Google Maps is more than just driving directions. 5 clever tricks to start using today (2022)

I seldom useGoogle Mapsto actually get directions, but I open the app almost every day for other reasons that might not be so obvious. Truth is, Google Maps is useful for a lot more than just showing you how to get from Point A to Point B. Beneath all those Christmas-colored traffic patterns and high-res satellite images hides a powerful search tool that offers crowdsourced real-time data on restaurants, retail stores, professional offices, public parks and practically anywhere else you'd want to go.

Some of Google Maps' recent updates include adding a coronavirus information layer,paying for parking, improved images and sidewalk maps, and improved location sharing. Turn-by-turn directions areso last decade, comparatively speaking. If you're already familiar with this app as a navigation tool, you're only a tap, press or swipe away from these and more Google Maps superpowers.

To unleash the hidden potential of the Google Maps app on your phone or tablet, take a look at the five ways I use Google Maps almost every day that have nothing to do with getting directions.

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See how long the line is everywhere from Walmart to the DMV

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Before I walk out the door, whether I'm heading to Walmart, the grocery store, the doctor's office or to renew my driver's license, I almost always check Google Maps to see exactly how busy I can expect my destination to be. Here's how you can look up that information too.

In the Google Maps app, tap on the business or location you want to visit and scroll down until you see a graph labeled Popular times. Tap the day of the week if you're planning a trip for later that week.

Tap on the red column to see current foot-traffic data, or one of the blue columns to get a summary of how busy you can expect it to be at another time: Not busy, Not too busy, A little busyor As busy as it gets.

Next, under the heading Plan your visit, you'll find general information like peak wait times ("up to 5 min from 6 a.m. -- 12 a.m.") and length of average visit ("People typically spend 20 min here"). Now you know whether you'll be in and out in a flash or if you need to pack a good book or just plan your visit for another day when wait times aren't as long.

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Check out menus, photos and customer reviews

In addition to its navigation tools, Google Maps is also a full-blown crowdsourced review app, much like Yelp or TripAdvisor, so you can get a good idea of what sorts of options your destination offers, as well as price, presentation and whether you'll need to take out a loan to afford it.

This feature is as useful for restaurant pickup and delivery as it is for previewing menu options and prices -- not to mention getting a good look at the dishes. It could make or break your decision to try someplace new. For those who trust the wisdom of crowds, it also shows the restaurants' five-star average as well as individual reviews to weigh in your decision.

On most restaurant listings you'll see a navigation bar at the top with Overview, Menu, Reviews and Photos listed as options (you may have to side-scroll to see all of them). Tap any of those or just scroll down. The link labeled Menu is often listed just below operating hours, but keep scrolling until you see the heading Popular dishes to see photos of food. Keep going past Popular times until almost the very bottom to find the restaurant's five-star average and user reviews.

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Book a table or place an order for carryout or delivery

Once you've gotten a sneak peek at all your restaurant options, most of the time you don't even have to leave the Google Maps app to make a reservation. If you'd rather eat at home, you can also usually order carryout or delivery from within the app.

If the restaurant you've decided on uses a booking service like OpenTable, you'll see a tab beneath the Menu option that says either Find a table or Reserve a table. You don't actually have to log in to the booking service to make the reservation (although if you collect bonus points or otherwise actively use the service you may want to anyway).

For carryout or delivery, look for an option labeled Place an order. A popup will give you a list of available services, like DoorDash or Postmates, but you will have to sign in to complete your order, so if you have an account with any of them you'll probably want to choose that one.

Hey, Google Assistant, how'd you get on my iPhone?

I spend most of my digital life in the famously walled garden of the Apple ecosystem, with one glaring exception: I use aGoogle Home ($59 at Amazon)with Google Assistant to control my smart home.

Google Assistant doesn't come baked into iOS the way Apple's less capable voice assistant Siri does, but a setting in Google Maps lets you shove Siri to the side so you can have always-on access to Google Assistant while navigating.

To set the Google Maps app on your iPhone to listen for "OK, Google" while navigating, open the Google Maps app and tap on the menu icon (the three stacked horizontal lines to the left of the search bar), then tap Settings. At the top of the page, under the heading Getting Around, tap Navigation, then scroll to the option labeled Access your Assistant with "OK Google"and turn the toggle on.

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Admittedly, this workaround is a little wonky -- you have to set Google Maps to navigate to a specific destination for the "OK, Google" voice command to work, and you can't summon Siri with "Hey, Siri" while this feature is turned on. But until Android can woo me away from my iPhone, it's better than nothing.

Find operating hours, phone numbers, ZIP codes and more

Whenever I need to know when a store or business opens or closes, or if I need to call the place and I don't have the number, or on the rare occasion when I need the ZIP code for a business for which the street name and number are all I know off the top of my head (say, for a job application), I go straight to Google Maps to get these answers and more.

Here's where to quickly and easily find basic info about locations listed in Google Maps:

Operating hours: Businesses' hours of operation are displayed immediately beneath the address. You can tap the down arrow beside today's closing time to see hours for other days of the week. Most listings are updated with any special holiday hours, which are highlighted in a red font.

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Phone numbers: Beneath hours of operation in most listings you'll find the phone number. To call it without leaving Google Maps, tap the number, then tap the pop-up that displays the prompt to Call followed by the number.

Website: If the business has a website, it will be listed below the phone number. Tap it to open the website in a Google Chrome-powered tab within the Google Maps app.

ZIP code: This one's less common, but when I've needed it, Google Maps has saved me tons of time. Either enter the street name and number or the business name and tap search. At the top of the listing beside the street address, you'll now see the ZIP code.

For more Google tips and tricks, check out thesesix Google Maps tricks you probably don't know about yet, these seven hidden Gmail features and how to use Google Maps' revamped bike routes.

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