29 Google Maps Tricks You Need to Try

Google Maps is a Swiss Army Knife chock-full of hidden navigation, geospatial search, and customization tools. These tips and tricks will help you unlock your map app’s full potential.

Google Maps has changed how we navigate the world. Its desktop and mobile apps have become not just a way to get from point A to B via car, public transportation, or on foot. The ubiquitous Google service is also a geospatial search engine for the world around us.

Google continues to revamp and improve its map product, but there are a ton of customizable tools and hidden functions already baked into Google Maps that you may not know about, such as Incognito Mode. Check out our tips for how to maximize your Google Maps power.

1. COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination

Like everyone, Google Maps has made some adjustments during the pandemic(Opens in a new window). You can open Google Maps and type in “covid testing near me” to get a list of locations that perform testing along with contact info and hours. You can also find out where to get vaccinated by typing in “vaccine,” and for many places, you can book an appointment with one click. You can also see the number of COVID-19 cases around you and whether they are increasing or decreasing by tapping the layers icon at the top right of Maps and selecting COVID-19 Info.

2. Inside Access

Maps isn’t just for the great outdoors. You can find out what’s inside malls, airports, and other big buildings by finding the location in Maps, clicking on it, and then scrolling to Directory. You’ll never wander around wondering if there’s a Cinnabon again.

3. Plot Multiple Locations on Google Maps

Rarely do car trips consist of going from point A to B. More often, they are something like A-to-café-to-library-to-Joe’s-house-to-B. It’s a good thing Google makes it possible to anticipate real trips. To add multiple destinations in the Google Maps mobile app, enter your starting point and your ultimate destination and then click the three dots in the top-right corner. This will prompt a pop-over menu with the option to “Add stop.” Click that and you can add a route with multiple stops. You will even have the option to drag and drop stops within your itinerary. (Note that this doesn’t work when you’re using the mass transit option.)

4. Customize Your Vehicle Icon

If you’re driving, Google lets you choose what car shows up on your navigation in the iOS and Android apps. In the app, plug in your destination and start up driving directions. Tap the icon that shows your current location and a pop-up menu will appear with several car icon options: a sedan, a pickup truck, or an SUV.

5. ‘Hey Google, Where Am I Going?’

If you want to interact with Maps while you’re driving, you don’t want to actually take your eyes off the road. With “OK Google” voice commands(Opens in a new window) in the Google Maps Android app, you don’t have to. For example, if you notice you’re running low on gas, say “OK Google, find gas stations,” and it will show gas stations on the map (which you can look at when you’ve come to a red light or have pulled over). You can also ask for things like “What’s my next turn,” “What’s my ETA,” or “How’s traffic ahead?” On Android, just set up Google Assistant and you’re good to go. On iOS (pictured above), you tap the microphone icon on the top right, at which point you can ask your questions via voice.

6. Access Google Maps Offline

Today, Maps is most useful on mobile, which brings up a problem: When you are most in need of Maps, you may find yourself somewhere with limited (or—gasp—non-existent) coverage. To help you out, Google Maps supports offline access. Type in an address or area, swipe up on the menu at the bottom of the screen, tap the ellipsis icon, and select Download offline map. If you have enough storage on your device, the map in question will be saved. To access it later, tap your avatar > Offline maps, and you can then get information about businesses in the region and turn-by-turn directions within the downloaded section.

7. Change Directions Around by Drag and Drop

When finding directions on the desktop version of Maps, you can maneuver your route to go through or away from specific locations via drag and drop. Just click and drag any part of your direction route to move around (this only works with directions for walking, driving, or biking—it won’t work with any mass transit options).

8. Find Directions With a Single Click

To get to where you’re going, you can type in your destination address. Or right-click where you’re going on the map and it will prompt a pull-down list, which you can use to find directions to or from that location.

9. Measure Any Distance

Using the aforementioned right-click tool, you can also calculate the distance of any two points on Earth. Choose “Measure distance,” which will drop a point (signified by a white dot with a bold black line), then click anywhere else on the map, and the distance between the points will be calculated. Keep clicking to add more points on the map. The total trip distance will be calculated in the main card.

10. Get Your Groceries

If you shop at Kroger or any of their other grocery stores(Opens in a new window), you can order online, get status updates on your order, share your ETA when you’re on the way to pick it up, and check in when you’ve arrived with Google Maps. Just click on the link in the email to add your order to Google Maps and then visit the app to see all the info.

