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Bridging the Gap: Best and Worst U.S. Cities for Third Places

When we all clock out from work, where do we go?

For many remote workers, that might be nowhere. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, activities that once required going to another place can often be done with only a Wi-Fi connection. In addition to working from home, people can socialize, work out, shop, eat food from restaurants, shop for groceries, and even order alcohol without stepping outside the front door. 

As more workers have retreated from pre-pandemic life, so have “third places”—social environments that are distinct from the two usual social environments of home (“first place”) and work (“second place”). 

Popularized by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book The Great Good Place, third places are where folks go for relaxation, socialization, and leisure, such as coffee shops, restaurants, bars, gyms, religious and cultural centers, bookstores, parks, libraries, and co-working spaces, and they are essential for community building and fostering broader, more creative interaction. But even more than that, they’re “where everybody knows your name.” 

Why it matters: Third places contribute to our overall well-being by helping us form our social identities outside the home and the workplace. As such, they’re especially crucial for navigating our current epidemic of loneliness that was declared by the US Surgeon General in 2023. Loneliness, as it turns out, is as dangerous as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, according to the US Surgeon General’s report. 

While remote work has its perks for both employees and employers, the loss of spontaneous interactions with diverse individuals and exposure to unique viewpoints may also hurt personal and professional development as well as well-being simply because it enables people to leave their homes less often. On the other hand, ample access to third places may mitigate these adverse effects.   

So, what is the state of third places in America?   

Key Findings 

  • 72% of Americans agree that third places foster a sense of community and social engagement
  • Americans are split on whether virtual spaces offer similar platforms for discussion, networking, and shared interest groups as third places: 37% agree, 38% disagree, and 25% neutral. 
  • The most frequently visited third places are typically small businesses, such as restaurants and bars (36%) and coffee shops (23%). 
  • A comfortable, welcoming ambiance is the most important quality of a third place, according to 32% of Americans. 
  • Cities with the Least Third Places: Memphis, TN; Milwaukee, MN; Hartford, CT; Cleveland, OH; and New Orleans, LA 
  • Cities with the Most Third Places: New York City, NY; Dallas, TX; Atlanta, GA; San Diego, CA; and Los Angeles, CA

We surveyed 3,000 Americans to better understand where people are the most and least satisfied with their third places, what they need from third places, and why they value them. We also evaluated 50 of the largest US cities by population to determine the best options for third places by considering the availability of co-working venues and internet connectivity, regularity of community events, and the environment and value of premier co-working spaces. The highest possible score was 250, with each category worth 50 points. 

Where Are Third Places Lacking in the US? 

Knowing how crucial third places are to communities, we wanted to know which cities could benefit most from gaining more. 

the worst cities for third places in the US


Memphis, TN scores the lowest with 73 out of 250, followed by Milwaukee, WI (75); Hartford, CT (81); Cleveland, OH (83); and New Orleans, LA (84). Due to the lower number, remote workers may find it challenging to access more vibrant social environments in these cities, which may also indicate experiencing more feelings of isolation and disconnection. 

Additionally, remote workers in these areas may have fewer chances to network and socialize away from home and in virtual work environments. These cities have the most opportunities to engage their communities and improve their locals’ quality of life.

What Do Americans Need Out of Third Places? 

With so many cities lacking third places, 35% of Americans are dissatisfied with the third places in their cities, and 18% are neutral, so some people still need more meaningful ways to engage with their communities. Initiatives such as community activities, curated events, special promotions, partnerships, and branded merchandise could enrich their experiences of third places and cater to more diverse populations. 

The cities that may benefit most from those initiatives are Milwaukee, WI; Virginia Beach, VA; Washington, D.C.; San Antonio, TX; and San Diego, CA, as they have the most dissatisfied Americans. As we’ll learn, however, both the quality and quantity of third places play a large factor in how Americans feel about their communities. 

According to 32% of Americans, a comfortable, welcoming ambiance is the most important quality of a third place. This statistic underscores the idea that, regardless of the specific setting, people want to feel accepted and included wherever they spend their time, whether that’s their favorite pub, bookstore, fitness studio, café, or coworking space. After all, third places are, by definition, meant to be accessible and feel like a home away from home.  

Ambiance, however, can hardly be replicated in a virtual space, and perhaps that’s why Americans are relatively split on whether virtual spaces offer similar platforms for discussion, networking, and shared interest groups as third places. Thirty-seven percent agree that virtual spaces offer similar benefits, 38% disagree, and 25% are neutral. 

Virtual spaces, like remote work, have their benefits, such as increased connection for long-distance relationships, a wider range of communities and support networks, a layer of security for people seeking support for personal struggles, and an even wider pool for networking. 

And yet, for others, the physical environment is irreplaceable. These hubs can also serve as places to get indirect social interaction and simply enjoy an activity in the presence of like-minded folks. Even with the benefits of virtual spaces, the appeal of and desire for physical third places persists. 

