10 US Cities Ranking from Worst to Best

Disclaimer: Before you come charging with your pitchforks, please know that this review is based entirely upon my own personal experiences so of course it reeks of personal biases. If you disagree with me at any point I hope we will be able to have a civil conversation over our disagreement. 

During my years in the US I had traveled to roughly 10 cities. “Only 10 cities you lazy bum? You were there for like 5 years?” – Yes, but you probably should probably know by now that I’m not that keen on traveling.

So here comes my list of 10 US cities, ranked from worst to best:

10. Las Vegas, NV

An oasis in the middle of the gigantic Nevada desert, Las Vegas is the very representation of the things it feeds on: an illusion of wealth and lust. Quite possibly the only relevant place to be in Vegas is The Strip, located in the town of Paradise, which notoriously houses a host of high-end casino hotels. Despite each hotel having a different theme, they all feel eerily similar, and rightfully so. After you have burned 15 hours playing Blackjack in the Luxor it doesn’t matter if you move to the Medieval setting of the Excalibur or the classic, timeless Bellagio. If you don’t enjoy gambling and/or the countless overpriced shows in the hotels, you’re out of luck since there are not a lot much more to do in Vegas. Sure you can go to Downtown for more cheap booze and ugly strippers but in my opinion it’s just a ghetto version of The Strip. Also I have never in my life witnessed so many miserable homeless people like in Vegas. Yes in Chicago there are homeless people too but Chicago folks at least smile at you when you walk by. Homeless people in Vegas shit on the street. Literally. It’s very common to see a bum camping out of a 7-11 waiting for people to walk out and yelling at them with a variety of racial slurs. Adding in a dose of good old sexual harassment and occasional theft and you pretty much have the full picture of a typical encounter with a homeless person in Las Vegas.

All in all, don’t let the dazzling casinos, the luxurious restaurants and the photos of naked women on trucks frequenting the Strip fool you, the appeal of Las Vegas is nothing but a mirage.

On the bright side, though, there was an In-N-Out right next to my apartment. Best burgers ever.

9. New York City, NY

NYC is actually decent. However, for a city that’s constantly hailed “one of the best places on Earth”, my experience with the Big Apple was quite underwhelming. Basically it’s an OK place to visit once in a while, I just cannot imagine having to live in that expensive filthy rat-filled metropolis that lacks anything resembling fun outside Manhattan. During your first visit you might be in awe of the glamorous Times Square but that’s about it. The Statue of Liberty is meh and why Wall Street is even considered a tourist attraction is beyond me. NYC is also the city that holds a celebration of a modern form of group torture annually: The Times Square Ball Drop. I personally have never been intoxicated enough to throw myself in an ocean of people in freezing cold weather for that event, so I don’t really have any opinion on the matter here. According to my roommate in college (who went to New York way more frequently than I did), though, things pan out exactly like I imagine: people having to get in line early in the afternoon patiently suffering for 9 hours so they can get about 2 minutes of fun, and then comes the horrifying sound of millions of bladders unleashing a torrent of long over-due withheld floods on the street.

Everything that New York has, there’s another city that has a better version of it. Seoul has a better subway system. Los Angeles has a better Chinatown. Chicago has better skyscrapers. NYC is like that superficial side bitch you come to when you’re kinda desperate: she entertains you for a while but deep inside you know she’s mediocre at best.

I have to concede that I very much enjoyed walking in Central Park, visiting the MoMA and chowing down on a slice of New York pizza, which I consider superior to Chicago deep dish.

8. Bloomington, IL

I would probably exaggerate when I say that there are nothing worthwhile to do in Bloomington-Normal, IL but I’m confident that I’m not far off, which is a sensible thing to be since it’s a college town. Yours truly spent 4 years within the walls of Illinois Wesleyan University studying Accounting for the first 2 years and Arts for the last 2. Although the workload was by no mean a piece of cake, the whole studying and working thing felt deceptively straightforward thanks to the lack of distractions. Seriously, the moment you step out of the campus of one of the 2 big universities in the city (the other being Illinois State University), you will find yourself facing a field of corn/ soybean field expanding to infinity and beyond.

