National Geographic Traveler unveiled its 30 “Cities on the Rise” based on both a unique set of metrics as well as expert picks from its editors. Do you live in one of them? They also make for great places to explore on your America trip.

To identify these rising small cities, Nat Geo Traveler developed a Small Cities Index, a survey that drew from statistics and social media mentions to determine which cities rank highest in a variety of distinctive, fun categories including green spaces, coffee shops, live music and even Instagrammable moments.

best-cities-portland-maine America trip

Nat Geo’s Best Small Cities 2018: Portland, Maine. Photo: Robert Harding / Alamy Stock Photo

Traveler’s 30 Best Small Cities in the U.S. are categorized by 11 key superlatives that influence both residents and travel lovers alike. Here’s the 11 categories and related features the index factored in:


  • Most Hipster Friendly (coffee shops, tattoo parlors, record shops, vintage stores)
  • Musically Grooviest (music venues, live music, instrument stores)
  • Most Instagrammed (hashtags)
  • Most Literate (bookstores, college degrees)
  • Most Artsy (art galleries, art supply stores, art schools)
  • Best Groomed (barber shops, hair salons, hair removal services, cosmetic dentists)
  • Meatiest (butchers, delis, steakhouses)
  • Most Dog Friendly (pet sitting, pet stores, pet groomers, dog friendly restaurants)
  • Sudsiest (breweries)
  • Most Caffeinated (coffee shops)
  • Greenest (parks)

“At Traveler we’re passionate about tales of urban renewal, about communities that have collaborated to improve their main streets, about smart cities that have pursued development policies that produce happiness,” says George Stone, National Geographic Traveler editor in chief. “Happy places for locals are also rewarding places for travelers. Our index of small cities on the rise is based on unconventional metrics that we think produce happiness: green spaces, coffee shops, breweries, music venues, Instagrammable moments and puppies!”


New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo: Tony Mendoza

The 20 Best Small Cities in the US are:

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico (Sudsiest)
  • Anchorage, Alaska (Trending- Most Caffeinated)
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan (Greenest)
  • Annapolis, Maryland (Trending- Dog Friendly)
  • Asheville, North Carolina (Most Artsy, Sudsiest)
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Best Groomed)
  • Boulder, Colorado (Hipster Friendly, Musically Grooviest, Most Caffeinated, Sudsiest)
  • Charleston, South Carolina (Most Instagrammed, Most Artsy)
  • Charlottesville, Virginia (Most Literate)
  • Columbia, South Carolina (Best Groomed, Meatiest)
  • Greenville, South Carolina (Meatiest)
  • Hagerstown, Maryland (Best Groomed)
  • Healdsburg, California (Trending- Greenest)
  • Hickory, North Carolina (Hipster Friendly)
  • Honolulu, Hawaii (Musically Grooviest, Most Instagrammed, Most Artsy)
  • Kansas City, Missouri (Trending- Most Artsy)
  • Lakeland, Florida (Most Dog Friendly)
  • Louisville, Kentucky (Trending- Meatiest)
  • Madison, Wisconsin (Greenest)
  • New Orleans, Louisiana (Trending- Hipster Friendly)
  • Newport, Rhode Island (Trending- Best Groomed)
  • Olympia, Washington (Most Caffeinated, Greenest)
  • Omaha, Nebraska (Trending- Musically Grooviest)
  • Pensacola, Florida (Most Dog Friendly)
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Trending- Sudsiest)
  • Portland, Maine (Most Instagrammed)
  • Rapid City, South Dakota (Trending- Most Instagrammed)
  • Reno, Nevada (Meatiest, Most Dog Friendly)
  • Santa Cruz, California (Musically Grooviest)
  • Spokane, Washington (Hipster Friendly, Most Caffeinated)

Traveler identified “trending” cities that didn’t top the list this year, but look to be climbing their way up.

Did someone say Most Caffeinated? That’s your America trip sorted!

Source: Nat Geo

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America Travel: 10 Greenest Cities in the US