wine, so you’ll have to try some at its many wineries or one of its great bars such as Kon Tiki Restaurant Lounge, also the best in the state.
Arkansas: Little Rock
Southern history and culture thrive in Little Rock, which is full of historic sites and museums, but visitor’s will also find multiple arts and music centers. Visit the historic White Water Tavern, the best bar in the state, or any of the city’s many bars and music venues that make up its vibrant nightlife. Riverfest, the main cultural event of the year, is held every Memorial Day Weekend, and other festivals include the Greek Food Festival, Arkansas State Fair, and Movies in the Park, held at the Riverside Amphitheatre. One of the best cities in America for a weekend getaway, the food scene in Little Rock is impressive too; try a bite of the lasagna imbotito at Bruno’s Little Italy or try the best Mexican food in Arkansas at Taqueria El Palenque.
California: San Francisco
One of the most visited cities in the world, San Francisco is the crown jewel of the Bay Area and a bastion of cultural diversity, gorgeous scenery, and fantastic food. A 48-hour trip would absolutely need to include Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 along with other famed bars and restaurants. Try some of the popular Golden Gate Bakery’s egg tarts and some of the best casual restaurants in the country, such as Pizzeria Delfina and La Taquería. One of the best cities in the country for Mexican food, San Francisco brings a mix of West Coast, Mexican, East Asian, and African cultures to its cuisine, arts, and lifestyle in a location that’s known for its liberal attitudes and sunny weather.
Boulder is a college town set in the Rocky Mountains, so it’s a great place for a younger crowd that enjoys the great outdoors. You can go totally casual in Boulder, but it’s also got a place for tourists seeking a more luxurious getaway. Alternative and new age culture has seen quite the boom here with multiple Buddhist and meditation centers, and the high altitude and access to mountains and open spaces provide opportunities for those seeking a more physical adventure.
Connecticut: New Haven
Home to Yale University, New Haven is of course a city that attracts a lot of young people with its many restaurants, bars, and shops catered specifically to them. With access to the shore and gorgeous hiking trails, New Haven is a great place to enjoy a walk, a bike, or other outdoor recreational activities when you’re not checking out the active nightlife, art galleries, or music shows present throughout the year. One of the best cities for pizza, New Haven’s iconic apizza is sometimes considered separate from the original pizza, as it’s a unique, slightly oblong style of thin-crust deliciousness with a chewy texture and slight char.
Located in a small state, Wilmington is a relatively small city with a lot going on, home to many art galleries, museums, restaurants, and, of course, tax-free shopping like the rest of Delaware. Johnnie’s Dog House offers some of the best hot dogs the country, and local bars will have Delaware brews on tap such as Dogfish Head, Blue Earl Brewing, Twin Lakes, and more.
Florida: Miami Beach
Many tourists don’t seem to realize that Miami Beach is a municipality entirely separate from the city of Miami itself, even though it’s one of the most popular spring break spots. One of the best American cities for a weekend getaway, Miami Beach is located east of Miami and Biscayne Bay on a barrier island. Not only will you find tons of partying and luxurious resorts here, but Miami Beach is also a hub of art and culture. Go on an Art Deco walking tour to explore that cultural history or hit one of the many designer stores and diverse restaurants.
Atlanta is a leading destination in the South, and for good reason, as it brings together a traditional Southern lifestyle with a constantly progressing modernism. Multiple popular fast food chains are headquartered here, such as Chick-Fil-A, Waffle House, Arby’s, and Moe’s Southwest Grill, but Atlanta’s culinary scene also has a more sophisticated side with restaurants by award-winning chefs and even a noteworthy brunch scene. There’s nightlife here for everyone, from more alternative scenes to trendier spots and popular clubs throughout the city.
Located in West Maui, Lahaina is less of a sightseeing spot than other places in Hawaii and is instead a perfect place for lovers of eating and partying. Check out the Old Lahaina Luau, considered one of the most authentic Hawaiian luaus, where you can enjoy tropical food and drinks along with fire dancing and hula. The award-winning Lahaina Grill is a great culinary stop, located on Front Street where you’ll find the best of Maui’s nightlife and shopping.
Boise has found its groove, and its place, as one of America’s rising destinations thanks to great breweries, wine, food, and an accompanying pleasant climate. Eat some of America’s best steak at Chandlers and the most delicious fries at Boise Fry Company in what is actually one of the safest cities in the world. Outdoor adventures abound here, as well, and Boise is a great place to go hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, and more.
