A Definitive Ranking of U.S. License Plates
A Definitive Ranking of U.S. License Plates

In 1901, New York became the first state in the country to mandate license plates for automobiles. Those early designs were rather simple: black leather inscribed with the car owner’s initials, though by 1903 there were so many vehicles on the road that the state began requiring unique registration numbers instead of just initials By 1918, license plates had been issued throughout all 48 contiguous states, and their size was later standardized across the country in the 1950s.

Despite the identical shape they now share, each license plate boasts a unique design that reflects a point of local pride. Some are colorful, others have catchy slogans, and then there are a few that are unfortunately rather dull. We decided to take a look at all 50 states plus D.C. and the five major U.S. territories in hopes of determining the best license plate in the country. Here’s our definitive ranking of every U.S. license plate.

56. California

California license plate.
Credit: Zcarstvnz/ Wikimedia

While California may be the most populous state in the country, its license plate comes in dead last on our list. It’s not a bad design, but the plain white background and basic red cursive writing are a pretty uninspiring combination.

55. New Jersey

New Jersey license plate.
Credit: Thankful to be me 515/ Wikimedia

The Garden State’s license plate lacks overall creativity. Besides the silhouette of New Jersey and a pale yellow color, there isn’t much to write home about here.

54. Massachusetts

Massachusetts license plate.
Credit: Dickelbers/ Wikimedia

The red, white, and blue colors of the Massachusetts license plate offer a visually appealing and patriotic color palette. But otherwise, the design is about as simple as it gets and thus pretty unmemorable.

53. Missouri

Missouri license plate.
Credit: Zcarstvnz/ Wikimedia

Missouri’s license plate has a few interesting elements, including a series of rippling red lines at the top and rippling blue lines at the bottom. It’s also got the state seal in the background, making it more unique than the first few entries on this list.

52. Texas

Texas license plate.
Credit: Zcarstvnz/ Wikimedia

The most notable thing about the Lone Star State’s license plate isn’t its basic design, but rather an innovative security feature. It’s the first license plate in the country with two high-visibility strips embedded into the plate. Despite this feature, the plain black and white of the standard license is rather unremarkable.

51. West Virginia

West Virginia license plate.
Credit: Wiskerke/ Alamy Stock Photo

West Virginia’s license plate is unfortunately just a little too simple. While the color combination of blue and yellow is appealing to the eye, the design lacks much creativity otherwise.

50. Kentucky

Kentucky license plate.
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The Bluegrass State’s license plate has a nice two-tone pattern, with white seamlessly fading into blue. However, the design is rather limited, with the silhouette of Kentucky serving as its only unique feature.

49. Delaware

Delaware license plate.
Credit: Awmcphee/ Wikimedia

America’s first state is far from number one on this list. Delaware’s basic license plate design features golden lettering and a golden border embossed over a simple dark blue background.

48. Northern Mariana Islands

Northern Mariana Islands license plate.
Credit: John Elk via Getty Images

Featuring its colorful territorial seal in the center, the license plate of the Northern Mariana Islands marks the first U.S. territory to appear on this list. While the seal itself is interesting, the design is plain otherwise.

47. Michigan

Michigan license plate.
Credit: Jtplates/ Wikimedia

Michigan is set to introduce a cool retro version of its all-green license plate in 2024. But the basic Michigan license plate is pretty standard, with a blue and white color combination that’s mildly pleasing to the eye.

46. Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania license plate.
Credit: Awmcphee/ Wikimedia

Pennsylvania’s license plate is certainly recognizable, albeit rather uninteresting. The design features a nice tricolor pattern of blue, white, and yellow from top to bottom, and that’s about it.

45. Guam

Guam license plate.
Credit: Kintetsubuffalo/ Wikimedia

With black letters embossed over a white background, Guam’s license plate is pretty simple in terms of color. However, the design earns some added points thanks to the three red bougainvillea flowers located in the center — the territory’s official flowers.

44. Oklahoma

Oklahoma license plate.
Credit: Broz1014/ Wikimedia

Oklahoma began issuing its new license plate in 2017, which features the outline of the state bird: the scissor-tailed whitecatcher. That bird is embossed atop a blue background featuring mountains, water, and other nice landscape features.

