Credit: Jennifer Bui/Thrillist
This story is being featured as part of our “Yahoo Best of 2015” series. It was originally published on June 30, 2015.
By Kevin Alexander and Matt Lynch
Seeing how we’ve already danced with state rankings involving food/drink and beer, we thought it was time to use the perfectly American cliche “go big or go home” and rank the states based on everything. More specifically, their contributions to America, so think inventions, food/drink, somewhat productive famous people, unique physical beauty, etc.
As this is the Internet, we expect disagreements. We expect that you will find our placement of Arkansas or New York or Montana infuriating, and accuse us of pandering and showing regional biases. Someone will inevitably use the word “invalid” and say they stopped reading as soon as “X” happened. Someone else will accuse us of having never been to a state, and say mean things about our hair. This is fine. What we’d prefer, though, is for it to start the same sort of debate Matt and I had when sorting out the rankings. Is the loose-meat sandwich greater than the Juicy Lucy? Is Tonya Harding worse than Skip Bayless? Where does one locate Delaware on a map?
Anyway, we’ll let you get to it. And to my cousins in Florida: I’m sorry I couldn’t help you. It appears nothing could.
When putting together a list such as this, there can be some temptation to defy popular expectations, and go against the grain. However, Florida’s awfulness resume is so staggeringly impressive that it couldn’t go any other way. You were born for this. Embrace it.
Dogfish Head, one of the most enduring jokes from Wayne’s World, and… that about covers it. Even people from Delaware don’t really fight back all that hard when you make fun of Delaware.
Getting LeBron back only further cemented its position as the Florida of the North.
The inevitable answer to any question that starts with, “Where do those nice retired people we met on that river cruise live?”, AZ is also home to golf pros playing the Web.com Tour, and college students whose parents don’t seem to mind paying down the credit card balance on tribal tattoos. Though the unmitigated beauty of its canyons and deserts is well known, the northern part of the state actually holds the largest number of ponderosa pine trees in the world, a fact that would hold more sway in the ranking if they weren’t completely useless as Christmas trees.
To this day Utah is still amazed it managed to host the Olympics.
The only state children actually use in counting games is like a John Grisham book, but Jake Brigance has to quit his lawyer job to work on a catfish aquaculture farm in Yazoo City.
Inventing the cheeseburger, the can opener, ESPN, and Rick Mahorn can only get you so far. Also, we’re subtracting points for John Mayer and warm lobster rolls.
43. North Dakota
Chuck Klosterman is currently preparing a 3,000-word essay detailing why playing the Queen song “Tenement Funster” off their Sheer Heart Attack album during the second season of the show Hang Time proves that the forthcoming statement is incorrect, but it’s true: North Dakota is the lesser Dakota.
Let’s just say the rest of the country is REALLY enjoying the Cardinals being embroiled in a massive cheating scandal right now, which speaks to how sanctimonious they’ve become. Take note, Royals fans, even though the whole thing with most of Kansas City actually being in Missouri is frustratingly confusing for everyone else. Also, when you have a special type of cheese that is only made for your special variety of pizza and isn’t used anywhere else, that is a sign that it’s not very good cheese. Good ribs though!
If a guy tells you he is from Vegas, he’s either a mediocre street magician or a budding baseball phenom. If a guy tells you he goes to Vegas all the time, you should probably think twice before trusting him. And if a guy tells you he goes to Reno all the time, you are either about to be murdered or given the hard sell on some discounted irrigation equipment. Great buffet values though!
Credit: Jennifer Bui/Thrillist
Where your grandpa gets his mail-order steaks, and where the good citizens see a football coach and say “now THAT guy should be in Congress.”
39. South Carolina
38. Rhode Island
Tiny Rhode Island doesn’t have a chip on its diminutive shoulder. It’s just the wooden spoon from an empty carton of Del’s Frozen Lemonade.
The gun America is menacingly pointing at Canada! It seems kind of unfair that many Americans simultaneously adore potatoes and mock Idaho for farming so many potatoes. It’s just hard to get fired up about the state’s progress as a hub for semiconductor manufacturing, ya know?
