People that 'do stuff' in big cities, what do you do there

I live in a moderately large city. I don’t really go out but I like the fact that I have restaurants and comedy shows to partake in. We have sporting events too but I don’t normally go to those.

If time or money aren’t an object, what do people like to do in large cities? Going to enjoy nature is nice (beaches, forests, etc) but I dont’ think you really need to be in a big city to enjoy those. Lots of small and medium cities have nice nature areas too.

When my brother lived in Chicago his wife said there was a lot to do, but they were broke and couldn’t afford any of it. My impression is art, culture, shopping, food and entertainment options are much better in a large city, but I don’t know if there are other issues. With online shopping, I don’t know if the in person retail experience of a big city is as important now. You can get almost anything online now. I’ve heard it said multiple times that in a place like NYC, after the first month you don’t really partake in any of the local cultural experiences.

With the coronavirus hopefully speeding up the transition to working from home, I’m wondering if the benefits of living in large cities will continue to outweigh the drawbacks (high cost of living, traffic, bad neighborhoods, higher taxes, etc). If a person can work from home from a smaller town for the same wages I wonder if there will be an exodus out of the larger cities.

I think most people feel that a city is not a place where you’re going to find scenic nature sites.

Having lived in Chicago for a couple of decades, after moving here from a smaller city, here’s what I tend to think of what “do stuff” means, in this context:

  • Museums
  • Arts and culture (symphony music, opera, live theater)
  • Live sports
  • Popular concerts (rock, pop, country, etc.)
  • Restaurants, clubs, bars

That said, nearly all of the above can certainly be found in smaller cites, but in a big city, there’s likely to be more of it, a wider range of it, and it’s more readily available.

I would add Festivals and Conventions to that list–Pre-COVID, there was some sort of festival around here most weekend: Taco Festival, Greek Festival, Bluegrass Festival, Art festivals. Even after people have sorta played out the cultural stuff tourists like, they still go to the once-a-year things. They have them in small cities, too, but in a large ubran area, there are more, and you can find the ones you like.

I don’t live in the city but I go TO the city for all of those things. You can get some of that stuff (theater, good restaurants, minor league baseball) outside of the city but not much.

Living outside of the city, just 20 minutes, adds a huge time and money cost to doing any of those things, in the form of driving and parking.

Exactly. It’s not as if Chicago is full of things you can’t find anywhere else, it’s that it has so many different things all in one place.
When we lived in Naperville, my wife and I would spend a weekend in the City every couple of months or so, and partake in one or more of the above activities. Or sometimes we’d just wander up and down Michigan Avenue and take in the the vibe. That’s something you can’t get from online shopping.

The only consistent thing is visit bars and restaurants.

Most people don’t associate cities with nature areas. Chicago is a bit of an exception because so much of the lakefront is park, there are forest preserves in the city, and an effort was made to keep nature within the city borders as it was rebuilt from the 1871 fire onwards.

Chicago really does have an amazing amount of nature amenities, from the public beaches and parks, the bike paths, Lincoln Park Zoo, the big Millennium/Grant Park complex in the Loop/downtown, and so forth. Even better, almost all of that is free.

But for cities in general - you have museums, concerts, live theater, and other cultural events/institutions. Also major league sports teams. All of those can be pricey. Often there are deal for residents and school children, but if you’re purely tourist they can be pricey. (Last time I went to the Art Institute of Chicago with one of my sisters, a couple years ago, it was $25/each as an example.) But, if money’s no object you can get high quality live entertainment and visit lots of cultural institutions.

As also mentioned, there are festivals of all sorts, from free block-party/street events up through events that charge some sort of admission fee to very pricey events.

Also fine dining/world class restaurants (or greasy spoons), bars of various sorts including those with high class live entertainment (or dives, as you prefer), shops from cheap bargain-basement up through very, very expensive high social status stuff.

I lived as a poor person in Chicago as well as a person of some means, so I sampled a fairly large range of things in the big city. When I was poor I spent time in the parks, went to free stuff, ate in ethnic restaurants with peeling wallpaper and floor tile with owners that spoke little English, and went to weird little shops in out of the way places.

When I had money I went to the parks, went to free stuff, went to museums and the occasional live event, ate in upscale restaurants with amazing food and service, ate in ethnic restaurants with amazing food and no service, went to weird little shops in out of the way places and also shopped in big fancy malls with expensive shops.

Even better - so many transportation options! I could go on foot, bicycle, on public transportation, by cab (this was before Uber/Lyft), or by my own personal vehicle!

Contrast this to where I live now (pre-covid): no meaningful public transportation. Many fewer choices not only in restaurants but also ingredients for ethnic cooking at home (although that has improved in the past five years), no museums, few live entertainment options, few to no weird little shops and while we have malls they’re all solidly working class/middle class level stores. We do have a few live sports teams in the area, but their minor league or, in once instance, a team that does a historical re-enactment of early baseball which is interesting and has a following, but the MLB it’s not.

Big cities have more options for everything other than getting forty acres and farming. The more money you have the more options you have, but even the poor in a city can find entertainment, shopping, and these days even green space.

