Downtown New Bedford has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years, cultivating a historic-yet-hip port-town vibe. That 19th-century feel is alive in the neighborhood’s lamppost-lined cobblestone streets, but yesteryear’s whaling-era mills and banks now house art galleries, boutiques, pubs, and wood-fired pizzerias — all a stone’s throw from the waterfront of a leading fishing port.
Brunch at the Green Bean, which offers vegetarian, vegan, and meat-lover’s fare. Grab a blueberry smoothie and fresh scone to go, or sit and savor your espresso and grilled breakfast burrito — scrambled eggs, cheese, avocado, spinach, back beans, salsa, and sour cream. Soak up the local artists’ work on the walls. 740 Purchase St., 508-984-3300
DNB Burgers & Fries is one of the newest additions to downtown. All craft burgers are house-ground. Order off the menu or BYOB — build your own burger. 22 Elm St., 774-202-0118, dnbburgers.com
Brick Pizzeria Napoletana is another somewhat recent addition to the downtown scene. Start with the wood-fired focaccia. Then go for, well, whatever your heart desires, from a pollo rosto pizza — oven-roasted chicken, caramelized onions, wood-fired wild mushrooms, and Gorgonzola — to any number of wood-fired flatbread sandwiches, or BYOP — build your own pizza. 163 Union St., 508-999-4943, pizzeriabrick.com
In the mood for Mexican? No Problemo. Your senses may be overwhelmed at this hip taqueria, where art lines every inch of wall space, the burritos — with names like “Diablo” and “Zeus”— are stuffed to the brim, the Sierra Nevadas are ice-cold, and the tortas are served on grilled Portuguese rolls. 813 Purchase St., 508-984-1081, noproblemotaqueria.com
Housed in a gorgeous 1877 brick building that was originally a bank, Freestone’s City Grill boasts fresh-from-the-ocean seafood among its vast menu offerings, along with an epic view of the waterfront. 41 William St., 508-993-7477, freestonescitygrill.com
Portobello opened last fall, offering steak, seafood, Italian fare, and grilled filet mignon. 555 Pleasant St., 774-206-6622
End your night at Cafe Arpeggio with micro-roasted coffee, pastries, and homemade ice cream with such flavors as coffee crunch, cake batter, cookie dough, black raspberry, coconut almond joy, and pistachio. Plus catch live music every Thursday night 7-10 p.m. 800 Purchase St., 508-999-2233, cafearpeggio8.webnode.com
At CORK Wine and Tapas you’ll have an ocean view as you sip your Argentine Trapiche pinot noir and nibble on petite sirloin or flourless chocolate cake. 90 Front St., 508-994-9463, corkwineandtapas.com
In more of a beer-and-wings mood? Head to Slainte Irish Pub for a pint (34 Union St., 508-994-3355, slaintenewbedford.com ). Rose Alley Ale House also offers a hearty beer list, all the wings you can eat, and live music (94 Front St., 508-858-5123, drinkrosealley.com). The Pour Farm offers “fresh-caught Beer” and live music (780 Purchase St., 508-990-1123, pourfarm.com ).
As with other hip port towns, there are too many indie shops and galleries packed into the waterfront area to mention. You may just want to stroll the cobblestone streets and pop from shop to shop. But here are a few in which to pop.
Note that many downtown shops, restaurants, galleries, and museums are open late and have special events on the second Thursday of each month for AHA! Night (Art, History, Architecture!), a free, family-friendly celebration of culture and arts in downtown New Bedford starting at 5 p.m. The next AHA! is Feb. 12, when the theme will be “Tall Tales.” 508-996-8253 ext. 205, ahanewbedford.org
Gallery 65 on William is a cooperative gallery with a retail shop chock-full of ceramics, jewelry, woodwork, photography, paintings, textiles, and prints. 65 William St., 508-994-1595, gallery65onwilliam.com
Owned and operated by artists, TL6 The Gallery sells local artists’ and artisans’ handmade and custom works, including pottery, jewelry, blown stained glass, ceramics, prints, and more. 100 William St., 508-992-8100, tl6thegallery.com
Travessia Urban Winery is a micro-winery focusing on making small-batch wines from primarily Massachusetts-grown grapes. Taste in the store, buy a bottle — or two — for home. 760 Purchase St., 774-929-6534, travessiawinery.com
Head to Solstice Skateboarding for everything from hats to decks. 102 William St., 508-994-8675, solsticeskateboarding.com
Calico is an ultra-hip curated boutique offering everything from distressed skinny jeans and leopard-print rompers to skater skirts and floral pumps. 173 Union St., 508-999-4147, shopcalico.com
The Bedford Merchant is all eye candy — from the lavender exterior to the unique gifts — umbrellas in the shape of a wine bottle are par for the course. 28 William St., 508-997-9194, bedfordmerchant.com
When the weather’s this cold, who doesn’t want fleece-lined jeans? Established in 1947, Carter’s Clothing and Footwear has long been a staple of downtown New Bedford shopping. The brick building, once a bank, dates to the whaling era. Today it sells quality and premium outdoor gear and footwear. 55 William St., 508-993-8221, cartersma.com
You can’t go to the Whaling City and not experience this museum. You just can’t. The New Bedford Whaling Museum houses rare whale skeletons, special collections, ever-changing exhibits, and a half-scale model of a whaling bark among its vast collection of all things whale. The museum claims the world’s largest collection of scrimshaw, and holds ongoing events, symposiums, and workshops. Admission is free on AHA! nights. 18 Johnny Cake Hill, 508-997-0046, whalingmuseum.org
The Zeiterion Theatre is one of the big performance centers south of Boston. It has hosted everyone from Joan Baez to David Byrne and St. Vincent, Russian ballet companies, off-Broadway plays and stand-up comedians. 684 Purchase St., 508-994-2900, www.zeiterion.org
For art, check out the New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks! Exhibits are ever-changing in multiple galleries, and there are child, teen, and adult art classes and a museum shop. 608 Pleasant St., 508-961-3072, newbedfordart.org
The New Bedford Museum of Glass exhibits everything from ancient Mediterranean unguent bottles to 19th-century glass made in New Bedford and Cape Cod, to glass designs by contemporary artists such as Dale Chihuly. 61 Wamsutta St., 508-984-1666, newbedfordantiquescenter.com/glass-museum/
The recently-built Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott offers waterfront views, complimentary breakfast, heated indoor pool and hot tub, and free shuttles to all downtown attractions and restaurants. 185 MacArthur Blvd., 774-634-2000, www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/ewbfi-fairfield-inn-and-suites-new-bedford/
If you plan to venture out a few weeks from now, check out The Rotch-Jones-Duff House & Garden Museum, which reopens in March. You’ll get a taste of the “brave houses and flowery gardens” that Herman Melville described in “Moby-Dick” (396 County St. 508-997-1401. rjdmuseum.org ). Seamen’s Bethel — where many a whaler, including Melville, prayed before going to sea — opens Memorial Day (15 Johnny Cake Hill, 508-992-3295, seamensbethel.org ).