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America’s 30 Most Visited Cities

Las Vegas

© Matt Apps

1. Las Vegas, Nev.
38.9 million visitors; 40 million rooms sold. Total weighted score: 4.48
If you put your money on Vegas, you’re a winner. Its self-reported visitor numbers are slightly less than other big contenders, but it tops Smith Travel Research’s list of rooms sold for 2006, with nearly 40 million—6.2 percent of the market share, head and shoulders above the other major metropolitan areas. Vegas is a prime example of how, according to tourism expert Dan Erkkila, destinations have begun to market themselves above and beyond their features and attractions (“come see what we have”) and started emphasizing “how a destination will make you ‘feel’ when you visit and after you have been there.”

For more information: Las Vegas

Los Angeles

© David Alexander Liu

2. Los Angeles, Calif.
58.6 million (25.4 million overnight + 33.2 estimated day visitors); 25.5 million rooms sold; score: 4.22
Hollywood starlight, a host of high-profile sports franchises and the eternal sunshine of Pacific beaches are among the charms that bring tens of millions of visitors to this Southern California metropolis. It doesn’t hurt that Disneyland is a short drive away—and creates a city ranking all by itself (see #13). Its overnight visitors can be measured, but because of its sprawl, its day visitors had to be estimated using relative weighted averages.

For more information: Los Angeles


© Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis

3. Orlando, Fla.
47.8 million visitors; 27.2 million rooms sold; score: 3.90
Readers of the Forbes Traveler list of 50 Most Visited Tourist Attractions will recognize several destinations (Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios) from this Florida tourist nexus. The theme parks are technically just beyond the city limits, but factor in balmy weather and Orlando’s booming conference and convention scene, and it’s clear why more than 47 million visitors came to “The City Beautiful” last year.

For more information: Orlando

New York City;

© Andrew Cribb

4. New York City, N.Y.
44 million visitors; 23.9 million rooms sold; score: 3.52
No surprises here. Year after year, the Big Apple takes an ample slice of the U.S.-visitor pie. In 2006, 44 million guests called on Times Square, the Met, the Empire State Building and New York’s myriad other cultural and commercial draws.

For more information: New York City


© jmbatt

5. Chicago, Ill.
41.3 million (2005); 24.8 million rooms sold; score 3.47
More than 41 million non-residents breezed into the Windy City last year to enjoy the multitude of cultural, business and recreational centers on the shore of Lake Michigan. The largest city in the Midwest, Chicago has long served as the area’s unofficial capital and is a major U.S. transportation hub.

For more information: Chicago

Washington, D.C.

© Condor 36

6. Washington, D.C. metro area
36.9 million; 22.8 million rooms; score: 3.15
Beyond its iconic monuments and museums, the nation’s capital gets heavy traffic from government and private-business travelers. D.C. is also a hotbed of performing arts and entertainment, second only to New York City, for example, in number of theater seats.

For more information: Washington, D.C.


© Ariel Bravy

7. Atlanta, Ga.
37 million visitors; 21.5 million rooms sold; score: 3.05
Thirty-seven million travelers visit the greater Atlanta area annually—. Its tourist attractions include the World of Coca Cola and Underground Atlanta, a subterranean mall that covers six city blocks.

For more information: Atlanta

San Diego

© San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

8. San Diego, Calif.
32.2 million visitors (2005); 14.2 million rooms sold; score: 2.33
California’s second largest city includes 70 miles of beaches, 90 golf courses, and a host of family attractions like Legoland and the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park.

For more information: San Diego


© Witod Skrypczak/Lonely Planet Images

9. Houston, TX
31 million; 14.5 million rooms sold; score: 2.31
Texas cities dominate the Forbes Traveler 30 Most Visited U.S. Cities list, and Houston is the king of the hill among the state’s urban travel meccas. Its 31 million annual visitors include a million convention guests as well as tourists touching down at the Space Center, Moody Gardens, and other attractions. In 2005, six and a half million of Houston’s visitors came from Mexico.

For more information: Houston


© Yan Simkin

10. Dallas, TX
22.3 million visitors (2005); 15.9 million rooms sold; score: 2.05
A leading Southwest business and financial center, Dallas offers more than Cowboys—it lays claim to the largest urban arts district in the country, and its boutique hotels and fine dining hotspots, coupled with a slew of family attractions, appeal to a broad range of visitors.

