Top Cities of 2017
Below are my top 5 cities that I've lived in or visited this year. I ranked them based on local vibe, culture & history, food, accessibility, safety and cost. All are ranked on a 1-5 scale, 5 being the best.
5. Washington, D.C.
There's just something about Washington, D.C. in the summertime. Those long, sticky summer days and endless events keep the good moods flowing into the early hours of the morning. My sisters live downtown and I love going to stay with them for visits. I love the broad personas that D.C. neighborhoods have. They live in a borderline U Street neighborhood is a welcoming, walkable oasis in the midst of a vast city. It is close to farmer's markets, awesome restaurants, bars and parks. D.C. offers a huge amount of free activities, concerts, and festivals, so you can save your money on attractions and spend it on food instead.
Obviously, the historical aspects of D.C. are never ending and there is always a new exhibit to check out or story to be heard. I find that people in D.C. have strong beliefs and tend to be incredibly hardworking. At times this can be misconstrued as pretentious. Many people are working passionately on really intense and interesting projects that they are eager to share information about. While D.C. might not come across as the most welcoming city, if you're sitting at a bar alone there is a strong chance you will end up in a conversation with someone. Or at least, a weird conversation that makes for a good story. Safety wise, I treat D.C. as any other American city: Have a good time, take normal precautions i.e. don't go running around with your purse wide open (been there), stay away from certain areas especially if you don't know enough about them.
Culture & History: 5- Museums, politics, buildings, capital of the U.S., need I say more? Accessibility: 4 -Minus the occasional hiccup, the metro is a solid way to explore the city. D.C. is easy to bike around with it's bike lanes and bike shares. Safety: 3-Varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. Cost: 2- comparable to most east coast cities, sometimes a beer is $10 and that's just not cool. Local Vibe: 4- Underneath that "I'm not going to hold the door open for you" exterior, I'm often surprise by how many people do hold the door open for you. Food: 5-There are always new restaurants to check out with interesting concepts and you can grab any kind of food you can dream about at all hours.
4. Marsala, Italy
Marsala was not even a blip on my radar, but after two nights there, it latched onto my heart and I am day dreaming about going back. Marsala's windy, stone streets take you by cafe after cafe. Suddenly, it spits you out into the center of a vast town square where you find yourself surrounded by ancient, crooked and cracked buildings. The local vibe was so welcoming and like many Italian cities, everyone just seems to be having a good time. Since Marsala is settled by the water, it offers a casual beach vibe and epic sunsets that can be viewed right outside the cities walls. There are tons of stores, coffee shops, and markets to explore. If you are staying in an Air Bnb, you can head to the market daily for fresh fish and spices. Marsala is known for it's salt mines and the museum and mines are absolutely worth checking out. My family and I were exhausted after days full of travel and adventure, but found ourselves unable to resist Marsala's nightlife. We enjoyed a casual 2.5 hour meal full of handmade pasta and fresh fish, in a cozy restaurant courtyard, accompanied by copious amounts of wine. We then spent the next few hours roaming the streets of Marsala. Finally, we parked it at a local brewery that was playing some pretty solid tunes. If you find yourself in Sicily, Marsala is worth spending a couple of days exploring.
Culture & History: 5- Culturally and historically, Marsala is fascinating. Sicilians view themselves as first and foremost Sicilian, secondly, Italian, so there is already a difference in culture and language that is fun to explore. However, Marsala, also has a major Arabic influence due to it's proximity to Africa and it's seaport that has been bustling with Arab merchants for centuries. These cultural influences can be seen in architecture and food. Accessibility: 4- The city of Marsala is easy to walk around, however you will need a car to explore the outside areas, such as the salt mines, or a visit to the flamingos. Cost: 3.5- $8 dollars for a beer after currency conversion, not the best, not the worst. Local Vibe: 5-Everyone was welcoming, friendly and would wave and say hello. Safety: 4- We wandered all over the place, but that was mostly because we were lost. I felt some solid stares a few times, but we're also loud laughers. I'd keep a close eye on your belongings, but never felt physically in danger. Food: 5- This region is known for it's wine, add in an afternoon spritz, fresh fish, pasta, and cous-cous?!
3. Penang, Malaysia
Every morning, for a month I woke to the call to Mosque. The first morning, I shot up straight in bed, confused and unsure about what was going on. However, by the end of the month I found these calls comforting and it became ingrained in my daily routine. Spending August in the culturally rich UNESCO site of Georgetown, a funky, artsy area on the island of Penang, was an unbelievable experience.
