The U.S. has some of the most populated cities in the world, with culturally and demographically diverse urban centers full of millions of people.
There's both good and bad news in heavily populated U.S. cities.
On the upside, there's plenty to do and see in big cities, with ample parks, public transportation, and access to good jobs in downtown areas. On the downside, smog and pollution can be a problem (just ask Los Angeles), crimes rates are higher than in the suburbs and in rural areas, and higher city taxes can eat into a household budget.
We're using the latest U.S. Census figures for our population totals, and offer fair warning that living in highly populated urban centers is not for everyone. But if you like the bright lights and the big city vibe, the following U.S. "most populated" cities are calling your name.
Read on and see for yourself.
Population: 8.5 million
The Big Apple is so big, it's actually twice the size of the second-most populated city in the U.S. It's expensive to live there, but New York is home to some of the best restaurants, cultural centers and industries in the world, let alone the U.S. Downsides include onerous taxes, high crime and heavy poverty north of Manhattan. The top neighborhoods in the city include Greenwich Village, the Flatiron District and Brooklyn Heights, across the East River from Manhattan.
Population: 3.9 million
Home to the U.S. entertainment industry with close access to some of the best beaches in the U.S., La-La Land attracts a diverse element of dreamers, free spirits and sun lovers from all over the world. The city offers access to not only great beaches, but mountains, canyons and some of the best hiking trails in the country. Downsides include heavy smog, snarled traffic and some of the highest taxes in the U.S. Top notch neighborhoods include Bel Air, Hollywood Hills and Sherman Oaks.
Population: 2.7 million
Chicago has lost its "Second City" status to Los Angeles, but it still has 2.7 million residents, and still is a major financial, industrial and agricultural commerce center, and is a major transportation hub (Chicago has long been called the "Crossroads of America.") The upside is a truly great downtown, relatively low housing costs, and wonderful restaurants, museums and historical professional sports franchises like the Cubs and Bears. The downsides are extremely high taxes and waning public services - thanks to staggering civic debt that has residents leaving the city in increasing numbers. The most prominent neighborhoods include Lincoln Park, Hyde Park and the Loop.
Population: 2.1 million
Houston boasts more than two million people (a number that's growing as Texas is increasingly becoming a destination state for outsiders, thanks to its good weather, low taxes, and low cost of living.) It's also the largest city in the U.S. in terms of land mass, in the state of Texas. The city has become a rich melting pot of different cultures - 90 languages are spoken in the city. While oil and port industry remain king in Houston, it's also developing a reputation as an emerging high-tech city, as more and more technology companies elect to call Houston home. Watch out for hot summers and hurricane season, though, as Houston has had its share of tough storm seasons over the years. Top neighborhoods include The Woodlands, Linkwood and Hunters Creek Village.
Population: 1.5 million
The Cradle of Liberty is a "second city" of its own - it's behind New York as the largest city on the east coast. Its historical narrative is a robust one, with Philly being home to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and favored son Ben Franklin's home. Like Houston, Philly remains a strong port city, and is a big telecom and financial center, bringing good jobs with good salaries to the city. Great universities like the University of Pennsylvania and nearby Villanova bring some youthful exuberance to the area. A high city income tax keeps some people away, but overall, Philly seems to be on the rise these days. Rittenhouse Square, Logan Square, and South Philly are all great Philly neighborhoods, as well.
Population: 1.4 million
Another U.S. city on the rise is Phoenix, a crown jewel in the arid Arizona desert. At over 500 miles of land mass, city residents have plenty of elbow room, and its daily sunny skies attract plenty of golfers, hikers and other outdoors types to the Valley of the Sun. Cost of living is relatively low and a burgeoning arts and entertainment culture draw more and more people to the city. On the downside, the heat can be too much in the summer season, and Phoenix is surrounded by desert, which is either good or bad depending on how you feel about sand. Key destination neighborhoods include Arcadia, North Tempe and Verrado.
Population: 1.4 million
Known for its fabulous downtown River Walk and that it's the home for the heralded Alamo, San Antonio is emerging as a cultural and business center on the south of Texas, while keeping its reputation as a strong military center - Fort Sam Houston and Randolph Airforce Base call San Antonio Home. Great Tex-Mex food, a legitimate wild west vibe, low home prices and low cost of living are drawing more outsiders to the city. Downsides are few - like Phoenix, it's ultra-hot in the summer and it's growing more populated every year. Past that, San Antonio is a great place to hang your 10-gallon hat. Great neighborhoods include Alamo Heights, Stone Oak and King Williams.
Population: 1.3 million
Boasting what locals call the best weather in the U.S. (and likely rightfully so), San Diego is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the country, with gorgeous beaches, a vibrant downtown, and constant crystal clear sunny days. The U.S. Naval Base has long been a reliable anchor for San Diego, and its diverse residential base (the city is literally on the Mexican border) adds to the rich demographic vibe. Some of the best golf courses in the U.S. are only cappers on the jug. If you can afford the high cost of living in San Diego, and don't mind paying California's onerous taxes, San Diego can be heaven on earth. Great neighborhoods include Little Italy, North Park and Torrey Pines.
Population: 1.2 million
The "Big D" is known for its cowboy culture, represented by its favorite pro football team of the same name, and for its Texas-sized steaks, and its reputation as a big oil center where one good drill leads directly to yet another Dallas millionaire. Underneath the hoopla over oil, Dallas is building a burgeoning reputation as a tech-heavy, entrepreneurial business center that is building a business boom of its own. Dallas is the reason for the term "everything's bigger in Texas" and that could be a good or bad thing, depending on your viewpoint. Key neighborhoods include Uptown, Lake Highlands and Richardson.
A high-tech center that, outside of Seattle and San Francisco, is largely unrivaled across the U.S., San Jose offers residents over 300 sunny days annually, great public schools, and a strong jobs market. Like most California cities, taxes are high, as are home prices, which could be a turn-off for the budget-minded. Key neighborhoods include Willow Glen, Silver Creek, and Los Gatos.
Home to the University of Texas, Austin is another booming high-tech mecca (it's home to the world-famous, weeklong tech-flavored South by Southwest cultural festival.) Apple, AT&T, Google, and PayPal (among others) call Austin home, and the city is widely known for its miles or parks and trails, and great music and nightlife. Downsides are few - you'll need a car and summers can be blistering. Politically, it's a blue dot in a red state; if that's a factor, it's better that you know so going in. Key neighborhoods include South Congress, Boulder Creek and South Lamar.
This northern Florida city is battling it out with San Francisco as the next largest city in the U.S., but the demographic trends favor low-cost, low-tax Florida over high-cost high-tax California. Jacksonville also offers seasonable climes and sunny days, along with plenty of rivers and bays to fish, and no shortage of good jobs and low housing costs. On the downside, public transportation is problematic, although the city's largest-in-the-country land mass is tough to cover with buses and trains. Jacksonville also isn't a good city for biking and walking, and you'll need a good dependable car to get around. Key neighborhoods include San Marco, the beach district and Orange Park.