Cincinnati’s central core includes some of the city’s oldest and most dynamic neighborhoods. Historic homes, landmarks and urban culture abound for those looking for city life — with a yard.
AVONDALE/ NORTH AVONDALE
Photo: Krae Photography
One of the first Cincinnati suburbs, Avondale is a socially, economically and racially diverse neighborhood. northavondalecincinnati.com.
- EAT — Start your morning off right at the brightly colored Sugar n’ Spice (4381 Reading Road, Avondale, sugar-n-spice-restaurant.com), serving wispy thin pancakes and huge omelets since 1941. For an ethnic spin, these longstanding local haunts offer authentic eats: Blue Gibbon Chinese (1231 Tennessee Ave., Avondale, bluegibbon.net); Amma’s Kitchen (7633 Reading Road, Avondale, ammakitchen.com), which specializes in South Indian with a weekly all-vegan lunch buffet; and Song Long (1737 Section Road, Roselawn, songlong.net) providing authentic Vietnamese in nearby Roselawn.
- DRINK — Experience Cincinnati’s brewing tradition at Listermann Brewing’s and attached Triple Digit Brewing’s (1621 Dana Ave., Evanston, listermannbrewing.com, tripledigitbrewing.com) shared taproom, which offers rotating beers from both brewers — as well as homebrewing supplies.
- EXPLORE — Get sporty at Avon Fields Golf Course (4081 Reading Road, Avondale, avonfields.cincygolf.org), a historic public golf course; the Fun Factory (1631 Sherman Ave., Avondale, funfactoryrollerskating.com), a family-friendly roller rink; or catch some live roller derby action at Cincinnati Gardens (2250 Seymour Ave. Evanston, 513-631-7793, cincygardens.com), home of the Cincinnati Rollergirls flat track derby team.
- MUST — The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (3400 Vine St., Avondale, cincinnatizoo.org) houses the oldest zoo building in the nation: a reptile house that was built in 1875, the greenest restaurant in America — the Base Camp Cafe — and a new Africa exhibit with lions, painted dogs and giraffes you can feed.
Photo: Jesse Fox
Located between Clifton and Northside and established in 1846. camp-washington.org.
- EAT — Classic chili parlor and ’50s-style diner Camp Washington Chili (3005 Colerain Ave., campwashingtonchili.com) has won awards for serving up some of the best chili in the nation as well as an “American Regional Classic” award from the James Beard Foundation.
- MUST — The American Sign Museum (1330 Monmouth Ave., signmuseum.org) has more than 200 preserved, archived and displayed signs ranging from the late 19th century to the 1970s. See gold leaf signs, neon, fiberglass and more in this huge museum.
Clifton's Gaslight District
Photo: Jesse Fox
Clifton is all things college — coffee shops, restaurants, bars and bookstores. Nearby, the Gaslight District’s Ludlow Avenue is full of independent and locally owned shops.
- EAT — Clifton is Cincinnati’s hub for ethnic food. In the mood for Asian? Visit the efficient Maki Express sushi bar and Japanese kitchen (209 W. McMillan St., Clifton Heights, makiexpress.tripod.com) or Cilantro (235 W. McMillan St., Clifton Heights, eatatcilantro.com), a Vietnamese bistro that uses family recipes. For Indian, head to what could be considered Cincinnati’s “Little India,” in the Gaslight District. Among several other nearby choices is local/visitor favorite Ambar (350 Ludlow Ave., ambarindia.com). Elephant Walk Injera and Curry House (170 W. McMillan St., Clifton Heights, 513-526-1555) does double-duty as an Indian and Ethiopian restaurant in one. For carryout, Chicago Gyro (201 W. McMillan Ave., Clifton Heights, 513-621-3828, chicagogyrosanddogs.com) offers fast falafel; Habanero (358 Ludlow Ave., habanerolatin.com) has quick, pick-your-own-topping burritos. For a taste of history, Mecklenburg Gardens (302 E. University Ave., Corryville, mecklenburgs.net), which has been in Corryville since 1865, offers German fare with an outdoor biergarten. For higher-end dining, visit Biagio’s Bistro (308 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, biagiosbistro.net) or La Poste (3410 Teford St., Clifton, laposteeatery.com).
