Top 20 Best Downtowns in the USA for Unforgettable Experiences

Last Updated on May 18, 2023 by Nikki Jain

There's no doubt about it—the most interesting places in the United States are found downtown. No matter where you go, the big cities in the U.S. have fascinating downtown areas filled with amusement parks, hidden restaurant gems, and plenty of cultural excursions.

If it’s fun, education, and culture you’re after, then head downtown. Here are the top downtown areas in the United States. Get out and get exploring!

The Best Downtowns in America

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1: New York City, New York

New York City, New York

When we’re talking about downtown New York City, we’re usually talking about downtown Manhattan. And what a downtown it is! Even if you’ve never been to Times Square, you’ve certainly heard of many of its attractions.

The intoxicating draw of Times Square, the historic romance of the wharf, and the cultural sensationalism of the arts scene attract thousands of visitors a day.

There’s something for everybody in lower Manhattan: Broadway, Central Park, nightlife, shopping, and so much more.

From fine dining to incredible street art, downtown New York is hard to beat for an urban vacation.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown New York City

Address: Lower Manhattan, New York, NY

2: Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago’s downtown area is known for the best pizza in the United States. You haven’t had pizza until you’ve had a Chicago deep dish.

There are also many other things to love about Chicago, too. Millennium Park is a definite Chicago highlight. There are plenty of fun things to do in the park and less of the smog that characterizes the city.

Chicago also boasts many fun museums and learning experiences, such as Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, and 360 Chicago, an incredible high-level viewing platform. Don’t forget to get a gander at the Sears Tower.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Chicago

Address: Chicago, Illinois

3: Alexandria, Virginia

Alexandria, Virginia

Old Town Alexandria is both an incredible adventure and a historical experience. It is just a short trip from Washington, D.C., making the perfect getaway for a traveler who needs a break from the Capital.

Alexandria is delightfully historic; in fact, it was founded around 1750 and was home to George Washington. The old streets are filled with shopping, dining, and learning opportunities.

Explore buildings that existed before the founding of the United States and learn what life must have been like back then. Don’t forget to try the King Street Trolley while you’re at it.

When you’re done touring and snapping photos, head to one of the many cafés and restaurants for relaxation and good food.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Alexandria

Address: Alexandria, VA

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4: Burlington, Vermont

Burlington, Vermont

Burlington is both a historic town and a college town, making it's downtown area an attractive mix of hip culture and old-time charm.

There are many lovely red brick buildings throughout the downtown area, from government buildings to churches.

Burlington is also naturally scenic. It is built on the shore of Lake Champlain, and its wharf has a stunning view of the Adirondack Mountains’ romantic blue layers.

If you’re hoping to visit Burlington, it’s easy to get there—the city boasts an airport, public transport, a train, and a ferry in addition to its several nearby highways and interstates.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Burlington

Address: Church Street Marketplace, Burlington, Vermont

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5: Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis, Indiana

The most wonderful attraction of Indianapolis is the river walk that winds through the downtown area.

The river walk attracts many types of people: middle-aged business people taking brisk walks on their lunch breaks, college students from the surrounding campus going on a jog, and wide-eyed tourists drinking in the street art.

Each tunnel on the river walk is filled with beautiful artwork, and even many of the businesses adjoining the walk have chosen unconventional décor.

As far as the sky rise scene goes, there’s also much to do apart from the river walk. Food, fun, and culture all have a place here.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Indianapolis

Address: Mile Square, Indianapolis, IN

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6: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Flickr/Richard Freeman

Pittsburgh is located on the juncture of the Allegheny River, the Ohio River, and the Monongahela River. With so many waterways around the downtown area, it’s only natural that much of downtown life revolves around the rivers.

Pittsburgh has been called the “City of Bridges” because of its many river crossings. Downtown itself has 18 bridges, which are famous for joggers, walkers, and Instagrammers.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Pittsburgh

Address: Downtown, Pittsburgh, PA

7: Savannah, Georgia

Savannah, Georgia

“Charming” is the perfect word to describe Savannah. After all, it is in the South! Pretty much the entire downtown area is part of the Savannah Historic District, which goes all the way back to the antebellum era of the United States.

The downtown area is serviced by trolleys, but it’s nice to walk around and take in all the sights. A definite must-do activity is one of the many historic home tours in the area. A riverboat cruise is also a popular downtown Savannah activity.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Savannah

Address: Savannah, GA

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8: Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington
Dreamstime/Sergey Novikov

Downtown Seattle is a compact, must-see location to visit in your lifetime.

From grand attractions like the Seattle Art Museum to the down-to-earth Pike Place Market, the town has an excellent reputation for beautiful sights and tasty food; in fact, Seattle's history with good seafood goes back more than a century.

