10/09/2016

USA Travel Diary: West Coast


Here we are for the second part of my US travel diaries. The last stop of part one was Washington, from where we flew to Los Angeles to continue our bus trip with another tour group and guide. Los Angeles has probably been the stop I have most been looking forward to, so let's see if the city disappointed me or not...

Los Angeles & Palm Springs

We stayed at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel which has a free shuttle from and to the airport. The hotel lobby was pretty impressive and I also liked our room. Unfortunately the hotel was way too far away from the city centre, so that taking a taxi would have become too expensive. The public transport situation in Los Angeles isn't ideal, either. While there are quite a lot of buses, they take ages to get you from one point to the other. Furthermore you have to pay when entering the bus and you get no receipt so when you change the bus you have to pay again, no matter how far you ride. That's why I made my first Uber experience in Los Angeles, which was pretty positive. Uber is really the best way to move along LA if you don't have your own car and don't want to spend hours on a bus.
Apart from some attractions we did with our tour guide (mostly around Hollywood Boulevard), we went to explore Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier on our own. That was really the part of LA I had most been looking forward to and I was not disappointed. Santa Monica Pier is just so colourful and entertaining and I am sad we didn't see it at night. Venice Beach is really pretty thanks to the light blue huts that you'll find every few meters. If you come in the morning the beach is quite empty so you'll have a relaxing time. Unfortunately the water is obviously way colder than on some European beaches.
The further you go towards Muscle Beach, the more weird people you will see. Either stoned 'musicians' forcing you to pay for their bad performance or even men trying to put you a living snake around your shoulders. However there are also many young people riding bikes or practising in the famous skate park. Along the street there are many artists selling their extremely creative local artworks. What I liked most about Venice Beach though, were the buildings and the colourful wall art.
After about 48 hours in Los Angeles we continued our journey towards Palm Springs. There we stayed at the Double Tree by Hilton. Even though the hotel was nice, I was extremely disappointed that we didn't stay at the world famous blogger's paradise 'The Saguaro', which you certainly know from various Instagram pictures.
During the day Palm Springs is way too hot in summer, which is why the streets were quite empty when we arrived. However there are quite a few small shops worth discovering. In the evening however, Palm Springs turns into the party location it is known for. One bar follows the next and people have dinner til late at night on one of the many terraces. 

Food: My favourite restaurant in Santa Monica was Danny's (close to the Venice sign on Venice Beach), where we had delicious burgers. However if hunger already strikes you on Santa Monica Pier you should go to Bubba Gump, which I will talk about further down in the part about Las Vegas. For real Mexican food I recommend the Calle Olvera (Olvera Street) which is a lovely Mexican Street Market that is also great for shopping! 
In Palm Springs we had dinner at Kaiser Grille, which is the perfect place to overview the nightlife hustle and bustle. 
Shopping: From all our trip Los Angeles was definitely my favourite place to go shopping. On our first day we went to Melrose Avenue where you'll find a lot of alternative stores, as well as second hand shops and American high street brands. The place reminded me of Camden in London, but the clothes were definitely more elegant. Most stores sold a mixture of Coachella, 90s, and Kim Kardashian styles, all following the latest trends. As Melrose Avenue is really long you should inform yourself about the stores beforehand as you might not have time to see all of them. 
On our second day in Los Angeles we went to the Westfield mall, which can be fond in some other American cities on West Coast, too. There I bought something at Bath & Body Works, a really popular beauty store similar to The Body Shop. The mall also had a Target, the store where I bought all my amazing pieces from the WhoWhatWear collection
Verdict: Los Angeles really didn't disappoint me, I just wish I would have had more time to explore all the things I've been seeing on Instagram. From all cities from our trip, Los Angeles is the one I want to go back most definitely. 
As for Palm Springs I had hoped that it would be yet another highlight of my journey, but unfortunately I found it a bit boring. Apparently it's really popular among golfers so that explains a lot. However the architecture of the city (all in 50s styles) is gorgeous and I really wanna go back just for a night at The Saguaro. 



















