A metropolitan vacation is exciting and filled with energy. Many of America’s biggest cities are also the most vibrant and diverse. From the restaurants, markets, bars and nightlife to the historical attractions, major cities bring together a plethora of cultures and inspirations.
And as any local will tell you, “downtown” is normally where the action’s at. But where there are people, there are generally higher costs. The stores are high-end, the eateries are chic and the pubs are swanky. And the price of a downtown hotel? No thanks.
TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals has rounded up 11 awesome “downtown” neighborhoods across the US. Some you may be aware of, others are up-and-coming urban hotspots. Great for visitors and locals alike, each have their own unique character, activities, sights, sounds and tastes.
On your next trip, consider a vacation rental nearby one of these unique neighborhoods. Vacation homes aren’t limited to just houses, either. You’ll find apartments, lofts and condos in the heart of the city for much cheaper than their hotel counterparts.
Shopaholics will love Bellevue’s recent influx of upscale shopping complexes. Between The Bellevue Collection, The Shops at the Bravern, Bellevue Square, Lincoln Square and Bellevue Place, there are over 200 boutique stores and restaurants, multiple department stores and a 16-screen cinema among the skyscrapers and commercial businesses. Scenery-seekers will enjoy the Bellevue Botanical Garden and Downtown Park, a 20-acre park with a half-mile promenade lined with trees and grassy fields. The Bellevue Arts Museum features revolving exhibits of art, from fashion to architecture to handcrafts.
The emerging downtown arts district, DTLA, has seen a mega renaissance in recent years from land of abandoned warehouses to LA’s next neighborhood to watch. If you’re looking for an alternative to star-studded Hollywood or hipstersque Silver Lake, this is the spot for you. Trendy coffee shops have popped up on every corner (literally, Shreebs is a deliciously-sporadic pop-up cafe known to make an appearance in DTLA). The boutique stores will please the trendiest fashionista, while the bars and restaurants range from hole-in-the-wall pubs and burger joints to cocktail-chic lounges and savory steakhouses. And of course there are plenty of art galleries.
Some deserted ex-factories still exist, but they’re slowly being turned into beautiful lofts and apartments with exposed brick walls and floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s an up-and-coming neighborhood rich with character just waiting to break through. If you’re visiting Los Angeles, consider a rental in the downtown arts district for a more unique, tourist-free experience.
A trip to Cleveland likely involves a night or two in its renowned theater district, home to Playhouse Square, the largest performing arts center in the US outside of New York City. Indeed that’s the main attraction, but you’d be remiss to pass on two other gems: Coventry Village and Little Italy.
Coventry Village, also called Downtown Cleveland Heights, has transformed from a stale commercial business district to a hard-rocking music scene ripe for artists and hipster types. Rock club Grog Shop and its lounge counterpart B-Side are hotspots to catch a show and enjoy some drinks. The area boasts three quirky bookstores, a vinyl shop and popular local cafe, Phoenix Coffee. If the Indians or Browns have a big game, hit Winking Lizard Tavern for your classic sports bar atmosphere.
Cleveland’s Little Italy is also worth a visit, if only to try some of Ohio’s best, most authentic Italian cuisine. But we recommend spending a full day perusing the more than 20 art galleries, getting in on a bocce ball game or hitting a wine tasting before dinner. Spuzzillo’s Market is a real treat – a local grocery store selling indigenous Italian ingredients. Scoop up some Italian spices, sauces or rubs and an assortment of cured meats to take back to your vacation rental. The full kitchen makes it easy to prepare home-cooked meals or store perishable food.
Thornton Park is less nightlife-centric and more a place to relax and unwind among contemporary, European-style establishments. Thornton Park proves that Orlando is more than just Disney World, with over 50 locally owned specialty shops, boutiques and restaurants. The brick-lined streets boast outdoor dining areas, music venues and laid-back pubs with a strong community vibe. Locals say the turkey sandwich at Dexter’s – grilled mesquite turkey, Gouda and lava mustard – is not to be missed, while the wine scene at Aroma’s is your go-to happy-hour escape.
Hailed as Florida’s version of NOLA, Ybor City makes for a great day pursuit for families. It’s history lies in its Cuban roots, with America’s two oldest cigar-making companies situated here – Tampa Sweetheart Cigars (Arturo Fuente family) and J.C. Newman Cigar Co. You’ll find restaurants, bars and retail in Centro Ybor, anchored by the award-winning Columbia Restaurant, operating for more than a century. Coppertail Brewing Co. serves a stern IPA, while La Tropicana Cafe has fantastic Cuban-Spanish cuisine. Finish your day with some bellyaching laughs at Tampa Improv. For younger travelers into the nightclub scene, Ybor City’s 7th Avenue boasts plenty of chic dance hideaways, upscale clubs or casual burger joints with live music.
Silver Spring lies just a few miles north of Washington, DC, offering a great change-of-pace endeavor for those visiting the nation’s capital. Downtown Silver Spring, considered the arts and entertainment district, is charming, cultured and musically inspired. Most notably, the American Film Institute Silver Theater hosts the AFI Docs international film festival every June, while The Fillmore is a live entertainment venue considered a cornerstone of downtown’s music scene. Sunny days call for a walk through the Silver Spring Market, a fantastic farmers market with everything from organic, pesticide-free produce, meat and cheeses to fresh-cut flowers, wine tastings and cooking demos.
The arts and entertainment district of downtown Albuquerque is on the rise. Recently having completed a multi-million dollar revitalization, the area is now home to attractions like the KiMo Theatre and tons of lively bars, restaurants, coffee shops and stores on the famous Central Avenue strip.
Technically not Denver’s main “downtown” district (that belongs to the wildly popular LoDo), the River North Art District, or RiNo, is a burgeoning community primed for a breakout. Its unique blend of urban charm and industrial revival makes it a great destination for visitors, as old historic warehouses now host jazz bars, brewpubs, art galleries and restaurants. Led by The Source, an iconic European-style artisan building with a bakery, coffee roaster, taqueria, brewery, butcher shop, produce vendor, florist, cheese shop and cocktail bar, the River North Art District is a tasteful mecca not yet known to the masses. Keep an eye out for the cool rhino murals around the neighborhood – aptly reflecting the area’s RiNo nickname.
NOLA isn’t just about Bourbon Street, and neighborhoods like the Lower Garden District prove that Louisiana’s history goes beyond Mardi Gras celebrations. The architecture alone is a sight to see, with beautiful homes and quaint eateries along magnificent old streets.
The downtown district of Arlington is making a name for itself in arts, entertainment, dining and shopping. There’s an energetic college vibe with the university right next door, but working professionals both young and old enjoy the local scene, too. Catch live music at the Levitt Pavilion or Arlington Music Hall, see incredible exhibits at the Museum of Art or just take a load off with a craft beer at one of the many restaurants and pubs.
The West Loop of Chicago has seen a mega transformation the past few years from a meatpacking, industrial area to one of Chicago’s fastest-growing neighborhoods. Often overlooked for Wicker Park, Millennium Park and the downtown Loop, the West Loop is creating a character all its own. Sleek restaurants mix with nightclubs, sports bars, sushi houses, bakeries, breweries and cocktail lounges. The nearby Chicago French Market is the city’s only year-round, indoor marketplace perfect for stocking the fridge in your vacation rental.