Something that helps me to create a strong sense of place in my novels is to use details from places I've been. That way, I can imagine the setting in my head as my characters interact with it -- how the hallway looks, what the restaurant smells like, where the best climbing trees are in the playground.
The downside of doing this is that sometimes, I don't include enough detail. I'm seeing it through my eyes, not a stranger's eyes. I may leave out a key detail because I've seen it so many times before. It almost makes me think I should choose an unfamiliar setting I could visit. Then I'd actually take the time to absorb all the sensory details I need to really bring it alive. Do you use real-life settings in your novels? How do you avoid the problem of being too familiar with them?
If you don't know it, a great resource for getting the right descriptive details is the Setting Thesaurus over at The Bookshelf Muse.