Writers Pick their best things in their city

14 May

© Richard Cummins/Corbis (Downtown Disney)

The Best Thing About My City

Writers across the country pick their favorite places

From MSN City Guides

What’s the best thing about any of the places we call home? There’s no one right answer, of course—it’s personal, it’s subjective, and it’s impossible to boil down to just one “best” spot in town. Right?

That didn’t stop us from trying. MSN City Guides asked writers across the country to pick their favorite spots in 26 cities, and we’ve listed their answers below. We left the question wide open, and the places that people picked reflect that: Restaurants, bookstores, parks, downtown streets and even the whole Rocky Mountains made the list.

We’re not saying these are THE best, but we wanted to start the conversation. Look through the list below, then weigh in with your own personal choice on our message boards.

Downtown Disney

Even with the granddaddy of theme parks looming right next door, my favorite part of Anaheim is Downtown Disney. It’s got unusual shops, casual and fine dining, movies, an ESPN Sports Center—and no admission price. You don’t have to stand in line to satisfy a craving for Disney nostalgia. For that sweet old feeling—infused with contemporary flair—visit Disney Vault 28 and World of Disney. Indulge your senses at Marceline’s Confectionery (candy made on the spot) and Basin (artisan bath luxuries, including the famous Bath Bomb). Enjoy live music a la New Orleans at Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen or the sounds of R&B, reggae, hip-hop and Latin at House of Blues—and don’t miss the Sunday Gospel Brunch.

Ondine Kuraoka

Atlanta: Atlanta Botanical Garden

Mirroring the centuries-old tradition of sculpture gardens, art and nature are inseparable at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Each year, the garden’s fragrant flowers and lush plants intermingle with the larger-than-life works of internationally renowned artists, from Dale Chihuly’s stunning glass sculptures to Niki de Saint Phalle’s dancing Nanas.

As the mother of two active preschoolers, I know how hard it can be to introduce children to art, especially when it requires them to stay quiet and look but not touch. The Atlanta Botanical Garden breaks those rules, giving them the chance to freely explore the world around them while they, perhaps, contemplate a piece of art.

Jennifer Maciejewski

Austin: Bob Bullock Texas State Museum

Texans are proud of their heritage. But Austin’s Bob Bullock, a former state lieutenant governor, loved Texas history like no other. Like a good Texan, he dreamed big. He envisioned a museum that would tell the entire story of Texas. Today, the stone-carved lettering, “THE STORY OF TEXAS,” greets visitors to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

Texas history is rambunctious. It’s made for the museum’s multimedia presentations, interactive stations, mini-theaters, and IMAX theaters. Artifacts abound. Whether you’re a local, a visiting Texan, or one of many streaming visitors from around the world, Austin’s Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum tells the tale and tells it well. Look for the big, 10-ton, 33-foot Lone Star in the front plaza.

Vikk Simmons

Best places in Boston through Detroit

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum // © Kevin Fleming/Corbis

Boston: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

If Boston’s greatest “curse” is how it so doggedly holds on to the past, its greatest charm is that this includes its longstanding role as one of the nation’s most progressive cities. No spot captures this paradox more than the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which has remained essentially unchanged since its founder’s death in 1924.

A Red Sox fan and forward-thinking Victorian, Isabella supported numerous writers and artists. She traveled the globe collecting works of art and built a palazzo home to share these with the public. Today, I enjoy roaming the exotic home and imagining Isabella arranging her paintings. And while the museum continues to cultivate budding artists, I thank Isabella for the tropical courtyard garden that nourishes the rest of us winter-weary Bostonians.

Genevieve Rajewski  

Chicago: Lake Michigan

In 1779 settlers unpacked their bags on the banks of Lake Michigan, in what is now Chicago. Two centuries later that lake is still the best reason to live here. Regardless of the season or day of the week, Lake Michigan offers companionship (pickup soccer games) or solitude (walks on the beach), depending on your preference. Even if you have never once rollerbladed down the 20 miles of lakeshore paths, or taken your dog to the dog beach, the lake still beckons.