Just north of Chicago, Evanston beat out Chi-Town probably because of the college life suffusing it. Home to Northwestern University, Evanston has a lot going on in terms of culture, nightlife, and cuisine. Catch a show with the local theater company or check out the shopping in downtown Evanston, full of fashionable boutiques. Great foodie spots include Edzo’s Burger Shop, which has some of the best French fries in America, and Buffalo Joe’s, home to some of the best Buffalo wings.
Indiana: West Lafayette
The most densely populated in city in Indiana, West Lafayette is home to Purdue University and is a rising city in Indiana. Its downtown recently saw a big makeover, with redevelopment focused on State Street, the site of many restaurants and stores that continue to open up as big chains realize the opportunities that lie here. With a college campus in town, there’s plenty of nightlife as well as a burgeoning creative scene to experience.
Iowa: Iowa City
Iowa City has a strong literary culture, having been named a UNESCO City of Literature — the only one in North America — and is home to the University of Iowa’s famous Writer’s Workshop which boasts graduates such as Flannery O’Connor, T.C. Boyle, John Irving, and Reza Aslan. Visit in the summer to take part in the city’s Summer of the Arts program, featuring open-air movie viewings, free concerts, an arts festival, and a jazz festival, or take on the Iowa City Book Festival held every year.
A quirky town full of Midwestern charm and full to the brim with a rich culture of arts, music, sports, and more, Lawrence benefits from being home to both the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University. Basketball is big here, so see if you can grab some tickets to a Jayhawks game at Allen Fieldhouse or visit the arena for a glimpse of the original basketball rules book. Check out Lawrence Busker Fest, a huge gathering of street performers, or come for the Free State Festival, an arts and film festival, or the Haskell Indian Art Market.
Kentucky: Bowling Green
Bowling Green provides some of Kentucky’s best Southern flavor and fun with a strong culinary scene and tons of history. Nearly 100 acres of land are reserved for parks and recreation here, and lovers of the great outdoors have plenty to do here, including golfing, hiking, and all kinds of outdoor exploration. The gorgeous campus of Western Kentucky University resides here, and its student population has given rise to a strong social scene that includes bars, restaurants, and events such as the Bowling Green International Festival which features food, music, dance, and more from around the world.
Louisiana: New Orleans
New Orleans may be old — the city turns 300 this year — but it’s still the hottest destination in Louisiana, particularly after an impressive post-Katrina comeback. Enjoy the best of Southern and Creole culture and cuisine any time of the year, but visit mid-February for the fabled Mardi Gras or in late April and early May for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. And those are just two of the 160 festivals held each year in this party city, all of which are sure to have something special planned in honor of the tercentennial. New hotels are also popping up, and old hotels are ready for you too, such as the historic Pontchartrain Hotel, which just underwent a $10 million renovation.
One of America’s best cities for food, Portland is a quaint, seaside getaway perfect for a weekend of rest and relaxation. That doesn’t mean it’s a sleepy or boring town, however. Portland’s food scene is thriving, having been the smallest city to hold the Feed the 5,000 festival, and its art and history museums offer plenty of sightseeing opportunities, as do its many lighthouses.
Maryland: Silver Spring
Named after a spring that has since dried up, Silver Spring still has plenty to offer in the way of entertainment. Find the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, an old 1930s theater converted into the home of the renowned American Film Institute, which also hosts the Silverdocs documentary film festival here every year. Diverse ethnic cuisines populate the restaurants of downtown Silver Spring, which reflects it diverse population.
Amherst is everything you’d imagine a New England college town to be. Quaint yet bustling, it is home to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, and Hampshire College, all three of which contribute to the town’s serious cultural scene. The young population of the town makes for a busy nightlife and restaurant scene, but the academic vibe also brings about some of the coolest art galleries and museum exhibitions as well as music concerts and all kinds of events that tend to be held on the various campuses.
Until relatively recently, Detroit would not have been in the running for this list. America’s Comeback City, however, has indeed come back with a vengeance as a destination not just for domestic travelers but for those from all over the world. After decades of suffering due to a declining economy and population, Detroit has seen a revival thanks to new additions and attractions, as well as renovations to its many historic buildings. Birthplace of Motown and home to a strong automobile culture, the city’s abandoned buildings have been turned into art galleries, distilleries, and more thanks to growing scene of artists and young upstarts.
It seems much of the Midwest knows something about Duluth that the rest of the country is missing out on. A popular travel spot for the region, the city has a fantastic view of Lake Superior and tons of outdoor recreation, as well as activities for the whole family, from restaurants and shops to a thriving local art scene. The country’s only all-freshwater aquarium, the Great Lakes Aquarium, is in Duluth, as is the world’s longest freshwater baymouth sandbar, Minnesota Point, which stretches for six miles.
