I Rank State License Plates So You Don’t Have To

If you know me, you likely know that I’m annoyingly interested in politics and have a very high tolerance for conflict. As such, I spend a large chunk of my free time reading news articles and then eloquently convincing people on Facebook why my opinion is better than theirs. In the rest of that free time, I do stuff like figure out which state license plate I like best. I’ve spared you all the frightening amount of time that it took me to finalize my stack rank, so to be complete, I wrote down what you’re all likely thinking as you sit behind these different tags in traffic. Enjoy.

#1 – Montana

Image of the Montana state license.

Most states have one, maybe two colors for their plates, but Montana goes all out. They picked a great font, snuck their mountains in the bottom left, and plastered the outline of their state around the numbers. The divider? A cow skull. Montana may be boring as hell, but their license plates sure aren’t. The only downside? Having this plate means you live in Montana.

#2 – Wyoming

Image of the Wyoming state license.

For some reason, the more nothing there is in the state, the more I like their license plates. Now, I do certainly think that Montana and Wyoming got their plates swapped at the printer, because Montana is known as Big Sky Country and Wyoming is nothing but mountains, yet this seems to be flipped. I don’t care though. That glorious damn cowboy bucking between what I’m presuming is the county number and the plate number is just excellent. The cloudy sky is cool, and it’s not some boring color scheme. Now all they have to do is hire the graphic designer to spruce up the entire rest of the state and they’ll be all set. Also, we all know that the cowboy has sex with the horse when they finish their ride. We’re onto you, Wyoming.

#3 – Nebraska

Image of the Nebraska state license.

Yes, I’m biased because I’m from Nebraska, but this is an excellent plate. Colorful, there are pictures of stuff, and the font is clean and modern. The plate pretty perfectly depicts a people who are very polite and good-hearted, who have an even-keeled nature, and who have a self-loathing so deep that they continue to put their hopes on the line each Saturday even though all the Huskers use their cleats for is to stomp out our goddamn hearts.

#4 – Alaska

Image of the Alaska state license.

It’s clean, it’s simple, and it’s oddly bold. And, because it’s readily identifiable, it easily alerts you to the fact that the driver of the car is likely drunk, and also likely inbred. Hey, there’s not much to do in Alaska aside from become an alcoholic and bang your cousin, apparently.

#5 – Rhode Island

Image of the Rhode Island state license.

Look at this fresh bastard! It’s a simple design, but it’s pleasing. You’ve got your waves, the little anchor in the top left corner, and not much else to clutter it all up. Fun fact: The license plate is 1/5th the size of the actual state!

#6 – Mississippi

Image of the Mississippi state license.

Dude, this thing looks like it’s exploding at you. I’ll admit that I don’t quite understand why there is a guitar in the middle, but I don’t care because I like it. Probably because I’m giving the designer too much credit. I imagine that they made the accents blue so we’d think of a blues guitar, but it’s probably more likely that I’m just making that up in my head. Regardless, if you put what appears to me to be a blue guitar exploding out of the background on your plate, I will dig it and ignore how very racist most of your residents are.

#7 – New York

Image of the New York state license.

Now, later in the list you’ll hear my criticize some license plates for being too simple, but not this one. The plate seems to play on the fact that New York is just interesting. They don’t need Wyoming’s cowboy or Nebraska’s bird to draw your attention, they know that you’re going to see “New York” on the plate and go “Wow, they’re from New York, that’s pretty cool.” Never mind that the person is likely from Rochester, and the car is likely stolen.

#8 – Ohio

Image of the Ohio state license.

This plate appears to be simple, until you realize that there’s a ton of stuff written on that white background. They’ve got the outline of the state hiding in the first “O” of the name, and clean lines all around. The last bonus of this plate is that it clearly identifies somebody who used their vote to fuck up the next four years, so you won’t feel bad when you “accidentally” rear-end them.

#9 – Kansas

Image of the Kansas state license.

Following the theme: No people here? Love the plate. It depicts a beautiful sunrise/sunset scene wherein the clouds are vibrant with color, likely due to the increased pollution in Kansas from the Koch brothers’ factories. I can’t see the watermark in the background, but I presume it’s just Charles and David’s faces, since they own the state government. Fun fact: They used all of the state’s education funding to print these instead of actually teaching children. Well done!

#10 – North Dakota

Image of the North Dakota state license.

Not only is it a bold design with a bold color palette, they already put an oil spill behind the words “North Dakota.” That’s well done, because then they won’t have to update their plates when the Dakota Access Pipeline inevitably leaks thousands of gallons across the Standing Rock reservation. Excellent, thoughtful planning, North Dakota.

#11 – South Dakota

Image of the South Dakota state license.

Unlike their half-Canadian brethren to the North, South Dakota went with good ol’ red, white, and blue for the color scheme here. To further engorge your all American boner, they put Mount Rushmore in relief in the background. They were going to try to squeeze a bald eagle on this plate, but it turns out that they just land on your car at random when you have this license plate affixed. That’s bad for your paint, but good for your USAorta.

#12 – Utah

Image of the Utah state license.

Utah also didn’t want to miss out on the American color scheme here, but in this context, it’s to blend in, not stand out like South Dakota. In South Dakota, they’re all like “Yeah, we love America so much we dynamited a mountain to look like the faces of presidents.” In Utah they’re like “We love America so much that we hope you’ll accept that statement on face value and not investigate whether or not we violate polygamy laws while screeching about the ‘sanctity of marriage’ while we download internet porn at a truly prodigious rate.” Plus there’s really good skiing here.

#13 – South Carolina

Image of the South Carolina state license.

I don’t know enough about South Carolina to intelligently make fun of the state, so I’ll just say that this plate is visually appealing and move on to lower hanging fruit.

#14 – Oklahoma

Image of the Oklahoma state license.

A more subtle red, white, and blue scheme, but this plate has a typo on it. At the bottom, it says “Native America,” but the “N” seems to have been left off by the printer. Clearly they were referencing the local tribes because they put a Native American right on there, shooting a bow and arrow. That’s unfortunate.

#15 – Alabama

Image of the Alabama state license.

Alabama slips to #15 because, while attractive, this plate gives you absolutely no sense of what it’s like to live in Alabama. There’s not a single overweight, drunken man with a mustache bleating “Roll Tide” anywhere on here. The plate doesn’t come with food stamps. And, while nearly every other state has chosen to put their logo on their plate, there isn’t a single racial slur to be found on this rectangle. It’s a great plate, I just don’t know if it really paints the true Alabama picture.

#16 – Delaware

Image of the Delaware state license.

It may seem that I’m contradicting this very statement farther down this list, but I love Delaware’s license plate for its simplicity. “The First State.” In the race to be a state, they won. They don’t have to put anything else on their plate, because they won. That’s it. Game over, always and forever. In the periodic state license plate popular vote things that happen, I imagine that “We were first, motherfuckers,” always comes in third to the current slogan and just “First,” but I guess we’ll never know.

#17 – Maine

Image of the Maine state license.

Maine bucks the patriotism trend and goes for something a little more suited to their state; green. The plate itself gives you a good sense of what you’ll see in Maine as well. A bird, a pine cone, and forests. Notably absent are lobsters, moose, lighthouses, or Stephen King, but we all make mistakes.

#18 – Tennessee

Image of the Tennessee state license.

Another green plate, Tennessee’s choice for car identification evokes a misty morning in the aptly named Smoky Mountains. Now, I’m not sure who decided not to put Peyton Manning on the license plate in a full gloriously obnoxious Volunteer color scheme, but whoever it was, they have brought shame to their great state.

#19 – Arizona

Image of the Arizona state license.

I mean, there’s a lot going on here, but I just don’t like it. It’s also not functional. Nothing on this plate indicates that the driver is likely 84 and has used a racial epithet towards Mexicans in the last 24 hours.

#20 – Georgia

Image of the Georgia state license.

It’s a simple plate, but you’ve gotta admire the moxie of a state not afraid to use the ass emoji as their automotive representation.

#21 – New Mexico

Image of the New Mexico state license.

While it borders on overly simple, it gives you a clear picture of what New Mexico is all about. Well, except meth. They really enjoy meth in addition to their Native American heritage. The unique color scheme also stands out from the rampant Uncle Sam hues of most other states.

#22 – Nevada

Image of the Nevada state license.

I’m sure that when you, random reader, think of Nevada, your mind immediately goes to the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains. No, I don’t think of those either. You think of Las Vegas and that iconic sign welcoming you to Sin City. Why didn’t they put that on their plate? I have no idea, but as it is, I don’t mind it.

#23 – Oregon

Image of the Oregon state license.

