So you’ve decided to see America’s cities this summer. Smart—but where to start? Here are 10 US cities with stand-out tourism websites that inspire travelers to visit; help those already planning a visit; offer ideas to improve any trip; and make planning a pleasure.
We planned virtual visits using the official tourism websites of the country’s 50 biggest cities, along with those of every place on ForbesTraveler.com’s newest list of America’s 30 most-visited cities. The following 10 cities offer sites to see before you see the sights.
If we visited gophila.com to plan an upcoming trip to Philly, you’d have to tear us away from our computers when it was time to leave for the real Philadelphia. Full of multimedia options including hearPHILLY podcasts, the site is undeniably fresh; summer offerings include a list of the top 10 June events as well as a July 4th section. But besides being up-to-date, informative, and easy to use (thanks in part to My Trip, a personal itinerary planner), it’s just plain fun: unique features include a map of the city’s BYOB restaurants by neighborhood and cuisine (with the nearest liquor stores) and an insider guide and sister site called uwishunu.
With attractive tools like interactive maps of both city neighborhoods and regions “beyond the bridge,” 1-day itineraries for a variety of travelers, and an exhaustive calendar of events, onlyinsanfrancisco.com leaves us hungry for more. Luckily, it offers an extra course: Taste SF, a second San Fran website and blog chronicling the city’s famed food scene.
You really feel the love on Houston’s official website: the love celebrity Houstonites have for their hometown; the love of parties like the Latin GRAMMY Awards; the love of the environment with a plan for a completely green trip to Houston; and the love of the offbeat, like getting your portrait painted by an orangutan or elephant at the zoo (for a “mere” $500). Since we can’t all drop half a grand for a monkey picture, there’s also a list of things to do for $2 or less, including visiting a beer-can house. Or class it up a little more and hit the Galleria shopping mecca, just like Beyoncé does when she’s in town. Whatever your interests and budget, this site is a lovable guide to Houston.
Like the city itself, Detroit’s slick website is full of music and motors. There’s also a blog that would be valuable to visitors, and the chance to chat online with a “destination counselor.” And since this city holds court as a serious sports destination, the website champions a variety of ideas for cheering on your favorite team. Just don’t forget to pre-game at VisitDetroit.com.
New York City
Like Houston, New York is happy to ask the locals—who happen to have last names like Trump, Bacon, and Diddy (or is it Daddy?)—what to do. The thing is, the celebrities’ recommendations really are great for anyone. There are plenty of tips from less glam locals, too, and a list of “what to do today” that’s worth checking before setting out from your hotel. This site is up to the task of covering the “one city, five boroughs, and unlimited options” it touts.
Denver had a theater before it had a school or a hospital, according to a tidbit on the Mile High City’s tourism site. We won’t comment on the priorities of the city’s founding fathers, but we will say that this site is adept at helping you prioritize your own Denver visit. From a scrollable slider showcasing activities to an exhaustive list of itineraries for different types of travelers to the Tenver—the home of a variety of top-10 lists—you won’t be at a loss for things to do. The site presents so many urban options, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine needing the Day Trips or Around Colorado sections—but it’s nice to know they’re there.
À propos for the city of power suits, power lunches, and power people, D.C.’s site pledges to help visitors plan a “power trip.” It delivers on the promise with an impressive amount of activity suggestions and event listings—enough to appeal to every traveler. When you’ve decided which sights to include on your itinerary, plot them on the awesome interactive map provided by Map Network, and you’re ready to power on to Washington.
Don’t knock the jukebox: Nashville’s welcoming website loops Music City playlists on a virtual radio that allows you to turn it off and on, change tracks, and change volume. The catchy country tunes offer upbeat background music while you browse the site’s informative listings and music-centric mini-site, along with a strong urge to stroll down Music Row as soon as possible.
As anyone who has been to the land of a million amblers—er, gamblers—can attest, Las Vegas doesn’t appear to suffer from a lack of tourists. Its tourism website, though, does a heck of a job trying to lure still more shoppers, music-lovers, brides, and anyone else with a pulse and a penchant for playing to Sin City. Like the Strip itself, the website is big, bold, and beautiful, with flashing lights and choices galore. You’d do well choosing the RSVP, or Really Simple Vegas Planner, the site’s best feature. Once you’ve planned a virtual trip there, you can’t exactly not go.
Indianapolis’ website stands out due to its creativity: features include a podcast (the latest episode is titled “Inside the Mayor’s Studio”); a blog network; and the ability, for every attraction, to write a review or add it to your own Indy map. All of these applications are sleek and simple to use, and there’s no need to surf tons of pages: the homepage does a great job of highlighting the best local happenings. And a few koala photos (they’re visiting the zoo this summer) never hurt anyone, either.