Creative occupations are now widely seen as a basis for urban economic prosperity. Yet the transitional pathways from a city’s current economy to a more creative economy are often difficult to discern or to navigate. Here we use a network perspective of occupational interdependencies to address questions of urban transitions to a creative economy. This perspective allows us to assess alternative pathways and to compare cities with regard to their progress along these pathways. We find that U.S. urban areas follow a general trajectory towards a creative economy that requires them to increasingly specialize, not only in creative occupations, but also in non-creative ones – presumably because certain non-creative occupations complement the tasks performed by related creative occupations. This secondary phenomenon creates a pull towards non-creative occupations that becomes ever stronger as a city moves more towards a creative economy. Thus, cities transitioning to more creative economies experience an overall diversification of specialized occupations, but at a greater rate for creative occupations. Indeed, we find that cities with the most creative economies also have the highest diversity of specialized occupations.