- Wedding: May 2015 - St Peter\'s Church, East Maitland, and Bella Vista, Newcastle
Another Aussie here! We spent three weeks in the States in September/early October and managed to fit in LA, five nights in Alaska (we wanted to see the Northern Lights), three nights in Vegas and then a road trip through Death Valley, Yosemite, three nights in San Francisco and then down the coast road back to LA. It didn’t feel too rushed, so with four weeks you can probably fit New York in as well. We found LA’s public transport system to be pretty good although it’s impossible to get to Disneyland on it – we took a tour and it was much easier. Universal is really easy by public transport though! San Francisco public transport was excellent and you don’t really need it in Vegas, although we rode buses which were very good. Weather-wise it was a good time – LA was warm but Vegas wasn’t unbearable and the rest was pretty pleasant on the whole. We had one day of rain in Alaska and a foggy morning in San Fran, otherwise it was sunny and warm the whole time! I would definitely recommend:
– the Griffith Observatory in LA – great views of the city, the planetarium show was fantastic and there’s a weekend shuttle bus.
– the drive down Highway 1 between San Fran and LA is FANTASTIC. We took three days/two nights over it, stopping in Monterey – the aquarium is totally worth visiting – and San Luis Obispo as well as other towns along the way. Beautiful drive with spectacular scenery, just watch out for the RVs!
– Loved San Fran. The Alcatraz tour is worth doing, just make sure you book early. Rent bikes and ride through Golden Gate Park and over the bridge (although there are lots of hills!) as it’s a fantastic way to see the city. Fisherman’s Wharf is a really vibrant fun area to spend time in, and make sure you ride a cable car (worth the queues). We also really liked the cable car museum but my Fiance is an engineer and I’m the daughter of an engineer so it may not be for everyone!
– Death Valley and Yosemite were both amazing in completely different ways. Yosemite has three groves of the giant redwoods which are well worth seeing and we spent a lot of time just walking through different areas of the park. Death Valley is probably the most inhospitable environment I have ever been in but so fascinating and beautiful! There’s a small detour on the road between the two, around June Lake, which is worth spending the time on – I would have liked to spend more time in this area but we just didn’t have time.
– Vegas. The craziest place I’ve ever been I think. We stayed at the Luxor which was great fun but really, any of the themed hotels will be fun! We did a Grand Canyon helicopter tour which was relatively expensive but worth it as we landed in the canyon and also didn’t spend half a day on a bus – it was an early start but we were back at the hotel by lunchtime which also meant we weren’t in the canyon in the heat of the day. Any of the Cirque du Soleil shows are worth seeing – we saw Zarkana. Also worth checking out is the Fremont St Experience – it’s a massive LED light canopy which has displays running after dark every night – very cool. The Peppermill restaurant up the north end of the Strip, near the Riviera casino, is absolutely totally worth a visit – the brownie sundae was bigger than my head, no joke. Awesome food at great prices.
– Theme parks. We had a day each at Disneyland, Universal and Knott’s Berry Farm. Disney was busy but not insane (we were there on a Monday) and all decked out for Halloween which was very cool. The Fastpass system is pretty easy to figure out, free and well worth using. We didn’t get to California Adventure Park. Universal we didn’t bother buying the more expensive front of line pass and we didn’t regret it – we really didn’t spend much time in queues at all as it was a non school holiday weekday. Knott’s was fantastic – SO quiet (they were running Knott’s Scary Farm in the evenings so the daytime crowd was pretty thin) so we were able to ride the coasters multiple times in succession without queuing at all. The atmosphere there was lovely and we had a really great day there – plus the Xcelerator coaster is the most amazing ride I have ever been on in my life!
– General stuff: we got a Citibank account as it gave us free international transactions at Citibank ATMs – which we discovered after we got to the States are handily in 7-eleven stores all over the place! So currency was really easy. In terms of accommodation we booked it through to Vegas before leaving but beyond Vegas (once we had the car) we winged it and booked either the night before or on the day and never had any trouble. We found the Travelodge chain to be pretty good on the whole and most of that type of accommodation provide breakfast as part of the room rate. We used the booking.com and hotels.com apps to book and had zero problems at all – it’s never difficult to find free Wi-Fi so booking on the fly was easy. We self-catered lunch once we had the car, most hotel rooms have a small fridge so it was not difficult – supermarkets weren’t hard to find either. Oh and alcohol is insanely cheap – we bought a 2L bottle of Bacardi for $20 at Walmart! We tried to stay away from chain restaurants and eat at the local places (but go to IHOP!) and had some really awesome food. We found a burger bar in a small town called Mariposa where I had about the best burger I’ve ever eaten, and a great Mexican place in Bishop, between Death Valley and Yosemite.
OK, I’ve waffled on plenty long enough – hope some of that is helpful!