They sport vintage bowling shoes and the latest tech gear—but they also know all the best places to eat and drink. Here are America’s cities with the biggest hipster scenes.
There’s a quirky new microbrew in Seattle: Churchkey Can Company produces a pilsner in a flat-top can, which requires an old-fashioned “church-key” opener to drink it. A beer blog promptly declared it the “most hipster beer in the world”—which may or may not be a compliment.
It’s no wonder that pilsner originated in Seattle, where a local taste for the retro, artsy, and wee-bit ironic boosted it to the top of America’s best cities for hipsters, according to Travel + Leisure readers who voted in the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey. They ranked 35 metropolitan areas on culturally relevant features like live music, coffee bars, and independent boutiques. To zero in on the biggest hipster crowds, we also factored in the results for the best microbrews and the most offbeat and tech-savvy locals.
It’s our take on the debated term hipster, which can inspire eye rolls or admiration. Once used to describe counterculture types, hipster is now so prevalent it’s at a possible tipping point. Whatever your take, you generally know hipsters when you see them—most likely in funky, up-and-coming neighborhoods. A smirking attitude toward mainstream institutions means they tend to frequent cool, often idiosyncratic restaurants, shops, and bars—the same kinds of venues that appeal to travelers looking for what they can’t find at home. (Yelp.com now even has a search feature for “hipster” ambience.)
There’s also an eco-conscious influence in contemporary hipsterdom. Some of the trendiest places to shop in New Orleans, for instance, are thrift shops. In Denver and Minneapolis, hipsters gather in coffee-or-tea cafés that double as low-carbon-footprint bike shops. Upping the ante, Portland, OR, is the home of BikeBar, where you can pedal stationary bikes that actually generate electricity for the organic micropub.
Indeed, techie haven Seattle got some serious competition from the craft-beer-loving, food-truck-dining, and notoriously mustachioed Oregon city. After all, Portland arguably corners the market on quirkiness, the X factor of hipness. Portland-based TV and film casting director Lana Veenker says that clients frequently ask her to hire “Portland hipster types”—and it’s not hard.
“There’s a guy in my neighborhood who regularly takes his pet pig for a walk around the block, on a leash,” Veenker says. She also sees a guy in a Darth Vader costume tooling around town on his unicycle—with bagpipes. “It’s just par for the course around here.”
No. 1 Seattle
These northwesterners prove that a key to hipsterness is being ahead of the curve: they won the survey for their smarts, their tech savvy, and their high-octane coffee. As a result, the geek chic may be a little more buttoned-down here than in other cities. Look for representatives in the up-and-coming South Lake Union area, near downtown, or in former Scandinavian neighborhood Ballard, site of some of the city’s hottest restaurants, such as oyster bar The Walrus and the Carpenter.
No. 2 Portland, OR
They’re audaciously quirky, and they boast great beer, creative street food, and bicycle enthusiasts to back it up. In the North Williams area, you can experience several levels of Portland’s unique hipster zeitgeist: buying vintage clothing inside a double-decker bus at Lodekka; playing shuffleboard in the unmarked bar Vendetta; or pedaling on the stationary bikes that actually generate electricity for organic micropub Hopworks BikeBar.
No. 3 San Francisco
Hippies, part of another subculture movement, blossomed here during the flower power years of the 1960s. The tech age has certainly morphed the city’s hip denizens, who exist in pockets all over the Bay Area, such as the Mission District and South of Market, known as SOMA. San Francisco also ranked near the top of the survey for its fine dining and its diverse population—and for being easy to explore without a car.
No. 4 New Orleans
The Crescent City has a legendary café culture and a rich music and arts scene. The newest version of hipster bohemians are found in the Marigny area, a historic neighborhood with colorful architecture and good spots to sample the city’s top-ranking bar scene, such as the Hi-Ho Lounge and Mimi’s in the Marigny. To dress the part—and see why the city ranked near the top for both indie boutiques and flea markets—check out the local vintage shops, such as the Revival Outpost on Magazine Street.
No. 5 Portland, ME
These Maine folks have great palates for both food and beverages, winning fifth place for their coffee and the bronze medal for microbrews—like those found at Shipyard, Allagash, and Gritty’s. For caffeinated hipster-watching, go to Coffee by Design, which first opened on the once-seedy, and now thriving, Congress Street, where you can sip the same java made for local foodie magnet Fore Street restaurant.
No. 6 Providence, RI
This academia-rich New England city has a concentrated mix of artists and nerds, scoring high in the survey for its performance art and cafés. The artsy nerve center these days may be the downtown, multiuse space AS220, which boasts of stimulating Rhode Island’s “cultural mulch” through shows, a restaurant, a coffee bar, and a meeting space for the tech group Providence Geeks.
No. 7 Austin, TX
The Texas capital has long been a hotbed for live music as well as offbeat types, but the trendsetting locals also scored big points for being tech-fluent. The most cutting-edge part of town these days is East Austin, which is bustling with art galleries, such as Okay Mountain, and bars such as The Liberty, which offers both a beer garden and one of the city’s most lauded food trucks, the Asian-fusion-style East Side King.
No. 8 San Juan, P.R.
The balmy island city may not be the first to conjure images of skinny-jeaned hipsters, but it does have the hottest dining scene in the Caribbean, and its locals rank in the top 10 for being tech-savvy. Perhaps ironically, the trendiest scene is found in Old Town (particularly in the area south of Calle Fortaleza, known as SoFo), where you can taste how the city ranked so well for ethnic cuisine, cafés, and street food. The city also scores highly for one key element of hip living: cool flea markets.
No. 9 Philadelphia
Fishtown, just north of Center City, is one hipster magnet, drawing folks to quirky venues like the combined bar-and-art-gallery Kung Fu Necktie. For the best of the city’s microbrews and java, check out Ultimo Coffee in Point Breeze, which operates in conjunction with “beer boutique” Brew. Hipsters in Philadelphia still have a deep appreciation for old-fashioned diversions: the city ranks highly for its theater and classical music.
No. 10 Denver
When they’re not mountain biking, hiking, or otherwise living up to their outdoorsy, athletic reputation, these trendy Coloradans gather in the Highlands neighborhood, just west of downtown—perhaps browsing the Urbanistic Tea and Bike shop, or Wild Yarns, which caters to a new breed of knitters. Denver’s biggest claim to hipdom, however, may be its No. 1 ranking for cool microbrews, found at spots such as Wynkoop Brewing Company. If you want a retro cocktail instead, check out the Lower Highlands’ 1920s speakeasy-style Williams & Graham, which serves the hard stuff over hand-cut ice cubes.