36. West Virginia
West Virginia is the state equivalent of that friend from college who purposely gets in fights with security guards at free Barenaked Ladies concerts.
You don’t become the largest producer of sunflowers by sitting on your butt. Or do you? Agriculture seems complicated.
At the middle school lunch table that is America, Georgia is that kid who everyone kind of can’t stand but tolerates because their parents are friends and they usually have good snacks at their house. It makes sense. Think about it. The snacks are Augusta National and connecting flights through the Atlanta airport, if that helps.
33. South Dakota
You don’t carve the faces of presidents into a mountain unless you’re doing something right. And whatever that right thing is, it might involve fry bread, chislic, kuchen, January Jones, and the location of THE GREATEST HBO SHOW OF ALL TIME. But still, it is a Dakota.
Points for onion burgers, Color Me Badd, Louis L’Amour’s later works, that flirtatious minx Ado Annie Carnes from the musical Oklahoma!, the first shopping cart, 2007 Wes Welker, and that one song from Cross Canadian Ragweed that they don’t play anymore. Negative infinity points for Skip Bayless.
Minus points for its messy divorce with West Virginia and numerous historical inaccuracies in Remember the Titans, which is really more Disney’s fault, but still. Plus points for ham and the good parts about Thomas Jefferson.
Credit: Jennifer Bui/Thrillist
If America is Sirius Satellite Radio (which it is!), Mass is that station that only plays NPR think pieces on jimmies, mixed in with snippets of sports talk-radio callers yelling (also, some Dropkick Murphys).
Less a state than two opposing tribes of football fanatics caught up in a Cold War conducted using call-in radio show proxies and tree assassins. Actually needs to be congratulated for figuring out a way to work mayonnaise into its BBQ.
Hoosiers like to think of themselves as the living embodiment of a John Mellencamp song, even if they were never actually born in a small town or dated anyone named Diane. While the folksiness can feel a bit forced sometimes, there’s definitely something to all that #HoosierHospitality they talked about so much when everyone was mad at them for that thing they did. Everyone was a bit skeptical when they landed a Super Bowl, but people walked away almost universally impressed, which isn’t an easy feat (cough Jacksonville cough).
Chicago’s a fine city that vacillates between having WAY too high an opinion of itself and desperately needing outside approval. That said, without it, Illinois would really be scraping bottom. Have you ever been to Rockford? That city enjoys bowling to a degree that makes everybody else uncomfortable. Also, since 1961 Illinois has sent an impressive four governors to prison, so watch yourself Bruce Rauner!
A state as played by Jack Palance in City Slickers, you’ll recognize Wyoming as the one eating bull fries and venison jerky, dressed in gold and brown, talking smack about Colorado. It should be given credit for creating the USA’s first national park in Yellowstone, and giving teenage boys everywhere a chance to snicker at the Grand Tetons.
The Hawkeye State is like that kid you bunk with at camp who has decent snacks, and never tries to steal your diary and read it aloud at lunch, even though he can hear you weeping while you write your missives under the covers. So basically it’s pleasant, but not entirely memorable. Though to be fair, in most countries, coming up with the Eskimo Pie, the loose-meat sandwich, and University of Iowa three point-shooting legend Chris Kingsbury would be enough to ensure a place at the top of the heap. But America is not most countries, according to Wikipedia.
24. New Hampshire
People from NH have a random sort of swagger you don’t often see in New England, which you can only get from regularly beating up humanities majors from Dartmouth. Quite possibly the most overlooked of the New England states, NH has beautiful lakes, mediocre outlet stores, and a clever political primary system, which ensures that Carly Fiorina will be pretending to like buckwheat pancakes at the Littleton Diner. Also where the rest of New England goes to buy and illegally transport bottle rockets over state lines for the 4th.
23. New Mexico
GREEN. CHILE. Also sand. And, like, pretty good skiing.
22. North Carolina
The land of tobacco, basketball, and Petey Pablo rap tracks has many things going for it: two types of barbecue (with varying amounts of vinegar); the weirdly fascinating bikini string of beachfront known as the Outer Banks; the clothes-ruining delight that is Cheerwine; and the fact that most of the Duke kids go back North after four years.
