10 American Cities That Epitomize Nomadic Lifestyle

Fashion inspired by a nomadic lifestyle | © Nikolay Draganov via Pexels
Fashion inspired by a nomadic lifestyle | © Nikolay Draganov via Pexels
Photo of Daniel Matthews
14 November 2016

You’ve seen them in your town. They come and go, traveling with not much more than a backpack on their shoulders. Nomads, drifters, hipsters; living the bohemian dream. Like with true nomadic communities, there’s a distinct style to their look: suspenders, boots, and a flat cap. Sometimes the fashion is as minimal as it gets, but for the most part it’s practical and ready for the road. They flock to lively cities that are friendly to the nomadic lifestyle and dwell in cultural hubs, and The Atlantic even rated these cities in its Bohemian Index. We collected the best of them worth a visit, regardless of what type of fashion or style you’re into.

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San Francisco, CA

This is where itinerant literary legend Jack Kerouac, the original hipster nomad, spent a great deal of time during his travels. San Francisco ranks ninth on The Atlantic’s Bohemian Index, meaning it has a high concentration of artists, musicians, writers, designers, and entertainers. This is despite the tech gentrification that has forced many old-time residents to move elsewhere. Nomadic hipsters are attracted to the famous Haight-Ashbury district, the Mission district, Golden Gate Park, and the city’s plentiful bars, music venues, coffee shops and bookstores, made easily accessible thanks to the city’s great public transit system.

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Portland, OR

Portland’s music scene is bursting at the seams. Venues abound and indie bands proliferate, but that’s not the only reason nomads like to pass through here. It’s the second hippest city in America, packed with microbreweries, record stores, coffee shops, thrift stores, bike shops, and tattoo parlors. Like San Francisco, the public transit in Portland is efficient, and there are plenty of hostels where you can crash on the cheap, such as the HI Portland Hawthorne Hostel, with the Hawthorne District being a prime destination for local and traveling hipsters alike.

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New York City, NY

What can’t you find in this mecca? Greenwich Village is where Nobel laureate Bob Dylan used to couch surf; Hotel Chelsea, slated to reopen in 2017, has had guests like Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen, and Jimi Hendrix to name by a few; Times Square is chock-full of street performers and charm; the city boasts 28,000 acres of parkland, including the most visited urban park in the world, Central Park; while Chinatown has the closest thing to authentic Chinese food outside of China. Part of the appeal for a nomad in New York is its walkability, as America’s biggest city also ranks as the most walkable metropolis.

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Seattle, WA

Seattle is the country’s number one hipster city, and also the eighth most walkable. If you’re a nomad in need of free WiFi, there’s a coffee shop on every block. If you need a place to stay, the Green Tortoise has rooms for $34 and free breakfast. Seattle is right on the Puget Sound, meaning you can hop a boat to Alaska to make some money fishing, or take a ferry to Orcas Island, ‘the gem of the San Juans.’ Flights from here to anywhere are plentiful, and nomads are sure to find kindred spirits in the University District, Fremont, or Capitol Hill.

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Denver, CO

Denver is where Jack Kerouac had raging parties and pool hall times with his partner in crime, Neal Cassady. Denver is capital of one of the most progressive Western states, with legalized marijuana and a counterculture that puts this city at number three within the hipster city pantheon. Nomads can disappear into the Rocky Mountains via Mount Evans, or stick around in town and check out the South Broadway District, with its wide variety of crazy boutiques. Skylark Lounge has great underground bands and lots of pool tables, Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs has rattlesnake hotdogs, and there are breweries everywhere you look. What more could you want?

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Los Angeles, CA

If you want to talk culture, Los Angeles has everything a nomad could wish for. From free activities, desperately old bars like The King Eddy Saloon – where Charles Bukowski and William Burroughs used to dive into the bottle – to beaches that go for miles and miles, to coffee shops, creative spaces and juke joints, this is the number one bohemian city in the US. The Sunset Strip has the Viper Room, Whisky A Go-Go, and The Roxy, where you can catch great bands as you’re cruising through. As far as where to stay, Venice Beach and the Arts District boast some of the most unique Airbnb rentals in the world.

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Baltimore, MD

This is an underrated, gritty gem for nomads. Baltimore boasts the American Visionary Art Museum, with outsider art exhibits by the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, and Mr. Imagination himself, among many others. Sure, Baltimore is blue-collar and can get rough, but that’s how former denizens like Edgar Allan Poe and John Waters liked it. Bolton Hill has fantastic 19th-century architecture, while Fells Point has diversity and great nightlife at places like Bertha’s, Ledbetters, and The Horse You Came In On. Baltimore ranks tenth in terms of walkability.

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Providence, RI

Providence is lucky number seven on the hipster list. This gorgeous city has a burgeoning art, nightclub and music scene downtown, in addition to the new, hip Dean Hotel, which used to be a brothel. The city’s west side has vegan cuisine at The Grange, music at the historic Columbus Theatre, and vintage fashion at Rocket to Mars. A large student population from Providence’s many universities makes this a great place for travelers to make friends from all over the world.

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© Alex Grichenko | PublicDomainPictures

Oakland, CA

Oakland is San Francisco’s punk-rock cousin, intent on being DIY while San Francisco goes silicon. All the artists and musicians who can’t afford San Francisco live in Oakland. That makes it an edgier but still relatively laid-back place, where you can find record stores and galleries, and later on go to a concert in a warehouse and meet hip people with a couch to crash on for the night. The Uptown District has plenty of cultural highlights, including Art Murmur, which hosts an evening art walk every first Friday of the month. There are movies at the historic Grand Lake Theatre, live concerts at the famous, newly restored Fox Theater, and while you’re downtown be sure to check out Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café, which is co-owned by Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt.

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Nashville, TN

Sixth on the Bohemian Index, Nashville has everything: country and bluegrass music history, rock music history, and a modern population of artists, musicians, and hipsters. East Nashville sports vintage clothing, farm-to-table restaurants, and coffee shops galore. Hillsboro Village has all the music culture you could ask for, including Music Row, along with affordable restaurants. Pangaea offer unique gifts, while music venue Exit/In attracts superb touring acts, such as Bon Iver. Nashville is a must for any eclectic nomad.

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Daniel Matthews is a freelance writer and musician from Boise, ID. You can find him on Twitter.