Hi myself and a friend are planning a trip to America over the months of December and January. We are from Australia. At the moment our thoughts and plans are very preliminary and sketchy. We plan on taking 6-8 weeks on the holiday. The main areas we want to cover are: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Memphis (only for Graceland), New York (we definitely want to be in NY for Christmas), Orlando and Miami. We are also considering Boston and/or Chicago.
We don’t want to hire a car so it will all be done by plane, possibly Amtrak train also, and our get around in the cities will be by foot and local transport services available in each city.
We have heard that downtown Los Angeles isn’t too great to see – so are thinking that we would like to stay in the Beverly Hills/Hollywood area instead of staying downtown.
We are wondering if any of you have any thoughts or advice about how long to stay in each place? What are the best attractions and must sees at each? Any hotels that you can recommend? Also, what is better – Disneyland or Disney World. (We would only go to Orlando if we decided on Disney World.) Would you suggest Boston or Chicago – or both?
Any advice and thoughts at all would be helpful and greatly appreciated.
Okay, first things first. December and January is the middle of winter in the US. This means that it will be snowy in the midwest and on the east coast, except in Florida. It will be raining in California--but the rain will be worse in January than in December, so you should start your trip in California in early December.
I suggest you start in the north (San Francisco) and work your way down (in order) to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Fly from San Diego to Memphis. From Memphis take a train or fly to Orlando. Rent a car and drive from Orlando down to Miami and back. Then fly from Orlando up to Washington DC. Take a train or a bus from Washington to New York to Boston (I prefer Boston over Chicago since there is more historical stuff to see--and the travel times/places works out better.) Take a plane from Boston back to Los Angeles then on to Australia.
The next post covers what to see in some of these spots.
I've posted a lot on what to see in the SF area--so check check out some of my previous posts. Same for Las Vegas.
In Los Angeles, stay on the west side of town (Santa Monica/Westwood). Go to studios in the Hollywood area, the Getty Museum, Venice Beach, or Beverly Hills area.
In San Diego, go to the Gaslamp area or area around Mission Bay/La Jolla/Del Mar.
In Memphis, Graceland is on the south side of town. There is an area in the middle of town where they have great BBQ and blues music (look for the B.B.King's Blues Club in a phone book to find the location--also in this area is the Sun Record recording studio--which was Elvis Presley's first recording company).
In Orlando, go to the Disney World resorts (Disney World is tons better than Disneyland. The reason is Disney world is 4 amusement parks versus the two amusement parks at Disneyland in southern California). Also, there are 3 amusement parks, a place called Paradise Island, lots of golf courses, and many other things to do here. You could spend a week in Orlando and not see everything here (which includes Sea World like the one in San Diego, and Universal Studios like the one in Los Angeles).
In Miami, there is South Beach (art deco area with good beaches--and nice weather even in January). Near here is the Everglades National Park.
The next post will pick up with Washington, DC.
In my last post, I meant to say there are 4 amusement parks in Orlando, plus 3 water parks, plus Paradise Island...etc.
In Washington DC go see the Aviation and Space Museum. They claim this is the single most visited building in the entire world (probably true).
There are lots of great other places to visit--the US Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, the White House (they even give tours!--if you book ahead). Washington also has a great place to see shows (Kennedy Center), has a wonderful seafood market down by the river and there are things to see on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, too.
In New York there is...Times Square, Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Jewelry Mart, Guggenheim Museum, Central Park, Broadway, Fashion District, Greenwich Square, Wall Street, 9/11 area (former World Trade Center buildings--referred to as Ground Zero--and now a bit of a tourist attraction). There's also different things on the New Jersey side and in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.
In Boston, go to Faneuil Hall and the shopping/dining area close by, go to the bar called "Cheers", see North Church, the Boston Commons, and the college area of Cambridge. Also, Lexington, MA close by is where our Revolutionary War started. And, Salem, close by, is where they had the famous "Salem Witch Trials".
Calcruzer pretty much covered it. I have to say i loved Chicago, its a great city, theres a free public zoo right in the downtown area, Navy Wharf, tons of museums etc.
Downtown LA is nothing special, i stayed mostly in Hollywood area and visited Venice Beach. Really nice.
Los Angeles downtown area is....uhmmm... a dump doesn't matter which month of the year. The suburbs can be interesting. The weather in Southern California during the winter months is simply great, especially for Canadians like myself. Not sure about Beverly Hills/Hollywood. It could make you sick watching the exuberant lifestyle of the rich while a group of homeless is trying to stay warm only a few blocks away.
Chicago during Dec-Jan is windy and cold but vibrant. Expect a huge rip-off sale tax in Chicago downtown (the Loop). There are plenty of things to do and see in Chicago, even during the freezing months. World-class museums, cultural events, live crime scenes, and tons of food selections can keep you excited for awhile. Driving in Boston can be hazardous to your mental and physical health.
Amtrak is a disgrace in some regions of the country. If you have time constraints, forget about Amtrak. Though, trains connecting LA to San Diego is fairly decent. It costs around $30 each way. Flying has its benefits but the TSA can make your use of US airports a real pain in the rear. For Aussies, driving in the US can be awkward at first. But you can get a hang of it rather quickly. Watch out for crazy, un-licensed, under-educated, over-dosed, and un-insured drivers in some parts of LA.
If you decide to see LA or/and its suburbs, renting a car seems to be a reasonable choice since the area is vast and public transportation is crap. Though the Metro can get you to some key places. Avoid picking up rental cars at the airport. They have outrageous fees and taxes slapped on top of every thing else on your bill. If you have a GPS-based map, it may become handy in America. Remember Greater LA area itself is huge (~1,200 km). Out of 10 million people living in LA county, you may find it difficult to find one that can help you with directions in English. You certaintly would not want to get lost in some parts of LA, especially South Central and East LA.
Hope you'll have fun no matter what.