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The 50 U.S. Cities With the Best Air Quality

author image Sara Jayne Crow
Sara has served as Editor-in-Chief or Contributing Writer for a variety of magazines, such as Dubious and Minty in Seattle, XLR8R of San Francisco, Chicago’s Blacklist, the New York-based Flavorwire, Los Angeles' URB, and Resident Advisor of Berlin. Sara specializes in well-bred content and content marketing for a range of industries, from fashion and fitness to finance, hospitality, technology and entertainment.

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The 50 U.S. Cities With the Best Air Quality
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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, sinusitis and hay fever, which means sneezing, itchy eyes and an itchy nose, says San Francisco allergy specialist Denise Wood. “You can even get allergy-type symptoms from pollen, pollution, car exhaust and dust from buildings,” she says. For the second year, the environmental consulting company Environmental Health & Engineering (EHE) compiled data for the AirGenius Awards, sponsored by the makers of the Honeywell AirGenius Air Cleaner, to identify the American cities with the best air quality. They looked at a range of factors, including pollen counts, ozone concentrations, particulate-matter concentrations, public smoking laws, access to parks and “green” and “clean” city rankings. “The results are exciting,” says Ted Myatt, Sc.D., a senior scientist at EHE who worked on the study, “not only because they consolidate several air-pollutant measures into a single metric, but also because the rankings are an indicator that air quality will remain good in the future for the citizens of the high-ranking cities.” Here are the top 50 cities named in the second annual AirGenius Awards, as well as our tips for how to enjoy the clean air of each location.

50. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Baton Rouge is the capital of Louisiana and is situated along the banks of the Mississippi River. It’s not surprising that the city is something of a Cajun-French-American melting pot -- it’s been governed by seven different entities: French, English, Spanish, West Floridian, Louisianan, Confederate and American. The city’s inception dates from 1699, when French explorer Sieur d’Iberville discovered a red cypress tree demarcating the boundary between tribal hunting grounds and named the tree “le Baton Rouge,” translated as “the red stick.” Discover Baton Rouge’s dynamic river ecosystems -- alligators and all -- through a boat tour of the bayou wetlands and Manchac Swamp.

Related: Learn more about visiting Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

49. Augusta, Georgia
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Augusta is known as “the garden city,” and with good reason. The city is home to more than 250 species of trees, including pine, chestnut, oak, maple and pecan -- not to mention the lush gardens they’re contained in. The humid city on the banks of the Savannah River also hosts the Masters annual golf tournament. Enjoy the wealth of American history that Augusta offers by visiting the only surviving Confederate-built structure in the city -- the Confederate Powder Works Chimney. The Augusta Canal National Heritage Area also features the Discovery Center at Enterprise Mill and the world’s oldest industrial canal.

Related: Learn more about visiting Augusta, Georgia.

48. Albany, New York
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Albany is New York’s state capital, 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.

47. Akron, Ohio
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Though it was originally an industrial center along the Ohio and Erie Canalway, today Akron is a center of polymer technology research. The scenic canal has a number of biking and hiking trails and ample wildlife. There are 250 different species of birds, including blue herons and bald eagles. The Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens is a country estate originally owned by F.A. Sieberling of Goodyear Tire Company. The estate spans 70 acres with a massive Tudor Revival-style mansion, an English reflecting pool and various stunning gardens.

Related: Learn more about visiting Akron, Ohio.

46. Hartford, Connecticut
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At nearly 400 years old, Hartford is one of the oldest cities in the United States. Mark Twain, the great American novelist and humorist, claimed of the city, “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see this 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.

45. Toledo, Ohio
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Thanks to its location on the banks of Lake Erie and the Maumee River, Toledo is home to myriad scenic parks, waterways, coastland and islands. Popular aquatic sports include angling and ice fishing and sailing and boating excursions. The city has nine wildlife preservation parks, including the Fort Miamis National Historic Site. This park is home to a memorial for Fallen Timbers Battlefield, the site of one of the most crucial victories of the American Revolution that led to the inception of the Northwest Territory region and ultimately Ohio’s statehood in 1803.

