Whether it’s for dancing, late-night karaoke, or just a perfectly good stroll around the busy streets, there are countless reasons why exploring a new city at night can be an exciting endeavor. For a solo traveler, a seat at the bar can lead to pretty interesting conversations and maybe even a newfound friend to hang out with. For a couple or a group, there are endless options for entertainment, food, and drink when the sun goes down. In many cases, some places don’t even wake up until the evening.
Not all cities, though, are created equal when it comes to safety at night. Big cities are usually known for more illegal activity, which means muggings are more likely. Small cities, because of their tight-knit communities, typically have a lower chance of bumping into a thug or two. But sometimes, that’s not always the case. Some smaller cities that have experience economic troubles sometimes have more unwanted activity going on because of its lack of social and educational programs.
As with any type of travel, it’s recommended that you do your research in advance and plan the type of activities in the city you’d like to visit. The standard rule is to always err on the side of caution when on a night out in town. That means: don’t overtly flash around big wads of cash or expensive jewelry, stay in well-lit places, and use common sense. Here are 10 U.S. cities we think you probably shouldn’t explore at night and 10 that are totally safe.
20 Chicago (Be careful) - Unfortunate events are usually isolated
The Windy City is the third largest city in the United States and the metropolitan hub of the Midwest. It has world-class shopping, dining, and architecture. It is also home to some of the United States’ most popular music festivals, like the Chicago Blues Festival and the Chicago Jazz Festival.
The less safe side of Chicago is well-documented, but most of it is only in particular areas of the city—most notably the South Side neighbourhood. The bad stuff from this part of town is usually isolated and tourists aren’t the targets. As long as you use common sense and exercise precaution, as in many big cities, you should be fine.
19 Burbank (No worries!) - A nicer, cleaner Hollywood
Pegged as the “Media Capital of the World,” Burbank, California is where you’ll find all the big players in entertainment: Warner Bros., Walt Disney, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon all have major production studios here. Away from the glitz, glam, and grittiness of Los Angeles, Burbank is where you’ll find a lot of creative media types who are not just in it for the Hollywood fame.
Most of the city’s transportation funding goes towards improvements for highways as most people drive, but downtown Burbank—where you’ll find a congregation of hotels, shopping, and dining options—is very walkable and safe. Though you might see some panhandlers, they are usually not aggressive.
18 Baltimore (Be careful) - Hub for unwanted exchanges
Just a 50-minute drive from the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C., Baltimore is a popular destination for seafood enthusiasts eager to taste dishes like Maryland crab cakes, crab soup, lobster rolls and steamed blue crabs. It’s also home to Artscape, the largest free arts festival in the United States.
While the city is starting to be known for its thriving arts and food scenes, it is also notorious for being an exchange hub for banned substances. Most of the city’s tourist and commercial areas are generally safe, especially during the day. But at night, avoid areas with low foot traffic.
17 Virginia Beach (No worries!) - Laidback city by the ocean
Virginia Beach is known for being a family-friendly beach town. It has a three-mile boardwalk by the beach and various outdoor attractions. It is home to the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, the famous Mt. Trashmore, and Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum.
This is where you’ll also find some of the world’s most pristine natural habitats. State Landing Park, for example, is the most-visited state park in Virginia. You’ll likely find residents and locals alike in biking and hiking trails, fishing in the freshwater ponds, or kayaking. The city has a laidback and community-driven attitude that is essential to keeping it friendly.
16 Buffalo (Be careful) - Avoid Genesee Street
Once an industrial powerhouse in the early 20th-century, Buffalo’s remaining art deco architecture speaks to its booming economic past. It boasts a 398-ft. Art deco City Hall and the Albright-Knox art gallery, which houses works by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.
Nowadays, Buffalo is notorious for its higher-than-average robbery rate. Certain parts of the city shoud be avoided at night, particularly the South and East Side—where there are many abandoned properties. Also it's suggested to avoid the nine-block area that makes up part of Genesee Street, east of Moselle.
15 Naperville (No worries!) - A family-friendly community
Naperville is a primarily residential suburb of Chicago where many families reside. It’s consistently at the top, or near the top, of safe places to live in the United States by numerous rankings. If you’re a history buff, visit The Naper Settlement is the perfect excursion. It’s a 12-acre outdoor museum featuring historic buildings and structures telling the story of the area’s history as a 19th-century pioneer outpost.
