Glitzy, shiny, sunny Los Angeles is a city of preconceptions, but forget what you think you know; there is literally something for everyone in this city of juxtapositions. Los Angeles is a mash-up of cultural and physical diversity with an eclectic history, corporate skyscrapers, artsy villages, and stunning beaches. Wander down Rodeo Drive for big-name designers or spot celebrities while dining at Chateau Marmont. Los Angeles is as unique as the people who arrive here.
For further inspiration read our blog to discover the delights of Hawaii and Los Angeles.
Tinseltown, Hollywood, call it what you will. This is the centre of the movie industry, where ideas are formed and stars are made. While Hollywood doesn't have the glitz and glamour of places like Beverly Hills, the area is filled with interesting restaurants, clubs, and shops. It's also home to famous landmarks such as the Hollywood Sign, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Walk of Fame. In West Hollywood, the world-famous Sunset Strip is the place to be seen at a sleek nightclub, eat at a fancy restaurant, or sip champagne at the latest gallery opening.
Made famous in movies and TV shows like Pretty Woman and 90210, Beverly Hills, shows the cinematic scale of wealth and success in Los Angeles. The palm-fringed walkways are lined with designer names, expensive boutiques, luxury spas, and famous restaurants.
The historic centre of Los Angeles is Olvera Street, a quaint area packed with Mexican culture. The street forms part of the El Pueblo Historical Monument, which marks the old pueblo settlement that became Los Angeles. Stop at stalls selling Mexican crafts, eat at mouth-watering Mexican restaurants, or buy a caramel-filled churro. Venture out from El Pueblo de Los Angeles to wander the ethnic enclaves of Chinatown and Little Tokyo. Downtown is also home to the Nokia Theater, the Staples Center, the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Los Angeles' beaches are celebrities themselves, having starred in Baywatch, The OC, and Jerry Maguire just for starters. Each stretch of sand has its own unique identity, from uber-rich to more laid-back. Head to Venice Beach for the art galleries and boardwalk, check out the beautiful people (and rolling film cameras) at Manhattan Beach, surf the waves in upscale Malibu, or ride the Ferris wheel on the pier at Santa Monica Beach.
Made famous by the movie of the same name, this road is worth a drive just for the views. You will pass the walled and gated mansions of numerous celebrities as you head up into the hills. From the ridgeline you can see down into the valley where Los Angeles and the coast spread below you.
Los Angeles has enough theme parks to keep every thrill-seeker happy. At the world-famous Universal Studios Hollywood® you can get a behind-the-scenes look at the movies, as well as enjoy all the rides, tours, attractions, and restaurants you can handle. Disneyland is located in nearby Anaheim, with rides, themed worlds, a parade and fireworks. If you like roller coasters, head to Magic Mountain for some extreme thrills, or to Knott's Berry Farm for a mix of scary and slower rides with animated characters.
All travellers visiting the USA must now ensure they have obtained approval under the Visa Waiver Program before they travel. The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) is an online process run by the United States government to determine the preliminary eligibility of visitors to travel under the Visa Waiver Program, prior to their arrival to the USA.
You must visit www.cbp.gov/esta and provide basic information about yourself in order to receive authorisation, which usually takes a matter of minutes, though it is advisable to complete your application as soon as you start planning your trip, or at least three days in advance, to avoid any delays. If you don't hold a valid ESTA by the time you travel you may encounter difficulties in entering the USA. Your ESTA approval will be valid for up to two years and for multiple visits to the USA. You can be refused a Visa Waiver or entry to the USA if you have a criminal record or if you have ever made a false statement on a previous visa application.
There are no restrictions on the US Dollar, so you can exchange your UK Pounds before leaving the UK. There are typically currency exchange booths in the larger airports in the USA, but you will not find any if you are flying to or from small, rural airports.
