To Caitlin Sandburg, her hometown of San Francisco provides a safe haven—for oddballs.
“Once you’ve been here long enough, nothing surprises you,” says the hospitality exec. “Whether it’s a naked person walking down the street, someone dressed in full drag, or ‘Burning Man’ types, no one really raises an eyebrow. Being a freak here is so normal.”
Even so, according to Travel + Leisure readers, there are five cities in the nation that have more weird people than the City by the Bay. In this year’s America’s Favorite Cities survey—in which readers ranked 38 cities for features such as romance, thrift shops, craft beers and, indeed, quirky locals—the results show how a city can be nicely shaped by its kookiest denizens.
One top five city, for instance, offers a hotel fashioned out of a former psychiatric hospital and donuts sprinkled with faux meth. Another winner is famed for its offbeat bars—like the one decorated for Christmas year round, or another that regularly holds armadillo races.
Onward, to the cities with the most kooks per capita.
They may not be perceived as showy—readers sized them up as being both hip and aloof—but Atlantans are increasingly coming out of their shells, at least for a good parade. The annual Lantern Parade—part of September’s Art on the BeltLine exhibit, along the revamped railroad corridor—attracts some 20,000 lantern-toting participants. Despite the evening parade, the well-dressed locals seem to be morning people, since the city ranked well for both diners and brunch. For a quirky, only-in-the-South brunch, try the West Egg Café, which serves breakfast all day on Sundays (dubbed Brinner in the evening) and on Friday nights offers amazing chicken-and-waffle variations—with, say, pimento cheese and bacon or habanero-infused maple syrup.
The Kentucky city may be a newcomer to the list, but it’s giving other weird cities a run for their money. For starters, this is the birthplace of the annual Lebowski Fest, the now-national celebration of the Coen brothers cult-favorite bowling film. To bowl on your own, go to Vernon Lanes, which has been a local hangout for more than a century and (with 300 bourbons on the menu) is a stop on the Urban Bourbon Trail. The city also ranked well for burgers; at Game, you can choose among patties made of kangaroo, antelope, or wild boar. In the case of Louisville, quirky does not equate with cluttered: the city also made the top 10 for feeling clean.
Some might say there is something odd about a city that honors a big, broken bell—but Philadelphia thrives on history, and not just the kind associated with the founding fathers. You can appreciate the old, abnormal body parts on display at the medically oriented Mutter Museum or the creepy walkways of the Eastern State Penitentiary (once home to Al Capone), where you can also take the kids on a fun scavenger hunt. The city’s nerve center for local quirky types, though, is Fishtown, where you’ll find a nice example of why Philly won the bronze medal for pizza: Pizza Brain has pies like the oddly named Felix Huppert (Gruyère and caramelized onion) and the Buffy Ernst (blue cheese and Buffalo wing sauce), and a collection of pizza-themed vinyl records. Readers felt that Philly locals embody an ironic combination: loving sports without seeming to be athletic themselves.
In this show-business town, you need to stand out to get ahead—like the buff exhibitionists in Venice or the spendy fashionistas in Beverly Hills. Even the highly ranked bakeries hustle to set themselves apart: at Gjusta, in Venice, you can pick up baklava croissants (Cronuts are solast year) and rabbit terrines. Otherwise, readers applaud L.A. for its nightclubs and wild weekend atmosphere. Hot nightlife hubs these days include the ’70s-themed bar Good Times at Davey Wayne’s in Hollywood and artisanal-cocktail-rich The Edison, located in downtown’s former power plant. For another version of “wild,” don’t miss the performance art going on at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which is also the final resting place of stars like Rudolph Valentino and Estelle Getty.
Before this Tennessee city was the country-music capital, it had a classical bent—as in, ancient Greece. The city’s Parthenon—built in 1897 and filled with American paintings—may seem a little out of place here, but it’s also the only full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon in the world. And while Music City has had an increasingly broad definition of museums since then (like the memorabilia-lined restaurant Cooter’s Place, paying tribute to The Dukes of Hazzard), the city has also generated plenty of museum-worthy legends—like the late George Jones, whose own museum will open here this spring. Readers also loved the city’s dive bars, like Santa’s Pub—located in a trailer near the fairgrounds and run by a guy who looks like another legend. Speaking of jolly, Nashville locals ranked as some of the most affable people in the U.S.
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