For more information: Dallas


© R.Kennedy

11. Philadelphia, Pa.
27.7 million (2005); 10.2 million rooms sold; score: 1.86
The City of Brotherly Love’s siren songs include national landmarks like the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall. And Philadelphia’s allure is growing for international travelers: The Pennsylvania metropolis was one of only three of the top 20 cities in the United States that has shown an increase in overseas visitation from 2000 to 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

For more information: Philadelphia, Penn. or Go Philly


© Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau

12. Phoenix, Ariz.
21.7 million (12 million overnight plus 9.7 estimated day visitors); 13.1 million rooms sold; score: 1.75
Golf, resorts, spas, a vibrant arts scene and first-class food are among the highlights for Phoenix’s 21.7 million annual visitors. And there are significant signs of a continued Phoenix rising: it vaulted to fifth place among the nation’s cities in most recent U.S. census, and the current $600 million expansion of the Phoenix Convention Center will triple the center’s size.

For more information: Phoenix


© David Nagy

13. Anaheim, Calif.
18.4 million visitors; 13.9 million rooms sold; score 1.61 (tie)
The city of Anaheim proper sold almost as many hotel rooms as Dallas or Philadelphia, and the allure of Mickey is undeniable: 14.7 million annual visitors make it the top tourist draw in California.

For more information: Anaheim

San Francisco

© Brandon Holmes

13. San Francisco, Calif.
15.8 million visitors; 13.4 million rooms sold; score: 1.61 (tie)
The City by the Bay’s 15.8-million visitor number is all the more impressive considering its small size (about 49 square miles, compared with the 4,200 square miles of San Diego’s metropolitan area). Stunning scenery, world-class cuisine, and proximity to Silicon Valley continue to lure leisure and business travelers to the Golden Gate. (San Francisco’s convention and visitor bureau numbers include only the city proper, not the Bay Area greater metropolitan region.)

For more information: San Francisco


© Al Rublinetsky

13. Miami, Fla.
19.7 million (11.6 million overnight + 8.1 estimated day visitors): 11.2 million rooms sold; score: 1.61 (tie)
Beaches, sun and spicy nightlife beckon from America’s southernmost major city, which also has two national parks (The Everglades and Biscayne National Parks) within range.

For more information: Miami


© Chee-Onn Leong

16. Boston, Mass.
17.6 million (2005); 11.7 million rooms sold; score 1.56
The hub of New England is a goldmine of U.S. historical sites. And the harbor where a famous tea party took place in colonial times is still a major shipping port. The city is also a center for higher education, health care and biotech.

For more information: Boston

San Antonio

© SACVB Photo/Al Rendon

17. San Antonio, TX
20 million; 8.3 million rooms sold; score: 1.41
Texas’ third entry in the Forbes Traveler Top 30, San Antonio is a history buff’s paradise, featuring sites like the Alamo and the governor’s palace from the city’s erstwhile stint as the capital of the Spanish Province of Texas. Centered by the Riverwalk, or Paseo del Rio, the bustling downtown is another big draw for San Antonio’s 20 million annual visitors.

For more information: San Antonio

St. Louis

© Vladimir Pcholkin

18. St. Louis, Mo.
20.3 million visitors; 7.9 million rooms sold; score: 1.39
The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission says, “St. Louis offers more free, major attractions than any place outside the nation’s capital.” The Anheuser-Busch Brewery and riverboat gaming are among the many draws to this heartland destination.

For more information: St. Louis

Tampa Bay

© Robbie Rogers

19. Tampa Bay, Fla.
16.9 million visitors; 9.6 million rooms sold; score: 1.38
This center of Florida’s Gulf Coast features miles of white sand beaches and an enticing menu of musical, theatrical, culinary and historical attractions. The Busch Gardens Africa theme park is a favorite stop, and a multitude of other land and sea recreation opportunities entice leisure travelers.