Related: Learn more about visiting Toledo, Ohio.

44. Raleigh, North Carolina
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“The City of Oaks” (aka Raleigh) is the capital of North Carolina. The city’s nickname is derived from the plentiful old-growth oak trees lining the expansive boulevards throughout the city. Navigating Raleigh is surprisingly simple because the city is laid out in a grid pattern. This may be due to the fact that Raleigh is an example of an original planned city from its construction in 1788. Its historical capitol building hails from 1840 and is constructed entirely of granite. The Umstead State Park is a great way to experience the natural beauty of Raleigh, with lush grassland, deciduous trees and more than 15 miles of trails for horseback riding, hiking and biking.

Related: Learn more about visiting Raleigh, North Carolina.

43. Kansas City, Missouri
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Kansas City is located on the western border of Missouri near its namesake Kansas. The area initially attracted settlers because of its strategic location at the intersection of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. The sprawling city encompasses nearly 250 separate neighborhoods. Its downtown area has recently been overhauled with new development -- condos, apartments, hotels and new high-rise buildings have afforded a cosmopolitan feel to this once diminutive Midwestern settlement. The city is known for the Liberty Memorial and its National World War I Museum memorializing the men and women who served. The memorial was dedicated in 1921. Today, 9,000 red poppies stretch across the adjacent Flanders Fields. Each of these poppies represents 1,000 WWI combat deaths.

Related: Learn more about visiting Kansas City, Missouri.

42. Jackson, Mississippi
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This city -- named for former President Andrew Jackson -- contains a wealth of cultural heritage, including railroads from the 1840s and the 1842 Governor’s Mansion, the second oldest executive mansion in the United States. Some monuments predate the Civil War, despite Union forces setting fire to most of the city in the 1860s. Striking historical buildings meet with modern high-rises like the 18-story Standard Life building downtown. For a peaceful respite from city life, visit the home and garden of author Eudora Welty. Or for a fascinating introduction to the plant and animal life that calls Mississippi home, visit the exhibits at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.

Related: Learn more about visiting Jackson, Mississippi.

41. Greensboro, North Carolina
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Greensboro is a quaint city whose diverse Civil War and Colonial history is apparent today. The city’s Fisher Park and Aycock neighborhoods feature varied architectural styles, including Queen Anne, Craftsman and Colonial Revival. These historical buildings converge with modern neo-traditional ones the closer you are to the bustling downtown area. To enjoy Greensboro’s clear air, visit the At-a-Flutter Butterfly Farm to witness the life cycle of butterflies, from egg to caterpillar and chrysalis to butterfly, or head to Bernie’s Berries, a former tobacco farm now used to harvest strawberries and other produce.

Related: Learn more about visiting Greensboro, North Carolina.

40. El Paso, Texas
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El Paso is located on the banks of the Rio Grande River near Juarez, Mexico. The area was originally inhabited by corn farmers and was recorded by Spanish explorer Don Juan de Onate in 1598. Today the city includes some of the largest military training complexes of the U.S. Army, the DEA field division and border-patrol groups. Stunning mountain views of the Franklin Mountains and Mesilla Valley serve as backdrops for the city’s glittering skyline. Hike these mountainous areas just outside El Paso at the Gila Cliff Dwellings, where Pueblo Native Americans established cave dwellings and a village more than 700 years ago.

Related: Learn more about visiting El Paso, Texas.

39. Daytona Beach, Florida
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Each year, thousands of visitors flock to Daytona, making it a top tourist destination for vacationing Americans. It’s known as a spring-break getaway that hosts the Daytona 500 in February, Bike Week in March and Biketoberfest in October. As a convergence point for spring breakers and motorcycle racing events, Daytona Beach is ideal for both relaxation and sportsmanship. Several “adventure golf” centers draw tourists and locals alike. Enjoy the mild climate and ocean breezes with a round of golf at Congo River Adventure Golf, an arena landscaped to look like an African River with waterfalls, caves, tropical plants and live alligators. Or if swashbuckling golf is more your speed, visit Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf for a pirate-themed session.