Take a trip to eastern Mississippi where you’ll find a thriving college town where young people make up nearly half the population. You’ll find the most restaurants per capita in Mississippi here, and thanks to Mississippi State University, there’s quite the active cultural scene in Starkville as well. The Cotton District Arts Festival features regional and international cuisine as well as the work of local artists and musicians, and other local events include the Bulldog Dash, Magnolia Film Festival, and Old Main Music Festival, among others.
Missouri: Kansas City
Kansas City has had a coming of age of sorts over the past few years, rising as a gastronomical hotspot as well as a top Midwestern destination. In addition to its many art galleries and performance centers, Kansas City’s culture can be observed at its many delicious food spots such as Arthur Bryant’s, one of the best casual restaurants in the U.S. and a great spot to experience Kansas City’s famous barbecue. Check out Town Topic, where the cheeseburgers made our list of the nation’s greatest, or Boulevard Brewing Company, another one of the nation’s best.
As another college town, almost half of Bozeman is between the ages of 18 and 34, which is why there is so much food, nightlife, and outdoor activity. The gorgeous Gallatin River offers itself up for some serious watersports, and the many museums and art galleries make up a cultural scene that’s quite prolific. Check out the Sweet Pea Festival, held every summer and featuring food, art, music, theater, and more.
Nebraska’s largest city is definitely the coolest place to be in the state. Many festivals take place in Omaha that celebrate the arts, such as Jazz on the Green and Shakespeare on the Green, and the Omaha Farmers Market and the Taste of Omaha festival showcase the great gastronomy in this Midwestern city. You’ll find one of America’s best steakhouses here at Gorat’s and some of the nation’s best Buffalo wings at Addy’s Bar & Grill.
While Las Vegas may be exciting, Reno is a bit less infested with tourists and a bit more diverse in its offerings. In addition to the many casinos that populate the city, Reno’s outdoor landscape gives visitors the chance to bike on its scenic roads and mountain trails, ski at its resorts, and kayak at its kayak park — as well as roam with its wild horses. Burning Man is held every year not far from here, making Reno a popular place to stay during the festival as well.
New Hampshire: Portsmouth
America’s third oldest city, Portsmouth has managed to stay “hip”; it has a small town vibe yet offers city-like nightlife and cultural events. The Prescott Park Arts Festival lasts from June to October, and the city also hosts the New Hampshire Film Festival, a week-long event that is one of the largest of its kind in the region. Unique boutiques and great restaurants also line the streets of Portsmouth, as does the state’s best bar, Portsmouth Brewery.
New Jersey: Jersey City
Kind of a little sibling to the giant that is New York City, Jersey City is a diverse and hopping destination, with plenty of nightlife, culture, food, and history. One of the most artistic cities in the country, a small yet significant percentage of the population consider themselves artists, and the city is home to many galleries as well as the Hudson Shakespeare Company. Jersey City is also one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., and its impressive restaurant scene is a reflection of that. Here you’ll find Honshu, one of the best sushi bars in America, as well as Rasoi, one of the best restaurants located in an international district.
New Mexico: Santa Fe
The capital of New Mexico is the oldest and — at an elevation of 7,000 feet — highest state capital in the country, as well as possibly the trendiest. The beauty of the city comes not only from the natural scenery but also the native-influenced architecture, Southwestern culture, and mouthwatering cuisine. Festivals celebrating religious holidays, arts and crafts, wine, music, film, and more occur throughout the year, and with the city situated between both mountains and desert, there are also plenty of more active adventures. It’s not hard to see why Santa Fe is known as the City Different, particularly when you take a look at its amazing cuisine, such as the best burger in the West, the Green Chile Cheeseburger at Santa Fe Bite, amazing breakfast burritos, and the shredded beef tacos at El Parasol, some of the best in the entire nation. They take that delicious food seriously here, too; this is the kind of place where your preference in chile says a lot about you.
New York: New York
Maybe we’re a little biased when it comes to New York City… but that doesn’t change the fact that no matter how many years pass and no matter what pops up across the rest of the state — indeed, the rest of the country — there’s no place more popping than New York. The New York restaurant scene is unparalleled, with chefs from around the world settling in the five boroughs to set trends, and the world often looks to New York when seeking out the latest in fashion, film, art, and more. New Yorkers, including their mayor, are protective of their world-famous pizza, and their restaurants are among the most Instagrammed in the country, if not the world. Broadway shows continue to lead the world of theater, Fifth Avenue and New York Fashion Week rules the fashion industry, and the modern-day hipster came out of the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.
