America's Quirkiest Cities (PHOTOS)

There are five cities in the nation that have more weird people than the City by the Bay.
03/13/2015 01:53 pm ET Updated May 13, 2015
A man dressed in drag marches with a group of employees and family members with Kaiser Permanente during the 44th annual San
A man dressed in drag marches with a group of employees and family members with Kaiser Permanente during the 44th annual San Francisco Gay Pride parade Sunday, June 29, 2014, in San Francisco. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender celebration and parade is one of the largest LGBT gatherings in the nation. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

To Caitlin Sandburg, her hometown of San Francisco provides a safe haven--for oddballs.

"Once you've been here long enough, nothing surprises you," says the hospitality exec. "Whether it's a naked person walking down the street, someone dressed in full drag, or 'Burning Man' types, no one really raises an eyebrow. Being a freak here is so normal."

Even so, according to Travel + Leisure readers, there are five cities in the nation that have more weird people than the City by the Bay. In this year's America's Favorite Cities survey--in which readers ranked 38 cities for features such as romance, thrift shops, craft beers and, indeed, quirky locals--the results show how a city can be nicely shaped by its kookiest denizens.

One top five city, for instance, offers a hotel fashioned out of a former psychiatric hospital and donuts sprinkled with faux meth. Another winner is famed for its offbeat bars--like the one decorated for Christmas year round, or another that regularly holds armadillo races.

Onward, to the cities with the most kooks per capita.

  • Philadelphia
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    Some might say there is something odd about a city that honors a big, broken bell—but Philadelphia thrives on history, and not just the kind associated with the founding fathers. You can appreciate the old, abnormal body parts on display at the medically oriented Mutter Museum or the creepy walkways of the Eastern State Penitentiary (once home to Al Capone), where you can also take the kids on a fun scavenger hunt. The city’s nerve center for local quirky types, though, is Fishtown, where you’ll find a nice example of why Philly won the bronze medal for pizza: Pizza Brain has pies like the oddly named Felix Huppert (Gruyère and caramelized onion) and the Buffy Ernst (blue cheese and Buffalo wing sauce), and a collection of pizza-themed vinyl records. Readers felt that Philly locals embody an ironic combination: loving sports without seeming to be athletic themselves.

    Photo: © Robert Hornak
  • Los Angeles
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    In this show-business town, you need to stand out to get ahead—like the buff exhibitionists in Venice or the spendy fashionistas in Beverly Hills. Even the highly ranked bakeries hustle to set themselves apart: at Gjusta, in Venice, you can pick up baklava croissants (Cronuts are so last year) and rabbit terrines. Otherwise, readers applaud L.A. for its nightclubs and wild weekend atmosphere. Hot nightlife hubs these days include the ’70s-themed bar Good Times at Davey Wayne’s in Hollywood and artisanal-cocktail-rich The Edison, located in downtown’s former power plant. For another version of “wild,” don’t miss the performance art going on at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which is also the final resting place of stars like Rudolph Valentino and Estelle Getty.

    Photo: © Frank Ishman
  • Nashville
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    Before this Tennessee city was the country-music capital, it had a classical bent—as in, ancient Greece. The city’s Parthenon—built in 1897 and filled with American paintings—may seem a little out of place here, but it’s also the only full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon in the world. And while Music City has had an increasingly broad definition of museums since then (like the memorabilia-lined restaurant Cooter’s Place, paying tribute to The Dukes of Hazzard), the city has also generated plenty of museum-worthy legends—like the late George Jones, whose own museum will open here this spring. Readers also loved the city’s dive bars, like Santa’s Pub—located in a trailer near the fairgrounds and run by a guy who looks like another legend. Speaking of jolly, Nashville locals ranked as some of the most affable people in the U.S.

    Photo: © Cooter's Place
  • Houston, Texas
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    Compared to nearby Austin, H-Town doesn’t get much credit for its weirdos. But just like folks in the state capital, locals in Houston love to gather at sunset to watch swarms of bats: here, you can see them from the banks of Buffalo Bayou, as they fly out from under Montrose’s Waugh Drive Bridge. While readers gave Houston high marks for its impeccable art collections, you could also commission a unique painting here—created (with only a little help) by an elephant, jaguar, or white-faced saki at the Houston Zoo (just take note that the $250 painting will take up to six weeks for the critter to complete). To see why the city also ranked well for its distinctive, high-end shopping, try on a pair of one-of-a-kind boots from Tejas Custom Boots on Westheimer.

    Photo: © Houston Zoo/Stephanie Adams
  • Portland, Maine
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    If one feels the need to “put a bird on it” in Portland, then this city will, no doubt, put a lobster on it. Holy Donut has stretched the definition of the lobster roll by offering a lobster-stuffed donut, as well as making donuts with potatoes—which promise not to give you that post-cruller hangover. While readers indeed loved Portland’s nonthreatening vibe, the locals seem drawn to what may be lurking in the shadows: downtown’s International Cryptozoology Museum highlights mysterious creatures like Bigfoot, abominable snowmen, and the thylacine, a rare carnivorous marsupial. Any weirdness aside, the locals are all business behind the wheel, ranking near the top for their driving skills.

    Photo: © International Cryptozoology Museum
  • Pittsburgh
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    Andy Warhol’s hometown still turns out its artistic rebels—like Randy Gibson, whose Randyland home, in the city’s Mexican War Streets district, is an art lovers’ magnet with its colorful murals and courtyard. For provocative dining, check out Conflict Kitchen, which serves only cuisine from countries with which the United States is at odds (like North Korean kimchi or rumaniyya, a Palestinian eggplant, lentil, and pomegranate stew). Readers, meanwhile, were perhaps dazzled by the bravado of Steelers fans in this sport-loving town; you can commune with them at Sunny Jim’s Tavern in the Kilbuck area, which boasts of having the world’s largest outdoor TV (25 feet) and does occasional recliner giveaways.

    Photo: © Jordan Beckham Photography / jordanbeckham.com
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul
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    People who will cycle to work in the depths of winter—and the Twin Cities ranked near the bottom of the survey for its weather—are clearly comfortable with a contrarian lifestyle. Even the cities’ highly ranked burgers—called Juicy Lucies—buck convention by offering cheese inside the patty. And while readers applauded Minneapolis/St. Paul for its theater scene, one unexpectedly compelling venue is Bryant Lake Bowl, which offers storytelling, dance, and poetry alongside the bowling lanes. The hipster-rich Twin Cities also ranked in the top 10 for its cool diners, but here you won’t just find traditional greasy spoons: Tiny Diner, in the Powderhorn neighborhood, is supplied by its own Tiny Farm and also offers aspiring-farmer events like “Insects We Love” and “Functional Fungi.”

    Photo: © Eric Melzer

--By Katrina Brown Hunt