Google Places API Basics

Google Places API JavaScript Library

Who doesn't love a good map!?! So let's make our own with the bare essentials of the Google Places API.

Final Map

The Google Places API is used by all Google maps to get detailed information on millions of locations around the world. This info can be used to plan your next holiday, find all your favorite coffee shops or maybe research a new business plan. By the end of this tutorial you will be able to add a map to your HTML document and place markers on the map with an info window via an auto-complete search field.

This tutorial assumes a beginner ability in setting up web pages using JavaScript, jQuery, CSS and HTML.

Here we go...

Part 1 - Setup

Create the Project Structure

Go here for a copy of the structure I am using. Clone it down or cut and paste the contents into your own project structure or make your own files using this structure as a reference:

├── css
│   └── main.css
├── index.html
├── js
│   └── main.js

Access the API

Google has made it super simple to get started with their maps and services. Add this script tag to your index.html file right below the jQuery script tag. If you're not quite sure where to put it, have a look at the project files here.

<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>

This script tag calls the Google Places JavaScript API, giving us access to the Google map objects and methods available via key words in our JavaScript.

When our program runs it will ask Google for information via a specific set of syntax or code that we will write into our main.js file. The details of this syntax has been made available to us in this documentation. As a coder, you will learn to love excellent docs like these; they detail all the keys needed for unlocking Google maps.

Create a Map

Now lets create a map. Add the following line of code to main.js file inside the document.on('ready') event:

  var map = new google.maps.Map(document.getElementById('map-div'),{
    center: {lat:39.393981, lng:-106.016311},
    zoom: 7


  • set the variable map to a new map object created by using the Google syntax,
  • gave the map a place to live on the index.html file by grabbing the ID selector map-div,
  • set the center property of the map to coordinates in Colorado, and
  • set the 'zoom' property of the map.

This is just the basics. There are a lot more properties that you can add to a Google map. Check out the
Map Object docs
for more options to cutomize maps for your purposes.

Make Some Space

We specified an ID of map-div when we created our map object, so we need to put that into an html tag...probably a div :)

Add this code into index.html inside the body element.

<div id="map"></div>

Finally, we need to create some space for our map to occupy. At this point, if you open up index.html in your browser by specifying the local path (mine looks like this: file:///Users/petej/Documents/blog-posts/google-maps-basics-tutorial/index.html) into the URL field, nothing will show on the page. This is because the map will not create a space for itself - it will only take up an area provided for it. How should we "create" space for our map?

CSS will do the trick.

Tip: Another good way of opening the index.html file is by going into the terminal, navigating to the directory that this project is in (specifically where the html file is located) and typing open index.html, then hit enter. That should do it. For more great material on the command line checkout Learn The Hard Way.

Add this to main.css:

#map-div {
  height: 500px;
  width: 1000px;

Okay, lets open up index.html and see what we've got! Try to do it via the terminal (also referred to as the command line... bash... iTerm... shell...).

Final Map

You can grab the finished files for Part 1 here.

Part 2 - Markers and Info Windows

Quick Note: If you are following along with the linked Github repository, you'll see I added some Bootstrap styling to class this project up a bit. Bootstrap is a HTML, CSS, and JavaScript library that provides numerous helper styles for creating the basis of you web site/application.


Markers make Google maps functional and rich with information. For example, for your map, you may want to add markers to places that you've been in the world or all the breweries you want to visit on you next road trip. A paleantologist could pinpoint exact locations of where T-Rex fossils have been found and then share that map with her colleagues. Markers are powerful and fun - and adding them to your map is easy!

Markers are objects provided by the Google Places API and they, much like maps, have properties we can set and customize. Markers "belong" to a given map, so we need to specify the map, via an argument, when we create a new marker. we also need to set the position of the marker. We can do this in many ways, for now we will use latitude and longitude.

Add this code to main.js, just below the map instantiation (creating a new 'instance' or object of a certain type):

var marker = new google.maps.Marker({
    position: {lat:38.153661, lng:-107.758774},
    map: map

Test this out in your browser. What do you see?

Info Windows

What is that marker pointing to? Wouldn't it be nice to have some more information about this location? Google has an object for that - InfoWindow. :)

  var infowindow = new google.maps.InfoWindow({
    content: "<div><h2>Colorado Boy</h2><p>Brew Pub in Ridgeway, CO</p></div>"

We've created our info window, and now we need a way to access it. Add a click event handler to the marker:

  marker.addListener('click', function() {, marker);

Have a look at the two peices of code above and try to figure out why the info window opens on our marker. Info windows don't belong to markers like markers belong to maps. Instead, Info windows are there own object. The way we bind them to a marker is by passing that marker's variable name in when we call .open() on the info window.

