20 Best-Kept Secrets of Washington, D.C.
Standing in line is no way to spend a vacation—especially when those lines are longer than an inagural address. Yet the 16 million tourists who visit Washington from around the world every year wind up ensnarled in queues at major monuments for most of their trips. Follow these insights—from a resident expert, budget-minded foodie, and mom—to do D.C. just like a local, even during busy times like the inauguration.
1. Start with an overview
With Lincoln looming large over the National Mall and Arlington Cemetery beckoning two miles across town, it can be tough for first-time visitors to sort through the maze of D.C.'s must-see sites. The best way to dive in is with a brief introduction to them all. D.C. By Foot offers free walking tours that range from two-hour strolls along the Mall to a four-hour "All-in-One" epic that takes in the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, and more. If you'd prefer to see the sights while sitting down, Old Town Trolley Tours runs nightly two-hour "Monuments by Moonlight" rides, which cruise past the FDR and Iwo Jima Memorials as evening falls (trolleys depart at 7:30 p.m. from Union Station, $35.10 for adults and $26.10 for kids age 4-12).
2. Catch million-dollar views—and classical tunes—all for free
Sweeping vistas are a tall order in this low-rise city, where the height of buildings is regulated by an 1899 Act of Congress. But at 150 feet, the uncrowded Pilgrim Observation Gallery at the National Cathedral is your elevator to the sky, with unobstructed 360-degree views. Down on the ground floor you can attend free organ demonstrations every Monday and Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. and explore the architecture of this neo-Gothic behemoth. (Bring binoculars to spot the carved head of Darth Vader outside, near the top of the northwest tower). 3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW, $10 suggested donation
3. Get lost in space
Adults may see D.C. as a wonderland with more than 50 museums to explore. But those with children know to choose wisely—or pay the price. Home to vintage flying machines like Charles Lindburgh's 1927 Spirit of St. Louis plane and the 1969 Apollo 11 command module, the National Air and Space Museum is one of the most kid-friendly branches of the Smithsonian. Its lineup features a 20-minute planetarium show starring Sesame Street characters, and air-travel-themed story times, where little ones can keep their hands busy building model planes and rocket ships. Independence Ave. at 6th St. SW, free
4. Booking a White House tour is worth the effort
It's not impossible to do a tour of the White House, but it does take some planning. And a lot of patience. Once you know when you are going to be in D.C., contact the office of your Member of Congress to request tickets. Requests can't be made more than six months in advance, but no less than 21 days before your trip. It can take five months to book one of the self-guided tours, though. Worth it to get access to the country's most important residence.
5. A new crew of fashion talent (really)
For all of D.C.'s draws—power, monuments, and living history—shopping hasn't traditionally been at the top of the list. At least until recently. A string of fashion-forward shops has popped up around 14th St. and the U St. Corridor. Jiwon Paik-Nguyen (who has worked for Theory, J. Crew, and Polo Ralph Lauren) imported a little SoHo style to her hometown two-and-a-half years ago with Rue 14, where she stocks wares by BB Dakota and Jeffrey Campbell. And up the street, Christopher Reiter pulled the best contemporary housewares from his four-year adventures across Southeast Asia to fill the floor at Mulèh.
6. Eat breakfast with the cheetahs
Looking for an early-morning destination to hit when the museums are shuttered? The 163-acre grounds of the National Zoo generally open by 6 a.m.(ish)—four hours before its exhibits officially come to life. Stick around and you'll be rewarded with the sight of six resident orangutans making their way—hand over hand—across an almost 500-foot-long stretch of cables connecting two areas. 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, free
7. Score a major game day deal
Big-arena sporting events aren't usually known for their affordability, but baseball games at Nationals Park—where tickets start at $5—are one of the best bargains in town, especially when the team's running a special. In previous seasons, for example, groups of two or more pay just $14 a pop for upper-right field terrace seats, a hot dog, chips, and a drink on Saturdays and Sundays. On select Sundays, kids were even invited down to run the bases after the game. 1500 South Capitol St. SE
8. Go behind closed embassy doors
Unless you're a diplomat, D.C.'s 175-plus international embassies are generally off-limits. But every May, the doors of some 30 missions—often located in historic mansions—open to the public for a day as part of the annual Passport D.C. outreach program. Guests have been able to sample lamb chops and Shiraz, watch a tae kwon do demonstration, or take in a fashion show at the Australian, Korean, and Saudi Arabian embassies, respectively, all for free. During prime afternoon hours, hit the embassies on International Drive, which tend to be larger and less hectic than the rest.
