Mat and I love to find the local spot. Not every where we eat or shop has to be local, but in the grand scheme of a trip we like to feel like we sat or shopped next to someone who wasn’t on vacation that day. It’s just one of our travel preferences. Be a tourist at times, but be ready to dive into a culture.
My sister just recently finished a four-week backpacking trip around Europe and is in London with us for a couple of weeks. We were talking about how hard it is to find the local spot. Even when you ask people for “local” they think you're asking for “where we send tourists in this city.” It’s not easy.
Here are our tips for finding the spot that is actually local:
The actual locals know you aren’t a local. Don’t give them a chance to lump you into standard tourist group by asking “Where do the locals eat?” or “What bars do the locals go to?” Instead try asking, “What were the last three places you had dinner with friends?” or “What is your favorite spot to hang out on a Friday night?” Make your questions about them, as they are the actual locals and all.
The travel blogs are for travelers and they work really great for lots of things, but I wouldn’t make them my go-to source for finding stuff that isn’t for, you know, travelers. The local paper might tell you about new restaurant openings or even give reviews. The business section of a local publication might spotlight a local restaurateur or cool shop owner.
If you have been checking out the main sights all day and have been hanging out around the biggest shopping area of the city, the odds are good you are going to find tourist-driven spots nearby. If you really want to find something local, be ok with walking a couple blocks off the tourists' trail. Keep your google maps up. If it gets too shady just head back towards the approved zone. A little adventure goes a long way.
If you have spent a couple of days in a city and have made a couple of friends, let them make reservations for you or just direct you. Have you made nice with the concierge (you tipped well probably)? Ask him to make you a reservation for his favorite spot. We used a certain driving company for our trip to Morocco and had one of our drivers pick the spot for us-- he even ordered our meal. It was the best decision we made on the whole trip. Trust the people who have been nice to you. They like you already so it shouldn’t be an uphill battle.
If you want to go where no one knows your name but they probably know the names of the people who live down the street, at least one of these should get you headed in the direction of a path less traveled.