Special Report

These Are America’s Cultural Capitals

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The United States is a big country, full of constantly evolving cultural microcosms. Most big cities and even many smaller towns have an identity of their own, based on historic sites, characteristic architecture, great restaurants (and first-rate street food), local musical styles, and communities of artists and writers. (For casual eating, consider the best diner in every state.) 

Drawing on their physical environment, the origins of their citizens, and the civic commitment to the arts, among other factors, these municipalities have developed personalities of their own that draw visitors who are looking for something different, something unique. These are America’s trendiest cities in 2021.

There are many different definitions of what constitutes “culture” — but to identify cities around the country that offer particularly extensive and dynamic cultural scenes, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data accumulated by Vacation Renter, a site offering advice on top locations for temporary stays. Based on ratings and reviews from Yelp, the site compiled data for the country’s 50 most populous cities, using a wide range of criteria to determine the extent of each one’s cultural riches. 

Click here to see 20 great American cultural capitals

These included the number of museums, music venues, bookstores, parks, art galleries, and non-chain restaurants per 100,000 residents. Data was collected between April 2020 and January 2021. (Population numbers come from the American Community Survey’s 2019 five-year estimates.)

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20. Tulsa, Oklahoma
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 198.9
> Population: 402,324

Tulsa is the second most populous city in Oklahoma and its cultural capital. It is famous for one of the biggest concentrations of Art Deco architecture in the country and is home to several prestigious museums, a full-time opera, and multiple ballet companies. The city’s Gilcrease Museum houses the largest collection of artifacts of the American West. There is also an aquarium, a space museum, and the Woodie Guthrie Center.


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19. Albuquerque, New Mexico
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 205.7
> Population: 559,374

The biggest city in New Mexico, Albuquerque is overflowing with cultural venues and attractions. It is known for unique architecture, including historic structures from the Spanish colonial era and buildings in the Pueblo Revival style. The city boasts thriving live music and art scenes and is known for its restaurants and regionally inspired cuisine. Albuquerque is also home to the International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest gathering of hot-air balloons.

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18. Tucson, Arizona
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 221.3
> Population: 541,482

Tucson is home to cultural events that range from rodeos to book fairs to Modernism Week. It has museums showcasing the history of the Old West, and paintings of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, and the photographs of Ansel Adams. There’s even one dedicated to a decommissioned nuclear missile launch site. There’s also a zoo dedicated to desert fauna, and of course plenty of good places to eat.

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17. San Diego, California
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 224.2
> Population: 1,409,573

Overlooking the Pacific, with near-perfect weather, San Diego is hard not to like, but the city has a lot more than pretty views and a nice climate. It is filled with museums and historical buildings, including some from Spanish colonial days. A decommissioned aircraft carrier even functions as an interactive naval and aviation museum. In addition, San Diego’s proximity to the Mexican border has created a constant interchange of people, ideas, the arts — and of course food.


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16. Long Beach, California
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 244.5
> Population: 466,776

The hometown of celebrities ranging from Snoop Dogg to Cameron Diaz to Billie Jean King, Long Beach has a history of producing cultural icons and new trends. It is also home to plenty of museums, including the Long Beach Museum of Art, the Museum of Latin American Art and the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum. The city is known for street art and murals, both city-approved and otherwise.

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15. Boston, Massachusetts
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 251.4
> Population: 684,379

The cultural center of New England, Boston is arguably America’s most historic city. It is filled with monuments to the past and structures connected to the American Revolution. The city is also renowned for a long literary tradition, with many acclaimed authors having called it home at one time or another — among them Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson, Longfellow, and Alcott. It is also a city of bars, restaurants, performing arts establishments — and of course it’s famous for its fanatical support of its sports teams.


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14. Baltimore, Maryland
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 253.8
> Population: 609,032

Baltimore is known for its seafood, especially its Maryland blue crabs. But the city has much more to offer, with plenty of places to try a range of cuisines and lots of bars, craft breweries, theaters, and other cultural attractions. The Inner Harbor is home to the National Aquarium, one of the largest in the world.

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13. Denver, Colorado
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 260.9
> Population: 705,576

At the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is a vibrant metropolis with easy access to incredible nature. The city is home to a plethora of craft beer breweries and is known for its live music. There is also a good variety of museums and art galleries including the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the History Colorado Center. Red Rocks Amphitheatre, one of the nation’s most iconic entertainment venues, is less than 20 miles away.

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12. Austin, Texas
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 261.2
> Population: 950,807

Keep Austin weird, right? The Texas capital has all kinds of food, drink, and more to keep anyone entertained and, yes, weird. Austin is a hub for Texas barbeque and Tex-Mex food, and is famous for its live music scene. It also hosts the annual multidisciplinary mega-festival South by Southwest as well as the Austin City Limits Music Festival.


