Guest post by Sarah Grant, who currently resides in – and loves – Arkansas. This post features some of Sarah’s photographs from playing tourist in Arkansas.
Playing tourist at home is something I always look forward to. Despite growing up in Los Angeles and living in the greater L.A. area for years as an adult, there’s always something new to discover and some unexplored part of the city waiting for me.
And in smaller cities and towns? I like to dig deep to get a microcosmic sense of place and people. It usually starts with local food institutions but quirky roadside monuments and often overlooked historical spaces and markers make for an interesting local tourism experience too.
Here are five tips to have a wonderful tourist experience in your own home:
1. Check out your local weekly events newspaper.
L.A. Weekly and its online version lay out nearly every local event that might be of interest and a slew of new places to eat, drink, and explore. When I lived in southern California I made a concerted effort to try new restaurants, bars, and venues with some regularity. The possibilities are endless. Great flans of L.A. anyone? Case in point, I’ve only been 17 of the top 50 “best music venues” on this list.
L.A. churches made famous on the big screen? I’ve been looking at L.A. Weekly for 10 minutes and I have a new tour to check out in my hometown.
2. Take public transportation.
Get lost on a new bus or metro route and go from there. You are guaranteed to see something new and interesting. If you’re like me, you’ll go down a rabbit hole of exploration about the history of neighborhoods, old pharmacies, historic movie theaters, and bars. When I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh I once got lost in the “Mexican War Streets” neighborhood in its historical row house glory. Months later this article came out in the local newspaper, and the history major geek in me was ecstatic to have such a historically significant space a mere bus ride away.
3. Do your homework.
Read about the origins of your city. A local history book (bonus points for finding it at a local bookstore) will open up all sorts of possibilities for local tours and newfound knowledge.
I read about the history of Maxwell House Coffee in a Nashville history book and dragged my local friend (who had no previous knowledge of this piece of Nashville history) on a wild goose chase to find the original Maxwell House Hotel. It’s no longer there but we found the street corner and had a wonderful time discussing urban development, local change, and the Maxwell House slogan lore.
4. Ask an old-timer.
You may not find the new hipster dive bar…but you might discover a real dive bar.
5. Make time for your city.
It’s easy to get caught up in a daily routine at home. Make designated time for local exploration and a concerted effort to explore new places. It’s worth it. I can safely say that I’m a staunch defender of the Natural State solely because I’m a perpetual tourist here. Just last week I took a stroll through a historic Civil War era cemetery down the street.