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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Explore the rich histories of lesser-known neighborhoods in the U.S.

Apr 27, 2024 09:52AM ● By Victor Block
Georgetown Historic District  in Washington, D.C.

Georgetown Historic District in Washington, D.C.

Many visitors to San Francisco prioritize iconic attractions like the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, the remote Alcatraz Island and scenic Lombard Street, known as “the crookedest road in the world.” However, they often overlook the unique characteristics and charms of the city’s 36 neighborhoods and smaller districts, as designated by the city’s planning department.

While it’s natural for travelers to focus on well-known sites, exploring local neighborhoods offers a deeper understanding of a city’s history, architecture and culture. This reveals the diverse facets of local life and lore that are just as enriching as any bucket-list destination.


Consider San Francisco’s rich history with beef, which serves as a gateway to several districts. There’s more than one theory about how the downtown area known as The Tenderloin got its nickname. Some say it refers to the “soft underbelly” of the city, while others suggest that the 1930s policemen living there were so well paid they could afford premium cuts of meat.

A 10-block area known as Butchertown blossomed around a thriving slaughterhouse industry. Meanwhile, Union Street, now a ritzy thoroughfare lined with upscale boutiques, was once the site of numerous dairy farms, earning it the nickname Cow Alley during the late 19th century.

These examples illustrate how exploring local neighborhoods can offer a behind-the-scenes look at a city’s heritage. Seeking out these lesser-known areas provides insights into the local way of life that many visitors might otherwise miss.


The original entrance to Union Stock Yard in Chicago.

The Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago derives its name from its history with hogs. The neighborhood was home to the Union Stock Yard and to many workers in the meatpacking industry from 1865 for nearly a century. The area saw so many animals meet their end that Chicago earned the moniker “the hog butcher for the world.”

Back of the Yards is just one of about 200 neighborhoods in the Windy City. Another notable area, Ashburn, offers a suburban ambiance enhanced by numerous parks. Its name dates back to the 1800s when residents commonly dumped their furnace ashes there.


South Broadway in Denver tells its own rags-to-riches story. Once known for its industrial and somewhat seedy atmosphere, it has transformed into a hip haven featuring art galleries, antique shops and performance venues.

Denver’s 16th Street Mall.

Meanwhile, the mile-long 16th Street Mall in Denver offers a collection of boutiques, outdoor cafes and various businesses, all connected by a free shuttle bus. 

River North, nicknamed RiNo, has transformed from an industrial area to a vibrant art district with galleries and studios, as well as jazz bars, boutiques and brew pubs.


Shopping is a favorite activity in Washington, DC’s trendy Georgetown, one of 131 neighborhoods officially recognized by the city’s Office of Planning. 

Founded in 1751 as part of the Colonial-era Province of Maryland, Georgetown was incorporated into the District of Columbia over a century later. It is now the site of Georgetown University’s main campus, hosts several foreign embassies and is home to the Old Stone House (1765), the oldest unaltered building in the city.

Other popular neighborhoods in the Nation’s Capital include Adams Morgan (AdMo), a historic area teeming with entertainment options; Dupont Circle, a vibrant district listed on the National Register of Historic Places; and Foggy Bottom, a colorful moniker which is believed to relate to 19th-century industrial facilities there that emitted smoke.


Touches of other cultures are nestled within the neighborhoods of various U.S. cities. 

International District Children in traditional Chinese clothes.

For instance, Koreatown (K-Town) in midtown Manhattan, New York, boasts over 150 businesses that provide a glimpse into Korean culture. This area features everything from small restaurants and shops to beauty salons and large bank branches.

Despite its name, the sprawling Italian Market neighborhood in Philadelphia has evolved to reflect the city’s growing Hispanic population. 

Grassia’s Italian Market Spice Company in Philadelphia.

This area, which claims to be the oldest continuously operating outdoor market in the country, now hosts a diverse array of eateries and shops catering to different cultural tastes. The market’s characteristic awning-covered sidewalks, carts and shops stretch across more than 20 city blocks.


From the 1860s through much of the 20th century, Seattle served as a primary gateway for many Asian immigrants arriving in the U.S. 

They initially settled near Pioneer Square, which was then the heart of the city. Today, this area, now known as the International District, is peppered with one-of-a-kind boutiques; the Wing Luke Museum, which chronicles the neighborhood’s diverse history; and a variety of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants.

Seattle also acknowledges its historical ties to Native American heritage through the names of its neighborhoods. For example, the Leschi residential area, located along the western shore of Lake Washington, carries the name of a Nisqually chief who was executed by territorial authorities in 1858 following a conflict between the United States and Indian tribes.   


The name of Ahwatukee, a village in Phoenix, Arizona, is believed to have origins in the Crow language. Several theories about the origin of the name exist, including interpretations that translate it to “land on the other side of the hill” or “flat land.” This reflects the village’s geographical and cultural significance.

From coast to coast, the U.S. is rich with neighborhoods that showcase the diverse cultures that shape our country. These areas offer historical insights and cultural highlights that encourage travelers to explore and expand their knowledge. By venturing into often-overlooked neighborhoods, visitors can discover the unique and intriguing aspects of Americana that await them.