The expansive size of the United States has led to the formation of cities with a variety of unique cultures. Though short, the history of the USA is rich, and each of its largest metro areas displays traits that make America the famous land that it is.
Interestingly, only six states house the ten cities, with Texas and California each having a few. Here are the ten biggest American cities, in order from highest to lowest population.
New York City, NY
At a whopping 8.8 million residents as of 2020, The Big Apple’s population is more than double that of the second most populous United States city. This is understandable, given New York’s status as one of the most famous destinations in the world. What began as a port well-suited for international trading became one that welcomed millions of immigrants from around the world into the U.S.A.
The influx of these immigrants resulted in NYC becoming one of the most diverse cities in the country. This, along with ample opportunities and always having something to do, is one of the factors residents credit for making them want to live in New York. Neighborhoods such as Chinatown and Little Italy stand as living relics to the communities that played a crucial role in turning the city into what it is today.
Over the years, New York has developed some of the most iconic attractions in the world: Times Square, Central Park, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty are a few among many. Museum-lovers will find joy in the city as well, with the American Museum of Natural History and National 9/11 Memorial and Museum topping fan-favorite lists.
Los Angeles, CA
Everyone knows the City of Angels to be where people go to become stars. This is because filmmakers landed here in the early 1900s after searching for a location with varied terrains for movie backdrops and a climate that allowed for year-round filming. With its proximity to mountains, deserts, and the Pacific Ocean, in addition to its moderate climate, Los Angeles ticked all the boxes. Today, with its 3.9 million residents (at the 2020 census), Los Angeles is still the movie capital of the world.
The fantastic weather and scenic environment are top reasons people choose to live in Los Angeles; the vast diversity of cultures and communities is another. Visitors enjoy these aspects as well, along with the city’s ties to stardom.
Typical tourist activities include hiking up to the Hollywood sign and taking pictures with celebrities’ stars on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. Universal Studios also garners tons of traffic from those wanting an immersive experience with their favorite movies and television shows.
Not every attraction in La La Land is so flashy, though. The Griffith Observatory is the perfect spot for space and science buffs, and The Getty Center is a museum that features centuries of art. Whatever piques your interest the most, you’re bound to find it in Los Angeles.
With 2.7 million residents, Chicago is the only Midwestern city to make the list. It saw massive population growth from the late-19th to early-20th centuries when immigrants flocked to find jobs in the numerous factories being built.
Delicious deep-dish pizzas and hotdogs aren’t the only reasons people love living in the Windy City. It’s also a land of opportunity, and for a city so big, it’s known to have friendly residents. There’s also easy access to Lake Michigan, which means beaches and the iconic Navy Pier.
There are spaces in Chicago devoted to enjoying nature, including Millennium Park with its entertaining Cloud Gate sculpture (a.k.a “The Bean”). The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest museums in the world, and Wrigley Field is an obvious destination for baseball fans, no matter which MLB team they root for.
Houston is one of three Texas cities in the top ten by population, sitting at 2.3 million residents. Its growth began when it was the capital of Texas during its years of annexation by the United States in the early 1800s. Like many places across the country, the population and economy boomed when railroads were developed through and around Houston.
Pros of living in Houston include high wages, low cost of living, and no state income tax. It’s also an ideal city for those who hate snow and winter weather. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is popular among tourists, as are the Houston Zoo and the Galleria mall. And, of course, NASA’s Space Center.
While a region situated against a desert may not have always been a prime location for a city to form, Phoenix’s hot, dry climate turned out to be a huge factor in its growth. It became the place to be for winter tourists, and it launched into prosperity with the arrival of high-tech companies. Its current population is around 1.6 million.
For decades, the high temperatures and low humidity has drawn people to live in Phoenix. Those accustomed to the climate have their pick of outdoor recreational activities in and around the city, including hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. You can explore the natural beauty in the Valley of the Sun by visiting the Desert Botanical Garden and Papago Park.
The City of Brotherly Love played what is arguably the most important role in the foundation of the United States. On July 4th, 1776, Congress convened at the Pennsylvania State House and approved the final draft of the Declaration of Independence.
Philadelphia grew steadily in the years since due to industries that supplied Civil War soldiers and the later building of railroad systems during the United States’ Gilded Age. As of 2020, 1.6 million people call Philly home.
Some perks of living in Philadelphia include its easily-accessible public transportation system and low cost of living, relative to cities of comparable size. The city also dedicates resources to ensuring its many public parks remain well-kept and enjoyable for years to come. Graduates often choose to remain in Philly after attending one of their many acclaimed universities, keeping it modern and energetic.
An obvious place to see is Independence National Historical Park, where you’ll find Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Philadelphia Art Museum is another stellar stop, both for appreciating incredible art and running up the steps like Sylvester Stallone in his famous Rocky scene (there’s even a statue of Rocky Balboa on the top of the steps!).
San Antonio, TX
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Remember the Alamo”, you’ve already had an introduction to San Antonio’s influential past. Originally a Spanish Christian missionary settlement built to combat the expansion of French-owned territory, it exploded from humble beginnings into a city of over 1.4 million people.
San Antonio is a laid-back, affordable city that emphasizes the arts and Hispanic culture. Locals and tourists alike can enjoy a stroll along the River Walk, a restaurant- and shop-filled street along the San Antonio River. Nature lovers can spend the day in the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden, and history buffs can tour the 18th-century structures of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and the Alamo.
San Diego, CA
San Diego’s 1.4 million residents proudly live in what they claim to be “America’s Finest City”. California’s first area to be settled by Europeans, San Diego blossomed with the establishment of military facilities in the late 1800s. Today, the city houses several bases of the Navy and Marine Corps, including the training camps for new Marine recruits.
People are drawn to residing in San Diego because of its beautiful beaches and employment opportunities. Many current residents work in the defense, biotech, and tourism industries. It’s no surprise that many of San Diego’s attractions revolve around military history, including the USS Midway Museum and San Diego Air and Space Museum.
Eagle Mining Co is another fun destination—it’s an actual mine once used to dig for gold. San Diego is also great for those who love spooky things, with numerous ghost tours and the infamous and allegedly haunted Whaley house.
Dallas’s growth into a metropolis can be attributed to the railway lines built to access cotton, cattle, and oil in the north and east of Texas. The subsequent constructions of Interstates and the Dallas-Fort Worth airport solidified the city’s position as a center of transportation. The population of Dallas has increased by tens of thousands across the past decades and is currently up to 1.3 million residents.
Dallas is another mecca for those looking to live in a diverse and accepting city. It’s known for having vibrant nightlife, as well as family-friendly activities, such as the impressive aquarium.
Visitors can escape the bustle of downtown in the Arboretum and Botanical Gardens and by spending time in Dallas’s selection of museums. Popular museums include the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and The Sixth Floor Museum and Dealey Plaza, which examines the day President Kennedy was assassinated.
San Jose, CA
The heart of California’s Silicon Valley, San Jose wraps up the list with just over one million residents. The city saw its rise after World War II when high-tech and electronics industries sprouted up around the area.
The beautiful climate and environment of the San Francisco Bay area are draws for residents of San Jose, as well as the innovation and affluence of the area. The dozens of wineries located in and around the city make for a leisurely day trip. Those interested in historical architecture will love the Winchester Mystery House, a fascinating mansion with quirky designs.
The cultures and lifestyles across the United States are as variable as its landscapes. There’s a reason people tend to flock to the largest cities—employment and social opportunities, historical wonders, and the appeal of belonging to a like-minded community. The most populous cities in the country embody these elements and more, making them worthy of exploration in both their historical and modern contexts.