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15 of the Oldest Cities in the United States

 America is often referred to as the melting pot of cultures, and taking even a quick look at the early history of the United States immediately shows you why that is the case. In these early years when the first European settlers just starting arriving into the land of opportunity, modern American metropolitan cities like New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and San Antonio were nothing but tiny settlements belonging to different countries. With time, these settlements have evolved and united, becoming the historical and cultural hubs we recognize today. To explore this rich, unique, and often complicated history of America, we offer you a countdown of 15 of the oldest cities in the US.

15. San Francisco, California (1776)

oldest US cities San Francisco, California
The Golden Gate Bridge (finished in 1937)
The city of San Francisco is among the oldest metropolitan cities in the United States, having its roots in a mission known as Mission San Francisco de Asís established by Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza in 1776. The original adobe structure of the mission survives to this day, being the oldest building in City by the Bay. This first settlement in the Golden Gate bay was rather small, but the California Gold Rush brought in thousands of new inhabitants, rendering 'the Fog City' among the largest cities on the west coast.

14. Savannah, Georgia (1773)

oldest US cities Savannah, Georgia
Historic Downtown Buildings in Savannah, GA
In 1733, English General James Oglethorpe and 120 passengers reached the Savannah River, founding the colony of Georgia, named after the English King George II. Savannah was the first major settlement in Georgia, subsequently becoming the state capital and a major port. Savannah is known for its thought out city plan and beautiful architecture.

13. New Orleans, Louisiana (1718)

oldest US cities New Orleans, Louisiana
Jackson Square in the French Quarter of New Orleans (1721)
The birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, was founded in 1718 by French explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. Named after the French city Orléans, it was first known under the name Nouvelle-Orleans. The French influence on the city can be seen to this day through the numerous architectural gems built while the city was a French colony. For centuries, the city has been a major cultural hub in North America, despite the many natural disasters brought about by the city's somewhat unfavorable geographical location.

12. San Antonio, Texas (1717)

oldest US cities
Mission San Jose (1768) in San Antonio, TX Image Source: Katie Haugland Bowen/ Flickr
San Antonio is the 7th largest city in terms of population in the United States, and many know that the settlement has a long standing history. The first European visit to the area was in 1709 by Father Antonio de Olivares, who decided to build a mission in the area. With the help of the local Payaya Indians, Olivares and other Spanish settlers built the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar, the Acequia Madre de Valero, and most importantly - the famous Misión de San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo), a UNESCO world heritage site today.

11. Mobile, Alabama (1702)

oldest US cities Mobile, Alabama (1702)
Samantha Church in Mobile, AL Image Source: faungg's photos/ Flickr​
The city was founded by French settlers in 1711 with Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville being the principal founder of the city. Initially, the settlement was created several miles upriver compared to the present-day location of the city, but frequent floods and disease forced the settlers to relocate. The city was named after the Maubila river (now Mobile river) on which the city stands, which is also the name of the local Native American tribe.

10. Biloxi, Mississippi (1699)

oldest US cities Biloxi, Mississippi (1699) Biloxi Whitehouse and Visitor's Center
Biloxi Whitehouse and Visitor's Center
Another French colonial settlement founded by Bienville and named after the local Native tribe is Biloxi. Interestingly, the city was initially planned by Bienville to become the capital of French Louisiana, but the capital was moved to New Orleans due to a fear of tides and hurricanes. Sadly, this fear would come true centuries later, as the city was struck by hurricane Katrina in 2005. It is still being rebuilt after the disaster today.

9. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1682)

oldest US cities Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia City Hall (1901)
Philadelphia, or the “City of Brotherly Love” was founded in 1682 by the Quaker explorer William Penn, who conceptualized his colony as a peaceful land. This colony would become the state of Pennsylvania, with Philadelphia as a capital. Today, the city is most known for such attractions as the Liberty Bell and the Independence Hall.

