Power Rankings: State License Plates

License Plate Rankings

A license plate is an opportunity for each state to leave it’s mark on the roads of America but some states clearly do a much better job than others. There are a handful of these rankings floating around the internet, but most of them equate simplicity with ugliness, and in our opinion this is a big mistake. In some cases, simple is in fact boring, but a simple plate is always better than one with an absurd elaborate design (we’re looking at you, Montana). Our criteria aren’t complicated… If we like the plate, it ranks high. If we hate it, it ranks low. Every state has a host of alternate license plates, but we’re only including the standard issue plate as of 2016 in our rankings. Feel free to disagree with us in the comment section. You’ll be wrong…but we encourage you to make your case anyway.

1. Colorado

state license plate rankings best

Colorado is a state that seemingly does everything right, and their license plate is no exception. They know where their bread is buttered and that’s the Rocky Mountains. No cheesy tagline or ridiculous font. This is the best license plate on the road, and honestly, it wasn’t even a close call.


state license plate rankings best

Delaware’s license plate gets a bad rap on a lot of the other rankings we’ve seen, and that is absolutely ludicrous in our humble opinion. It’s bold in it’s simplicity and they don’t pull any punches in reminding everyone that they basically invented America.


best state license plates

As residents of Massachusetts, we see a lot of these on the road (mostly on Priuses and Subarus), and they always leave us green with envy (pun fully intended). If you know anything about the state of Vermont or it’s residents, you know that this plate couldn’t possibly be more fitting. The white rectangle around the letters gives it a cool retro look, and you have to love the sneaky little tree in the top left corner. They have a few of those in the Green Mountain State.


best license plates

As a kid on the east coast, this was the license plate that would make you stop what you were doing to acknowledge. Not only was it like spotting a rare creature, it’s easily one of best plates in the game. Since they also happen to have one of the best state flags, throwing that right in the middle was an excellent decision. Plus, “The Last Frontier” is as good as it gets when it comes to state mottos. They’re basically saying they’re the outer space of states. And they are. Well played all around by Alaska.

5.New Mexico

best license plates

Some would say it looks inspired by Urban Outfitters. Others would say it looks like a UCLA jersey in license plate form. Those are both good things (I think).


license plate ranking

If you put a volcano on your license plate, you automatically make the top ten. That’s a rule that we probably should have specified up front.


license plates rankings\

Mountains and trees. That’s what Oregon does.

8.North Carolina

license plates rankings

NC won plate of the year back in 1982 with this design and they haven’t changed it since. Good decision.


license plate rankings

Peaches are delicious.


license plates rankings

This is one of the most iconic plates in the country. Probably because we’ve all been seeing it in the movies for years.


license plates rankings

This plate just makes you happy. It also falls in the same category as the Alaska plate in that it’s such a rarity. Hawaii is on even another level because it leaves you scratching your head in confusion as to how and why they brought it over to the mainland. Is it an amphibious vehicle? It’s more likely that it came over by boat but we can’t rule out the amphibious vehicle possibility quite yet.


license plates rankings

The solid navy and yellow bands at the top and bottom makes this one of the more recognizable plates on the road. The keystone symbol in the center is a nice touch. We have one bone to pick with this plate. Why would they put visitPA.com at the bottom? Do they think people sitting in traffic are going to whip out their phones to see what the Pennsylvania government has been up to lately? Just put “Keystone State” at the bottom and call it a day.

13.West Virginia

license plates rankings

This is basically a slightly less visually appealing version of Pennsylvania.

14.South Dakota

license plates rankings

Incorporating Mt. Rushmore was a no-brainer for South Dakota.


license plates rankings

Wyoming is wise to put the “bucking horse and rider” on all things Wyoming-related.


license plates rankings

Personally we would have put a moose on here instead of a bird, but the bird isn’t terrible. The treeline at the bottom is a nice addition and the all caps, bold, black “MAINE” at the top of the plate ties it together nicely (times new roman if I’m not mistaken…great font).

17. Washington D.C.

license plates rankings

Well, at least they’re represented on our list…fairly high too.


license plates rankings

The background looks strikingly similar to a scene from Wile E. Coyote vs. Roadrunner, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With a better font, this could have been a contender for a top 10 spot on the list.


license plates rankings

There’s a lot going on here, but it works. It’s hard to say exactly why this plate ranks as highly as it does, but when I look at it, I don’t hate it.

20.South Carolina

license plates rankings

This one is admittedly difficult to judge. On one hand, the palmetto/moon combo is a classic, but the sunset is too much. With a solid blue this could be flirting with the top 10.


license plates rankings

Some variation of this license plate has been going strong since the mid-80’s. It’s usually a good sign when it stands the test of time.


license plates rankings

Virginia played it safe with this one. Not much to love or hate about it.

23. Nevada

state license plates rankings

It’s not as good as some of the other mountain-themed plates, but it’s not bad.


state license plates rankingsphoto source: Wikipedia

This one isn’t bad, but it looks too much like a temporary license plate.