Related: Learn more about visiting Daytona Beach, Florida.

38. Columbus, Ohio
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Columbus -- the capital of Ohio -- was originally founded in 1812 along the intersection of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers. The city supports a vibrant economy centered on education, government, insurance, aviation, health care and technology, garnering an A-rating from Forbes as one of the top American cities for business in 2013. The city’s pristine skyline is best viewed from numerous downtown riverside parks, such as the Scioto Audubon Metro Park, Dodge Park and Recreation Center and North Bank Park. The Scioto Park is especially worth a visit -- its 120 acres feature an outdoor climbing wall, picnic and play areas and plenty of hiking and biking trails.

Related: Learn more about visiting Columbus, Ohio.

37. Providence, Rhode Island
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Founded in 1636, Providence is one of the oldest American cities and one of the original 13 colonies. It is located at the mouth of the Providence River along the Narragansett Bay. The city’s commerce was initially centered on the jewelry and silverware industries and garnered Providence the nickname “Beehive of Industry.” Although many manufacturing and industrial centers remain, the main economy today is centered on the service industry. It’s one of the most densely populated regions and was built before the existence of automobiles or modern zoning laws, so the streets radiate out from the central Market Square. After navigating the maze of Providence streets, head to Water Place Park to board a gondola headed down the river or visit the 430-acre Roger Williams Park for hiking, outdoor gardens, carousels and the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium.

Related: Learn more about visiting Providence, Rhode Island.

36. Worcester, Massachusetts
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Situated 40 miles west of Boston, Worcester is the second most populous city in Massachusetts and home to a wealth of history. The Nimpuc tribe originally inhabited the area before English settlers arrived in the 1670s. Worcester later became a center of the American Revolution. The city’s rich history is still apparent in its Victorian mill architecture and old-growth trees. Explore numerous parks and lakes, such as Elm Park on Lincoln Pond, Newton Hill Park and Salisbury Pond, or head to Green Hill Golf Course to play 18 holes along its expansive, rolling green, framed by trees and a lake.

Related: Learn more about visiting Worcester, Massachusetts.

35. Springfield, Massachusetts
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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.

34. Poughkeepsie, New York
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Located in the Hudson Valley between New York City and Albany, Poughkeepsie’s name refers to a word from the Wappinger Native American tribe meaning “the reed-covered lodge by the little-water place,” referencing the spring that is a tributary to the Hudson River near the downtown area. Dutch pilgrims settled Poughkeepsie in the 17th century after it was purchased from the Wappinger tribe in 1686. Today, its rich cultural heritage is preserved -- see an opera at the Bardavon 1869 Opera House on Market Street or visit the historical buildings of Vassar College, originally founded in 1861. The Walkway Over the Hudson is a great vantage point from which to view the Hudson River and city at 212 feet in elevation; or view the bridge from the banks of the Hudson at its waterfront park.

Related: Learn more about visiting Poughkeepsie, New York.

33. Greenville, South Carolina
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Greenville, the gem of South Carolina, is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Blue Ridge Mountains. Its picturesque mountain views and fair climate are augmented by a strong economy: The city was named one of the 10 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. by CNN Money and had the third strongest job market in the nation in 2010, according to Bloomberg. A number of large corporations have facilities in Greenville, including Caterpillar, Michelin, BMW, Lockheed Martin, 3M and Honeywell. Visitors are sure to be impressed by the Falls Park on the Reedy, a large park with hiking and biking trails featuring gardens and waterfalls. Head to Caesars Head State Park for hiking, camping and views of the Appalachians and its waterfalls and carefully maintained trails.

Related: Learn more about visiting Greenville, South Carolina.