Your best option for exchanging money is to buy US Dollars in advance, where you will generally get a better exchange rate. Once you leave the airport, it may be difficult to find places that exchange money. Alternatively, withdraw cash from cash machines, which are available at most banks. You will be able to use your credit card pretty much everywhere while on holiday in the USA.
Please note that some hotels may charge a resort fee, payable locally, please contact our destination specialists for details.
The nuances of tipping while on holiday in the USA are vastly different from in the UK. While tipping is not legally required, service jobs tend to pay poorly, therefore tips supplement these wages. In general, tips are 15 percent of the bill, while 20 percent is considered a good tip. Leaving a 10 percent tip is a sign that you were not happy with the service.
Tip bartenders one to two US Dollars per drink and tip servers 15 to 20 percent of the bill. Service is usually included in the bill for groups of six or more, so check before including any more. Taxi drivers should get about 10 to 15 percent of the fare.
No special vaccines required.
The United States of America is an astonishingly diverse country, with different weather patterns from east to west and north to south. Most of the USA is marked by contrasting seasons which generally follows the same pattern as the UK. However, the temperatures and climate depends entirely on the region. Because of these wide differences, what you pack for a holiday in the USA depends on where you are going and what season in.
Cotton T-shirts and shorts that will keep you cool in the summer;
Umbrella in the rainy season
particularly in the Pacific Northwest (Washington
Jeans or trousers and jumpers in the winter;
Converter and adapter (the power supply in the USA is 120 volts at 60 hertz);
Sandals in the summer;
Light or heavy jacket
depending on which season you are travelling in;
California has an abundance of deliciously fresh food and wine to experience and savour. Farm-to-fork dining is an ever growing initiative in the state, and it’s easy to see why when you’re surrounded by rolling hills and perfect climate. Chefs are choosing to source their ingredients from local suppliers so their food is fresher, tastier, free from chemicals and helps to reduce their carbon footprint caused by flying food in from all over the world.
Being a coastal state, California has plenty of mouth-watering seafood on offer. Clam Chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl is a must-taste while in San Francisco. Take a leisurely stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf with a steaming bowl to keep you warm, or visit Boudin Bakery, the original creator of sourdough bread for a traditional and authentic taste. Freshly caught Dungeness crab is another favourite and can be found in many restaurants around the city.
If you’d like to get more involved in the meal prep, book into a culinary class where you can watch the talented chef prepare your meal while enjoying great food and wine. Cooking with Class in La Quinta, Greater Palm Springs combines friendly and welcoming chefs with a vibrant cooking experience.
Live like the locals while in glamorous Beverly Hills. Spend a lavish and lazy weekend morning at The Rooftop Grill where you can enjoy breathtaking views of Hollywood along with whatever takes your fancy including every type of egg possible, French toast, waffles, lobster and prawn rolls among others, all washed down with bottomless mimosas, bellinis and bloody marys. Why wouldn’t you?
Southern California is just across the border from Mexico, and you can feel a strong influence from its neighbour. Taco shops, the fast-food of Mexico, have popped up across the state, especially in boarder communities such as San Diego. Enjoy Mexican favourites including burritos, refried beans, nachos and quesadillas, all often served with soured cream, salsa and guacamole.
Found across the sunny state, In-n-Out Burger takes fast food burgers back to basics. The biggest decision you have to make is do you want one or two patties in your burger and would you like fries with that? Or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, check out their not-so-secret- menu for some other favourites, like Animal Style.
Wherever you are in California, you’re never far from one of the many wine countries sprinkled throughout the state, and no trip would be complete without a visit to at least one. The different climates and effects from the Pacific Ocean help grow different grapes, all creating different and delicious wines. Stop off in a vineyard for a tasting experience with one of their knowledgeable sommeliers surrounded by vines and barrels, or visit their tasting rooms for a more traditional atmosphere.
If you’re in San Francisco, Sonoma and Napa Valley are only an hour away and offer conventional tasting rooms as well as some unusual trips like the Napa Valley Wine Train where you can enjoy a delicious wine and food pairing meal. Or if you’re further south on the coast, Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone offers rows of tasting rooms so you can visit one then skip on to the next.
