A trip to the USA is a fantastic family holiday. Flights to Los Angeles from most Australian capital cities can be picked up for around $1,000 if you watch out for specials. There are plenty of blogs and readings on things to do in Los Angeles - here are six tips from us.
Los Angeles is home to a number of theme parks and kids love them all. Of course there is the quintessential Disneyland and Universal Studios but another good one to try is the lesser known Knottsberry Farm. With slightly cheaper gate prices there is plenty of fun to be had here with some awesome roller coasters.
Our most recent trip included a visit to Universal Studios for the day. Many die hard enthusiasts will tell you that one day simply is not enough - but we managed to see every section and ride every ride in one day.
A great tip is to purchase your tickets online before arrival. The tickets are not only cheaper than gate prices, but they also allow early park access. We were able to enter the park at 9am for access to Harry Potter World an hour before general gate opening time. It was fantastic - we were straight on the rides and completed the Harry Potter section of the park (including two turns on the roller coaster as there was no-one else waiting) in the first hour. We were then in a great position to go on the Simpsons ride when Krusty Land opened at 10am, again with no waiting time - we were actually first in the gates! Other rides then opened at 11am and again we were first in those lines.
There is an option to purchase fast track passes - for whatever reason we picked a great day to visit as the most we waited in any line was 20 minutes for the studio tour - all the other rides we visited were under a 10 minute wait - if any wait at all. From what I have heard from others though our visit was a complete rarity and front of line passes although expensive can be worth every dollar.
If you are after a great vantage point of LA the Griffith Observatory, perched high in the LA hills, is a great place to visit. There is free parking in the Greek theatre at the bottom of the hill and a shuttle bus can transfer you up to the top. The bus cost just 50c per person each way (kids were free) and run every 15 minutes. You can park at the top of the hill, but it is crazy busy and charged at $4 per hour - and you are likely still to have to walk quite a way. Alternatively, if you have some time and are after some exercise, there are walking trails to follow from the base car park up the hill.
Once up at the Observatory you will have a vast view of downtown LA and the famous Hollywood Sign. The Observatory is free to enter and there are some interesting displays inside that are focused on astronomy and the history of the location. There is also a planetarium with tickets just $7 per person.
Visit a Diner
There are lots of options for diners in Los Angeles. Milkshakes, burgers and fries are abound and there is something quintessential about sitting in a booth enjoying your free refills on your sodas. If you visit a Ruby's Diner, be sure to take advantage of their offer of not only refillable sodas but also refillable fries!
Shop at Citadel Outlets
You are bound to run into fellow Australians at this location. America is a great place for shopping if you are after brand names at heavily reduced prices. The Citadel Outlet is an outdoor mall with brands such as Coach, Gap, Nike, Calvin Klein and everything in between at heavily discounted prices. In the Nike store we picked up sneakers for $22, Shorts for $15 and t-shirts 3 for $25. And while you are shopping be sure to log into the free wifi and check for coupons at retailmenot.com Americans love coupons and this is a great site for finding even further discounts on your discounts!
See a Soccer Match
Americans, like Australians, love their sport. On previous visits we have taken in baseball and basketball games and whilst soccer is not the first sport that comes to mind when visiting Los Angeles, we thought we would give it a try. With a FIFA mad son (check out our review of FIFA Museum in Zurich), it was a treat for him to watch the LA Galaxy in action and see one of his favourite players, Ziatan Ibrahimovic, who even scored in the match!
The stadium was located in Carson, 23kms south of downtown Los Angeles and holds 27,000 people.
Walk of Fame
A trip to Los Angeles is not complete without a visit to the walk of fame. A strip of stars on the sidewalk commemorating some of the finest movie and music celebrities to make it big in Hollywood. The area is not really Los Angeles finest, it is quite dirty, a fair number of homeless with signs looking for money and just a bit of a seedy part of town. We walked the strip and took some photos, visited the Chinese theatre and saw the hand prints and signatures and then left. There are plenty of cheesy souvenir stores and overpriced restaurants but not somewhere we spent a lot of time. It is one of those bucket list places that did not quite live up to expectations for us.
