The United States can be divided into five different geographical regions, and of these, the Western US is the largest. It extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Midwestern US and stretches north to Canada and south to Mexico. It encompasses mountains, deserts, forests, a tropical island, 13 states, and a number of major cities.
In this post, we’ll look at the 20 largest cities in the Western US. We’ll learn how each is unique by taking a look at demographic data, tourist sites, and anything else that’s noteworthy.
2023 population estimates are based on data from the 2020 US Census.
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20. Honolulu, Hawaii
2023 population estimate: 355,077
Located on the island of Oʻahu, Honolulu is the capital and largest city in the state of Hawaii. It’s also the only island city on this list, and its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean makes it the westernmost and southernmost major city in the US.
In Hawaiian, Honolulu means “sheltered harbor,” and it is where Pearl Harbor, the US Military Base that was attacked in 1941, is located. Other famous sites in this Hawaiian city are Waikiki Beach and Iolani Palace, the home of the Kalakaua Dynasty.
19. Aurora, Colorado
2023 population estimate: 404,615
The 19th-largest city in the Western US is Aurora, which is the third largest in the state of Colorado. It’s located in three Coloradoan counties — Arapahoe, Adams, and Douglas — and is one of the main cities in the Denver–Aurora–Lakewood Metropolitan Statistical Area.
The land on which Aurora is located was inhabited by the Arapahoe, Cheyenne, and Sioux tribes, among others. It became a city in 1880 under the name Fletcher and assumed its current name in 1907.
Some of the things to do in Aurora include visiting the Aurora History Museum, spending time in one of the city’s 100+ parks, or taking advantage of its golf courses.
18. Bakersfield, California
2023 population estimate: 420,246
California tops the list of the most populous states of the USA, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Bakersfield is just the first of nine Californian cities on this list. Bakersfield is located in the southern part of the Central Valley region of California and is the 48th largest city in the US.
The two main economic activities in Bakersfield are agriculture and oil production, for which the city is a regional hub. Bakersfield is also known for being the birthplace of its very own country music subgenre: the Bakersfield sound.
17. Oakland, California
2023 population estimate: 455,622
Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, the city of Oakland was incorporated in 1852 and is home to the fifth-busiest port in the US. It’s also recognized for being a major center of arts in the US — there are more than 50 art galleries in the city.
In addition to art galleries, visitors to Oakland may be interested in learning more about the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary political organization formed in the city in 1966. Natural attractions in the city include Lake Merritt and the Redwood Regional Park.
16. Long Beach, California
2023 population estimate: 468,086
Like Oakland, Long Beach is a city with a high-traffic port located in the state of California. By the time Spanish explorers arrived at the site of the present-day city in the 16th century, the indigenous Tongva people had already established three major settlements in the area. Long Beach was incorporated as a city in 1897.
Today, Long Beach is known for its beaches (no surprise there) and other waterfront attractions like the Aquarium of the Pacific, the docked RMS Queen Mary, and the Long Beach Museum of Art.
15. Colorado Springs, Colorado
2023 population estimate: 497,720
Located 70 miles (113 km) south of the state capital, Colorado Springs is the second-most populous city in Colorado. It’s located near the base of Pikes Peak, one of the highest mountains in the Rocky Mountain range, at an elevation of 6,035 feet (1,839 m) above sea level. This makes it the largest city north of Mexico above 6,000 feet.
The attractions for visitors in Colorado are varied. Stunning natural beauty is on offer at the Garden of the Gods, with its hiking trails and sandstone rock formations, or you can visit the Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Museum if vintage motorcycles are more appealing.
14. Mesa, Arizona
2023 population estimate: 523,824
Mesa, Arizona is the third-largest city in Arizona after Phoenix and Tucson. It can be found about 20 miles (32.2 km) east of Phoenix and covers a wide area of 140 square miles (362.3 km2). In one study, it was described as the most politically conservative city in America. There are more than 10 higher education institutions in Mesa, at which more than 40,000 students are enrolled.
Things to do and places to see in Mesa, Arizona include the Arizona Museum of Natural History, the Mesa Arts Center, and the Mesa Grande Cultural Park. Golfing is also a popular activity for people visiting the city.
13. Sacramento, California
2023 population estimate: 542,481
With a name that means “sacrament” in Spanish, the city of Sacramento is the capital of California. It’s located where the Sacramento and American rivers meet in the Sacramento Valley in Northern California. As the cultural and economic center of the Greater Sacramento area, it was the fastest-growing major city in California in 2017.
A visit to the Old Sacramento Historic Park is a must for anyone interested in the city’s history. It contains the city’s business district from the 1850s and has been a National Historic Landmark since 1965.
12. Tucson, Arizona
2023 population estimate: 549,382
With both mountains and desert within striking distance, the city of Tucson is known for its access to natural beauty. Maybe this is why the area has been inhabited for up to 12,000 years. Some of the indigenous tribes that have lived on these lands and are still active are the Tohono O’odham and Pascua Yaqui.
Tucson is home to the University of Arizona, which became the first university in the Arizona Territory in 1885. Some of the best destinations in Tucson for nature lovers are the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Sabino Canyon.
11. Fresno, California
2023 population estimate: 556,339
Located near the geographic center of California, Fresno ranks 11 on this list of the 20 largest cities in the Western US. Surrounded by one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the world, Fresno is known for its agriculture industry, and the presence of California State University also makes it a regional center for education and research.
