CNN reveals America’s best cities to visit in 2024

CNN reveals America’s best cities to visit in 2024


They crowded into the Empire State Building, admired the architecture along the Chicago River and walked, panting, up and down the streets of San Francisco.

Big U.S. cities have plenty of attractions—and crowds, too. This summer, we’re looking at smaller cities that aren’t already at the top of everyone’s travel list—places where you’ll often find small-town vibes, plenty of personality, and plenty to see and do for a few days or more.

More of America’s Best Cities

At CNN Travel, we asked our network of contributors for nominations for our first list of America’s best cities to visit. We evaluated their favorites and narrowed the finalists down to 10 by looking at each city’s attractions, food and drink options, nightlife and cultural scene, sense of identity, proximity to other places of interest and wow factor. We also looked at key travel aspects, including accommodation options and ease of getting there and getting around.

Our selection ranges from about 50,000 to about 225,000 residents. They are spread across the country and are a reminder of what’s great about the United States: communities committed to making their cities better. You’ll see that spirit in revitalized neighborhoods and downtowns and in residents who have poured all their passion, creativity and know-how into ventures that feed the soul and the belly.

Here are our tips for 2024:

Highest scores: Cool lakeside location, outdoor activities, drinks scene

A small city best known over the years as an industrial and ore-shipping port on the Great Lakes, Duluth is now gaining a reputation as a refuge from the climate crisis. Thanks to its location on Lake Superior, summers here are typically quite mild. The hilly city offers plenty of outdoor activities, a great beer scene, a number of lakefront attractions, and a revitalized neighborhood showcasing handmade goods. You can join the friendly Duluth residents in a communal sauna, then take a dip in the cool Amity Creek.

Highest scores: Down-to-earth atmosphere, live music, outdoor access

You may know Knoxville as the home of the University of Tennessee and its orange-and-white tsunami of fans at sporting events. Or maybe you know the city as the host of the 1982 World’s Fair and its distinctive glass tower. But did you know that this East Tennessee city also has a burgeoning music scene (watch out, Nashville and Memphis!), gorgeous classical theaters, and delicious food? And there’s a 1,500-acre urban wilderness that offers easy access to outdoor adventures.

Peter McDaniel/Courtesy of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids is home to monumental sculptures, including “Iron Tree” by Ai Weiwei.

Highest scores: Art and design, beer scene, outdoor activities

With a world-class sculpture park and public art throughout the city, Grand Rapids is much more than just “Beer City USA.” But with more than 100 breweries, distilleries and cider houses, Michigan’s second-largest city lives up to its name. Museums showcase Grand Rapids’ deep design roots, while the Grand River highlights its family-friendly outdoor assets. And a planned amphitheater along the riverfront is just one part of a larger riverfront revitalization effort.

Highest scores: Musical heritage, cultural sights, architecture

With museums and a revitalized studio dedicated to its musical heritage, Macon boasts cultural attractions and local institutions that have been beloved for generations. Macon’s revitalized downtown has housed new restaurants, bars and a boutique hotel. And with plans to transform a site with thousands of years of history into Georgia’s first U.S. national park and wildlife refuge, co-managed by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the city is paying attention to how its earliest history influences its future.

James Schaedig/Alamy Stock Photo

Flagstaff’s historic buildings have been given new life through the revitalization of downtown in recent years.

Highest scores: Dark sky, outdoor activities, landscape, retro flair

Sunny days and starry nights are the big draws of this high-altitude city. Thanks to the San Francisco Peaks, numerous national monuments, the Lowell Observatory and Flagstaff’s status as the Dark Sky City, it’s easy to enjoy beautiful scenery and the wonders of the cosmos in Flagstaff. Route 66 runs through here, where retro hotels await travelers who stop by, and the downtown area is experiencing a renaissance. The area’s Native American history is another reason to visit.

Highest scores: Beautiful scenery, retro atmosphere, outdoor activities, wineries

If you dream of the laid-back, old-school California vibe, the super-expensive Bay Area and traffic-heavy Southern California aren’t for you. But there’s a place in between, figuratively and literally, that offers a wonderful return to the laid-back, 20thThe Golden State of the 20th century. After all, San Luis Obispo isn’t called “SLO” for nothing. Here you can enjoy everything from wine routes to hiking trails without being overwhelmed by crowds. The stunning nature and the nearby Pacific Ocean are the icing on the cake.

Serena Folding/Visit Portland

The role of the ocean in Portland, Maine cannot be underestimated. Visitors should definitely check out Portland Head Light and enjoy fresh seafood.

Highest scores: First-class dining scene, coastal location, outdoor access

This historic port city offers some truly modern restaurants as well as classics that reflect Maine’s status as the lobster capital of the USA. The dining scene here has put Maine firmly on the map as a culinary destination, and the city’s collection just won two new James Beard Awards. You’ll also find a booming craft beer scene and countless opportunities to get out on the water or in the woods. A stroll through the bustling center offers a glimpse into centuries of maritime history and a Victorian-era rebirth.

Highest scores: Stunning location, outdoor access, art scene

A city setting doesn’t get much better than this. Tacoma’s location between Puget Sound and Mount Rainier allows for excellent outdoor recreation in and around the city. Thanks to master glass artist and Tacoma native Dale Chihuly, the city also has some pretty spectacular sights. At the Museum of Glass, exhibits and glassblowers at work in the glassblowing workshop tell the story of glass. And scenic flights give you a good look at the sacred land of the Puyallup Tribe’s ancestors.

N. Millard/

The revitalization of the city of Providence has created a beautiful riverfront in the city center.

Highest scores: Art, architecture, design, food scene

Providence’s dazzling downtown riverfront is thanks to decades of ambitious work moving rivers and streets to beautify and preserve the city. Downtown’s rivers have danced in the firelight of the popular WaterFire art installation for decades, and public art can be found everywhere. The city is also home to the renowned Rhode Island School of Design and its museum. Architecture lovers will find much to admire, and Providence’s culinary history (with world-class seafood and Italian cuisine) and diverse restaurants ensure you’ll be treated to a global feast.

Highest scores: Cultural attractions, food and drink, fascinating neighborhoods

Richmond, Virginia – or “RVA” – deserves more of the national attention enjoyed by this other capital city a few hours north. Richmond gets high marks for its world-class museums and dynamic neighborhoods, and takes a critical look at its complicated history. It also has a diverse, chef-driven food scene, more than 30 breweries and easy access to surrounding wine country. And there’s a festival schedule almost year-round – mark your calendar for the fall’s Richmond Folk Festival.

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Text of the story by Marnie Hunter and Forrest Brown, CNN