Most people vacation to get out of the suburbs, but perhaps it’s time we reconsider these urban boundary lands. Life in the suburbs doesn’t have to be the slow descent into monotonous madness we saw from Mac and Charlie in “It’s Always Sunny.” True, some suburbs amount to drab collections of identical homes only interrupted by strips of chain restaurants and supermarkets. But some suburbs rival the cultural coolness of big cities with international populations, banging restaurants, big time sports and superb craft breweries and distilleries. Find the right suburb and you’ll be surprised how much it has to offer. Here’s a look at 10 suburbs around America that are undeniably cool.
Just across the Potomac from the memorials and malls of Washington, D.C. you’ll find a place that looks ripped straight from Colonial America. The brick buildings and white roofs of Alexandria’s downtown make it easy to picture George Washington and his gang clacking around on horseback. But make no mistake, this bustling suburb is no colonial era theme town. Inside those brick walls, you’ll find creative new restaurants like The People’s Drug and Vermillon. What’s more, Alexandria butts up right against the Potomac, separated from the water by the Mount Vernon Trail. Hop on a two-wheeled steed and follow the scenic waterside path all the way to George Washington’s former home where you’ll learn all about our first president before pedaling back into town. It’s way cooler than talking to a colonial woman churning butter at a theme town.
One of the best streets in the country for real-deal international food is Havana Street in Aurora, Colorado. Yet there’s nary a Cuban sandwich or croqueta to be found. Rather, this Asian-American enclave half an hour east of Denver is packed with some of the best Korean food you’ll ever try, served up as barbecue at spots like Dae Gee or in trendier modern settings like Tofu Story. Once you’ve gotten your fill, try the pour-your-own beers at the Stanley Beer Hall at Stanley Marketplace, a multi-story food hall and creative center on the site of the old airport. Aurora is also the host of Denver’s thoroughbred racing track Arapahoe Park, where live racing goes down Wednesday through Friday from May to August.
Coral Gables, Florida
Self-dubbed “The City Beautiful,” Coral Gables isn’t just suffering from your standard Florida real estate hyperbole. The Gables is a sea of banyan tree canopies, Mediterranean revival homes and lush winding streets lined with Spanish villas that seem to have been magically transported to this former South Florida swamp. The city is home to University of Miami, whose baseball and basketball teams play on campus and give locals home teams of their own. The stately Biltmore Hotel has a fantastic lagoon pool, though for something less exclusive you can also take a dip in a tropical rock quarry at the Venetian Pools. Downtown has some of greater Miami’s top restaurants too, like Chopped champ Giorgio Rapicivoli’s Eating House and Luca Osteria on the outdoor pedestrian mall along Giralda Street.
Calling Covington, with its abundance of whiskey distilleries, street art and historic architecture, the Brooklyn of Cincinnati might be a little cliché. At least, it would be if the city’s bridge across the Ohio River to downtown Cincy wasn’t literally the model for the Brooklyn Bridge. The Roebling Bridge, a historic icon in its own right, was designed by the same architect, but predates Brooklyn’s knockoff by 17 years. The city itself is a walkable delight, where you’ll stroll past the storied Hotel Covington and The Carnegie theater, perfectly preserved relics from the city’s shipping heyday. You can hit the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar and sample all kinds of small batch stuff you won’t find back home or tuck into the Wiseguy Lounge for a cocktail before grabbing pizza next door at Goodfella’s. The best view of Cincinnati’s underrated skyline is also in Covington at the Memorial Outlook inside Devou Park.
East Aurora, New York
If you’ve ever watched a Hallmark movie and seen a charming little Main Street done up in Christmas splendor, chances are you’ve seen East Aurora. This town just south of Buffalo has been the setting for countless “big-city-girl-comes-home-and-falls-in-love” flicks, and residents pack the street on winter weekends for boozy rounds of caroling. East Aurora is also home to the consensus pick for best wings in Buffalo at Bar Bill Tavern, where the Bills were rumored to have taken Josh Allen just before they selected him in the 2018 draft. Speaking of drafts, 42 North Brewing pours one of Western New York’s best IPAs in a taproom that feels a little like a mountain cabin. And if you feel like getting into the winter spirit, the brewery has an Airbnb right above the production floor.
This city about 15 miles south of Nashville has become a music destination of its own, hosting resident Justin Timberlake’s annual Pilgrimage Music Festival and recently opening the First Bank Amphitheater to lure big touring acts. Franklin’s other buzzy new addition is The Factory, a multi-use space in an old brick manufacturing plant with a mammoth central bar, record shop, florist and plenty of restaurants. All this expansion is happening around a historic downtown that gives this celebrity enclave an idyllic commercial backdrop. Franklin also welcomed a new luxury resort at Southall Farm & Inn, a stunning pastoral getaway nestled in the Tennessee hills with one of the city’s most lauded new restaurants, Sojourner.
The list of suburbs that have hosted a Super Bowl is alarmingly short, and, with all due respect to Miami Gardens, Flo. and Pontiac, Mich., the best one to visit is Glendale. State Farm Stadium has spawned an entire entertainment district in the city, where you can hop through the bars and restaurants at Westgate, stopping for craft beer and bowling at State 48 Funk House or playing nostalgic video games at Carousel Arcade Bar. Downtown Glendale is a treasure trove of international restaurants. Post up with a stein and schnitzel at Haus Murphy’s, savor Vietnamese dishes at Little Saigon or try the valley’s top tacos at Don Juan’s. Weather permitting, you can also get sweeping views of greater Phoenix at the Thunderbird Conservation Park, where 15 miles of trails crisscross the desert landscape.
La Jolla, California
Many of the icons we associate with San Diego actually sit just north of the city in La Jolla, a chic, scenic suburb on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Its most notable natural asset is La Jolla Cove, a secluded beach at the bottom of some small cliffs that’s frequently visited by seals and sea lions. La Jolla also has the fabled Torrey Pines golf course; even if you’re not lucky enough to score a tee time you can still wander the nature preserve that sits nearby. Then there’s the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which houses the Birch Aquarium and its famous flock of penguins. And you’ll find plenty of San Diego’s famous fish tacos at The Taco Stand or Puesto.
Winter Park, Florida
Being home to Mr. Rogers’ alma mater immediately puts any city squarely in the category of cool, but, beyond the stately Rollins College campus, this Orlando suburb is also one of the top food destinations in Florida. The Ravenous Pig is the restaurant that put Winter Park on the United States’ culinary map; the southern-inspired gastropub recently received a Bib Gourmand recommendation from Michelin. Michelin has given a star to Winter Park’s Soseki, a ten-seat omakase den that’s one of the toughest reservations in the state. Plus, smaller, less ballyhooed gems, like Kai Asian Street Fare and Swine and Sons, abound. As far as suburbs go, you’d be hard pressed to find a better food city, block-for-block, than Winter Park. A trip here will change the way you think about Greater Orlando after just a couple of meals.
Traversing Washington state’s finest wineries in the Columbia River Valley and greater Walla Walla can mean cutting a few days out of a trip to Seattle. Or, you can take a short cut and head to this suburb just north of the city, where the best wineries in the state have all set up tasting rooms within a few blocks of each other. You’ll get a great wine tour and a concentrated hit of vineyard chicness without having to drive half the state, and also easy access to distilleries like J.P. Trodden and craft breweries like 20 Corners and Black Raven for your beer friends. It’s only about half an hour from downtown Seattle, so you can explore Washington wines in half a day, then be back at your hotel for dinner.