11. That Little Person in the Corner Has a Purpose

See that little yellow person in the bottom right-hand corner? That’s “Peg Man” (or alternatively “the pegman”). You can pick little peggy up and drop him anywhere on maps and be thrown into that location’s Street View. Once in Street View mode, he will be oriented with the current view in the embedded map window in the bottom left-hand corner.

12. Enhanced Walking Directions

If you’re walking around a city, and need a visual aid beyond Peg Man, Google Maps supports augmented reality walking directions in certain locales(Opens in a new window). This feature layers directional prompts atop Street View imagery to help you know which way to walk or turn. The area itself needs to have robust Street View support; if it’s available, you’ll see a “Live View” option at the bottom of your screen when you search for walking directions.

If you don’t have AR view yet, you can still get additional guidance by voice. Go to Settings > Navigation > Detailed Voice Guidance, toggle it on, and the voice directions you get while walking will have more detail (like pointing out landmarks) and be more frequent.

13. Let Other People Drive

Ride-sharing services are a big part of the modern transportation mix, so Google added ride options from companies such as Lyft to its mobile app. Once you enter your destination, click the icon of the little figure attempting to hail a taxi or the mass transit option. You’ll then be presented with nearby rideshare options along with the estimated time and fare. Then tap Open App to book your ride.

14. Find Accessible Transit Routes and Locations

Those with mobility issues can search for wheelchair-accessible transit routes by tapping Options > Wheelchair accessible when looking for train or bus directions. When you get to your destination, meanwhile, the Accessible Places setting will offer up wheelchair accessibility information about that location. Turn it on via Settings > Accessibility > Accessible Places. “When Accessible Places is switched on, a wheelchair icon will indicate an accessible entrance and you’ll be able to see if a place has accessible seating, restrooms, or parking,” Google says(Opens in a new window). “If it’s confirmed that a place does not have an accessible entrance, we’ll show that information on Maps as well.”

15. Pay for Parking

If you’re short of change(Opens in a new window) in your car, you can feed the parking meter right from Maps. Open the app as you approach a stop and you’ll see Pay for Parking pop up(Opens in a new window). Select it, type in your meter number and how long you’ll be at the spot, and you can pay right from your phone.

16. Remember Where You Parked

Remember that episode of Seinfeld where the gang spent the whole time wandering around a parking garage looking for their parked car(Opens in a new window)? That episode (and many others) would not work in 2022, thanks to Google Maps.

On Android, tap the blue location dot and select Save Your Parking, which will add a label to the Maps app, identifying where you parked. Tap that to add details like parking garage level and spot or the amount of time left before a meter expires. You can also set meter reminders, add a photo of where you parked, and send your parking location to friends. To find it later, tap the search bar up top and select Parking location. Or tap Driving down below, and look for Saved parking. To delete, tap Driving > Clear. Or tap “You parked here” on the map, select More Info on the bottom left, and tap Clear.

On iOS (above), tap the little blue location dot within the app when you arrive at a location. In the pop-up, tap Set as parking location. In the app, a P icon will appear alongside a note that says “You parked near here.” To get rid of it, tap the P and select Clear.

17. What’s the Parking Sitch?

Google Maps can provide turn-by-turn directions based on live-ish traffic data, but it can also provide you with a glimpse of the parking situation. When you search for driving directions to a location on iOS or Android, you may see a P logo at the bottom of the screen, along with one of three designations: limited, medium, and easy. This can help you decide how long to allocate for parking, or even if another form of transportation may be a better option.

18. View (and Delete) Your Google Maps History

Google maintains a very detailed record of your digital activities. If you’d rather it lose your Maps data, you can erase it on desktop or mobile. On a desktop, go to maps.google.com(Opens in a new window). Click the hamburger menu and select Your Data in Maps. You’ll end up on a Google-wide Controls page, where you can go to Location History > See & Delete Activity. You’ll get a map with a timeline of your activity. On the bottom right of the map, you can click the trash can icon to permanently delete all of your location history.

On mobile, go to Settings > Maps History > Search Your Activity > [three-dot menu] > Delete Activity By, where you can delete by date or just choose to delete everything at once. Hit Delete. Weirded out by Google’s oversight? Here’s a more detailed guide for how to get Google to stop tracking you.

