America's best cities for hipsters
Portland, Ore., is known for its food trucks, but apparently that’s not the only local food on wheels. “One night, I walked by someone singing at the top of their lungs while dressed as a taco and on roller skates,” says Simon Tam, leader of the band The Slants. “It was just another ordinary evening out in Portland.”
No surprise, the city famous for its flagrant quirkiness ranked near the top among Travel + Leisure readers for a high density of hipsters—locals who embody the cutting edge of culture while also embracing simple, retro charms.
In this year’s America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers rated 35 major metropolitan areas for qualities such as wine bars, walkable streets and great weather. To discern the biggest hipster concentrations, we combined the results for offbeat and tech-savvy locals; great microbrews and coffee bars; a buzzing live music scene; and plenty of flea markets.
For travelers, following the trail left by hipsters usually pays off—both in good culture and a lot of fun. That doesn’t make you a hipster, of course. “Perhaps the most ‘ironic’ thing about Portland,” adds Tam, “is that very few people will actually admit to being a hipster.”
No. 1 San Francisco
With its tech-fluent locals, trendsetting dining scene and seemingly effortless sense of style, San Francisco takes the hipster championship this year. The nerve center is the gentrifying Mission District, where you can snack on cotton candy (it’s okay—it’s artisanal) at Batch Made market or mow down pins and toss back a retro cocktail at Mission Bowling Club. Charles Chocolates sells handcrafted, small-batch goodies in edible boxes, reflecting the local passion for recycling. Proof that the city’s hipster population may be at capacity: Four Barrel Coffee recently made headlines for posting a snarky list of rules that included “not talking about annoying hipster topics.”
No. 2 New Orleans
As the birthplace of jazz, the richly cultured Crescent City has had its own version of hipsters since back when fedoras were considered mainstream. Away from the tourist crowds, Nola’s cool cats lurk in the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods, browsing the vintage vinyl at Euclid Records or mixing it up during the weekly spelling bee or TV nights at the Lost Love Lounge. Readers also gave the Who Dat community high marks for its sports bars and whoop-it-up weekends.
No. 3 Portland, Ore.
They slipped from last year’s No. 2 spot, but these farmers-market-loving, facial-hair-friendly Oregonians still took first place in the offbeat resident category. For hipster-rich ambience, explore Southeast Division, where you can find trendy restaurant Pok Pok, ice cream shop Salt & Straw, and Roman Candle Baking, which serves some of the city’s top-ranked pizza, as well as local favorite Stumptown coffee. In the West End, meanwhile, you can unironically enjoy the pig-ear salad at Lardo.
No. 4 Providence, R.I.
With its high per-capita number of nerdy students and artists, this Rhode Island city climbed two spots in the hipster rankings this year—but it also scored well for having sophisticated locals. Downtown has an emerging hipster culture (consider the soon-to-open Dean Hotel, housed in a former brothel). On the west side, you can order vegan cuisine at The Grange, hear concerts at the Columbus Theatre (with a clever 1492 seats), or browse the vintage fashions, ceramic poodles and kitschy kitchenware at Rocket to Mars.
No. 5 New York City
Surely New York has more hipsters, in sheer numbers, than any other city in the land—it’s just that sometimes you have to look for them. Start in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg, which has long been infamous for hipsters, and Queens’ Long Island City. At bar Dutch Kills, you can order a Presbyterian (rye, lime and ginger) during the delightfully obscure-sounding Battle Axe Gleason happy hour, named after a corrupt 19th-century mayor. New York, which made the guilty-pleasure “Cronut” famous (at SoHo’s Dominique Ansel Bakery), also won the survey for its irresistible desserts.
No. 6 Denver
These fresh-air enthusiasts have long been on the cutting edge of microbrewing, and arcade bar 1Up in LoDo is a good example: hipsters quaff craft beers while dropping quarters into Donkey Kong and other ’80s-style video games. You’ll find more hipster magnets over in The Highlands area, site of the Urbanistic Tea and Bike Shop and healing boutique Invoke Magic. Perhaps no accident, the locals also ranked well for being easygoing.
No. 7 Charleston, S.C.
This genteel city sashayed into the hipster top 10 for walking the line between old-fashioned and old-school. King Street is a reliable hotbed for antiques and design shopping, and in the area around Upper High King, you can kick back at High Wire Distilling (which makes small-batch rums, gins and whiskeys) or Bay Street Biergarten, which offers craft beers and a Bavarian menu inside a rehabbed train depot. Don’t let their polite agreeability fool you, however: These South Carolina locals also scored well for being plenty smart.
No. 8 Nashville
Music City jumped up 11 spots this year, and at the intersection of showbiz and honky-tonks, you’ll find this city’s twangy form of irony. In hipster-rich East Nashville, you can take Nashville Running Tours’ ’Stache and Dash jogging tour (about the length of a 5K) past hot spots like the old Slow Bar and The Groove record shop. A running tour is a natural in Music City, whose locals ranked highly for being super-fit and having a lot of civic pride.
No. 9 Portland, Maine
While this flannel-shirted city dropped four spots this year, it still excels in such hipster essentials as good java (like at Bard Coffee, off Congress Street) and good performance art. The Portland Stage Company does experimental theater, while co-op-plus-café Local Sprouts offers both vegan cinnamon rolls and poetry slams. And residents clearly know how to pull off that fisherman look: the city ranked in the survey’s top 10 this year for attractive locals.
No. 10 Kansas City, Mo.
Hipsters tend to be purists about their food. Midtown coffee bar Oddly Correct Coffee Roasters is so serious about its java, for instance, that it won’t let you muddy it up with cream or sugar. At The Local Pig, in the East Bottoms stockyards district, barbecue gets some hipster cred thanks to locally sourced meats and unconventional offerings like burnt-end bratwursts and Thai peanut sausage. Kansas City also scored well for its bounty of farmers markets.
See All of America’s Best Cities for Hipsters
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