- DRINK — A classic college hang and neighborhood cornerstone, Murphy’s Pub (2329 W. Clifton Ave., Clifton, murphys-pub.com) has been serving affordable beer since 1969. The new U Square @ the Loop (usquareattheloop.com) is a mixed-use development with drinking, dining and shopping destinations including the St. Clair (249 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights, thestclair.com), which serves a rum drink called “The Pain Killer.” Cure a hangover or get one at breakfast joint and bar Hang Over Easy (13 W. Charlton St., Corryville, facebook.com/hangovereasycincy). And because Clifton is near a university, bohemian coffee houses with lite bites and alcohol abound. Sitwell’s (324 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, sitwellscoffeehouse.com) has been a Cincinnati staple for almost two decades, with mismatched furniture, vegetarian food and booze shakes; and for the Kerouac in all of us, there’s Highland Coffee House (2839 Highland Ave., Clifton, 513-861-4151), full of plants, pianos, board games and an eclectic mix of artists and students.
- SHOP — The Gaslight District on Ludlow Avenue is home to many independent shops, including Kilimanjaro African Heritage (310 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, africanforus.com), vintage and resale shop The Mustard Seed Boutique (311 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, mustardseedboutique.com), eclectic Pangaea Trading Co. (326 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, 513-751-3330), paolo a modern jeweler (278 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, paolousa.com), importer the Hansa Guild (369 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, hansaguild.us), vintage homegoods store Lentz & Company (339 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, facebook.com/lentzandcompany) and specialty gift-type shop Toko Baru (325 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, 513-751-3338). U-Square is home to chains Urban Outfitters and American Apparel. On Short Vine, Mike’s Music (2615 Vine St., Corryville, mikesmusicohio.com) offers vintage instruments, repair specialists and is frequented by touring musicians who play nearby Bogart’s.
- EXPLORE — Grab a picnic snack at Clifton Natural Foods (336 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, cliftonnaturalfoods.com), a bottle of wine at Ludlow Wines (343 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, ludlowwines.com) and pay a visit to Mount Storm Park (700 Lafayette Ave., Clifton, cincinnatiparks.com). Iconic Rock venue Bogart’s (2621 Vine St., Clifton, bogarts.com) has been part of the Short Vine landscape since the 1890s, when it was originally built as a vaudeville theater. The University of Cincinnati campus (2600 Clifton Ave., Clifton, uc.edu), home to the renowned college of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, includes two buildings designed by Pritzker Prize winners and the school’s 110-year-old football stadium, which is the fourth-oldest playing site in college football.
- MUST — Catch a movie and grab a glass of wine at art house theater the Esquire Theatre (320 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, esquiretheatre.com). Head to UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (2600 Clifton Ave., Clifton, ccm.uc.edu) to see students from one of the leading arts conservatories perform everything from Broadway classics to alternative theater as well as opera, dance and concerts — frequently for free.
COLLEGE HILL/ NORTH COLLEGE HILL/ MOUNT HEALTHY
Central, old-school residential neighborhoods. collegehilloh.net; northcollegehill.org; mthealthy.org.
- EAT — Bacalls Café (6118 Hamilton Ave., North College Hill, bacallscafe.com) has been “the grill next door” since 1982. Swad (1810 W. Galbraith Road, North College Hill, 513-522-5900) Indian restaurant, from the former owners of Clifton’s Dusmesh, has a daily buffet. Red Rose Pizza (5915 Hamilton Ave., North College Hill, redroseonhamilton.com) gives Italian fans a dose of superfood with their assorted avocado dishes. Chung Ching (5842 Hamilton Ave., North College Hill, 513-541-1243) is a mom-and-pop Chinese restaurant. North College Hill Bakery (1807 W. Galbraith Road, North College Hill, northcollegehillbakery.com) has been serving tasty treats for more than 75 years. Get a cash-only milk shake at the Mount Healthy Dairy Bar (7840 Hamilton Ave., Mount Healthy, 513-522-1288), a 1950s-era classic creamy whip.
- DRINK — The motto of College Hill Coffee Co. and Casual Gourmet (6128 Hamilton Ave., North College Hill, collegehillcoffeeco.com) is “eat, sip, chat, chill.” Find homemade foods and free Wi-Fi in this bright, welcoming coffee shop. Marty’s Hops & Vines (6110 Hamilton Ave., North College Hill, martys-hopsandvines.com) offers a small plate menu, live music and great vino with wine tastings on Friday nights. Speaking of wine, Burnet Ridge Winery (6721 Richard Ave., North College Hill, burnetridge.com) up the street makes award-winning wines and blends.
- SHOP — Fern Studio (6040 Hamilton Ave., North College Hill, fern-shop.com) offers a carefully edited selection of unique hand-thrown pottery, art, weavings and more, along with a curated assortment of plants in a converted gas station. Think Brooklyn, N.Y., not a 1970s basement. Schwartz Jewelers (6114 Hamilton Ave., North College Hill, schwartzjewelers.net) has an exciting collection of estate pieces, as well as modern jewelry.
