The 50 U.S. Cities With the Best Air Quality
Last Updated: Nov 19, 2014
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Air quality might not be top of mind when you head out for a hike or open the windows to catch a summer breeze, but it can have a major impact on your life. Poor air quality can lead to increased rates of asthma, heart disease and lung cancer. To raise awareness of air quality across the United States, the American Lung Association releases an annual State of the Air Report. The association ranks metropolitan areas within three categories: short-term particle pollution, year-round particle pollution and ozone pollution. Read on to see if you're breathing some of the cleanest air in America, and discover our recommendations for ways to enjoy that air.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
This charming Southern coastal city is the oldest in South Carolina. Its ornate, well-preserved architecture and pristine beaches help make it a favorite North American travel destination. Go golfing along the coast or take a tour boat to explore the location of the start of the Civil War at Fort Sumter.
Related: Learn more about visiting Charleston, South Carolina.
Salisbury was established in 1732 at the head of the Wicomico River, which enabled it to become the seat of Wicomico County. Though many historic buildings were destroyed by fires in 1860 and 1886, visitors can still tour the Old Green Hill Church, Poplar Hill Mansion and Pemberton Hall. Every 3rd Friday, the city hosts a block party, which celebrates local art, music and commerce.
Lawrence University was established before the city of Appleton, in 1847. According to U.S. News and World Report, about a quarter of students enrolled at the liberal arts school complete degrees at its conservatory of music. You can tour their 85 acre campus, or visit the History Museum at the Castle, which preserves the history of Fox Valley. Visitors also enjoy the Hearthstone Historic House Museum, which was the country's first hydroelectric central power station.
SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA
Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota, takes it's name from a series of waterfalls on the Big Sioux River. Native Americans populated the area for at least 1,500 years before Europeans arrived. Visitors can tour the 123-acre Falls Park to see the falls and some of the city's first industry buildings. These include the seven-story Queen Bee Mill, which closed in 1883 after only two years of being open. Falls Overlook Cafe stands on the east bank of the river. It's a quartzite structure that used to be the Light and Power Company Building, and now serves family-friendly fare and offers a display of historical items.
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Situated about a two-hour drive from Washington, D.C., Richmond is a bustling yet quaint vestige of modern convenience mixed with Civil War and emancipation heritage. There is no shortage of family activities in the city -- museums, ballet troupes, an opera, galleries, theaters and a symphony provide a cultural boon. The city also boasts one of the largest river park systems in America. Frommer’s named Richmond a top worldwide destination for 2014, claiming that “Richmond is coming into its own as a choice regional destination with a growing slate of breweries, farm-to-table restaurants and even white-water rapids activities cutting right through downtown.” The city is the only urban setting with white-water rapids of the James River snaking through downtown. A white-water trip is an adventurous way to see Richmond while enjoying wildlife such as deer, bald eagles, ospreys and herons.
Related: Learn more about visiting Richmond, Virginia.
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The Biedenharn Museum and Gardens preserves the legacy of Joseph Biedenharn, the first bottler of Coca-Cola. For only five cents, you can get a Coke and an earful of Coca-Cola's bottling origins. You can also check out a collection of Coke artifacts, tour Beidenharn's home and the stroll about the European gardens behind the home. For those tourists who hear the call of the wild, stop by the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge. "This majestic 4,500-acre expanse of lake, swamp, bottomland hardwoods, mixed pine and hardwood uplands," is home to a variety of plant and animal species, including small alligators, turtles, coyotes and fowl, according to the Monroe-Westmonroe website. You can rent a canoe to paddle along the 1,600-acre lake, and peruse the Aquarium Room and arboretum there.
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Lincoln, Nebraska's capital city, is the perfect confluence of all-American southern culture and globalization. It's been a locus for the resettlement of refugees since the 1980's, housing rich Iraqi, Vietnamese and Sudanese communities. The Nebraska state capital building is the second largest in the U.S., standing over 15-stories tall. Visitors can tour the Sunken Gardens, which features an annually-redesigned floral display of over 30,000 plants. You can also swing by the University of Nebraska campus and check out the museum there or attend one of the Cornhuskers' sporting events.