32. Detroit, Michigan
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Known as both the Motor City and Motown, Detroit’s rich history in the music and automotive industries is well established. Several iconic musicians got their start in Detroit, including Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Eminem and Aaliyah. Legendary Motown Records made Detroit a music marketplace in the 1960s and 1970s for acts like The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. It is also the headquarters for General Motors. While in Detroit, you can enjoy outdoor activities like kayaking down the Detroit River, joining the Defying the Law Bike Club for a leisurely group ride or visiting the Cranbook Gardens for a walking tour of Oriental-themed sculptural gardens with streams and landscaped pathways.

Related: Learn more about visiting Detroit, Michigan.

31. Richmond, Virginia
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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.

30. Washington, District of Columbia
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Our nation’s capital is home to a number of national monuments and memorials offset by stunning natural beauty. Visitors during the spring months enjoy views of the monuments framed by the blooming cherry blossoms of the more than 3,000 trees around the Tidal Basin, while fall hosts a bright array of changing leaves along the National Mall. One of the best ways to enjoy the mall -- a two-mile strip of tree-lined boulevard flanked by the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument -- is by taking a walking tour.

Related: Learn more about visiting Washington, District of Columbia.

29. Wichita, Kansas
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Wichita has an abundance of good weather and boasts an average of 250 days of sunshine per year. Historically known as “Cowtown,” the city was a destination for cattle drives from Texas in the late 1800s. After the discovery of oil in the 1900s, several oil barons, including Lloyd Stearman and Clyde Cessna, began investing in the airplane industry and building manufacturing plants. Wichita remains central to the airline industry and today produces 70 percent of American aircraft. Enjoy Wichita’s clean air and sunshine at numerous outdoor parks, or visit Botanica Wichita, the city’s botanical garden, which features a variety of themed gardens, such as the Shakespeare Garden, Butterfly Garden and Wildflower Garden.

Related: Learn more about visiting Wichita, Kansas.

28. San Antonio, Texas
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While San Antonio is typically known for the Alamo, the southern Texas city is also home to a river walk and a number of Spanish colonial missions. The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is home to an eight-mile hiking trail, so you can hike, bike or run a few miles before stopping to visit Mission Concepcion. Dating to 1755, the mission is the oldest unrestored stone church in America. The San Antonio Riverwalk winds through the city center along a path dotted with cypress trees, while 38 acres of lush plant life at San Antonio Botanical Garden includes a cactus and succulent garden, a variety of ornate rose hedges, a bird aviary and wisteria arbors.

Related: Learn more about visiting San Antonio, Texas.

27. Rochester, New York
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Rochester is situated near the Canadian border and 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.

26. Des Moines, Iowa
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While Des Moines is the largest city in Iowa, the charming Midwest capital feels quaint. Brick buildings dating from the late 1800s are interspersed with modern buildings throughout the city. The Bates Park Historic District in the northern part of the town features a park with expansive green lawns, a wading pool and a pavilion surrounded by Colonial Revival and American Foursquare style homes. Downtown, the gold-capped capitol building stretches into a skyline dotted with high-rise buildings. For adventure in the great outdoors, head to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge just east of the city, where you can hike and see elk and buffalo.

Related: Learn more about visiting Des Moines, Iowa.

25. Charleston, South Carolina
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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.

24. Tampa, Florida
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Another coastal city in Florida, Tampa sits on the Gulf of Mexico. The broader Tampa Bay Area (just to the north of number nine on the list, Sarasota) brings visitors to the African-themed Busch Gardens and the cobblestone streets of historic Ybor City. Enjoy the air, water, sun and wildlife by chartering a boat to fish for a range of species -- from snook under the mangroves to redfish in the grass flats.

Related: Learn more about visiting Tampa, Florida.

23. Miami, Florida
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The coastal destination of Miami is known for its Latin American–influenced culture, the world’s busiest cruise port and occasional visits from alligators that wander in from the nearby Everglades. Indulge in its tropical monsoon climate and the “Wreckreational Dive Capital of the World” by snorkeling or scuba diving in Biscayne Bay or the artificial reefs of the Wreck Trek.

