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Please help us find an interesting, older US city to visit
September 11, 2013 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Dear Mefites, My sister and I have an opportunity to get away for a few days in the next couple of months, and we need your help.

We are in California, and are looking to fly to a city in the United States that has some or all of the following features:

1. A cool, old walkable Downtown
2. Grand early 20th century architecture, both in use and derelict
3. A garden-style cemetery with fine monuments
4. Good public transportation (we'd prefer not to rent a car)
5. Unusual or unusually great museums and/or folk art environments
6. Historic hotels, probably downtown
7. A public market packed with local stalls (example: Cleveland's West Side Market, Los Angeles' Grand Central Market) or good access to unique local cuisine
8. Not too expensive
9. Good thrift / vintage shopping
10. Not too cold in late fall

We visited Cleveland not long ago, and loved it. Can you recommend another city in America that is similarly awesome and may not be on our radar?
posted by gothchick33 to Travel & Transportation around United States (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Buffalo, NY. It has everything you're looking for, though the public transportation is largely via bus. The city proper is very bikable, though.
posted by KingEdRa at 8:12 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it too obvious to say New Orleans?
posted by cairdeas at 8:12 PM on September 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


Boston seems to check all of these boxes.
posted by MiaWallace at 8:16 PM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm not entirely sure about public transportation, but Charlotte?

I'm biased, but Fort Worth's downtown is revitalized but a lot of old architecture has been maintained. The Hilton on Sundance Square used to be the Texas Hotel, where JFK gave a speech before going to Dallas. I've stayed there, it's all moderny Hilton but they've got a lot of photos up in the public areas.

Public transportation, though...eh. There might be a trolley type situation, but taking a taxi to the Stockyards or the Cultural District, where the fantastic Kimbell and Amon Carter museums are (plus the Cowgirl museum!), is not a big deal and very common. You can take a train from downtown Fort Worth to downtown Dallas, as well.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:16 PM on September 11, 2013


Philadelphia literally hits all of your checkpoints, with the possible exceptions of a garden-style cemetery with fine monuments (and it may well have one that I'm not aware of; in fact, I'd bet that it probably does), and not too cold in late fall (which would very much depend on your definitions of 'cold' and 'late fall').
posted by breakin' the law at 8:16 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cincinnati/NKY hits some of the points. Haven't ever got enough time there to hit all the things I'd ever want to see.
posted by deezil at 8:22 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Philadelphia would be great! If there's no suitable cemetery (I'm sure there is, but I just don't know of one), substitute a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary. It might scratch the same itch.
posted by TrarNoir at 8:26 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure about the public transportation, but Charleston SC is quite walkable and it should hit the rest of your requirements. Boston also is quite good, depending on your definition of "cold."
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 8:27 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Chicago hits nearly all of your points: it's got a very walkable downtown (and lots of cute suburban downtowns if you're looking for more of that kind of downtown), early 20th century architecture, garden cemeteries (Graceland, Calvary), good transit, great museums (Art Institute, MOCA), hotels downtown, and great thrift/vintage shopping (places in Wicker Park/Bucktown especially.) If you are from one of the major California cities Chicago should be slightly cheaper than home, although it is the most expensive place in the Midwest.

On the downside, it doesn't really have a good public market in my opinion, and, well, weather is totally up to you and your standards of what is "cold."
posted by andrewesque at 8:36 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm from Philly, so my first instinct was to say Philadelphia. It does hit a lot of your list, and just has a really interesting history in the formative period of the US. But coming from Cali, it's probably going to be too cold for you in late fall.

I really suggest New Orleans. The cemeteries are the absolute best. It's one of the neatest cities I've ever been to, though I can't speak for public transit. It might be crowded at that time of year though -- I went in August, and while it was muggy as hell, it was nice that I didn't have to compete with crowds.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:48 PM on September 11, 2013


Charleston, SC
Not sure about the public transport but it has everything else on your list for sure.
posted by ZabeLeeZoo at 9:02 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


St. Louis?

