The iPhone may be an accessory of choice for conspicuous consumers, but with recent upgrades to Google Maps it’s also a weapon of choice for those who believe in public transit and local business.

Google Maps’ new public transit features have radically altered my relationship with Seattle. Before they were introduced, I pre-planned bus rides to and from work. For everything else, there was my car. Now, however, I can make spontaneous use of the entire transit system, including ferries, without worrying about where and when I want to be next. It’s far cheaper than taking a cab, and a lot less hassle than finding a place to park.

On our road trip home from Colorado this summer, Amy and I discovered a second great use for Google Maps: avoiding fast food and truck stops. Tools like Urban Spoon make it easy to find good food in, say, Boulder, Colorado, but what do you do when you’re a few hours outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming?

It turns out that there’s no reason to search for specific businesses or addresses with Google Maps; creative search terms work great, too. For example, somewhere outside of Rocky Mountain National Park we searched for “best pub grub” and got the location of a tiny off-the-path bar that served up amazingly good burgers and fries. Later, on a desolate stretch of I-80, we pressed our luck and found a pretty good local Chinese joint. Feeling healthy? In Seattle, a search for “awesome salad” lands a hit just a few blocks from our house, at the Queen Mary Tea Room – a business I would never have visited until now. Just looking for something new? A search for “bizarre” leads to the Archie McPhee Toy Store and, apparently, the Seattle UFO Reporting Center.

Who knew? Google Maps did.