Let’s face it: You don’t have time to traverse an entire city on a short weekend trip. Instead of spreading yourself thin, relax and hone in on a single vibrant neighborhood. With many of Southern California's urban areas undergoing massive identity shifts, there’s an ever-expanding landscape to explore. Here are five of the best:
This former industrial wasteland has been transformed into a thriving artisan district. At Anaheim Brewery, once a Packard dealership, you can sip local craft beers, like the Anaheim 1888 and the Anaheim Hefeweizen, that celebrate the city's roots. Better yet, the brewery shares the space with an outpost of the beloved indulgent burger brand Umami Burger. Nearby, the Packing House, one of Orange County’s original citrus packing plants, has morphed into an upmarket food hall with organic coffee and fresh-pressed juice. And a nearby two-acre park is home to outdoor movie nights, a bustling Sunday Famers Market, and a Halloween parade.
Gallery Row, Los Angeles
Almost all of Los Angeles has endured a massive facelift in the last few years, but one of the most dramatically transformed districts is Gallery Row, where a strip of former banks and office buildings is now home to nearly 50 galleries, art studios, and bars. The epicenter is Hive Gallery & Studio, where you can find the latest works by local artists, but it's surrounded by offbeat boutiques like the Last Book Store, which, following an expansion, has been anointed the largest independent bookstore in California. Buzz Wine and Beer Shop will sell you a bottle of wine from the shop and let you drink it in the bar, so you can avoid a wine list mark-up. If you’re in need of a hangover remedy, try the Toron—oxtail hash with pickles, taters, and cheddar—at Baco Mercat.
Downtown SLO, San Luis Obispo
Recently, this Central Coast college town has been investing in its arts scene. On the first Friday of the month, studios, galleries, and cafes keep their doors open late for the Art After Dark gallery crawl. As you stroll around the neighborhood, check out buildings designed by architecture greats Frank Lloyd Wright and Dallidet Adobe. Keep it going with a first-run independent film at the historic Fremont Theatre, or view high-brow art at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. The recently upgraded Granada Hotel & Bistro is a great location for staying close to the action (and taking advantage of their outdoor terrace).
Little Italy, San Diego
San Diego’s version of North Beach has recently caught up with modernity, without shunning its roots—the Italian film festival still draws a crowd, and it’s as easy as ever to find traditional handmade pastas. But a recent onslaught of hip new restaurants has ushered in young blood. Sophisticated pubs like 98 Bottles and the new-age Italian Davanti Enoteca have given the neighborhood a more contemporary buzz. Saty at the boutique La Pensione Hotel, which positions you near the neighborhood’s best spots.
The Funk Zone, Santa Barbara
For the last two years, the Funk Zone’s teensy art galleries and beachside location have attracted a young boho crowd, but these days the ever-expanding neighborhood is drawing a bigger audience. The neighborhood is luring visitors with its cluster of smartly designed wine tasting rooms, dubbed the Urban Wine Trail, farm-to-table restaurants like The Lark, and the outdoor patio at Figueora Mountain Brewery.The small but affordable rooms at the Hotel Indigo and the chic Airstream campers at Autocamp are both great places to stay.