We hired a car and stayed at the Lexon Hotel North Hollywood. The hotel was brand new having only opened in June 2018 and so was fresh and clean. The hotel had a car park, free wifi and included a continental breakfast. Universal Studios was a $10USD Uber trip each way which worked out more economical and convenient than driving and paying for parking.
Read my trip advisor review here.
If you are flying domestically within the US, instead of flying from LAX airport you may want to consider Burbank Airport. We were travelling on to Seattle and flew Alaska Airlines from Burbank Airport LA. This airport is much smaller, less congested and was close to our accommodation in North Hollywood.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
If you are taking the family for a holiday to California, a side trip away from Los Angeles to the beautiful city of San Diego is definitely worth considering. Just a two hour drive (depending on traffic) from Los Angeles, this city has so much to offer for families.
San Diego has made the itinerary on a few of our USA holidays and on our most recent visit in 2018 we included a four night stay. Here are just five of the attractions that drew us back to include San Diego in our family travels.
1. Explore Old Town
Located just 33 kms from Tijuana, Mexico, San Diego’s Old Town has a great Mexican Wild West flavour. This neighbourhood, along with being a good base to find a hotel for your visit, has plenty to offer as far as dining and entertainment go.
In the historic park you can stroll the Victorian Village with restored homes dating back to the early 1800’s, visit the old style saloon and general store, climb aboard a wagon and visit the Sheriff’s Museum.
When you are hungry there are a myriad of restaurants - mostly Mexican cuisine - that will serve up some flavoursome favourites of nachos and guacamole to be washed down with a margarita!
2. Visit Balboa Park
Balboa Park is a central hub of activity for families visiting San Diego, celebrating 150 yeas in 2018 there is 1,200 acres to explore. Apart from housing the famous San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park contains some 16 museums along with acres of parklands, gardens, trails and historical buildings providing something for everyone in one central spot.
The range of museums available alone will keep you busy, they include the Automotive Museum, Air and Space Museum, Natural History Museum and Museum of Art to name a few. Purchase a day pass for access to up to five museums, or a multi-day pass for access to all 16.
If you have nice weather, walk the trails of the Japanese Friendship Garden or one of the many other trails that weave you through both the botanical and other specialty gardens. There is even an Australian garden to explore! And if you don’t want to walk look out for the free Park Tram, the bright green tram will get you where you need to go or even just a great ride to explore the enormity of the park.
3. Spend a Day at SeaWorld San Diego
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, a visit to SeaWorld San Diego is a whole day out. During summer the park opens at 10am and closes at 10pm and trust me when I say there is plenty to do to fill a 12 hour visit.
A sea animal themed park, SeaWorld offers roller coasters for the thrill seekers, aquariums to get up close and personal with sharks as well as fun and fascinating dolphin, orca and sea lion shows for some light entertainment.
A family that loves roller coaster we timed our trip well being able to try out the latest attraction to be added to the park, the Electric Eel. The tallest, fastest roller coaster in San Diego, Master 11 and Miss 8 loved the loops and speed of this ride. It was our first stop of the day and then we capped off our 11 hour visit with the Electric Eel as the finale of the night.
For those less adventurous with younger children this summer has seen the launch of the Sesame Street Parade where colourful floats and characters parade through the streets of the park.
4. Hire an Electric Scooter
We have all seen the craze of dockless bike rental operators such as Ofo littering our city streets around the world, San Diego has a unique twist on this phenomenon with the offering of dockless communally shared electric scooters for hire. Download the Bird or LimeBike app to your smartphone and you can find an electric scooter to unlock for hire from as little as $1.
San Diego is crazy for these scooters and we saw people of all walks of life passing us by with ease as we unknowingly walked the streets of San Diego!
5. Visit the Fleet Science Centre
If you can only choose one museum to visit with the kids in Balboa park, our favourite was the Fleet Science Centre. This interactive museum allows you to get hands on for an experiential learning experience.
We recently visited the Melbourne Science Works which offers a very similar experience of hands on science facts displayed in a way that intrigues both children and adults alike.