North Carolina: Durham
Home to Duke University and North Carolina Central University and one of the three cities that make up the Research Triangle, Durham is surprisingly liberal and home to a high number of four-star restaurants, independent bookstores and bakeries, a regional film festival, and quaint cafes. Durham, together with Raleigh, is one of the best places in America for Mexican food; the barbacoa taco at Taqueria La Vaquita made it to our list of America’s best tacos for 2017. Durham is also one of the happiest cities in America, which sounds pretty hip to us.
North Dakota: Fargo
Despite being a relatively small city with a population of just under 121,000, Fargo has a lot going on, largely thanks to the presence of North Dakota State University as well as two other colleges nearby. The resulting student population gives rise to a bustling arts and culture scene with many theater productions and cultural events, as well as music groups and entertainment scenes. Fargo is also home to North Dakota’s best restaurant scene. Try the tortelloni vodka at Toscana, the best pasta dish you’ll find in the state, or have a treat at Angel’s Cups, one of America’s top cupcakes. Fargo Brewing Company is known not only for its fantastic brews, but also for hosting $15 yoga classes where you can drink for free!
It’s hard to tell whether Ohio is a true Midwestern state, and Cincinnati makes it even harder. In addition to Midwestern influences, you’ll find some of the Northeast, Appalachia, and even the Old South here. Festivals are big here, particularly Oktoberfest Zinnzinati, the biggest Oktoberfest celebration in the country. Cincinnati also lays claim to the best chili in America, as well as the country’s oldest culinary festival. A weekend trip here will bring you all kinds of great eats and drinks as well as some of the best and most diverse culture in the Midwestern region.
Thanks to the presence of Oklahoma State University, over half the population of Stillwater is between the ages of 18 and 34. Naturally, the city has a ton of festivals and events celebrating the performing arts, cars, food, and more. Stillwater’s musical heritage is particularly impressive, as it’s the home of the red dirt genre, a mix of rock, folk, blues and country, and so named due to the color of Oklahoman soil. Check out Eskimo Joe’s, a locally famous restaurant containing four bars and tons of college students, where artists like The All-American Rejects and Garth Brooks got their start and both where both Presidents Bush have publicly praised the cheese fries.
There’s a lot going on in Ashland, home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Oregon Cabaret Theater. Come in April for the Ashland Independent Film Festival or the first Friday of any month for the First Friday Artwalk, where local art galleries and wineries come together to provide you with some of Oregon’s best local culture. Southern Oregon University is also in Ashland, thus giving rise to a number of restaurants and bars catering to the college set.
A hardcore sports town, Pittsburgh’s healthy economy has resulted in a lot happening here, from great food to extensive entertainment. Known for its drinking culture, Pittsburgh is one of the best cities for beer lovers, and if you’re not in the mood for alcohol, check out the local coffee at Commonplace Coffee Co. House and Roasters, one of the nation’s best coffee shops. Home to many colleges and universities, Pittsburgh is a bastion for arts and culture, as well as academia, and in addition to the many events on campuses, the city has music venues of every kind, as well as art galleries, museums, and casinos.
Rhode Island: Newport
The seaside views of Newport are just one of many reasons the city is such a popular Northeastern summertime destination and one of the best weekend getaways in America. In addition to its gorgeous scenery and famous mansions, Newport has a lot to offer, including its annual folk festival and jazz festival and plenty of adventure water sports, plus skydiving and scuba diving. There are over 1,000 slot machines at Newport Grand, and you can also check out the new Newport Storm Brewery. Downtown Newport also has plenty of shopping opportunities, including some of the biggest brands in fashion, as well as quaint boutiques and specialty stores.
South Carolina: Charleston
Charleston is very likely the hippest city in the entire South, not just South Carolina. A popular Southern destination for quite some time, Charleston still has a lot of offer in terms of hidden and harder-to-find gems, and its decadent cuisine features great seafood and Southern classics. Enjoy some of it at Taste of Charleston, one of the town’s many festivals, which also include the Lowcountry Oyster Festival and Spoleto Festival USA, one of the best arts festivals in the country.
South Dakota: Sioux Falls
The great outdoors of the Midwest can be experienced in full at Sioux Falls, and a visit to Falls Park will provide plenty of places from which to witness the natural beauty of South Dakota. Museums display the history and culture of the area, as well as its wildlife. A recent increase in immigration has led to diverse ethnic cuisine, and the area’s shopping opportunities include the Empire Mall — the largest shopping complex between Minneapolis and Denver — and Ten Thousand Villages, a complex that has fair trade items from all over the world on sale.
