California is synonymous with creativity. Music, food, art, design–it’s all here in dizzying Golden State-sized proportions. Here’s your guide to the eclectic or emerging districts that are home to anything from streetwise art galleries to the latest farm-to-table foodie finds.
Little Italy – San Diego
Formerly a humble neighborhood made up of Italian families who worked in the fishing industry, Little Italy has evolved into a collection of new restaurants, galleries and boutiques poised between a historic train station and San Diego Harbor. The neighborhood hosts lively events such as the weekly farmers’ market, Mercato, and Summer Film Festival. You can also just find a sunny spot at a café to sip a cappuccino or enjoy handmade pasta at a trattoria.
- Mercato: A popular Saturday farmers’ market selling local produce and products. Open year-round, 8 am – 3 pm.
- Restaurants that mix traditional flavors with modern sizzle like Bencotto.
- Local bars ranging from old-time hangouts to sleek spaces like Kettner Exchange.
Gallery Row – Downtown Los Angeles
For the last decade, downtown Los Angeles has been on a steady upswing. But one sector of downtown that has really emerged is a hyper-hip mix of art galleries, studios and other attractions known as Gallery Row. Many of the buildings here date from the early 1900’s and were former banks and office buildings. Now they’ve been transformed into nearly 50 art galleries, studios, speakeasies and restaurants. It’s also the location of the highly popular Art Walk, a monthly open gallery experience.
- Celebrated restaurants like Josef Centeno’s Baco Mercat.
- Art galleries like The Hive Gallery & Studios, featuring top LA artists.
- Bars for the creative crowd, such as the Onyx Lounge, pouring the latest libations.
- Quirky boutiques and shops like the Last Book Store, a lofty 22,000-square foot emporium of everything from erotic graphic novels to rare records.
Funk Zone – Santa Barbara
Previously home to antiquated light-industrial buildings, the area is now where Santa Barbara lets its hair down (even more than usual). Locals and visitors congregate to enjoy a local craft beer, savor farm-to-fork artisanal small plates and sip limited release regional wines along the city’s Urban Wine Trail. It’s also where art galleries flourish and festive events like art walks, block parties and pop-ups featuring Airstreams happen, all just minutes from downtown’s State Street and the beach.
- Try Santa Barbara County craft beer at breweries and tasting rooms including Figueroa Mountain Brewery.
- Check out Santa Barbara’s flourishing art scene at galleries like the Gone Gallery.
- Nibble on local, creative platings paired with inventive craft cocktails at The Lark.
The Mission – San Francisco
An iconic SF neighborhood associated with everything from the city’s founding to early punk bands and street art, the Mission District has been a creative force in the city for decades. Though it’s not an emerging scene, “the Mission” never rests on its laurels and keeps evolving, entertaining and captivating locals and visitors alike with festivals, street art and a vibrant music scene. The area is also known for buzz-worthy restaurants and bars that include everything from authentic Mexican taquerias to a Michelin-starred restaurant, Saison.
- No-frills but fabulous Mexican and Central American restaurants like El Farolito.
- High-end trendy eateries including Bar Tartine and Tartine Bakery for generous pastries and coconut tarts.
- Amazing assemblage of street art such as murals found on Balmy Alley.
- Street festivals like the annual Carnaval where colorful revelry takes to the streets.
Uptown – Oakland
Oakland was once overshadowed by her glam sibling across the Bay. But all that’s changing as neighborhoods like Uptown Oakland flex their creative muscle and carve out an identity all their own. What this revival looks like in Oakland is a flourishing scene of art galleries, restaurants and bars and events like the monthly Art Murmur, which takes over five blocks of Telegraph Avenue the first Friday of each month. This is where everything from live performances to street art and food trucks mix and mingle in an eclectic and street-smart scene.
- Art galleries such as Manna and FM in the Oakland Arts District.
- Restaurants like Duende with its delicious paella.
- Historic theaters including the Paramount Theatre, showcasing everything from rock to classic films.