When you, the rambling traveler, get your sneakers on the pavement in a new city, you quickly realize a truism about America: Every big city is worth a trip to see, but not every neighborhood is. Which is why choosing where in a city to stay is at least as important as which city to visit. When you walk out the front of your hotel or crash pad, you don’t want to futz with your phone to find cool stuff. You don’t want to cab it 20 minutes past fungible chain restaurants before you reach a decent pint and cheery locals. You don’t want to travel to a place only to find it reminds you of every other place.
Ideally, if you’re taking a weekend getaway to a big city, you want a home base that has a true sense of itself — and that gets you quietly daydreaming of a big move, even. So we put the question to dozens of writers: What are the neighborhoods in your city that make kickass destinations in their own rights — and in many cases, epitomize the best of your hometown? We sifted through the best to arrive at this 12-pack of standout ‘hoods to streamline your Airbnb search and generally ground you among a minimum of tourists. You may not be from around here, after all, but you still want the goods.
One of America’s low-key coolest cities will remind you of Portland or Austin — in a good way
Any mid-sized metropolis can host a music festival and declare itself cool, but it takes more than a craft beer tent and some overpaid leftovers from the mid-2000s indie rock boom to create magic. The sweet spot for citywide festivals that ape the SXSW model, though, would look a lot like Idaho’s capital: small enough to be walkable, big enough to be packed with amazing beer and delicious food, still eager enough to turn banquet rooms and Shriners’ halls into ad hoc music venues. This is why the annual Treefort Music Festival — which generally kicks off the Thursday after SXSW ends in March — is happy to call Boise home. It’s emblematic of why Idaho, America’s fastest-growing state, is legit pulling people inland, away from the expense of the West Coast. But it also underscores how quickly Boise itself has stealthily become the least-pretentious cool city in the country.
The underrated charms and scenery of the Treasure Valley have been welling up long before baristas from Portland moved here because it was cheap. (Need a cup of stellar joe? Hit up Slow by Slow.) Foremost is the beer scene, which goes above and beyond what any reasonable person would expect from a modest northwestern city of less than 700,000. A good start is a pint of City of Trees IPA from Woodland Empire or Longship IPA from Mad Swede, relatively new breweries that have quickly become mainstays. Head to Barbarian‘s new taproom for barrel aged stouts and sours, then walk two blocks over to Bittercreek Alehouse, Boise’s OG gastropub known for its diverse tap list. It’ll feed you an outrageous burger (try the Huntsman) and hold you close with its (in)famous “low power happy hour” that accounts for roughly 90% of all day-drinking in the greater Boise area.
Then, keep eating. For pizza, try the Gem State of Mind at The Wylder, is topped with caramelized onion, rosemary, sage, and, yep, potatoes. Find fancy-ish farm to table fare at Fork, an essential downtown stop perfect for brunch and dinner. And in the eastern corner of Downtown, ply the wait-what’s-this-doing-here Basque scene at Bar Gernika and The Basque Market for tapas-style servings of classics like lamb, squid and sole that are hard to find in cities triple the size. By the time you leave, you’ll be on your phone searching for real estate listings in Boise, imagining how your quads will look after a few months of bike-trail commuting.