America's snobbiest cities

Katrina Brown Hunt
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When you browse Santa Fe’s galleries, a love of art isn’t necessarily enough.

Ysmay Walsh makes a point to dress up when she gallery-hops along the city’s Canyon Road. “I feel like I have to step up my game a bit, because I wanted to be taken seriously at the galleries,” says the founder of residential guide “Without a certain appearance or air about yourself, gallery owners barely acknowledge you when you walk in.”


That attitude helps explain how the otherwise diverse and quiet Santa Fe made the top 10 snobbiest cities, according to Travel + Leisure readers.

To determine which city has the biggest nose in the air, we factored in some traditional staples of snobbery: a reputation for aloof and smarty-pants residents, along with high-end shopping and highbrow cultural offerings like classical music and theater.

But we also considered 21st-century definitions of elitism: tech-savviness, artisanal coffeehouses, and a conspicuous eco-consciousness (say, the kind of city where you get a dirty look for throwing your coffee cup in the wrong bin).

No. 1 San Francisco

San Francisco has cultivated its reputation as a serious foodie city, and readers gave it high marks for both fine dining and ethnic cuisine, even if they did also experience some sticker shock. To shop at hip boutiques, browse galleries, and dine among the cognoscenti, check out the Hayes Valley neighborhood and its Absinthe Brasserie & Bar. Any snobbiness didn’t stop San Francisco from being acknowledged for its welcoming attitude: the city also ranked first in the survey for being gay-friendly.

No. 2 New York City

The fast-paced manners of New Yorkers may put off some visitors, but there’s no denying that the Big Apple has ample reasons to be proud: it ranked at the top of the survey for its theater and art scene and for dressing to the nines. Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, with its exclusive clubs and stiletto-heeled crowd, is one see-and-be-seen area, as is Williamsburg.

That said, many New Yorkers’ definition of cool has more of a laid-back, off-the-grid feel: an example is Brooklyn’s Greenwood Park, a beer garden with 60 brews on tap and a bocce league.

No. 3 Boston

In this college town steeped in history, visitors may detect a certain air of superiority: after all, the locals rank near the top for their Ivy League-worthy brains and for supporting old-school culture, such as the symphony. On Harvard Square, you can tap into that brainpower by browsing high-concept bookstores—from Grolier Poetry Bookshop to Schoenhof’s Foreign Books. But there is one realm where Bostonians falter: their driving, which ranked near the bottom of the survey.

No. 4 Minneapolis/St. Paul

Perhaps readers felt intimidated by these bookish, indie-music-loving, craft-beer-drinking hipsters, who also ranked highly for being exceptionally tidy. If these Minnesotans feel self-satisfied, is it any wonder? They also scored well for being fit and outdoorsy; you can join them at the Chain of Lakes, where, depending on the season, folks are hiking, paddling, or even ice-surfing.

No. 5 (tie) Santa Fe, N.M.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s old stomping ground certainly ranks as an A-list art town with readers: it won the survey for being a cultural getaway and scored highly for its museums. Beyond the galleries and boutiques of Canyon Road, the New Mexicans also came across as being pretty affable—but it may depend on your topic of conversation: the city ranked near the bottom for its sports bars.

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No. 5 (tie) Seattle

In this city of coffee connoisseurs and tech-savvy early adopters, it can be easy to feel hopelessly out of step. To relive the city’s pre-Internet tech scene, check out the Museum of Flight (home of the original Air Force One) or Everett’s Flying Heritage Collection, launched by Microsoft alum Paul Allen. And you don’t have to be schooled in contemporary art to appreciate the city’s Olympic Sculpture Park and its view of Puget Sound. 

No. 7 Chicago

It’s not just hot air: one reason that the urbane Windy City made the highfalutin top 10 is its renowned theater scene, although it’s hard to call the sketch work at Second City, or the improv at iO Chicago Theater, snooty. A favorite among serious architecture buffs, Chicago did win the survey for one great (culinary) equalizer: pizza.

No. 8 Providence, R.I.

These New Englanders seem to embrace a café-culture attitude: after all, the city ranks No. 3 for cafés (such as the techy, artsy AS220) and No. 4 for cutting-edge performance art. Even its No. 1-ranked burgers exhibit a little healthy pretension: the sliders at beloved Harry’s Bar & Burger are 100 percent Hereford beef, and you can wash them down with a local beer (served, quirkily, in a 68-ounce boot).

No. 9 Washington, D.C.

The locals ranked as some of the unfriendliest in the nation, but the cultural scene—such as the no-admission-charge Smithsonian—is very democratic, and the city ranked first in the survey for free things to do. If you want to dine like a local power broker, though, check out the mod Rasika West End, which exemplifies the city’s fine ethnic cuisine and counts Michelle Obama as a fan.

No. 10 Charleston, S.C.

That refined, Old Charleston drawl may have you instinctively calling the locals “ma’am” and “sir.” The city seems to be owning its genteel attitude, too: the hot lunch spot these days is Slightly North of Broad, which combines locally sourced southern fare with innovative cuisine, and cheekily goes by the acronym SNOB. The city also ranked near the top for antiques, design shops, and romance.

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