Cleanest Cities In America: Top 5 Pristine Places In The U.S., Per Experts

In the cleanest cities in America, smog is sorely lacking. Not every city can claim the infamy of dirtiest cities in America. Sure, clean cities don’t have air as thick as homemade gravy, they’re not covered in litter at every intersection, and they don’t smell like your neighbor’s baby’s diapers. But you can always head toward pristine places to get air practically approved of by Mr. Clean. So, we’ve compiled a list of the top five cleanest cities in America, according to experts.

Just how bad has it gotten? The Environmental Protection Agency reports that 64 percent of lakes, 44 percent of streams and 30 percent of the bay and estuarine areas are not clean enough for swimming or fishing in the U.S. Pollution like this is what “clean” cities don’t have as much of, and ranking formulas also consider living conditions, infrastructure and resident satisfaction as marks of cleanliness. Based on where your roots are planted, you might need some candles, pest control or a good water filtration system. 

Speaking of dirty cities … When you think of the cleanest cities in America, New York City probably isn’t one of them. Researchers at New York University found the NYC subway exposes riders to more air pollution than any other subway on the U.S. east coast. The research team measured air quality in stations during rush hours, and the NYC stations stood out (not in a good way). There were extremely high levels of hazardous metals and organic particles discovered with concentrations greater than outdoor air. In particular, the Christopher Street PATH train station showed air pollution 77 times greater than normal outdoor air similar to air near a forest fire or recent building demolition.

There’s no place like home? If you think staying in is the way to avoid pollution from surrounding cities and heavy road traffic, a study says think again. University of Colorado Boulder researchers say the average house is prone to “indoor air quality levels on par with a polluted major city.” Everyday activities like cooking and cleaning may be to blame. The authors also believe that chemicals found in common household substances are even seeping outdoors, creating more air pollution than cars and trucks do.

Warning: This list may make you want to book a vacation. Or, you could even make one of these destinations your office for a bit. A survey of remote workers found that 80 percent would consider working remotely from a vacation to extend their trip! So, where can you open your windows for some fresh air? We’ve found the consensus among experts on which five places are the cream of the industrial crop to put together this list of the cleanest cities in America. Let us know in the comments if you think we missed one! Ready to see where you should go next?

The List: Cleanest Cities in America, According To Experts

1. Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu tops the most lists as the cleanest city in the United States. You can expect to feel the sand between your toes without also finding a plastic bag hidden in between, too. 

According to The Healthy Journal, “Honolulu, Hawaii ranks first as the cleanest city in the U.S. Despite being the most fossil fuel-dependent state in the U.S., due to its reliance on tourism and the military, Hawaii is currently working to achieve 100% clean energy by 2045.”

Diamond Head, Honolulu seen from above
Diamond Head, Honolulu (Photo by Savannah Rohleder on Unsplash)

“The tropical paradise and the pearl of Hawaii-Honolulu is the 3rd cleanest city in the world. Being the capital of the islands, all the financial resources are concentrated in the capital. The place is not much inhabited and its maintenance is taken care by its vast tourism. No amount of garbage is tolerated here and it welcomes all tourists with open arms,” The Travel Team claims.

Bob Vila says, “Perhaps it doesn’t come as a surprise that Honolulu tops the American Lung Association’s cleanest cities list. Whether you live there or are just visiting, you can enjoy pristine beaches and fresh air. The tropical city and the state of Hawaii is committed to improving its green initiatives.”

2. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia is for lovers (of cleanliness)! WFIN writes, “The cleanest city in the country … is Virginia Beach, which ranked No. 149 on pollution and No. 132 on consumer satisfaction, according to the study. ‘For the second consecutive year, Virginia Beach, Virginia, outshines all other cities in our ranking,’ the study said.” 

Virginia Beach's shore at dusk
Virginia Beach’s shore at dusk (Photo by Daniel Halseth on Unsplash)

“The American Lung Association has released its annual report on air quality. And, a few Virginia cities have some of the cleanest air in the entire country. In fact, Virginia has four out of the 10 metro areas in the country ranked best for all three pollutants the report tracked – something … no other state can claim. And Virginia Beach [is] in that category,” WVTF reports.

“Virginia Beach was noted for the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita and for being one of the best cities in the nation for air quality,” writes Money Talks News. “It also averages 213 days of sun every year. With so many potential beach days, it makes sense to take pride in keeping things clean.”

3. Naples, Florida analyzed the U.S. and landed with Naples as the cleanest of all: “The cleanest city in our analysis, Naples, in southwest Florida, is famous as an ecotourism destination. Surrounded by natural reserves like the Everglades, Ten Thousand Islands, and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, it also has one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America. Collier County [which includes Naples] has more acres of protected lands than any other county in Florida … mostly due to the wetland characteristic of the Everglades … 110,000 acres of protected sanctuary.” 

Mediterra is all about the clean sandy beaches and waters: “Naples is the number one beach town to live in. One of the top reasons for such a ranking is the extremely clean sand and gulf waters. These pristine beaches bring tourists flocking all year round and have become world-famous as a high-class beach experience. These tourists only get a taste of what Naples residents enjoy each and every day.” 

With such clean beaches, you won’t have to worry about someone’s previous beach day garbage impacting your sandcastle building. 

ocean and birds
The ocean in Naples, Florida (Photo by Rebecca Cairns on Unsplash)

4. Long Beach, California

According to Forbes, a California city making this list is due to the state’s forward-thinking environmental legislation and regulations: “Long Beach, California, was named the cleanest city in America, scoring a strong 7.02 out of a possible 10. California’s performance was not a surprise due to its standard-setting programs when it comes to environmental legislation and sustainability regulations. For example, California released an ambitious set of rules that demands 15% of all new cars should be zero emissions by 2025 and innovative green housing legislation that requires new construction to use renewable building materials and reduced energy and water consumption.”

Global Traveler talks about what makes this Cali city rank highly in the clean category: “Travel insurance comparison site InsureMyTrip ranked the best and worst U.S. cities for cleanliness, and Long Beach, California, is No. 1, rated the cleanest U.S. city. InsureMyTrip examined city- and state-level data on key categories, including hand sanitizer demand, restaurant cleanliness, quantity of recycling collectors, garbage disposal satisfaction, electric vehicle market share and pollution.” 

view of marina
A harbor in Long Beach (Photo by Ameer Basheer on Unsplash)

5. Norfolk, Virginia 

What makes Norfolk steal the last spot on the list? MoneyTalksNews says it’s a community effort: “Norfolk was one of the best cities for air quality and had the most people satisfied with their garbage disposal in LawnStarter’s study. One likely contributing factor is the city’s Keep Norfolk Beautiful initiative to ‘reduce litter, recycle right, and beautify Norfolk through education and volunteerism.’ That includes things like community cleanup days and free cigarette receptacles for businesses.” 

“Tied for the best air quality, Norfolk is officially the cleanest city in the nation. But its ranking as the city with the third-highest level of resident satisfaction is not just because of the air quality — residents are also extremely satisfied with garbage disposal in the city,” Cheapism claims. 

building in Norfolk
Downtown Norfolk (Photo by Kevin Dunlap on Unsplash)

By taking inspiration from these cities, perhaps other cities in the U.S. can work toward creating a cleaner future. After all, there is no Planet B. And no one really enjoys a deep breath of car exhaust. 

You might also be interested in:


Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This post may contain affiliate links.