Related: Learn more about visiting Miami, Florida.

22. Columbia, South Carolina
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The largest city in South Carolina, Columbia sits where the Saluda and the Broad Rivers join to become the Congaree River. This capital city boasts wide streets and is “famously hot.” Go camping among the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the United States at the 26,000-acre Congaree National Park, or play tennis at the South East Park Tennis Center, which is shaded by thousands of trees.

Related: Learn more about visiting Columbia, South Carolina.

21. Riverside, California
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The aptly named Riverside, east of Los Angeles, is close to the Santa Ana River and boasts nine historic districts, each with locations listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also the birthplace of the California citrus industry. Take a stroll through California history at the California Citrus State Historic Park, or hike the trails of the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park.

Related: Learn more about visiting Riverside, California.

20. Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Minneapolis is characterized by its bodies of water. From lakes and streams to the Mississippi River, they even have an annual festival, the Aquatennial, to celebrate them. According to the Trust for Public Land, Minneapolis also rates number one among the U.S.’s best park systems. Bike the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway along the Chain of Lakes, and in the fall, go ice-skating at The Depot Rink, a historic downtown train shed that offers views of the skyline.

Related: Learn more about visiting Minneapolis, Minnesota.

19. Portland, Oregon
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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.

Related: Learn more about visiting Portland, Oregon.

18. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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On the shores of Lake Michigan where three rivers meet, Milwaukee is known as “Brew City,” thanks to the high number of German immigrants who started breweries in the 1800s (think Blatz, Pabst, Schlitz and Miller). The home to Miller Brewing Company, the city is also known as the City of Festivals. Head to Lake Bradford to watch the windsurfers on Lake Michigan, or jog to the 20-station exercise course on the six-mile Lakefront Trail.

Related: Learn more about visiting Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

17. Seattle, Washington
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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 Puget Sound.

Related: Learn more about visiting Seattle, Washington.

16. Nashville, Tennessee
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Known as “Music City,” Tennessee’s capital city on the banks of the Cumberland River is the destination for country music -- and hot, humid summers. For a bit of history other than the famous Grand Ole Opry, spend a day exploring Centennial Park, where the 132-acre grounds include a full-scale replica of Greece’s Parthenon.

Related: Learn more about visiting Nashville, Tennessee.

15. Boise, Idaho
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This capital city of Idaho (pronounced BOY-see, not BOY-zee, to those in the know) is characterized by the beauty of the Boise River and the Boise Foothills. It’s also home to a 15,000-strong Basque community. Jog the 25-mile, tree-lined Boise River Greenbelt, with stops at some of the riverside parks, or take it up a notch by hiking to the top of the hill at Camel’s Back Park.

Related: Learn more about visiting Boise, Idaho.

14. Sacramento, California
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This capital city of California, located at the convergence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, was once the westernmost end of the Pony Express and is known for its sunny, Mediterranean climate. Enjoy the sun and immerse yourself in the history of this Northern California destination by exploring Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park, which houses Sacramento’s earliest settlement, or bring the kids and check out the re-created nursery rhymes of Fairytale Town.

Related: Learn more about visiting Sacramento, California.

13. Orlando, Florida
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Orlando, despite being one of the few Florida destinations not on the beach, is the most-visited city in the United States, thanks in part to its designation as the “Theme Park Capital of the World.” But before there were parks, there were lakes (and swamps), so explore the Central Florida scenery at a slower pace via kayak, or for a slightly more unexpected park experience, pet an alligator at Wild Florida’s Wildlife Park.

Related: Learn more about visiting Orlando, Florida.

12. Colorado Springs, Colorado
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Colorado Springs, or “The Springs,” is home to Pikes Peak, part of the Rocky Mountains and the second-most-visited mountain in the world. Known for dry thunderstorms and active lightning strikes, Colorado Springs is the site of electricity researcher Nikola Tesla’s laboratory. Today, visitors enjoy exploring the pink and red rock formations at the Garden of the Gods. Make like early explorers by traveling the trails on horseback.