The community is very walkable and tight-knit. In fact, it’s known for Naperville Riverwalk, a network of paths, bridges and walkways following the DuPage River. Naperville’s family-friendliness is evident in the DuPage Children’s Museum with a slew of tactile and fun activities.
14 Minneapolis (Be careful) - Sketchy behaviour downtown
Minneapolis is half of the Twin Cities, alongside the city of St Paul, its neighbour and the state capital of Minnesota.The short-lived summers in this region means its residents are always out and about during the warmer months, enjoying the city’s slate of attractions. The city’s downtown revitalization has been a boon for businesses and locals alike, but robberies and other sketchy behaviour still persist.
According to officials, the city is making good headway in implementing efforts to make the downtown core more safe and more enticing for tourists at night. But if still you find yourself out in the wee hours of the morning in this city, just make sure to avoid the Northwest, Midtown, and Phillips neighbourhoods.
13 Bellevue (No worries!) - A quick getaway from Seattle
Across Lake Washington from Seattle, is Bellevue—a quieter, greener city. Bellevue is a favourite for Seattle residents who like to get away from the city without having to board a plane or even drive that far. Some highlights? The Bellevue Botanical Garden and tasting some of Washington’s award-winning wines.
Compared to Seattle, Bellevue’s neighbourhoods have remained largely upscale, even with a big companies like T-Mobile and Expedia moving in. While Seattle, as in many metropolitan cities, has some sketchy or seedy parts, Bellevue has numerous green spaces, museums, and urban hiking trails perfect for families and solo travelers.
12 Atlanta (Be careful) - Stay in well-lit, commercial areas at night
Georgia’s capital is a historic city, being the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and a critical location for the Civil War. Today, it is home to the world’s busiest airport and Centennial Olympic Park, which was built for the 1996 Olympics.
The bustling city is one of the biggest hubs for illegal substances, often taking place across its complex and extensive network of freeways. Pockets of the downtown can be sketchy, so it’s best not to wander away from the well-lit, commercial areas of the city.
11 Boulder (No worries!) - Phones along hiking trails
Primarily known as a university town, home to the University of Colorado, Naropa University and others, Boulder has grown into a hub for the arts and competitive sports. At the bottom of the Rocky Mountains, its high altitude and serene surroundings are conducive for high-performing athlete training and numerous meditation centres.
The city has a great safety rating and has no seedy neighbourhoods. Except for some rowdiness by college partiers on the weekend, the city is great at night. Many visit Boulder for the breathtaking hiking views and outdoor activities. Emergency phones attached to posts can be found throughout hiking trails, especially closer to the University of Colorado property.
10 New Orleans (Be careful) - Stay off the backstreets
Internationally known for its extravagant Mardi Gras celebrations, New Orleans has a reputation for being lively and hospitable. The French Quarter, the oldest and most-visited part of the city, is where you’ll find an abundance of jazz musicians, Creole restaurants, and 18th- and 19th-century buildings.
The city welcomes a lot of tourists annually and the city has tried to keep visitors safe, despite its long record of street violence. Looting spiked during and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tourists are highly advised not to wander around in New Orleans’ backstreets at night, especially because robberies are common in the city.
9 Ann Arbor (No worries!) - A lot of bike paths and walkways
Ann Arbor is another university town internationally-recognized for its research programs. The city has many science attractions, like the Museum of Natural History and the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. It regularly hosts big football games and various festivals.
Ann Arbor ranks high on lists of safest cities in the United States, as unwanted activities have fallen significantly in the past two decades. Its downtown core is very pedestrian-friendly. Its many sidewalk cafes, shops, and bookstores are always bustling in the evenings. The city’s extensive bike paths and walkways are proof of its college town charm since many students don’t drive a car to campus.
8 East Saint Louis (Be careful) - Residents living under poverty line
East Saint Louis is yet another city that has been affected by deindustrialization. It was once a bustling industrial and manufacturing town, with local attractions like the Gateway Geyser, the world’s second-tallest fountain. Though the fountain remains, many of East Saint Louis’ residents and local businesses packed up when the economy’s downward trend did not have an end in sight.
