Cincinnati’s central core includes some of the city’s most walkable and dynamic neighborhoods. College kids and professionals have Clifton buzzing during weekdays; progressive families and a large LGBT community keep Northside friendly and independent; and in College Hill, North College Hill and Mount Healthy, families and longtime residents enjoy their neighborhoods’ quaintness and charm. These parts of town are connected, running north from Over-the-Rhine straight through the city’s most progressive and multicultural communities.CLIFTON
- GLOBAL GOURMAND — This part of town is a hub for ethnic foods. For a taste of casual global with a focus on homemade soups, head to Myra’s Dionysus (121 Calhoun St., myrasrestaurant.com). In the mood for Asian? Visit the efficient Maki Express sushi bar and Japanese kitchen (209 W. McMillan St., makiexpress.tripod.com) or Cilantro (235 W. McMillan St., eatatcilantro.com), a Vietnamese bistro that uses family recipes. For Indian, head to the Gaslight District: Among other nearby choices, local favorites Ambar (350 Ludlow Ave., ambarindia.com) and Amol (354 Ludlow Ave., 513-961-3600) are basically conjoined. Gyro joints Mediterranean Foods (314 Ludlow Ave., mediterranean-clifton.com) and Chicago Gyro (201 W. McMillan Ave., 513-621-3828) offer fast falafel. And for a taste of history, Mecklenburg Gardens (302 E. University Ave., mecklenburgs.net), which has been in Corryville since 1865, offers German fare with an outdoor biergarten.
- CINCINNATI CLASSIC CUISINE — Along Ludlow Avenue you’ll find Cincinnati staples Graeter’s ice cream (332 Ludlow Ave., graeters.com) and Skyline Chili (290 Ludlow Ave., skylinechili.com), plus local, fresh pizza chain Dewey’s Pizza (265 Hosea Ave., deweyspizza.com). And Habanero (358 Ludlow Ave., habanerolatin.com) has beer offering quick, pick-your-own-topping burritos since before they were everywhere.
- COLLEGE HANGOUTS — A classic college hang and Clifton cornerstone, Murphy’s Pub (2329 W. Clifton Ave., murphys-pub.com) has been serving affordable beer since 1969. Watch a game with the college kids at Mac’s Pizza Pub (205 W. McMillan St., macspizzapub.com) or grab a cheap beer and a Cafe de Wheels burger at Dive Bar (2608 Vine St., facebook.com/divebarcincinnati). Uncle Woody’s (339 Calhoun St., 513-751-2518) offers beers and burgers, including the Ragin’ Cajun burger, which was featured on Regis & Kelly. 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., thestclair.com) bar, which has DJs, a terrace and a specialty rum drink called “The Pain Killer.” Attached to it is the Keystone Bar & Grill’s Clifton location (249 Calhoun St., keystonebar.com).
- COFFEE SHOPS — Bohemian coffee houses with lite bites and alcohol abound around campus. Baba Budan’s (239 W. McMillan St., facebook.com/baba4java) features live music and open mic nights; Sitwell’s (324 Ludlow Ave., sitwellscoffeehouse.com) has been a Cincinnati staple for 16 years with mismatched furniture, unique artwork, vegetarian food options and great shakes; and for the Kerouac in all of us, there’s Highland Coffee House (2839 Highland Ave., 513-861-4151), full of plants, pianos, board games and an eclectic mix of artists and students. The Rohs Street Café (245 W. McMillan St., rohsstreetcafe.com) serves fair trade and organically grown coffee, and is funded by the University Christian Church.
- PUBLIC ZOO AND PARKS — The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (3400 Vine St., cincinnatizoo.org) houses the oldest zoo building in the nation: a reptile house that was built in 1875
- TOUR THE UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI —The University of Cincinnati campus (2600 Clifton Ave., 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. Head to UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (2600 Clifton Ave., 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.
- INDIE SHOPPING — The Gaslight District’s Ludlow Avenue is home to many independent shops, including Kilimanjaro African Heritage (310 Ludlow Ave., africanforus.com), vintage and resale shop The Mustard Seed Boutique (311 Ludlow Ave., mustardseedboutique.com), eclectic Pangaea Trading Co. (326 Ludlow Ave., 513-751-3330), paolo a modern jeweler (278 Ludlow Ave., paolousa.com) and specialty gift-type shop Toko Baru (325 Ludlow Ave., 513-751-3338).