And random snowstorm in the middle of freaking April without any notice weren’t fun either. Welcome to the Midwest.

7. Fullerton, CA

I had a pretty uneventful time in Fullerton during my Senior year in college. My Vietnamese heritage urged me to have a taste of Vietnamese flavor in America – hence my trip to Orange County. My initial impression was marvelous since the weather in California was definitely better than the shitshow I had to endure in the Midwest. However if you want to do anything remotely exciting you would have to get into a car and drive to a neighboring city: Garden Grove for good Vietnamese food, Las Vegas for gambling and Huntington Beach for.. the beach. The drive to most places (except Las Vegas) was not that terrible but still inconvenient. I didn’t find the bus system very helpful either, which worsened my experience substantially.

In Fullerton I was introduced to In-N-Out though. Again, best burgers ever.

6. St Louis, MI

As an amateur casual chess player I have to give St Louis – America’s Chess Capital – a shout. Unfortunately during my rather short visit to St Louis I couldn’t find the time to visit the Chess Center – it will be the first thing on my list the next time I’m in St Louis.

All in all St Louis is a decent place to spend a weekend. There is a huge arch in the middle of the country that you can climb to the top and have a view of the entire city. Other than that I’m not sure what else I could recommend anyone to do in St Louis.

I think the highlight of my trip to St Louis is definitely having a slider at a White Castle very late at night. Like everything else in the city, the slider was good enough for me to enjoy in the moment but not great enough to leave a lasting impression.

5. Moline, IL

I have personal connections with this little town so I feel obliged to include it on this list. Blessed with amazing scenery and friendly neighborhoods, Moline is a joy to visit all year round. I especially enjoyed spending time by the bank of the majestic Mississippi river or visiting the John Deer Center or getting driven to the nearby city – Davenport, Iowa – to buy organic produces from the local farmer market, which was way more robust that that in Bloomington.

My trips to Moline were also educational since I got to learn how to play Cribbage with senior citizens of the city. Totally enjoyed it!

4. Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles is how I thought of America before coming to the country as my childhood was submerged in Hollywood blockbusters (along side a unhealthy portion of Japanese anime and Korean dramas of course). My first impression of LA was that everything there felt eerily familiar. How many times have I walked down the Venice beach Boardwalk with the likes of Jack Black and Arnold Schwarzenegger; how many times have I slurped noodles out of a paper cup on the street of Chinatown; how many times have I marveled at the gigantic Hollywood sign before I actually set foot in LA and experienced all those things in real life?

Los Angeles, in my opinion, is the best representation for the idea of what America’s supposed to be: a giant melting pot of cultures and lifestyles featuring hot people on the street who shower in a constant stream of positive energy (God I hate this phrase) and enjoy good weather all year round. Almost anything you crave you can find within a few blocks: Vietnamese noodles soup, Mexican taco, Taiwanese boba tea, American weed – you name it they (most likely) have it. The same goes for any other type of entertainment you might want. There are museums next to museums next to cinemas next to bars on the street of LA. It’s impossible to be bored in the city of angels.

However the city is pretty dirty though. That’s one thing I’m very critical of.

3. Chicago, IL

I was nearly buried alive in the snow on my way to Chicago in my junior year. Yet, years after that near-death incident (okay I might be over dramatic here but bear with me), I look back at that experience the same way I look back at everything else in Chicago: with a lukewarm feeling of appreciation blended with a table spoon of nostalgia.

