I love, love, love exploring new places, whether it be a new country, a new region, a new state, or a new town.
While some people tend to wait to explore a new place until they can make a concrete plan of action, I’m much more a carpe diem kinda gal when it comes to most of our adventures, especially the shorter ones.
Since becoming a parent, exploring a new city has brought on an entire new set of challenges: number of kid-friendly activities available, temperament timeframe, proximity to a toilet that doesn’t scare the shit out of my three year old daughter (complete meltdowns in Starbucks single-stalls every single time—no idea why).
We were quick to master how to take road trips with kids, but figuring out what to actually do with them once we arrived at our destination is a whole different story.
Through many adventures and much trial-and-error, we have come up with a strategy for quickly exploring new cities with our little ones in tow.
1. Find a Local Coffee Shop and Start There
This is my number one piece of advise to anyone who is exploring a new place, no matter how long they’re staying. A few reasons why:
- Cute local coffee shops are usually located in areas that are loved by locals, making them a great way to explore non-tourist-trappy areas of a new city.
- They are the low-mantinance food and beverage option because you always have the option to order to stay or to go, giving you flexibility over your schedule (and an easy out if your little ones get a little stir-crazy).
- If your trip were to end after your coffee shop visit, you are still left with the feeling that you experienced something special that the city has to offer. You can’t say that after hitting up a Starbucks that feels like every other Starbucks.
- Exploring a new coffee spot is a great chance to let your kids practice their coffee shop etiquette in a brand new environment.
A great way to find your ideal coffee shop if through Yelp. I always do a simple search for coffee in the city that I’m visiting (e.g. “Coffee” in “San Francisco, California). Try to avoid using your current location if you are in the city. This will allow you to truly find the best shop in the city, as opposed to just the best spot near your hotel. You want to try to find a fun new neighborhood to explore.
Things to look for in a Yelp review:
- Number of Stars (Always aim for 4 or higher when it comes to coffee shops.)
- Number of Reviews (If you’re choosing between a shop with 5 stars and 2 reviews and a shop with 4.5 stars and 40 reviews…go with the 4.5 stars and 40 reviews coffee shop. There’s a better chance that it’s an established local favorite, which is what you’re looking for when exploring a new city.)
- Pictures ( I always check out the pictures that other users to make sure that it’s the kind of place I want to visit with my family. I usually go for more Central Perk from Friends than Stereotypical Southern California Hipster One Giant Table in the Middle of the Coffee Shop and Baristas Who Hate My Kids spots. Anything that looks warm and welcoming is your friend when you have little ones.)
- Review Highlights (Always check to see if there’s a signature or popular item that’s unique to the shop or the city. If there is, try it! A new experience calls for a new drink.)
When coffee-ing with kids, ordering “to-go” is always a sanity-saver because it gives you the option to easily stand up and walk out if you need to.
2. Find a Park with Local Charm
My kids LOVE playgrounds. Swings. Climbing. Picking weeds (er, “flowers”). Building castles out of wood chips while I watch from the side praying for no splinters.
So many cities have beautiful parks that are kid-friendly. You can go back to Yelp for this one, too.
The goal is to find a playground or kid-friendly spot that also has a bit of local charm, like The Chattanooga Riverfront in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which has a playground for the kids situated in front of gorgeous river views and the iconic Walnut Street Bridge.
The goal is to find somewhere that the kids can enjoy while you take in a little bit of the local scene (and finish up your to-go coffee from the local coffee shop that you visited before).
3. Take a Scenic Drive
One easy way to experience a new city with young kids is to keep them safely strapped into their carseats while you drive through some interesting areas.
Visiting Los Angeles with kids? Take a drive up Pacific Coast Highway (and DON’T refer to it as “the” Pacific Coast Highway or the locals will lose it).
Spending the weekend in Mobile, Alabama? Drive over the Mobile Bay for some of the most gorgeous Gulf-region views you’ll ever see.
If there’s an area that’s well-known, but the thought of exploring it with your kids in tow stresses you out, driving around can be a great way to get the experience while reducing the anxiety.
4. Don’t Forget The Pictures
Whenever you’re exploring a new city, especially with your kids, make sure you take pictures of everyone in the family exploring.
It doesn’t have to be stressful, and the pictures don’t have to be perfectly-posed in front of the most well-known landmark during Golden Hour when the wind is calm. You don’t have to post them to Social Media accounts and wait in anxiety to see if “Likes” will start rolling in.
But take them anyways.
Take them for your family album. Take them for your kid’s scrapbooks. Print a few and frame them. Even if you don’t particularly like the pictures on the day-of, you will eventually. Or your kids will.
Because it’s the life that you spent together and an adventure that you shared. And those adventures, no matter how large or small, deserve to be documented and remembered.