Oregon, if you haven’t been, is really green and mountainy and beautiful. This plate, however, is a fourth-graders idea of what green and mountainy look like. It’s one lollipop tree and lemon yellow sun away from being something that you put on your fridge as you mumble about the use of your tax dollars in the public schools. Certain bonus points get awarded for their departure from the common in state license plates, but it could have been oh so much better.

#24 – North Carolina

Image of the North Carolina state license.

It was a coin flip between North Carolina and Illinois, but I ultimately gave the edge to the Tarheel state because biplanes are more interesting to look at that Abraham Lincoln’s face. My wife, who is from Ohio, would argue that while the first ever flight did take place in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, that aviation was in fact born in Ohio. Now, when you’re settling this debate in your own mind, also remember that Ohio fucks up all of the elections while North Carolina has remained fairly consistently Republican over the last couple of decades. I mean, if you’re going to be wrong, at least be consistently wrong.

#25 – Illinois

Image of the Illinois state license.

As I mentioned above, while Abraham Lincoln was immensely important to the progression of the United States, he isn’t terribly appealing to the eye, so Illinois gets bumped to the 25th spot. Adding to their mediocrity is the fact that most people under the age of 25 may not know how to actually read the word “Illinois” on this plate, since we insist on making our children dumber with each passing year and don’t teach them things like cursive writing anymore. Because who needs backup plans in case the internet isn’t working, right?

#26 – New Hampshire

Image of the New Hampshire state license.

Kicking off the second half, or the shitty half, of the license plates is New Hampshire. While avoiding the patriot-trap color palette, they chose something akin to Monet’s attempts to get the paint out of his brush on the side of his palette, or Bob Ross’s jizzum. And then they plastered “Live free or die” on the top, as it is their state slogan. Now, you may think that everybody there carries a Bruce-Willis-as-John-McClane attitude with a slogan like that, but in reality you just get Adam Sandler.

#27 – Maryland

Image of the Maryland state license.

On face value, there’s style to this plate. Flags, fireworks, and it’s not overwhelming. Except it sort of is. For the rest of this list you’re going to get either “tries to hard” or “seriously, that’s the BEST you came up with?” This is in the camp of the former. We get it, you’re American. War of 1812. Yay America! I mean, there’s not much else to get excited about in Maryland, so I guess go for it with nationalistic pride.

#28 – Arkansas

Image of the Arkansas state license.

There’s a diamond in the middle of this place because Arkansas is home to the Crater of Diamonds State Park; a park in which you can dig up diamonds, and if you find one, you can keep it! The offer of free diamonds doesn’t even make me want to go to Arkansas. Maybe, MAYBE, if Bill Clinton were hosting a smooth jazz festival featuring himself on the sax, MAYBE I’d consider setting foot in Arkansas. In case you were wondering, I’m pronouncing this as “R-Kansas” in my head. One of these two states has it wrong, and I’m siding with Kansas. Jesus it feels weird to say that.

#29 – Idaho

Image of the Idaho state license.

Realistically, I should have ranked Idaho higher on this list, but I’m not willing to put in the effort to renumber everything at this point. Just pretend they’re ranked 16ish. Why? Because they owned what it is to be in Idaho. Potatoes. The only words on the license plate are “Scenic Idaho, Famous Potatoes.” And both of those things are true; Idaho IS scenic, and they’re famous for potatoes. If you swapped out the Lee Greenwood color scheme of the plate, this one has a shot at the top 5.

#30 – Iowa

Image of the Iowa state license.

I can picture the people tasked with designing this plate, taking their jobs very seriously in a room. On a white board at the front of that room is their driving purpose: How can we design a plate that makes people want to visit Iowa. It’s written in red marker. After days of deliberation, and many dust-ups over a series of increasingly poor ideas, somebody finally chimes in “Hey, what if we make it seem like Iowa is actually better than it is? Maybe seem like it’s a metropolitan state rather than a bunch of shit-soaked farmland?” Everybody thought it was a great idea, and they set about determining how many tall buildings there were in the entire state. When they were finished later that minute, they put all four on the license plate and sent Darrell off to the printer. Now, Darrell is proud of his Iowa heritage and was never on board with this scheme, so before submitting it to the printer, he sketched in a rustic barn scene, thinking that there would be interest in the juxtaposition of the modern and the agrestic. Darrell was wrong. They were all wrong.

