2014

Top 10 Largest Cities

Livability is a site focused on the small to mid-sized cities that don’t always get the attention they deserve as great places to live. But we recognize that big cities have a lot to offer as well. Besides, they are often the central cities around which many of our mid-sized cities orbit. So as we were compiling our Top 100 Best Places to Live (see the methodology), we also ran the numbers for the larger cities with populations greater than 350,000 to produce this list.

As Kevin Stolarick, one of our research partners at the Martin Prosperity Institute, points out, smaller cities are more likely to have their high levels of livability carry through the entire city. Larger cities, as anyone who has visited/lived in them knows, tend to be more diverse and varied. In most, there are indeed good and bad parts of town. So while not every neighborhood is right for every person, there’s enough size and diversity that there is a neighbor who’s right for everyone. Here’s our guide to choosing the best large city.

#1

Portland

Oregon

Portland, Oregon is a best place to live. This view is of its skyline at night.
In the 1970s, an early Best Places to Live list was created by a group called the Midwest Research Institute. Portland was No 1. It seems that as much as Portland has changed since then, it hasn’t lost its livability. In our ranking, the hipster capital of the Northwest scored well for its schools, health care, infrastructure and transportation options, and amenities.
#2

Albuquerque

New Mexico

Albuquerque is a best place to live. A bus drives through its downtown in this photo.
Albuquerque’s moderate year-round climate gives residents ample opportunity to explore its beautiful and varied scenery from the waters of the Rio Grande River to the Sandia Mountains. The city, one of the oldest in the Southwest, scored well for health care, amenities and education. It’s home to both the University of New Mexico and Kirtland Air Force Base, which provide economic stability to the region. From its roots as a key stop on Route 66 to its current supporting role in solar power and moviemaking, Albuquerque continues to evolve as a great place to live.
#3

New York

New York

New York City is a best place to live. Here skaters enjoy the rink in Central Park.Photo: Ada Be
New York is the densest and most populous city in the U.S. There’s nothing representative about it. It’s the center of many industries and the hub of many economies. Its residents come from all over and put up with/thrive in conditions where they are sandwiched in with their neighbors with little refuge. It scored well on infrastructure, demographics, amenities, education and health care. It’s not the best place for everyone, but if you want the biggest, there’s no comparison.
#4

Los Angeles

California

Los Angeles is a best place to live. The sun sets over Griffith Park Observatory in this photo.Photo: Justin Vidamo
It’s easy to think of L.A. as nothing more than Hollywood and Rodeo Drive, perhaps with some surfing thrown in. And yes, it is those things. But it’s also incredibly diverse. Nearly half of L.A. residents are Hispanic. The ethnic – and income – diversity leads to a range of possibilities for residents and visitors alike, and helps propel the nearly off-the-charts score in our amenities rating. The southern California hub also ranked well in health care, education, demographics and infrastructure
#5

Denver

Colorado

Denver is a best place to live. The 16th strip in downtown that also features free shuttle bus.Photo: ND Strupler
Denver’s downtown might not be the biggest of our big cities, but that’s part of its allure. It’s an easy-to-navigate hub that sprawls into the nearby suburbs like Aurora, Lakewood and Littleton. One highlight is the 16th Street Mall, a mile-long pedestrian-centric boulevard with free shuttles running from one end to the other and connecting the area near Coors Field with businesses, the University of Colorado and the Colorado Convention Center. Of course, it’s also situated in the Rocky Mountains with access to all of the skiing, hiking, rafting and other outdoor recreation you’d expect.
#6

Philadelphia

Pennsylvania

Philadelphia is a best place to live. A young couple pose for a photo at Love Park, featuring Robert Indiana’s famous sculpture.Photo: Douglas Muth
In many ways history is Philadelphia’s stock and trade, but its present is looking pretty good, too. With highly-rated hospitals like Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Hahnemann University Hospital and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, coupled with lower than average per-capita spending, Philadelphia had one of the highest scores for health care in our rankings. Of course it has its own amenities from sports teams to restaurants, but it’s also just a quick train ride away from Washington D.C. and New York.
#7

San Jose

California

San Jose, California is a best place to live. Visitors and residents alike enjoy visiting the San Jose Museum of Art.Photo: David Saywer
Silicon Valley is well-represented in our overall Best Places to Live – a list topped by nearby Palo Alto. Many of the characteristics that make those cities great places to live are present here: climate, an educated and innovative population, and proximity to a wide range of natural amenities and to San Francisco. San Jose is the largest city in the valley and home to its main airport, thus making it an important hub for the other livable communities that dot the lower Bay Area.
#8

Seattle, Washington

Washington

Seattle is a best place to live. Pike Street Market is a draw for tourists and Seattle residents.Photo: Sue Elias
The accolades rain down on Seattle almost as heavily as the actual precipitation. But the residents are used to it, and the overall climate makes Seattle a livable city indeed. Famous for the Space Needle, the Experience Music Project and the coffee, Seattle offers a wide range of attractions for the staycation and for the day-to-day. Like many of the cities at the top of our Best Places to Live list, Seattle benefits from the presence of research centers like the University of Washington and Virginia Mason Hospital. Institutions like these helped raise its scores in education and amenities and make it a top-ranked large city.
#9

San Francisco

California

San Francisco is a best place to live. Downtown San Francisco here viewed from the top of Coit Tower.Photo: Doug Kerr
San Francisco might be a city famous for its prison, but now that Alcatraz is closed, all 825,000 residents are there by choice. One of three cities in the Bay Area on our large-city list, San Francisco boasts culture, nightlife, arts, finance and a hilly geography that is unique in the U.S. From diverse food offerings in the Mission to Italian in North Beach to an unrivaled Chinatown, San Francisco is a foodie heaven.
#10

Oakland

California

Oakland is a best place to live. Downtown Oakland. Street Mall is a pedestrian shoppingPhoto: Allie Caulfield
Only a quick drive over the Bay Bridge separates our No. 9 and No. 10 cities. Oakland and San Francisco have less in common than their proximity might indicate. Even their climates aren’t the same – San Francisco gets the brunt of the fog, leaving Oakland with noticeably better weather. Oakland is increasingly a lower-cost alternative to living in San Francisco while offering its own slate of farmers markets, restaurants, cultural attractions, sports and universities.

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