9. Explore the locals' arts scene
On the first Friday of every month, D.C. residents flock to Dupont Circle, when the neighborhood's quiet constellation of galleries turns into a bustling, decidedly un-snooty fete. Start and end at the nonprofit Hillyer Art Space, the epicenter of the action; you can expect live music and the wine to flow freely until 9 p.m. 9 Hillyer Court NW
10. Know that history slept everywhere
D.C.'s venerable hotels (The Hay-Adams, The Willard) have seen a lot of history pass through their gilded lobbies. Get some history on a smaller scale at the Tabard Inn. Located five blocks from the White House, this historic boutique hotel consists of three 19th-century row houses with 40 rooms and a brick and ivy-covered courtyard. It's quaint (that means no elevators and only a few TVs, on request), but it also has just the right comforts, like free Wi-Fi, a pass to the local YMCA, and free breakfast (homemade granola or freshly baked scones with cream). 1739 N Street NW, double rooms from $145
11. Save on hotels by timing it right
Try to hit the city when Congress is away on recess and hotel rates plummet, typically April and August (the congressional schedule is listed online at senate.gov and house.gov). Even the swankiest hotels in town drop their rates by almost 50% when Congress clears out.
12. When it comes to crab cakes, you're going to have to choose sides
Crab cakes are served in two kinds of settings in this town: down and dirty or rich and refined. Which school you pledge allegiance to is your business, of course, so we'll just arm you with tools to make your preferred choice. Frequented by Presidents Grant, Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt, according to local lore, the Old Ebbitt Grill lays claim to some justifiably famous crab cakes, made with fresh parsley and Old Bay seasoning (crab cakes $18). The waiters wear red bow ties and suspenders, and diners sit in mahogany and velvet booths beneath antique, gas-lit chandeliers. For the amazing, hole-in-the-wall alternative, grab a stool at the lunch counter (or a seat on the patio) at C.F. Folks Restaurant, where patrons love to chat with the owner—and legendary crank—Art Carlson (crab cake sandwich $14).
13. Where the locals go when they don't have a dinner reservation
In the last few years, D.C.'s culinary scene has gone from an afterthought to one of the city's main attractions. Nowhere is the evolution more evident than the area of Capitol Hill known as Barracks Row. Here, the restaurants serve everything from soul food and Greek meze to authentic Indian cuisine. Find the majority of these low-key dining spots on 8th Street between Pennsylvania Ave. and M Street, where you can stroll along and window-shop the menus before choosing your favorite one.
14. Picnic under the stars (music and moonlight included)
The National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden hosts magical—and free—open-air jazz fests every Friday from May to September. Locals know to arrive as early as 3 p.m. to stake out a patch of green on the six-acre lawn, which is dotted with dogwood trees and works by Miró and Calder. Listeners can pack picnics or grab dinner from one of many nearby food trucks or order a glass of homemade sangria from the garden's Pavilion Café. 7th St. and Constitution Ave. NW, free
