America's Best Cities For People-Watching

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For many travelers, people-watching is the best entertainment money can't buy, and one of the easiest ways to get a feel for a city.


For many travelers, people-watching is the best entertainment money can't buy, and one of the easiest ways to get a feel for a city.

Brooklynite Alisha Miranda says she likes to go sit in Manhattan's Union Square "and just take in the crazy around me." The freelance writer adds, "I love watching couples walking by, skateboarders, the ice cream trucks parked on the corner, and the man doing flips shirtless as people fork over spare change."

The City That Never Sleeps, no surprise, came in near the top of the people- watching category in the 2011 edition of America's Favorite Cities (AFC). The annual survey asks Travel + Leisure readers to rank 35 cities in 54 categories-ranging from hotels and restaurants to the general vibe of the places, such as how clean they are, how safe they feel-and how fun it is to "take in the crazy."

Which city could possibly beat out New York in this category? When T+L looked at the top 20, they found that the best people-watching cities tend to have good weather and lots of room to walk around-after all, it's harder to notice how fascinating locals are when they're holed up in their cars.

But does ranking near the "top" for people-watching mean that a city is filled with attractive people or, frankly, odd ones? Dallas/Fort Worth, which came in last place in the category, may take some comfort in the idea that its locals are just too normal to attract many looky-loos. Savannah's top 5 finish, on the other hand, is further proof of its southern charm: the city also landed in the top 5 for its locals' good looks, style, and friendliness.

In the great gawkable cities, one could argue that many of the people being watched welcome it. "My favorite thing about people-watching in NYC is that flat-out staring is kind of accepted," says media strategist Erin Scottberg. "It's like the people you're staring at-whether they're glamorous, crazy, funky, or totally out there-are proud that they've commanded your attention."

Text and images courtesy of Travel + Leisure.

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10 Best Cities For People-Watching
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America's Best Cities For People-Watching (PHOTOS)

The Texas capital cherishes its reputation for being weird and squeaked into the Top 10 based on its intriguing demographics: politicos, college kids, musicians, and all manner of hipsters. Your best bet for seeing them en masse is at bars and music clubs—both of which came in at No. 2 in the survey.

South Beach’s infamous beach and nightlife scene attracts people who like to crank up the fun: Miami ranked No. 3 for its wild weekend potential, and No. 6 for its bar scene. Whether or not mojitos are to blame, partiers here don’t shy away from attention.

San Diego's annual summer ComicCon event attracts costumed sci-fi fans from around the world. During the rest of the year, you can spot a steady stream of SoCal beauties out to enjoy the city’s sunny weather as well as the super-fit carrying their surfboards across the road.

What is it about South Carolinians that make them so downright mesmerizing? Sure, Charleston ranks highly for people-watching, but the people themselves get points for being good-looking and friendly—they’re the kind you want to gawk at and get to know.

Once upon a time, the City by the Bay was the place to check out hippies. You still may see a few, alongside every other kind of personal expression—the city won the silver medal for being diverse, and ranked No. 5 for its sense of style. Your best strategy is to pull up a chair at one of San Francisco’s hip coffee bars, and watch the locals filter in.

Sin City is a no-brainer for the top 5, from the flashy to the freaky—and those are just the people watching the shows. Then there are the casinos, where reading someone’s poker face is like an advanced course in people-watching. Not that the scene is always pretty: Vegas came in at a plain-Jane No. 19 in the category of attractive residents.

All the world really is a stage in the Big Apple. From Broadway shows to subway platforms, there’s always someone who’s on—it’s the No. 1 city for performance art and theater. NYC also made the top 5 for its cool neighborhoods, where you’ll spy locals with just as much personality. New Yorkers may appreciate having an audience, but don’t assume they’ll acknowledge you.

The Hawaiian capital has a reputation for being low-key and friendly. It even won as the most relaxing destination in the AFC survey—all the better for kicking back to check out the views and the people hanging out. Honolulu may also have made the top 3 for people-watching because there aren’t many cultural distractions. It’s all about being outdoors. And here’s incentive to start up a conversation at the beach bar: Honolulu ranked No. 1 for romance.

This charming Georgian city was made for leisurely strolling—it took the silver medal for its notable neighborhoods and for being pedestrian-friendly, so it’s easy to get to size up the locals as they pass by. AFC voters found the residents so friendly and tasteful that even their leftovers are worth a look: Savannah’s vintage and antique shops ranked near the top of their categories.

Mardi Gras may be the Super Bowl of people-watching, but folks in the Crescent City offer a year-round visual parade for gawkers. The simultaneous winner for both its neighborhood joints and bars, New Orleans also ranks highly for its wild weekend potential, so expect plenty of southerners dolled up to catch your attention.

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