Underrated USA

Often overlooked in favor of San Francisco or New York, these eight cities are coming into their own, with newly vibrant centers, revitalized architecture, and plenty of local flavor.


Los Angeles, California

When I moved to Southern California 25 years ago, Downtown Los Angeles was run down – a dismal landscape of abandoned factories and deserted streets. But, in recent years, the neighborhood has undergone a seismic shift, with world-class art museums and trendy galleries and hotels transforming dilapidated industrial buildings into cutting-edge, creative spaces.

The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA exemplifies this transition. Once a police warehouse, it’s now home to 40,000ft2 (3,715m2) of exhibition space housed in a Frank Gehry-designed building.

Behind an intriguing honeycomb façade, The Broad houses a 2,000-piece contemporary art collection with works by Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. And, in an effort to make art accessible to all, admission is free.

When I want to explore the underground scene, the Arts District’s many galleries are an incubator of experimentation. A former flour mill, Hauser & Wirth is now a contemporary art gallery that has preserved elements of its past, including the original motif of wheat sheaves. The gallery supports a range of emerging and established artists across various mediums, with a steady stream of rotating exhibits.

Like many transplants, I originally moved to Los Angeles to work in the film business. Cinephiles like myself flock to Downtown’s Ace Hotel, in the renovated United Artists building that once housed the production companies of movie greats such as Charlie Chaplin, for screenings at the now-restored Golden Age theatre.

Retail and restaurants are part of the urban renewal, too. Originally the LA Terminal Market, Row DTLA is now a shopping and culinary hub. I bring my appetite on Sundays, when Smorgasburg LA sets up shop at the Alameda Produce Market here. Dozens of vendors dish up everything from vegan donuts to juicy porchetta. If craft beer is your beverage of choice, Arts District Brewing Company’s 15-barrel brewhouse is the place to be.

And, thanks to vast improvements in Downtown’s public transportation links, it’s possible to avoid the city’s infamous traffic and explore car-free via pedestrian-friendly streets, the Metro, and bike and electric scooter shares. – Allison Tibaldi