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Lafayette is "the heart of Cajun Country," according to the Louisiana travel website. Check out the Acadian Village, a 32-acre replica of an 1800's Cajun town that even has a bayou running through it. According to the Acadian Village website, 7 of its 11 buildings are authentic homes donated by families whose ancestors once lived in them. Yhe Louisiana Orphan Train Museum in nearby Opelousas commemorates the Orphan Train riders, who arrived from the New York Foundling hospital between 1873 and 1929. In 2013, Lafayette was named the best small town for food in America by the Rand McNally/USA Today Best of the Road Rally. It's the world capital of Cajun and Creole fare, where home-cooked dining meets French, Spanish, American, Native American and African influences. For two food-filled itineraries, click on the related link below.
Related: Lafayette, Louisiana -- Best Food Town
LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN
Last year, La Crosse made NerdWallet's list of the top small cities to start a business. Like most of America, the article observes, La Crosse recently saw a sharp decline in manufacturing. The city has made up for its losses, however, in "highly skilled, knowledge-intensive industries, such as health care." It also had the highest percentages of businesses with paid employees of all the cities analyzed. For those who are just visiting, be sure to stop by Grandad Bluff, a 600-ft high bluff that overlooks the city.
Established nearly 400 years ago, Hartford is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. Great American novelist and humorist Mark Twain once said, “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see [Hartford] is the chief.” It’s not hard to imagine a youthful Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn tooling down a Midwest river here -- in fact, Twain called Hartford his home between 1874 and 1891 and wrote “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in a 19-room Victorian Gothic house. The home is now a historic site open for tours. After visiting the Mark Twain home, head to Elizabeth Park to take in the carefully manicured gardens with 800 varieties of roses.
Related: Learn more about visiting Hartford, Connecticut.
VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA
The Virginia Beach Boardwalk is a popular east coast destination that stretches for three miles, making it ideal for walking, biking and rollerblading. You can find live entertainment every night during the summer months at one of four oceanfront stages. King Neptune, a twenty-four foot, twelve-ton bronze statue reigns over the gateway to Neptune Festival Park on 31st Street. During the winter months, visitors can hop onboard a boat to watch for humpback whales.
Portland is Maine's largest city and the namesake for Portland, Oregon. Tourists love to peruse Old Port, a pedestrian-friendly area with bustling with boutiques, restaurants and bars. According to Business Insider, the European-style district features cobblestone streets and centuries old brick buildings. Portland is a fantastic foodie destination. It's home to several renowned restaurants, including Central Provisions, which was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation's Best New Restaurant Award in 2015, and Fore Street, owned by Sam Hayward, 2011 winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef. Visitors can also check out the Portland Public Market, a huge indoor marketplace for locally made fare.
Spokane is named after the Native American people who first populated the region. The name means "Children of the Sun," in Salishan, according to the City of Spokane website. Although Spokane is the second largest city in Washington, it features a host of beautiful outdoor attractions. Spokane Falls is the second largest urban waterfall in the U.S., and visitors can look on from bridges and other viewing points. At Manito Park, tourists can stroll through curated gardens, including the Nishinomiya Tsutakawa Memorial Japanese Garden, French Renaissance-style Duncan Garden, Lilac Garden and Rose Hill Garden. Gonzaga University, a liberal arts college, is situated in Spokane, educating over 7,000 students every year.
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Pocatello borders on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho. Although the first European settlement was established there in 1834, the city's population experienced little growth until the discovery of gold in 1860 attracted settlers. One of the city's most popular attractions is pretty unusual -- the Museum of Clean features exhibits on all things that have to do with cleanliness: vacuums, toilets, washers, brooms and more. The museum has no guards, making it a favorite among children. According to their website, the museum's mission is to, "expand the scope of clean into areas like clean homes, clean minds, clean language, clean community, and a clean world."
