Image: Woman dancing in French Quarter, New Orleans, La.
Philip Scalia  /  Alamy
Mardi Gras may be the Super Bowl of people-watching, but folks in the Crescent City offer a year-round visual parade for gawkers.
By
updated 5/3/2011 9:40:46 AM ET 2011-05-03T13:40:46

For many travelers, people-watching is the best entertainment money can’t buy, and one of the easiest ways to get a feel for a city.

Slideshow: America's best cities for people-watching

Brooklynite Alisha Miranda says she likes to go sit in Manhattan’s Union Square “and just take in the crazy around me.” The freelance writer adds, “I love watching couples walking by, skateboarders, the ice cream trucks parked on the corner, and the man doing flips shirtless as people fork over spare change.”

    1. Secret Celebrity Hideaways
    2. America's Best Cocktail Bars
    3. America's Most Scenic Roads
    4. Coolest Disney Rides

The City That Never Sleeps, no surprise, came in near the top of the people-watching category in the 2011 edition of America’s Favorite Cities (AFC). The annual survey asks Travel + Leisure readers to rank 35 cities in 54 categories — ranging from hotels and restaurants to the general vibe of the places, such as how clean they are, how safe they feel — and how fun it is to “take in the crazy.”

Which city could possibly beat out New York in this category? When we looked at the top 20, we found that the best people-watching cities tend to have good weather and lots of room to walk around — after all, it’s harder to notice how fascinating locals are when they’re holed up in their cars.

But does ranking near the “top” for people-watching mean that a city is filled with attractive people or, frankly, odd ones? Dallas/Fort Worth, which came in last place in the category, may take some comfort in the idea that its locals are just too normal to attract many looky-loos. Savannah’s top 5 finish, on the other hand, is further proof of its southern charm: the city also landed in the top 5 for its locals’ good looks, style, and friendliness.

In the great gawkable cities, one could argue that many of the people being watched welcome it. “My favorite thing about people-watching in NYC is that flat-out staring is kind of accepted,” says media strategist Erin Scottberg. “It’s like the people you’re staring at — whether they’re glamorous, crazy, funky, or totally out there — are proud that they’ve commanded your attention.”

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

Photos: Big Easy returns

loading photos...
  1. Katrina's mess

    A junked car lies near empty houses in the Lakeview neighborhood near the site of the levee breach on the 17th Street Canal, August 29, 2005. More than five months after caused by Hurricane Katrina made landfall, there was little progress in some areas of New Orleans. Today, tours are offered to visitors to have a better understanding of events pre and post Katrina. (David Rae Morris / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Big Easy blues

    Costumed revelers dressed as blue roof tarps pose at the annual MOMs Ball, thrown each year by the Krewe of Misfits, Orphans and Mystics in New Orleans. Many of this years Mardi Gras floats and costumes reference the blue tarps that still protect broken roofs across the city after Hurricane Katrina. (Matthew Cavanaugh / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Soul sounds

    Jen Pearl (L) and Michelle Loughnane stand under an umbrella with a reference to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, April 2006. Jazz Fest '07 will be held on April 27-29 and May 4-6. (Lee Celano / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Dancing in the streets

    A member of the Young Olympia Aide and New Look Social Aid and Pleasure Club dances in a second line parade at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. (Lee Celano / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Jeweled celebration

    Members of the Krewe of Thoth throw beads as they travel down St. Charles Avenue where thousands of revelers showed up to enjoy 2006 Mardi Gras festivities. Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday") is the day before Ash Wednesday, and a celebration of the last the day before the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Mardi Gras 2007 will be observed on Feb. 20. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Eye candy

    Revelers ogle a woman exposing herself on Bourbon St. during Mardi Gras festivities in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Closing time

    Orleans Parish mounted Police Officers march down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter announcing the official end of Mardi Gras 2006. (Sean Gardner / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A shout for freedom

    "Big Chief" Victor Armstrong wears an elaborate Mardi Gras Indian costume. The Indian tradition of Mardi Gras pays homage to the relationship between Native Americans and escaped African slaves of the 1700s. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. USA - Hurricane Katrina - Aftermath
    David Rae Morris / Corbis
    Above: Slideshow (8) Big Easy returns
  2. Image: Image: A full moon rises over New York City above 42nd Street, as seen across the Hudson River in Weehawken, New Jersey
    Gary Hershorn / Reuters
    Slideshow (19) The Big Apple

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments