National Geographic Travel Names the Best Small Cities in the U.S.

National Geographic Traveler, the world’s most widely read travel magazine, today unveiled its 30 “Cities on the Rise” based on both a unique set of metrics as well as expert picks from its editors. To identify these rising small cities, Traveler worked with global destination branding advisors Resonance Consultancy in developing 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. The results are in the February/March 2018 issue of Traveler magazine, available now on newsstands and online at

“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. In this article, we report on authentic small cities that each embody a surprising superlative,” 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!”

Traveler’s 30 Best Small Cities in the U.S. are categorized by 11 key superlatives that influence both residents and visitors 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)

The results in each of these areas were then broken down by population sizes: 40,000-100,000, 100,000-200,000, and 200,000-600,000. Through Resonance Consultancy’s algorithm, Traveler surfaced the cities that ranked the highest for each population size and identified “trending” cities that didn’t top the list this year, but look to be climbing their way up. The Small Cities Index is based on Resonance Consultancy’s World’s Best Cities program, which is housed on and features a “Choose Your Perfect City” tool based on this data, as well as extensive city profiles on their top 100 cities.

“Every city is unique,” says Resonance Consultancy President Chris Fair. “Our approach to analyzing millions of consumer-generated ratings and reviews to create indexes such as these is an innovative new approach to revealing the characteristics that differentiate one place from another. We’re excited to be working with National Geographic to share this data and its insights with travelers around the world.”

The 20 Best Small Cities 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)

National Geographic Traveler (six issues per year) is the world’s most widely read travel magazine and has 15 international editions. The National Geographic Travel digital group shares its inspiring and authoritative digital content such as trip ideas, photo galleries, itineraries and more with its @NatGeoTravel community of over 40 million – making it the most followed travel brand on social media.

To learn more about each destination, visit

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Media Contact:

Meg Calnan