43. Virginia

Virginia license plate.
Credit: Corb Moister of Norwich, Vermont/ Wikimedia 

The Virginia license plate is pretty basic in its design, though it does boast one of the most recognizable state mottos in the country. Featuring the iconic line “Virginia is for Lovers,” this license plate slots into number 43 on our list.

42. Wisconsin

Wisconsin license plate.
Credit: Jtplates/ Wikimedia

The license plate of “America’s Dairyland” has some nice idyllic imagery in the top corners including flying birds and a red barn. Besides those drawings, this white and black license plate is a bit too simple to rank much higher.

41. Rhode Island

Rhode Island license plate.
Credit: Zcarstvnz/ Wikimedia 

Living up to its nickname of the Ocean State, Rhode Island’s license plate features a two-toned blue background with the outline of ocean waves against a blue sky. The letters and numbers are a slightly darker blue, offering a nice contrast.

40. North Carolina

North Carolina license plate.
Credit: Jettacar/ Wikimedia

North Carolina is actually the first of two state license plates to feature the iconic Wright Brothers Flyer. The Wright Brothers conducted their famous first flight in Kitty Hawk, NC, a scene that’s depicted in the license plate’s design.

39. Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C. license plate.
Credit: Wiskerke/ Alamy Stock Photo

D.C.’s license plate is more appealing for its historic significance than its actual design. The plate features the slogan “Taxation Without Representation,” referencing the fact that D.C. citizens are taxed without congressional representation.

38. Connecticut

Credit: David Nicholson/ Wikimedia

Connecticut’s license plate may be simple, but it’s pleasing to the eye. The plate has a nice two-tone blue and white pattern that’s actually similar to Kentucky, though Connecticut’s paler blue color is a shade more appealing than that of the Bluegrass State.

37. Mississippi

Mississippi license plate.
Credit: State of Mississippi/ Wikimedia 

Mississippi’s license plate boasts dark blue lettering embossed atop a striking gold background. It also features the state seal at its center, all of which create a simple yet visually appealing design.

36. Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico license plate.
Credit: Danielpr27/ Wikimedia 

Puerto Rico’s license plate showcases a very neat and realistic image of the colonial-era Castillo San Felipe del Morro looking out over the ocean. In the background, you can see other features such as rolling hills and a light blue sky.

35. Montana

Montana license plate.
Credit: Broz1014/ Wikimedia

The Treasure State’s license plate is interesting in that Montana’s state outline forms the border of the design. The dark blue background and clean white letters are also a winning visual combination.

34. Nebraska

Nebraska license plate.
Credit: Stowellg/ Wikimedia

Nebraska’s license plate has a very interesting background related to a local piece of art. The design highlights a mosaic titled the “Genius of Creative Energy,” which is found on the walls of the state capitol building.

33. Kansas

Kansas license plate.
Credit: Stowellg/ Wikimedia

Voters in Kansas actually selected a new license plate in December 2023, and it’s a huge improvement on the old design. The new plate features a silhouette of the state’s capitol dome, which is topped with a bow-wielding warrior.

32. New Hampshire

New Hampshire license plate.
Credit: Marc Dufresne/ iStock

New Hampshire’s license plate showcases a beloved natural landmark known as the Old Man of the Mountain. It also has the state’s iconic motto, “Live Free or Die,” which dates back to a speech from local hero John Stark in 1809.

31. South Carolina

South Carolina license plate.
Credit: Zcarstvnz/ Wikimedia 

South Carolina’s license plate has a lovely nighttime beach vibe. Its design features a palmetto tree rising to the sky where it comes close to a crescent moon hanging overhead.

30. Tennessee

Tennessee license plate.
Credit: Mhuy222/ Wikimedia

Featuring a dark blue background that includes a silhouette of the state, it’s hard to mistake Tennessee’s license plate for anywhere else. It also includes the state logo, which is a blue circle containing three white stars inside.

