Multi-city USA low-key interesting-adventure time!
October 1, 2015 3:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm visiting a bunch of US cities this month and next! Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver/Boulder, Albuquerque and Los Angeles. I am looking for recommendations of things to do and/or folks to meet.

I will only be in each for a few days, will be alone and on foot (no car) and staying near the downtown of each whenever possible. I'm interested in quiet, low-key but interesting things, that might teach me something about each city.

A few of the sorts of things I'm looking for:
  • Neighbourhoods to walk (cafes, bookstores, etc).
  • Natural trails / parks / waterways within reasonable distance.
  • Local historical, political or geographical highlights.
  • Local transit hubs a lot of people move through (for people-watching).
  • Universities, libraries or especially interesting museums.
  • Nice vegetarian-friendly places to eat.
  • Anyone in town who wants to go for a walk, have coffee or play tourguide for an afternoon.
Not looking for shopping, music, drinking, partying or anything that requires showing up terribly well dressed. Think wandering recluse who likes reading train schedules and the plaques on historical buildings.

Mefites of America, Hook me up! (here or memail if you prefer).
posted by ead to Travel & Transportation around United States (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For Minneapolis, the local bike share has this page for some interesting tours. You don't have to do them by bike; you can adapt most of them into walking tours.
posted by soelo at 3:25 PM on October 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Pittsburgh has an extensive network of trails along the rivers and you can go from Downtown to Oakland (universities, museuems, libraries, parks, botanical conservatory) along the Monongehela River on the Eliza Furnace Trail. You can rent a bike for the day at the downtown end of the trailhead, but we also have bikeshare now with stations throughout Downtown and Oakland.

I... Should probably come back when I'm on a real keyboard. I'm a Pittsburgh lifer, lots to say and link.
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:52 PM on October 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Pittsburgh:


Carnegie Museum of Art
Mattress Factory
Warhol Museum
Senator John Heinz History Center


Amazing Cafe
Doublewide Grill (Vegan friendly comfort food - not healthy, but deeelcious!)
More at Vegan Pittsburgh

Strip District (Especially Saturday mornings)
Squirrel Hill
Mt. Washington (At night for the overlook, take the Incline Plane)
More Neighborhoods in Pittsburgh info
posted by punkrockrat at 3:54 PM on October 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Canal walk
White river gardens
Eiteljorg Museum

Chicago: this is a little harder because there's so much to do. I'm sure you'll get lots of good suggestions, here are a few less-obvious things off the top of my head:
Museum of contemporary photography (very small, in downtown)
One of the conservatories--Garfield park conservatory is better imo, but it is likely to be far from anything else you'd like to do. The other option is Lincoln park conservatory, which is closer to downtown.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:01 PM on October 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Indianapolis has a great art museum, and the Kurt Vonnegut Library is also there.
posted by PaulaSchultz at 5:01 PM on October 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

For Philadelphia, if you like reading historical plaques and walking, then I would suggest spending some time in my neighborhood - Society Hill which has a large concentration of homes from the late 1700s and early 1800s. It is also very close to the major historical sites [Independence Hall, Liberty Bell etc] which are in Old City. That neighborhood is definitely worth walking around as well.

Actually, I would say that is the case for most of center city. I love just walking around the city.

For trails I would recommend the other side of center city and the park along the Schuylkill River. They recently put in a pretty cool river walk that extends out into the river.

For food, the Reading Terminal Market is an awesome experience. Bring vegetarian will limit your options somewhat but there are still plenty of tasty things you could eat - particularly if you are fond of baked goods or fresh doughnuts made by the amish.
posted by nolnacs at 5:24 PM on October 1, 2015

Oh and if you want someone to walk around with in Philadelphia shoot me a memail. I always like going for walks.
posted by nolnacs at 5:25 PM on October 1, 2015

In Denver you should eat at Watercourse Foods.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:42 PM on October 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I went to Indianapolis 6 years ago I noticed that many countries with a beer culture are represented. Nthing the art museum; I also liked the James Whitcomb Riley house.

