You’ve got a little time to kill in the city you’re visiting, and you’re feeling adventurous. But you’d rather not go to the trendy neighborhood that everyone says is the must-do. After all, once all the tourists know about it, how authentic can it be?
Here’s an intriguing alternative: the 10Best list of notable neighborhoods generating local buzz, but which you’ve probably heard little about. Each has just come into its own, is making a splash in its own community, but is still a good secret from the outside world. They’re all worth exploring for different reasons. In some, food or breweries are the draw, in others, you’ll want to check out quirky shops or the nightlife.
Our Local Experts at 10Best helped make these selections, so save this handy guide and you can hang like a local.
Austin’s East Side: BBQ, beer, tunes, plenty of weird
While Austin’s South Congress neighborhood has gotten the lion’s share of recent buzz, many locals prefer the city’s happening East Side. 6th Street east of I-35 rewards urban explorers with a rich variety of settings, cuisines and beer experiences. East 6th bars – the historic Scoot Inn; The Liberty Bar; Hi Hat Public House; and Shangri-La – offer patrons everything from large beer gardens to vintage video games and outdoor films. Hops & Grain Brewery offers tours and tastings.
Over on 11th Street, savvy devotees start lining up for Franklin’s BBQ at 10 a.m. Hillside Farmacy, the city’s popular new farm-to-table restaurant, and Tiny Taiga, a super foods and supplements shop, lure intrepid foodies. The historic Victory Grill – part of the Chitlin Circuit which hosted gigs by B.B. King, W.C. Clark and Bobby Bland during segregation – still packs a crowd for live music.
In the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ tradition, all the businesses you’ll find in the East Side are mom-and-pop concerns. Parking is typically easy, and a visit is appealing day or night. Bonus: It’s all just a stone’s throw from downtown hotels.
Up and coming: Keep an eye on nearby Rainey Street, where historic-homes-turned-bars are complemented by local food trucks.
Boston’s Seaport District: Dockside dining and killer views
Photographers may have already discovered the downtown views from Boston’s Seaport district, but now the rest of the world is catching on to this amazing revitalized neighborhood. Just across the Fort Point Channel from downtown and its Harborwalk, the Seaport District is rapidly being reinvented.
The walkable Congress Street bridge from downtown became home to the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum in 2012, and The Spirit of Boston dinner cruise departs from Seaport.
No longer industrial, Seaport is taking full advantage of its beautiful brick-and-beam bones, and easy-to-reach setting. “Seaport is the hottest place for food and drinks right now, with lots of new openings lately, and more slated,” says 10Best Local Expert Jessica Polizzotti. Case in point: renowned chef Ming Tsai is wowing patrons after just a few months in the former diner he transformed into The Blue Dragon. Lots of bars offer outdoor seating and waterfront views in the neighborhood which is also home to the striking Institute of Contemporary Art.
Plans are underway for new residences, art installations, and recreational boating opportunities in the adjacent channel. But visitors will already find the Seaport Renaissance Hotel; waterfront parks; Harpoon Brewery’s giant beer garden and tour; and the new Trillium Brewery for craft beer. The best news of all? You can take a City Water Taxi directly from Logan airport to Atlantic Wharf, where Smith & Wollensky has opened a Seaport location.
Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill: Francophiles feel right at home
As you walk through the cozy, tree-shaded streets of Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill, it’s hard to imagine Sex in the City dissing the borough. Today, savvy French expats largely occupy the “Co” of Brooklyn’s neighborhood trifecta BoCoCa (Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens).
The cozy corner restaurant Bar Tabac replicates a Parisian tobacco shop from the street; its loyal patrons satisfy cravings for French food and wines. Some foodies make the pilgrimage to Cobble Hill’s 96-year-old Staubitz Market, one of New York’s oldest and most respected butcher shops.
The district’s tree- and brownstone-lined streets hold a treasure trove of unique browsing opportunities, from state-of-the-art gear and boards for snow and street (Homage) to vintage clothing, jewelry and knick-knacks (Brownstone Treasures). Boutiques tempt shoppers to pause their strolling long enough to contemplate beautiful shoes, handbags or cutting-edge fashion.
Events as cool as any in Manhattan keep the calendar full at The Invisible Dog Art Center on Bergen Street; it’s a great place to meet the colorful locals who’ve helped the neighborhood arrive. For something more traditional, head to Cobble Hill Cinema, or hang out in the half-acre Cobble Hill Park. To visit by subway, take the F or G train to the Bergen Street stop.
Chicago’s Wicker Park: Historic home for hipsters
Most Chicago neighborhoods are pedestrian-friendly,” says 10Best Local Expert Jamie Bartosch, “but to send you to the trendiest, I’d have to say Wicker Park. There’s an artsy, urban vibe to the place,” says Bartosch. “It has a good mix of independently owned hangouts. And you’ll see people with ten face piercings co-existing with well-coiffed moms pushing $800 strollers.”