Old factories and warehouses have been converted into apartment complexes in Knoxville, ushering in a generation of young people that are bringing Knoxville back to life. Once the setting of the 1982 World’s Fair, Knoxville is home to the University of Tennessee and only about 30 minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A variety of restaurants and fascinating shops and boutiques line the downtown Market Square — home to one of the country’s best farmers markets — and visitors can head to the Old City for a varied nightlife with something for everyone.
Signs, t-shirts, and bumper stickers around the capital of Texas read “Keep Austin Weird,” and the popular expression refers to the city’s eccentricity in an affectionate way. Austin has a unique ambience in comparison with the rest of the state and is the live music capital of the world, with tons of music venues and festivals to check out. Tech is booming here, and the city is also known as “Silicon Hills” due to its reputation for fostering tech start-ups. Austin offers tons of shopping, art galleries, and multiple museums and parks, and outdoor endeavors are popular, particularly rock climbing and mountain biking. You can also go for a swim in a spring-fed pool or rent a kayak, canoe, paddle board, or tube. Make sure you try the Tex-Mex while you’re there too! Austin’s food scene is a great mix of Southwestern and cosmopolitan.
Utah: Park City
Park City is a resort town visitors can enjoy year-round, but what sets it apart from the many other resort towns of Utah is its tradition of the arts. After all, this is the host city of the annual Sundance Film Festival. Music also has a big place here, and you can watch bands play at Silver Lake in the summer or enjoy all kinds of artists at the Kimball Arts Festival, attended by over 45,000 people every year. Park City also has some top-notch restaurants that are worth checking out.
Located along Lake Champlain, Burlington is an unassuming hub of Vermont with a laid-back culture and impressive food scene. Go downtown to witness some interesting shops and eateries or check out one of the many cultural institutions, such as Flynn Theater or the Bern Gallery, a grassroots art gallery featuring glassblowing and local art and jewelry. There are many festivals hosted in Burlington every year, including (but not limited to) the Vermont Brewers Festival in July, the Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival, and First Night, a New Year’s Eve celebration that features fireworks, performances, and parades.
A suburb of D.C., Arlington is usually seen as more of a destination for lovers of political and military history, but the city has come to have quite an active nightlife and social scene. Particularly of note is the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse, where patrons can enjoy movies in a 1930s cinema among beers and cocktails. The arts are also celebrated at Synetic Theater at Crystal City, home to many Shakespeare productions, as well as the Comedy Spot where guests can watch great stand-up and variety shows. As with much of the D.C. area, Arlington is quite diverse, and this is reflected in the many restaurants featuring international cuisines. You can also keep it simple with a nice juicy burger at Ray’s Hell Burger, one of the best in the country.\
There are plenty of hip spots in Washington, but we went with Spokane for hippest of them all thanks to its artistic and young vibe. Renowned events include the Get Lit! Programs Fetival, a week-long literary outreach event, and the Spokane Gay/Lesbian Film Festival. The music scene is quite active here as well, with tons of venues, clubs, and bars featuring local and touring artists. Spokane is also known for both its local craft beer and craft coffee scene.
West Virginia: Morgantown
If you’re ever in West Virginia, Morgantown is worth checking out. Home to West Virginia University, one of the nation’s biggest party schools, there’s quite a prolific social scene here with some great bars and clubs. The population here is quite young, with almost 65 percent between the age of 18 and 24. Check out Mario’s Fishbowl, the best bar in all of West Virginia, or one of the town’s multiple theaters for some solid entertainment.
With access to five different lakes and the main campus of the University of Wisconsin, the capital of Wisconsin is a young and active community with a high quality of life. It’s also full of culture and constant happenings, such as Great Taste of the Midwest — one of the biggest beer festivals in the country — the Mifflin Street Block Party, Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, and Art Fair on the Square. Some people claim that Madison has the highest number of restaurants per capita in the U.S., and whether it’s true or not, the restaurant scene here is impressive for such a relatively small city.
Many people confuse Jackson with Jackson Hole, the latter being a region which happens to be one of the best weekend getaways in America. The city of Jackson is a part of Jackson Hole, but very much its own entity. A small town with only approximately 6,000 year-round residents, Jackson is a beautiful place to be in either the winter or summer, depending on your preferences. Hit up the town square for some interesting and quaint shops and galleries or to watch street performers act out a skit in the summers. The winter months turn this town into a hopping ski resort, and the healing arts are big here year-round, with some high-quality day spas. If this list has already got you planning your cross-country road trip, check out our 2018 guide on the best food and drink in every state.