The Great American City Break: An alternative guide
Think you know the USA? As in, REALLY know it? We’ve rounded up some new spins on classic US getaways, plus some alternatives that you may not have discovered yet
Published: Tuesday 21st February 2017
It’s not all boobs, bums and biceps in Miami (although we’ve spent our fair share of time appreciating that on South Beach – and recommend you do too. Between posts 12 and 13 is particularly fun). Beyond that though, this city offers so much culture – way more than we have space to talk about here.
So let’s start with our fave, which is Little Havana, a hub of Cuban cafés, restaurants and art. Stroll the streets crammed with old fellas playing dominoes, and for full-on old-school vibes head to El Rey de las Fritas, one of the best Cuban diner experiences in town. Try a frita cubana – a Cuban version of a hamburger, loaded with thin little crispy things, cheese and egg, with a mamey shake (a sweet juice, blended into a thick juice) on the side for some vit C. Recover (the portions are giant) with a Cuban coffee, then join the old fellas on the street for a game of dominoes.
How: The Vagabond Motel is a very cool retro choice in up-and-coming (and nearby) Biscayne Bay, nightly rates from £15, thevagabondhotel.com; Norwegian offers return fares to Fort Lauderdale from £159, norwegian.com; miamiandbeaches.com
New Orleans, Louisiana
No other city can live up to the unique intoxicating jumble of cultures that is New Orleans, Louisiana. Not been? New British Airways flights, launching on 27 March, make it more achievable than ever. The city may have started life in 1718 as a French-Canadian outpost, but nowadays you can expect musicians busking on street corners (the city is the birthplace of jazz), hole-in-the-wall stalls dishing up garlicky Creole cuisine (a spicy blend of French, Spanish, African and Caribbean flavours) and a bohemian, decaying yet vibrant French Quarter packed with wrought-iron balconies and parties, parties, parties – with seriously good spirit.
The city’s had its blows – you’ll remember the Hurricane Katrina footage of 2005 (and many of the outer neighbourhoods are still trying to rebuild themselves), while the BP oil spill served more economic struggles, too. But for a city with fighting talk, sass and plenty of soul, it ticks all the boxes and more.
How: The Catahoula is a cute little boutique hotel close to the city’s French Quarter with nightly rates from £148, catahoulahotel.com; British Airways offers return flights from £544, ba.com; neworleansonline.com
Think you know New York City? Yeah you probably do. But you don’t know all of it – that much we can be sure of. If you haven’t been, you’re sure to do the Times Square thing, it’s a must – with plenty of new additions this year, too, including the National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey (an interactive undersea journey right there in the heart of Manhattan). Brooklyn isn’t old news just yet, in fact new hotels including the über-cool 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge make it a great base, meaning you wouldn’t even have to touch Manhattan if you didn’t want to. And to continue with that vibe, why not spend a day or two exploring the other boroughs? Chinatown in Flushing, Queens (the REAL Chinatown) is a mind-boggling web of cheap, cheap restaurants ($1 pork buns) and little noodle stalls. Take a tour with Joe Stifano (via vimbly.com), who runs excellent food-focused walks through the city, helping you find the places you never normally would.
Jersey City, New Jersey
Nobody likes sitting in the shadow of someone else – least of all New Jersey state, and several of its cities, which sit just over the water from New York’s Manhattan. If you’re looking for that local New York experience, and doing New York on the cheap, it’s worth basing yourself in Jersey City, where Airbnb rates are mega low, and you’re just a 15-minute train across the Hudson from Wall Street.
But Jersey City is a destination in it’s own right, with a plethora of restaurant openings and some great new breweries – one of which is even gluten-free. Yep. To truly embrace the underdog state (birthplace of Meryl Streep, Danny DeVito and Bruce Springsteen), head a few miles along the Hudson to Hoboken, which is home to priced-out Manhattanites, and old-school, untrodden-by-tourists Union City, which is also known by the name “Havana on the Hudson” due to the huge Cuban population that resides there.
Anyone with a passion for Ford motors should be familiar with the story of Detroit. Nope? OK. The city was once the grand dame of car manufacturing, that all went wrong, workers left and the city was left a shell of its former self (literally – empty, beaten factories line the streets, satisfying visitors’ #ruinporn needs).
Today, though, the wheels of Motor City are turning again – young bearded entrepreneurs are moving in, new companies and restaurants are opening, and all those empty factories? Big old clubs are coming to town – think Berlin of the States, with a side of epic street art and squeaky hot dogs (perch on a faux leather stool and lean on a sticky counter at Lafayette Coney Island for the very best).
Detroit may be famous for the birth of techno, but it’s also the birthplace of Motown, and a visit to the Motown museum is an absolute must for a singalong-style run-through of the music label’s history. Formerly down-and-out cities can get a bad rep, but if you love an underdog, and a city slowing grinding its way back to its former glory, then this is definitely it.
Buffalo, New York
As you can probably tell, nobody loves a resurgent city more than us. Buffalo – perhaps most famous for its chicken wings – was once a thriving port that sailed right into a major decline in the 1980s. And now, you guessed it, it’s making a comeback.
Take the Richardson Olmsted Complex for starters, a former psychiatric hospital that’s currently being stripped and spruced into a grand hotel, or Canalside, a newly renovated riverfront district that’s home to festivals, events and craft beer (the scene is booming – try the Big Ditch Brewing Co for size).
Meanwhile there are galleries galore – including the Albert Knox, a collection of 6,500 works of modern and fine art on rotation, which ranges from Picasso to Warhol. Of course they’re not the only reason the visit, but a buffalo wing tour is essential. Get your face and fingers messy at Anchor Bar, where the spicy, saucy deep-fried phenomena was born (with a side of blue cheese).
How: The Inn Buffalo is a mansion now operating as a boutique hotel (complete with music room), innbuffalo.com; Nightly rates from £110. British Airways offers return flights to New York from £400, ba.com. Travel on with Jet Blue from £135 return, jetblue.com
We’ve been obsessed with Portland since its food-truck heyday – Oregon’s largest city was one of the pioneers of the food-truck scene, and London has a lot to thank them for. It’s expanded, evolved and is even more exciting today – take Lardo, one of the golden kids of Portland’s food-cart-turned-restaurant revolution.
The slogan “bringing fat back” equates to hefty, meaty subs and dirty fries loaded with crispy morsels. Beyond the trucks, you’ll find a wave of new additions, including urban wineries which now rival the city’s famed craft distilleries – try PDX Urban Wineries for a ‘passport’ and access to nine local tasting rooms.
For something more nutritional (yes, really) try Broth Bar, the city’s first bone broth drinking spot, which brings this nourishing food – sourced from the region’s best pasture-raised and grass-fed animals – straight to your mouth. It’s a big part of the venue’s (and the region’s) focus on supporting the local community. Get involved yourself with Delta’s new direct flight, which is launching in May.
How: Keep it quirky and stay in a tiny house on wheels in the Alberta Arts District. Nightly rates from £125, tinyhousehotel.com; For details on Delta’s new non-stop flights from London Heathrow to Portland, see delta.com; travelportland.com