Most businesses in Wicker Park are unique to Chicago. Enterprising hipsters inject the neighborhood with quirky entrepreneurial spirit, which, in turn, draws trend-spotting visitors and cutting-edge locals. Residents tend to work in creative fields; their flex schedules energize this neighborhood day and night. Countless coffee shops, food trucks and a farmers market vie with inventive eateries for dining dollars. Wrangle some jicama, beet and goat-cheese tacos at Big Star to check out the local vibe, or sample BBQ at Smoke Daddy.
Wicker Park lies northwest of the Loop and south of Bucktown, just off the L train’s Blue Line. It’s easy to reach and fun to explore on foot. ‘Beer Baron Row’ is a pedestrian treat. . . passersby are wowed by Italianate and Victorian mansions built in the early 1900s by affluent Scandinavian and German wine and beer merchants which included one Mr. Schlitz.
East Nashville: Great eats, vintage finds
East Nashville is a breath of fresh alternative air to the crowds of downtown and upscale shopping district Green Hills. East Nashville is where urban pioneers are headed now, and its abundance of quirky shops and excellent restaurants, along with a few nightlife venues, make it well worth investigating.
The 5 Points District – Woodland St. at N 11th St. – is ‘vintage central.’ Alegria, Moss, Hello Boys, and Goodbuy Girls (major cowboy boots alert!) will have you making tough decisions or blowing through wads of cash. If Music City has you dreaming up your own stage name, pop in to Fanny’s House of Music for vintage instruments and dressing room garb.
Foodies eat dessert first at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, where modern décor is as cool as the cones. Silly Goose (creative sandwiches), Wild Cow (vegetarian), Mas Tacos Por Favor and The Eastland Café are all worth consideration. Marché Artisan Foods and Lockeland Table (a James Beard Foundation nominee) are two of the reasons The New York Times says Nashville is giving Atlanta a run for ‘food capital of the south.’ Head upstairs at Marché to network at community tables.
Live music venues channel local talent, and East Nashville doesn’t disappoint. The 5 Spot keeps it going all week long, while 3 Crow Bar also offers darts, TV, trivia and a beer garden.
Orlando’s Ivanhoe Village: Sip wine among exotic antiques
Ready to experience Orlando for adults, the way the locals do? Head straight for Ivanhoe Village, a bohemian revitalized neighborhood just north of downtown (Orange Avenue below Princeton). Low-slung buildings from the ’50s and ’60s are now home to a pop art store, a string of trendy restaurants, antique shops, surprising home interior retailers, a record store and a food co-op. You’ll find everything from Moroccan lamps to parlor-made ice cream.
One of Ivanhoe Village’s more unique businesses – The Imperial Wine Bar at Washburn Imports – is an exotic upscale import furniture store by day, and wine bar with live music by night. Patrons get their sushi on when the Fish Out of Water food truck parks outside, in rotation with several other trucks. Longtime favorite White Wolf Café often has its outdoor patio full for lunch and dinner. Hungry visitors will also find Greek and Italian eateries nearby.
Boom-Art by Rogers Studio sells its pop art and décor to clients which include Shaquille O’Neal; go by and see what grabs you. “You can easily entertain yourself for hours,” says Orlando Local Expert A.D.Thompson of Ivanhoe Village.
Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row: Happening hub for art, food
Earlier this spring, a half-mile long table was set for an alfresco community dinner in Phoenix’s hotter-than-hot Roosevelt Row.
This extraordinary FeastOnTheStreet fete was just another feather in the cap of the reinvented downtown arts district locals refer to as “RoRo.”
RoRo connects the heart of the city to over half a dozen historic neighborhoods, while lying adjacent to ASU’s Honors College. This vibrant, ever-changing neighborhood gives urban explorers every reason to visit: an indie cinema, cool shops galore; unusual restaurants; coffee houses; a new French-owned patisserie; and a steady stream of new galleries.
On Food Truck Fridays, swarms of happy, hungry locals chow down at picnic tables adjacent to nearly two dozen trucks. Older homes in RoRo have been transformed into cool social hubs, Jobot coffeehouse and Cibo pizzeria among them. Made gallery (aka Made in Phoenix) sells locally-crafted goods, while Film Bar keeps the arthouse movie crowd sated. Bliss Rebar’s large patio has become a favored urban oasis; Lost Leaf bar combines fine art, craft beer and live music . . . and makes it work.
As an infill project, some vacant lots in RoRo hold large pods used by artists as temporary studios, while others are seeded with sunflowers and later harvested by high-school science students, who turn them into fuel.