#31 – Hawaii

Image of the Hawaii state license.

Hawaii. Breathtakingly perfect terrain on some islands, alien landscape on others. Perfect weather. Perfect surfing. Macadamia nuts and pineapple. A rich indigenous heritage full of warriors and explorers. Folklore full of gods and idols. A military history connected to an incident that is at once tragic, yet inspiring as it awoke the sleeping giant. Volcanos. Hurricanes. And they put a fucking rainbow on the license plate.

#32 – Washington

Image of the Washington state license.

The slogan of the state is “The Evergreen State,” yet there isn’t green anywhere on the license plate. There isn’t a tree anywhere on the license plate. There is a majestic mountain in blue, and that’s pretty cool, but they didn’t even show the part of the mountain with said evergreens on it. That’s bush league, Washington.

#33 – Kentucky

Image of the Kentucky state license.

It’s The Bluegrass State and they made it blue, so that’s good. The Kentucky Derby is there and they put “Unbridled Spirit” on there, good play on words and incorporation. They put a tiny horse head as well, along with an outline of the state to divide the numbers. And then they packed it in and went to second breakfast because Kentucky is the 5th fattest state in the US. While they clearly don’t leave a lot on the table after dinner, they did leave a lot on the table here.

#34 – Colorado

Image of the Colorado state license.

This is what the Washington plate should have looked like. Unlike Iowa, I don’t envision days of tense meetings, trying to craft the perfect message. I imagine an angry man with a mustache and a comb over sitting in his office smoking a cigarette, despite the fact that it’s illegal, shouting out of his open door to his intern Justin “I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS SHIT JUSTIN, JUST PUT MOUNTAINS ON IT.” Justin chose green for the rest of it.

#35 – Florida

Image of the Florida state license.

The oranges on this plate look like balls and I generally dislike the state of Florida.

#36 – Texas

Image of the Texas state license.

I wanted to put Texas lower because I really don’t like much about Texas, but from a design standpoint, at least it isn’t entirely boring. Plus, I get some enjoyment realizing that this plate will likely be affixed to a gigantic, modified truck with obnoxious tires, piloted by a tiny-penised man that will spin out and die if 8 snowflakes hit the highway.

#37 – Indiana

Image of the Indiana state license.

For some reason, Indiana can’t quite figure out why the USA was started. They got the flag part right, but then the whole “In God We Trust” and the anti-gay, pro-Christian political agenda of the state mimics the exact behaviors our forefathers were trying to escape in England. I guess you may also prefer a revisionist version of history if your state’s second most important city is Gary. Plus, they also missed an opportunity to put Peyton Manning’s face on a license plate.

#38 – Minnesota

Image of the Minnesota state license.

I *think* it’s supposed to look like a lake, but it doesn’t. They should also spell the state name phonetically, per the local dialect. Mini SO ta. Or Wisconsin Jr.

#39 – Missouri

Image of the Missouri state license.

Sweet blue gradient, bro. Since you’re the Show Me state, you should show me that Kansas City is actually in Missouri, because nobody knows that.

#40 – Connecticut

Image of the Connecticut state license.

Sweet bluer gradient, bro. You made your state outline smaller than Missouri, and they have a bird. You should be ashamed of yourself, Connecticut. On the bright side, nobody gives a shit about you and your silent “T” in the middle of your name.

#41 – West Virginia

Image of the West Virginia state license.

The reality is that at this point in the list, West Virginia gets bonus points because they have more than one color on their plate! Although I’m not sure why they need license plates when nobody in the state can afford a car…

#42 – Wisconsin

Image of the Wisconsin state license.

A relatively boring plate with a dairy farm, some birds, and a road leading directly into the sun. If you’ve ever dealt with Badgers fans, you’ll also want to drive directly into the sun. I’m also presuming that “America’s Dairyland” is referring to the women in the state, and has nothing to do with milk or cheese. Again, there was a missed opportunity here to put Brett Favre on the license plate. Maybe Aaron Rodgers. Maybe put them both on their and have them making out. What, just me?

#43 – Pennsylvania

Image of the Pennsylvania state license.

Are you even trying, Pennsylvania? You didn’t even put a goddamn slogan on your plate. You also chose to skip the easy “make your number divider thing look like your state,” and your state is effectively a rectangle! It’s probably made out of fucking aluminum, because your state is apparently run by idiots. It’s like you’re trying to make people annoyed with your ineptitude.