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LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA
Southwest Louisiana is a melting pot of Native American, Cajun, Creole, German and French cultures. You can tour the Charpentier Historic District, where the buildings' assortment of turrets, towers, gables, shingling, leaded glass and gingerbread accents reflects the diversity of the carpenter architects who built them. Download the Lake Charles Historic Tour app for a guided experience. The city's Mardi Gras Museum hosts the largest display of Mardi Gras costumes in the south. All kinds of gambling are legal in Louisiana, so casinos are night life hot spots.
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EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN
Eau Claire comes from the original French name, Eaux Claires, meaning "Clear Waters." It's located at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers, and nicknamed "Sawdust City" due to the number of sawmills there. Eau Claire is home to several apple orchards, including Ferguson's Orchards, where visitors can take a wagon ride, race around in a pedal tractor, visit farm animals and ride in a giant spinning apple.
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Springfield is appropriately named -- rivers and lush greenery spring forth throughout this western Massachusetts city. Situated on the Eastern bank of the Connecticut River near a confluence with the Westfield River, Chicopee River and Mill River, Springfield is awash with vital outdoor beauty and activities. Visit Forest Park for hiking trails, water parks, tennis courts, picnic areas and ponds teeming with duck, geese and other birds. Or, head to the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club to kick off a paddleboat or dragon boating journey along the Connecticut River.
Related: Learn more about visiting Springfield, Massachusetts.
The largest city in the Pacific Northwest, hilly Seattle’s coastal air has a misty, drizzly reputation. But thanks to its mild, marine climate, the environment allows visitors and residents alike to enjoy the outdoors most of the year. Grab a coffee at the original Starbucks, take in sweeping views of the city’s evergreen forests from a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel or go sailing in the Puget Sound.
Related: Learn more about visiting Seattle, Washington.
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Saginaw partnered with its sister city, Tokushima, Japan, to enlist renowned architect Tsutomu Takenaka to construct a traditional tea house at Saginaw's Japanese Cultural Center. The tea house provides a setting for tea ceremonies (Chanoyu), which promote harmony, respect and tranquility, according to the Saginaw website. Visitors can tour the center's 3-acre garden and admire "weeping cherry trees, authentic stone lanterns, hand-crafted bamboo gates, an Asian-inspired gazebo and an arching vermilion bridge over a winding stream," the center's website details. The Saginaw riverfront is also a popular destination. Once a year, locals gather to participate in the "Shiver on the River" ice fishing contest. While you're in the neighborhood, stop by the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest wetland ecosystems in Michigan.
Alexandria is at the almost exact geographical center of Louisiana. In the 17 and 1800's, the city was an agricultural hub. It's home to the Kent Plantation House, the oldest standing structure in Louisiana. Visitors can check out the Alexandria Zoological Park, which houses more than 500 animals, including white tigers, black bears, African lions and giant tortoises.The Alexandria Holocaust Memorial, built to memorialize the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust, is a stunning sight as well. The obelisk that weights 15 tons and stands 18 feet high, according to the Alexandria Pineville Louisiana website, holds an "almost mystical significance," in the Jewish tradition.
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ROCHESTER, NEW YORK
Rochester is situated near the Canadian border and the Niagara Falls on Lake Ontario. Its abundant natural beauty and fresh air provide numerous opportunities for outdoor enjoyment, as do its 12,000 acres of parks, 100 miles of hiking trails, 45 lane miles of bike facilities and waterways ranging from the Genessee River to the Erie Canal. Cycling enthusiasts from around the world flock to Rochester for leisurely rides along the lakefront promenades and organized bike races. You can also enjoy the outdoors at Seabreeze Amusement Park, a family-friendly destination positioned on scenic bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario with a classic wooden carousel, roller coasters, kiddie slides and a water park.
Related: Learn more about visiting Rochester, New York.
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Nicknamed the “City of Roses” because of its rose-friendly climate, Portland has gained recognition as one of America’s most environmentally conscious cities, due in part to its efficient public transportation. It sits at the banks of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers in the foothills of the Tualatin Mountains, and offers diverse options for exploring the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, from hiking and swimming at Oneonta Falls to mountain biking in Forest Park.
GREENVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
"Greenville is widely recognize as the cultural, educational, economic and medical hub of Eastern North Carolina," the Greenville tourism site reports. Located along the Tar River, Greenville offers a host of outdoor activities, such as boating, kayaking, fishing, hiking, camping and birding. If you're into agrotourism, visit Briley's Farm Market or Brock's Berries and Produce Farm. Check out Black Jack MX's Full Size Motorcross Track if you're looking for adventure.
Lynchburg is located in the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the James River. The 139-step Monument Terrace honors citizens who fought and died during in the Civil War, Spanish-American Way, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam. The sculpture-lined steps lead to the Lynchburg Museum at the Old Court House. Outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds can find a destination to enjoy in Lynchburg -- from Beaver Creek Canoe Rentals to the Bedford Wine Trail.
Charlottesville is home to two UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Sites, thanks to Thomas Jefferson: his home, Monticello, and the University of Virginia. The third president of the U.S. once described architecture as his "delight." He designed the Federal City in Washington, D.C. before creating the plans for Monticello and the original grounds of the University of Virginia later in life. He modeled the University's grandiose Rotunda after the Roman Pantheon.
Yuma is rich with Native American cultural sites, including several areas where you can go to see petroglyphs – pictures that were scratched, carved or pecked into rocks. Antelope hill, a 575-foot knob of sandstone, exhibits many, mostly human, figures. Painted Rock contains about 800 images, including, “concentric spirals often found at Hohokam sites,” Visit Yuma reports. Fans of HBO's "Westworld" will love the Castle Dome Museum, a western ghost town from the late 1800's. It was once a mining town with over 300 mines in the Castle Dome district. However, people began to desert when the silver prices dropped in 1979. Visitors can stop by Carmelita's Cantina, the mercantile, the machine shop, the doctor's office and the graveyard.
Houma is at the heart of deep bayou country, according to the Louisiana Travel website. More than 65 percent of Terrebonne Parish is made up of wetlands and open water. "The sight of boats docked just before their skippers' homes is as common as the family minivan parked in front of other American households," the site details. It's an area entrenched in a unique cultural heritage. Houma Indians once inhabited the region, but their population dwindled as the land changed hands between Spanish, French and American settlers. Though a small number of tribal members still live in the coastal areas, "the lack of federal recognition, hurricanes and coastal erosion continue to threaten their survival," the Houma travel website reports. Visit the site linked below to learn more about the Traiteur tradition of natural healers, the devastation at Last Island, the legend of Loup Garou and voodoo.
Related: Houma Travel: History and Legends
Deemed "The Brooklyn of the Berkshires" by the Financial Times back in 2010, Pittsfield is making a comeback after seeing many years of industrial decline. "It's a hip city-village with all the amenities -- a neighborhood market, a yoga studio, live theatre, bustling cafes," George Whaling, a developer there, tells the Financial Times. Visitors can stop by the Colonial Theatre, designed by JB McElfatrick, who devised hundreds of U.S. theatres. Literary enthusiasts can enjoy a tour of Arrowhead, Herman Melville's home between from 1850-1862, where he penned Moby Dick and other works. For a quiet destination, visit the Hancock Shaker Village, which memorializes one of the nineteen Shaker communities that sprouted in America during the during the late 1700's.
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ALBANY, NEW YORK
Albany, New York’s state capital, is situated on the west bank of the Hudson River, north of New York City and south of Montreal. As with several East Coast cities, Albany’s history predates that of the United States Constitution. It was settled in 1614 and became the capital of New York in 1797. The city is one of the oldest settlements from the original 13 colonies. It was also one of the first cities in the world to install sewer lines and electricity and gas systems. As Albany is equidistant between New York and Montreal, several international acts grace the smaller city while on tour. These acts often visit the iconic sculptural Egg Center -- The Empire State’s Plaza Center for the Performing Arts. After partaking in Albany’s cultural attractions, head outdoors to enjoy the plentiful bike trails along the Erie Canal or the Grafton Lake State Park.
Related: Learn more about visiting Albany, New York.
