New Orleans’ Arts District
This cluster of 19th-century warehouses around the Mississippi waterfront is a prime example of a reborn area that once was in decay. The neighborhood got a jump-start thanks to investment and redevelopment spurred by the 1984 World’s Fair. Today, this walk-friendly neighborhood is home to the Contemporary Arts Center, a Renaissance Revival warehouse; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art; The National WWII Museum; and about a dozen nationally recognized galleries (check them out on Julia Street, aka Gallery Row.)
The area hosts several major art events like the much anticipated summer highlight, Whitney White Linen Night, August 3. For this event, locals don white linen clothing (although seersucker will do, too) and head to Julia Street for a giant block party of open galleries, artist receptions, food, and cocktails. Unlike the nearby touristy French Quarter, the Arts District is a favorite with locals. Bonus: No sales tax is charged on original works of art sold in the district.
When to go: The first Saturday of each month for Art Walks.
Where to eat: Cochon for the wood-fired Gulf oysters. Ask for extra bread to soak up the sauce. (930 Tchoupitoulas Street; 504-588-2123; cochonrestaurant.com)
Where to stay: Renaissance Arts Hotel, located in a circa 1910 warehouse, for its in-house art gallery, rotating collections, and sculpture garden curated by Julia Street gallerist Arthur Roger. (700 Tchoupitoulas Street; 504-613-2330; marriott.com)
Don’t miss … the nearby National WWII Museum.
Portland’s Pearl District
What was once rundown and dilapidated is now hip and happening in Portland’s Pearl District. In the mid-1980s, low-cost lofts attracted a flurry of artists and the neighborhood became an incubator for creative expression and business start-ups. This inner northwest section of Portland encompassing more than 100 city blocks was once used for warehousing, light industry, and as a transportation hub in the early 1900s. Today, new tracks are used for modern streetcars, and its buildings have been rehabbed to eco-friendly LEED-certification standards.
Some ascribe the origin of the district’s name to a woman named Pearl, while others credit a gallery owner for likening the old buildings to oysters and the galleries, shops, and artists’ lofts within them to pearls.
When to go: First Thursday Gallery Walks, a tradition more than 25 years old, when crowds turn out for the new gallery exhibits and artist meet-and-greets. Come the warm weather, the walks morph into open-air street fairs. The long-running Art in the Pearl festival, named one of the top fine art and craft fests in the country, runs Labor Day weekend.
Where to eat: Andina, serving up traditional Peruvian and novo-Andean cuisine. Slow-cooked lamb shank in black beer sauce is a can’t-miss-dish. (1314 N.W. Glisan Street; 503-228-9535; andinarestaurant.com)
Where to stay: Hotel Lućia boasts an impressive collection of photographs by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Hume Kennerly in its guest rooms and public areas. (400 S.W. Broadway; 866-986-8086; hotellucia.com)
Don’t miss … a stop at Powell’s Books in the Pearl, the largest independent bookstore in the country, after a night of gallery-hopping. Open nightly until 11 p.m.