8. Charleston, South Carolina (1680)

oldest US cities Charleston, South Carolina (1680)
Historical Buildings in Charleston, SC
Charleston, or Charles Towne, as it was originally named in honor of King Charles II of England, was founded by settlers brought from the Bermuda Isles by Governor William Sayle. The city became an agricultural center known for rice and indigo. The colonists were in conflict with local natives, so the city was subsequently fortified. To this day, the city contains buildings dating back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, such as the house of lieutenant governor James Ladson built in 1792.

7. Annapolis, Maryland (1649)

oldest US cities Annapolis, Maryland (1649)
Annapolis City Hall
The capital of Maryland has a long history, too. The city was founded in the Chesapeake Bay in 1649 by Puritan exiles from Virginia led by William Stone. These settlers were seeking religious freedom, and today, the city is known for its academic success (it's the location of St. John’s College and the United States Naval Academy) and architectural historical landmarks. Annapolis was named after the English Princess Anne, who became Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1702.

6. Newport, Rhode Island (1639)

oldest US cities The Breakers Mansion,
The Breakers Mansion (1895) Image Source: 6SN7/ Flickr
Newport is a luxurious resort destination these days, with enormous mansions like 'The Breakers', a popular tourist destination, being scattered all across the area. However, the city began in 1639 as a humble settlement of former followers of Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan leader who left Massachusetts for religious reasons. Newport subsequently grew into the largest of the Puritan settlements in the area, and many historic residential buildings and America's oldest existing synagogue (1763) can be seen in Newport today.

5. Colonial Williamsburg (1638)

oldest US cities Colonial Williamsburg (1638)
The Governor's Palace (1934)
Colonial Williamsburg is the American city that takes its history and heritage very seriously, and it's most famous for its Civil War reenactments nowadays, attracting countless tourists year round. The city began as an English settlement in 1638 called the Middle Plantation, but it was subsequently renamed. One of the most remarkable things about the city is that many original historical buildings have been restored and preserved in excellent shape. A walk through the old town is as close as you can possibly get to a trip back to American colonial times.

4. Boston, Massachusetts (1630)

oldest US cities Boston (1630)
Boston is most known for its universities these days, but this beautiful city has also played a key role in American history on several occasions. The city was founded by Puritan settlers led by John Smith in 1630. The city played a major role in the American Revolution and is full of historical places, such as Faneuil Hall, which attracts over 20 million tourists alone. 

3. New York City, New York (1624)

oldest US cities St.Paul’s Chapel,
St.Paul’s Chapel (1766), one of the oldest buildings in NYC
The history of New York City, or New Amsterdam, as it was initially called, dates back to 1624, when approximately 30 families moved to Governor's Island under the Dutch West India Company (started by Henry Hudson). Today, New York City is the most populated city in the US, the impressive metropolitan size of which is a direct legacy of its history as the largest gateway into the United States. Several historical buildings dating as far back as 1652 are scattered throughout the city. 

2. Santa Fe, New Mexico (1610)

oldest US cities The Santa Fe Cathedral,
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (1869) Image Source: Pedro Szekely/ Flickr
Santa Fe is not just the capital of New Mexico, it's the oldest state capital in the United States, as well as one of the oldest cities in the entire country. Santa Fe was founded by conquistador Don Pedro de Peralta in 1610, and the city is home to many old architectural landmarks, such as the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi and the oldest public building in the US - the Palace of the Governors (1610). 

1. St. Augustine, Florida (1565)

oldest US cities Flagler College,
Flagler College (1968) in downtown St.Augustine Image Source: TimTrick/ Wikimedia Commons
Located in the northeastern region of Florida is the oldest city in the United States founded by Spanish explorer Pedro Mendez de Aviles in 1565 - St.Augustine. For 200 years, the city was the Spanish capital in the United States until it was taken by the British in the 17th century. Today, the city is famous for its many historical sights, such as Castillo De San Marcos, Fort Matanzas National Monument, the Colonial Quarter, and others.
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