One unique site in Fresno is the Forestiere Underground Gardens, which consist of rooms and gardens carved out of the earth underneath the Sonoran Desert. It’s been listed one the National Register of Historic Places since 1977.
10. Albuquerque, New Mexico
2023 population estimate: 570,172
The 32nd-largest city in the US and the largest in the state of New Mexico, Albuquerque is located along the Rio Grande in the central part of the state. Its location in a high desert region and its proximity to the Sandia Mountains both contrast with the urban landscape, giving the city a unique natural beauty.
Situated on land that was previously inhabited by Navajo, Apache, and Comanche peoples, Albuquerque is now known for being the home of the University of New Mexico and for hosting events like the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and the Gathering of Nations powwow.
9. Las Vegas, Nevada
2023 population estimate: 659,348
Sometimes referred to as the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” Las Vegas is one of the most iconic cities on the planet for the extravagant casinos and resorts that line the Las Vegas Strip. Unrivaled entertainment options and the city’s annually warm climate make it a popular destination for visitors at all times of the year.
Ancient Puebloan and Paiute tribes were settled in the area of modern-day Las Vegas at least 2,000 years ago, and the first non-Native American to arrive in the area is thought to be Mexican Rafael Rivera. The city of Las Vegas was founded in 1905.
8. Portland, Oregon
2023 population estimate: 673,122
After Seattle, Portland is the second-most populous city in the Pacific Northwest and the largest in Oregon. The area had been inhabited for centuries by the Multnomah and Clackamas tribes of the Chinook people. Pioneer settlers began arriving in 1840, and the city was founded in 1845.
Portland is known for scenic views of nature available from the city, some of which include Mount Hood, the second-most climbed mountain in the world. The city also features plenty of green spaces like Forest Park, the largest urban wilderness park in the US, and Mill Ends Park, the smallest in the world.
7. Denver, Colorado
2023 population estimate: 750,130
Nicknamed the “Mile High City” with its official elevation of exactly one mile, Denver is the capital and most populous city in Colorado. The Rocky Mountains are visible from many parts of the city and lend to its reputation as a city surrounded by natural beauty. Outdoor activities like skiing and hiking are easily accessible from Denver.
There is plenty to do in Denver in addition to outdoor activities. The Denver Art Museum, for one, offers a world-class art experience and offers creative classes. A visit to the Denver Performing Arts Complex, one of the largest in the country, also promises to impress.
6. Seattle, Washington
2023 population estimate: 775,523
Located 100 miles (160 km) south of the Canadian border, Seattle is the northernmost major city in the US and the largest in the Pacific Northwest region. The city is a major hub for the tech industry, hosting the headquarters of major companies like Amazon and Microsoft. It is also surrounded by water, mountains, and forest.
Seattle’s name comes from Chief Si’ahl of the local Duwamish and Suquamish tribes; the city was inhabited by Native Americans for at least 4,000 years before permanent European settlements.
The most iconic Seattle building is the Space Needle, which was introduced at the 1962 World’s Fair.
5. San Francisco, California
2023 population estimate: 894,584
The fifth-largest city in the Western US is San Francisco, located in Northern California. The city is known as the commercial, cultural, and financial center of the region and is home to several of the largest companies in the world. This is the second-most densely populated city in the US after New York City.
There are several iconic landmarks in San Francisco, such as Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the Painted Ladies. The city also has a history as a center of liberal activism in the US.
4. San Jose, California
2023 population estimate: 1,033,430
San Jose is the third-largest city in California and lies at the center of Silicon Valley, a region that serves as a global hub for high technology and innovation. Along with San Francisco and Oakland, San Jose is in the Bay Area of California and has access to nearby parks and hiking trails.
Some of the attractions for visitors in San Jose include the Tech Museum of Innovation, the San Jose Museum of Art, and the Winchester Mystery House.
3. San Diego, California
2023 population estimate: 1,410,791
San Diego is the third-largest city in the Western US and is located in Southern California, adjacent to the US-Mexico border. The city is known for its warm, Mediterranean climate, natural deep-water harbor, beaches, and parks. Its economy is largely based on the defense/military industry, tourism, and manufacturing.
One of the top things to do while visiting San Diego is head over to the city’s Balboa Park, which covers 1,200 acres, includes 18 museums, and plenty of other attractions.
2. Phoenix, Arizona
2023 population estimate: 1,656,892
As the capital and largest city in Arizona, Phoenix claims the second spot on this list of the largest cities in the Western US. It’s also the most populous state capital in the US. The area of the city was originally inhabited by the Hohokam people, who made the land arable with an advanced system of canals despite the hot desert climate.
One of the most popular activities for tourists in Phoenix is golfing at one of the city’s courses — there are around 200! You can also visit the Phoenix Musical Instrument Museum for a cultural experience.
1. Los Angeles, California
2023 population estimate: 3,930,586
The largest city in the Western US is Los Angeles in California. This massive city is also the second-largest in the entire country, with a 2023 population nearing 4 million. The city is famous for its role as a global center for entertainment, fashion, and culture. It’s home to the Hollywood film industry, and the city’s warm climate makes it a popular tourist destination all year long.
For art lovers visiting the “City of Angels,” a stop at the Getty Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will provide many hours of masterpiece-gazing. Other popular attractions include the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the TCL Chinese Theater, Universal Studios, and more.