21. New Jersey
Despite all the damage wrought by certain reality TV programs and a certain rotund Cowboys-loving governor, Jersey is actually pretty damn swell. Most of the Jersey Shore (place, not show) is rather pleasant and devoid of laundry-obsessed orange people, South Jersey is basically a pastoral wonderland, and the state arguably does both pizza and cheesesteaks better than its more heralded neighbors in either direction. Plus, our moms really love that Jersey Boys musical.
Credit: Jennifer Bui/Thrillist
Maryland is a tough state to pin down – not quite Southern, not quite Northern, split between the influences of DC and Baltimore, speaking with America’s most underrated hideous accent. To really understand it you should either read James Michener’s epic novel Chesapeake, or just start putting Old Bay on everything and developing an uncomfortably strong attachment to Cal Ripken Jr.
The Razorback State is a dark horse of sorts, underrated for both its BBQ and spa town tranquility (conveniently, both happen in the same place). According to your particular palate, it’s also got either the best or worst college cheer (“Wooooooo Pig Sooie!”), the best or worst former president (Clinton), and the best or worst former NATO supreme allied commander (Wesley Clark, you divisive beast!). Also, we just read that the pronunciation for Arkansas was a hot debate between its two senators until 1881, as one of them kept calling it “Arrr-kansas.” That didn’t factor into the ranking but we felt like you needed to know.
Montana’s managed to position itself as kind of the hip older brother of the relatively unpopulated/unheralded Midwest and Mountain West states, with an up-and-coming brewing and distilling scene and some underrated places to party (shout out to Missoula!). As a corollary it’s become something of a trendy spot for Hollywood types looking to really make a statement about how much they’re “getting away from it all,” which can be good or bad depending on how you feel about hanging out in coffee shops formerly owned by Glenn Close.
Once you get past the intellectualized enviro-crunchy aesthetic, which always feels a bit condescending in the chillest way possible, you could fall in love with a place stocked to the brim with the finest of craft beers, cheddar cheeses, and sugary tree sap to pour over your French toast sticks. The only problem is, it’s hard to get past an entire gaggle of dudes who used to be in the Peace Corps but now sell vegan grilled cheese and goo balls outside of String Cheese Incident shows while criticizing your car’s inability to run on compressed natural gas.
America’s greatest remaining expanse of truly unspoiled wilderness and judgment-free opportunities to hunt wolves with spearguns via helicopter. Watch out for rogue bears and/or Palins. Enjoy the stunning beauty and eerie silence of walking on a glacier, assuming you get there in the next few months while they’re still in existence. Also eat some salmon. It’s high in Omega 3s.
There is a theory, and it goes like this: in the places with the best weather, there is an onus to be outside, an urge to ditch more intellectual pursuits for the spirit of the outdoors, and while that is fantastic for your calorie intake and calf definition, it inhibits creativity, stifles progressive thinking, and makes it hard to read things without expensive polarized sunglasses. “If I already have everything, what do I need to create,” they shout, tan-faced and chiseled in San Diego. Well, the good people of Oregon don’t have that problem, which might explain why they’re the kings of the DIY movement, and the original craft food/beer/everything scene. It possibly even explains the brilliance of native son Raymond Carver. It does nothing, however, to explain Tonya Harding.
Any state that goes from zero Thrillist editions to two Thrillist editions in less than a year has to be doing some things right. Right? In no particular order, those things include: hot chicken, the Stax Museum, inexplicably passionate hockey fanbases, ribs, Beale Street, state songs, dressing weirdly nice for college football games, and theme parks dedicated to busty country musicians. Could Thrillist Chattanooga be on the horizon? POSSIBLY!
13. New York
In the scheme of things, this is actually a pretty good ranking. And yet, 15 New Yorkers have definitely already commented to tell us that this ranking is an abomination and affront to decency on par with Montreal “bagels” and actual home ownership. That’s pretty much all you need to know about New Yorkers.