You can grab the finished files for Part 2 here.

Marker with InfoWindow

Part 3 - Auto Complete

Search Field with Auto Complete

Hard Coding locations is ok, but we want our map to be dynamic. Like I said, Google provides tons of functionality with the Places API. We are going to take advantage of the auto complete feature for our search input.

Search Form

Start by adding a search form to index.html.

    <div class="row">
      <div class="col-md-8 col-md-offset-2">
        <form class="form-inline">
          <div class="form-group col-md-12">
            <div class="row">
            <div class="col-md-2">
            <label for="exampleInputName2">Place Search</label>
            <input type="text" class="form-control" id="place-input" placeholder="Find a place...">
          <button type="submit" class="btn btn-default" id="add-location">Find</button>

Again, there is some Bootstrap magic in there, but all you really need is a form with an input and a button. Be sure to add the proper id's to the input and the button. These id's can be called whatever you choose; they will be used in our main.js file to grab on to values and listen for user events.


Open the main.js file and add this code:

var placeInput = document.getElementById('place-input');

var autocomplete = new google.maps.places.Autocomplete(placeInput);

autocomplete.bindTo('bounds', map);

We are doing a lot here in just 3 lines. I'll break it down per line:

  1. Grabbing the input field with some vanilla javascript (vanilla just means plain ol' javascript) and storing it in the variable placeInput.
  2. Creating a new instance of the Google AutoComplete object, binding it to our input by passing it in as an argument, and storing that object in the variable autocomplete.
  3. Binding our autocomplete object to the bounds of our map. This will make the auto complete suggestions smarter by taking into account the current map bounds or view.

If you fire up the page in your browser you should be able to type into the input and see a list of suggestions populate! Sweet, right!?!


Finding Places

We have a functioning search field. Now lets hook it up with the map and find some places.

Establish a variable called place in the scope of the document.on('ready') so that we can have access to it inside all of the function within this scope. For more on scope, check this out.

Then add an event listener to autocomplete. The 'place_changed' event is specific to Google Auto-Complete objects, and registers when the item in the suggestions list is selected. The code looks like this:

  var place;

  autocomplete.addListener('place_changed', function() {
    place = autocomplete.getPlace();

Take at look at what is going on inside the event listener function. Google has provided really nice syntax for all of our objects and methods, and you can read its meaning pretty easily. In this code we set the place variable to a Place object that is returned by the Auto-Complete. This is our first taste of a Google 'Place' object. They are packed with information on location, address, business type, Google rating, phone number, real-time information like isOpen (! so cool). Check out all the details a google Place gives you access to here.

Move the Map on Click

Lets move the map to the given place when our user clicks the 'Find' button:

  $(document).on("click",'#add-location', function(e){

      // if place has no geometry, it is not what we expected (or need)
      // so we break out with a return statement
      if (! place.geometry) {

      // if place has a viewport property within gometry property
      // we use that to set our map view
      else if (place.geometry.viewport) {

      // if no viewort property, we use location to set our map view
      // and specify a zoom of 17
      else {

Check out the comments to see what's going on.

Let's look closer at the .viewport property. Some Place objects have a .viewport property within .geometry. This is a predefined view of this location that will shift and zoom the map apropriately for this specific location. For example, if look up the Pacific Ocean then the map is zoomed way out as to see the whole ocean.

Pacific Ocean

If you check out Brussels, Belgium we get a much more zoomed in map.

Brussels, Belgium

Test this out with more locations.

Moving Marker and Info Window

We need to move our Marker and Info Window instantiations (remember, that means instances of a certain object type) to inside this click event so that they are bound to our Place object.

Take this code and place it underneath the if/else statement, but remember to keep it inside the on.("click") event.

 var marker = new google.maps.Marker({
      position: place.geometry.location,
      map: map

    var infowindow = new google.maps.InfoWindow({
      content: "<div><h4>""</h4><p>"+place.formatted_address+"</p></div>"

    marker.addListener('click', function() {, marker);

Wrap Up

And voila! Here is your very own custom Google Map.

These are the bare essntials of getting a map with a search feature on the page, as well as access to the powerful Google Places Library. From here you could add an array (or a database) where your places are stored, create a listing in a side bar to show more details, or maybe personalize the look of your map with styles and custom icons.

You can grab the finished files for Part 3 here.

If you go further with Google Places, be sure to look into the Place.place_id, which is a super handy way of grabbing locations and calling up the location's details. Google has assiged a place_id to millions of locations around the world and have allowed their users to keep them updated with current information.

Thanks for reading!

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