The 6 best cities in America for geeks
I’m a true geek.
I binge watch entire seasons of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” — more than once. I obsess over fun tech gadgets, like my dog-cam that tosses treats when I’m not home. I read comic books and even created my own teen superhero group in a novel I wrote. And I especially get excited about visiting cities where I know I’ll be surrounded by my people.
The term “geek” has changed a lot since I was a kid in the 1980s. Now, for me, it’s more of an affectionate term. I agree with the character Ben Wyatt on NBC’s “Park and Recreation,” who says: “Nerd culture is mainstream now. So when you use the word ‘nerd’ derogatorily, that means you’re the one that’s out of the Zeitgeist.”
These days, the world of geekdom not only produces some of the world’s most powerful and well-known people, from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin, it’s also part of a multibillion-dollar industry.
Harry Potter is a $25 billion franchise, and comic book movies are making a fortune at theaters. Last year, comic-book movies from the likes of Walt Disney’s Marvel Studios and Warner Bros.’s DC Comics made more than $4 billion in combined worldwide box office sales (led by “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” $880 million; “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” $863 million; and “Wonder Woman,” $821 million). This year, Marvel’s “Black Panther” has made $1.34 billion alone since its release in February.
The success of these films fuels the growth of comic-cons — festivals celebrating various aspects of geek culture — all over the world. It’s a geek trickle-down effect.
There are cities in America that are more geek-friendly than others. For instance, Chicago has nine comic book conventions a year, including the upcoming Wizard World in August.
Meanwhile, Washington D.C. has the most “Game of Thrones” viewers in the country (7.48 percent of the country, according to Nielsen) and is also one of the top 10 tech cities in America — another potential draw for geeks, who are at least stereotypically drawn to the tech industry.
After traveling to some of the geekiest cities in America and considering which have a high concentration of comic book shops and conventions, bookstores, geek-centric events and nerdy festivals, these six are the best cities to get your geek on — with free activities in each.
Not only is Chicago a magnet to architecture buffs and museum lovers, the Windy City has nine comic book conventions a year, including Wizard World and Anime Central. The mother lode of comic fans head to C2E2, the annual Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, which attracted 80,000 attendees last year and is the fourth biggest event in the city, according to Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism board. Every year in May, Chicago has a “free comic book day,” where local comic book stores offer free events, like Alleycat Comics doing giveaways.
You can still get your geek on at night, as the city is home to almost a dozen arcade bars that feature retro arcade games and pinball machines, the most for a major U.S. city. Other geeky and fun nightlife options include a bar with glow-in-the-dark ping pong tables and another, called WhirlyBall, with bumper cars. For a nighttime prowl around town, join the Expecto Bar Crawl, a Harry Potter-themed bar crawl where people dress as their favorite wizards and witches.
Rebel Force Radio, one of the most popular Star Wars podcasts, also often makes cameos at events in its hometown Chicago, which are free to attend.
The major industries in Washington D.C. are federal government, tech and education, reflecting a high level of book smarts and inner geek. Locals also love “Game of Thrones.” There were more viewers here (7.48 percent of households) than anywhere else in America, according to Thrillist.
Not only are the residents smart, so are visitors. Washington D.C.’s tourism infrastructure thrives on museums, American history and government-related attractions (like the U.S. Capitol), though geeks also take time to check out the Museum of Science Fiction.
The Library of Congress National Book Festival, an annual book festival that’s free to attend (this year it takes place September 1), was the city’s second most visited event last year with 85,000 attendees (Awesome Con, D.C.’s annual comic con, was fourth with 60,000 visitors).
Washington D.C. was one of the National Science Foundation’s top 10 geeky cities in 2010, and it remains geek-strong today.
New York City, New York
New York City is a dream city for geeks. It’s one of the top tech cities in America, home to dozens of comic book shops (including popular online retailer Midtown Comics), has 840 bookstores and almost 100 museums, and the annual New York Comic Con actually has a higher attendance than San Diego’s (200,000 versus San Diego’s 167,000 last year). The New York City Social Group on group events website Meetup is the largest in the world with 16,772 members who meet up in person for geeky, free events like a “Game of Thrones” trivia night and Badass Board Game Battle, where members play board games all night.
All year long, there are hundreds of geek-themed workshops (from robotics to science camps), even for kids, like Geek Forest in Brooklyn and RoboFun in Manhattan, where children can learn about engineering, coding and how to build robots.
N.Y.C. is also home to iconic movie set locations where you can recreate scenes from your favorite superhero and sci-fi movies, from “Spider-Man” to “The Dark Knight Rises”, as well as cult classics like “Ghostbusters.”
Providence, Rhode Island
Just second to Washington D.C., Rhode Island has a solid “Game of Thrones” fan base (6.40 percent of households). Providence, which Travel + Leisure voted as America’s geekiest city, is home to both Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design — one of the nation’s leading art and design schools.
The city’s biggest geek attraction is Waterfire, a free, public art installation where urns of wood are lit atop the waterway, like something you’d see in medieval times. Theater geeks will appreciate Providence’s underrated yet excellent theater scene, home to dozens of theaters and performance spaces, including The Players, “America’s oldest continuously running little theatre,” founded in 1909, according to its website. Providence Performing Art Center, opened in 1928, is also one of the oldest theaters in America.
Providence is home to the annual Rhode Island Comic Con and the annual Flickers’ Vortex Sci-Fi Fantasy & Horror Film Festival every October, while NecronomiCon Providence hosts the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.
Atlanta’s recent growth spurt in major industries, from film and TV production to tech, has made it a stomping ground for geeks. It’s one of the top 20 large cities for start-ups, according to WalletHub. There are more than 70 video game developer companies and eight comic and Sci-Fi conventions throughout the year, including Dragon Con, which attracts 80,000 people, and the free Atlanta Science Fiction and Fantasy Expo. You’ll also find some interesting conventions that are unique to Atlanta, like Southern-Fried Gaming Expo, which focuses solely on classic arcade games (more than 250 to play), and also includes live bands and pro wrestling.
In its ninth year, the annual Zombie Pub Crawl has almost 1,000 people dressed and made-up like zombies taking over the Virginia Highlands neighborhood, from 4 to 11 p.m. on July 28.
Also, there is the Center for Puppetry Arts, the largest organization in the U.S. dedicated to puppetry, where you can actually see your favorite Muppets, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock puppets on display and in interactive exhibits.
Home to Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, Seattle and its surrounding area is known as a top tech city, and it continues to attract out-of-town tech companies.
Seattle is big on literature, with nearly two dozen bookstores participating in Seattle Independence Bookstore Day (a free citywide event with speakers, live music, readings and more), more than a dozen comic book shops (including Golden Age Comics at Pike Place Market, one of the oldest comic book shops in the the country) and 843 coffee shops (the second largest in the U.S. per capita for coffee shops behind San Francisco) to curl up with a book (or iPad).
Washington state in general is in the top five states that search “Star Wars” the most on Google. And you can actually see costumes from that iconic sci-fi franchise (among other geek-centric exhibits, like “Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes”) at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (formerly Experience Music Project opened by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen). The museum is also home to permanent exhibits like “Fantasy Worlds of Myth and Magic” and a “Science Fiction & Fantasy Hall of Fame.”
Emerald City is also a leader in game development, as there are almost 100 game developer companies based in Seattle.
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