On the surface, the skyscrapers of New York City couldn’t feel more different from the sun-washed pueblo buildings of Santa Fe. Likewise, the crystalline beaches of Honolulu seem worlds apart from the oak-shaded squares of Savannah. But despite their striking contrasts, the American cities beloved by T+L readers share a similar spirit. They seduce us with their charisma and friendliness. They endeavor to preserve their rich histories. They offer restful green spaces, a wealth of cultural institutions, and innovative restaurants that aim to satisfy the most adventurous palates.
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated cities on their sights and landmarks, culture, cuisine, friendliness, shopping, and overall value.
Related: The 2018 World's Best Awards
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Carmel-by the-Sea, one of two West Coast entries, has broken into the top 15 for the first time in years. The California town measures a little over a square mile, but it packs a lot into its size, from intriguing boutiques housed in storybook cottages to art galleries and wine-tasting rooms. And with the ocean close by, it’s a paradise for fitness enthusiasts and wellness seekers. “Carmel is a magical little place surrounded by some of the most amazing landscapes in the country,” writes a fan. “It’s pricey but worth it.”
As in past years, the South continues its charm offensive, with eight cities appearing on the list. Savannah wins readers over with meticulously preserved architecture, winsome gardens, and inviting inns. New Orleans is a foodie mecca, with endless variations on gumbo, po’ boys, and shrimp. Readers call out Asheville, North Carolina, for its crisp mountain air, lively music venues, and an artsy vibe that recalls the heyday of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. “Asheville is a happening place with great local beer, chocolate, potato chips, and just about anything having to do with food,” writes one reader. “It’s still a good value, but hurry — it’s getting very popular.”
Which Southern city continues to beguile our readers year after year, maintaining the top spot in our list for six years running? Read on to find out, and see how the other 14 winners scored with our readers.
15. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
13. Austin, Texas
12. Williamsburg, Virginia
11. San Francisco
8. Asheville, North Carolina
7. San Antonio, Texas
5. New York City
4. Santa Fe, New Mexico
3. Savannah, Georgia
2. New Orleans
1. Charleston, South Carolina
The jewel of the South Carolina coast has crowned our list of favorite American cities since 2013. But that doesn’t mean the Lowcountry destination isn’t evolving. Thanks to an influx of business, Charleston is bustling with revitalized energy. A new generation of restaurateurs, helmed by Sean Brock of Husk and McCrady’s, is turning the city into an international food destination. Writes one reader: “I love the history, the art, the grits, and the proximity to Kiawah and other beautiful coastal areas. This is the perfect city for a girls’ weekend, a family vacation, or a romantic getaway.”
See all of our readers' favorite hotels, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2018.