Chicago is beautiful – there’s no two ways about it – so beautiful that I struggle to think of a city in the world that are neck and neck with the Windy city in this domain. And no it’s not the type of plastic commercial beauty that Las Vegas shows off but the timeless charm of a well planned and well built city that solidifies a place for Chicago in the hearts of people who appreciate good architecture. A brief history lesson: the city was burnt to the ground in The Great Chicago Fire in 1871, destroying most of it. Architecture masters whose names I definitely had learnt in my Art History class but refused to stay in my memory beyond the final paper took the opportunity to rebuild the city in a revolutionary fashion at the time, a movement called the Chicago school of architecture. The spirit of this movement spanned the length of several pages in my textbook but the gist was to simplify the buildings and do away with the exterior ornaments of the classical buildings. A skyscraper in the 20th and the 21st century looks the way it does most likely because it was inspired by the Chicago school.

Since I did not major in Architecture, I would do the city a disservice and make a mockery of myself if I keep babbling about the architectural wonders of Chicago. What I can do, though, is to express my pleasant feeling walking on Michigan Avenue seeing buildings planted in perfect harmony with each other or my tranquil relaxation when I spent a warm afternoon in the Millenium park, marveling at the Bean, spontaneously drifting into a nearby Wow Bao and having a bun before stopping at the Art Institute, or the Field Museum, or the Museum of Science and Industry (all of which are worth your time and money). The zoo and the aquarium, in my memory, were also interesting and educational.

However, Chicago in the winter, like the rest of Illinois, is simply inhabitable. Also avoid the monstrosity called deep-dish pizza at all cost. It’s gross.

2. Seatlle, WA

Seattle is easily the gayest  most liberal city in the States, and they are fucking proud about it.

I only spent less than 72 hours in the city, yet the impressions stay for life. The city almost felt so surreal sometimes I wonder if I really made the trip (maybe the fact that I slept so little during that weekend added to that effect). After landing at the airport I was guided to a train that resembled a hyper-modern roller coaster taking me through a jungle (any assembly of trees is more or less a jungle to me) to Downtown. From there I would have gone up the hill and down and up and down again (Đà Lạt style?) to a beautiful Italian building covered in green ivy and vivid-colored flowers that I found on Airbnb. The apartment had a balcony constantly bathing in the warm spring light and I couldn’t help wondering how on Earth people here resisted the temptation to lie around all day got any work done?

If Wes Anderson and Tim Burton had a child, that would be the street of Seattle. You can’t go 5 steps without having your eyes caught by some quirky sculptures in a public square surrounded by blue-painted tree, the Space needle, rainbow zebra crosses, a totem pole in the middle of the street, worn out music posters on the side of an electronic box, groups of hippies high af just chilling or a giant chess set on the sidewalk where I got destroyed by a local little girl. All the sidewalks were very spacious which made walking a fun and easy experience. If you’re not a fan of walking that’s also fine since Seattle has one of the best public transportation systems in the States. You have options ranging from bus to rail to ferry if you fancy being on the water and having an awesome view of the greenery with mountains in the backdrop. Also a trip to Pike’s Place Market in the morning coupled with a visit to the first ever Starbuck in America is a must.

I will definitely come back to Seattle, hopefully to spend more time in this city.

1. Boise, ID

Boise is the city version of that restaurant you love but you don’t want to tell anyone about it since you only want to keep it low-key and you believe that it’s your duty to prevent people pouring into the restaurant to retain its quality.

I came to the city at possibly the lowest point in my life and it instantly reinvigorated my miserable self at the time. The city welcomed me with a majestic background of ranges and ranges of mountain. As much of an indoor computer dork as I was, I couldn’t help appreciating the amount of outdoor activities around the city and their positive effects on me. Sprinkled around the city downtown within a biking distance were (and I believe still are) numerous of camping spots in the mountain, lakes for those who kayaked and fished, local parks, creeks, a green belt, bike trails and hunting areas. Downtown Boise itself was vibrant with a constant vibe of festival, one that felt genuine and free from the dilution of tourism. Quality beer brewed from local brewery was a mandatory feature in such events. The people in this city were the chillest, kindest, most down to earth, most no-nonsense, most no-over-the-top, friendliest type of folks I’ve met in America.

And when you’re in town, you cannot miss a hike to the top of Table Rock and enjoy the view of the city from there.