The Fleet Science Centre is also home to an Imax theatre providing a unique large screen cinematic experience - we saw the movie Panda which was fantastic.
Have you visited San Diego with the family? There is so much to see and do there, what are your top tips of places to visit and sights to see.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
*Itchy Feet Family were guests of the San Diego Tourism Authority and Sea World San Diego as part of this visit.
Fortress of the Bear is located in the small Alaskan town of Sitka. When I first heard about this place I was sceptical. I did not really want to visit bears in a zoo, however Fortress of the Bear is actually a Sanctuary for orphaned cubs and provides a great opportunity to see bears up close and personal.
It is law in Alaska for an orphaned cub to be euthanised. It is believed it is more humane to kill the orphaned cub as it is unable to fend for itself in the wild without it’s mother. Fortress of the Bears actually rescues the cub bears on death row and gives them a second chance at life.
What is a little sad is that the law in Alaska does not allow for the Bears to be released into the wild once they have been brought into captivity. It is one of the few US states that does not allow it.
The Sanctuary does however run a program in the hope that one day the law will be changed and the bears will be released. They therefore feed them randomly, increase their food intake in the lead up to winter and provide areas for them to hibernate. They are treating the bears in a way that would allow for them to be released should the laws be changed. In the meanwhile they remain for the term of their natural life. In the wild bears live for an average 25 years, at the Sanctuary they may live up to 40.
We spoke to Chris, the operations manager originally from the UK, who had been working at Fortress of the Bears for some five years. He gave us some great insights into the work they are doing here, the expansion plans they have and the lobbying work they do striving to change the laws. If you visit - make sure you say hi to him!
The bears are kept in a large area with fresh water running into a stream. During salmon season they release fresh fish in the stream for the bears to catch their own food. They have water to swim in, mounds to climb and cave areas away from the public for them to retreat to.
Unusually there are both black and brown bears located here. The bears are kept separated and a new area was due to be opened just a few days after our visit for the black bears. The new area provides natural forest for the black bears to roam.
On our visit there was just one viewing platform to view the bears, a new black bear viewing area was due to be opened. The Sanctuary is raw, with just the one area to visit we wondered how we would fill the hour we had here - but it went really quick. It was fascinating being able to see the animals so close up and watching their habits.
Another great feature of this location is that Bald Eagles frequent the area. Scavengers, they swoop on the bear’s meals to feed themselves and then perch back on the trees in the surrounding forestry. We saw at least ten on our visit including junior eagles yet to get their white head feathers.
Entry was $10USD for Adults and $5USD for children, however we were not charged for our eight and 11 year olds only paying $20USD for the family to enter. The venue receive no funding other than that which they make from entry fees, shop sales and donations.
We took a bus from Sitka - $10USD per person round trip. It was about a 15 minute drive from town to the location and we were not charged for the kids.
If you ever wanted to see brown or black bears up close and personal, and not through a glass exhibit at a zoo, Fortress of the Bear is a great option for your visit to Sitka.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
Baseball is as quintessential American as Hershey chocolate and Disneyland. If you are heading stateside during baseball season you would be doing yourself a disservice if you passed up the opportunity to flavour this National Sport.
Itchy Feet Family have been fortunate enough to visit a few Stadiums in the USA, somehow our trips always coincide with the baseball season.
From the infamous Yankee Stadium in New York, Nationals Park in DC, Fenway Park in Boston, Wrigley Field in Chicago, Marlins Park in Miami and Petco Park in San Diego we have always tried to catch a game wherever possible. Even if you can’t catch a game you can normally do a behind the scenes tour of the park which is always interesting as well.
Even if you don’t care much for the sport, the atmosphere and entertainment is just as much a treat. Baseball can be a long game with nine innings to get through, so for those that are not sports fanatics the in-between entertainment comes as welcome relief.
Our most recent US visit in June 2016 found us in downtown Houston, the home of the Houston Astros who just happened to have a Friday night game on whilst we were in town.
