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The Biggest American Place You’ve Never Been

I’m still too groggy to tackle anything cerebral in this space (and it’s uncouth to let your nose drip down into your expensive buckling-spring keyboard) but this self-directed question came up while I was pondering the life I had documented versus the life I remembered: What was the largest American city I had never set foot in?

My guess going in was Minneapolis/St. Paul, but I was wrong, and wrong by a lot. Working from this list of the largest American cities by population, I discovered that the most populous American city I had never visited was…Jacksonville, Florida.


Jacksonville is not only larger than either Minneapolis or St. Paul, it’s larger than both of them put together, by almost 150,000 people. I didn’t know that. Nor did I think that Indianapolis was as big as it is (800,000) nor Pittsburgh as small (310,000).

My top three were Jacksonville, Memphis, and El Paso, assuming you don’t treat Minneapolis and St. Paul as a unit. (In practical terms, most people do.) If you do consider them as a unit, the Twin Cities come in third, narrowly ahead of El Paso. Of the top 100 cities listed, I had visited 66. I guess I’m not as much of a hermit as I thought I was, though I’ll admit it took me 57 years to get there.

It’s an interesting exercise, and if any of you are inclined to do the test yourself, I’d be interested in seeing your results in the comments. Now I need to pop another decongestant and lie down again, so that I can get back to real work (of which there is much) tomorrow.


  1. Erbo says:

    Well, I don’t get around nearly as much as you…I only managed 25 of the top 100, and that’s also counting places I’ve only driven through (or, in one case, had a flight layover in). My top 3? NYC, Houston, and Phoenix. (Chicago would have made the top 3, but I knocked that off on the Grand Adventure last year, visiting our friends in Waukegan.)

    1. I count a city even if I’ve just driven through it, though I rarely just drive through a big city without getting off the interstate and looking around a little. You’re quite a bit younger than I am, so give yourself some time to catch up.

      Carol and I will probably go to Jacksonville someday, because she did her PT training at the Mayo Clinic and there are regular conferences at major Mayo facilities, including the one in Jacksonville. Certain other towns like El Paso, well, I’m in no particular hurry to see.

  2. Bob Fegert says:

    If you combine Minneapolis/St. Paul you should also combine Juarez/El Paso.

    Seen from the air they are just one large city, the only demarcation is the pitiful stream called the Rio Grand.

    El Paso=700,000

    So Juarez/El Paso is pretty big.

  3. Bob Fegert says:

    “Certain other towns like El Paso, well, Iā€™m in no particular hurry to see.”

    You are a wise man šŸ™‚

  4. Rich, N8UX says:

    Another interesting observation is the cities that have experienced the least (or most negative) population growth. On my list, Akron, Ohio wins hands down. Lived there for 13 years and saw the rise and fall of industry, jobs, and everything else.

    Then there’s Detroit, but I’ve never been there (that I can remember)…R

  5. Bob Halloran says:

    Since I live in Jacksonville (since ’91), I can fill in a bit: in the late 60’s they merged the city and county governments, so “City of Jacksonville” includes all of the county except for the beachfront barrier-island communities (Atlantic/Neptune/Jacksonville Beach). It also makes it the geographically largest city in the US. Adding in the surrounding counties takes the headcount from around 800K in the city proper to around 1.3M for the Jax metro.

    The Mayo facility here is just off the Intracoastal Waterway, and about 5 minutes from the beach.

  6. Chuck Waggoner says:

    I did not think I had visited that many big cities, but it turns out San Antonio (#7) is the largest I have never visited, then I’m good down to Austin (#15), then down to Las Vegas (#28) and Portland, OR (#29) (been to Portland, ME many times and in New England, a mention of Portland means Maine). Then it is hit and miss from there on.

    Actually, I am shocked that I have been to so many big cities, because I do not think of myself as much of a traveler. But between vacation trips with parents while growing up, an affection for California where my wife grew up, a trip across the country while in college, and travel for business, I have hit a surprising number of the big ones.

    I am more familiar with TV market size, which has more to do with signal strength and coverage area than true city population. When I started working in Indianapolis, it was TV market 12, then fell to 14. I moved to St. Paul-Minneapolis (most of the TV stations were licensed first to St. Paul and identified it first, before Minneapolis) which was market 12 and I was back to the size I started in. Then on to Chicago, which at that time was market #2, but fell to #3 behind LA while I was there (due to a change in market size that occurred because cable TV extended TV reach and made LA a larger market than Chicago).

    Meanwhile, I see

    Indianapolis has fallen to TV market #24, and St. Paul-Minneapolis to #14. When I left Chicago for Boston, Boston was #6, but has now fallen to #8. Philly was right behind Boston, but now has moved up to #5. Boston lost a lot of people in their tech decline of the late ’80’s, when DEC, Lotus, Prime, and some of the big medical technology and publishing companies hit hard times back then. I do not think Boston has ever really recovered from that.

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