From many vantage points you can see both the vast expanse of the Great Lake and the high-rises of Michigan Avenue. And practical Chicagoans are grateful for the way the lake affects the weather by making temperatures warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Margaret Littman



Dallas: Sons of Hermann Hall

Sure, I enjoy the high-gloss sophistication of Big D as much as the next shopper, but when I need some rough-hewn Texas charm, I head down to Deep Ellum for the historic, scrappy Sons of Hermann Hall.

No telling who you’ll find on the time-worn stage, performing live rockabilly, country roots, or rock music. And check out the other choices, like the “electric campfire” guitar and voice jam session on Thursday night, styled in the spirit of Kerrville and Luckenbach free-for-alls. My favorite is on Wednesday, when everyone from high-schoolers to grandparents shimmy and shake at the swing dance lessons. You can’t beat the Hall’s multi-generational, musical democracy.

Wendy Lyons Sunshine

DenverThe beautiful surroundings

Denver’s playroom is the big outdoors, and everything good that happens here, happens outside.

The majestic Rocky Mountains sit 20 miles away, visible from most spots in the city, and they lure us outdoors. That and low humidity, an average temperature of 50 degrees, and 310 days of sunshine per year. Hike-and-bike trails, parks, and green belts lace the metro region, and connection to nature is as close as stepping out the back door for many in the area. Denverites are outside 12 months a year; even the city’s legendary snow dumps can’t keep residents cabin-bound. 

Urban legend holds that Denverites rise earlier on the weekends than during the week. That’s because the mountains and gorgeous weather seduce us out of bed to play.

Melissa Baldridge

DetroitEastern Market

Detroit’s Eastern Market was around long before it became popular to wander around in an open-air market on a Saturday morning. I love the history (more than 150 years) circulating around its 43 acres of produce stands, specialty shops and eateries. This historic site is a playground for food enthusiasts, people watchers, and the economical. You can rub shoulders with a graduate student as you a select a bunch of locally grown sweet carrots, or you can strike up a conversation with a musician as you nosh on a Middle Eastern pastry—it’s all here!

And, best of all, it’s open six days a week, all year round.

Heather Ashare

Houston: Buffalo Bayou and the Sabine-to-Bagby Promenade

Houston is full of surprises. You expect cowboys, cows, and rodeos. And the weather, NASA, and the Astros are known world-wide. However, few equate Houston with green. Surprising to most, the city parks lure Houstonians with their bike and hike trails, canoes and kayaks, arboretums and nature centers, and nationally recognized dog parks. A new downtown Buffalo Bayou favorite, the Sabine-to-Bagby Promenade, is the focal point of a 23-acre waterfront park where the phases of the moon are marked by shifting cobalt blue and white lights lining the water way.

My idea of a perfect day in Houston is to take a hike, spend the day enjoying the public art and open lawns, and then stroll over to the Hobby Center for Performing Arts and the theater district for a night on the town.

Vikk Simmons

Las VegasMix Restaurant

I may wind up going home to domestic beer, but dinner at Mix always ensures that at least one champagne dream will come true. Alain Ducasse’s Eurasian sensation is the world seen from inside the bubbly bottle. Playful strings of blown-glass bubbles cascade from the snow white ceiling. Like the sparkling spirits it seems to immerse you in, Mix leaves me feeling an effervescence that—cross your fingers—just might lead to luck. And drinking in the peerless view of the Strip from Mix’s party patio always makes me feel like a winner before I place a single bet.

Chris Rodell



Miami: Lincoln Road

It’s 9 p.m. on a balmy February night and you’re at a sidewalk café, sipping
wine and watching the crowd stroll by. This is why you live in Miami.

The top spot for outdoor people watching is Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.
European models in little black dresses, teens on skateboards, tourists in
shorts and sneakers, the occasional drag queen—all share this seven-block
pedestrian walkway at the northernmost end of South Beach.

