Travel City Guides – My Four Sources for Urban Intel

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When preparing for travel – what type of guidance do you look for? Do you seek out advice of friends/family who travelled to your destination before? Do you skidaddle straight to Chapters to grab a Moon/Lonely Planet/Fodor’s? Or do you head to places like Trip Advisor or Yelp?

I was recently asked by an acquaintance who works in the tourism sector where I looked for local haps and sweet places to visit/eat/drink/stay/shop. For the last seven years or so I’ve used the four methods below to ferret out urban intel. My city travel style is usually a mix of hip & hot, off the beaten park path and as local as I can get. Though I’m leaning a little bit more towards electronic advic  these days (hello twitter chats, Instagram, Facebook groups), my favourite city guides are analog. Check out my picks for navigating new metropolis after the jump….1) Wallpaper* City Guides – I cannot gush enough about these slick little numbers. The books are split into tabbed sections like: landmarks, hotels, architour, shopping and escapes.

It was because of the Wallpaper* Mexico City guide I had the best queso fundido of my life at the Camino Real and ogled the Sharp Centre for Design in Toronto. I love that the Wallpaper* City Guides are small, succinct and include photos and little notes pages and a fold out map in the back. As you can tell my copies are dog-eared from love and use. (The Rio de Janerio one is for a future bucket list trip). Though they can be dated – I’d like to think that the folks at Wallpaper magazine have a great sense of what’s happening beyond the year they are published. For you millennials, there is a Wallpaper City Guide app now, so a nice digital option, I suppose. (Full disclosure: I LOVE PAPER AND BOOKS, so I haven’t tried any of the apps.)

The Sharp Centre for Design in Toronto
The Sharp Centre for Design in Toronto

2) Design*Sponge City Guides – these are less bourgeois than the Wallpaper* booklets. Usually they are written by a local designer/shop owner or yuccie living in said city. I’ve used these for both Mexico City, Portland, San Franciso, Ottawa, Seattle and San Diego all with success. My logic regarding searching for the Design*Sponge city guides goes like this: if Grace Bonney, the highly respected blogger and founder of D*S puts stock in the guides, then dang I will too. Another great thing about the D*S guides, they usually print out on 5-6 double-sided sheets, so are easy to transport. And, bonus, they are free AND updated often.

Design*Sponge's Portland Oregon city guide
Design*Sponge’s Portland Oregon city guide by Egg Press

3) Local alternative weeklies – this one works if you’re travelling somewhere that: A) has an alternative weekly and B) you can read the language or your travel buddy can read the language of said weekly. For example, the Georgia Straight in Vancouver has great events listings, restaurant reviews and general arts and entertainment news. Do a little nosing around on the inter webs before you go to find out what the name is of the weekly. You can then either: read it online before you go or if you’re increasingly scattered and newspaper/magazine pack-ratty like me, pick up a copy when you get there and read over your first couple of meals or bus rides.

4) Where Magazines or Edible Magazines – Where Magazines are more of a general events listing type of publication that is offered in cities across North America. They usually have a few short articles but mostly listings, which I believe are paid for, so you have to keep that in mind that you’re reading a number of advertised listings. Edible Magazines are local food-focused and include restaurant info and eating type activities. You want to pick up an Edible Magazines if you love farmer’s markets and not McDonalds. Yay.

Bonus: Go super old school and find a friend or friend of friend who has travelled to your destination recently (or numerous times is great too) or better yet – lived there. Ask for their top five to 10 things/places to visit in an email or over coffee. Because that’s how sometimes the best travel advice happens – hermana y hermana.

2 thoughts on “Travel City Guides – My Four Sources for Urban Intel

  1. Totally true – the hermana a hermana thing. Just found the beach of my dreams today by going to the place my tica friend told me to beach it up at, then visiting the fav place of the rental car guy. I don’t want to share it though, loved it too much!!!

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