America's Best Downtowns
We located the country’s most alluring downtowns with the help of travel experts from Frommer’s and Livability, a travel and analysis site that focuses on mid-sized or smaller towns. While Livability’s own list of best downtowns helped us narrow down the playing field, we ultimately considered a wide variety of factors including attractiveness, accessibility, diversity of offerings, shops, restaurants, proximity of parks and cultural options.
Some cities, like Santa Monica, made the list because they both offer a lively downtown and have the luck of being located in a beautiful setting. There are smaller towns on the list as well, and they often earn their spot due to easily navigable downtown areas and unparalleled attractiveness.
Of the country’s big city downtowns, Chicago’s relatively compact zone in and around what’s known as “The Loop,” wins hands down for being the most accessible, pedestrian-friendly and varied in its offerings. Within a two-mile radius, visitors and residents alike can visit some of the world’s best restaurants, lounge in a resplendently outfitted urban park, visit world-class art museums, shop their wallets dry on Chicago’s famous store-covered Magnificent Mile, examine some of the finest architecture on the planet, find boats to tour Lake Michigan, or wander around the waterfront tourist-friendly esplanade, Navy Pier.
Although Portland is well known as a city that is friendly to bicyclists, it also has a walkable and attractive downtown that offers a wide variety of cultural options and commercial options. There’s a vibrant and active arts scene, great food on both the high and low ends, the country’s best selection of locally sourced craft beers, an attractive and popular riverside park, and Powell’s, the largest and one of the best independent bookstores in the country. And while you can, with some effort walk around much of Portland’s relatively small downtowns, its best to mike like a local and rent a bike – you’ll get around more effectively, see more of the area, and get a little exercise – all good things in the greenest of “America’s 50 Greenest Cities.”