Despite being home to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, sandwiches that incorporate French fries as a filling, and football fans who steal prosthetic legs, Pennsylvania still feels like it flies a bit under the radar sometimes. Whether it’s a product of being caught between the equally distracting spheres of DC and New York or everyone’s lingering confusion about the Pennsylvania Dutch actually being German, who knows.
But Pennsylvania has certain charms that become increasingly apparent when you look past the obvious stuff. Cheesesteaks are great and all, but those roast pork numbers are arguably more delicious. Pittsburgh’s underrated both as a cultural center and in its efficient choice to keep the color schemes of its sports teams consistent. Scranton has… the memory of Joe Biden bragging about how rough it was growing up there in a vice presidential debate. But hey, Pennsylvania doesn’t want to be perfect. It just wants to consume pretzels at an alarming frequency and figure out whether or not Chip Kelly is really a crazy person.
One of us here was born in Texas and spent his early years there, and as such, has been blessed with the kind of unshakeable and unexplainable confidence that can only come from someone who has been on the slide inside the Parker Bros Trail Dust Steakhouse.
There is an unmistakable magic to Texas, be it because it takes the “everything is bigger in Texas” motto to literal heights with hair, breasts, barbecue, frozen margaritas, and space travel; or possibly because it boasts four cities with food and drink worthy enough to garner regular and repeated coverage in these (digital) pages; or maybe just because of that scene from Friday Night Lights where Riggins toasts to “Texas forever” while Lyla Garrity grinds up on Street. There is a thing you can’t understand unless you, too, are wearing a giant belt buckle shaped like a Colt revolver, sipping a Dr Pepper in Waco, or playing drug wars on your damn Texas Instruments calculator. Yes, there are unsightly towns and former Plano farmland cut up into suburban sprawl that stretches as far as the eye can see, but that’s just part of the big ol’ plan. And anyway: remember Tyra Collette?
Credit: Jennifer Bui/Thrillist
Colorado has life figured out to a degree that is somewhat frustrating for outsiders. Gorgeous hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter that offsets the caloric excesses that accompany the state’s position as one of the foremost craft beer-loving, munchie-having states out there. Hurting its ranking? Fake-nice guys with distressingly in-shape calves who’ve been working as part-time ski instructors for the past decade while depleting their trust funds after failing out of Boulder.
You probably thought you’d be higher, didn’t you California? You just assumed because of all your formidable cities to eat/drink in, and your pretty highways jutting out over cliffs, and your hockey team named after a Disney movie about a hockey team that you’d just walk away with the ranking, right? You figured because you have world-famous celebrities like Ethan Embry, Tyler Posey, and Jake Busey that we would just succumb to the tidal wave of collective talent and throw you in the top spot? You think because we want to drink all your delicious craft beers and dip our fries in the burger spread from In-N-Out and eat Mission burritos while listening to claymation California Raisins sing Motown music that we’d just give it up so easily, like Julia Roberts does in that movie about your history where she drives a Lotus to a hotel room then doesn’t kiss Richard Gere JUST TO MAKE A POINT ABOUT LOVE?
Well, we’re sorry. Your expansive land mass coupled with your anger-inducing 2:30 p.m. traffic jams, weird subcultures of people vain on the outside (Hollywood) and on the inside (Silicon Valley), and potentially apocalyptic future have to be factored in. Now please tell us you’re not out of avocados.
Did you know there are temperate rainforests in the state most often confused with a district very far from it?!!? Or that it’s the largest producer of both hops and spearmint oil?!? Or that Seattle would be the greatest city in the U.S. if it didn’t rain for 10 straight months and Seahawks fans would occasionally just chill out and stop yelling, and you could just take those ferries Meredith Grey uses in that show about her body parts all the freaking time? Well it would. Also, according to that book Boys in the Boat, its crew team beat Hitler or something.
Lakes are easily top three in the “Types of Bodies of Water, Ranked” story that’ll probably be written in a week or so. Since Minnesota has 10,000 of them (or at least CLAIMS to), that’s a good place to start, even if Los Angeles jacked their on-theme NBA team. Its people are generally too busy trying to stay warm to be rude to anyone, its burgers are often stuffed with molten cheese, and its summers are as legendary as Gordon Bombay would have been if that jerk coach hadn’t been so mean to him in pee-wees.