#44 – Louisiana

Image of the Louisiana state license.

They put a horse on it? Who thinks of horses when they think of Louisiana? Word association, go: Bourbon Street, Mardi Gras, swamps, alligators, French words, gumbo, crawfish, alcoholism, New Orleans, the Saints, creole, Baton Rouge, Tulane University, Hurricane Katrina, LSU, King’s Cake, Drew Brees, fleur di lis, and the French Quarter. These all came from my wife when I said, “Word association, when I say Louisiana, what do you think of?” You know what she didn’t say, at all, ever? Fucking “horses.”

#45 – Michigan

Image of the Michigan state license.

Pure Michigan? You’ve heard of the Flint water supply, right? Now, if this is heartless, epic trolling, I *might* be on board. The literal only way I don’t think this is stupid is if it was created in a room full of people who were rolling on the floor, getting light-headed because they couldn’t breathe from raucous laughter caused by putting “Pure Michigan” on the license plate. Just bawling and laughing from the irony. I guess Michigan does have some beautiful forests, but they put them 8″ from the highway, so at night it becomes this fun game where deer jump out at you with no warning and you swerve and die. Seriously, Michigan highways look like the warehouse floor in every gore flick. I do sort of admire the balls though. The state that’s home to Detroit just went for it. “Pure Michigan, that’ll make them forget about everything.”

#46 – California

Image of the California state license.

Some of you may staunchly disagree with me here, but California’s license plate is just lazy. It has been the same since the late 1980s. Repeating that, in a state that is teeming with creativity, the license plate hasn’t changed, at all, in around 30 years. I’m willing to momentarily entertain the idea of maintaining an icon, but I just don’t think this is it when there’s so much opportunity for the design. The state animal is a bear, the state itself has an interesting shape. San Francisco, Silicon Valley, LA, Orange County, San Diego, all interesting areas. There are huge military bases and deserts, mountain ranges, wine country, fucking Hollywood, and we get this cursive, script “California” that children under 25 probably can’t even read because, again, they don’t teach cursive in schools anymore. They do offer a variety of alternative plates, but so do other states. You can do better, California.

#47 – New Jersey

Image of the New Jersey state license.

Unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey hit some of the low-hanging fruit here. They got their dingleberry shaped state in the middle there as a divider, it’s yellow with a gradient to it, and they put their state slogan on there. Now, I’ve had the opportunity to cruise around in rural New Jersey a bit, and parts of it are beautiful, but mostly it’s not. I don’t know why yellow fits the state so well, maybe because it’s the color of their waterways, maybe it’s the color of the jaundice-eyed bros still wearing Affliction shirts at 36 years old in clubs on “the shore,” I honestly don’t know, but it fits.

#48 – Vermont

Image of the Vermont state license.

It’s green. There’s a rectangle on it. Cue the champagne poppers and kazoos.

#49 – Massachusetts

Image of the Massachusetts state license.

If you’re going to do the red, white, and blue color scheme like the 14 other states, don’t be the most boring. Sadly, I think with a little font change on the name of the state and the numbers, these particular hues could actually look fresh and modern, but Massachusetts doesn’t do fresh and modern. I find a personal bit of irony with their slogan “The Spirit of America,” which fits to me as the average American probably can’t spell Massachusetts. They could tweak that phrase slightly to say “We Wallow in Our Own Filth.” Same root meaning, slightly more visually interesting.

#50 – Virginia

Image of the Virginia state license.

It may be for lovers, but their license plate is boring as fuck. I almost feel like the little red heart was a printing error, seeing as how they couldn’t be bothered to use anything not blue on the rest of the plate. As I’ve mentioned with many of the other states above, this is a state with a rich history going back to the 1700s. It was the 10th state and one of the 13 original colonies. Virginia was crucial to the civil war, and remains embedded in our national history due to its close proximity to Washington DC. And while I’ve bagged on other states for contrived color palettes or simple ones, they could’ve at least used the same blue for the state name and the numbers. This plate is the equivalent of getting to work in your black suit and realizing that you wore navy socks. It’s the airport fruit cup that ends up being one strawberry, one piece of pineapple and cantaloupe, and the rest is honeydew. It’s disappointing. It is the license plate equivalent of a deep sigh. Congratulations, Virginia, you have the worst license plate of them all.


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