I was volunteering with a group called LRTT, which kept us busy observing teachers, visting schools and hosting conferences. During our down time all bets were off. I tried to explore a new piece of my neighborhood every single day and I did some solid food damage. Locals from mainland Malaysia come to Penang specifically for food, so you know it was out of this world. The food is heavily influenced by the three main cultures in Penang-Chinese, Indian, and Malay.
Besides eating my body weight in food on the reg, I also enjoyed exploring Georgetown's art scene. The neighborhood is full of epic murals, eclectic bars and coffee shops. We happened to be visiting during Malaysia's 60th anniversary of independence and were able to participate in many of the celebrations. It was so interesting to see these ancient traditions practiced in a modern neighborhood with a life size mural in the background. I think the coolest part about Penang was how very different cultures lived and worked side by side on a daily basis. We were able to explore around the entire island, including it's national parks and beaches. Penang is an awesome choice for a vacation that is guaranteed to appease the foodie, outdoorsy person, history buff and beach lover all at once.
Culture and History: 5- There is a reason Georgetown was named a UNESCO world heritage site. The ancient buildings found around the town in Little India, Chinatown, jetty communities and art filled streets make for amazing walks. Accessibility: 4- Penang is easy to navigate whether by foot, bus, Uber or Grab. My Uber driver did hit a human one time, but we all lived. Cost: 5- We were able to live comfortably in Penang on a very limited budget. The cost of a meal at a Hawker Stall sometimes rings in as low as $2 USD. If you want to stay an extended period of time there are clean hostels for extremely low costs. You are also able to splurge on nicer hotels because the currency exchange is in your favor. Local Vibe: 4.5- I found people to be incredibly welcoming and helpful. In fact, I talked to more strangers during this month span than I think I ever have before on a trip. Teachers we worked with went out of their way to take us to their favorite restaurants or to guide us towards fun events happening in the city. After a week people on the street started to recognize us and I truly felt like I became a part of this community. We had Uber drivers that provided detailed instructions on how find hidden waterfalls and other gems people usually try to keep under wraps. There are so many amazing areas to visit in Penang and people who live there are very proud to show them off. Safety: 4- I personally never felt uncomfortable in Penang and spent a lot of time walking around alone. Strangers were helpful in guiding me in the right directions and were really interested in talking. However, PDA is strongly discouraged and on the verge of illegal in Malaysia. Sadly they are not caught up with much of the world in the realm of embracing the LGBTQ community and it is considered illegal. This was so surprising to me because Penang, in particular seems very forward thinking, liberal, and artsy. However much of Malaysian culture is shaped by various religions. Talking with people it seemed that these religious foundations did not alway align with individual beliefs, but it is important to keep these laws in mind when planning your trip. Food: 5- I cannot speak more highly of the food I ate while in Malaysia, which is why I wrote an entirely separate article about food. Check out our Food & Drink section for must eats in Penang. There are so many funky Hawker Stalls where you can find an amazing meal for under $5 USD.
I know I've said this about every single place so far, but I CAN'T WAIT to go back to Singapore. Yes, this country is slightly more expensive than other areas you might travel through in Southeast Asia, but it is SO cool. First of all, Singapore is so easy to navigate. I was traveling by myself and could totally understand the MRT, use Uber, or walk basically anywhere. I walked miles around Singapore, by choice, because the neighborhoods are so vibrant, colorful and unique. Since it is an incredibly safe country, due to insanely rigid laws, I could walk at all hours of the day and night and never once felt at risk.
I found myself exploring through Chinatown, checking out Buddhist temples and learning about the Chinese influence and history in Singapore and eating at hawker stalls. I wandered around Little India and enjoyed watching their Deepavali celebrations. I took the MRT out to their self proclaimed expat/hipster hood, Holland Village to drink coffee, because of course. Later, I strolled through the botanical gardens Singapore is so famous for. There are so many museums and interesting exhibits to check out. Their Art & Science museum was interactive and I ended up wandering through for hours.
I haven't even gotten into the food and drink realm, which was by far my favorite part. There are so many different types of food to try. Singapore is known for their own specific cuisine, which was similar to Malaysia and Indonesia, but with their own spin. This is another very diverse culture and their food is indicative of their history. Another plus, Singapore is starting to get into craft brews and I went out of my way to visit as many of these as I could. The one I really wanted to try was hidden somewhere in 3 levels of Hawker Stalls and an adorable elderly women played along with my charade style questions of where this stall was, until enough was enough, and she grabbed my elbow to take me to the correct floor.