15. From the mouths of babes. . .
Don't be fooled by the National Building Museum's vast and pillared Great Hall. This place doesn't actually take itself too seriously. Past exhibitions featured 15 small-scale, intricately detailed replicas of famous buildings made entirely of Legos, and the Building Zone area stocks soft blocks for tykes to create their own monuments. Zippy, half-hour-or-less tours led by Junior Docents (ages 10 to 18) cater to a kid's perspective—and attention span. 401 F St., admission $8
16. Get a taste of Europe, D.C.-style
On weekends, Meridian Hill Park is thronged with residents who come to marvel at the Neoclassical waterfall
staircase. But on weekdays, visitors will have the aristocratic formal grounds (designed in the 1930s and modeled after Italy's grand gardens) to themselves. Fuel up at one of several espresso spots, such as U Street Cafe, along the U Street Corridor before setting out for a daytime passagiata in the park (1301 U Street NW; coffee, $2)
17. Reserve half-price tickets to the city's best shows—in advance
Ticketplace, run by the nonprofit Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington, sells half-price seats to concerts, plays, and operas by more than 100 metro D.C. groups throughout the year. Prime spots at a National Symphony Orchestra performance, for example, were listed online at $59 apiece, but those who booked through Ticketplace scored the same seats for only $30 a pop. You can purchase advance or day-of tickets online (upcoming shows are announced on its Twitter feed), or at their downtown outlet (407 7th St. NW).
18. Where to let your hair down
For years, D.C.'s after-hours crowd patronized the tried-and-true bar scenes in the ultra-preppy Georgetown and post-college Adams Morgan neighborhoods. But these days, a new nightlife king is emerging in the up-and-coming Atlas District, a formerly gritty three-block strip near Capitol Hill that brings a surprising twist to its bars. At the H Street Country Club, revelers can play mini-golf and and dine on gourmet Mexican food. Other stand-outs: the year-old and decidedly authentic Bavarian Biergarten Haus, which keeps a dozen German brews on tap, and Dangerously Delicious Pies, which serves sweet and savory made-from-scratch baked goods until 3:30 a.m. on weekends.
19. Tray delicious
You won't hear anyone cracking jokes about cafeteria food at the National Museum of the American Indian. The museum's sunny Mitsitam Café is considered one of the best lunch spots in town. It pays homage to Native American culinary traditions, with dishes such as buffalo burgers with green chiles ($7.25), maple-and-juniper-glazed salmon ($14.50), and mesquite piñon cookies ($4.50). 4th St. and Independence Ave. SW
20. Avoid the cherry- blossom crowds
While tourists huddle beneath the trees along the Tidal Basin, D.C.'s locals opt instead for the tranquil terraced
gardens at Dumbarton Oaks, an 1801 red-brick museum in Georgetown. Its quiet, manicured grounds are filled with cherry and magnolia blossoms, and its blog meticulously details the blooms on a daily basis—so you can schedule your visit accordingly. 1703 32nd St. NW, garden admission $8
16 Awe-Inspiring American Monuments
1. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA Once the world's longest suspension bridge, the 1.7-mile Golden Gate has since been surpassed in size-but not in beauty. Hundreds of people walk the span from San Francisco to Sausalito each day, so you'll want to plan wisely. Bypass the two-hour meters at the overcrowded main lot off S.F.'s Merchant Road in favor of ample free parking at Crissy Field Center (crissyfield.org). There, fair-trade coffee awaits at the Warming Hut Café & Bookstore, a whitewashed shed near the shore that's the perfect place to fuel up for the gentle, half-mile Bay Trail to the bridge (415/561-3040, coffee $2). The Golden Gate's best-kept secret: Although it's closed to pedestrians after sunset, gates are opened for star-gazing cyclists. goldengatebridge.org 2. Highway 1, California Coast Sure, it stretches almost the entire length of California, but the part you're dreaming of covers only 123 miles along two nationally designated scenic byways between Monterey and Morro Bay. That's the stuff of road-tripping fantasies, where you'll be curving between windswept cliffs, towering redwoods, and the crashing surf below. You could whip through the whole stretch in less than three hours, but you'd miss out on worthy detours for swimming, kayaking, hiking, and jade-diving. Traffic conditions are continuously updated at the California Department of Transportation site (dot.ca.gov), and crowds generally thin out during the shoulder-season months of May and September. 