In 2015, Livability.com named Rochester the nations's most livable city, "based on data related to cities' housing, economics, amenities, infrastructure, demographics, social and civil capital, education and health care," Inman LA reports. Rochester is home to the Mayo Clinic, "the first and largest, not-for-profit group medical practice in the world," the Rochester Travel website reports. Over the next 20 years, the Mayo Clinic will be developing the Destination Medical Center, which could create 40,000 new jobs and bring in as many as 100,000 new residents, Livability.com reports. Because of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester is quickly becoming a major economic and cultural hub, making it a great destination for tourists.
GRAND ISLAND, NEBRASKA
The name Grand Island comes from the French name for a large island in the Platter River, La Grande Ile. Some of the first European settlers there were German, so German was spoken in the first schools and churches, and it was written in the first newspapers. Rumors of gold in Colorado led to a population boom in the 1850's. Every year from March until April, another boom happens -- birds booming. In other words, "sharp tailed grouse and prairie chickens gather into leks for their annual breeding ritual," the Visit Grand Island website reports. It's an event you don't want to miss if you're in town.
The Port of Duluth-Superior is the largest and busiest of any on the Great Lakes, according to the Duluth Port website. The port, "handles an average of 38 million short tons of cargo and nearly 1,000 vessel visits each year," the site reports. The town has 6,834 acres of city parkland, 178 miles of wooded trails and 16 designated trout streams, making it an awesome destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Check out the 7.3-mile Duluth Lakewalk or the Rose Garden at Leif Erikson Park. Art lovers will adore the Waterfront Sculpture Walk, where sculptures representing Duluth and it's sister cities Vaxjo, Sweden; Thunder Bay, Ontario; Patrozavodsk, Russia and Ohara, Japan decorate your path.
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SIERRA VISTA, ARIZONA
Sierra Vista is the Hummingbird capital of the U.S., and bird watchers flock to the Ramsey Canyon Preserve. While exploring the 380-acre property, visitors can encounter three different kinds of hummingbirds (magnificent, Blue-throated and white-eared), two types of flycatchers and painted redstarts. You might also run into a white-nosed caoti, a small mammal that looks like a cross between a lemur and an anteater. For history buffs, there's a 12-foot segment of the Berlin Wall at the Fort Huachuca Museum and Annex. Tourists can also get a glimpse of the wild west by visiting one of several ghost towns that dot the area: Millville, Charleston, Fairbank and Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate.
A must-see destination in Anchorage isn't really what you'd think of as a destination at all: the Alaska Railroad. "Traveling aboard the Railroad ensures that the journey will be just as spectacular as the destination," the Anchorage travel website reports. Ride from Anchorage to Fairbanks and roam freely between cars to catch amazing views of the Denali State Park. Be sure to pencil Kenai Peninsula, just south of Anchorage, into your trip. It's 90 percent wilderness, making it a sightseeing haven. Keep your eyes peeled, as black or brown bears can be seen from inside your car or raft. Plus, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, "is a sanctuary that comprises approximately a third of the peninsula and provides an ideal haven for moose, lynx, wolves, Dall sheep, caribou, fox, coyotes and more," according to the Kenai Peninsula website.
WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA
Wilmington is situated between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. The Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach communities are located just minutes from downtown. Tourists can wander to various barrier islands off the city's coast. In 2014, USA Today readers voted the Wilmington Riverfront the best in the nation. Boutiques, cafes and nightlife line the 1.8-mile riverwalk. One New Year's Eve, visitors can watch the beach ball drop and fireworks show.
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK
Breathe the fresh air of Syracuse at the Onondaga Lake Park, the perfect family spot for a relaxing day outdoors. There you can do anything from rollerblading in the summer to cross-country skiing in the winter along vehicle-free trails. Art buffs will love The Everson, "the first museum to dedicate itself to the collection of American art," according to its website. The building was designed by I.M. Pei, "who has since designed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the new addition to the Louvre in Paris," the Syracuse travel website reports. For even more Americana, swing by the Erie Canal Museum, which charts the Erie Canal's role in American history.
RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA
Every year, three million people visit Mount Rushmore in Rapid City. It took workers 14 years to carve the images of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln into the side of the Black Hills. The Black Hills are sacred land to the Lakota Sioux Native Americans. Although the U.S. government promised the Sioux land that included the Black Hills in a the Treaty of 1868, it later turned and forced the Sioux to relinquish them when gold was found there.
Bangor saw it's first sawmill in 1772. By the mid 1830s, over 300 sawmills dotted the city. Lumberjacks sent logs harvested in northern Maine down the Penobscot River, where they were received in Bangor. A site not to be missed by lumber enthusiasts is the city's 31-foot-tall Paul Bunyan statue, which towers over Bass Park. The friendly, colorful statue is called the largest in the world and was even written about by Stephen King in his novel, "It."
Burlington was named one of American's prettiest towns by Forbes back in 2010 for its charming "brick pedestrian marketplace, Vermont's iconic white steeples and rolling hills that spill down toward a lively, green waterfront on Lake Champlain." Halfway between Montreal and Burlington, the Lake Champlain Islands offer 200 miles of shoreline for anyone who loves the outdoors. South Hero Island is home to Vermont's first vineyard, Snow Farm Winery, where visitors can stop as they peruse the Lake Champlain Coast Wine Trail.
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
The home to the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque is an original stop on Route 66 and is home to the Rio Grande, with its dry, desert climate. Take in the heat -- and the views -- by going rock climbing in the Sandia Mountains during the day, or take a guided tour through the woods in the moonlight after the sun sets on the Bosque Moonlight Hike. A great time to visit is during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October, when hundreds of bright balloons launch from Balloon Fiesta Park.
Related: Learn more about visiting Albuquerque, New Mexico.
FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA
You may have heard of Fargo because of the Emmy-aware winning, eponymous television show, but there's a lot more to the city than you'll see on screen. Established in 1871, it was named for William G. Fargo, co-founder of Wells Fargo Express Company. In it's early days, Fargo was a rough-and-tumble railroad town, complete with bordellos and saloons. Cheap, fertile farmland in the Red River valley attracted settlers, and by 1892, the city's population was more than 8,000. Now, the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Area is home to more than 149,700 people. Visitors can take a picture with "The Woodchipper" from the original Coen brothers film. The Bonanzaville pioneer village features a collection of historical buildings from around the county that contain different museums, including the Eugene Dahl Car Museum, the tractor museum, the Law Enforcement Museum and the Eagles Air Museum.
Between Sacramento and the California-Oregon border, Redding offers an abundance of beautiful sights. Castle Crags State Park is named for awe-inspiring, snowcapped crags that tower 6,000 feet over the Sacramento River. The park features 28 miles of hiking trails and 76 developed campsites. Visitors can also tour the Lake Shasta Caverns, a limestone cave reached by a cruise across Shasta Lake. The environmentally conscious Sundial Bridge was "intentionally constructed without river footings to leave the salmon-spawning habitat below undisturbed," Visit Redding reports. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the glass-decked walking bridge soars over 217 tall.
Salinas is famous for being the ancestral home of Nobel Prize laureate John Steinbeck. Now, visitors can tour the National Steinbeck Center Museum in his childhood home. The Salinas area was originally populated by Costanoan or Ohlone Indians, according to the Monterey County Historical Society, and named for a nearby salt marsh. Its agricultural industry began to grow in the mid-1800's, and now supplies 80 percent of America's lettuce and artichokes, according to the City of Salinas website.
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ELMIRA, NEW YORK
Dr. Edwin Eldridge originally designed the Victorian-style Eldridge park so that his patients could have a place to exercise back in 1879. It featured ornate flower gardens and picturesque statues and ponds. In 1924, Bob Long added the Looff Carousel, transforming Eldridge into an amusement park. Now, families can enjoy a number of attractions, including the sail planes-type Thunderbirds ride, a mini golf course and paddle boats. Bookworms can check out Mark Twain's summer home, Quarry Farm, where the famous author wrote "Huckleberry Finn," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," and other beloved American classics. According to NPR, his writing space features a few cat doors.
