Travel better in these US cities with destination-specific apps

Websites, blogs, tour guides and books — they’re all part of the travel arsenal to help you plan your adventure and maximize your travel time. 

Before venturing to a new city, check for smartphone apps designed to help you connect with the destination on a deeper level, especially if the spot is known for a particular experience. Taking a barbecue pilgrimage to Austin? There’s an app for that. Looking for compelling art installations in New York? There’s one for that, too.

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Use these 12 apps to save money, get around more efficiently, organize your travel itinerary, see points of interest you might have missed, and share your experiences with friends and family through social media integrations.

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Related: 11 apps all solo women travelers need to download before their next trip

Orlando: Visit Orlando

(Screenshot from the App Store)

Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World Resort both have robust apps that can help you maximize your theme park visit but Visit Orlando’s app (for both Android and iOS) helps travelers experience the city outside the tourism corridor.

Find “best of” lists for restaurants and shopping, live weather updates (essential in Central Florida’s unpredictable tropical climate) and a calendar of events for a taste of the city’s local culture. 

Portland, Oregon: Truckster

A day exploring Portland’s famous food trucks is a must. However, these roving restaurants can be hard to find because they roam the city, setting up in different locations every day. Truckster can help.

The app’s list of trucks and their locations is updated daily. Users can view menus, order online and leave ratings. The app also features a listing of local breweries and suggests pairings for food truck items with local craft beers.  

Related: Not just for hipsters: Portland, Oregon, with kids

Minneapolis: Skyway Map

In a city that regularly reaches below-zero temperatures during the winter months, Minneapolis’ network of enclosed pedestrian walkways is a lifeline for transportation.

The Skyway system covers 80 full city blocks over 11 miles. With it, pedestrians can access the city’s entertainment venues, restaurants, hotels, retail stores, banks, apartments, corporate and government offices and more. The app shows access points and allows users to place markers near frequented spots.

California Coast: YourCoast

What’s a visit to Cali without a walk on the beach? Developed by entrepreneur Sean Parker and launched in 2019, the YourCoast app curates all the information about the Golden State’s 1,500 public beaches into one platform.

Users can tap on a particular access point and find photos of the path to the beach, parking information, access for disabled visitors and restroom and fishing facilities.

Related: The 22 best beaches in California

Chicago: WTTW’s Loop Walking Tour

(Screenshot from the App Store)

Skip the expensive Chicago architecture tours and use the self-guided walking tour on the WTTW Loop Walking Tour app, narrated by Chicago expert and WTTW host Geoffrey Baer.

The tour script features stories behind the Loop’s buildings, their design and designers, art influences, heroes and villains. Discover the backstories of Chicago’s sparkling jewels, like the Harold Washington Library, as well as lesser-known gems of modern design like the Fisher, Old Colony and Monadnock buildings.

All told, this app takes users through more than 20 edifices, and you can linger as long as you like.

Los Angeles: Trails LA County 

Hikers and bikers will love the functionality of the new Trails LA County app. It maps more than 550 miles of the California county’s public trails from the Mojave Desert to Santa Monica.

The app is built around offline mapping and navigation, so even if you’re out of cellphone service range, you won’t wander off track. Filter search by difficulty, location or trail type, including dog- and kid-friendly trails, biking trails and more.

Washington: Smithsonian Visitors Guide & Tours

A visit to the world’s largest museum, education and research complex — the Smithsonian Institution in our nation’s capital — is a daunting undertaking. With 19 museums and a zoo, planning is the key to success, and the Smithsonian app is an essential download.

Most of the museums have their own apps, including the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. However, the Visitors Guide app condenses the important nuggets you’ll need, including lists of daily events and must-see exhibitions. It also includes an augmented reality feature to find a museum based on your location, as well as audio guides and information on ticketing and showtimes.

Related: Best Smithsonian exhibits for kids (beyond the Air and Space Museum)

Miami: Discotech

(Screenshot from the App Store)

You’ll be the MVP of your VIP nightclub hop with the Discotech app for Miami’s hottest clubs and lounges.

Find clubs near you, book tables with bottle service, sign up for discounted guest lists and buy tickets and pay covers on your phone. It also features a curated list of events so you know where to go and when. Users can filter clubs by type, music genre and neighborhood, as well as find out where their favorite DJs are spinning.

Texas: Texas Monthly BBQ Finder

With more than 100 featured barbecue spots on the app, users can plan a food tour of their own in all the major Texan cities and rolling plains and hills in between.

The magazine’s barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn, guides ‘cue seekers through the state with a list of the top 50 places for barbecue. After you’ve gotten your fill, leave your own review and read reviews from other users. 

San Francisco: Bay Ferry App

Tickets and schedules for the “best way to cross the Bay” are now in the palm of your hand with the Bay Ferry app. You can even track and share the location of any boat en route. The San Francisco Bay Ferry connects the city with Oakland, Alameda, Vallejo and Richmond daily. 

Related: San Francisco’s historic hotels you can book on points

New York: NYArtBeat

(Screenshot from the App Store)

The art scene in New York is so vast that it may seem almost impossible to choose what galleries and exhibitions to see and when.

The NYArtBeat app categorizes art shows by type, including installations, street art, calligraphy, illustration and more. It also allows users to bookmark events, share them with friends to organize a meetup and browse the most popular art events happening on a certain day. 

Related: Art lovers paradise: A review of the Conrad New York Downtown

Hawaii: Shaka Guide

Shaka Guide’s self-guided audio driving tours of each Hawaiian island make taking a full survey of the island chain a cinch.

The app uses turn-by-turn navigation based on your phone’s GPS to guide you to specific points of interest, tell immersive stories and help you plan the best trip based on your interest: culinary, adventure, history and more. The tours of each island are available offline, too, since service can be spotty in some areas of Hawaii.

Bottom line

Planning a trip is hard work and the more tools you have in your travel arsenal, the better. These apps make taking a deeper dive into your areas of interest easier, whether you’re a barbecue maven, an art enthusiast, need a little more flexibility than a tour can provide, or want insider tips about the most popular routes and attractions along the way.

This is just a sample of some of the most useful destination apps out there, so take a few moments and research what’s available for your destination before you firm up your itinerary.

Featured photo by Oscar Wong/Getty Images.