19. Go Incognito

For a quick way to poke around Google Maps without leaving any obvious footprints, go incognito. With this enabled, Google Maps won’t save your browser or search history in your account, or send notifications. Your searches or movement won’t be added to location history or shared location. And Google won’t use your activity while in Incognito Mode to personalize Maps. It has its advantages if you want to peep a location without having it tangled up with your search history, but just like on web browsers, it doesn’t make you invisible on the app. To turn it on, tap your avatar and select Turn on Incognito mode; the incognito icon will appear in the search bar. Tap it and select Turn off Incognito mode to switch it off.

20. Auto-Delete Your Google Maps Location History

Google lets you periodically auto-delete your location history from the company’s servers. Set the data to erase every three months, 18 months, 36 months or keep the data until you delete it manually. Navigate to myactivity.google.com(Opens in a new window) and click Location History > Choose an auto-delete option, where you can choose how often to delete your data, including where you’ve been on Google Maps. To delete everything it’s captured until now, click Manage History > [gear icon] > Delete all Location History.

21. Share Your Location

Google Maps now lets you share your current location with people for specific periods of time. If you share your location with a specific contact, they’ll see your icon moving in real time on their map. On Android or iOS, tap your profile icon on the top right and select Location sharing. Choose who you want to share with and for how long, and they’ll be able to see where you are.

22. Time Travel With Google Maps

Street View has amassed a huge collection of street imagery over the years. In 2014, Google introduced Time Travel, a way for users to see how Street View has changed over time. Access this four-dimensional cartographic experience in Street View by clicking the little stopwatch icon in the top-left corner where available, which prompts a sliding scale that allows you to jump through Street Views over time. (For a deeper dive on changes to the Earth’s surface between 1994 and 2018, check out Google Earth Engine(Opens in a new window).)

23. Add Your Own Street View Images

Google doesn’t rent out its Street View cars, but Android users can now add their pics to the street-level mapping feature. All that’s required to start contributing is the latest version of the Street View app(Opens in a new window) on Android and a smartphone with support for ARCore(Opens in a new window). Once captured, the images can be published via the app and Google’s servers will automatically carry out the required rotation and positioning to create a series of connected photos. After that, they will appear on Street View for all to see for the location you captured.

24. Add Some Music

If you’ve always got Google Maps navigation open while you’re driving (or walking), you can add music to your trip without leaving the app. Sync music apps such as Spotify(Opens in a new window) or Apple Music by opening the menu and navigating to Settings > Navigation and then either Music Playback Controls on iOS or Show Media Playback Controls on Android to sync a music app. Once you do, a pop-up to your app of choice should appear as you’re driving for a quick tap to get your music started. Be sure to make your playlists beforehand so you can keep your eyes on the road.

25. Find Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

The makeup of cars on the road is changing, and Google Maps is changing with it. You can now search “EV charging” or “EV charging station” in Google Maps to find the nearest locations to charge up your electric vehicle(Opens in a new window).

26. Find Safe Drug Disposal Locations

Google Maps is doing its part to fight the opioid crisis with a search tool(Opens in a new window) to help users find safe drug disposal locations. Type “drug disposal near me” into the search bar to pull up pharmacies, medical centers, and local authority locations where you can safely dispose of excess pills.

27. Share Your Favorite Places

Google Maps lets you share some of your favorite places with a friend; just tap the share icon on the location’s Google Maps card to send it to them via text, email, or your app of choice. And you can save favorite places by tapping the Save icon; they’ll show up in the Saved option in the menu bar. But if you want to share more than one location, you can create a Pinterest-like list within Google Maps. When you save a favorite place, tap New List to create a new collection (like “Favorite Thai places in Brooklyn”) or add it to an existing one. You’ll find them in the Saved tab under Your lists; tap the three-dot menu and then Share List to send a link to friends.

28. Become (or Consult) a Local Guide

Think you know your neighborhood better than Google’s algorithm? Then consider becoming a Local Guide(Opens in a new window). While anyone can leave reviews and tips in Google Maps, Local Guides allows you to earn points(Opens in a new window) for leaving more insights and data that—as you go up the ladder—can result in “rewards and early access to new features,” Google says.

29. Street View Into ‘Mars On Earth’

Google is making Street View more immersive to give users close-up views of breathtaking locations and landscapes all over the world, including the deserted Devon Island(Opens in a new window) in Northern Canada near the North Pole, which is the closest terrain to Mars that can be found on Earth. It really hits home when you look at it in Street View panorama(Opens in a new window).

All Rights Reserved for Chandra Steele

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