Chain stores may have replaced the funky local shops, and the food may not
be Miami’s finest, but it doesn’t matter. Strolling Lincoln Road with your
sweetie, your mother, your dog—or even alone—with a tropical breeze
rustling the palm fronds, makes you feel as if you really do live in

Theresa Mears

Minneapolis: Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway

Contrary to popular belief, Minneapolis is not swathed in snow for nine months of the year. Indeed, it’s one of the most outdoor-friendly cities in the country. Drop in to any neighborhood and you’re only moments away from an interconnected series of lakes, creeks, parkways, or the vast, winding Mississippi River Boulevard—collectively designated as the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, the only national scenic byway in the country located entirely within an urban area. Trash-talkers, take note: Minneapolis has 22 lakes and over 150 parks—no Minneapolis resident lives more than six blocks from a park—and it has the most golfers per capita in America. So, leave off with the frostbite jokes; we’re going Rollerblading!

Leif Pettersen

Country Music Hall of Fame // © Mark Gibson/Photolibrary

Nashville: The Country Music Hall of Fame

With its new construction and obvious tourist bent, the Country Music Hall of Fame might seem like a sellout pick for a local favorite. But from its tower spire that emulates the WSM radio tower, to its ability to put country music in a larger context, this museum isn’t just for visitors.

Thanks to grainy footage of Wanda Jackson’s days as an opening act for Elvis, and music by contemporary crossover acts like the Dixie Chicks, the hall explains how country music begat pop music, if not American pop culture. After hours of hard-luck, guy- (or gal-) made good stories, you can’t help but walk away feeling like anything is possible, and that Nashville is the town where it can happen.

Margaret Littman

New York CityFort Greene

New York is essentially a city of neighborhoods, and one of my favorites is Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The tree-lined streets flanked by rows of brownstones, the local park frequented young families and enthusiastic dog owners, and a beloved weekend farmers market all give this racially diverse area a peaceful, residential vibe.

But it’s also a vibrant part of New York’s cultural scene—with iconic institutions like BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music)—and a kind of literary nexus. Famed authors past and present, from Walt Whitman to Jhumpa Lahiri, have called Fort Greene home. It’s currently threatened by the mega-development planned for the nearby Atlantic Rail Yards. I hope this quintessential New York neighborhood is able to keep its homey, quirky spirit alive.

Tamiko Beyer

OrlandoLake Eola

Say "Orlando," and theme parks with fantastical castles most often spring to mind. But never mind Disney World, downtown Orlando has a rich history all its own. The centerpiece is Lake Eola, which became a city park back in the 1890s and has been used for everything from a horse race track to outdoor dance hall.

Today it’s the best place in the city to walk or jog. Swan-shaped paddle boats glide over the water, imitating the flock of swans that live at the lake. And on sunny spring days, you may even see tiny downy babies paddling furiously after their parents. Lake Eola is a magic kingdom unto itself!

Susan Ladika

Elfreth's Alley // © Fotostock

PhiladelphiaElfreth’s Alley

When I want to time-travel back to Colonial days, I stroll down Elfreth’s Alley, our nation’s oldest residential street, preferably after dark. Unlike the historic attractions around Philadelphia’s Independence Square, people actually live in the cozy townhouses on this cul-de-sac, and have since the 1700s when blacksmiths and furniture makers called it home. Just around the corner from the bustle of Old City traffic, galleries, and restaurants, Elfreth’s Alley is hushed and secluded. No one parks their horses at the hitching posts anymore, but neither do they park their cars—the street is too narrow. On a misty night, street lamps cast a glow on the cobblestones. A front door opens and you half-expect Betsy Ross to step out, but it’s usually someone going out to walk their dog.

Cathleen McCarthy



PhoenixThe Farm at South Mountain

Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, but this boom means that orchards and fields are disappearing amidst suburban sprawl. Fortunately, there is still an oasis of rural calm: The Farm at South Mountain. This 12-acre pecan grove is a quiet, shady place so picturesque that weddings are frequently held here.  A quiet getaway near the city, the Farm has three gourmet restaurants offering breakfast, lunch and dinner; a farmers market each Saturday with homegrown, homemade and organic goods; and spa services and holistic healing treatments. They also offer cooking, gardening, and art lessons with small class sizes. After a hot, hectic week in Phoenix, I find that the Farm is a perfect place to rejuvenate my heart and soul.