Cuts to social and infrastructure programs have kept the a lot of remaining residents under the poverty line. It may be a good city to skip on your grand U.S. road trip, since it’s widely considered one of the most dangerous in the U.S.
7 Provo (No worries!) - Fast-growing, but still friendly
The city of Provo in Utah was among the “Best Small and Medium-Size Cities for Jobs” in 2015. Though it’s a smaller-than-average city, it’s part of a county that is only second in population to Salt Lake City. It’s considered a great base to explore the natural beauty of the Utah Valley.
Thanks to the city’s growing businesses, there are no areas that are particularly necessary to watch out for. However, the city’s bus transportation system is not the best, so if you plan to get around by bus make sure you plan ahead. Most people use a car to get around. But Provo’s downtown area is very walkable, and according to residents, there's no issues at night.
6 Oakland (Be careful) - A huge homeless population
Oakland is one of the most important port cities on the U.S. West Coast. Just a 45-minute drive to Silicon Valley, its port is one of the busiest in the country. It’s also one of the most racially-diverse cities in the Bay Area, which means you’ll undoubtedly find great food and great art.
But as in many big cities, it has a huge homelessness problem. Major layoffs that shrunk the city’s police force in the early 2000’s only exacerbated the issue. Panhandlers may become aggressive, especially at night—so if you can avoid it, stay out of the streets.
5 Carlsbad (No worries!) - A beachtown perfect for families
If you’re looking for a California beach vacation spot away from the crowds of Los Angeles and San Diego, Carlsbad is the perfect city to soak up some sun. It has 7 miles of almost-untouched beachfronts. Unlike beaches in Orange County, Carlsbad has largely remained under the radar, despite being a tourist destination for over a century, especially with Europeans.
Most of the city’s holiday-goers are families on summer break, which is no surprise since it is also home to the Legoland California theme park. The commercial downtown area has a retro beach town vibe, in keeping with the laidback and sunny atmosphere the city is known for. The main tourist area can get pretty crowded, especially in the summer, but visitors and locals say it remains swell.
4 Flint, Michigan (Be careful) - Steady economic and social decline
As the golden years of the U.S. auto boom waned in the 1980s, Michigan’s seventh-largest city started its steady economic and social decline. Flint has since been plagued with urban decay, poverty, and crime.
The city’s woes came to a head in 2014 when a crisis hit the residents, leaving them with unsafe drinking water. Its dismal economy has left it unable to cope with its growing problems. The city also has a very small police force, so it’s not wise to be out and about town at night when sketchy events are more likely to happen.
3 Round Rock (No worries!) - Big business, small-town attitude
Just a 20-minute drive away from the bustling city of Austin, Round Rock is a growing community and the headquarters for Dell. The computer technologies company employs around 16,000 residents in the city. Many Round Rock residents actually commute to the big city for work and play, so although its population has doubled in size in the last decade or so, it has retained a small-town attitude.
Round Rock is consistently in the top five of lists for safest cities in the U.S. thanks to its booming economy, hospitable residents, and very low rate of unwanted activities.
2 Detroit (Be careful) - Unlit streets and abandoned homes
Detroit is the largest and most populous city in the state of Michigan. Best known as the home of the U.S. automobile industry, it is also famous in pop culture for producing the the very distinct soul-pop Motown sound which came out of the the city in the 1960s.
The steady decline of the manufacturing industry since the 1980s recession led to the city filing for bankruptcy in 2013. And though the city is on the mend, with a lot of economic and political initiatives underway, be careful around undeveloped, unlit neighbourhoods that are still lined with dilapidated houses and buildings.
1 Thousand Oaks (No worries!) - Highly educated with high incomes.
During the 1920s, the city of Thousand Oaks in California only had 100 residents. Since being incorporated into the first city in the Conejo Valley in 1964, Thousand Oaks has grown into an economically-booming city. Most residents are highly-educated with high-income potential.
Based on FBI reporting, Thousand Oaks is consistently near the top of the list of safest cities in the United States. Its safety trend has shown to continually rise over the years, so they're clearly doing something right.
References: Insurance Journal, USA Today, 24/7 Wall Street, The Washington Post