Top 10 Sunniest Cities in the United States
Those who live in sunny San Diego and elsewhere in Southern California likely assume they pay that sun tax for a reason. They assume they’re living in some of the sunniest cities in the United States, maybe even the world.
Southern California cities are certainly sunnier than most American cities in terms of average annual sunshine, particularly when the dreary winter months are considered. In fact, San Diego is still cited as one of the top cities to visit not only within the United States but around the world for those sunny skies.
But they’re still not at the top of the most sunny cities in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
San Diego sits at number 33 with average annual sunshine at 69 percent; you’ll find Los Angeles higher at number 18, with about 72 percent annual sunshine. They must have taken May Gray and June Gloom into effect.
So what are the top 10 sunniest cities in the U.S.? Let’s take a look, along with things you can do on a visit to any one of these sunny spots.
Note: Keep in mind that NOAA didn’t look at every single city in the United States. Yuma doesn’t appear on the list, for example, although it’s widely cited as the sunniest town in the United States.
1. Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix tops the list as the sunniest major city in the United States with sunny days an average of 85.8 percent of the time. More likely than not, your visit to this Arizona city will be a warm one. Get to know the desert flora at the Desert Botanical Garden, hit the boutiques and spas of nearby Scottsdale or choose a trail to explore at Papago Park. The most popular is the Hole-in-the-Rock trail, a short trip to scenic views.
If you’re driving and have time for a road trip, see one of the most impressive sights across the country, the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon National Park is just four hours north of Phoenix. While sunny skies are common even here, the canyon does get snow in the winter months, with sections of the park closed when inclement weather hits.
2. Tucson, Arizona
Less than two hours away from Phoenix, another Arizona city competes for sunniest city in the United States. Tucson boasts sunny days 85.7 percent of the time, making this desert getaway a great escape for some fun in the sun.
See giant cacti at Saguaro National Park—some of the biggest cacti in the park grow over 40 feet tall—and meet desert critters at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Downtown, the Hotel Congress is a popular stop for its connection to John Dillinger. This is where the infamous bank robber was captured for the first time in 1934. The city’s history is most apparent at Mission San Xavier del Bac, an adobe church built in the 1700s on this spot that’s just a short drive from downtown Tucson.
3. Las Vegas, Nevada
Sin City could also be Sun City as Las Vegas is third on the list of sunniest U.S. cities, with an average of 84.8 percent annual sunshine. Known for its nightlife, impressive buffets at themed hotels, live shows and casino culture, this Nevada city is underrated for all of the alternative activities available once you get off the Las Vegas Strip.
Find hidden art murals, see whether the Hoover Dam is as impressive as most claim and visit The Neon Museum where old Vegas signs go to retire. Less than an hour away, Valley of Fire State Park makes for a great day trip from Las Vegas for those interested in exploring sandstone formations and desert landscapes.
4. El Paso, Texas
Somewhat surprisingly, El Paso is the only Texas city on the list of top 10 sunniest cities in the U.S. El Paso boasts sunshine with an annual average of 83.7 percent of the time. As the Mexican border is less than 10 miles from the town, you’ll find quite a bit of Mexican influence in El Paso, from the food to the cultural sites.
Walk the El Paso Mission Trail, important not only to El Paso’s history but that of the United States. The Socorro Mission is located on one of the oldest roads in the country. Admire the Spanish colonial architecture of the Plaza Theatre in downtown El Paso. Get out of town and enjoy the landscapes in the region at Franklin Mountains State Park, 27,000 acres of trails that access the surrounding Franklin Mountains. Those are the peaks you’ll likely see from wherever you’re standing in El Paso.
5. Reno, Nevada
On top of being known as the “Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno is in the top five sunniest cities in the United States with an annual sunshine average of 81.5 percent. Despite the distance from Las Vegas, the country’s assumed gambling capital, Reno has a casino scene of its own. If you’re not interested in the card tables, explore the riverwalk district that winds its way along the Truckee River. You’ll find a variety of shops and eateries to choose from here, and locals enjoying the sunny weather.
Reno is also a popular tourist spot for its proximity to Lake Tahoe, both on the Nevada and California side. It’s often the budget-friendly option for those seeking to enjoy outdoor pursuits in and around Lake Tahoe. That can mean boating, hiking and sunbathing in the warm months and skiing in the winter.
6. Pueblo, Colorado
Pueblo is one of the smaller towns on the list, but finds its way here nonetheless thanks to its abundant sunshine. The Colorado town enjoys sunny days an annual average of 78.4 percent of the time. Pueblo was founded as an old trading post, so much of what you’ll see here is related to its past as a pioneer town.
Walk the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, a recent redevelopment project for the town that made this part of Pueblo more of a gathering place. Learn about the town’s important role in the steel industry at the Steelworks Museum. Embrace the town’s natural sites at Lake Pueblo and nearby San Isabel National Forest.
7. Sacramento, California
The sunniest city in California isn’t even in the southern end of the state. It’s the state capital, Sacramento, home to sunny days 77.2 percent of the time. The Northern California city doesn’t top the list of most California itineraries, but Sacramento’s history—on top of its sunny status—is reason enough to pay it a visit.
See Old Sacramento State Historic Park, a historic part of town that has been around since the Gold Rush days of the 1840s. Visit the Leland Stanford Mansion, the former historic home of the founder of Stanford University with impressive architectural details over 19,000 square feet. See where the state’s government operates with a tour of the Capitol Building, leaving time for the surrounding gardens. The trees outside are labeled, by the way, so make sure you find some of the region’s impressive redwoods.
8. Key West, Florida
Quirky Key West enjoys sunshine an average of 77.1 percent of the time, making it the sunniest city in Florida. Apart from the spectacular road trips to be had on a drive from Miami down the Florida Keys, Key West itself has lots to offer, on top of a deliciously diverse food scene.
Visit the Ernest Hemingway House to see where the famous author called home in the 1930s. Join the tourists in snapping a photo at the buoy marker for the Southernmost Point in the United States. Or just find a coffee shop or cocktail bar and do some of the best people-watching you’ll get in the state.
9. Flagstaff, Arizona
With an annual average of 76.8 percent sunshine, Flagstaff earns its top spot on the list of sunniest U.S. cities. Flagstaff’s proximity to Sedona—you can reach the scenic red rocks of Sedona in less than an hour—makes it a more budget-friendly alternative for those disinterested in high prices for accommodations in Sedona.
Flagstaff itself, though, has quite a bit to explore, especially if you’re interested in outdoor activities. Find that old headlamp for a climb into the Lava River Cave. See an extinct cinder cone, formed by years of volcanic activity, at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Explore historic cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument, once home to the Sinagua tribe.
10. Fresno, California
The central California city of Fresno is only the second California city on the list of sunniest cities in the U.S., with an annual sunshine average of 76.5 percent. Many pass through Fresno on their way to what many consider the state’s best park, Yosemite National Park. This city has plenty to keep visitors busy, though, if they have time to spare.
Tour the Forestiere Underground Gardens, a series of underground structures built by a Sicilian immigrant over the course of 40 years. Relax in the city’s green spaces of Woodward Regional Park and the Shinzen Japanese Garden, home to a regular population of peacocks. Head downtown to check out the city’s revitalization efforts over the last few years. You’ll see it in the new shops, eateries and live music performances that have become commonplace in the city center.
Most of the country's population lives in cities that don’t enjoy as much abundant sunshine as the top 10 sunniest cities in the United States. That only makes exploring these places that much more intriguing!
Written by Agnes Groonwald for Knockaround.