29. Washington

Washington license plate.
Credit: Pickn528/ Wikimedia

Washington’s license plate is a winner for one major reason: its image of Mount Rainier. This stunning natural landmark is depicted in the form of a light blue drawing in the background with black letters emblazoned on top of it.

28. Minnesota

Minnesota license plate.
Credit: Drake317/ Wikimedia

“The Land of 10,000 Lakes” lives up to its reputation with its license plate design. In fact, the plate features a beautiful lake scene at the top of the design, which includes boaters and green trees on the shores.

27. Maine

Maine license plate.
Credit: Joseph Sohm/ Shutterstock

Maine’s license plate offers up a beautiful natural scene, with a layer of green grass and trees forming the bottom portion. The design also includes a drawing of the state bird, the black-capped chickadee, standing atop a branch alongside a pinecone.

26. Iowa

Iowa license plate
Credit: Iowa State/ Wikimedia

Iowa’s license plate is among the more modern designs in the country, utilizing negative space to create the clever design of a city skyline. It also pays homage to Iowa’s rich farming and energy industries with silhouettes of a barn and wind turbine.

25. Illinois

Illinois license plate.
Credit: fabrizio annovi/ Alamy Stock Vector

“The Land of Lincoln” features multiple city skylines in the background. On the left side, you’ll notice the buildings of Chicago including the Willis Tower, while on the right side, you’ll see a silhouette of the state capitol building in Springfield.

24. Arkansas

Arkansas license plate.
Credit: Radharc Images/ Alamy Stock Photo

The Arkansas license plate stands out for one major reason: the glistening diamond at its center. This gem is an incredibly valuable natural resource found in Arkansas.

23. New York

New York license plate.
Credit: NY State/ Wikimedia

As a New Yorker, I didn’t want to come off as biased and rank my home state too high on the list. That being said, the new license plate introduced in 2020 is a huge upgrade on the previous version, and features neat silhouettes of beloved state landmarks such as Niagara Falls and the Statue of Liberty.

22. Indiana

Indiana license plate.
Credit: Ian Dagnall/ Alamy Stock Photo

Indiana’s license plate is so bright and vibrant that it looks almost as if it came out of a cartoon. The design is highlighted by its grassy green terrain, a red bridge crossing a stream, and a beautiful blue sky overhead.

21. Alabama

Alabama license plate.
Credit: Therealatticuss/ Wikimedia 

Given Alabama’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, it makes sense that its license plate features the scene of a stunning beach sunrise. Other highlights of the image include a beach umbrella, some reeds, and a few flying birds.

20. Georgia

Georgia license plate.
Credit: Zcarstvnz/ Wikimedia

It should come as no surprise that the license plate of the Peach State has plenty of peaches in its design. The plate also includes a lovely scene depicting the sun glowing out just past the horizon.

19. Hawaii

Hawaii license plate.
Credit: Kokkai Ng/ iStock

When you think of Hawaii you think of paradise, and there are few images more paradisiacal than a rainbow. While the complete design of Hawaii’s license plate is rather simple, its beautiful rainbow crossing from side to side adds a unique touch that makes it stand out.

18. Idaho

Idaho license plate.
Credit: Jakub Rutkiewicz/ Alamy Stock Photo

Idaho’s license plate includes images of the many stunning mountain peaks for which the state is known. The design also boasts a very patriotic color palette with its red, white, and blue lines crossing from top to bottom.

17. Maryland

Maryland license plate.
Credit: Zcarstvnz/ Wikimedia

The Maryland state flag is a highly recognizable pattern with alternating colors of black, yellow, red, and white. You can see this state flag proudly flowing in the bottom portion of the state’s license plate.

16. Nevada

Nevada license plate.
Credit: Oleg Kovtun Hydrobio/ Shutterstock

Nevada’s license plate includes a beautiful multicolored mountain range, which mixes together vibrant colors of green, yellow, orange, red, and white. This idyllic scene is located against the backdrop of a lovely blue sky.

15. Oregon

Oregon license plate.
Credit: EvanA123/ Wikimedia

Oregon’s license plate design includes many of the wondrous natural features that the state is known for, including a towering Douglas Fir tree at its center. The design also has light purple mountain peaks and a light blue sky in the background.