Exactly. and it’s not that smaller cities and towns don’t necessarily have some of these things, but the defining thing for big cities is that in general they have ALL of them at the same time. I mean pre-COVID, I could have found a half-dozen cooking classes/demonstrations on any given weekend. Maybe in a smaller city you could have found one, or you might have a fine arts venue, you might have an Indian restaurant, or you might have a minor league baseball team. But you might not have all at the same time, and definitely not multiple variants of each, or specialized versions.

I was thinking of things like central park in NYC, lakeshore drive in Chicago, the beaches of California, etc.


One of the main things I like to do in cities are parks. If I’m travelling and my hotel for the night is in a downtown area I look on a map to see if there are any parks around, doesn’t matter if they are wild, manicured, artsy, or historical, as long as they are outside and are preferably not team-sport-oriented.

I’ve been to London 3 times and the firm plurality, maybe even the majority, of my time spent doing “city” things has been spent in or going to parks, moreso than museums or entertainment.

My spring vacation was supposed to happen a month ago and I purposely booked a location in downtown Fort Worth so I could see the famous Water Gardens again. I was also going to see some museums but the main reason for my stay would be the gardens.

Well, in California, at least, it seems cities consciously developed in ways to include (and protect) more scenic natural sites. I may live in East Hollywood, but can take a walk a few blocks away in a park where deer, coyotes and a mountain lion live. Downtown L.A. is only 15 miles from the 5,000 ft high Mt. Wilson, which gets covered in snow in winter. I know quite a few people whose recreational activities consist mostly of “nature”-based outings, and they rarely need to leave the city.

But to address central question of the OP, for me the value of a place like L.A. is living–on a day-to-day basis–within a mix of cultures. However, that doesn’t happen in all parts of any city. It’s possible to live in many parts of L.A. which are not really distinct from smaller towns in regard to the amenities under consideration here, and which are, moreover, so far from “cultural centers” that you really aren’t getting much advantage by living there. Personally, I don’t see any point to living in places like that. So the question in the OP is interesting and particularly relevant now.

It did kind of happen already, in a way, though. The growth of the “Inland Empire” involved people who left the central city areas for lower-priced houses, thinking their commute wouldn’t be so bad. That didn’t really pan out.

I haven’t live in a city, but I have lived a subway/BART ride away from the city. I’ve done a lot of theater. Museums have special shows, so you can go in and see something new. For instance the Jewish Museum in San Francisco had both a Stanley Kubrick exhibit and a Roz Chast exhibit.
Yeah, you can get anything on Amazon, but as studies show too much choice means less buying. Browsing a big used bookstore and finding cool stuff you didn’t know existed is a lot more fun than searching on Amazon. There are also cool specialty stores.
There is also the fun of looking at cool architecture.
Green areas of the city are more for people who live there and need a break, less for visiting if you live outside.

Wheelz nailed it for me: it’s the Vibe. I’ve lived in Chicago most of my life, and I still get energized just walking down Michigan Avenue or State Street and feeling all the life and activity that I’m immersed in. I partake of concerts, museums, restaurants, festivals, etc., but mostly the fun is just being immersed in the city. Sometimes I’ll get on one of the El trains and just ride it to the end of the line to see the sights and soak up the atmosphere of all the different neighborhoods.

Used to live in a northern suburb of Chicago; I’d take the train and go visit the museums (usually the Field Museum, because it was just a short walk from the train station). Now I’m about midway between NYC and Boston, which (other than the high cost of living in CT) is just about ideal – a smallish town, with plenty of wooded areas around*, but with easy access to everything those two cities have to offer. Favourites include the AMNH and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, and the Science Museum in Boston. And we’ve gone down to Philly a couple of times to visit the Franklin Institute and have lunch at Fogo de Chao.

*Opened the back door one evening and found five raccoons on the porch, and my daughter the nightowl has seen a deer in our garden and coyotes crossing the street.

We tend to visit quirky places. Using Chicago as an example, if we were to visit I would consult these sites:

That’s the thing about living in a medium-sized city like Sacramento. If a popular rock or pop band is touring, maybe sometimes they’ll do a show in Sacramento. But they almost always schedule a show in San Francisco. So if there’s a band I really want to see, my only option might be to make the two hour trip to the Bay Area. Even if they do perform in Sacramento, it’s usually scheduled for a day or two after the San Francisco show, so inevitably it ends up being on an inconvenient day, like a Tuesday. Then I have to weigh whether it’s worth it to go to that concert and then be dead tired at work the next day.

As for varieties of foods, Sacramento’s probably above average for a city its size. We have a pretty diverse population here; supposedly Sacramento is the nation’s most diverse city of its size.

That happens in Indianapolis too. if a big artist or comedian is doing a tour, they may skip over Indianapolis and just do Chicago. I’m guessing they assume people from the IL/IN/WI area will drive to chicago for the show.

And as I understand it, scheduling a major concert, theatrical, etc., tour really revolves around a lot of mundane logistical issues, like whether there’s a suitable venue available. Major cities like Chicago and San Francisco are going to to have a lot more such venues than Indianapolis and Sacramento. IIRC when a band’s manager is planning a tour they schedule the “must do” cities first, and then fill in the gaps in the schedule based on which nearby smaller cities have venues that don’t already have something else scheduled.

When I was 17-20ish, friends and I would hop on the Blue Line, ride to O’Hare and just …hang out. Great people watching. It’s probably not so fun today.