Google Maps Power Tips & Tricks

With the help of some plug-ins and knowledge of some commands that aren't always obvious, Google Maps can yield a wealth of information.

Beyond Pinpointing

You've checked the location of your destination, or maybe gotten driving directions. But Google Maps has much more to offer, even after being around for a few years. Google continues to improve the maps, and users are finding (and sharing) handy tips and tricks.

Google Maps GL

The first thing you’ll want to do to make better use of Google Maps is to install the Maps GL extension, which brings 3D graphics to your browser without your needing to install additional software. The plugin improves the Google Maps experience by presenting 3D buildings in Map View mode and 45-degree aerial imagery. It also adds smooth transitions between zoom levels and allows you to swoop quickly from the Map View to Street View imagery. Get it here.

Where You Need to Go

Google Maps is good for not only pinpointing a location, but also for getting you there. Whether you want to drive, take transit, walk, or even bike, it can help you get around. Just press the Get Directions button and enter a departure point of choice, or allow Google Maps to determine your current location. Depending on your destination, you can get directions not only for driving, but also for public transport, walking, and biking routes.

Alternative Route Advice

To avoid certain streets on your way, you can get alternate driving directions by dragging the suggested path around. Every modification will show you how much time it might add to your journey.

Google Earth Plug-in

Another great plug-in you’ll want to install is Google Earth. One of its features is the capability to view directions in 3D in a fly-over tour. You can pause the route and keep track of which step you are on, while the current leg of the trip is highlighted in a panel on the left. To exit the 3D view, click the 2D button in the left panel. Get it here.

Soaring Over Google Earth

Now that you have the Google Earth plug-in, you can enter any place in the Google Maps search bar and you will fly to your point of interest. You can enjoy a full, sweeping 360-degree view of a single point by holding down the Shift key and the Right arrow or Left arrow.

A Different View of Google Earth

You can also tilt views with Google Earth by using your keyboard: Simultaneously hold down the Shift key and the Up arrow to tilt down, or the Down arrow to tilt up. Another way to tilt is to select Shift and use the scroll wheel on your mouse.

Find The Perfect Home

You can use Google Maps to hunt down your dream home. With a Google Docs spreadsheet to enter your options and geographic information, you can turn it into a Google Fusion Table, which makes it easy to view tabular data on a Google Map. A geeky couple used this method to map the houses they were checking out and were able to determine which one was best for them this way. Learn how they did it. Also see for Craigslist house listings on Google Maps.

Peel Back the Layers

Depending on the site, you can view location-specific information layers such as real-time traffic, photos, and Wikipedia articles. To access the layers, hover over the square widget on the top right-hand corner of the map. A menu with available layers for your map will appear, and you can click on More... to view additional layers, such as webcams and weather information.

Make Your Own Maps

Using My Places, you can create custom, annotated Google Maps that include place marks, lines, and shapes. You can even add descriptive text and embed photos and videos in your map, and share your maps with others. This can be handy for mapping out your favorite restaurants, planning an upcoming vacation, or saving biking routes for future reference.

Maps Labs: Distance

Enable cool experimental features in Google Maps with Maps Labs (it’s a small blue link right at the bottom of the sidebar). One of them, the Distance Measurement Tool, enables you to measure the distance of a path on the Earth, whether it’s from your front door to the corner shop or from East Coast to West Coast.

Maps Labs: Smart Zoom

The Smart Zoom Maps Labs feature enables you to get rid of the annoying message you occasionally see, that "We don't have imagery at this zoom level," by checking in advance what imagery exists; this also ensures that you can't zoom in beyond it.

Maps Labs: Drag 'n' Zoom

This Maps Labs plug-in enables you to zoom in on a specific part of the map by simply drawing a box on the map with the cursor, instead of having to play around with the zoom and rotation dials.

Check Indoor Maps

You can use Google Maps in select places to get detailed floor plans and indoor location information to within a few feet, as well as an accurate floor level. From malls to convention centers, or museums, airports, and educational institutions from California to New York, detailed floor plans automatically appear when you’re viewing the map and zoom in on a building where indoor map data is available.

Check Indoor Maps

The indoor maps are also very useful when using Google Maps for Android, as the “blue dot” icon indicates your location within several yards; and when you move up or down a level in a building with multiple floors, the interface will automatically update to display which floor you’re on.

Send Directions to Your Phone

Download Chrome to Phone is a Google Chrome extension and Android app that enables you to easily send links between your browser and your phone. You can push driving directions from Google Maps to your phone, and they will open automatically on your smartphone, and you also send browser links from Chrome to your phone.

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors