Best American Riverfront (2014)


After voting closed on the USA TODAY 10Best Readers' Choice contest for Best American Riverfront, fans of Wilmington, N.C. no doubt breathed a huge sigh of relief.  They waged a tight but winning battle against Spokane, Washington for the top spot and landed the #1 slot after a frenzied weekend of voting.   

Beautiful Wilmington lies on the eastern shore of the Cape Fear river, which winds up into easternmost North Carolina from the Atlantic Ocean adjacent to Bald Head Island.  Because Wilmington is associated with the many barrier island destinations for which it serves as a gateway - Wrightsville Beach chief among them - the public often forgets it's actually a river city. 

Spokane, in far eastern Washington, sits on the Spokane River, and offers residents and visitors a large riverfront park in the heart of downtown.

The full list of winners for Best American Riverfront is as follows:  

  • Wilmington, N.C.

    Wilmington, N.C.

    Located along the Cape Fear River, Wilmington's riverfront is home to a colorful Riverwalk lined with more than 200 cafes, bars and shops. Just across the river, history buffs can tour the moored battleship USS North Carolina. The annual Riverfest each October brings hundreds of craft and food vendors to the riverfront for three days of live music, fireworks, a mock pirate invasion and a standup paddle race.
    Photo courtesy of Wilmington and Beaches CVB

  • Spokane, Wash.

    Spokane, Wash.

    The Spokane River passes through the town of Spokane in spectacular fashion - the Spokane Falls in Riverfront Park are the second largest urban waterfalls in the country. A series of footbridges and viewing platforms allow visitors to view the upper and lower falls from nearly every angle, but the best views come from above aboard the SkyRide Over the Falls.
    Photo courtesy of Alan Bisson/Visit Spokane

  • Davenport, Iowa

    Davenport, Iowa

    Downtown Davenport, Iowa hugs the banks of the Mighty Mississippi on a unique stretch of the river where the water flows East to West. The city is in the process of realizing its already award-winning RiverVision Plan, which includes several waterfront parks, a shell stage for festivals and concerts, a skateboarding park and the colorful LED-lit Skybridge. Modern Woodman Park, home of the minor league Quad Cities River Bandits, also sits along the waterfront.
    Photo courtesy of Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Dubuque, Iowa

    Dubuque, Iowa

    The riverfront of Dubuque, Iowa features a new riverwalk, the Alliant Energy amphitheater and River's Edge Plaza, a launching point for boat excursions on the Mississippi River. At the Smithsonian-affiliated National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, visitors get up close with alligators, snapping turtles and other river life through a series of interactive exhibits. Events on the riverfront include the Dubuque Dragon Boat Festival and America's River Festival.
    Photo courtesy of DMichael Burns

  • Pittsburgh


    Pittsburgh's ambitious Three Rivers Park, a 13-mile loop of of riverfront parks and trails, is over two thirds complete, with areas like Monongahela Wharf Landing, North Shore Riverfront Park, the Point State Park Fountain, South Shore Riverfront Park, Washington's Landing and the Riverhounds Stadium already complete. The Allegheny Riverfront Green Boulevard, a mixed use development with riverfront access, is currently underway.
    Photo courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto/iStock

  • Louisville, Ky.

    Louisville, Ky.

    Since 1986, Louisville's frontage along the Ohio River has undergone quite the renaissance with the introduction of the 85-acre Waterfront Park, an expanse of picnic areas, walking paths and sprawling green spaces. In spring and summer, the park hosts Thunder Over Louisville and the Fifth Third Waterfront Independence Festival. RiverPark Place, Louisville's newest waterside development, aims to be a mixed-use development with restaurants, shopping and the largest marina on the Ohio River.
    Photo courtesy of Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Chattanooga, Tenn.

    Chattanooga, Tenn.

    Chattanooga has poured millions into its riverfront redevelopment in recent years, and now the district paralleling the Tennessee River is home to some of the city's top attractions, like the Tennessee Aquarium. With pedestrian-only Walnut Street Bridge at its heart, the Chattanooga riverfront district offers a venue for myriad outdoor activities and plays host to festivals throughout the year, including the Wine Over Water wine festival and the popular RiverRocks Adventure Sports Games.
    Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Savannah, Ga.

    Savannah, Ga.

    Located along the Savannah River, River Street with its centuries old buildings and former cotton warehouses has become Savannah's entertainment hotspots. By day, visitors duck in and out of its galleries and boutiques or board vessels cruising the river. At night, some of the city's top brew pubs and restaurants welcome visitors looking for refreshment before or after strolling the waterfront promenade.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Savannah

  • Detroit


    The riverfront redevelopment in Detroit, a city with 14 miles of shoreline along the Detroit River, is one of the city's most exciting initiatives. Stretching for 5.5 miles from the Ambassador Bridge to the Bell Isle Bridge, the Detroit International RiverWalk includes a cruise terminal, marina, several parks, restaurants, shops and hotels. In warmer months, the riverfront parks play host to festivals and community literacy and fitness programs.
    Photo courtesy of Vito Palmissano

  • Richmond, Va.

    Richmond, Va.

    Extending for over a mile along the James River canal, Richmond's Riverfront Canal Walk takes visitors on a 400-year journey through the city's history through a collection of placards, statues and exhibits. The James River Park System comprises 550-acres of pristine wilderness areas and nature trails, easily accessible from the heart of the city.
    Photo courtesy of / Richmond Sports Backers

  1. Wilmington, N.C.
  2. Spokane, Wash.
  3. Davenport, Iowa
  4. Dubuque, Iowa
  5. Pittsburgh
  6. Louisville, Ky.
  7. Chattanooga, Tenn.
  8. Savannah, Ga.
  9. Detroit, Mich
  10. Richmond, Va.

Congratulations to ALL our winners.   Readers of USA TODAY and 10Best came out in droves for this vote, so the honor is particularly sweet.   For those looking for an urban getaway, we happily remind you to consider whether a river runs through it.  

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