3. Hollywood Walk of Fame, Los Angeles, CA Each year, another 20 to 30 luminaries are added to the more than 2,400 celebrities already immortalized in pink terrazzo along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. The Official Hollywood Walk of Fame iPhone app ($2) tells you exactly where to find Bette Davis, the Beatles, and both Harrison Fords (the other one was a silent film star). Parking in Hollywood is notoriously challenging, so this is a rare moment when L.A.'s subway comes in handy: The Red Line, which runs between NorthHollywood and Down-town, stops at Hollywood and Vine; riders can leave their cars at one of the 1,500-plus free parking spots available at the North Hollywood and Universal City stops at the line's western end. walkoffame.com 4. Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, NV Where else in the world can you find a permanent circus, an indoor sky, and a slice of the Roman Empire? Truth is, Vegas is famous for taking thrills to new heights-more so now than ever. Last April, the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower at the Strip's north end debuted its SkyJump attraction, the highest "controlled free fall" in the world. (Think skydiving with a cable instead of a parachute.) Brave souls, who pay $100 for the privilege, can make the 108-story leap as late as 2 a.m. on weekends, when all the glittering lights amp up the drama. stratospherehotel.com 5. Hoover Dam, Boulder City, NV It's never been easier to visit this 75-year-old colossus, which provides 20 million residents of California, Nevada, and Arizona with water and 1.3 million with hydroelectricity. Some new engineering is now helping the flow of the near-million annual visitors: a four-lane, 1,900-foot-long Hoover Dam bypass bridge. This bridge is the second-highest in the nation, perched at almost 900 feet above the rushing Colorado River. Avoid the intense summer heat (as high as 110 degrees) by planning your visit during January or February, when temperatures hover in the low 60s. But be sure to arrive by 3 p.m. to tour the dam itself; visitors aren't allowed to the top of the facility after dark, which comes as early as 4:30 p.m. during that time of year. hooverdambypass.org, tour $11. 6. Mount Rushmore, Keystone, SD You can't actually clamber over the presidents' heads like Cary Grant in North by Northwest. But the 500-foot-tall Mount Rushmore and the surrounding national forest still pack plenty of cinematic punch, thanks to the spiraling bridges, rock tunnels, and pinnacles of granite that line scenic Highway 89 north of Custer. There's no fee to see the busts (sculpted by 400 men), other than an $11 parking permit that, once paid, is good for the calendar year. Don't miss the equally epic Crazy Horse Memorial (crazyhorsememorial.org, entry $10), slated to be the world's largest cliff carving, just 15 miles away. nps.gov/moru 7. French Quarter, New Orleans, LA Everyone knows about the delights of New Orleans in the spring, when Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest turn the 70-block antebellum French Quarter into a rollicking 24-hour party, but an off-season visit delivers far morevalue. Hotels are a particular bargain during the summer months, when venerable institutions such as the 125-year-old Hotel Monteleone, a favorite haunt of Tennessee Williams, slashes its rates from the Mardi Gras high of $179 down to just $129 (hotelmonteleone.com). The deals don't stop there: The city was named the country's most affordable dining destination last November by Zagat Survey. And as part of an initiative by Coolinary New Orleans, more than 30 ritzy Quarter restaurants such as Antoine's offer three-course lunches for $20 during August and September. nomcvb.com 8. Gateway Arch, St. Louis, MO Some Americans might be surprised to discover that the country's tallest man-made monument isn't the Statue of Liberty (305 feet) or the Washington Monument (555 feet)-it's St. Louis's Gateway Arch, a 630-foot wonder with vertigo-inducing views of paddle-wheel boats steaming down the Mississippi. Two tram services carry the 4 million annual visitors on four-minute rides to the top. Architecture buffs opt for the north leg, which features an exhibit on the arch's construction, while armchair historians make for the south leg, which focuses on 19th-century life along the St. Louis waterfront. Either way, you'll want to avoid gusty days, as the arch's apex can sway up to 18 inches. coreofdiscovery.com, $10. 9. National Mall, Washington, D.C. No story about American icons would be complete without the National Mall, that 1.9-mile stretch lined with dozens of memorials, the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Capitol building, and the Washington Monument. We went one better and devoted an entire feature to D.C. Last year, the whole mall was outfitted with Wi-Fi hotspots, so you can always access our story online. 10. Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, PA As befits the birthplace of American democracy, access to Independence National Historical Park, home of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, is free and easy. Tickets are required to visit Independence Hall from March to December, and a mere $1.50 fee allows you to reserve passes up to a year in advance-a good idea in the summer. Otherwise, plan to arrive right at 8:30 a.m., when the visitor center opens, to be sure of securing a spot on one of the day's 23 half-hour tours. History gets the rock-star treatment with Liberty 360, a 15-minute 3-D film that opened in September. The show-which is projected onto a 360-degree cylindrical screen-features an original score performed by 65 musicians as well as jaunty narration by a modern-day Benjamin Franklin. historicphiladelphia.org 11. Statue of Liberty, New York, NY Lady Liberty's crown, which reopened after an eight-year hiatus in 2009, is scheduled to close again in November (along with the rest of the statue) for at least a year's worth of safety upgrades, so act fast to see the famous 125-year-old French gift from the inside. As you exit the ferry at Liberty Island, you'll need to purchase a Crown Visit wristband at the information center. The only thing you're allowed to take inside is a camera. Even cell phones and wallets are no-gos, so travel light and bring two singles to feed the three-hour lockers where you'll stash your goods. (There's no change machine, and to complicate the matter further, only singles and dollar coins are accepted). One wardrobe must: shoes with good grip. Descending the crown's 354 steps can be a slippery affair. nps.gov, $3 admission, plus $9 for ferry ticket. 12. Times Square, New York, NY Even though the new pedestrian-only zones and bike lanes along Broadway between 47th and 42nd streets are threatening to turn the formerly frenetic Crossroads of the World into an oasis of urban calm, neon enthusiasts will still find a satisfying amount of hustle and bustle. The revamped TKTS booth at 47th Street and Broadway, whose translucent-red staircase-to-nowhere has fast become the area's prime spot for photo ops, is still the best source for discounted theater tickets. The smartest time to queue up is at 10:30 a.m.-between the morning commute and lunchtime rushes-when lines are shortest (tdf.org, from $50 for plays and $65 for musicals). For a hint of the area's former grittiness, head to the hole-in-the-wall Jimmy's Corner, an old-school boxing bar complete with jukebox, bowls of mixed nuts, and a gruff-but-friendly staff (212/221-9510, pints from $3). 13. Grand Canyon Skywalk, Tusayan, AZ This gravity-defying glass bridge, perched 4,000 feet above the floor of the Grand Canyon, on its western rim, has hosted more than 250,000 visitors a year since it opened four years ago-and the knee-buckling privilege doesn't come cheap. The only way to access the Skywalk is via Grand Canyon West, a tourist area run by the Hualapai tribe on land located outside the Grand Canyon National Park. The most affordable ticket option is the Legacy Gold package, an all-day pass that includes a meal, a tour, and tribal demonstrations along with the Skywalk ticket. grandcanyonwest.com, $87. 14. Millennium Park, Chicago, IL This 24.5-acre park in the heart of downtown Chicago opened in 2004, and is a wonderland of cutting-edge architecture and design. Playful, family-friendly, and free attractions include the Cloud Gate sculpture, which reflects the downtown skyline and visitors' faces like a series of fun-house mirrors, and Crown Fountain, a multimedia installation that pairs splash-worthy sprays of water with 50-foot-tall video portraits. millennium.org 15. Fallingwater, Mill Run, PA Ninety minutes southeast of Pittsburgh, Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece of indoor-outdoor architectural harmony draws 150,000 annual visitors attracted by the spectacle of three cantilevered levels made of concrete and sandstone that jut gracefully over a cascading 30-foot waterfall. Fallingwater celebrates its 75th anniversary this year with a series of special events. To experience the house at its most serene, aim for early May, when the redbud trees are in bloom. fallingwater.org, from $20. 16. Fenway Park, Boston, MA The oldest major-league baseball stadium in the country (Chicago's Wrigley Field is two years younger), Fenway Park turns 100 in 2012-and a 50-minute daily guided tour, which runs every hour on the hour between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on nongame days, celebrates its history. Newbies will want to stop by a Fan Services booth and ask for a free welcome message on the stadium's original, manually-operated scoreboard. If you're one of the first five to arrive at the booth, 35,000 people will see your name in lights-just like Yaz. mlb.com, tour $12. SEE MORE POPULAR CONTENT 15 Places Every Kid Should See Before 15 10 Most Beautiful Waterfalls 11 Things You Never Knew About Our Nation's Parks How to Score Tickets to the 2012 Summer Olympics Can You Spot the Travel Rip-off?
