I’ve spent 12 months traveling the U.S. from Florida to Maine, North Carolina to Colorado, Texas to Washington. Some places I spent a day or two, others I spent one to two months. No matter the amount of time, the same issue rang true… how do I figure out what to do here? No… more than that actually. How do I figure out what’s worthwhile to do here?
Sometimes it was easier, for example I was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and knew someone who grew up there. But at one point I was in Bethel, Maine, a huge ski resort town, in the middle of August. How do I not waste my time and explore new places the best I can?
Finding activities in each town became an addiction, something I spent all my free time (and occasionally work hours) doing. In some towns I gathered a list of too many things and annoyed the heck out of my boyfriend who just wanted to relax on Sunday evenings before a busy week. And other towns I was frustrated there was either nothing to do or tried to do something and it was sub-par.
The real struggle at first though, was figuring out where to look. If you Google “what to do in X city” it will produce the top Trip Advisor suggestions, which is helpful but can also be very touristy. For example, Google “what to do in DC” and a long list of monuments and museums show up. This is all great, but I grew up in DC and have covered that ground. I might want to find more interesting museums that are less well known, dog parks, dive bars, or even just a scenic drive.
So where do you look for things to do in a new city or refresh your love for a city you’ve lived in forever? Here are some go-to’s from basically a part-time traveling expert for any activity-addicted person out there.
This is an extremely helpful place to look if you’re going to be somewhere for an extended period of time. It goes beyond the tourist attractions or even local dining gems. It covers absolutely everything. To the point where you will never rest while you’re there.
It’s a collaborative blog and will showcase articles about the best unknown hikes, castles, covered bridges, small towns to drive through, waterfalls, restaurants, etc. (can you tell I was just in New England?). It also has articles on the personality of people in that state and what you should talk to them about or look for in the way they talk.
It’s an amazing go-to resource, but watch out if you’re going somewhere for just a weekend you may overwhelm yourself with trying to fit everything in… or decide to extend your stay!
I used this in Montpelier, VT and found an amazing hidden waterfall, swimming-hole, oasis that was actually right off the highway.
2. Local blogs
If you Google “best things to do in X city blogs” so many local blogs will show up, most getting paid from local spots which means they offer discounts and coupons. These blogs are often run by locals, who know the area and want to show out-of-towners an authentic view of the city as well as promote events for locals to attend.
The best example I have of this is when you Google “best things to do in DC local blog” and http://www.popville.com/ shows up. They call this the neighborhood DC blog and it has articles of events as well as local news. So you not only find things to do but you get a gist of what’s happening in that area, possibly areas to visit and areas to avoid. A lot of the local blogs also have forums so you can hear first-hand what locals actually thought of last year’s event that’s coming up or a local restaurant someone suggested.
This also came in handy when I was in Denver. You could drive 2-3 hours in any direction from Denver and run into at least 50 amazing hikes. So hearing from local blogs on what hikes were worth it was very helpful in choosing which ones to hit in the two-month timeframe I was there.
Okay, okay so I know what you’re thinking. Really? That website that women scroll through thousands of outfit choices and pin their next haircut? But Pinterest has a HUGE travel section. Anything from amazing photography to city highlights. And okay, you can also look up outfits to wear while you’re in that city if you’d like.
For example, if you search “things to do in Memphis” here’s what comes up:
Not only do you find the top 10 lists that you might find on Trip Advisor but you find the bucket lists, things to do under $10 or free, a full itinerary whether you’re there for 24 hours or 3 days. There’s so much information for traveling on Pinterest it’s actually overwhelming. Most of the time I would pin 10-20 things for each city and make a humongous list off of all those suggestions.
I will say, if you head to Memphis… definitely pay the $10 to get to the top of the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid it has an amazing view and avoid Graceland, it’s a little overrated for the price (just my opinion).
Roadtrippers is an app and a website where you can put in your departure and arrival destination and it will show you everything you want to see on the way there. You can choose hotels, attractions (and choose between what kind of attractions), points of interest, outdoor activities, food and drink, etc. It’s absolutely amazing. You can also just choose one city if you want to use it that way, but I found it easier to use when on the road.
When I was on a 20 hour road trip from Denver to North Carolina it was necessary to take breaks and get out of the car on a long trip like that. My copilot found this amazing spot outside of St. Louis (we drove a bit out of the way just to make a short stop in St. Louis). It was an old lead mine called Bonne Terre. You could walk around down there, it also had a boat in it that you could get on and take a tour of the mine from, as well as scuba diving. And if it hadn’t been for roadtrippers we would never have found it.
We also found some cool random attractions in other states like biggest Adirondack chair, biggest shuttlecock (pictured below) and a glass maze. There’s so much stuff right off the highway to attract roadtrippers to take a detour and stop in these small towns. I highly recommend downloading the app and using that on the go!
One of the most obvious that some people don’t think to use is Facebook. You probably have hundreds of friends on Facebook and most of those have either done some traveling or live(d) in the city you’re headed to. A simple post asking “If anyone has been to X city, can you send me some suggestions on things to do?” Then watch your notifications blow up because Facebook is, if nothing else, full of people who like to give their opinion on everything. Your friend Charlie probably visited Denver once for a weekend but he might have eaten at the most amazing biscuit place ever (Denver Biscuit Company). Or your friend Rachel saw a diner on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives that looked really good (Sam’s No. 3). Or possibly Bobby has a friend who actually lives there that he might tag in the post and can give you some suggestions. Either way, you’ll get feedback and some really good suggestions.
No matter if you’re staying in a city for a day, week, month, or more there’s so many ways to figure out what to do while you’re there. This country has endless amounts of amazing things to experience whether you’re in a big city or small town that you don’t want to miss out on just because Trip Advisor doesn’t list it. There’s even an option for finding things on-the-go from one highway to the next!
If you’re interested in more of my travels, visit my travel blog. So tell me, where do you look for travel ideas and attractions?