A little while ago, my friend was about to head out to a city she hadn’t spent a lot of time in. She asked some version of this question: “How do you find cool stuff in a city you’ve never been before?” Not only was sharing cool stuff in new cities with you part of the reason I started this blog in the first place, but it got me thinking about the different methods I use to research when planning a trip.
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is more rare, but my most favorite way to find new places. I’m constantly telling people about places they’ve gotta visit. If a friend or coworker has recently been somewhere I’m headed, I definitely want to hear about what they loved! Often I’ll have them text me so I can look it up later. Getting it in writing is key in case the name of the place is in an unfamiliar language… spelling is important!
Not as popular as they were before smartphones, guidebooks have a mixed following. Some places market themselves as strictly anti-guidebook, like they are too cool, offbeat and under the radar. Other places will proudly put a sticker in their window touting their well-vetted status. I remain a fan of guidebooks, especially borrowing them; since I’m a penny pincher I don’t shell out for one unless I’m going somewhere either for an extended period of time or the locale is going to be really unfamiliar—take the photo above for example. Going to be immersed in a totally new culture? The book will come in handy.
Here’s another thing about guidebooks: the contributors love travel as much or more than the rest of us. I mean, they have made it their career, right? They certainly have a vested interest in helping their customers have a good experience.
Okay, Yelp in your own city can be the worst. It’s universally acknowledged that locals can recommend better spots than Yelp can (especially food and coffee)! However, when you’re in an unfamiliar city and don’t have a helpful local to point you in the right direction, it’s a great tool—especially the smartphone app. The rules of Yelp are:
- Avoid one and two star ratings, because duh. The restaurant below your airbnb might be convenient, but it also might have a reputation for food poisoning their clientele.
- Look at the pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words! How big will the portion be? Is there a meal that has been shared again and again? Promising!
- Check the dollar sign rating so you don’t get your heart set on doing something way outside your budget.
- Use good search terms. I often search the city for “hipsters” because despite the derisive use of the word, it can usually lead you to some buzzworthy new places.
Instagram is my main restaurant and coffeeshop discovery secret. Pull up the search and type in your city (or if your city has a cool nickname, like Phoenix = PHX, you can use that too). Then, scroll until you find some good looking food. Hopefully the person who posted the pic has geotagged the restaurant, which will let you see where it is on the map! You can also type the city name into the hashtag search and see what kind of tags come up. Something like #PhoenixEats or #PHXigers will give you photos from more creative people who have really “bought in” to using instagram for stuff like this. I do this before I go somewhere and I’m in the daydreamy phase of trip planning. You can bookmark the photo right in the app or jot down the restaurant and neighborhood’s name.
Searching city + blogger usually often comes up with someone who has a vested interest in sharing cool stuff with the world. Otherwise they probably wouldn’t be blogging! You can browse their past posts for complete city guides (I especially like Design*Sponge’s guides), or click over their social media to see if there is any location that looks good. This is really fun for me, not only can I plan trips, but I can daydream about visiting places I otherwise wouldn’t go. I am planning to continue building up my San Diego section here on The Voyageer, and if you want to write a city guide you can certainly work with me on publishing one here!
Anything I missed? What kind of tips do you have up your sleeve? Or, did you already write a city guide to your favorite place on earth? Share in the comments!
Photos by Staci Jackson for The Voyageer.