Happy 4th of July! In honor of America’s birthday, I HAVE RANKED ALL FIFTY STATES FROM BEST TO WORST. Some choices make sense. Some are gut decisions. Most reveal my bias toward coastlines, natural beauty, and cosmopolitan cities, which will no doubt infuriate those of you who take pride in flat, sucky chunks of nowhere. But I’ve done my best to use personal experience — I’ve lived in 10 states and visited 47 while crisscrossing the nation a couple times — to create this 100% correct ranking of the United States.
1. California – The standard complaints are noted: a hapless state government, LA’s lack of soul, Bakersfield. But that long-ass coastline includes San Diego (damn close to paradise), Los Angeles (justly maligned, but a sunny metropolis worth appreciating), Big Sur (as beautiful as America gets), Monterrey, and San Francisco. Throw in Humboldt County, redwoods, wine country, Tahoe, and Joshua Tree, and you get a combination of culture and natural beauty that no other state can match.
2. Hawaii – A vacation to Hawaii inevitably leads to daydreams about how you can live in Hawaii. “Why, I can work the night shift because of the time difference! And Betsy’s a teacher! She can teach anywhere!” Then you go back home because that’s where your stupid family and your stupid mortgage are, and you probably don’t have the chops to run a bed & breakfast anyway. But that doesn’t stop you from thinking about Hawaii, because Hawaii is fucking perfect.
3. Washington – ***BIAS ALERT*** Yes, I was born in this state. Yes, my parents live there now. Yes, I am a Seattle sports fan. But but but: snow-capped mountains, rain forests, coastline and countless sheltered bays, coffee empires, relaxed cities, excellent wineries, and an emergent Mike Leach offense. That reputation for rain? A bluff to keep you away from majestically sunny summers.
4. Colorado – Would be ahead of Washington were it not landlocked.
5. New York – New York City drives most of the pull (and rightfully so), but the rest of the state is no slouch: the Hudson River valley is beautiful, Niagara Falls rests on the border, and Albany is… uhhh… also around somewhere.
6. Oregon – The exact same state as Washington, plus Nike and minus the Puget Sound. (Many will argue that Seattle’s more cosmopolitan than Portland, or that Portland’s more forward-thinking than Seattle, and I suppose that’s valid. Argue away, and when you’re done, explain the difference between the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons to a Kenny Chesney fan.)
7. Utah – In word association tests, poor Utah always gets stuck with “Mormon.” And yes: the religion built on Joseph Smith’s harem fetish has more pull than I’d like (see also: insultingly low beer ABVs), but the unheralded truth is that Utah may be the most jaw-droppingly beautiful state in the nation. From Moab to Canyonlands to Arches to Park City and Alta, this is a state made for people who love the outdoors. (And Mormons.)
8. Louisiana – A humid, corrupt, sub-sea level mess. AND YET: the food and the people make it all worthwhile. God bless you, Louisiana.
9. Massachusetts – Gets a bad rap on the internet because of Boston sports fans, and Cape Cod is just “the Hamptons” in a New England accent, but the rest of the state is a heavily wooded collection of small towns indecipherable from upstate New York but for sports allegiances. And if we’re being fair, Boston is a great little city — like a miniaturized Chicago.
10. New Mexico – Forever tied to “Breaking Bad” the way Baltimore now is to “The Wire,” New Mexico is a beautiful, underrated state — like Arizona minus the batshit politics, or a poor man’s Utah without all the Mormons.
11. Wyoming – Who needs cities? Jackson Hole, Yellowstone Park, and Devil’s Tower are all part of a state full of untamed beauty. Wyoming’s great. Go to Wyoming.
12. North Carolina – Great barbecue, good coastline, and Charlotte is a city on the rise. All in all, a generous ranking despite my knowledge of the area around Camp Lejeune.
13. Kentucky – My time living at Fort Knox was largely miserable despite its proximity to Louisville, but bourbon buys you a whole lotta leeway.
14. Tennessee – Prettier than Kentucky, with more significant contributions to music and Civil War history, but like I said: bourbon buys you a whole lotta leeway.
15. Georgia – Atlanta’s vastly underrated. Athens is great. Savannah’s gorgeous. There’s a coast. Sure, 15th works.
16. Florida – The GOB Bluth of states. It’s stupid. It will do dumb shit and never learn from its mistakes. But dammit if it doesn’t have charm. And isn’t a charming idiot better than a dullard? (Don’t answer that, Nebraska.)
17. Arizona – Florida West, basically.
18. Virginia – Don’t be fooled by the D.C. suburbs: Virginia is the Old South not long after you get outside the Beltway. Richmond is a husk of Confederate hopes, but I’ve overvalued the campuses of UVa and Virginia Tech enough to put this crap bag at 18.
19. South Dakota – The Badlands and the Black Hills make South Dakota the Utah of the Plains. I originally intended that as a compliment, but now that I look at it: ouch. Anyway, if you’re driving cross-country and it’s not January, go through South Dakota.
20. Montana –
21. South Carolina – Charleston will only get you so far.
22. Maine – A quietly awesome state filled with hard-ass old people.
23. New Hampshire – Quite the state motto! Props for being the angry wayward redneck state in New England, but that’s kinda like being the toughest kid at boarding school.