BISMARK, NORTH DAKOTA
Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota. Before Europeans settled there in the 1800's, Mandan Native Americans inhabited the area for hundreds of years. The Double Ditch Indian Village housed up to 2,000 people at its peak, according to the Discover Bismarck Mandan website. Now, only a footprint of the earthlodge village remains. People of Mandan ancestry live throughout much of the Northern Great Plains, according to the State Historical Society of North Dakota website. Their tribal headquarters are at Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota.
Honolulu is Hawaii's largest and capital city. Visit the USS Arizona Memorial in the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument to learn about, "one of the most pivotal moments in U.S. history," according to the National Park Service: the attack on Pearl Harbor, which lead to the entry of the United States into WWII. More than 2,000 American soldiers and sailors died in the attack, and more than 127,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry were forced into internment camps as a result of anti-Japanese paranoia and racism. Visitors should also stop by the Diamond Head State Monument, a landmark that promises stunning coastal views and a challenging hiking trail. Hike to the top to see a giant, saucer-shaped crater forged about 300,000 years ago during a volcanic eruption. Lastly, be sure to stop by Waikiki for beautiful sandy beaches.
Kahului is the commercial and industrial hub of Maui. Every year, two million tourists from all over the world travel to nearby Lahaina. In 1802, King Kamehameha, who would later unite the Hawaiian Islands under his rulership, made Lahaina the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom. It remained that way for over 50 years before being permanently relocated to Honolulu. Visitors can't miss the Banyan Tree, a non-indigenous tree planted back in 1873 that's now over 60 feet tall, has 16 major trunks and spans over a 200-foot area. While on the west side, try snorkeling or scuba diving. Just be sure to avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, a chemical that damages coral reefs. Lastly, visit the Haleakala National Park, a site held sacred by Native Hawaiians and famous for its volcanic landscapes and sub-tropical rain forests.
In the early 1900's, a booming oil and refining economy attracted thousands of workers and their families to Casper. Between 1910 and 1920, the city's population grew from 2,639 to 11,447. Since then, the population has risen and fallen alongside oil prices. Now, the refineries have either closed or are much smaller than they used to be. Casper, Wyoming's second largest city, operates with a more diverse economy, as a "retail, medical and energy-industry service hub for the surrounding region and for much of Wyoming." A popular site to visit there is Casper Mountain, minutes away from downtown. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike, camp and ski. Hunters will find an abundance of antelope, deer, elk, pheasant and duck, while fisherman can relax along the North Platte River.
Cheyenne, "embodies the spirit of the Old West," as the capital city of Wyoming. According to the Cheyenne travel website, "it's considered the nation's rodeo and railroad capital," as well. The 30,000-acre Terry Bison Ranch is a must-see. Enjoy a view of over 2,300 grazing bison aboard the train bison tour. The Cheyenne Depot, one of the most beautiful railroad stations in North America, "is one of the last of the grand 19th century depots remaining from the transcontinental railroad," the travel website reads. Tour the museum there to learn more. Looking toward the future, the Paul Smith Children's Village in the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens showcases sustainable systems for energy production, water quality, food production and more.
FARMINGTON, NEW MEXICO
Farmington, New Mexico leads the pack with the cleanest air in the U.S. Don't miss the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness if you visit. "An eerie otherworldliness surrounds Bisti Badlands, especially when the moon casts shadows across the hoodoos, weird rock formations with mazelike passages," according to Wilderness.net. The bizarre landscape used to rest under an ancient sea, bustling with prehistoric creatures. There's also a handful of culturally significant national parks to check out. The Aztec Ruins National Monument allows visitors to explore structures built by Puebloans in the 1100s. The Chaco Culture National Historical Park, also known as Chaco Canyon, "is the largest excavated prehistoric ruins in North America," according to the Farmington website, and the Mesa Verde National Park features a host of cliff dwellings.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Did your city make the list? Are you surprised by the results? Have you ever visited one of these cities or do you plan to after reading the list? Which city’s activities would you most like to participate in? Let us know in the comments!
Related: The 50 Worst Cities Ranked by Air Quality
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