At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'm coming back to reference overlays. I've noticed that there a still a fair number of interactive maps online that permit a bullying thematic layer to stomp all over the poor, defenseless map labels and context information. This is not cool:
So I've hashed out the code for getting past this using five common basemap services:
Feel free to reuse them as you see fit. All but the Google example use Leaflet, but the z-index and canvas manipulation tactics are applicable to other APIs as well. If anyone wants to add adaptations for OpenLayers or whatnot I welcome pull requests. Also worth a note is that - in the leaflet examples - the thematic layer is rendered as vector from topojson, which is arguably the fastest vector format available to us today. Give it a shot as a thematic mapping tool.
Go forth and bring context back to your interactive maps!