BOSTON HITS IT OUTTA THE PARK
One thing no one tells you about Boston is just how cool this Massachusetts city is – and I don’t mean the winters. Its status as the oldest city in the US can be seen in the historic cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill or on the Freedom Trail – a three-hour DIY walking tour of American Revolution sites from stately Boston Common to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, site of the original Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The Fenway neighbourhood pays homage to another local institution, 2018 World Series Champions the Boston Red Sox, established as the Boston American Red Sox in 1901. Fenway Park is America’s oldest ballpark with heritage-listed stands dating back to 1912. But Boston’s not all buttoned-up historic sights, it’s a college town, too – more than 100 higher learning institutions including Harvard University and MIT are in and around the city – and one third of the population are students. Boston is also a nascent tech hub to rival Silicon Valley so there’s an air of youthful exuberance for the start of the fall school year.
The ‘Big Dig’, a three-decade-long project that involved a major overhead highway buried below ground, has been covered by Rose Kennedy Greenway, a beautifully landscaped 2.4km strip of parks by the revitalised waterfront. Stroll the open-air wine garden, sample the food trucks and take a spin on a native Boston animal on the Greenway Carousel – lobster or skunk, anyone?
Another rejuvenated area is South Boston aka ‘Southie’. The traditionally gritty Irish-American neighbourhood has evolved into a characterful precinct of 19th-century New England triple-deckers, old-school diners, beer, seafood and sea breezes by the beach. Stuffy? Not this new Boston.
Providence is the biggest city in America’s smallest state that you’ve probably never heard of. Until now.
Providence is kind of under the radar. It’s the capital city of Rhode Island state, which is not actually an island, and despite its proximity to Boston (just 75 minutes’ drive away), Providence is often overlooked on a New England itinerary. And that’s a shame as this city is a hub of the arts – both design and culinary.
Within its compact confines, Providence houses the Ivy League Brown University, the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and Johnson & Wales University’s College of the Culinary Arts and balances its heritage with a pumping student scene. It’s the only US city to have its entire downtown area listed as a Historic Place, which is the perfect starting point for a self-guided walking tour.
If design is revered here, whether that’s beautifully preserved 18th-century architecture on the East Side, America’s oldest indoor shopping mall – known simply as The Arcade, or trawling the city’s many vintage outlets, food is a close second.
Brunch is an institution at hotspots such as Grange and Julian’s, two of many hip local eateries, while a hot tip led me to Knead Doughnuts. Housed in a former bank building, there’s a delicious array of freshly made gourmet donuts with classic and specialty flavours.
All these elements come together in WaterFire, an annual installation of 100 wood-burning braziers along the Woonasquatucket and Providence rivers with street performers and food, craft and art tents along the waterfront. And like the phoenix from the ashes, the event, which started in 1994 and runs from May to November, is said to be a symbol of Providence’s urban revitalisation. Under the radar no more, Providence is now deservedly on the tourist map.
WHO’S GOT THE BLUES IN CHICAGO?
Chicago is much more than America’s Second City.
In summer, you’d think Chicago was on the seaside. Locals sail, swim, kiteboard and play beach volleyball at one of America’s unlikeliest summer hotspots (there’s 26 beaches here). Then winter comes and its population hunkers down in the famous blues (and jazz) bars on the fringes of the CBD, and you’d need an icebreaker to get around Lake Michigan.
Chicago’s like that, it’s famous for its split personality. This is one of the world’s most prominent sports towns – home of the Bulls, the Cubs, the Bears, the Black Hawks and White Sox – but it’s an arty place too, where you’ll find the US’s second-biggest art gallery; and it’s where Frank Lloyd Wright – arguably the greatest architect who ever lived – came from and left his finest legacies. And while you might know it for the Chicago deep-dish pizza – and hotdogs (with mustard, never ketchup), it’s now America’s top culinary city.
I knew it as America’s Second City (to New York), but I’ve been spending a lot of time lately in Chicago and it’s no longer the bridesmaid. It’s easy to navigate and there’s jazz clubs, blues bars and live music across its 77 neighbourhoods. But then, if you like live music, this is the city, there’s (free) blues festivals in the parks (there’s 580 of those), and it's where Lollapalooza began – arguably the event that started the music festival scene in the modern era.
I take boat tours and like to stare up at the Chicago streetscape, or go where Al Capone went before me, to Prohibition-era speakeasies such as Green Mill Cocktail Lounge. Visitors tend to blend into the streetscape – they don’t stick out like they do in New York – probably because it’s easy to go beyond the CBD, into neighbourhoods as diverse as those in LA. It’s not hard to get here (there’s two international airports) – but it’s sure getting harder to leave.
MORE FROM MIAMI
The world’s busiest cruise port, Miami is known for its glamorous beaches and glitzy restaurants. But before you jump on your ship, soak up some of the city’s coolest cultural charms.
It’s hard to imagine a neighbourhood prettier than Miami’s South Beach, a fantastical union of candy-coloured streets and palms, home to the world’s largest collection of Art Deco buildings. I could linger for weeks, watching the beautiful people strut between beachside bars where the margaritas are as large as the personalities sipping them. Yet it’s in Miami’s atmospheric neighbourhoods that I find myself developing a lasting crush on this southern US city.
The gateway to North America for Hispanic immigrants, Miami is officially bilingual. The lilt of Spanish is loudest in Little Havana, a vibrant Cuban precinct where I (clumsily) take a salsa class at 1930s-era nightclub Ball & Chain before (expertly) ordering a mojito at Old Havana Cuban Bar & Cocina. Along the ’hood’s main street I photograph bold art, watch torcedores roll cigars and linger in parks where wizened men play dominoes over heated political debates.
The murals are just as colourful and cultural in Little Haiti, an enclave home to the many immigrants from the Caribbean. The weekend market here excites all the senses: there’s music, cafes selling tasty Creole bites, stalls stocked with handicrafts and the aroma
of strong, sweet coffee made using Haitian beans.
In contrast is the Wynwood Art District, where world-leading galleries and museums shine during the annual Art Basel festivities. But, the real allure is outside, where streets are lined with one of the largest open-air installations in the world. As I gaze up at warehouse walls decorated in eye-popping hues, I’m reminded why, exactly, Miami is regarded as America’s most colourful city.