Take Your Best Shots: Tips From the BT Editors
Use these editors' tips and visual examples pulled from readers' journals on BudgetTravel.com, you're sure to come home with images you actually want to hang. SEE READER PHOTOS SO YOU WANT TO SHOOT... Panoramas Common Mistake: Trying to squeeze a sweeping landscape into one measly frame.For Best Results: Check your camera for a stitching function, which displays a guide to help you nail a smooth, multishot panorama. They're built into many point-and-shoot cameras and even sold as smartphone apps (like Pano for the iPhone, $3). Even without this feature, anyone can improvise a similar sequence by using a tripod or a ledge for support while panning across the horizon and clicking away.Our Reader Pick: Joe Routon, of Haddonfield, N.J., combined five shots to get this expansive Florentine scene. His progression appears seamless. Don't sweat it, though, if yours doesn't. Embrace the rough edges: A row of slightly off-kilter shots has a certain collage-like charm SO YOU WANT TO SHOOT... An Iconic Façade Common Mistake: Overlooking the intricate details.For Best Results: Seek out the building's most notable elements and snap those—and only those.Our Reader Pick: Rochester, N.Y., resident Stanley Hattman's photo of these twisting, ochre forms (chimneys atop Antoni Gaudí's La Pedrera apartment building in Barcelona) works in two ways. On one level, it captures a typical Gaudí architectural feature, but it also stands alone as an abstract image with its own appeal. The camera Hattman used was nothing fancy. "But it has a zoom, which I needed to get this shot," he says. When camera shopping, go for one with optical zoom, not just digital—you'll get vastly sharper photographs. SO YOU WANT TO SHOOT... Reflections Common Mistake: Pulling back to snap both an object and its double.For Best Results: If you zero in on just the reflection, you'll walk away with a far more surprising photo.Our Reader Pick: Ralph Velasco, of Corona del Mar, Calif., took this picture of a cluster of canoes on the Ljubljanica River in Slovenia. "I'll make an effort to walk around any reflective surface—the mirrors of scooters, the chrome of parked cars, shop windows—to see if there's a chance to take something that isn't the typical postcard shot," Velasco says. Another benefit of focusing on reflections: color variation. When you include two versions of the same thing, you get a whole lot of the same palette. But here, the bright orange of the canoes pops against the blue of the water and the paler streak of the reflected buildings. SO YOU WANT TO SHOOT... A Group Portrait Common Mistake: Just, you know, standing there.For Best Results: Don't fight the temptation to ham it up—after all, you're on vacation. If you give every person in the group a pose to strike (however hokey), you'll ensure everyone is engaged and alert.Our Reader Pick: Kyle Murphy, of Redondo Beach, Calif., made a pact with his Nile adventure-tour cohorts that they wouldn't take any overtly touristy snapshots. That didn't last long. When a fellow Giza visitor took two normal pics of the group, then suggested they act out "Walk Like an Egyptian," Murphy recalls: "Not one of us even hesitated." SO YOU WANT TO SHOOT... A Memorable Meal Common Mistake: Shooting down on a plate from directly above.For Best Results: Hold your camera at a slight angle to the food and tweak the place setting to play up atmospheric details.Our Reader Pick: Lynn Farrell, of Scottsdale, Ariz., staged her shot of grilled calamari at the Merolagia restaurant in Mykonos, Greece, to take in the no-frills paper place mat, the distinctive glassware, and the beer bottle in the background. "I made sure the bottle was turned so that you could see the Greek label," Farrell says, "and shifted the plate so that one of the corners came toward the camera." Above all, keep in mind that the best meals are