Once you unpack the complicated racial tension caused by the U.S.’s unlawful annexation of the island and exposed by that one beach scene from the seminal Hawaii movie of our time (Blue Crush), you come to realize that most people wish they were the ones that grew up here. Of course there is that beauty, the nearly obscene mix of volcanoes and beaches, and beaches made out of old volcanoes. Then there’s the food, everything from saimin and malasadas (thanks Portugal!), to poke and plate lunches. And now, thanks to Israel Kaanaoi Kamakawiwo'ole, everyone has heard a much chiller version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at a wedding. All told, Hawaii remains America’s version of that cooler cousin who knows how to surf, and teaches you complicated swear words.
My nephew is under the impression that all people from Louisiana are actually just alligators dressed in bayou-ready attire speaking with Cajun accents, but my nephew is also 3 and likely wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume RIGHT THIS MINUTE. In reality, very few alligators in Louisiana speak.
More to the point, we all know the high regard to which we hold the food and drink culture of New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana (thank you for Tabasco, po-boys, and cocktails), but aside from that, the wharves of New Orleans were where craps was invented in the early 19th century, and the term Uncle Sam allegedly started when Louisiana was a U.S. territory, and dockworkers would mark goods from the States with a “U.S.” and say they came from “Uncle Sam.” Also, there’s a 900-ton bronze statue of Shaq dunking on fools at LSU. I’d like to hear what the alligators have to say about that.
Any state that loves beer enough to name its baseball team after it and loves sausage enough to make anthropomorphic versions of it race during said baseball team’s games has its priorities well established. Wisconsinites must chuckle at the notion that a bar focusing on fine ales, house-made charcuterie, and artisanal cheeses can endeavor to position itself as trendy – beer, cheese, and meat – really reinventing the wheel there, everybody! Milwaukee’s a sneaky, underrated big city and Madison’s properly rated as one of the finest college towns in the country. Step by Step was an underrated TGIF sitcom. On Wisconsin! On Wisconsin, indeed.
Things that are really important to Kentucky: making all the good bourbon, drinking all the good bourbon, drinking all of said good bourbon while wagering on horse races, eating open-faced sandwiches that are covered in an irresponsible amount of liquid cheese, making peace with sleazy basketball coaches you’d otherwise dislike because Ashley Judd needs something to root for, dammit. All things considered, Kentucky has it pretty figured out.
Maine is so hot right now. Both literally, because it’s the summer, and in a more metaphorical sense, because Portland has become the new Portland, and food journalism is entering its hipster/nostalgia phase, in which it has become recently very cool to rediscover old places that have been doing the same damn thing forever. And outside of Portland, that is Maine. Mainers don’t give a damn about your trend forecasts, they’re just going to keep naming their children “Wade,” selling L.L.Bean backpacks to middle schoolers, using the term “down East” to mean South, and hilariously calling ham subs with American cheese “Italians.”
And we haven’t even scratched the surface on its borderline monopoly on the high-end lobster supply, its delicious blueberries, or the fact that it has literally thousands of islands you don’t even know about where dudes named Wade are probably eating lobsters and drinking Moxie as we speak.
Far too much of the Michigan narrative centers on Detroit and its many issues. The Motor City’s become a scrappily rising underdog you can’t help but root for, but Michigan’s greatest strengths lie in the state as a whole. Did you know Michigan has more coastline than any state other than Alaska? Did you know it has such an embarrassment of beer riches that you can easily hit Bell’s and Founders in the same afternoon? Did you know the UP is so remote and uniquely beautiful that it almost feels like a secret 51st state where they inexplicably love British meat pies? Did you know most residents are more than happy to apologize for Kid Rock? If you answered yes to at least three of these than you already understand Michigan’s charms. If you answered no to these questions, you should listen to the dulcet tones of Michigan tourism pitchman Tim Allen and get yourself there immediately.
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