Related: Learn more about visiting Colorado Springs, Colorado.

11. Albuquerque, New Mexico
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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.

10. Denver, Colorado
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Colorado’s capital is known for an active, outdoor lifestyle. But unlike many in the top 10, the Mile High City is not a coastal town. It was included in the list because it has a better-than-average pollen score and top-10 ranking for green buildings, according to researcher Ted Myatt. It also ranks for advanced transportation and clean electricity and was 11th for access to parks, he says. One of the most popular parks is Washington Park -- or “Wash Park” to residents -- in the hip neighborhood of the same name. Enjoy views of the surrounding Rocky Mountains there by playing volleyball or tennis in the sun.

Related: Learn more about visiting Denver, Colorado.

9. Sarasota, Florida
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The coastal town of Sarasota is separated from the Gulf of Mexico by barrier islands called keys. As legend claims, it is the home of the first golf course in America, built with two holes in 1886, and golfing is still a popular pastime there today. The picturesque vacation destination also provides a warm spring-training location for the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. Take a leisurely (and historic) tour of the Sarasota Jungle Gardens, established in 1939, or the tropical rainforest of the Selby Gardens. For a more “elevated” adventure, head to nearby Bradenton for TreeUmph!, a treetop adventure course that lets visitors become modern-day Tarzans.

Related: Learn more about visiting Sarasota, Florida.

8. Lakeland, Florida
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The only top-10 Florida city not on the coast, this aptly named oasis in the center of the state is peppered with natural lakes and rolling hills and sits between Orlando and Tampa. Despite not being on the ocean, the city’s location still helps improve air quality, says scientist Ted Myatt, Sc.D. “Air masses can come from a great distance,” Myatt says. Thus, central areas like Lakeland, “while not on the coast, benefit from the coastal air and relative lack of large pollution sources to the west.” Lakeland -- and its lakes -- is home to swans descended from a pair of royal swans donated by the Queen of England in 1957. Go swan watching and jogging on a 3.2-mile route along Lake Parker Shore to enjoy the balmy weather almost all year long.

Related: Learn more about visiting Lakeland, Florida.

7. San Jose, California
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Just down the coast from San Francisco, San Jose -- the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” -- is the second city in California to make the list. According to the Bay Area Air District’s (BAAD) Ralph Borrmann, California has authority from the Environmental Protection Agency to make stricter rules because of its population and the many sources of air pollution. Thus, Borrmann says, the state’s strict vehicle emission requirements and motor vehicle fuel standards have contributed to improving air quality. The BAAD, which includes both San Francisco and San Jose, is also to thank for air-quality initiatives like regulating residential burning in wintertime. Take a break from the high-tech bustle (and the “wickedly fast Wi-Fi”) of the valley by walking the 80 miles of trails at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Just west of the city, it’s the oldest state park in California.

Related: Learn more about visiting San Jose, California.

6. Tucson, Arizona
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Tucson is a Sonoran Desert city surrounded by five mountain ranges that boasts abundant sunshine most days of the year and more than 800 miles of bike paths. So it’s no surprise that Tucson has been consistently ranked as one of the top cities for cycling in the United States. Explore the city on the 55-mile (and growing) Urban Loop, which is closed to motorized vehicles, or climb the 27 miles up Mt. Lemmon on the Catalina Highway. The summit is at 9,100 feet, and the journey from the valley will take climbers from the saguaro cacti and mesquite trees of the desert to the pine trees and brisk air of the forest. Later, cool off by exploring underground tunnels in Colossal Cave Mountain Park’s 70-degree caves along a half-mile trail.

Related: Learn more about visiting Tucson, Arizona.