- ALTERNATIVE ENTERTAINMENT — Catch a movie and grab a glass of wine at art house theater the Esquire Theatre (320 Ludlow Ave., esquiretheatre.com). The Mad Frog (1 E. McMillan St., themadfrog.net) is a bar and club with a relaxed, hippie slant, featuring live music, a patio and Tropical Nights on Mondays with free Salsa dancing lessons. For something more mainstream but still alternative, head to Bogart’s (2621 Vine St., bogarts.com). This iconic Rock venue has been part of the Short Vine neighborhood landscape since the 1890s, when it was originally built as a vaudeville theater. Today it hosts a slew of national live music acts. Also on Short Vine, check out the artistic renaissance of ArtBeat (facebook.com/artbeatonshortvine), a monthly art walk from 5-10 p.m. the first Friday of the month.
COLLEGE HILL/NORTH COLLEGE HILL AND MOUNT HEALTHY
Originally a wealthy suburb called Pleasant Hill based on its prime location, College Hill was renamed because of the two colleges that were established there in the mid-19th century. The neighborhood is not to be confused with North College Hill, which borders College Hill to the north but is not part of Cincinnati, or Mount Healthy, which is along the same stretch of the city. Mount Healthy was founded in 1817 under the name Mount Pleasant but was happily renamed after many citizens survived a cholera epidemic in 1850.
TOP NEIGHBORHOOD TO DOS
- CASUAL DINING —Find great barbecue and soul food at Goodies BBQ (5841 Hamilton Ave., 513-542-4663), with sauce so good it’s bottled and sold at local stores, or Pit to Plate (8021 Hamilton Ave., 513-931-9100). Bacalls Café (6118 Hamilton Ave., bacallscafe.com) has been “the grill next door” since 1982. Chung Ching (5842 Hamilton Ave., 513-541-1243) is an old-school mom-and-pop Chinese restaurant.
- INTERESTING LIBATIONS — The motto of College Hill Coffee Co. and Casual Gourmet (6128 Hamilton Ave., 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., martys-hopsandvines.com) offers a small plate menu, live music performances and great vino with a wine tasting on Friday nights. And Burnet Ridge Winery (6721 Richard Ave., burnetridge.com) is up the street in North College Hill making award-winning wines and blends.
- SWEET SPOTS — North College Hill Bakery (1807 W. Galbraith Road, northcollegehillbakery.com) has been serving tasty treats for more than 75 years, specializing in delicious cakes. And in another success story, the Little Dutch Bakery (7611 Hamilton Ave., littledutchbakery.com) is an award-winning family bakery with cookies, cakes, Danishes, homemade bread and more. The Mount Healthy Dairy Bar (7840 Hamilton Ave., 513-522-1288) serves up classic creamy whip soft serve.
- HISTORY — The Mount Healthy Historical Society’s (1546 McMakin Ave., mthealthyhistory.org) museum is housed in the Free Meeting House, an old brick building used to exhibit historical items and the Toll House, built in 1859. Both are open for tours. Walking through the historic glass greenhouses of the fifth-generation AJ Rahn Green House (4944 Gray Road, ajrahngreenhouses.com) is almost like walking through a Victorian plant conservatory.
A little bit hippie and a little bit Rock n’ Roll, Northside is a green-leaning urban enclave of artists, musicians, do-it-yourselfers, hipsters and a prominent LGBTQ community. The main drag of Hamilton Avenue is all about local, indie and cool, with vintage boutiques, owner-operated salons, record stores, bustling weekly farmers market and plenty of local Rock and Bluegrass clubs.
TOP NEIGHBORHOOD TO DOS
- TACO CRAZY — Northside has jumped on the Mexican street food/taco bandwagon with three taco options located on basically the same street, so you can nosh your way down the block. Blending American with Tex-Mex, Django Western Taco (4046 Hamilton Ave., djangonorthside.com) offers taco fillings such as shrimp or veggie with soy chorizo, interesting entrees including the Sheriff’s Stone Bowl with egg served in a stone bowl and a tangy margarita made with jalapeno. Tacocracy (4029 Hamilton Ave., facebook.com/tacocracy), located in the Northside International Airport storefront, is an eclectic taco bar offering guerilla-style filling options including duck, adobo-curry chicken, mashed potatoes and more. And Barrio Tequileria (3937 Spring Grove Ave., facebook.com/barriotequileria) offers authentic-style tacos with more than 70 tequilas and one of the best guacamoles.
