It’s never too early to start planning your next great vacation. Whether you’re in the mood for an epic national parks road trip this summer or a relaxing staycation closer to home, these nine cities and locales offer some of the best places to enjoy local food and music in the country. If you’re craving a little live music during your travels, these cities definitely deliver, with enough jazz, blues, rock, and country music venues to suit every taste and budget — plus plenty of incredible food to enjoy while you’re in town.
With such a diverse population, you really can’t go wrong when it comes to finding a good meal in New York City. Manhattan and Brooklyn’s got heaps of trendy restaurants, though its mom-and-pop diners and eateries, run by families from all over for several generations, are also a major highlight. In Queens, Astoria is known for its Greek, Cypriot, and Brazilian food; Flushing and Bayside for their Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean restaurants, bakeries, and markets; and Jackson Heights for its Southeast Asian, South American, Mexican, Indian, and Nepali eateries. Head to the Bronx for Italian markets along Arthur Avenue, and a variety of Bengali, Jamaican, Columbian, Guyanese, Trinidadian, Cuban, African, Mexican, and Vietnamese specialty spots. If Italian, Filipino, Mexican, or Sri Lankan cuisine is what you crave, ride the free ferry to Staten Island from Lower Manhattan.
While you’re in the Big Apple, catch a Broadway show (stop by the TKTS booth in Times Square to score last-minute discount tickets) or head to a legendary jazz club like Birdland, Blue Note, Bill’s Place, Arthur’s Tavern, or the Village Vanguard for a great night of live music.
Seafood is the name of the game in Boston, whether you prefer to hit up local lobster (“lobstah!”) joints for truly mouthwatering lobster rolls and bisque or venture out to Provincetown in Cape Cod for an epic clam bake dinner. Don’t leave without trying Boston baked beans, cream pie, clam chowder (“chowdah!”), lobster mac ‘n cheese, a Fenway Frank, traditional Boston-style pizza, or a cannoli or two from Mike’s Pastry in the North End, which offers 18 delicious flavors to choose from.
For live music, head to Symphony Hall to see the legendary Boston Pops Orchestra perform, House of Blues Boston for Southern dishes with a side of blues, and The Sinclair or The Middle East for performances by local alt-rock, indie, and hip hop musicians. Scullers Jazz Club and Paradise Rock Club are also worth checking out, as are Club Passim and The Beehive, if you’re into jazz, blues, rock, soul, funk, folk, or world music.
Whatever you do in Nashville, it’s bound to be a rollicking good time, especially for night owls who love country music. Join a free line dancing class and kick up your heels at Wildhorse Saloon, then follow the music and hit the honky tonks on and around Broadway — start at Rippy’s, Layla’s, Nudie’s, Honky Tonk Central, Robert’s Western World, Tootsies Orchid Lounge, or The Stage and see where the night takes you. Learn all about the city’s history of country and bluegrass music on a tour of Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry radio show. Nearby, the Country Music Hall of Fame offers guided tours of its Historic RCA Studio B, where Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, and Roy Orbison once recorded music. Die-hard fans of the Man in Black should also stop by the Johnny Cash Museum to see its vast memorabilia collection.
After a big day of sightseeing, indulge in some Bar-B-Q at downtown hotspots like Peg Leg Porker, Jack’s Bar-B-Que, or Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint. Sample locally made spirits — Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, Nashville Craft Distillery, Ole Smoky, Corsair Distillery, and Pennington Distilling Co. each offer tasting menus — or venture out to Jack Daniel’s Distillery about 90 minutes south in Lynchburg.
Elvis fans, rejoice! Not only is Memphis home to Sun Studio, where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and B.B. King, among other rock ‘n’ roll musicians all their recorded music, it’s also where the King made his home at Graceland. Take a tour of the mansion, view collections of his gold and platinum albums and jumpsuits, and check out his legendary pink cadillac. You can also board his luxurious airplanes — decked out with gold-plated seatbelts and sinks — reflect on his life and music in the Meditation Garden, and pay your respects at his grave site. Some of the greatest blues clubs in the U.S. are also in Memphis, including B.B. King’s Blues Club, Rum Boogie Cafe, Blues Hall Juke Joint, Blues City Cafe, and Silky O’Sullivan’s, all located along Beale Street. Visit the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum for a closer look at how modern-day rock ‘n’ roll traces its roots back to blues, soul, and gospel music.
The Memphis Bar-B-Q scene is also worth digging into, with popular Midtown spots like Central BBQ, Corky’s BBQ, The Rendezvous, Tops Bar-B-Q, Payne’s Bar-B-Q and The Bar-B-Q Shop serving up the good stuff with tangy and tasty wet and dry rubs.
Home to an incredible jazz scene — this is where Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., and countless other jazz greats got started, after all — New Orleans is all about live music, whether you’re seeing a show at a bucket-list destination like Preservation Hall or at a local jazz joint along Frenchmen Street, such as d.b.a., The Spotted Cat, The Blue Nile, Snug Harbor, or the Three Muses. Though a bit more touristy, there are also plenty of live music venues scattered throughout the French Quarter and along Bourbon Street, including Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub, the city’s oldest.
When it comes to food in New Orleans, it’s all about Cajun and Creole cuisine — have some gumbo, crawfish étouffée, jambalaya, red beans and rice, a po-boy, a muffaletta sandwich, or dig into a crawfish boil if you can. Treat yourself to bananas foster for dessert or some beignets (fried dough pastries covered in powdered sugar) from Café Du Monde, A New Orleans institution that has been serving them from its French Market coffee stand since 1862.
“Red or green?” is the official state question of New Mexico, and one you’re likely to hear a lot during a trip to Santa Fe regarding the type of chile peppers you’d prefer (just say “Christmas” if you want to try both). Head to La Plazuela at La Fonda on the Plaza to sample exquisite New Mexican cuisine featuring traditional recipes with modern twists — the enchiladas and rellenos de la Fonda are a real treat — or its Bell Tower Bar for gorgeous sunset views and swanky rooftop cocktails. Several Santa Fe distilleries also offer behind-the scenes tours and cocktail-making classes if you’re interested in learning more about what makes them so delicious.
After dinner, head to Tonic to hear live jazz, Vanessie Restaurant and Piano Bar for more of a traditional piano bar experience, Boxcar for a sports bar and club vibes (on weekends), or check the Santa Fe tourism board’s website to see if there are free festivals, concerts or other cultural performances happening on the Plaza downtown while you’re visiting.
Coffee enthusiasts, rejoice! Start with a visit to the birthplace of Starbucks at Pike Place Market, where the venerable brand got its start back in 1971, then pick up some fresh seasonal fruits and veggies, freshly baked pastries, hot-smoked salmon, and other snacks for a picnic at one of the city’s beautiful parks and gardens. To learn more about coffee-making, book a guided tour of the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, located in the nearby Capitol Hill neighborhood. Finish off a busy day of sightseeing with a beer tasting at Fremont Brewing’s Urban Beer Garden, where you can try seasonal beers and ciders alongside visitors and locals alike.
Seattle is home to a truly eclectic music scene and is where legendary artists like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, and Macklemore all got their start. For a relaxing jazz-filled evening, visit Jazz Alley downtown or Vito’s in First Hill. Metal fans should stop by Highline or Chop Suey in Capitol Hill, The Crocodile in Belltown, or Funhouse and El Corazón in Eastlake, while those who prefer country music should try Slim’s Last Chance in Georgetown.
Not only is Portland, Oregon, home to a burgeoning foodie scene, it’s also where you’ll find some of the best food carts in the U.S., whether you’re craving sushi, banh mi, Somali lamb mandi, tacos, Oaxan specialties, Korean Bar-B-Q, Norwegian fare, Filipino favorites, or spicy chicken, among countless other offerings. If time allows, visit the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, located two hours from downtown Portland and home to several Indigenous communities, for a Native American River-to-Table dining experience featuring freshly caught salmon from the Columbia River.
Back in Portland, catch indie, punk rock, psychedelic garage band, and other musical acts at Mississippi Studios in Boise; singer-songwriters, folk pop and hip hop artists at the Doug Fir Lounge downtown; or hit up Holocene for DJ dance parties and techno music.
Home to fine seafood restaurants and a beautiful natural landscape dotted with wineries, San Francisco and California Wine Country — located about a 90-minute drive away in Santa Rosa, Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Healdsburg — definitely deserve a spot on your travel bucket list.
Start with freshly caught favorites like lobsters, Dungeness crab, and oysters at one of the posh places along San Francisco’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf, or dig into some delicious Hog Island oysters at a Tomales Bay tasting. For fine wine and a relaxing day at a scenic vineyard, head to Healdsburg — Banshee Wines and Cartograph Wines are popular spots to sip wine by the Russian River — or sample local flavors from family-owned cellars in Sonoma, known for its pinot noir and chardonnay varietals. In Napa Valley, Yountville delivers with 15 tasting rooms and a number of cabernet sauvignon options, while nearby Santa Rosa is known for its Bordeaux.
Back in San Francisco, enjoy live jazz music with a side of Ethiopian food at Sheba’s Piano Lounge in the Fillmore District — or pizza at Club Deluxe in the Upper Haight neighborhood — live blues at The Saloon, the city’s oldest bar, or everything from cover bands and DJs to local artists at the Grant and Green Saloon in North Beach.
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