America is a dynamic country, and its most oft-visited cities are always different every time you stop by. It can be hard to keep your finger on the pulse of a city, especially when whole neighborhoods go and reinvent themselves while you aren’t looking.
Inspired by Lonely Planet’s list of the coolest neighborhoods around the world, we asked our US-based travel experts and Lonely Planet Locals to report back about the neighborhoods in their favorite cities that should be on any traveler’s must-visit list.
The self-driving cars zipping around Pittsburgh remind visitors that it's a city thinking well beyond its industrial roots © Brandon Presser / Lonely Planet.
East Liberty & Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh won’t be the first American city to beep on your cool-o-meter, but its eastern neighborhoods might just be the sleeper hit your hipster sensibilities have been craving.
Around ten years ago, young artists and entrepreneurs started taking over the vacated warehouses of Lawrenceville – vestiges of the Industrial Revolution – and using the deeply discounted spaces to try their hand at everything from start-up ateliers to microbreweries. Today, nearby East Liberty is helping fly the banner, with its newer source of gravity: the old Nabisco factory, home to the city’s Google offices. Uber is in the neighborhood too, officially making the area a legitimate regional tech hub and the country’s leading test site for self-driving cars. As a result, the influx of moneyed millennials has willed a new food and beverage scene into existence, led by the Ace Hotel, which opened in a once-derelict YMCA in 2015—all of which is making the Steel City’s reputation considerably less rusty.
Brandon Presser is an East Coast-based travel writer and TV host. Follow him @bpnomad
Come to Avondale for dinner, stay for some avant-garde theater at Prop Thtr @ Karla Zimmerman / Lonely Planet
A neighborhood where you can hit up a pierogi buffet (Red Apple Buffet), a theater giving equal time to kitty cats and Ionesco plays (Prop Thtr), and a streetwise Michelin-starred restaurant (Parachute) in one fell swoop? Yes, please.
Avondale offers no hotels or tourist sights. It’s mostly humble two-flat homes and the occasional smokestack or steeple popping up. But throughout this working-class beat on Chicago’s northwest side, groovy things are brewing. That’s literal in the case of Revolution Brewery, whose sprawling tap room makes hop fiends swoon. Within a few blocks, Kuma’s Corner grills hulking burgers with a side of heavy metal and Honey Butter Fried Chicken cooks a sweet-and-salty bird. Meanwhile, kielbasas waft from Milwaukee Ave, a hub for Chicago’s Polish community.
Get here soon though, because Avondale teeters on the edge. Hipster ‘hoods nibble at its borders, poised to spill over. And that may change its scruffy, artsy, lived-in magic.
Karla Zimmerman is a travel writer and Chicago resident. Read more @karlazimmerman
Point Loma offers good food, historic monuments and views of San Diego Bay @ Jade Bremner / Lonely Planet
Point Loma, San Diego
Point Loma is the conservative neighbor of hippy Ocean Beach, with its sports fishing centers, yacht clubs, and naval base. The elephant’s trunk shaped peninsula is separated from Downtown by San Diego Bay and Coronado Island and is home to a mishmash of New England-style clapboard houses, tropical- themed hotels, and exquisite modern hilltop homes with panoramic views of the city and harbor below.
It’s common to see members of the armed forces in uniform around the sleepy town, but foodies also gravitate to Point Loma for the outstanding seafood brought to shore daily by boats, and served in local restaurants. The young and hip hang out at Liberty Market, a 22,000sq ft former military barracks turned artisan food hub – San Diego’s answer to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Here, local vendors serve everything from freshly baked cakes and organic roast beef to homemade empanadas and craft beer.
At Point Loma’s southernmost tip stands the famous Cabrillo National Monument, where in 1542 Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo became the first European explorer to discover San Diego. The 144-acre national park surrounding the monument has hikes, tide-pools, a lighthouse and a history museum to explore. It’s also one of the best places in the city to spot whales during their Pacific migration.
Between two neighbourhoods, a whole new hangout has emerged © Geoffrey Smith
A highlight from Lonely Planet’s global list, this new community has slowly taken shape in the space between two of Seattle’s most popular neighborhoods. First coined by Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell, owner of Frelard Pizza Company, the name Frelard reflects those of its neighbors: Fre(mont) and (Bal)lard.
Visitors wandering from the Fremont Troll to the Chittenden Locks can now stop to sample one of the area’s growing restaurant, bar and brewery options. The Leary Traveler welcomes travelers for a craft cocktail and sliders, or you can relax over a traditional brown ale or IPA from one of the oldest breweries in Seattle, Hale’s Ales. There are plenty of options for food too, from the aforementioned Frelard Pizza Company to the protein-rich menu at Giddy Up Burgers. It’s the perfect place to refuel on a day spent exploring beyond Seattle’s main tourist sights.
Valerie Stimac is a Seattle-based travel writer and editor. Follow her tweets @Valerie_Valise
East Nashville pops with color during the Tomato Art Fest © Evan Godt / Lonely Planet
East Nashville, Nashville
Music City is known for its country crooners and the honky tonks on Lower Broadway, but just across the Cumberland River in East Nashville, residents march to the beat of a different drum. You’ll still see a George Jones sticker on the register at Dino’s (which claims itself as the oldest dive bar in the city), but there’s more tattoos, street murals and alternative music venues on this side of town.