5. Boston, Massachusetts
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Despite being the only state capital in the contiguous United States with an ocean coastline, the historic city of Boston is a somewhat unexpected addition to this year’s list, according to a senior scientist on the study, Dr. Ted Myatt. “I was surprised to see Boston make the list, as it is a city that historically does not get attention for good air quality,” he says. This hotbed of the American Revolution’s air isn’t the only resource that’s pure. The city’s tap water recently took first prize in the 2014 “Best of the Best” Tap Water Taste Test and requires relatively minimal treatment. To enjoy the pristine outdoor beauty of the Boston area, head a few miles outside town for a dip in Walden Pond, a favorite of Henry David Thoreau and the origin of the conservation movement. Or visit the centuries-old Belkin Lookout Farm to pet animals and pick apples.

Related: Learn more about visiting Boston, Massachusetts.

4. Austin, Texas
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Known as the City of the Violet Crown thanks to a violet glow that surrounds the city after sunsets, Austin’s clean air comes in part from its strict no-smoking rules for public places and buildings. Take in the view -- and the air -- of the “live music capital of the world” by climbing the massive staircase up Mount Bonnell, which overlooks the Colorado River’s Lake Austin. Otherwise, head to the water to explore Lady Bird Lake by way of standup paddleboard or by taking a dip in the three-acre, spring-fed Barton Springs Pool.

Related: Learn more about visiting Austin, Texas.

3. Palm Bay, Florida
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In 1925, residents of a small town on Florida’s central east coast decided that the name Tillman didn’t do the town justice, so they changed the name to the more fitting Palm Bay. Today, the town’s subtropical climate at Indian River Lagoon means plenty of beaches, but the city -- which was at the top of 2012’s air-quality list -- doesn’t rely on sun and sand for keeping residents basking in the outdoors. “The Florida Department of Environmental Protection takes very seriously its charge to implement the Clean Air Act to achieve and maintain levels of air quality that will facilitate the enjoyment of the state’s many natural resources,” says Paula Cobb, director of the state’s Division of Air Resource Management. Here, options include 29 city parks, including Palm Bay Regional Park and Turkey Creek Sanctuary, a small nature reserve. As the sun sets, residents come out once a month to Liberty Park for the Palm Bay Skate Jam, but those who enjoy a slower pace launch a canoe at Castaway Point Park at the mouth of Turkey Creek.

Related: Learn more about visiting Palm Bay, Florida.

2. Cape Coral, Florida
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Florida’s Gulf-facing Cape Coral stays at number two this year. And that’s no surprise, says Dr. Ted Myatt, a senior scientist on the study. “Geographic factors are very important to air quality,” he explains. “Allergens and pollution are carried off by ocean breezes, so it wasn’t surprising that most of the top 10 were coastal towns.” In fact, four Florida towns made the cut, and according to Paula Cobb, director of the Division of Air Resource Management in Florida, air emissions from Florida’s industrial facilities have hit their lowest levels since the department began tracking them in 1985. Cape Coral, founded in 1957, is known for its 400 miles of canals -- more than any other city in the world. Take advantage of summer months by catching a Cape Canaveral rocket launch from the beach or explore Florida wildlife by walking the boardwalks or kayaking through the mangroves at the Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve.

Related: Learn more about visiting Cape Coral, Florida.

1. San Francisco, California
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Despite being one of the most densely populated cities in California, the “city by the Bay” leads in air quality. This is partly thanks to being surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the San Francisco Bay on two others. “San Francisco has a better-than-average pollen score, a top-10 ranking for green buildings, advanced transportation and clean electricity, and it ranked number one for access to parks,” says Dr. Ted Myatt, a senior scientist on the study. Take in the cityscapes and ocean air by biking along the Embarcadero and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, or head to Golden Gate Park for the Outside Lands music festival in August. “San Francisco is always getting the fresh breeze off the ocean,” says the Bay Area Air District’s Ralph Borrmann. “It may have a fog problem, but not air-quality problems.”

Related: Learn more about visiting San Francisco, California.

What Do YOU Think?
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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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