Image: Aerial view of Bourbon Street in New Orleans
Ellen Isaacs / Alamy
Bourbon Street in New Orleans draws crowds with its numerous bars and clubs.
updated 9/4/2011 12:46:13 AM ET 2011-09-04T04:46:13

People come to the Sunshine State to relax. But ask anyone what all that relaxing over mojitos on South Beach sounds like, and they'll tell you: it's pretty noisy.

Slideshow: America's best cities for nightlife

Or, to put it more diplomatically: "There's an underlying 'hum' to the city," says Todd Obolsky, a travel writer and author of "A Hedonist's Guide to Miami." "Miami is like a beehive — a bunch of people who can't sit still, who want to be noticed and who are looking for the next big rush."

That buzzing activity landed Miami near the top of Travel+Leisure's list of America's best cities for nightlife. Every year, readers vote on what they love most (and like least) about 35 different major cities — from luxury hotels to big-name restaurants. To find the most raucous scenes, we looked at the nightlife rankings — which encompass live music, cocktails and the singles scene — and also factored in the results for noise.

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The definition of "noise" may be in the ear of the beholder, but a glance at the top 10 party-crazy cities reveals a cacophony of car horns, slot machines, thumping music — and maybe a few beer bottles smashing against the floor. Of course, commotion doesn't always translate into a screamin' good time. Orlando (No. 28) has plenty of ruckus-making visitors, according to the survey, but the party scene runs up against that 8 p.m. bedtime.

Most of the big nightlife winners ranked well in other party-friendly categories, such as great neighborhood joints and lots of can't-avert-your-eyes people-watching. (New York City, capital of "Whaddayoulookinat?" came in at No. 3.)

Cities with compact, bar-heavy neighborhoods like Austin's Sixth Street also tend to have better party cred. "Chicago has a great neighborhood-based bar scene," says Shawn Hazen, who works for Roscoe's, a gay bar in Boystown — the neighborhood that borders Wrigleyville. "You have the gayest street in Chicago, one block from the straightest street in Chicago," he says. "It makes for some pretty funny interactions."

Chicago also offers proof that you don't need warm weather to keep the party going. "I've seen people check their coat at the beginning of the night and then run up and down the street all night long without it — do a shot, dance a little, then go to the next club," says Hazen. "You gotta keep warm."

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