The PGH, Chicago, Front Range and LA mefites I've met IRL are all good people.
posted by brujita at 6:09 PM on October 1, 2015

I would recommend the Indianapolis City Market.
posted by Lingasol at 6:28 PM on October 1, 2015

Best answer: In Baltimore, you should think about getting an all-day water taxi pass ($14), and riding around. Inner Harbor is super touristy. Fells Point is historic buildings, great restaurants/bars, Ft. McHenry is neat history, etc. You could hit up a lot of neighborhoods on the Bay that way. Plus, seeing the city by water taxi is kind of fun.

There's also a free bus system in the harbor/downtown area that can take you to a lot of other neat places (museums, cafes, historic sites) pretty easily. The Visionary Art Museum in Federal Hill is fascinatingly strange and very unique. Starting Oct 5th, that bus will also go up to the Johns Hopkins University campus, which is pretty this time of year, and has libraries and an art museum and all sorts of good things.

If you let me know when you're in town, I'd be happy to show off parts of campus if I'm free!
posted by JannaK at 6:35 PM on October 1, 2015

The Indianapolis Children's Museum is pretty highly-regarded. I haven't been in years, but I have fond memories.

Center City and the Penn campus are really pretty in Philly, especially the Locust Walk. Seconding the Reading Terminal Market.

Downtown Minneapolis was cool, but I wasn't there long enough to get recommendations. The place I ate was definitely not vegetarian.

Uptown ABQ was fun. Schenley Park in Pittsburgh.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:41 PM on October 1, 2015

The Indy children's museum preserved Ryan White's bedroom; they also have displays/reenactments about Anne Frank and Ruby Bridges.
posted by brujita at 7:25 PM on October 1, 2015

In Philly, eat at Vedge or V-street (same owners). The food is incredible.
The house museum sio42 mentioned is the Rosenbach.
You can get to the Wissahickon/Forbidden Drive and Bartram's Garden relatively easily from center city. Not sure if a bus runs to the John Heinz wildlife refuge but it's pretty great if you like to see birds. Kelly Drive is also a nice walk.
The Furness Library at UPenn is one of my favorite library buildings.
The Philadelphia History Museum (known to most people as the Atwater Kent) is not well known but nice, and has more of a focus on ordinary life than most museums.
30th Street Station is beautiful and nice to sit in and people watch.
posted by sepviva at 8:07 PM on October 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

In Denver, you should go to Union Station - just recently remodeled train station/transportation hub.

In Boulder, more trails than you can shake a stick at - from Boulder Creek, a bike path that goes through town then up Boulder Canyon to Mt. Sanitas or the Flatirons.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:36 PM on October 1, 2015

Oh, and I might be interested in playing tour guide. Message me with your dates, if you know.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:39 PM on October 1, 2015

The Mütter museum is a fairly unique collection of medical oddities.

My favorite neighborhood for walking around was University City/ West Philadelphia around Clark Park (~43rd st on the East / West axis, accessible from downtown on the route 21 bus via Walnut st. It is a pretty and fairly sleepy neighborhood with Victorian houses painted odd colors and a few coffee shops and neighborhood bars (the Green Line is a good one). Walking around there is what I miss most about Philly.
posted by permiechickie at 10:11 PM on October 1, 2015

In Albuquerque, wander out of downtown proper towards the west, through some varied but interesting sub-neighborhoods. Grab lunch at glorious Vinaigrette and then see Old Town for slightly ragged touristy things (Santa Fe lite), interesting alleyways and tons of history. The Albuquerque Museum is a good historical and art museum that is worth the time. Further to the west, you could continue on to either the Botanical Garden or the Bosque proper, which contains many miles of Rio Grande-adjacent trails. There is a ton of variation in these areas - economic and cultural. A few blocks to the south, you could head towards the Country Club neighborhood and see some of the nicest houses in the city. There are far more places that look sketchy, but I wouldn't personally (timid, female) be worried about walking there, and they definitely qualify as interesting.

I think the vast majority of restaurants are vegetarian-friendly - most places will have meatless entrees. If you have restrictions beyond that, there are a few vegan-friendly places around, including my favorite Thai place, the illustriously named Thai Cuisine II, located in a former Weinerschnitzel A-frame. The highest concentration is probably in the university area to the east of downtown, another destination to people watch.