Whilst we did not have the best seats in the house - our AUD $120 worth of tickets for a family of four seemed a reasonable investment for a night out in a foreign city. Of course once in the gates the prices of concessions was ridiculous - but you expect that from sporting arenas all over the world. And you just can't experience an American Baseball game without an overpriced hotdog and a box of Cracker Jacks!
The park is located in the CBD so we were able to walk to and from the game from our hotel which was really convenient and allowed us to get amongst the fans on their commute.
Every baseball park has it’s own unique features - here were our Top Three Highlights when the Houston Astros played Oakland Athletics at Minute Maid Park Houston.
1. Getting A Haircut
Yes you read it right, for a minimum donation of $10 you could get a mens hair cut right there at the stadium overlooking the field. The hairdressers were volunteers for a charity, all the money from the cuts going to support a worthy cause - the tip to the hairdresser for her time.
This was a novel experience that our son just could not pass up - he had one of the best seats in the house whilst getting a much needed new hair-do!
2. Watching The STeam Train
Houston’s Stadium was built on the location of a railway station, in remembrance of that era a railway was built as part of the left-side of the field. Every time a Houston player scores a home run, or wins the game, the train moves along the track and gives the crowd a toot!
The train is a really unique and quirky feature of the stadium that adds flavour and entertainment to the visit, even if you are not into baseball.
3. Open Air Game
This stadium has a retractable roof. Once the 9th innings was complete, the roof rolled back to reveal the night sky.
Possibly because it was a Friday night game, the crown were then treated to a tribute concert to Prince who had just recently passed, followed by an awesome fireworks display.
Have you ever attended a baseball game in the US? What was your highlight of the stadium you visited?
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
Other blogs you may be interested in:
- Ya'll Come Back Soon - Our Visit to Dixie Dude Ranch
- Look Out Zimmer Frames, Zip Lines are Coming Through - Adventure Cruising
- Getting Dirty In Vietnam - Visit to the Nha Trang Mud Baths
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Having done a number of trips to North America and ticked off the Aussie must-do's - Disneyland, Florida, California, New York, Chicago, DC, Miami, this trip we decided to do something completely out of the box.
I still can't recall where the idea came from - but the answer was to visit an authentic Cowboy Ranch in the heart of the Cowboy Capital of the World, Banderas Texas.
Neither of the kids, nor Brenton, had ever got on the back of a horse so this was to be the best introduction to horse riding they ever could get with real cowboys on-hand to show them the ropes.
If you are after a luxury getaway, this is not for you. The Ranch is authentic and rustic and comfort and luxury are not their high points. If you are after a holiday where you can disconnect from the digital world and get back to basics, then this is it.
Two horse rides a day, fishing lines to use at the pond, a kitchen bell that is rung to call guests to meals, a bonfire at night with marshmallows to roast and a visit from a local cowboy to strum out some tunes on his guitar - that is a day on the ranch at Dixie Dude Ranch.
The horse-riding was more horse sitting - we simply all falled into line and followed the one in front - but the hillside landscape was so picturesque that the lack of challenge was appreciated. More challenging rides were offered to experienced riders and despite Brenton thinking he might take that on (on day 2!) I convinced him otherwise..... Private lessons were also on offer at just $30, something that Jye relished as he was taught to weave the horse around the barrels in the coral.
What we loved the most about this adventure was the uniqueness of the experience. The Ranch was family run and it was like we were staying at someone's home. Whilst we had our private accommodation by way of an ensuite cabin, guests all ate together in a communal dining area and sat on the main homestead's front porch pre-and post-meals to chat and share stories from the day. The kids played after dinner on the outdoor swings while the parents sipped coffee and rocked on the porch.
This stay was an unplugged experience. Whilst limited wi-fi was available from the main homestead, it was certainly not encouraged and we took the opportunity to switch off and enjoy the experience.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
For more details about Dixie Dude Ranch visit their website.
You can read my Trip Advisor Review for further details.
Penny, an avid Trip Advisor Reviewer, is the author of ITCHY FEET FAMILY. A family of 4 living in Adelaide, Australia, and taking every opportunity to travel and explore the world.