If you want to take in the full sights of Seattle, travel to one of the city's greatest hidden treasures: the Fourth and Madison Building at 925 Fourth Ave.

Open to the public; you'll find a panoramic view of the city on three separate sides from the seventh-floor terrace.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Seattle

Address: Seattle, WA

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Seattle

9: Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville, South Carolina
Dreamstime/Carol R Montoya

Well-known for its beauty, Greenville is a downtown area offering lots of cultural entertainment and great places to grab some grub.

A shopper's paradise, Greenville features more than 100 retailers, including art galleries and specialty stores, for your convenience.

You'll also spot everything from designer boutiques and cuisine for just about every taste palate. Over the last four decades, Greenville has seen a significant uptick in popularity, cementing it as one of the best downtowns in America.

From the verdant, tree-lined walk on Main Street to the gorgeous Reedy River Falls, this definitely isn’t a spot you want to miss.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Greenville

Address: Greenville, South Carolina

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10: Santa Monica, California

Santa Monica, California

The most famous part of Downtown Santa Monica is, of course, the Santa Monica Pier. This is a fantastic place to come and play, and it has been the area’s most famous attraction for an entire century.

From the iconic Pacific Park Ferris wheel to the fine dining, you won’t want to leave the area. Of course, when you venture out into the rest of downtown, you’ll be able to enjoy many other activities, such as museums, dining options, and nightlife.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Santa Monica

Address: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Also Read: Top 21 Santa Monica Attractions You Shouldn't Miss

11: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Dreamstime/Sean Pavone

A bastion of culture, fine dining, and recreation activities, Milwaukee stands out among other downtown areas with year-round events, culturally rich restaurants, extensive shopping districts, and a highly active nightlife.

For enjoyers of architecture and technology, the Wisconsin Center is a must-visit, featuring lots of convention facilities to complete the downtown experience.

In the summer, you’ll see the roots of Milwaukee on full display with a series of parades in honor of the diverse cultural influences that have made the city what it is today and well worth a visit.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Milwaukee

Address: 101 W Pleasant St, Milwaukee, WI 53212

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Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Milwaukee

12: Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

A natural paradise, this tourist destination is constantly in high demand. With beautiful wide-open spaces, a thriving shopping district, and lots of great cuisines, Sedona is a perfect blend of the hustle and bustle of city life and the sprawling red vistas.

If you’ve got a spiritual side, then Sedona is the perfect spot for you, with lots of healing areas known as vortexes native to the area.

However, the best part about Sedona is the natural art you'll find all over the place, such as the Oak Creek Canyon.

To take in the sights, hop on the trolley ride to get the full experience of this spending Arizona town.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Sedona

Address: Sedona, AZ

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Sedona

13: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs, Colorado
Dreamstime/Sean Pavone

Home to cultural experiences you'll find nowhere else, downtown Colorado Springs offers great adventures for the whole family.

Whether you're the artsy type who enjoys visiting the local gallery with a glass of wine or the outdoorsy type who wants to saddle up for a western adventure, Colorado Springs has got you covered.

The best view of the city, without a doubt, is on the Sunrise Balloon Flight. You’ll be picked up from downtown Colorado Springs and enjoy a long flight over Snowmass and Aspen.

You might even spot some wildlife like bears, elk, and deer along the road, so bring your binoculars.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Colorado Springs

Address: Colorado Springs, CO

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Colorado Springs

14: Boston, Massachusetts

Boston, Massachusetts

One of the oldest settlements in North America, Boston is a rich blend of modern marvels and ancient treasures dating back to the 1600s.

Through the years, Boston has played home to several important events in American history, such as the American revolution, which are celebrated throughout the district.

Explore the juxtaposition of seventeenth-century architecture side-by-side with modern skyscrapers. If you want to experience the rich history of Boston, the Freedom Trail is a must-see.

Put on your walking boots and take to the trail in this two-and-a-half-mile adventure that runs through the district and touches past sixteen of Boston's most important historical landmarks.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Boston

Address: Boston, MA

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Boston

15: Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee

For any music enthusiast, Nashville is the place to be.

With so many of the world’s greatest artists calling Nashville home, the historic city center certainly celebrates its culture with live Broadway musicals and celebrations of its longstanding history.

For example, you can eat at a restaurant that has been open since before the Civil War.

What you must see if you visit Nashville is the historic Music Row, which features gorgeous locations like the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, and recalls the history of Nashville’s musicians.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Nashville

Address: Nashville, TN 37219

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Nashville

16: San Diego, California

San Diego, California

With over 70 miles of coastline, San Diego is the place to be for beachgoers. Discover the vibrant arts, experience cultural dining, and explore exquisite dining opportunities.

