Like it or not, a big part of being a tourist involves waiting in line: at the hotel check-in desk, at the museum entrance, waiting for their tour guide to show up. But when it comes to seeing jaw-dropping views, here’s a more efficient use of your time: instead of one-stop observation decks, why not head to a high-up restaurant for lunch or dinner? You might not consider these traditional tourist attractions, but for the quality of the views (not to mention the meal itself!), these places will have you whipping out your camera in no time:
J. Parker (Chicago)
High above the Windy City sits J. Parker, a classic (and winter-proof!) rooftop venue that skews slightly toward the formal side of things, so be sure to dress up a bit when you visit. The lounge offers indoor/outdoor seating, a fireplace, and unobstructed views of the river, though if you’re looking to feast more than just your eyes, the kitchen can help with that, too. What to order: Once in a while, the eponymous “J.P.” makes an appearance on the cocktail menu, but “The Frost” seems more appropriate in the winter months (rosemary-infused Casamigos tequila, cardamom, lime, egg white, $13); meanwhile, try the excellent J. Parker Burger, made with dry-aged beef, butterkase cheese, belly-fire mayo, and charred onions ($12).
Upstairs (New York City)
If the swanky 30th floor lounge at the Kimberly Hotel doesn’t succeed in making you whip out your smartphone and start snapping pictures, then you probably need to get your eyes checked. Housed under an all-glass retractable ceiling with chic tufted banquets and a black granite-topped bar, the panoramic views, including the nearby Empire State Building, are unrivaled, as is the discreet, supper club-like vibe. What to order: Cocktails are a little pricey here, so stick to a glass of Malbec ($15) and gourmet small plates like Truffle Mac & Cheese ($14) and Spiced Duck Cigars ($14).
Pod 39 (New York City)
For a festive time, head to the Pod 39 Hotel’s Moroccan-inspired rooftop lounge, which mixes extra-strong (and delicious) margaritas and serves a limited menu from the downstairs taqueria, Salvation Taco. All of this makes for a great late afternoon pick-me-up while admiring stunning views of the East River and Queens; you can even spot the Roosevelt Island cable car making its back-and-forth haul! What to order: Sip a fiery Volcano (Pueblow Viejo Blanco Tequila, Cacao, Cocchi Americano, lemon, Jamaican pepper, salt, $13) before heading downstairs to gorge on fish tacos (served with Mayan mango and pickled red onions, 3 for $17).
Altitude Sky Lounge (San Diego)
Baseball fans take note of this friendly hideout atop the San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter Hotel: boasting views of the city, the Pacific Ocean and the Padres’ home stadium (Petco Park), the lounge manages to straddle the line between scene-y party spot and laid-back local tavern. During baseball season, doors open two hours before day games; though no matter what time of year you go, count on warm breezes and gorgeous sunsets, all thanks to the reliably mild SoCal weather. What to order: During Happy Hour (5-7pm Mon-Fri; all day Sunday), all domestic draft beers are $5, and the scrumptious “Artisan Flatbreads” (normally $16) are all half off.
Moonrise Hotel (St. Louis)
A trip to the moon would surely make for the ultimate “high-up view,” but this quirky St. Louis rooftop bar is the next best thing. After opening in 2012, the space-themed restaurant and adjoining terrace have created local buzz for its friendly vibe, otherworldly decor, and up-close views of that famous Arch. Sure, you could wait in endless lines to ascend the Arch itself, but why bother doing that when you could be sipping beer al fresco, gathered under a giant mechanical replica of the moon? What to order: Considering the kitchen stays open until 2 a.m., this is the perfect spot to grab a midnight snack like the Brisket Flatbread ($10) or the classic Fish Tacos ($12).
After spending a day taking in the sights around Independence Park and the Liberty Bell, take a load off on the 19th floor of the Hyatt at the Bellevue Hotel, where a cafe-bar-restaurant sets the scene for some of the best city panoramas. The wide half-moon windows, 19-foot chandelier, and glass rotunda add to the swanky vibe, though if it’s just a quick nibble and an Instagram photo opp you’re after, that’s fine too. What to order: The seafood is super-fresh here, so we recommend a plate of striped marlin or yellowfun tuna sashimi ($12) on weeknights from 5:30-10 p.m., grilled Spanish baby octopus ($14), or the classic New England fish and chips ($22).
These days, when the terms “sustainable” and “farm-to-table” are thrown around a little too freely, it takes a lot for a restaurant to stand out when it truly embodies those principles. But with its location on top of the Miami Culinary Institute, Tuyo manages to succeed on both counts: spectacular views of downtown, the Bay, and the lit-up Freedom Tower, plus innovative, locally-sourced cuisine (a portion of which is grown on-site in the restaurant’s organic garden). What to order: Depending on how adventurous you’re feeling, the Rhum and Pepper-Painted Grouper with mango-habanero and caramelized boniato mash ($34) is an unusual take on the classic fish dish, though pretty much any choice here is sure to please.
WP24 (Los Angeles)
Who said you needed to hike up to the Griffith Observatory for the best views of LA? If you find yourself downtown, simply ride the elevator to the top of the Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles, where two Wolfgang Puck venues (the intimate dining room or more informal lounge) offer Asian-inspired fare. If you’re just showing up for the view (which is incredible), the more affordable lounge is your best bet, with a range of shared plates, and a predictably stylish, low-key L.A. vibe. What to order: Locals rave about the crystal dumplings ($12), filled with king crab, shrimp, and Kurobuta pork, as well as the pork belly “bao” buns ($12) and prawn toast ($10). Alternatively, if you’re feeling more ambitious, a four-course family-style dim sum Sunday dinner menu is also available.
While the Hyatt Regency Denver offers views from the center of the city out towards the Rockies, if you’re looking to scope out the city itself, you’d better head to Highland, an up-and-coming neighborhood home to funky cafes, art galleries, and boutiques. One such local gem is Linger, a homey bar and restaurant serving American classics with a global twist, expertly-mixed cocktails, and a rooftop with some of the best Denver skyline views around. What to order: Do a bit of globe-trotting by ordering one item each from the menu’s Europe, Africa and Middle East, South Asia, Asia, and Americas sections; in particular, the breakfast dosa ($13), with scrambled eggs, potatoes, avocado, sambar curry, and a crispy rice-and-lentil crepe, is to die for.
Top of the Mark (San Francisco)
Unless you plan on booking a private helicopter ride around the Bay, the rooftop restaurant on top of the InterContinental is your go-to spot for classic San Francisco views across the entire city. Live bands make regular appearances here, but it’s the 360-degree views and unrivaled history that makes this 75-year-old venue stand out. What to order: Satisfy your hunger with a plate of the lounge’s signature Green Eggs and Ham ($9) or the heartier Grilled Cheese ($18), made with Humboldt Fog goat cheese, quince paste, toasted walnuts, and honey. Of course, there are also plenty of Napa Valley wines to choose from as well.