- FOCUS ON VEGETARIAN, VEGAN AND ORGANIC — The neighborhood also boasts some of the best vegetarian/vegan food options at eateries like sandwich shop Melt Eclectic Cafe (4165 Hamilton Ave., meltcincy.com) and sister store Picnic and Pantry (4163 Hamilton Ave., picnicandpantry.com), offering essential groceries from local and whole food providers and sandwiches and “picnic” items to go; or Take the Cake (4035 Hamilton Ave., takethecakecincinnati.com), a bakery that also offers seasonal, ever-changing lunch and brunch options, served at communal tables. And if you just want to make some food yourself, stop by the ever-popular year-round Wednesday Northside Farmers Market (mid-May-October: Jacob Hoffner Park, 4101 Hamilton Ave.; winter: North Presbyterian Church, 4222 Hamilton Ave., northside.net).
- ROCK N’ ROLL — The power trio of bars — Northside Tavern, Mayday and The Comet — ensure that 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-riding, Garage Rock-loving burrito eaters. And Mayday (4227-4231 Spring Grove Ave., maydaynorthside.com) caters to a slightly younger crowd with themed DJ and dance nights, comedy open-mic, gourmet hotdogs and an excellent whisky selection. Northside is also home to indie record stores Shake It Records (4156 Hamilton Ave., shakeitrecords.com), a store and label with live in-store performances by national and international musical acts, and the new Black Plastic Records (4027 Hamilton Ave., facebook.com/blackplasticrecords) offering thousands of records in a fun, dig-for-it vinyl treasure trove.
- CHILD-FRIENDLY — Family is a focus here. Happen Inc. (4201 Hamilton Ave., happeninc.org) is a nonprofit arts organization for adults and children to explore art together through classes and projects. Tantrum (4183 Hamilton Ave., facebook.com/tantrumnorthside) offers toys, clothing, scarves, body care, baby products, gifts and more for the urban family. And the Cincinnati Family Enrichment Center (4244 Hamilton Ave., theplaceforfamilies.com) offers classes for parents and children as well as a Play Café.
- VERY VINTAGE AND DIY — The ‘hood to go for DIY, indie and vintage. Fabricate (4037 Hamilton Ave., fabnorthside.com) and MarketSide Mercantile (4170 Hamilton Ave., 513-967-2026) both feature locally handmade and upcycled items, redesigned furniture and earth-friendly homegoods. Chicken Lays an Egg (1608 Chase Ave., facebook.com/chickenlaysanegg) offers eccentric neon-and-sequins vintage, Casablanca Vintage (3994 Spring Grove Ave., casablancavintage.com) is a little more classic and offers top-quality shoe repair services via Awesome Time Shoe Repair and NVISION (4577 Hamilton Ave., nvisionshop.com) is groovy and eclectic with a variety of homegoods. The Northside International Airport (4029 Hamilton Ave., 513-541-5999) is a collection of stores, a gallery in a bathroom and restaurant. Inside the “airport” you’ll find On the Prowl Vintage (facebook.com/ontheprowlvintage) and beauty apothecary Blink Makeup Studio (facebook.com/blinkmakeupstudio).
- GET OUTSIDE — 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 as a nonprofit cemetery in 1845, famous Cincinnati families such as the Tafts, Krogers and Procters have found final resting places here. Head just outside the neighborhood border to 1,500-acre Mount Airy Forest (5083 Colerain Ave., cincinnatiparks.com), which includes the Mount Airy Arboretum with more than 5,000 plants representing 1,600 species of varieties of deciduous trees, shrubs and evergreens.
- CAMP WASHINGTON — Located between Clifton and Northside is Camp Washington (camp-washington.org), established in 1846. Classic chili parlor and ‘50s-style diner, Camp Washington Chili (3005 Colerain Ave., campwashingtonchili.com), has won awards for being some of the best chili in the nation as well as an “American Regional Classic” award from the James Beard Foundation. If you’re in need of costumes or other theatrical supply, Schenz Theatrical Supply (2959 Colerain Ave., schenz.com) — easily identified by the giant gorilla on top of the sign — has more than 40 years of experience. 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.