rarely just about the food; they're as much about that hilarious waiter, the incredible view, and the botched menu translations as any individual dish. The photo you take should remind you of the complete experience. SO YOU WANT TO SHOOT... Your Hotel Room Common Mistake: Relying on lamps for illumination.For Best Results: Go natural. Identify when your room gets the best sunlight-mornings and late afternoons are often the most flattering-then throw back the curtains and turn off your camera's flash.Our Reader Pick: For Donna Carroll, of Boca Raton, Fla., the prime time to shoot her west-facing room at South Africa's Cape Town Ritz Hotel was just before sunset. "When I checked into the hotel, the mountain was covered in clouds, but by afternoon, the weather had cleared," Carroll says. Waiting for the light offered the added benefit of geographic context: Carroll's photo combines her room's interior with a striking cityscape in a single shot. SEE MORE POPULAR CONTENT 25 Most Photographed Places on Earth 12 Most Beautiful Lakes in the World 10 Best Affordable Beachfront Hotels
Anthony Bourdain: Find Great Local Cuisine
If there's one man who's made a business of pushing culinary boundaries, it's Anthony Bourdain. His now-classic television series, No Reservations, begins its seventh season this month, continuing the intrepid eater's global quest for unforgettable food. From Beirut to Kerala, the chef and author has tried his share of stomach-churning specialties (iguana, fermented shark), and picked up smart strategies for vetting street carts, scouring morning markets, and more along the way. His most lasting lesson? That local food is the best gateway to extraordinary travel. What's the first thing a traveler should do after hitting the ground?If you're in a place like Vietnam, Thailand, or Spain—with a strong food culture—go to the morning market, where the average merchant and home cook do their buying. You'll get a quick idea of what everyday consumers enjoy. When you film, you have a lot of resources at your disposal. How can regular travelers find the kind of folks that you learn from?A lot of the people that we reach out to are bloggers. It's relatively easy: If you type in, say, "Saigon street food," chances are, you'll eventually come across somebody who has dedicated himself to that subject. Then it's just a matter of reaching out—which is easy, given the way we communicate now. What do you say to those who might be intimidated by street food?Street stalls are in the business of feeding their neighbors. You're far more likely to be poisoned by a big hotel chain buffet. I mean, if no one drinks the water in a particular country, you certainly shouldn't either. But a crowded food stall where a lot of locals are eating something that doesn't look very familiar to you? That's the good stuff. And in a way, the filthier the place looks, the better; clearly they're feeling pretty confident about their food. Is there a destination you think is underrated right now?Beirut. It's a thrilling, wonderful place. It feels like a European Miami but much better. Better food, nicer people, better all-around city. Have you ever gotten really sick?Twice in 10 years, and it wasn't a surprise. Simple diarrhea is another story; it's something you just have to be prepared for as a traveler. You bring your appropriate medications, but it's hardly the end of the world. And I always try to remind people: Leave yourself open to the perfect meal by leaving yourself open to the occasional really bad one. The best kind of vacation is one where everything goes marvelously and memorably wrong. Those are the incidents you laugh about 20 years later. No Reservations airs on the Travel Channel Mondays at 9 p.m. EST. See more popular content: 26 Stunning Photos of Ireland The World's Best Street Food Our 10 Favorite Cherry Blossom Festivals How to Take Better Food Photos