Route 66, Canyons & National Parks

Our time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas was dedicated to the various canyons and national parks of the area. We went to the Joshua Tree National Park, Grand Canyon, Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park and the Valley of Fire State Park. I must say that Grand Canyon was pretty disappointing and the most boring place of all named above. Apparently tourists usually go there because it's on the way from San Fransisco to Los Angeles, but there are way prettier canyons. My favourite was the Bryce Canyon with the red and beige pointed cliffs. It is great for hiking and you can quickly go all the way down to the valley. The Joshua Tree National Park was pretty nice, too and you can even make your own BBQ in the park. The Valley of Fire is great for photos, but probably not worth a long trip. The Zion National Park offers some great views when crossed by car, but in the end it's all just rocks, too.
My highlight of all these in between stops however, was the main street of Williams, which belongs to the famous Route 66. There you'll find many souvenir shops and old cars. One of the souvenir shops has an old barber shop inside. The shop assistant told us that the maker of the movie 'Cars' came to this barber shop to learn more about Williams, which was then the role model for the city Radiator Springs of the 'Cars' movie. That's why you'll find many vintage vehicles there that correspond to 'Cars' characters. 

Food: We stayed and dined at many places that you will probably never come across when you're on a road trip on your own. However I would like to mention the Rocking V Cafe in Kanab, Utah. It has a nice authentic interior with paintings hanging on the walls. The service is great and so is the food. We shared a Key Lime Pie and a Pumpkin Cheesecake as dessert and they were two of the best cakes I ate in my entire life. No wonder the place is so popular and full even on a Monday evening! 
Our last stay before Las Vegas was St. George where we went to Mongolian BBQ. The place has a really spare and almost tacky interior, but the food is great and the staff is beyond entertaining. You get to choose from a buffet and after you put all ingredients that you want in a bowl, your dish gets seasoned and prepared for you on a hot plate. 
Verdict: Unless you like hiking or are a nature lover, you really don't need to see that many rocks in your life. If I were to go to these areas again, I would choose one park or one canyon and explore it while hiking and having an open air lunch stop there. 










Las Vegas

We spent our last day in Las Vegas, which isn't the worst place to say goodbye to America. Especially as the New York-New York Hotel offered a better view at their 'Statue of Liberty' than we had gotten on the real one in New York. Honestly the hotels in Las Vegas are just crazy and I was really impressed by the effort people put into recreating whole districts. My favourite has got to be The Venetian, that created a way cleaner version of Venice.
Another nice experience was the Fremont Street, i.e. the area where it all started off with the casinos in Vegas. It's yet another place in America where you will see the craziest people doing the most ridiculous performances.
Getting around in Las Vegas is pretty easy as the city offers a cheap hop-on hop-off bus that doesn't only take you to the various hotels, but also the Las Vegas sign, some outlets, and the Fremont Street that lies a bit out of the city centre. Taking a taxi however will become really expensive as you pay per time and not per distance. Regarding the Las Vegas sign, be prepared for a line of people that are waiting to get a photo in front of the rather small landmark of the city.

Food: Finding food in Las Vegas really isn't hard and most hotels also offer a food hall with various counters offering everything from pizza to Chinese food. We made use of this offer for lunch, but wanted to sit down in a real restaurant to celebrate our last night. That's how we ended at Bubba Gump, the place we had already seen in Los Angeles on Santa Monica Pier. It had been recommended to us so we decided to give it a try. The interior is entirely inspired by the movie Forest Gump, and thus a great place for fans of Tom Hanks. The restaurant is specialized in shrimps which you can get in all variations. I decided to play it safe with some scampi pasta and seriously guys, that was the best seafood pasta I ate in my entire life! The same goes for my new favourite cocktail, the Coronarita, which is a signature cocktail of the restaurant. It's a margarita with Corona beer. Delicious!
Verdict: Las Vegas is a city for one night and probably not as astonishing as the movie 'Hangover' tries to make us believe. If you're not into party or gambling you will probably get easily annoyed by the city (the same goes for when you're under 21). 








All in all this America trip was a great experience and a nice way to discover the US and its culture. However most cities we saw required more time to be explored, so for another holiday in America I would concentrate on one coast and a few places to see. I am most likely to go back to Los Angeles, as it was the most relaxed city with the best climate. If you're planning a trip to any place in the US, you should maybe know the following:
  • Breakfast is hardly ever included in the hotel room price.
  • You can get free tap water in every restaurant.
  • Toilets are always free.
  • Taxes are only being added to products and services when you pay.
  • For inland flights you have to pay for your luggage at the check-in.
  • No alcohol under 21, they take it seriously.
  • End of August seems a good time to travel to the US as I didn't find it too full of other tourists. However it's still damn hot around that time.
  • In some cities you pay the taxi per time and in some you pay it per distance you drove.


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