There are plenty of ways to enjoy the scenery in San Diego, from the Trolley Tour that takes you through the downtown to the Altitude Sky Lounge, a place of luxury where you can oversee the entire downtown area.

With a dazzling selection of world-class entertainment, there's an endless list of adventures in San Diego.

If you're visiting, then the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, and LEGOLAND are all well worth visiting.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown San Diego

Address: Civic Center Plz, San Diego, CA 92101

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in San Diego

17: St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida
Dreamstime/Oksana Byelikova

The nation's oldest city, St. Augustine, is filled with historical adventures, cultural wonder, and many great outdoor activities.

The state of endless summer, Florida has no shortage of old cities, and St. Augustine is no exception.

Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, the downtown St. Augustine area is filled with restaurants, hotels, shopping, and attractions that reflect the city’s lengthy history.

There are lots of living history museums, with the buildings themselves often dating back to the 1700s.

Featuring influences from the British, French, Africans, Spanish, Native Americans, and Irish, St. Augustine is truly a step back in time and a historical downtown adventure your family can't miss among the cities with the best downtowns.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown St. Augustine

Address: 170 St George St, St. Augustine, FL 32084

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in St. Augustine

18: New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans, Louisiana
Dreamstime/Sean Pavone

The birthplace of jazz, downtown New Orleans has a wealth of cultural and historical influences that make it a one-of-a-kind experience you won't find anywhere else in the world.

From vibrant jazz clubs that celebrate the city’s unique relationship with music to the lively atmosphere of the city, there’s no place quite like New Orleans.

If you want a taste of the city's culture, then the French Market is the perfect place to visit. Spanning six blocks across the city center, the French Market has just about everything you need, although you'll probably be going for the food, if nothing else!

Visit the local museums in the area and swing back to the market, where you can pick up a classic po-boy or browse the stalls for souvenirs and collectibles.

If you’re visiting for the jazz culture, then the Petit Jazz Museum in Tremé is a great place to visit.

Spanning a history of 4000 years, the museum traces the history of jazz and its relevance in New Orleans, making it one of the best downtowns in USA.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown New Orleans

Address: New Orleans, LA

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in New Orleans

19: Boise, Idaho

Boise, Idaho
Dreamstime/Charles Knowles

With special events running year-round and a vibrant cultural city center in the heart of downtown Boise, there’s always something to do for the whole family.

Dubbed the Eighth Street Cultural district, you’ll find the arts and culture center of Boise in the downtown area, and it’s the perfect blend of modern lifestyles with a small town charm.

Boise has something for everyone, with lots of great breweries in the area, art museums to explore the city’s rich history, and nature trails to experience the rugged wilderness.

The nightlife is second to none, with the vibrant city coming alive at night with venues, concerts, shows, and shopping all picking up when the sun goes down, making it one of the best downtowns in America.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Boise

Address: Downtown Boise, ID

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Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Boise

20: Plano, Texas

Plano, Texas

Home to numerous events and festivals, Plano has been named for several years, running as one of the best downtowns in America.

The authentic brick streets add an air of class, and you'll find an eclectic collection of unique shops where you can find antique treasures and boutique must-haves, selling just about anything a fashion enthusiast could want.

After you shop-‘til-you-drop, you can stop by the McCall Plaza, Cox Building Playhouse, and Courtyard Theater to appreciate the live events going on in Plano year-round.

Perhaps the best part about this downtown experience is that you don’t need to worry about transit—just hop on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), and you’ll land a few steps from the downtown area.

If you’re looking for a great downtown to visit, don’t skip Plano.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Downtown Plano

Address: 1037 E 15th St, Plano, TX 75074

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Final Thoughts on the best downtowns in America

America's downtowns are becoming more and more charming. With new businesses popping up and old ones being revitalized, there is something for everyone in these vibrant areas. If you haven't explored these best downtowns lately, now is the perfect time to do so. You may be surprised at what you find.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1: Which City Has the Best Downtown in the USA?

Chicago, Illinois, is often listed as the best downtown in the US for its historical sites, great food, and rich cultural experiences.

2: What is the Biggest Downtown in the USA?

New York City is one of the largest downtowns in the US, with a population of 8.8 million people in a densely packed city.

3: What is the Prettiest Downtown in the USA?

Greenville, South Carolina and Sedona, Arizona, are two of the prettiest downtowns in the US that appeal to the most people, largely because they blend beautiful, rugged landscapes with lots of downtown attractions.

4: What Are the Most Historic Downtowns in the USA?

St. Augustine, Florida, is one of the most historic downtowns in the US and the country's oldest settlement at over 450 years old.

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