The 7 Coolest Neighborhoods in the U.S., Right NowBy Jay Gentile
A “cool” neighborhood is much more than simply a collection of art murals, dive bars and concert venues. A cool neighborhood has something in the air that you feel in your soul. You know it when you’re there. Luckily, a large and diverse country like the U.S. is blessed with many such neighborhoods.
Of course, cool is always evolving, and these neighborhoods continue to shift with each passing day, as a subjective term like “cool” remains a living, breathing concept. With that in mind, here are seven of the coolest neighborhoods in America …right now.
The hottest new hood in one of America’s fastest-growing cities, RiNo (River North Arts District) is a microcosm of Denver’s ever-accelerating transformation from cow town to major cultural hub.
The former industrial corridor near the city’s downtown has been utterly transformed in the last few years as galleries, jazz clubs, brewpubs and food halls have taken over the warehouses and factories that still serve as incubators for this innovative neighborhood’s creative class.
With dozens of art galleries and colorful street murals to explore by electric scooter, this arts-centric neighborhood just one mile north of downtown is also home to some of Denver’s best music venues (from the divey Larimer Lounge to the more upscale jazz supper club Nocturne), restaurants (grab a wood-fired pizza inside a 640-square-foot former shipping container space at the hip Cart-Driver), and breweries (from the chill vibes of Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company to the bustling patio at Ratio Beerworks).
Bywater, New Orleans
The adventurous traveler in New Orleans will discover the burgeoning neighborhood of Bywater hugging the Mississippi River less than two miles east of the French Quarter. Bywater has sometimes been called “Brooklyn South” in recent years as the area has experienced a post-Katrina boom with an influx of hipsters, musicians, artists and transplants from NYC.
Grab a po’ boy from laid-back local corner market Frady’s One Stop Food Store or some best-in-the-city barbecue from the Joint before hitting the (formerly clothing optional) pool party at The Country Club, seeing live bands on a killer outdoor stage at the more upscale wine bar Bacchanal, or manically dancing with sweaty locals at real-deal neighborhood music venue Vaughan’s Lounge (where NOLA legend Kermit Ruffins plays frequently).
During the day, stroll the Bywater’s leafy Crescent Park Trail alongside the river, dig through the stacks at the hip Euclid Records and check out the delightfully odd one-of-a-kind outdoor performance venue/art installation that is Music Box Village. Pretty soon, you’ll want to move here, too.
Logan Square, Chicago
It’s hip to be square in Chicago’s reining hipster oasis, where the main drag of Milwaukee Avenue (known as the “hipster highway”) unfurls an endless assortment of good-time diversions, from late-night bars like The Owl and Slippery Slope to some of the finest restaurants in town, including Giant and Fat Rice.
Tiki enthusiasts will find much to like at fabled Polynesian watering hole Lost Lake, while those looking for more of an old-school dive feel can gravitate toward the Bob Inn or Best Intentions. The holy trinity of Scofflaw, Billy Sunday and The Whistler are slinging some of the finest cocktails in the Midwest, while the always-happening patios of Parson’s Chicken & Fish or The Moonlighter are the stuff of which Chicago summers are made.
You can also catch a flick at the beautiful, recently renovated, 104-year-old Logan Theatre, shop for vinyl at the funky Bric-a-Brac Records & Collectibles, grab one of the best brunches in the city at the alarmingly cute Lula Café, or crash in a cool six-room B&B above the whiskey-fueled restaurant Longman & Eagle.
Echo Park, Los Angeles
While less famous than its longtime hipster neighbor Silver Lake and less trendy than up-and-coming Highland Park, Echo Park strikes the perfect balance in a cool neighborhood that retains its character without becoming overly gentrified.
With the revival of downtown Los Angeles in full swing, this historic Eastside community is much more than just the home of Dodger Stadium or its namesake park. After spending a day at the ballpark or paddleboating on the recently renovated Echo Park Lake (where you will enjoy some of L.A.’s best views of downtown), make your way into this densely populated working-class community whose rough past is largely in the rearview mirror.
Not only does the area offer colorful murals and vibrant street life that feels like an actual community (rare in L.A.), but it is also home to one of the best indie music venues in the country, The Echo, along with equally cool sister venue Echoplex. During the day, admire the charming Victorian homes along Carroll Avenue, race to the top of the Baxter Stairs for more killer views of the city, or explore weird local shops like the Echo Park Time Travel Mart.
East Austin, Austin
In a city as painfully hipster as Austin, it takes a lot to stand out when it comes to highlighting your cool side. East Austin offers a lot. The large and diverse area (bordered by I-35 to the west and the Colorado River to the south) is jam-packed with cool bars, galleries, food trucks and venues, many of them offering those quintessential “only in Austin” charms that are becoming increasingly rare in this rapidly changing city.
Old-school, family-run spots like Mr. Natural coexist alongside more trendy outposts like brunch mecca/former pharmacy Hillside Farmacy, while some of the finest barbecue in this famously barbecue-obsessed city can be had at hot spots like Franklin Barbecue and La Barbecue.
Bars range from the laid-back Licha’s Cantina (where they’re also serving excellent Mexican food with an awesome patio) to the more retro Nickel City and the swimming-pool-equipped Kitty Cohen’s, while the neighborhood is also home to some of the best (but lesser known) music venues in this world-famous music city: Scoot Inn and The White Horse.
There are also DJs at The Volstead, and there is live comedy at cool clubs like Lustre Pearl East (Monday nights), as well as a wealth of nature for daytime exploration, from Lady Bird Lake to the “secret beach” inside Roy G. Guerrero Park.
Capitol Hill, Seattle
Fremont may be “the center of the universe,” and Ballard may claim its fair share of cool, but none of Seattle‘s ‘hoods (including the up-and-coming mishmash of the two called Frelard) have yet dethroned Capitol Hill as Seattle’s longtime epicenter of cool.
Capitol Hill simply has too many assets in its favor, from the booming LGBT-friendly Pike/Pine corridor to the sprawling 48-acre Volunteer Park and a number of large-scale festivals, including the annual Capitol Hill Block Party.
On rainy days, thumb through the selections at the fantastic Elliott Bay Book Company bookstore or Everyday Music record store, see a flick at the historic SIFF Cinema Egyptian or catch a live concert at cool indie music venues like The Crocodile and/or Neumos.
Food options range from the upscale American pub Smith to the Himalayan-themed Annapurna Café, while the district is also home to slightly more “out-there” options, such as leather bar Cuff Complex and sprawling sex shop Castle Megastore.
The hipster invasion of Brooklyn may have begun in Williamsburg, but it has long since spilled out into other areas of the borough as rising rents in Williamsburg continue to push artists further east.
The sprawling northern Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick has taken up NYC’s hipster mantle in recent years, with colorful street art and more than 50 gallery spaces to explore by bike alongside a bevy of bars and ethnic eateries that help give this wonderfully diverse area much of its charm.
Grab Ethiopian at the cash-only Bunna Café or Pakistani at BK Jani before making your way into the ‘Shwick’s endless assortment of hipster-approved bars, from the divey Boobie Trap to the Instagram-friendly The Johnsons and the laid-back Hard Times Christmas Liquors at the Sunset Bar.
Heavy metal yoga (yes, we said “heavy metal yoga”) enthusiasts are encouraged to check out The Cobra Club, Franzia fans can sip their boxed wine delights at Happyfun Hideaway and club kids can do their thing at Bossa Nova Civic Club. Roberta’s remains a Mecca for pizza fanatics, and Tina’s Place is a classic neighborhood diner.