1. A cool, old walkable Downtown
Check, plus the country's tallest national monument.

2. Grand early 20th century architecture, both in use and derelict
Check. On the early end, we have the Wainright Building, often considered the first skyscraper (but it is late 19th century). There's also everything built in anticipation of the 1904 World's Fair.


3. A garden-style cemetery with fine monuments

Unsure what you mean by "garden-style", but the Bellefontaine Cemetery should fit the bill. Has beautiful tombs, crypts and markers, as well as a chapel built in 1909 and restored in 2009. Among the interred are both Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch, U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton, William S. Burroughs and Sara Teasdale.


4. Good public transportation (we'd prefer not to rent a car)

There are two light rail lines, including access between the airport and downtown. Otherwise it's the bus. This, along with the weather, are probably the biggest question marks based on your criteria.


5. Unusual or unusually great museums and/or folk art environments

The City Museum is the one everyone will tell you to see (and for good reason), though it's far from a traditional museum environment (they do have areas that are more traditional museum-type, including an architecture room and a bug room — the architecture room is occasionally closed for events, so you may want to check on that).

There is the American Kennel Club's Museum of the Dog. The Museum of Westward Expansion underneath the Arch. The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum; the St. Louis Art Museum (in a building from the World's Fair, with an addition that just opened a few months ago) and the Missouri History Museum, which are both in Forest Park. Here's a list.


6. Historic hotels, probably downtown

Yep. Lots downtown, as well as the 1920 art deco Chase Park Plaza that overlooks Forest Park.


7. A public market packed with local stalls (example: Cleveland's West Side Market, Los Angeles' Grand Central Market) or good access to unique local cuisine

The Soulard Market. Best from May to September, but open year-round.


8. Not too expensive

Check.


9. Good thrift / vintage shopping

Lots of options. The Future Antiques, for one. Gringo Jones, for another.


10. Not too cold in late fall

Temps average 60-80 in September, 50-70 in October, 40-55 in November.
posted by brentajones at 9:02 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is basically Philly in a nutshell, so I'll nth that and elaborate.

1. A cool, old walkable Downtown: check. Walkable in less than an hour if you hustle. (I'm thinking Walnut, Schuylkill to Delaware.) Independence Hall area is great, and will be less tourist-infested (no offense) around then.

2. Grand early 20th century architecture, both in use and derelict: Yes. The weird thing about Philly is that it was a very "low" city for a long time. See curse of William Penn. The Bourse springs to mind too. If you take a trip up Delaware Ave you'll get old industrial (which engineer-me thinks of as "grand") that's either empty or repurposed (plus an awful casino, but we'll ignore that).

3. A garden-style cemetery with fine monuments: I'm pretty sure there are several of these in Old City, but I agree that Eastern State Pen may tick the same boxes.

4. Good public transportation (we'd prefer not to rent a car): Septa is annoying, but the buses get everywhere (eventually). The El goes east-west very quickly.

5. Unusual or unusually great museums and/or folk art environments: MUTTER MUSEUM. Full-stop. Nothing better. Plus the Barnes, the Rodin garden, and one that some guy ran up the stairs of in some movie.

6. Historic hotels, probably downtown: Yes. Old City is the place to look, or maybe on Broad.

7. A public market packed with local stalls (example: Cleveland's West Side Market, Los Angeles' Grand Central Market) or good access to unique local cuisine: There are two excellent examples: Reading Terminal and the Italian Market (stop at Dibruno bros!)

8. Not too expensive: Totally check. Very cheap for a major metropolitan area.

9. Good thrift / vintage shopping: Not my thing, but I think so? Check out Antique Row in Wash West. Several consignment shops that my wife likes.