There’s also plenty of delicious places to eat, whether you want a quick bite at Mas Tacos Por Favor (well, quick aside from the inevitable long line of fans at the counter), or want to sit down for steak or wood-fired pizza at neighborhood-favorite Lockeland Table. No matter where you go, you’ll walk past charming craftsman style homes and maybe even see some leftover decorations from the quirky Tomato Art Festival that takes over the streets every summer.
A modern pedestrian bridge serves as centerpiece at Yards Park © Jon Bilous / Shutterstock
Capitol Riverfront & Yards Park, Washington, DC
One of DC’s most recent reincarnations, the former Navy Yard, a commercial wharf in the 19th Century, has been completely overhauled. Formerly one of the grittier parts of the US capital, the riverfront area began to change in 2008, when it became home to Nationals Park, DC’s major league baseball stadium. These days, there’s more reasons to visit here than for sport alone; the entire waterfront precinct now features an attractive boardwalk, small riverside parks and a handful of top-notch eateries.
The star restaurant (and current hot-spot), Salt Line, serves up a Chesapeake and New England-style seafood delights, while the upmarket Osteria Morini whips up Italian cuisine. Or you can grab a beer at the cool Blue Jacket Brewery. In a creative twist, Navy Yards Park is home to a high-flying Trapeze School New York-Washington DC. But my favorite activity here is to paddle along the waterfront; you can rent kayaks from the Ballpark Boathouse.
Sunset Park offers spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline © Barry Winiker / Getty Images
Sunset Park, New York City
The success of art and commerce behemoth Industry City has shone a light onto one of Brooklyn’s most exciting under-the-radar neighborhoods. Another favorite from Lonely Planet’s global neighborhood list, Sunset Park sits below Park Slope on the south and western borders of Green-Wood Cemetery, and hosts a heady mix of cultures and traditions.
On the east side stands Brooklyn’s Chinatown, with its rows of restaurants, bubble tea shops and boutiques. The west is home to a large Latin American community and plenty of friendly bars, not to mention the historic Melody Lanes bowling alley. At the center of it all is Sunset Park itself. Set on one of the highest hills in Brooklyn, it offers spectacular views of lower Manhattan for the locals and visitors who flock here on summer evenings.
Robert Balkovich is a Lonely Planet writer based in New York. Follow his tweets @robertbalkovich
Looks may be deceiving as low-key exteriors house a wealth of great dining and shopping options along South 1st St in Austin @ Amy Balfour / Lonely Planet
South 1st Street, Austin
At first glance, South 1st Street looks like a ho-hum stretch of cottages, food trucks and weathered buildings. But don’t be fooled by the low-key façade. Chatty locals keep Bouldin Creek Café and the indie coffee shops buzzing while beloved Torchy’s Tacos serves “damn good tacos” from its very first location – a trailer – all day long. Boutiques, vintage shops and bakeries have a dedicated following, and popular stand-alone eateries whip up everything from French crepes to pad Thai to Tex-Mex. At the corner of South 1st and W Annie Streets, the Greetings from Austin mural gives an appreciative nod to the city. It’s an appealing mix of old and new – and a stark contrast to trendy South Congress Avenue one block east, where the people-jammed sidewalks thrum into the wee hours.
To explore, pick up a B-cycle on South Congress Avenue or board Capital Bus 10, which connects downtown Austin with South 1st Street. The new South Congress Hotel is a favorite for local staycations, or you can overnight in a nearby rental condo or cottage.
Amy Balfour is a travel writer who has researched the US Southwest, among many other destinations, for Lonely Planet.
Southern-inspired food awaits through the doors at the Country Cat in Montavilla © Becky Ohlsen / Lonely Planet
On the far side of Mount Tabor Park in southeast Portland is the quietly cool Montavilla neighborhood. Its core is just a half-dozen blocks along Stark Street, lined with shops, restaurants and bars. The lynchpin of this stretch is the Academy Theater, a second-run cinema (built in 1948, restored and reopened in 2006) that serves beer, wine and pizza and even has childcare. Across the street, the Bipartisan Café has pie and coffee and a proud history as an inclusive, open-minded community hub.
Fifteen or so years ago, this neighborhood had a seedier reputation, but an active neighborhood association steadily worked to sort it out, drawing in new businesses like the beloved Country Cat. Now there’s a busy Sunday farmers market, a handful of craft-cocktail and beer bars, cute little independent shops and a dive bar, Montavilla Station, known for its weekend blues jams.
River North aims to retain its personality and arts scene as Denver expands @ Gabriel Rovick / Lonely Planet
River North (RiNo), Denver
When I was a punk-rock kid we would go to shows in the abandoned warehouses of Denver. Besides the ear-popping music and terrible smell of clove cigarettes, it was the steampunk allure of this rough industrial corner of town, now known as River North (or simply RiNo) that really drew suburban kids like us in. In these darkest stretches of Denver’s inner city, we were sure we would find sex, drugs, rock-n- roll, and the kind of fun that our parents didn’t want us to have…It was perfect.
Even as the Mile High City expands, RiNo still clings to its punk-rock roots. You’ll find it in the street murals that seem to pop up overnight, in the experimental galleries that play open house on Friday nights, and in the innovative food halls and rockabilly microbrews that play host to the city’s young, bold and tattooed.
Through it all, RiNo is cultivating its unique personality and character, and playing center stage for the resurgent arts and cultural scenes that have transformed D-Town into the cultural dynamo of the American West.