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Culinary Tourism Heats Up Thanks to Gen-Z and Millennials

Travel trends occasionally surprise us. Although not a new concept, culinary tourism is rising. Rather than seeking adventure or simple relaxation, many Gen-Z and Millennial travelers are planning vacations based on food experiences.

2023 Travel Trends: Culinary Tourism

The American Express 2023 Global Travel Trends Report uncovers some interesting findings. 81% of the survey respondents say they most look forward to trying local foods and cuisines on vacation. 75% of those planning to travel this year are most interested in eating at local restaurants.

Food-driven travel is growing in popularity among younger travelers, with 47% of Gen-Z and Millennials saying they have planned an entire trip around visiting a specific restaurant. That compares to 37% of respondents overall. 

Regarding food festivals, 45% of Gen-Z and Millennials indicated they had planned a trip around such an event. Only 35% of all respondents could make such a claim.

What likely comes as no surprise is the source of inspiration. 66% of Gen-Z and Millennials get most of their motivation for what and where to eat from social media.

The survey sheds some additional light on what vacationers hope to experience. Travelers are most interested in these culinary activities and events this year:

  • Local restaurant scene – 54%
  • Food festivals – 46%
  • Local food tours – 41%
  • Wine tastings – 39%
  • Dining with live entertainment – 38%
  • Brewery tours – 34%
  • Chef tasting menus – 31%
  • Cooking classes – 22%

Best Foodie Cities

With culinary tourism rising, where are travelers going? The U.S. News & World Report ranks the best food cities in the United States. Here are the top five destinations and their iconic dishes travelers crave.

#5 San Francisco

Popular foods in San Francisco - Ghirardelli chocolate
Ghirardelli chocolates. Photo credit: Irma Sophia

Renowned for the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, cable cars, steep streets, and stick houses, San Francisco serves cuisine as creative as its unique neighborhoods. The city has become known for its cioppino, a hearty seafood stew with a rich tomato and wine broth. Visitors can savor a piping hot bowl of cioppino while enjoying a view of the bay at the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf.

San Francisco is known for its fresh, tangy sourdough bread. The distinctive flavor profile draws a smile whether eaten on its own or as part of a sandwich. 

San Francisco offers many flavorful Asian and Mexican dishes. Farm-to-table cuisine has a substantial presence in the regional food scene, with seasonal dishes taking center stage.

The city attracts a lot of chocolate lovers. Ghirardelli Square encompasses an entire city block and has been on the National Historic Register since 1982. The historic square offers many opportunities for travelers to indulge in chocolate bliss.

#4 Los Angeles

Popular foods in Los Angeles - street tacos
Street tacos and a margarita. Photo credit: Corey Watson

Many visitors desire a trip to Los Angeles for its beautiful beaches, warm weather, and celebrity scene. The city has become famous for its street tacos. 

Restaurants, vendors, and food trucks around town sell small tortillas overflowing with fillings. Visitors can enjoy a classic taco or more creative versions with fish, Korean BBQ, or vegan toppings.

Korean BBQ is a growing trend in Los Angeles. Diners cook their meats and vegetables on a tabletop grill. Other international foods, including Thai, Japanese, and Chinese cuisines, are popular in Los Angeles.

Health-conscious travelers can find plenty of vegan and vegetarian fare featuring fresh, locally sourced ingredients. For those less concerned with health-conscious food, the French dip is a Los Angeles staple.

Travelers can pair delicious food with innovative cocktails. The city delivers a vibrant mixology scene with creative and glamorous adult beverages. 

#3 Chicago

Popular foods in Chicago - deep-dish pizza
Chicago deep-dish pizza. Photo credit: Manvi Mathur

The vibrant city on Lake Michigan is known for its architecture, music scene, professional sports teams, and excellent food. Many visitors head to Chicago to taste their famous deep-dish pizza. The thick, savory pie oozing with gooey cheese and topped with chunky tomato sauce is a Chicago classic.

Many guests hope to eat a Chicago-style hot dog. An all-beef hot dog nestles in a poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, tangy relish, diced onions, tomato wedges, a pickle spear, sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. Leave the ketchup at home for an authentic experience.

Chicagoans love Italian beef sandwiches with thin slices of roast beef, sweet peppers, and spicy giardiniera on a crusty Italian roll and dipped in gravy. The city features plenty of international foods, including dishes with Polish, Mexican, and African American influences.

For dessert, travelers can try a rainbow cone—scoops of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House vanilla, pistachio, and orange sherbet sit atop a cake cone. It is as bright and colorful as it is delicious.

#2 New York City

hot dog vendor cart at night in NYC
Hot dog vendor. Photo credit: Rafael Hoyos Weht

The city that never sleeps is renowned for its iconic thin-crust slices of pizza so big you can fold them. New Yorkers love their hot dogs. Guests can purchase the famous frankfurters from food carts, restaurants, and food trucks. A soft bun cradles a frank topped with spicy mustard and scoops of crunchy onions and tangy kraut.

New York City is a melting pot of people. The international food scene features Italian, Chinese, and Jewish flavors.

Bagels with lox and cream cheese are a favorite item for breakfast and brunch. Pastrami on rye with spicy brown mustard and a pickle spear on the side is a famous lunch sandwich. Favorite desserts include black and white cookies and New York-style cheesecake.

The sprawling city comprises such a volume and variety of eateries visitors can try new foods for weeks. New York also has a thriving cocktail culture. Visitors can sample innovative drinks as they explore all the city offers.

#1 New Orleans

Sprinkling of Cocoa Powder on Beignet Fritters
Beignets. Photo credit: RDNE Stock project

The southern city is known for its Mardi Gras celebration, distinctive music, and Creole cuisine. Many of their classic dishes pack a punch due to bold, spicy flavors.

Visitors can try a bowl of gumbo, a rich and hearty seafood stew with Andouille sausage and okra served over rice. Sandwich lovers should try a po’ boy with shredded lettuce, tomato, and a spicy remoulade sauce on a French baguette. The meat can be roast beef, chicken fingers, or fried seafood.

Guests should also try jambalaya when visiting New Orleans. The Creole dish features chicken, sausage, shrimp, and rice.

For those who enjoy simple dishes, try red beans and rice. Seafood lovers can sample oysters and boiled crawfish.

To satisfy a sweet tooth, New Orleans offers beignets. The little fried dough pastries are reminiscent of donuts dusted with powdered sugar. 

Other popular desserts include bananas foster and bread pudding. Many travelers appreciate something sweet after sampling so many spicy dishes.

New Orleans also has an excellent cocktail culture. Guests can enjoy iconic music and drinks while exploring the region’s many bars and lounges.

Wrap-Up: Culinary Tourism

Many cultures believe youngsters should listen to their elders. Gen-Z and Millennials have wisdom beyond their years regarding culinary tourism. We should all follow their lead and plan a vacation based on an exciting food experience.

Featured image credit: Alex Haney

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Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey

Scott And Julie McConkey

After 30 years, Scott and Julie McConkey left the corporate world for a life of travel and adventure. What started as a gap year became a second act, and they are now full-time travel bloggers!