10. Not too cold in late fall: eh, totally variable. Could snow, could be 60.


If you want a smaller city, Savannah has Philly beat for architecture, cemeteries, charm. But I think it's boring. Different strokes.
posted by supercres at 9:11 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Charleston, SC, and Savannah, GA.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:16 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


The garden-style cemetery with fine monuments in Philadelphia is Woodlands. Has plenty of romantic victorian decay, too.
posted by moonmilk at 9:17 PM on September 11, 2013


Asheville 100% except the good public transport though.
posted by greta simone at 9:26 PM on September 11, 2013


Richmond, VA.

1. A cool, old walkable Downtown center of the city
2. Grand early 20th century architecture, both in use and derelict
3. Hollywood Cemetery
4. GRTC Transit System
5. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
6. Historic hotels, probably downtown
7. A public market packed with local stalls or good access to unique local cuisine
8. Not too expensive (no link, but trust me)
9. Good thrift / vintage shopping (oh yes)
10. Not too cold in late fall

Please do visit Strange Matter (one of my relatives is a partner and works the bar).
posted by infinitewindow at 9:27 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


You'd need (or feel like you need) a car for Charleston. Savannah too. That's the south.

Philly. Maybe Chicago depending on weather.

Left-field suggestion? Pittsburgh. Public indoor market, garden cemetery. Weather-wise, about the same as Cleveland.
posted by holgate at 9:32 PM on September 11, 2013


I don't think you need a car for Charleston or Savannah for just a few days. We went to both cities in April and there was no need for a car if you didn't want to leave downtown.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:44 PM on September 11, 2013


Of course Chicago...

But don't discount Savannah. Its beautiful...just ask General Sherman.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:45 PM on September 11, 2013


Seconding Richmond and highly recommending Charlottesville, VA, as well. Monticello and the old campus at UVA are both among the very few UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:48 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised more people haven't recommended Boston! It hits every single one of your requirements - it's a really nice city to walk around in. Cambridge is just across the river and would also be a lot of fun for walking around, thrift shopping and old cemeteries.
posted by lunasol at 10:15 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wanted to add a vote for Richmond, VA. Fall weather is great and it's not too expensive. We have a great assortment of local eateries and lots of history. One of the big reasons I moved here was because of all the thrift stores and vintage shopping. If you come here, check out Halcyon and Bygones for vintage clothes, and Diversity Thrift (open Wed-Sun) for cheap goods. We have, at last count I checked, 11 Goodwills in the area, as well as a couple Salvation Armies and lots of smaller independent thrift stores. West End Antiques also has furniture and accessories from the 50's and 60's, though it is mostly more traditional pieces. Definitely take a long walk in "the fan" neighborhood to see great older homes. If you like vegetarian food check out Ipanema, and go to Kuba Kuba for some of the best food and laid-back atmosphere around.
posted by shortyJBot at 2:53 AM on September 12, 2013


Please let me please anti-suggest the Charlotte recommendation.

1. Not cool, not old downtown.
2. Not grand architecture, unless you are impressed by competing bank office spires and megachurches.
3. A garden-style cemetery? Ok you might find that.
4. Bad public transportation - buses often skip stops, and it costs $1.75 to ride.
5. Unusual or unusually great museums and/or folk art environments - there are some ok museums here, but you might prefer the offerings of western North Carolina.
6. No historic hotels that I can think of.
7. A public market - there's a decent farmers market near Billy Graham highway, but it's only open on Saturday. Nothing comparable downtown.
8. Not expensive.
9. Mediocre thrift/vintage shopping from a menswear POV.
10. Not too cold in late fall.

Charlotte is fairly boring and you would have really fucked something up if you made plans with your sister to go there on vacation.

Also - there's only one vegetarian-centric restaurant in Charlotte, and everything on their menu is fake meat entrees. And it's takeout only.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:01 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Boston and Cambridge meet your needs, and the weather is perfect that time of year!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:13 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Came here to say Philly; must add that along with Woodlands, we have the beautiful and perfectly-apt Laurel Hill Cemetery. They have a great deal of info online and their educators are really nice to boot. There's also the Christ Church Burial Grounds (nearly 300 years of "visitors"!) and all of the various cemeteries turned into playgrounds, which can also be a good way to look at urban development and derelict 20th century architecture. More info on historic cemeteries in Philadelphia here.

