SALT LAKE CITY — It might be only a few blocks from the busy downtown, but what locals call the 9th and 9th neighborhood feels a world away.
Where visitors to the center of the city teem through Temple Square, ogle the Mormon Tabernacle and pour from the convention center, 9th and 9th is a largely residential neighborhood near the University of Utah campus with locally owned restaurants and shops, a day spa, a view of the Wasatch mountains and something else it’s hard to find where tourists gather: peace and quiet.
“It’s just a different mix,” said Scott Evans, unloading supplies from his pickup as he readies for the dinner rush at Pago, the restaurant he owns in 9th and 9th. “It’s a different vibe, more relaxed.”
Evans estimates that 80 percent of the customers at another restaurant he runs downtown are visitors from somewhere else and 20 percent are local, while at his restaurant in 9th and 9th the proportions are reversed.
That authenticity is among the reasons travelers are gravitating to neighborhoods outside of center cities, and why boutique hotels are opening in them and tourism officials promoting them.
Other business purposes are also helping drive this trend, including using the economic impact of tourism to support independent local businesses and encouraging visitors to stay longer and return more often.
“We want to push people out to as many places as we can,” said Ryan Mack, director of media for Visit Salt Lake, sitting at a booth in Evans’s restaurant and who lives in 9th and 9th — it’s shorthand for the convergence of 900 South and 900 East. “Downtown is great. We love downtown, but we love these pockets of neighborhoods. We’re locals, and these are the spots we like to come to.”
The tourism organization has commissioned murals to lure people to these places, with QR codes that lead visitors from one to another.
It’s a strategy that’s spreading, said Gretchen Hall, chair of the tourism marketing and management association Destinations International and president and CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“As you disperse visitors outside of that central core, they’re experiencing more of your destination. And that can also extend a visit and encourage repeat visitation,” Hall said.
It also syncs with growing interest in genuinely local food, which is one of the principal reasons visitors often find their ways to neighborhoods outside downtowns. In 9th and 9th, for instance, in addition to Pago, there’s a Mexican grill, a Thai bistro, and a pizzeria, along with pastry, coffee, gelato and ice cream shops, all of them locally owned.
New interest in neighborhoods is a response to something else, too: the increasing homogeneity of many popular hot spots for travelers — New York’s Times Square preeminent among them — that have become crammed with chain restaurants and stores and crowds of other tourists.
“A lot of places around the world just have too many tourists and lines to get into things,” said Jayme Simões, a marketing consultant from Concord, N.H., who travels often. “So when I travel I try and think like a local. What would they do? Where would they go? I want the feel of what it’s like to live there.”
In Paris, Simões went to a flea market in a multicultural neighborhood. “There were some tourists there but most of the people were French,” he said. In Toronto, he also got away from the usual tourist attractions. “I could go to some splashy restaurant near the CP Tower or I could walk 20 minutes and find a neighborhood and eat like a Canadian.” And when he went to the heavily visited Portuguese city of Evora, he spent most of his time outside its walls.
There Simões found “train stations, historic places, wineries, a fort I never knew existed,” he said. “And people are happy to see you. They’re not overwhelmed by tourists.”
Another plus, he said: Such places are also often cheaper, a growing consideration as the price of travel and everything else continues to increase.
That doesn’t mean they lack cachet.
Los Angeles’s Culver City neighborhood has quickly become a center of the digital media industry. That in turn has attracted hip restaurants and boutique hotels such as The Shay, which opened last year, and its etta restaurant by Michelin-starred chef Danny Grant. There are also outposts of the microbrewery Los Angeles Ale Works, the Los Angeles Distillery and the roasting company Equator Coffees, a collection of pop-up shops, the Citizen Public Market food hall and a former commercial bakery complex transformed into a hub for design.
The former Miami warehouse district of Wynwood is that city’s newest cultural and creative destination, which has also now attracted a brand-new boutique hotel: Arlo Wynwood, with a brasserie called MaryGold’s by James Beard Award-winning chef Brad Kilgore. The neighborhood is filled with other restaurants and bars and with art galleries and antique shops.
In New Orleans, the historic Bywater neighborhood has become an alternative to the French Quarter, with studios and galleries in renovated warehouses and abandoned buildings turned into bars, restaurants and shops.
Washington Heights in far-flung uptown Manhattan has become a go-to destination, too; known as Little Dominican Republic and depicted by Lin-Manuel Miranda in the play and movie “In the Heights,” it also just got its first-ever full-service boutique hotel, the Radio, with the only American location of the Santo Domingo restaurant Jalao.
The tourism agency in Berlin has started to promote 12 of that city’s different districts, developing a “Going Local” app as a guide, and a “15-minute city” that encourages visitors to explore new places within 15 minutes of wherever they’re staying.
Many older American cities with distinctive neighborhoods have also started doing things like this — including Boston, whose convention and visitors bureau has created video guides to Roxbury, Dorchester, Hyde Park, East Boston, and Jamaica Plain, with more planned for Allston and Mattapan; it says local businesses have reported an uptick in the number of tourists who are visiting.
The idea is to help travelers find “anchors and flavors that define the characteristics of a city,” said Angela Val, president and CEO of Visit Philadelphia, which has a “Philadelphia Neighborhoods” initiative.
“It’s not instead of Center City,” Val said. “It’s just showing how much more Philly has to offer, highlighting the vibrancy of our neighborhoods and helping people almost experience it as a local. That’s really a differentiator for a lot of destinations, where you can have different experiences altogether just a subway ride or Uber ride away.”
People growing tired of the masses on Broadway in Nashville are discovering East Nashville, 12 South, The Gulch, Wedgwood-Houston, and Germantown, with award-winning local restaurants, shops, music venues and new boutique and luxury hotels and inns.
In Baltimore, the Hampden neighborhood has bars, restaurants, bookstores, vintage and specialty shops and artists’ studios along 36th Street, which locals call The Avenue. Away from downtown Reno is Midtown, with the Nevada Museum of Art, thrift shops, restaurants and bars. Five minutes from downtown Omaha, the historic Blackstone District includes the hotel where the Reuben sandwich was invented, which has been renovated into a Kimpton.
San Antonio’s Southtown is an art district with galleries, distilleries, and Victorian-style architecture. And the Buckman neighborhood in Portland, Ore., is rich with buzzy shops, hotels, and restaurants including Top Chef and Restaurant Wars alumnus Gregory Gourdet’s Kann, which debuted in August, and the Hotel Grand Stark, which opened last year.
Back in 9th and 9th, Scott Evans has been active in creating a nonprofit to promote the neighborhood and setting up an annual fall street fair there. He hesitates only briefly when considering whether pockets outside downtown could end up too popular for their own good. The bigger threat, said Evans — as in many cities — is rising housing prices, which are making it harder for creative young people to live there and local businesses to open.
For now, he said, tourists continue to find their way from the usual landmarks, and snowboarders and skiers from the ski resorts.
“They want to live like the locals,” Evans said.
Jon Marcus can be reached at email@example.com.