Some touchscreen time was in the cards for me evidently, as I recently ended up getting an iPad. It’s just the most basic iPad and it actually belongs to my workplace not me, but heck, why complain. Incidentally, I have also been trying to figure out what to do with an iTunes gift card balance for ages, so this weekend I thought, why not check out a bunch of iPad travel apps and figure out which ones are useful for exploring Los Angeles.
Whew! I quickly realized that’s easier said than done, there are a lot of apps out there! Collected below is my pick of the litter. With the exception of the LA Street Food App, the apps below can be used in a bunch or all of the major American cities.
General Guidebook Apps:
TripAdvisor — These guys have done a great job integrating their large library of online user reviews with the GPS capabilities of these tablets. Hats off to www.TripAdvisor.com for the good interface; I love the “Search Again Near This Location” button and the “See on Map” button.
Credit is also due to TripAdvisor for their very large destination database covering restaurants, things to do, and hotels. Sometimes the points of interest are a little random, but overall there is a lot of good travel destination information on this app. (Cost: FREE)
Goby — This app was a little bit of a pleasant surprise, as the online reviews are so lukewarm. Yes some of the restaurant data may be a little old, but my experience with this app has been pretty good. Goby gathers travel info and blurbs from sources on the internet and compiles it into one place.
They have done a decent job with this project: there is a lot of useful descriptive writing about some pretty offbeat destinations in the mix and at the same time, if you know nothing about LA, this app would quickly lead you to a lot of the must-see places. The events section is relatively up-to-date, with an assortment of art shows and concerts listed.
As is the case with most all the apps listed here, Goby is successful at keeping your browsing in the context of the app (you don’t get suddenly get thrown out into a web-browser). There is definitely something a little disjointed and random about the listings on this app, but why complain as it is free. (Cost: FREE)
Roadside America — I really love the RoadsideAmerica.com website; this app does a good job of translating their huge database of vernacular roadside architecture into a location-based interface. If you like offbeat roadside attractions, then this is THE app for you. Please note that this is actually an iPhone app but it works fine on the iPad.Also, when you buy the app you specify which section of the US you want info for; you can get access to the whole country for an additional fee. (Cost: $2.99)
Curated Restaurant Apps:
Zagat — This app is a class act, with a lot of reliable information and a very well-honed interface. It is a little expensive but hey, you get all the cities at once so that makes it a better deal. If you are looking for up-and-coming smaller restaurants with more of a word-of-mouth crowd, you will want to use some of the other more democratic apps listed in the next section. (Cost: $9.99)
LocalEats — This one was also a pleasant surprise. For an app that costs only a buck, it has a decent interface and the whole thing is well done. Every restaurant listed has a page with a paragraph (pulled from a range of sources) describing the joint, as well as excerpts from LA Weekly (Jonathan Gold!), Travel and Leisure, the Los Angeles Times, and Los Angeles magazine.
Like Zagat’s, LocalEats only covers restaurants that are somewhat well established and leaves out smaller food counters and newer places. That said, they do have info about a lot of restaurants (covering a bunch of US cities and some international ones) and the app works fine. (Cost: $0.99)
Los Angeles Street Food — This is the only real local Los Angeles guide on here. Based on my budget and lifestyle, this one is probably more useful to me, as a resident, than the more upscale Zagat’s and LocalEats lists. This app is a product of Sutro Media, a company that gives individuals the tools to build an app based on their local expertise. Patrick Green, in this case, has laid out his knowledge of corner eateries and food trucks across Los Angeles, a mix of places serving food for under $20 a meal.
Although more extensive than I would’ve thought, this list covers a fairly limited range of places. Overall, I do like Patrick’s writing and his style so I am glad to contribute $2 to the project. As far as I can tell, the food trucks are not on the map page but on the browsing page. He does gets you to their twitter page, which is pretty to the point I guess. This app does show the potential of the DIY school of app programing. (Cost: $1.99)
Un-curated Restaurant Apps:
Urbanspoon — Urbanspoon is well established as an iPhone app and their iPad app is famously simple and does work well. They cover a ton of places, linking to editorial and user reviews from the impressive www.urbanspoon.com database, as well as blogs, LA Weekly, Gayot.com, and the Los Angeles Times.
This app is a great tool for seeing what food options are out there, although you don’t always get so much feedback about what the really hole-in-the wall eateries may be like. Ultimately, Urbanspoon is definitely a force to be reckoned with in the online restaurant coverage world and their free offering does not disappoint. (Cost: FREE)
Dishfinders — Dishfinders is very comparable to Urbanspoon, although in this case the pages linked to are www.yelp.com and www.Citysearch.com. Sometimes you get access to the restaurant menu too, which is nice. The thing I really like about this app is the “Redo Search in Map Area” button. That button alone makes this app a must-have! I am always struggling to get these programs to follow my map browsing and this one makes it easy.
They also have a pretty huge database of eateries! I have never used the social network side to this app, I think it is based on the Yelp model maybe? All around I do like this one. (Cost: FREE)
Other Useful Apps:
Free Wifi Finder — I anticipate that if I get hooked on all this iPad browsing, I will pretty much be jonesing for free Wifi connections all the time. This app is an antidote to this predicament! It lets you download a geographical guide to free Wifi in your area. Whew. (Cost: FREE)
FlightBoard — This basically turns your iPad into an Arrivals and Departures board at any airport. Pretty handy! This app gets great user reviews for being reliable. (Cost: $3.99)
TripIt — This very popular trip-planning app deserves mention here. You email all your travel confirmations to TripIt and the app creates itineraries for you and helps you stay organized. This one is very useful if you are on the road a lot. (Cost: FREE)
Points Inside Maps for Aiports and Malls — So you have to go to the mall, right. What’s the harm in having a map of the shopping center in question to help you find your way to your ultimate destination within? This app makes this easy by letting you download many, many of these maps. There are definitely a lot of malls and airports in Los Angeles, making this a useful app. (Cost: FREE)
Google Earth — After messing with this stuff for a couple days, I finally figured it out! GoogleEarth is the program the will let you open your Google Maps on the iPad.
This is a great way to quickly chart a number of destinations onto the iPad and also access a lot of the random blog-based travel info and maps available out there on the web in a convenient GPS interface. Google Earth also features geo-located pictures and info from Panoramio and Wikipedia. (Cost: FREE)
So that’s the current line-up for you guys. Please note that two more regional Sutro Media iPad guides which I bought and like are: LA Starspotter (Cost: $2.99) and CA Essential (Cost: $4.99). The NFT iPhone apps are helpful for travelers; the relevant one here is the NFT Los Angeles app (Cost: $2.99). Yelp’s app is another good one (Cost: FREE).
If this has whetted your app-etite, more good travel iPhone apps are listed in this recent comprehensive iPhone travel app article.
[Photo courtesy of emerille/flickr]