(And yeah, we really do have a stunning number of unusual museums, especially if you wanted to explore outside the city to hit up New Jersey's Grounds for Sculpture, Doyletown's James A. Michener Art Museum, or Glencairn out in Bryn Athyn. Or you could stay in the city and visit the Mutter, the Barnes, the Rosenbach Museum and Library, the American Philosophical Society, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, or the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology [full disclosure, I volunteer there.])

Philaphilia is where you want to go for news on derelict, grand buildings in Philadelphia.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:19 AM on September 12, 2013


Philly and Boston check all your boxes, but I'm surprised nobody has yet said D.C., which also very much checks your boxes.
posted by General Malaise at 5:46 AM on September 12, 2013


Gosh, there's so many options. We visited Charleston, SC in the spring, and it was beautiful. Checks all your boxes, and we didn't feel like we needed a card for a 3 day weekend. (YMMV if going for longer). If you go, check out Squeeze Bar - we had the best time there.

Savannah is also lovely (although I don't recall museums, but there's plenty of old homes to wander around)
Portland OR was fun to wander around , but not sure about the architecture. Also, Seattle

Depending on your definition of expensive, the following (nthing mentioned above):
Boston definitely checks all those boxes (and then some!). If you do come here, check out Mt. Auburn Cemetery - it is absolutely gorgeous in the Fall
Washington DC - OMG the museums and food
Chicago (don't know about cemeteries in Chicago, but it certainly has everything else on your list).
posted by darsh at 6:03 AM on September 12, 2013


Charleston, where I live, checks all your boxes. You don't need public transport if you stay downtown. However, hotels in the walkable area are Manhattan-level expensive, so you should look to stay in an AirBnb or something similar.
posted by sandmanwv at 6:28 AM on September 12, 2013


Philly ticks all your boxes.

Take the Philly Phlash to the monuments and sight-seeing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:50 AM on September 12, 2013


N'thing that Philadelphia would be a great fit for your interests. Two other not yet mentioned sites to see in the city:

Wagner Free Institute of Science - this is a 19th century museum that hasn't changed much since then. It's a great place to visit if you like "wonder cabinet" style museums. Near Temple University.

The Magic Gardens on South St. has building upon building covered in mirror and colorful glass mosaics.
posted by plastic_animals at 7:15 AM on September 12, 2013


New Orleans! And there are a ton of great past AskMes with advice!
posted by radioamy at 10:16 AM on September 12, 2013


New Orleans, obviously. You can take the streetcar or the buses. Cemeteries aplenty. The French Quarter is the most old fashioned, European style city in the US (but not in North America, that would be Quebec City which actually is a walled city). New Orleans also has amazing food, don't discount that aspect of travel. There is a huge Market, the city is famous for the French Market. Tons of second hand shops (come on, that's what the city is about). There is no such thing as cold in the fall on the Gulf Coast (or thereabouts). Cheap? It's the South, cheap to you from the West Coast for sure. There are tons of great B&Bs in the French Quarter/adjacent. Fall is the off-season, so you're probably going to be able to negotiate room rates. Not so much Miami type art nouveau/deco architecture, but the Garden District has really awesome Victorian architecture--bonus, Anne Rice lives there and hates tourists checking her house out (so please do).

Not Cincinnati. I live here and the public transpo is HORRIBLE.
posted by syncope at 4:11 PM on September 12, 2013


I am overwhelmed by these wonderful answers! Suddenly I see seven trips in our future. Still figuring out where to go for this one, but you have given us so much to chew on - it's delightful. Thank you!
posted by gothchick33 at 7:38 PM on September 14, 2013


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