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11. Minneapolis, Minnesota
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 279.1
> Population: 420,324

The biggest city in Minnesota, Minneapolis has one of the largest modern art museums in the U.S. (the Walker Arts Center). It’s home to the celebrated Guthrie Theater and to many acclaimed restaurants. There are also several parks and natural areas in and around the city, as well as tunnel and bridge systems that allow citizens to avoid the biting winter cold.

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10. Tampa, Florida
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 317.0
> Population: 387,916

A century ago, Tampa was a hotbed of bootlegging and related criminal activity. These days it’s more known for its popular nightlife districts, bars, and clubs. The city has a varied music scene notable for a concentration of metal bands, and its Gulf Coast location makes it a great place for a range of foods, including a wealth of seafood and lots of Latin American and Caribbean cuisine.


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9. Sacramento, California
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 351.6
> Population: 500,930

Sitting at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers, the capital of California has lots of theaters, performing arts venues, and live music. It’s also home to a variety of museums, including the Crocker Art Museum, the oldest public art museum in the country west of the Mississippi. The Sacramento History Museum covers landmark events in the area’s past, including the Gold Rush.

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8. Oakland, California
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 359.1
> Population: 425,097

Across the bay from San Francisco but definitely a cultural hub all of its own, Oakland has a lot going on. The city continues to produce a variety of big-name musicians and is home to plenty of local music and live venues of all sizes. Oakland has several arts districts and culinary hot spots that reflect its very diverse population. Further, it has a notable amount of unique religious buildings and other interesting architecture.

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7. New Orleans, Louisiana
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 389.6
> Population: 390,845

New Orleans is a mecca of culture in America, with its own very strong and original food and music traditions. The world-famous French Quarter is famed for its colorful debauchery. Magazine Street is a shopping paradise, and the Garden District luxuriates in beautiful parks and charming architecture. The city also has a range of museums that cover history, art, science, and more.


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6. Seattle, Washington
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 402.2
> Population: 724,305

Seattle is a regional hub for the performing arts and has a strong theater and musical scene. It is the birthplace of grunge –home to Nirvana and many other influential bands. Besides its still-thriving live music scene, it has virbrant literary and independent film communities. The city also boasts impressive unique architecture, a beautiful geographical setting, and the world-famous Pike Place Market.

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5. Atlanta, Georgia
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 407.1
> Population: 488,800

Known in more recent times for its party culture, clubs, strip joints, and hip-hop legends, Atlanta has produced a number of cultural icons throughout the decades. It is a hub in the South for performing arts like theater, ballet, and classical music and has a wide range of art museums and expressions of street art. The city features prominently in television, movies, and other pop culture. Atlanta is also home to amazing food, Southern-influenced and beyond.


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4. Portland, Oregon
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 451.9
> Population: 645,291

Sitting picturesquely at the confluence of two rivers, Portland is a city filled with great bars, restaurants, and music venues. The focus of the satirical comedy show “Portlandia,” the city is famous for its alternative culture and everything that comes with it. This includes many amazing bands, artists, and chefs. The city also has several grand old movie theaters and many museums. For outdoor types, there are also nice parks and easy ways to access nature in and around the city.

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3. Las Vegas, Nevada
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 500.1
> Population: 634,773

Casinos, clubs, and dining options ranging from all-you-can eat luxury buffets to elegant establishments run by world-famous chefs — the excess and madness of Las Vegas might just represent America more than any other place. Featuring everything from the most cutting-edge contemporary hotels and gambling palaces to old-style settings where visitors can experience live shows that hark back to the days when the mob ran the desert oasis, this is a city that has created itself and its own unique culture.

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2. Miami, Florida
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 500.7
> Population: 454,279

Miami is a place where all sorts of different worlds collide. It is also a place where people go to forget about their worries, spend some money, and get a little crazy. Its world-class nightclubs, bars, and restaurants have made it famous for its nightlife but it also has plenty more to offer including performing arts and museums. Miami’s tropical climate makes it a great place to escape to in the winter.


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1. San Francisco, California
> Cultural establishments, per 100k: 511.1
> Population: 874,961

It may not still be the San Francisco of the 1960’s but the peninsula city is still soaked in cultural attractions. Its world-famous restaurant scene ranges from the most luxurious and expensive restaurants to delicious street food. Long a city of immigrants, San Francisco is a melting pot that has created exciting and revolutionary art, music, and literature over the years. It excels in the performing arts and has great museums. Moreover, it’s a beautiful place, surrounded by water and filled with unique architecture.

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