Chris Lake

PittsburghGrandview Avenue

The folks who named it Grandview Avenue weren’t given to exaggeration. Had they been, one of the loveliest thoroughfares in America would be named Super Spectacularview Avenue. The majestic Pittsburgh overlook was named the second most beautiful vista in all America by USA Today travel writers in 2003. On any given day, you’ll see wedding parties, families, and painters all transfixed by a cityscape skyline shimmering with an Oz-like grandeur. The city’s distinctive and charming funiculars are based along Grandview, as are observation decks and a dozen cliff-clinging restaurants that serve up the scenery along with sumptuous meals.

Chris Rodell

Best places in Portland through San Francisco

Portland: Forest Park

Portland is often called a city of tree-huggers, and there are no trunks that Stumptown residents cling to tighter than those in Forest Park. A Portland favorite for nearly 60 years, Forest Park is the largest urban forest in the United States, covering 5,000 acres. With more than 70 miles of interconnecting trails, even on crowded summer weekends you’ll feel as if you’re tromping through the backwoods of Alaska, far removed from the noise, grime, and chaos of the civilized world.

After running, hiking, or mountain biking your morning away, relax at a nearby cafe with a cup Portland’s renowned coffee. And don’t worry—nobody else has changed out of their running shorts either.

Courtney S. Ries

Raleigh/Durham: Pullen Park

When your family is ready to take a take a journey back in time for some old-fashioned, wholesome fun, it’s hard to do better than Pullen Park in Raleigh. Hands-down the best city park in the Triangle, Pullen attracts more than a million visitors every year. The restored 1912 carousel delights young and old, and many a weary parent has been grateful for a ride around the park on the miniature train. Kids can burn off energy with paddle boats, feeding the ducks, swimming, or playing on the two playgrounds—one even boasts a retired caboose to explore. 

Pullen Park is convenient to the Beltline and simply unbeatable for a low-key, low-cost family outing.

Kathleen M. Reilly



Salt Lake City: Temple Square

When Mormon pioneers reached the Salt Lake Valley, one of the first things they did was mark off a temple site. More than a century later, Temple Square is still the cornerstone of Salt Lake City. The square is an attraction year-round, with fountains, a visitors’ center, statues depicting Mormon history, free guided tours and, of course, the graceful granite Temple. In warm weather the gardens are filled with thousands of seasonal flowers; at Christmas the square fills with lights.

Listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at a Thursday night rehearsal or Sunday morning broadcast, or board a horse-drawn carriage for a ride around the square and through downtown. For visitors and residents alike, Temple Square is the heart of Salt Lake City.

Connie Myers

Giant Dipper at Belmont Park // © Richard Cummins/Corbis

San DiegoThe Giant Dipper at Belmont Park

The best thing about San Diego is the Giant Dipper at Belmont Park. Part of the Mission Beach scene since 1925, this historic wooden roller coaster gives riders a thrill along with an expansive vista of Southern California coastline. San Diegans have a soft spot for the Dipper, once closed for demolition in 1976. Nostalgic locals rallied, and the coaster was fully renovated and rolling again in 1990. She’s not the wildest or the fastest, but this sweet old gal is sure to wake you up and make you smile. I also love people-watching at Mission Beach; it illuminates the real San Diego. You’ll see it all, young and old, chic or not—a rainbow of humanity enjoying the day.

Ondine Kuraoka

San Francisco: Dolores Park

Nestled at the western edge of the Mission District, San Francisco’s oldest and sunniest neighborhood, Dolores Park, is an idyllic green enclave perfect for people-watching. A hipper, more manageable cousin to San Francisco’s sprawling Golden Gate Park, Dolores Park is 13.7 acres of rolling hills, palm trees and playgrounds. With Dolores Park’s incredible views of the downtown skyline and the Bay, on a sunny day there’s no place I—or scores of friends, locals, and their frolicking dogs—would rather be.

Laura Barcella

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Posted by on May 14, 2007 in Travel


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