Portland’s Central Eastside: Taste, paddle, sip or shop
Great American cities are reimagining their industrial waterfronts and Portland’s Central Eastside is doing everything right. Paddlers, foodies, beer and coffee connoisseurs, and fashionistas all are hooked on it. With the introduction of the Portland Streetcar Central Loop, this happening neighborhood became even more accessible. Curious visitors can also reach the trendsetting district in a picturesque 15-minute walk from downtown via the Burnside, Morrison or Hawthorne bridges.
The award-winning farm-to-table restaurant clarklewis – an Eastside pioneer – is joined by Le Pigeon and its James Beard star chef Gabriel Rucker. Noble Rot, Simpatica Dining Hall, Boke Bowl and new rock-and-roll-and-pizza hot spot Sizzle Pie also shine. Coffee lovers, take note: the Central Eastside is home to American Barista and Coffee School, which shares the neighborhood with Brewers Cup triple winner Coava Coffee.
Portland’s neighborhood “across the river” reigns at night. Dig a Pony, Rum Club, Kir Wine Bar, Mirakutei and countless other clubs and venues serve up everything from single malts to indie rock.
The Eastside’s many distilleries and urban wineries appeal to some visitors, while other more active types head to the Willamette River outfitters along the Eastbank Esplanade, a riverfront cycling and walking path. Shoppers are not without resources. Along east Burnside, the 811 building holds numerous tiny boutiques and design studios.
Keep an eye on: Portland’s Historic West End, home to an enticing number of boutiques, design shops, hotels, restaurants and cafes.
San Francisco’s Valencia Street: Bump into Famous Writers
San Francisco’s colorful Valencia Street isn’t nearly as polished as other parts of the city, but its unexpected surprises make it a great place to go exploring. Valencia runs through the famed Mission District. Having shaken its unsavory past, today’s Mission is heaving with solvent hipsters and the quirky shops which attract them. Slow food restaurants, wine bars, coffee houses, boutiques and lounges all aim squarely at consumers seeking a dot-com soul mate, a good craft brew or a badger-foot kilt pin (we kid you not: find Paxton Gate).
Public transport is part of the fun in San Francisco, so go by bus (Muni); or take BART (the subway) which stops nearby, at 16th and 24th. Most of the bars and restaurants are within five blocks. Find the new Pica Pica (wowing residents with its Latin food); Dosa (Indian-style crepes with spiced potatoes and kale chutney); or Blondie’s (where regulars know to order martinis).
“Valencia is best met on foot,” says 10Best Local Expert Tom Molanphy. “It’s relatively flat,” he says of the topography, “and tends to get less fog and more sun.” Molanphy, a writing professor, is naturally enthusiastic about the bookshop called 826 Valencia, a much-imitated writing incubator where “you might rub elbows with some famous local writers.” Michael Chabon, Isabelle Allende and Stephen King have all taught a class there. The twist? 826 is also a pirate shop, where you can stock up on fake parrots, gaudy earrings and booty . . . truly something to write home about.
Up and coming: Dogpatch, home to the city’s brand new Museum of Craft and Design.
Seattle’s Ballard: Taste craft brews, get your gnome on
Seattle’s historic Ballard neighborhood offers views of the North Pacific Fishing Fleet, the Olympic Mountains and water, water everywhere. Hipsters will find the components they expect of an urban adventure, but Ballard also appeals to beer lovers and trend-seeking shoppers. Factor in its Scandinavian culture, and you’ve got several reasons to ride the wave.
While waterfront restaurants are always a magnet (Ray’s Boathouse and Café), locals are pouring into The Sexton (cocktails and small plates); Bastille Café & Bar (French and fabulous); and The Walrus and the Carpenter (go for oysters). To see your seafood in action, however, visit Ballard when the salmon are running: Ballard’s Chittenden Locks actually provide a memorable underwater viewing room.
If craft brew is your thing, Ballard might be your little heaven. The Pacific Northwest is prime brewing territory, and Ballard is dense with options. Peddler, Populuxe, Hilliard’s, Northwest Peak, Hale’s Ales, Maritime Pacific and Reuben’s Brews all have their brands based here; Bad Jimmy’s is imminent. The BalMar offers cocktail lovers a sexy alternative while stages at Tractor Tavern’s and Conor Byrne Pub are often rocking.
Unexpected public art defines Ballard’s Bergen Place Park, while Sunset Hill Park overlooks Puget Sound. Get gnome-y at the largest Norwegian parade in America or check out Ballard’s acclaimed Nordic Heritage Museum; Coppergate Restaurant (Scandinavian cuisine); or unique retailer Scandinavian Specialties. Treasure hunting is eye-popping fun in Ballard’s array of galleries and unexpected shops.
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