Not all cities were created the same, obviously. But whether big or small, they all have similarities that you can use to your advantage when exploring a new one. As someone who's visited over 50 cities in the last two years, I can tell you that there's a certain charm you can find easily if you're willing to do some devoted exploring. There are many
things you should do no matter what city you visit, and each activity can give you a different facet to the culture that you wouldn't notice otherwise.
Whether you're talking to strangers, perusing a selection of local merchandise or letting yourself wander down different alleys, each new location can be an enchanting adventure. Don't spend too much time
only thinking about the touristy things (or lack thereof) you have to do. Think more about getting to know the "vibe" of a place, and what it tells about human culture today. Each vacation or trip can be a learning opportunity to contemplate your own existence, and everyone else's, too. This can be done whether you're in a completely different country or just in the state over.
With the right amount of curiosity, you can make any experience an unforgettable one.
Museums are always a source of fascination, and can help ground you in a city's history. Depending on the size of the city, you may have a whole array to choose from (
Los Angeles has over 15!). Each one can give you a different look at the world — some museums are more focused on modern international art you can't find anywhere else, while others in a different region of the country could have more relics from specific to their history. Take advantage of the museum and do some browsing — they're usually pretty affordable, too.
Check out the local farmer's market.
Farmer's markets sell all sorts of produce depending on where you're traveling — and it can give you an awesome sense of unique foods and craftsmanship in the city. On the coasts, fresh fish and seafood is easy to find. There are fresher vegetables in regions with more farms per capita. And locally crafted jewelry is always a possibility no matter where you go.
A city's oldie pieces are going to be different based on its history — and odds are whoever is running the shop will have a lot of stories to tell.
Spend some time in a park.
The foliage in other cities can look completely different from what you're used to — some have evergreens, some have tropical palm trees, and some even just have different sized and colored bushes. In any case, taking a breather in a local park is a must. You can document the wild flora you see, or just enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of nature in action in the middle of a town.
Check out the local music scene.
Local musicians are going to have their own sounds, and even if everyone thinks they're the next Black Keys or Killers, who's to know if they're wrong? Taking a minute to appreciate their talents is common courtesy for tourists anyway, right? Go check out some homemade jams and see for yourself.
Eat at a locally recommended restaurant.
Every town has a specialty food — whether it's the barbecue of the Midwest, the sandwiches of the East Coast, or the seafood of the West. You need to expand your palette, and regions of the country/world are the best way to indulge. A simple Yelp review or Facebook recommendations call is the best way to find the good grub.
Take your own walking tour.
The best sights can be seen on foot, and maybe you'll meet a few friendly locals who can tell you which way to go. Feeling the experience of being part of the hustle and bustle while marveling at the sights above your head or below your feet is a great way to get acquainted with a new place.
Find the city's best view.
Take it allll in, on the highest rooftop bar or work building or observatory. Every skyline is a little different, so try and see what makes this one so special.
Reflect at a national historical site.
There is history in every city, whether it's a war monument or a marker of a famous event or a memorial to some phenomenon. This, too, can give you a sense for the foundation that defines a city, and give you some context for its present day.
Take a drive around the suburban neighborhoods.
This way you can get a sense for what life is actually like, and appreciate the differences in architecture and day-to-day living.
Take public transportation and people-watch.
If the town has a subway, light rail or intricate bus system, take it and observe what goes on. You'll never know what strange sights you could see or what curious souls you'll befriend (as someone who lives in Los Angeles where the only thing you can do is drive, I do miss people-watching between stops).
Take a book to a local coffee shop and eavesdrop.
You can find the best conversations that will give you a pulse for what the people of this city value. And we all know that cities are really at their core made up of extraordinary
people. That's what really makes them unique.