For more information: Tampa Bay

Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN

© Pete Hoffman

20. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
18.3 million visitors; 8.3 million rooms sold; score: 1.34
The Twin Cities’ arts, sports, dining and outdoor attractions offer consistent visitor appeal, but the real northern super-magnet may be the Mall of America, with 4.2 million square feet and 12,550 parking spaces—it’s drawn half a billion people since it opened in 1992.

For more information: Minneapolis-St. Paul


© Hiep Nguyen

21. Seattle, Wash.
15.7 million (9.4 million overnight visitors + 6.3 estimated day visitors); 9.4 million rooms sold; score: 1.32
About an equal number of visitors to Seattle in 2006 were visiting relatives as were enjoying a vacation, a fitting combination for a city that blends the familiar with the exotic. The Space Needle and Pike Place Market top lists of must-sees.

For more information: Seattle


© Richard Cummins/Corbis

22. Indianapolis, Ind.
21.7 million visitors (2005); 6 million rooms sold; score: 1.31
The nation’s 13th largest city’s easy accessibility (it’s at the nexus of several interstate highways) has earned it the nickname the “Crossroads of America.” And fast roads play another significant role in the Indiana capital’s robust visitor numbers: It’s home to the Indy 500 and the Allstate 400, the two largest single-day sporting events in the world.

For more information: Indianapolis


© Ivan Cholakov

23. Detroit, Mich.
15.9 million visitors; 8.3 million rooms sold; score: 1.24
A refurbished GM world headquarters and three expanded downtown casinos now adorn the auto-industry’s hometown. A busy inland port contributes to this Midwest metropolis’ steady visitor flow.

For more information: Detroit


© Christa DeRidder

24. Austin, TX
19 million visitors; 6.4 million rooms sold; score: 1.23
The self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World” is the smaller, more “indie” sibling of the big Texas urban centers, but it is still a mature visitor market. It has become a gathering spot for the moviemaking and high-tech industries, and the South by Southwest and Austin City Limits festivals draw hordes of hipsters annually.

For more information: Austin


© Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau

25. Denver, Colo.
14.5 million (11.7 million overnight visitors + 2.8 estimated day visitors); 8.7 million rooms sold; score: 1.22
Denver’s visitor numbers increased 13 percent in 2006 compared with the previous year, a record upswing for the mile-high city. The top three sights and attractions last year were the Lower Downtown Historic District, the Coors Brewery and the Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

For more information: Denver


© iStockphoto

26. Charlotte, N.C.
16.6 million visitors (2005); 6.9 million rooms sold; score: 1.17
The “Queen City” is the second largest financial center in the U.S. Home to many top companies’ headquarters as well as NFL and NBA franchises and ample outdoor attractions, the Charlotte metropolitan area drew 16.6 million visitors in 2005.

For more information: Charlotte


© Heavenly Perspectives

27. Nashville, Tenn.
13.5 million (10.5 million overnight visitors + 3 million estimated day visitors); 8 million rooms sold; score: 1.12 (tie)
Music is the major draw for many of the ten and a half million annual visitors who flock to this country-and-western shrine. The health care industry has a major presence in this Tennessee city, and Nissan recently moved its North American headquarters here.

For more information: Nashville

Kansas City

© Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association

27. Kansas City, Mo.-Kan.
16.5 million visitors; 6.3 million rooms sold; score: 1.12 (tie)
The American Jazz Museum, the new National World War I Museum and the Country Club Plaza, a 14-square-block outdoor shopping and entertainment district, are part of the allure for Kansas City’s 16.5 million annual visitors, and more may be on the way: K.C. downtown is in the midst of a multi-billion dollar redevelopment effort.

For more information: Kansas City

Fort Lauderdale

© FloridaStock

29. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
12.3 million (10.4 million overnight visitors + 1.9 estimated day visitors); 7 million rooms sold; score: 1.00
This “beach chic” destination drew ten and a half million overnight visitors to its sun-soaked shores in 2006, a two percent increase over previous years and, city tourism officials hope, part of a longer, upward trend as luxury properties continue to transform the coastline.

For more information: Fort Lauderdale


© Jonathan Larsen

30. Baltimore, Md.
12 million visitors; 6.6 million rooms sold; score: 0.99
This historically rich city on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay has been a busy port for hundreds of years. A 1.2-million square foot convention center helps welcome the city’s 12 million annual visitors.

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