Nab a ride in a car down the long stretch of old Route 66 motels and associated remaining signage, and also up to the tram to go up the mountain, with hiking at the top (my number one recommendation for vehicle-having tourists).

And no one in ABQ will be dressed up except maybe lawyers who have to be in court that day and people who work in City Hall.
posted by pekala at 10:37 PM on October 1, 2015

Have you ever tried geocaching? In general, I find it a good way to wander and discover new cool spots. No car required. Works all across the USA. I would estimate there to be at least 2,000 caches in just Minneapolis. Use the app or website to find ones that have a lot of "favorite points", because those are always popular for a reason - either there is something clever about their design or they are in a cool location, or both.

Have a fun trip, sounds super awesome!
posted by TheClonusHorror at 6:14 AM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I second all of the Philly suggestions so far! It might also be nice to walk down 9th Street through the Italian Market (lots of street vendors selling cheap produce, coffee shops and restaurants) into South Philly. Also this might be too far out of the way (about 30-40 minutes from City Hall via SEPTA), but Port Richmond Books is an incredible experience. Haven't been to a bookstore like it, it is massive and the owner is as sweet as they come.
posted by black_lizard at 6:20 AM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

In Indy, I also recommend the Children's Museum, as well as the IMA. Indy has a nice network of urban trails to walk or bike (though, at this time of the year, the weather is likely to be pretty unfriendly for a long hike down the trails)

The recently renovated and expanded Central Library can easily kill a day. And, while you're down there, the Indiana War Memorial is pretty impressive, especially the rotunda inside.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:52 AM on October 2, 2015

I enjoyed spending a morning at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and checking out the lakeshore.

In Denver, I agree with the Watercourse and Union Station recommendations. If you want to go more casual, City O' City is owned by the same folks as Watercourse. It's also up the street from my office if you'd like to grab lunch sometime. There is a riverwalk for your nature fix, but it's only so-so. We also have tons of breweries if that's your thing; I live about a mile and a half form downtown and I have 5 within walking distance of my house. I'm happy to play tour guide too!
posted by craven_morhead at 8:02 AM on October 2, 2015

Best answer: One of the things I'd recommend for visitors to Boulder is to spend a bit of time people-watching / hanging out either in or around the Boulder Public Library (it's a great library surrounded by a massive park, and it has its own cafe on the indoor bridge overlooking the creek) as well as dropping into the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. Of course the Teahouse is the de facto touristy thing to do, but that's because it's not awfully so, and it's a classy place, not a tourist trap, and you can go as cheap as a cup of tea or as spendy as a full course meal, your choice. It's gorgeous inside and on a lovely plot of land.

The Boulder Bookstore (and attached cafe!) on the Pearl St Mall is a MUST VISIT.

If you like wine, the West End wine shop is an amazing little shop in an old Victorian storefront, and strolling along the Pearl St Mall to get to the West End is another fun thing to do. The surrounding West End neighborhood contains some of the only historical housing on that end of town that is both easy to get to on a walking tour and not hidden away behind high walls by the trustafarians.

Everywhere in Boulder has good vegetarian options, but for the full experience, your best bet would be Leaf.

My favorite coffeehouse in Central Boulder / the Pearl St. Mall area would be Trident, for the creaky wooden floors, snarky baristas, the radical hippie vibe, and the people watching.

The RTD Boulder transit hub is pretty much central to all of this on 14th and Walnut St.

Feel free to DM me if you want more info or a tour guide!
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:47 PM on October 2, 2015

Los Angeles! So many wonderful museums and galleries, so many of them accessible by public transit! Giant tar pits? Jurassic Technology? Cold War? The brand new Broad? One or both Getty sites? Fashion? Bunnies? El Pueblo de Los Ángeles? Downtown LA has many great things and it might be the perfect base for you, but consider that LA is really many cities and neighborhoods in one sprawling, sun-soaked metro area with really tragic rush hour traffic. Depending on your itinerary and priorities, staying Downtown may or may not be the best option.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:22 AM on October 3, 2015

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