In the News
By Hannah Towey, Condé Nast Traveler
Lace up your sneakers and leave the car keys at home.
There’s no better way to get to know a city than by ambling down winding roads and cobblestone streets, popping into restaurants and art galleries along the way. Unfortunately, in the many car-centric metropolitans of the US, a leisurely stroll from your hotel lobby might just lead you to a parking lot instead.
“One of the most walkable places in the United States with the most tourism is Main Street Disneyland,” Michael Rodriguez, Director of Research at the non-profit group Smart Growth America, tells Condé Nast Traveller. “If only a lot more of America was able to have that kind of density and retail mix, and its vibrancy and quality of life.”
For travellers seeking walkable cities beyond the magic kingdom, the good news is that Smart Growth America has put together an authoritative ranking of the most walkable cities in the US as part of its 2023 Foot Traffic Ahead Report. The study identifies what percent of the 35 largest US metropolitan regions are considered walkable, and ranks the regions accordingly.
So what exactly makes a city walkable? The final list is determined by combining two key walkability metrics, according to Rodriguez, who co-authored the report: the EPA’s Smart Location Database and the American Enterprise Institute's Walkable Oriented Development Database. The two databases assign walkability scores based on different factors, the main one being if people can walk from their residences to essential “amenities” such as grocery stores, offices, and gyms, explains Rodriguez. The EPA database also factors in a city's built environment, like the distance between blocks and access to public transportation, he adds.
The Smart Growth America ranking also takes an area's development density into consideration (when buildings are constructed close together, they facilitate walking). That means some of the metro areas on the list, such as Los Angeles, may have a number of highly walkable neighborhoods, but might not be considered “walkable” across the board.
Knowing if a city is walkable is important for local residents, of course, but it's also helpful for travellers planning trips to one of America’s beloved metropolitans. Because while we may adore the occasional road trip, nobody wants to spend their vacation in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
“Your typical traveller is going to be very different than local residents, in that they're far more likely to go somewhere and not have a car,” says Rodriguez, adding that American travellers’ preferences for walkable cities are often reflected in (and corroborated by) their international journeys. “When you look at where Americans go abroad, they’re often going to cities that are very walkable—and enjoying the life there.”
But when Paris and Amsterdam are out of the question, here are 20 cities in the US that travellers can happily explore on foot, no rental car needed.
The 20 most walkable cities in the US
1. New York
3. Washington, D.C.
6. San Francisco
8. Los Angeles
11. Minneapolis-St. Paul