With third places, we can maintain connections in our lives outside of work and home. As of 2018, even before the pandemic, only 16% of Americans report feeling very attached to their local community. However, a renewed investment in third places, especially for remote workers and small businesses, could help.

The Best US Cities for Third Places, Ranked 

So, which cities are best set up to engage communities and increase social connection?

the best cities for third places in the US

It may come as no surprise that New York City, NY scores the highest with 194 out of 250, followed closely by Dallas, TX (188); Atlanta, GA (179); San Diego, CA (177); and Los Angeles, CA (177). These cities boast an abundance of third places that everyone, especially remote workers, can enjoy. 

New York City truly reigns supreme with such a high score, and 72% of respondents in the largest city in the US are also satisfied with the third places available to them. In this case, New York City’s high score shows that abundant venues can ensure everyone finds the right place for themselves. 

When it comes to remote work specifically, Los Angeles, Manhattan, and Dallas had the highest number of coworking spaces in 2023, according to a report from Coworking Cafe. The volume of coworking spaces makes third places more accessible for remote workers and can increase their likelihood of using them. 

Interestingly, while San Diego may have many third places to choose from, it also ranked as having some of the most dissatisfied locals, with 33% reporting being dissatisfied. This further signals that the quantity may only sometimes indicate higher community engagement. These cities and their locals are already situated to pioneer and steward a renewed investment in third places, but engaging with the community in meaningful ways is just as crucial. 

Why Do We Care About Third Places? 

An overwhelming 72% of Americans agree that third places foster community and social engagement, which further cements their profound impact on our collective well-being. Even if Americans feel disconnected from their communities, there is clearly still a desire for spaces that catalyze meaningful connections and foster a sense of belonging.

Third places aren’t just for adults and remote workers, either—they’re also significant to students. 

“When young people interact with different perspectives, they broaden their critical thinking skills and develop new feelings of empathy,” says middle school teacher and education resource creator Erin Beers.

“Neighbors, coaches, senior citizens, and peers all present information in unique ways, offering various approaches to solving everyday problems. Simply hearing these unique viewpoints gives students more experiences to draw from in order to tackle challenges more creatively and effectively.”

Third places are valuable at any stage in life, but this is especially true since the pandemic. For most Americans, third places fulfill a primary purpose of relaxation (72%) and socializing (20%), which may indicate that people primarily seek out third places for some much-needed respite from the stresses of daily life. For remote workers, this may mean taking work to a cafe patio and checking in with their favorite baristas or meeting up with coworkers in a coworking space to brainstorm. 

The most frequently visited third places are restaurants and bars (36%) and coffee shops (23%), making small businesses the big winners for potential engagement. Eating together is arguably one of the easiest and most common ways to connect and socialize with one another (think first dates, family dinners, sampling local cuisine when traveling). However, small businesses came out on top in general, and their ties to locals give them the best opportunity to turn their livelihoods into beloved community spaces. 

Small businesses and remote companies can spark the feeling of a third place by hosting community events, partnerships, and branded apparel. Companies can partner with local businesses to incentivize their workers to use their spaces and pay for their goods. Branded apparel can also benefit remote companies, their workers, and small businesses with a tangible representation of community and brand visibility. 

The flexibility of remote work and the versatility of third places may actually allow folks to enjoy third places more often if we all had more access to them, making this a win-win-win for well-being, community, and productivity. 


Third places play a pivotal role in shaping our overall well-being and fostering a sense of belonging and community. Small businesses, in particular, serve as vital third places that extend far beyond their roles in our economy and provide spaces for relaxation, connection, and community engagement. As remote work continues to reshape work culture, it’s become more crucial than ever to find new ways to stay connected and form new connections. 

Third places offer a unique opportunity for local businesses and remote work to unite and ensure that remote workers feel supported and connected despite the absence of traditional office environments. Through initiatives like company gifting, branded merchandise, community events, and partnerships, remote companies and small businesses alike can benefit from the inclusive, accessible, and vibrant rewards that third places have to offer.    


We determined the final ranking for cities offering the best third-place options to remote workers by generating scores for the 50 largest cities in the US. This is based on the availability of third-place options, including co-working spaces, coffee shops, and libraries; internet connectivity, availability, and cost; the rated environment and value of the main third-place locations (top co-working spaces in the country; the variety and frequency of community activities targeting remote workers and the overall quality of life in each city. 

The survey was conducted in January 2024 and targeted a sample size of 3,000 Americans with a median age of 35, with 54% identifying as women, 44% identifying as men, and 2% identifying as other. 


Stephanie Self loves to tell stories and expose new perspectives through writing. When she's not typing on a laptop or buried in a book, she loves watching horror movies and pro wrestling, playing video games, and snuggling with her cat, CleoCatra. Lest you should think she never sees the light of day, she also spends time practicing hot yoga, hiking, and traveling.

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