Always, always, the best way to find out where to stay or hang out in any city is to ask people who live there or who’ve lived there in the recent past. If you trust guidebooks, you’ll end up missing the most newly vibrant neighborhoods and end up hanging out in places that were cool anywhere from 50 to 200 years ago. And while we all want to get our tourist on a little bit, it’s also nice to find a bar where normal people hang out and that charges reasonable prices.
Airbnb, all on its own, is a pretty reasonable way to find neighborhoods full of real people: Real people are the ones offering up their spare bedrooms, or renting out their place while they’re out of town. But now the company’s also offering its own version of a guidebook — a system that will help you sniff out the neighborhood that fits your taste. But it’s a lot more accurate than guidebooks are.
So far the new tool is just available in a few cities, but it actually seems to work pretty well. You choose characteristics you like in a neighborhood, and Airbnb will serve up areas that suit. Choose, for example, “peace and quiet” and “artsy” in New York City, and you’ll get sent to Greenpoint, Red Hook, Clinton Hill, and Gowanus — neighborhoods where rent’s not sky-high, where plenty of artists live, and where a visitor can easily find a few great restaurants, quirky stores, and coffee shops that they can call their own. Narrow it down it a little more with “trendy,” and you’re left with Greenpoint, which, yes, probably is the trendiest of those four.
Not all cities get the same adjectives, either. (Apparently there aren’t any neighborhoods in D.C. that count as “artsy.”) Nor is the service useful only to those sniffing out trendy hoods: Choose “touristy” and “shopping” in D.C., and you’ll get sent, appropriately, to Georgetown.
I love that this service draws on local knowledge and encourages travelers to explore neighborhoods they might not otherwise. Instead of marking up a guidebook with months- or years-old recommendations, a traveler can find their perfect neighborhood here, book a room, arrive in town, fire up Yelp, and head to the nearest, best restaurant.