14. Vermont

Vermont license plate.
Credit: Zcarstvnz/ Wikimedia

Vermont’s license plate is simple yet easy to love. The image contains a deep forest green mixed with crisp and clean white lettering, combining to form one of the most pleasant color combinations of any state license plate.

13. Utah

Utah license plate.
Credit: Pickn528/ Wikimedia

The Utah license plate has undergone a number of changes in recent years, and now features a magnificent arched rock formation. This natural wonder can be found in Arches National Park, one of the most spectacular local sites.

12. Louisiana

Louisiana license plate.
Credit: Broz1014/ Wikimedia

The state bird of Louisiana is the brown pelican, which is depicted squarely in the center of the state license plate. The design also incorporates a lovely combination of pastel orange, yellow, and blue colors fading into each other.

11. North Dakota

North Dakota  license plate.
Credit: Ian Dagnall/ Alamy Stock Photo

The license plate of North Dakota depicts some of the majestic rocky terrain that the state is known for, accompanied by a glowing sunrise and pale blue sky. The design also includes a bison, which are known to freely roam across the state.

10. Alaska

Alaska license plate.
Credit: Cassia Bars/ iStock

When you think of Alaska, you probably think of snow and bears, so it's no surprise that their license plate features the image of a brown bear standing atop snowy terrain with a glowing sunrise emanating from behind it.

9. American Samoa

American Samoa license plate.
Credit: Kintetsubuffalo/ Wikimedia

There are few places more naturally awe-inspiring in the U.S. than American Samoa. The territory’s natural beauty comes through in a big way with its license plate design, featuring a large rock jutting out of the seemingly endless ocean.

8. Wyoming

Wyoming license plate.
Credit: Corb Moister, Norwich, Vermont/ Wikimedia

Few states cater to the cowboy lifestyle quite like Wyoming, whose license plate has the silhouette of a cowboy atop a bucking bronco. The scene also includes lovely natural features like towering snowy peaks and glistening blue waters.

7. Ohio

Ohio license plate
Credit: fabrizio annovi/ Alamy Stock Vector

Much like the license plate of North Carolina, Ohio’s design includes an image of the Wright Flyer, as Orville and Wilbur Wright were actually from Dayton, Ohio. The design also features a beautiful city skyline, a glowing sunrise, and rich greenery.

6. U.S. Virgin Islands

U.S. Virgin Islands license plate.
Credit: Dennis MacDonald/ Alamy Stock Photo

The license plate of this Caribbean territory is as tropical as they come. Its design is highlighted by rich blue ocean waters with tropical fish swimming about, plus a map of the islands located in the plate’s very center.

5. Florida

Florida license plate.
Credit: Dickelbers/ Wikimedia

One of the most unmistakable license plates in the entire country is that of the Sunshine State, which is highlighted by a pair of oranges accompanied by an orange blossom. Though it’s a simple image, it works beautifully for the residents of Florida.

4. South Dakota

South Dakota license plate.
Credit: Zcarstvnz/ Wikimedia

The background of South Dakota’s license plate contains one of the more recognizable landmarks in the country: Mount Rushmore. This iconic image is good enough to propel South Dakota’s license plate toward the top of the list.

3. Arizona

Arizona license plate.
Credit: Wiskerke/ Alamy Stock Photo

Arizona’s license plate has one of the most unique and visually appealing color tones of any license plate. Its teal sky, purple mountains, and amber sunrise combine to make the license plate of Arizona truly great.

2. Colorado

Colorado license plate.
Credit: Broz1014/ Wikimedia

When you think of Colorado you think of the Rocky Mountains. So of course the license plate features the design of these snow-capped, towering crags, which ascend toward the top and form the bulk of the design.

1. New Mexico

New Mexico license plate.
Credit: DodgeCaravan17/ Wikimedia

Congratulations to all New Mexicans out there, because we believe that your license plate is the best in the country. This is due in no small part to the design’s incredible colors, with its turquoise background and vibrant yellow lettering.

Featured image credit: NorCalStockMedia/ Shutterstock

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