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Utah has two primary license plates so we chose the better of the two. Overall not bad. “Greatest snow on earth” is an incredibly bold claim.

26. North Dakota

rank license plates

This definitely wins the award for weirdest plate in the country. It’s so weird that it’s almost not that bad…




license plate rank

If you put your hand over the top half of the plate, it is an absolute A+. Potatoes, mountains, and trees make for a winning combination. Too bad the top half is so regrettable.


license plate rank

Top notch state bird on a mediocre license plate.


license plate rank

We may be biased, but even we can’t put the Massachusetts plate anywhere higher on our list. It’s average in every way.

30. Minnesota

license plate rank

There are actually 11,842 lakes in Minnesota so we appreciate their humility.

31. Ohio

license plate rank

They couldn’t decide which tagline to use so they just put every single one they could think of in the background.

32. Rhode Island

license plate rank

The waves in Rhode Island aren’t that big. False advertising.

33.New York

license plate rank

There are poor color choices…and then there’s this…

34. Connecticut

license plate rankings worst

The whole faded color look is just a bad idea. Go with solid blue and this plate is actually not so awful.

35. New Jersey

license plate rankings worst

The faded yellow makes this plate look like it needs to be washed. And it probably does need to be washed given that it spends most of its time driving around New Jersey.


license plate rankings worst

Diamonds are forever, but I have a feeling this license plate isn’t long for this world.

37. Iowa

best and worst license plates

There are a lot of farms in Iowa…we get it.

38. Indiana

best and worst license plates

Indiana used to have a good license plate…Then they voted on a new one this year…This is what they came up with.

39. Tennessee

license plate rankings worst

Is that a bar code on their license plate?

40. Illinois

best and worst license plates

Lincoln’s floating head just looks weird. The fact that it’s so faded gives Abe sort of a “Ghost of Christmas Past” look, which I’m sure he would not appreciate. Besides, he only moved to Illinois when he was 21 years old so the whole “Land of Lincoln” thing is a bit of a stretch.

41. Florida

state license plate rankings

You either go with just a fruit (see Georgia) or just your state outline (see Texas). You can’t try to squeeze both in. That’s rule number one of license plate design.

42. Nebraska

state license plate rankings

State flower, state bird, and state website. Trying a little bit too hard here.

43. Kentucky

state license plate rankings

If I lived in Kentucky I would willingly choose to travel on horseback to avoid having to put this anywhere on or near my means of transportation.

44. Oklahoma

state license plate rankings

We thought this license plate was bad, but the new one they’re rolling out in 2017 is somehow even worse.

45. Maryland

state license plate rankingsPhoto Source: WTOP

Um…What? I get that people in Maryland love their flag, but what on earth is going on here. Looks like they’re going for a cool modern look…Swing and a miss.

46. Mississippi

state license plate rankings

What’s going on with the S’s here? There are already far too many S’s in Mississippi. Let’s not confuse the matter by giving them all long intertwining tails.

47. Montana

state license plate rankings

This is absolute garbage. The font looks like it came straight off the cover of a Disney VHS case from 1995.

48. Missouri

state license plate rankingsl

Missouri basically just ran a clinic on how to design an ugly license plate. 1) Faded background. Check. 2) Stenciled outline of the state. Check. 3) Try to squeeze state motto under state name. Check. 4) Random bird that looks hopelessly out of place. Check.

49. Michigan

state license plate rankingsphoto source: Wikipedia

What happened to the solid blue license plate that Michigan used to have? Who thought that this was a good idea? Why is everything so wavy? We need answers to all of these questions.

50. Kansas

state license plate rankings

Not sure if anyone has bothered to scroll down this far…You’re better off scrolling back up to Colorado or Delaware to make you forget how atrocious Kansas’ license plate is.

51. New Hampshire

state license plate rankings






Let’s make one thing clear. We love the state of New Hampshire. We spend almost every weekend there, and as a state, it has a lot of things going for it. The license plate on the other hand, is a completely different story. That’s not a knock on the Old Man in the Mountain (RIP). This plate is just an overall aesthetic train wreck.


If you enjoyed this list, check out our state flag rankings.

*Unless otherwise specified, all images came from TheUS50.com


  1. https://www.linkedin.com/in/zach-greene-87000244

    Overall highly accurate power ranking of the state license plates…I’m personally biased to New Mexico, Wyoming, and Delaware’s color scheme is phenomenal 🙂

  2. Pingback: Power Rankings: State Flags | Trails Unblazed

  3. I appreciate the research that went into this, but I was disappointed that it didn’t take into account the fact that many of these license plates are printed flat now and no longer stamped. New Jersey and Texas both come to mind, but there are unfortunately many others. The flat license plates look horrible in real life and are an embarrassment, in my opinion. On my list, any state with a stamped license plate would automatically rank higher, regardless of the design. Also, having a web address on your state’s license plate is an absolute atrocity.

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