This was the second time an elderly person grabbed my elbow to show me around in Singapore. An amazing man saw me looking around in awe inside the Buddhist Relic Temple (which is said to be holding one of Buddha's teeth) temple, grabbed me by the elbow, and took me on a two hour long personal tour of all 5 levels of the temple. People are friendly, fun and easy to talk to.
Culture & History: 5- Nestled between Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore was once colonized by the British, occupied by the Japanese, for a time was part of Malaysia and finally became it's own nation in the 60's. The historical landmarks are vast and this small country is incredibly diverse. Accessibility: 5- MRT, Uber, Walking, they are all easy to use and navigate. Cost: 4- While accommodations can be pricier than it's Malaysian and Indonesian counterparts, you can still find great deals on food and drinks in this country. It is easy to stick with your personal budget. Local Vibe: 5- Everyone was friendly and helpful. I met some awesome people here! Safety: 5- Traveling solo as a female I could walk around by myself and never once felt threatened or unsafe. No one cat called, whistled, or tried to touch me. If only it was like that in my own neighborhood. Food: 5- I cannot speak highly enough of the meals I had here. Two words: chili crab (it's worth the hype)
1. Honolulu, Hawaii
This city was the most challenging for me to write about because I love it so much and I'm so worried about being unable to describe it's magic accurately. Having lived here you might say I am biased. I am, but this is also right. Honolulu is my absolute favorite city in the world. Every morning, I woke up and hopped on my bike and headed to work. I biked through Chinatown, which is where I lived and home to some of the best restaurants and craziest bars on the island. This neighborhood has survived two major fires, so while Chinatown may seem brash, she's been through a lot! I'd bike down the middle of the state capital and past 'Iolani Palace, which served as a home to Hawaiian's royal monarchs.
My path would then take me to the ocean front, where I would bike through Kaka'ako, an artist's haven and home to the annual Pow Wow Art Festival. It also houses two of my favorite coffee shops, so I would usually stop here for an ice coffee to go. FYI there is nothing better than Hawaiian coffee. I'd hop on the ocean front path and make a beeline for the iconic Waikiki Beach.
I'd pull onto Seaside Ave. which is where I worked and would walk down to arguably the most famous beach in the world. I'd sip my coffee, watch the sun start to peek over Diamond Head Crater, and gaze on longingly while the first surfers hit the waves.
For lunch, I'd grab a poke bowl filled to the brim with fresh fish and talk story with my coworkers. After work, I'd change into my suit, grab my board from the locker across the street and hit the waves. Depending on the day, I might choose to grab a pau hana (after work drink) from a local brewery in the area. I'd bike home, grab my Koko and my Jarebear, and hit up one of the many trails for a hike that was bound to be full of epic views.
I'd fall asleep, tired and happy to the sound of ambulances screaming through my neighborhood.
Honolulu is expensive and some areas are a little rough around the edges, but communities come together to take care each other. People slow down to catch sunrise, to seek out sunset and take time to connect with others. Honolulu's beauty is accessible to it's average citizen everyday on their morning ride to work.
History & Culture: 5- Partially due to the sugar cane industry, Hawaii is one of the most diverse states in the country. This incredible blend of cultures makes Honolulu a fascinating city to explore historically. There are always events, concerts, and new exhibits to check out at the museums. Honolulu is a vibrant combination of laid back surf vibes meets urban retro. Even though areas can be jam packed, it can still give you a feeling that you are the only one there. Accessibility: 4- HNL is known for it's horrendous traffic. I biked to work, so I was able to avoid the worst of it. Cruising Waikiki on a bike is an awesome experience...just be sure to lock it up! The Bus, while sometimes late, is overall reliable, cheap, easy to catch and great for people watching. Cost: 2- $$$ Visiting Hawaii is not cheap and Honolulu is no exception. If you take time, there are loads of hotels and hostels to chose from that range in price from affordable and scary to you should sell your first born child. You'll probably want to pick one in the middle. Local Vibes: 4.5- Just be cool, man. Safety: 3.5 - varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. There are areas I would not walk alone in at night, which is comparable to other cities in the U.S. Food: 5- The food scene is out of this world. My neighborhood had every type of food you could possibly dream of. There is always a new restaurant to check out, new specials to try, but some places I'd frequent at least once per week (Hi Scratch Kitchen!)