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Cities as Vacation Destinations

DCist highlights a U.S. News list of the best vacation destinations. I think the places on the list can be categorized one of three ways:
  • Major cities (New York, Washington, San Francisco)
  • Beaches (Maui, Miami Beach, Honolulu)
  • "Destinations" (Disney World, Las Vegas, Yosemite)
I get why people want to vacation on the beach or go to Disney World or Vegas. I've done all of these things personally. But I've always been curious about what people find appealing about vacationing in cities. I love to do it - but I'm also much more urban-minded than the typical American.

(from Thomas Hawk on Flickr)

If you look at the cities on the U.S. news list, you'll see that they share one key thing in common: ability to walk around. Why does New York, San Francisco and Chicago make this list while Dallas, Atlanta and Houston get left behind? They're all part of the 10 largest metro areas, after all. They're all huge cities with big economies and lots of stuff to do.

When I lived in Dallas I thought about this a lot. What fun would it be to fly to Dallas, then have to rent a car at the airport and spend your vacation driving from destination to destination? It's not that these cities aren't culturally rich or that they don't have things to do - it's that everything is all sprawled out, much like the cities themselves, and that makes them less appealing to the vacationer.

It's not just a bias against big Texas cities; look at what U.S. News writes about San Antonio:
San Antonio's charm lies in its attractive layout and its rich history. It is large city, but retains a small-town feel. There is the obligatory trip to the Alamo, but the main attraction here is the River Walk. Here, you can find outdoor restaurants and cafes in abundance.
Emphasis mine. It's often odd to hear someone arguing against cities to make the claim that people don't like them. Obviously there's something about cities that's attractive and people want to live in them for the same reason that people want to visit them. Good street life, high-quality restaurants and a decent cafe scene aren't just for tourists.


Anonymous said…
While I entirely agree with what you're saying (or suggesting) - that people enjoy walkability - there's also an argument to be made that this is purely a matter of practicality.

The rental car is an extra step/cost/etc. - meaning that tourists recognize that these walkable destinations can provide comparable enjoyment without that extra hassle. This can be accomplished at Disney World and (to an extent) Vegas as well. From this perspective (true or otherwise) This isn't the same as "liking walkability", which tourists may feel relatively neutral about - but instead a matter of economic decision making. Which raises the question - when you factor out the car (rental or wear and tear, garage, gas, etc.), is it comparable or cheaper to go to a walkable destination? And do tourists recognize this? (And if they do, might they eventually learn something from all this thinking they're doing?)
francis said…
I think it's because people want to experience something different while on vacation. I live in a walkable area and enjoy driving or riding in cars on vacation since it's different from the daily norm.
B. P. Beckley said…
Even for car dependent people, it's objectively nice to be able to walk to restaurants and entertainment venues and shopping venues. The thing is that they can't figure out how to fit that into their regular life back home, which normally doesn't involve nearly as much going to restaurants or entertainment venues, and involves plenty of shopping but that not the kind where you can easily envision walking there and walking back. I think the attitude is, walkability is nice, but has nothing to do with real life.

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