Befriending strangers in Raleigh, North Carolina is easy work: "I was standing alone, waiting for my meal at a restaurant called Mami Nora's and a fellow patron was like, 'Ma'am, do you have anyone to sit with?'" Heather Kology, a North Carolina-based interior designer shares a memory from her experience in one of the cities that broke this year's top 10 list. Such above-and-beyond sensitivity helped cities across the country--especially those located in the American South--land on the list of the friendliest cities in America, according to Travel + Leisure readers. In the latest America's Favorite Places survey, readers ranked more than 400 cities and towns on 70 different features, from the best burgers and wine bars to festivals and free attractions for all ages. Survey voters also weighed in on the locals, ranking them for their apparent quirkiness, hotness, or charming geekiness.
As perhaps no surprise, the top 20 winners for hospitable locals tended to score well in user-friendly categories like affordability and walkability. These same places also tended to be smaller cities with gold stars for warm, sunny weather--an equation that would leave a lasting impression with anyone, local or visitor.
Smaller cities weren't the only ones that had people talking this year. Plenty of larger population centers in the survey transcended the harsh, big-city stereotypes. "San Antonio is truly a big city with small town vibes," says Samantha Rivera, who runs furniture store Nadeau. "Perhaps it's just all of the amazing tacos we get to bond over," she adds (Nadeau is near a branch of the beloved Torchy's), "but at the end of day, it's easy to make new friends in this town." No matter what you're looking for--warm weather, friendly faces, easily navigated city centers--this year's friendliest places are well-worth considering for your next domestic adventure.
The nitty-gritty: Travel + Leisure's America's Favorite Places survey opened on 10/8/2015 and closed on 04/15/2016. It was open to everyone, and ran alongside a sweepstakes. The open-response survey asked respondents to submit their favorite place and rate it in over 65 categories, including affordability, notable restaurants, and public parks. Cities are defined as governed bodies with a population over 100,000. After discarding incomplete ballots and cities that received less than 20 votes, each entry was ranked according to an average score.
--By Katrina Brown Hunt