Ah spring: The weather warms, the flowers bloom and seasonal allergy sufferers cry. I’m in that group and one day, while looking at a beautiful field of wildflowers – and sneezing – I thought, “I’m going on vacation someplace with no flowers!” Is there such a place? Somewhere the red nosed, teary eyed, pollen sensitive soul can enjoy a few days sans tissues?
Yes and no. Allergists will tell you there are triggers everywhere. You might think the dry air in Arizona would help, but there are different issues: you’ll dry out your nasal passages and there are still allergens, albeit different ones. If you live in the country, you might think you can escape to the city for relief but, again, you’d only trade grasses and flowers for weeds and diesel particles. However, there are some places that are at least not as bad.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) ranks the USA’s 100 biggest cities in their annual Allergy Capitals™ list, taking into account each city’s pollen score, the number of people who use allergy medication, and the number of allergy specialists. The numbers generate a Total Score up to 100; the lower a city’s score, the better. So, while we may not be able to take a vacation from allergies, maybe we can enjoy relatively fewer sniffles in these top – or rather, bottom cities.
Daytona Beach, Florida
It doesn’t hurt that #100 on the worst offenders list (remember, lower is better!) is a great vacation destination! The AAFA’s average score for cities on the list is 57.71 and Daytona Beach comes in at 43.8. Having a fresh ocean breeze certainly helps keep the air clear and, as we discovered in our post Beaches – the New Vitamin B, there are other seaside health benefits.
Daytona Beach usually conjures images of college spring breakers, motorcycles and NASCAR, but the city has been working hard to be more family-friendly with new additions like Ocean Walk Village, a billion-dollar vacation and entertainment development that includes hotels, shops and entertainment venues like the Ocean Center. Of course, the beach and the Daytona 500 Experience always seem to top the list of attractions, but you might also enjoy the Marine Science Center or the Museum of Arts & Sciences. If the beach isn’t enough fun and water, there’s also Daytona Lagoon water park, and the Boardwalk for classic beach-side fun.
I remember Idaho as farmland (the “Potato State” moniker may have colored that memory), so I was surprised to find Boise so low on the list but, with a Total Score of 46.77, it comes in at #99. Being at the northern end of the U.S. portion of the Rocky Mountains, there is no shortage of great outdoor activities. Boise hosts many fantastic parks and trails, including the Boise River Greenbelt and the Ridge to River Trail system, along with nature centers like the Idaho Botanical Garden, the Morrison-Knudsen Nature Center, or my personal favorite, the World Center for Birds of Prey. Families will also enjoy Zoo Boise and the Idaho Historical Museum.
Rounding out the Top 3 allergy-friendly cities is the city that was #2 on the list of rainy destinations. To me, that seems odd as I’d always associated rain with flowers and flowers with allergies. Turns out, Portland scored a low 46.81, just barely below Boise. Two factors help Oregon score so well: Mountainous states tend to have fewer expanses of grasslands, which really amp up the pollen count, and coastal states have the benefit of ocean breezes to clear the air. Being the only Oregon city in the top 100 metropolitan areas (#29), Portland makes the list. That is to say, you could likely vacation elsewhere in Oregon and have the same or better lack of allergy issues but then you’d have to drive to Portland to stock up on Voodoo Donuts anyway. While you’re there, be sure to check out the Oregon Zoo and the Pittock Mansion, a 1914 mansion turned museum that gives you a taste of early-1900s luxury and Portland’s history. You can also stock up on allergy meds and brave the bevy of beautiful gardens around the city, including the International Rose Test Garden, the Portland Japanese Garden and the Lan Su Chinese Garden.
The Rest of the Best
Rounding out the bottom ten are San Diego, California; Sarasota and Palm Bay, Florida, Sacramento, California; Seattle, Washington; Stockton, California; and Denver, Colorado. The worst offenders for allergy sufferers? Jackson, Mississippi, and the Tennessee cities of Knoxville and Chattanooga. You can see the entire AAFA Allergy Capitals list on their website.
Hopefully, this list can help you plan a sneeze free vacation. If you’re familiar with some of these cities or others where you’ve been able to breathe better, please let us know with a Comment below! We’d love to hear about the places and activities you enjoyed on your travels, too.