How to Be a Tourist in Your Own Town

Here's a list of great ideas on how to be a tourist in your own town. Don't wait until someone comes for a visit; you can have a mini-vacation whenever you like!

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So . . . this post on how to be a tourist in your own town has literally been sitting in outline form in my drafts folder for over a year. Every time I sit down to finish it, a little voice in my head reminds me that I’m not the hometown tourist I used to be, especially here in my kind-of-new home of Oregon. Life has been busy, and I’ll admit that it’s been much easier to settle into our little routines here than go off the beaten path, even if that beaten path is 30 minutes away.

I say all of this because some of you might be feeling the same way. Being a tourist in your own hometown might conjure several different emotions: scary, boring, I-don’t-have-time, etc. You also might think you know your town inside and out, and that there’s absolutely nothing new to see.

Maybe that little town you thought you knew everything about has a few more secrets for you to find. And I’m sure those of you who live in larger cities have a million things you could discover.

Being a tourist in your own town does not mean you have to spend a lot of money or time going to all of the touristy spots. It can actually mean trying a new-to-you coffee shop (you know, the one you drive past every day on the way to work?) or doing an activity you reserve for out-of-town guests.

Here’s a list of ideas and activities to get your thoughts humming. When I lived in Los Angeles, I made it a goal to enjoy as much of that city as I could, and it was an amazing time. I ran down the beach on foggy mornings, ate Brazilian food in a tiny restaurant, knew where to get the best lattes and the most amazing fruit tarts, discovered small used bookstores that were so magical, and million other things.

As artists, fostering a “tourist mindset” is the same as keeping your curiosity alive—it’s imperative for you as a creative. So let’s do this!

How to Be a Tourist in Your Own Town

Look up free activities.

Our local library has a monthly calendar of free events that they hold, and that’s just one branch. Many cities have local magazines or at least an online portal that will share concerts, classes, and other activities that are available. Free activities are my favorite. Did I ever tell you about the time I got to see Nickel Creek perform at Amoeba Music in Hollywood? Yeah, that was free. Granted, I probably bought some used cds during my visit, but still.

Visit the museums.

Busted. We’ve yet to visit the museums of Oregon, but we will. Back in the day I was a Getty museum girl. I’d pack my sketchbook (point five below), and sit on the grass above the gardens to sketch. It was so wonderful. At the time, the local classical music station hosted Sunday afternoon chamber orchestra concerts at one of the museums in town. Free classical music + coffee + gorgeous art? Are you serious? Yes, yes, I am.

Take pictures.

Taking lots of pictures in our town was how my husband and I had enough photos to make calendars for our families at Christmas for several years in a row. Granted, we were mostly photographing all the gorgeous flowers in the area, but still. Lately, as my husband has been traveling, I’ve been photographing our day and using the feature on my camera that records a second before and after the photo is taken. This mini-video makes a little movie of our day for us to watch together. It’s so cool, and I’m glad I’m actually taking pictures of the places we visit so often.

Pack a picnic + water. Buy a treat.

I’m a big fan of packing a lunch and then buying a treat while you’re out exploring. We usually do this when we visit the coast. This means we can walk down the beach, sit down on a log and have a snack. We’re able to enjoy the time together rather than thinking we need to get back because we’re hungry. Plus buying a simple treat is much less expensive than buying a whole meal.

Here's a list of great ideas on how to be a tourist in your own town. Don't wait until someone comes for a visit; you can have a mini-vacation whenever you like!

Bring a sketchbook.

I always feel like I’m really on vacation when I remember to bring my little sketchbook and pen to wherever I’m going. When we stop for our treat, I tend to whip it out and quickly sketch in what we did that day. If I forget the sketchbook, I’ve found that brown paper napkins and a ballpoint pen work beautifully. My daughter also loves drawing her adventures on napkins. What a great kid. :)

Take a new route.

It’s funny how we get stuck going the same route to work (or school or . . .) over and over again. But when I mix it up, I never fail to discover new things. Often I’ll find stores or neighborhoods I didn’t even realize were so close. We’ve definitely discovered some wonderful places to walk all because we took a different route.

Ask around.

Even if you’re not new to town, ask around for ideas of what people like to do locally. This is how I learned about a hike in the Columbia River Gorge that my husband and I went on when we first moved here. People are usually very willing to share their favorite restaurants, hikes, bookstores, you-name-it if you ask.

Take mass transit.

Last year, I took the metro to meet some ladies at my church for a hike through the forest. Our hike ended in downtown, and then we rode the trolley over to an area where we had lunch. It was a nice way to spend the day and cost so little.

I recently read about a creative exercise where you literally set aside a day to ride a bus through your town. The author encourages her readers to be brave and not determine a route—literally just get off when the neighborhood looks interesting—but I think I’d be more apt to have some sort of plan in place so I could make my way home, haha. Still, it’s an intriguing thought.

Visit a new neighborhood.

We love going on walks as a family, so this is one of our favorite ways to explore. I have to admit, though . . . once you find a bunch of neighborhoods you love, you just want to keep going back over and over again. :)

Another way to discover new neighborhoods is on your bike. There was actually a local casual bike riding club of sorts in L.A. that would meet one Saturday a month to do a historical tour. Now that was fun.

Check out a book from the library.

This idea is mainly for cities as they are more apt to have visitor’s guides in the Travel section. It’s kind of fun to read about the must-see attractions of your city, especially if you’ve lived there for a while. I bought the Not for Tourists guide to Los Angeles when I first moved there. It actually had really helpful maps to help me navigate the city. I think that’s where I first read about movie night at the Hollywood Cemetery. It’s a thing.

Make a Family Fun Box (or list.)

We recently sat down and wrote out a list of things we each want to do for the Fall and Winter this year. I posted this by our front door so we’ll remember. Every once in a while, we have a day where we don’t have plans so we consult the list and try something new. We discovered a new-to-us apple orchard that way this year which was really nice. Having a list helps you make those, “Wouldn’t it be nice to do that?” ideas into realities.

Schedule your tourist adventures on the calendar.

Spontaneity is great, but sometimes it’s a good idea to plan some of your ideas out. Putting them on the calendar definitely helps with this. I’ve also found that for free activities, I tend to forget about them unless I pencil them in.

Well, I hope this list got you thinking about how YOU can be a tourist in your town this week as well as through your life. :) Writing it actually gave me a few ideas of what I’d like to try this coming week with my own family. This is going to be fun!

Hope you all have a lovely {and creative} week!

2 thoughts on “How to Be a Tourist in Your Own Town

  1. I love this. For some reason, I’ve been exploring the state (also Oregon) but not my city (the big one with all the bridges.)

    My boyfriend and I write day trip ideas on pieces of paper, which we fold up and place in a jar (which is now full of ideas.) On weekends, we pull a paper out of the jar and that’s where we go for the day. While we’ve explored the coast and several incredible places inland, it hadn’t occurred to me to explore the city at a deeper level. Thank you for the excellent ideas!

    1. I’m so glad you were inspired, Pam! :) I love your idea of putting ideas in a jar and choosing them on the weekend. So creative! Have fun exploring your awesome city :)

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