24. Vermont – “New Hampshire, but for pussies.”
25. Nevada – I rather like Nevada, because (a) I enjoy the wasteful artifice of Las Vegas’s gambling and strippers, and (b) three years of living in the Mojave gave me an appreciation of the wasteland American settlers crossed to reach the Pacific. But my tastes aren’t for everyone, and if I’m being honest, Nevada kinda sucks.
26. Michigan – I lived in and have traveled extensively all over the Midwest. It all sucks pretty equally, but Michigan gets the top spot because it at least has a lot of coastline.
27. Illinois – It’s a good thing Chicago’s a cool city, because I-55 is a bullshit stretch of corn, soybeans, and asshole state troopers.
28. Wisconsin – Nice people, good cheese.
29. Alaska – Alaska’s a tough state to place in these rankings. Alaskans are supremely badass, masters of an expansive, gorgeous landscape that’s plunged into frozen darkness half the year. So, like, props on the awesome scenery, but I’m only visiting in the summer.
30. Maryland – A state filled with Redskins and Ravens fans. 30th is generous.
31. Minnesota – Ummm… thanks for Prince? (I’m trying to focus on saying nice things.)
32. Delaware – Another victim of word association that inevitably leads to “tax shelter” or “Joe Biden.” That’s because Delaware has no identity or reason for being. It’s just there. But at least it’s close to other stuff you might want to visit, which is more than you can say for Nebraska.
33. Alabama – Alabama is unfairly maligned by many who have never been there (ROLL TIDE). The northern half of the state is hilly and scenic, and Birmingham and Huntsville both deserve more appreciation than they get. Of course, the southern half is a dystopian hellscape, but it’s worth noting that half the state is nice, just like ONLY HALF THE COLLEGE PROGRAMS ARE CLEAN PAWWWWWWWWL.
34. Iowa – Illinois minus Chicago.
35. Texas – Oh, I see you, Texans. Unhappy with this ranking. Proud of your fucked-up bygone republic. Everything’s bigger, don’t mess with, blah blah blah. Well Texas, guess what? Houston is a humid, gridlocked mess. Dallas has the unplanned sprawl of Los Angeles with none of the charm or talent. San Antonio isn’t even worth mentiozzzzzzzzzz. The western half of the state is the endless dead wasteland of Blood Meridian. Your dumbfuck governors fail their way up to the national stage. Oh, and the rest of the country is getting stupider because of you. Fuck off and secede, we don’t want you.
Austin’s great, though.
36. West Virginia – Nice people, the Appalachians, and moonshine. You could do worse.
37. North Dakota – Never been there. Never met anyone from there. Not entirely sure it exists. People in the comments below will say, “I’ve been to North Dakota! It’s there!” They are government plants hired to keep the ruse alive.
38. New Jersey – It’s unfair to judge Jersey by the Turnpike or the industrial wastelands near New York City, just as it’s unfair to give it credit for Bruce Springsteen or “The Sopranos.” I’ve been to beautiful parts of New Jersey (hello, Morristown), and I survived middle-school hell there (‘sup, Burlington County). The truth about New Jersey is that it sucks, just not as much as the Turnpike would have you believe. Oh, and Atlantic City is one of the most depressing places on Earth.
39. Missouri — It’s worth noting that the state’s two largest cities are both on the border, spilling into neighboring states, desperate to get out. “Kansas City” isn’t just a name, it’s an aspiration. (Working in Missouri’s favor: Mizzou, the Ozarks, and almost nothing else. St. Louis is a cockhole town.)
40. Pennsylvania — An odd mixture of regions: mid-Atlantic plus Appalachia with a dash of Midwest. It probably isn’t fair to hold Pennsylvania responsible for Gerry Sandusky, but who said this list was fair?
41. Indiana – Ay yo, people who went to Notre Dame: no one’s impressed you went there. LITERALLY NO ONE ON THE PLANET. Notre Dame is located in the exact same nondescript college town as Purdue and Indiana. Nothing about this state is special. What’s that, Indianapolis? You hosted a Super Bowl and have a growing art scene? Awww, that’s great. Really great. I’m gonna visit just as soon as I can.
42. Rhode Island – Had to go somewhere.
43. Ohio – “You have to go to Athens! It’s beautiful!” I have been to Athens. I have been to everywhere in Ohio. I have liked nowhere in Ohio.
44. Connecticut – Fuck Connecticut.
45. Idaho – The Russia of America: terrifying alcohol intake and a propensity for fighting bears, two great reasons for keeping a respectful distance.
46. Mississippi – The only good thing I’ve heard people say about Mississippi is “Oxford” and “sundresses.” I can find suitable replacements in other states without the humidity and racism.
47. Arkansas – It ain’t personal, Arkansas. You know you belong here.
48. Nebraska — Flat nothingness. Gets a slight nod over Kansas because I-80 has a higher speed limit than I-70. Nebraska respects your desire to leave quickly.
49. Kansas — Flat and shitty. Jayhawks basketball and some BBQ spillover from Kansas City doesn’t redeem the highest point in the state being Mount Sunflower: