A few months ago, on a trip to visit a friend who recently moved to Portland, Oregon, we found ourselves with a free afternoon. Usually, this would be a welcome opportunity to go to a favorite store or restaurant in L.A., but instead it felt like a gaping hole in our itinerary, in a city neither of us were particularly familiar with yet. We knew we wanted to go shopping, but didn't know where to start until we came up with a strategy that sent us towards one of the most memorable afternoons together. At the time, I'd been on the hunt for a pair of chic leather Beatrice Valenzuela slides for our trip to Hawaii. I'd been debating purchasing them for upwards of a year, but the chill atmosphere in Portland, where my kitten heels felt embarrassingly overdressed, inspired me to go on a mission for them. I quickly pulled up her site to view the stockists, and found that, at the time, there was only one store that carried her. We made a beeline to Spartan an hour later to find not only an incredible interior store that stocks my favorite candles, but also a sales girl with impeccable style. We promptly went to her recommended spot for coffee, where we asked the barista for a store recommendation, bouncing from tip to tip until dinner.
It feels obvious in retrospect—of course asking the locals in a new city yields under-the-radar finds—but I'd never realized how fun and effective it would be (not to mention, a thousand times more personal than simply going on Yelp). For the rest of the trip, anytime we connected with someone working in a café or boutique, we asked them for their recommendation. Here's the process, boiled down to a few steps:
1. Start with a spot you know you'll love: You can either approach this the same way I did, starting with a designer you love then finding a store that stocks them, or go to an online resource or writer you trust and see if they've recommended a restaurant/store/coffee shop in that area.
2. Ask someone who works there for their recommendation: If possible, ask someone who you connect with for their recommendation—and don't feel limited by staying within the category (i.e., some of our favorite restaurants were recommended to us by people who worked in stores, and vice versa). It's a sure way to get a local's take on the best spots.
3. Keep going! You could approach an entire trip this way, in lieu of an itinerary, bouncing from recommendation to recommendation.
And this doesn't only apply to a new city—I've been using this tip in L.A. as well to discover new-to-me places (it's how we found Sasquatch Coffee, our team's favorite café near the office).
What are your favorite tips for discovering under-the-radar spots in a new city? Share in the comments below!