One of the great things about becoming a travel blogger is gaining valuable resources on planning your next trip – the blogger network. I’ve joined a variety of forums where you can easily post a question on what to do in a specific location and you get many quality answers, especially tips on what that the average traveler normally overlooks. Some of these groups like Girls Who Travel or Wonderful World are open to anyone interested in travel, but not all of them.
I thought it was only fair to gather up a handful of bloggers and ask them to share their secret tips for exploring their own backyard. Who is better to tell you where to go and which tourist spots to avoid?
Take a look at some great tips on exploring Seattle, Chicago, Las Vegas and Huntsville. Some of these cities I’m even more excited about since I already have trips booked to them for my travels this fall.
Laura at Savored Journey
I’ve lived in Seattle for many years and one thing I always shake my head at is the long line of tourists that forms at the Original Starbucks location in the market. It’s just a regular Starbucks that happens to be the first one that opened. They serve the same coffee there as anywhere else and it’s tiny! If you really want a fun Starbucks experience, go up to Capital Hill to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room, otherwise you’re just wasting your time.
One of the best things about Seattle is that it’s surrounded by the Puget Sound and dozens of gorgeous islands. So don’t spend all your time downtown in shops. Take the ferry out to Bainbridge Island or Bremerton. Even if you just do a round trip on the ferry, it’s worth it to see the natural beauty of the area from the water. A lot of tourists spend big money on the Argosy cruises, but you can get the same views from the ferry at a small fraction of the cost.
People visiting Seattle usually will visit some of the more famous landmarks, like the Space Needle, Pike Place Market (think throwing fish), and the original Starbucks.
These are all worth a visit if you want them checked off your list, however, I would highly recommend getting there early. As with most popular attractions, they are best enjoyed without hoards of people.
Next, get out of downtown and visit some neighborhoods. I highly recommend Fremont. It’s just about 10 minutes north of downtown, and worth spending the afternoon. Fremont was a booming artists community in the 70s and has since gone a bit the way of Greenwich Village in NYC. It does still retain some of its quirkiness and has some great pieces of public art. Like the Fremont Troll, rocket ship, and oddly, a giant statue of Vladimir Lenin (which gets decked out with a Christmas star for the holidays).
Fremont is also the home to some great breweries like The Fremont Brewing Company and the Outlander Brewery and Pub. If you want to really see what Seattle coffee is beyond Starbucks, I highly recommend Milstead & Co. and Fremont Coffee Company. I dare you to want to go back to a Starbucks during your visit after trying these coffees. You will fit in with the rest of us coffee snobs in no time.
If coffee is not your thing, Theo’s Chocolate is an amazing chocolate factory in the heart of Fremont and does tours of their factory. I would recommend calling ahead, as they do sell out, but they offer several tours a day and, of course, you get to try their delicious chocolates! Their store is open during the day even if you can’t make the tour.
Also, if you are able to visit Fremont on a Sunday be sure to check out their year-round Sunday market. Loads of local artists vendors and antiques are set out for your viewing and purchasing pleasure. Don’t miss this self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe” on your next trip to Seattle!
The biggest mistake tourists make in Chicago is spending all of their time “Downtown”. We locals refer to “Downtown” as the areas known as “The Loop”, “Magnificent Mile” and maybe even “River North”. Shopping, sight-seeing, and skyscrapers shouldn’t take up all of your time when you’re in Chicago. I recommend getting out and seeing the neighborhoods (not to mention the beaches)! But, if you insist on sight-seeing all day, at least eat your meals like a local. Here are my two insider tips:
For Deep Dish Pizza: Go to Pequod’s Pizza (2207 N. Clybourn). In my opinion, the best Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago resides here. Their difference maker is the caramelized cheese crust (it is lovingly burnt onto the entire rim of your pizza and pan). I suggest the sausage/pepperoni combo. Forewarning, the place gets packed in the evenings, so expect to wait. Put your name in at the hostess and step next door into The Drinking Bird for fantastic craft cocktails and beer while you wait.
For Chicago-Style Hotdogs: Go to Byron’s Hotdogs (1017 W. Irving Park). The tiny Hotdog stand you should visit on the north side has a couple of honors to their name, including the best fries in the country (as ranked by GQ Magazine) and they’ve served their hotdogs in the White House. They make a great Chicago-Style Hotdog, I promise you. Plus, their menu is gigantic, something for everyone.
If you step outside of your tourist comfort zone to make it to these places I guarantee you will have seen the real side of Chicago. Cheers!
Las Vegas, Nevada
Thinking about coming to Vegas? Do it! If you’ve never been, there’s nothing wrong with a little gambling, some high-end shopping, and a late-night party with a celebrity DJ. But once you’ve got all the classic Vegas out of your system (and if you’ve been here before), check out all the new!
Food-wise, you can’t go wrong. On the strip, you’ve got the likes of Jose Andres, Gordon Ramsay, and Joel Robuchon. If you like buffets, the Bacchanal at Caesar’s is all the rage. Off-strip are some real gems too! Your taste buds will love you after dinner at Raku and dessert at Sweets Raku. Or maybe you’re intrigued by a Japanese-Italian fusion? Trattoria Nakamura-Ya is just the place for you.
Craving some old-Vegas? Take a stroll on Freemont, but if you ask me, I say walk past the covered side towards 6th Street. That’s where the locals are! Park on Freemont is super cute, and Le Thai is le yum! Check out some rock bands at the Beauty Bar, and then make your way to the Container Park where you’ll find micro shops and restaurants inside of shipping containers!
Feeling like a nerd? Check out The Writer’s Block Bookstore just a few blocks down. My museum picks are the Atomic Testing Museum and The Neon Museum (to check out all the recycled neon signs from old Vegas). Outdoorsy? Take a hike around Red Rock Canyon, or even Valley of Fire (much closer than the Grand Canyon, leaving room for other things to do the rest of the day).
Great times to be had in Vegas, just get here already!
Huntsville, AL is notably known for Marshall Space Flight Center/NASA and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Equally impressive are the number of outdoor parks and recreation areas the area offers. Two areas where locals frequently spend time are the Big Spring International Park and Bridge Street Towne Centre. A fun fact about both places, they were featured in ABC’s recent Dancing With the Stars promos.
The Big Spring International Park, named for a “Big Spring” in the park, once served as the location of Huntsville’s main water source and transportation route. Providing such important services, the city was built around the park and many of the original homes and buildings still exist. Currently, the park serves as the center of the downtown area. There are several award-winning restaurants, entertainment venues and lots of outdoor space where outdoor concerts and festivals are held. It is also where you want to go if you are in the mood to see and feed ducks.
The Bridge Street Towne Centre is located in Cummings Research Park, the 4th largest Research Park in the world. It is the biggest shopping area in Huntsville, with over 70 restaurants and retail stores, including a Monaco movie theatre and Barnes and Noble bookstore. During the week, it is where lunch and happy hour crowds gather. The fountain is quite a hit with kids during the summer month when it is used as a splash pad. There are also regularly schedules singer/songwriters that play outdoors many nights throughout the year. Whether you are a local or a visitor, it is a place that most anyone can enjoy.
More Local Tips on the Way
If you’re looking for tips by locals on more locations don’t worry. I got to many great responses from bloggers on their own hometowns that there will be at least one more post coming, including tips on exploring cities like Denver and Queens.
Should I include your hometown in the next post? Where are you from and what is your biggest tip for anyone traveling there?