- MUST — Take a tour of Laurel Court (5870 Belmont Ave., College Hill, laurelcourt.com), an early 18th century Beaux Arts home built to resemble Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s home in Versailles, France.
A little bit hippie and a lot Rock & Roll, Northside is a diverse, green-leaning urban enclave of artists, musicians, do-it-yourselfers and a prominent LGBTQ community. northside.net.
- EAT — Blending American with Tex-Mex, Django Western Taco (4046 Hamilton Ave., djangonorthside.com) serves up tacos, a tangy margarita made with jalapeno, plus a weekly Wednesday farmers market special. Tacocracy (4029 Hamilton Ave., facebook.com/tacocracy) is an eclectic taco bar offering guerilla-style filling options including duck, adobo-curry chicken, mashed potatoes and more. The neighborhood also boasts some of the best vegetarian/vegan food at eateries like sandwich shop Melt Eclectic Cafe (4165 Hamilton Ave., meltcincy.com) — get the Yeehaw BBQ with chicken, tempeh or seitan — and sister store Picnic and Pantry (4163 Hamilton Ave., picnicandpantry.com), offering sandwiches and “picnic” items to go. Bistro Grace (4034 Hamilton Ave., bistrograce.com) provides a more upscale dining destination with a large selection of craft beers; while Ruth’s Parkside Café (1550 Blue Rock St., ruthscafe.com) is a reincarnation of defunct downtown favorite Mullane’s.
- DRINK — The power trio of bars — Northside Tavern, Mayday and The Comet — ensure there’s live music practically every night. Head to the Northside Tavern (4163 Hamilton Ave., northsidetav.com), or “the Tavern,” as locals call it, for an evening on their large patio and more laid-back live acts. The Comet (4579 Hamilton Ave., cometbar.com) leans a little louder as a haven for scooter-riders and Garage Rock-loving burrito eaters. Mayday (4231 Spring Grove Ave., maydaynorthside.com) recently upgraded its gastropub menu, but the bar still maintains its Rock vibe with live music, a large whiskey selection and tattooed ’tenders. The Littlefield (3934 Spring Grove Ave., littlefieldns.com) is an artful bourbon bar with 50 to 60 different bottles of bourbon and art installations from local artists (plus a huge patio).
- SHOP — Northside is home to indie record stores Shake It Records (4156 Hamilton Ave., shakeitrecords.com), a store and label, with a nod from Rolling Stone as one of the best record stores in America; and Black Plastic Records (4027 Hamilton Ave., facebook.com/blackplasticrecords), a dig-for-it vinyl treasure trove. This is the ’hood for DIY, indie and vintage. Fabricate (4037 Hamilton Ave., fabnorthside.com) features locally handmade and upcycled arts and crafts. Find all varieties of vintage at neon-and-glitter Chicken Lays an Egg (1608 Chase Ave., facebook.com/chickenlaysanegg); cool-and-classic Casablanca Vintage (3994 Spring Grove Ave., casablancavintage.com); or groovy NVISION (4577 Hamilton Ave., nvisionshop.com). Tantrum (4183 Hamilton Ave., facebook.com/tantrumnorthside) offers toys, clothing, scarves, body care, baby products, gifts and more for the urban family.
- EXPLORE — Have your kids build their own Franken-toys from old, donated ones at Happen Inc.’s (4201 Hamilton Ave., happeninc.org) toy lab. Thunder-Sky, Inc. (4573 Hamilton Ave., raymondthundersky.org) has incredibly creative, rotating outsider art exhibits; open Saturday and Sunday. To burn off some energy, head just outside the neighborhood border to the 1,500-acre Mount Airy Forest (5083 Colerain Ave., cincinnatiparks.com), which includes a dog park, disc golf and a big treehouse.
- MUST — Cemetery tours: a bit morbid, but full of history. Stroll through Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum’s (521 Spring Grove Ave., springgrove.org) 733-acre grounds, full of trees, lakes and winding pathways. Established in 1845, famous Cincinnati families have found final resting places here. Self-guided walking tour maps are available. They also host full moon tours and “An Afternoon with the Beer Barons” tour of famous local brewers’ graves (with fresh, local beer). Wesleyan Cemetery (4003 Colerain Ave., northside.net) is older than Spring Grove — and in a bit of disarray. Hunt for the graves of local notables like Fred Waterman, the third baseman for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional baseball team.