If wine isn’t your thing, there are many micro-breweries and micro-distilleries all crafting a mouth-watering range of beers, ales and spirits.
In such a relaxed State, sometimes a scenic park bench or sitting on the beach watching the sunset is a more suitable dining option.
Fast paced lives have led to the explosion of Food Trucks you’ll find dotted around the cities. These convenient meal options are definitely worth a try. Gone are the days of greasy burger vans, you can find anything from fresh seafood to curry and everything in between.
Take an early morning trip to one of the many farmers markets and you may see professional chefs selecting fresh fish and vegetables for their daily menus. Some restaurants even lead guided tours of the markets so you can accompany the chef and learn about the delicious ingredients they are choosing. One of the biggest is in Santa Monica, held every Sunday in Main Street.
If you’re in Newport Beach, you must visit Balboa Island to try a frozen banana. This healthy snack is dipped in melted chocolate and covered in whatever topping you like including rainbow sprinkles, crushed nuts, Oreo pieces and chocolate sprinkles. Or you can try a mixture of them all!
Prices in the USA vary widely, from rural to city, coast to coast. A takeaway meal in the larger cities may cost six to 10 US Dollars, while in the rural areas you will probably only pay three to five US Dollars. A sandwich costs about five to seven US Dollars, but can go up or down depending on where you get it. A one-litre bottle of water costs about 75 cents in the rural areas, while it may cost one to two US Dollars in the cities. A bottle of wine from a supermarket can cost as little as three US Dollars or go up to 15 US Dollars for a low-end bottle in the cities.
California Casual is a recognised dress code in California, and this style extends further than fashion. Californians opt for a relaxed lifestyle which can be seen through the abundance of spas and yoga retreats throughout the state. Join a free morning yoga class on Long Beach to stretch out your muscles and relax your mind before a day of seeing the sites of Los Angeles.
Surfing & Paddle Boarding
If you’re anywhere near a beach, you’re certain to see some surfer dudes heading towards the waves with their boards. Chill out on the beach and watch their skills or have a go if you fancy. Huntington Beach hosts the annual U.S. Open of Surfing where the pros catch some impressive waves and the annual Surf City Surf Dog competition where their furry friends show their skills. For a more relaxed water experience, take a Stand Up Paddleboard lesson and glide through the water with a paddle for balance.
Californian’s love to get out and about in the fresh air. Everywhere you go you’ll see people whizzing about on roller-skates, bicycles or out for a jog with the baby in the pram and dog by their side. Segways are a growing trend and a great way to get about; joining a guided tour in Newport Beach is great fun and an enjoyable way to see the sights.
The wildlife in the USA is rich and varied, with a vast array of wild animal species spanning chattering forests, sweeping coasts, and stunning mountain peaks. Many animals are situated around the USA’s 58 national parks, but there are many more living outside of these parks. See brown bears in the rivers of Alaska, elephant seals along the coast of California, bison on the plains of Montana, and alligators and crocodiles in the swamps of Florida. The national bird is the bald eagle, which soars above densely packed forests, while America’s biggest cat species, the mountain lion, prowls out west in the expansive state of Texas.
Rocky Mountain National Park
The rugged peaks of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park are home to numerous wild animals that the USA is known for, including bighorn sheep, bobcats, mountain lions, and black bears. Drive Trail Ridge Road to see wildlife like squirrels, deer, and elk, as well as birds like Clark’s nutcrackers, mountain bluebirds, and golden eagles, or head for Coyote Valley Trail, a mile-long loop that circles the Colorado River in Kawuneeche Valley, to see elk, moose, and coyotes.
Black bears are the largest protected animal in the eastern United States. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddling Tennessee and North Carolina, is their home. Small(ish) and fuzzy, they are a bit more tolerant of humans than their grizzly cousins. Out west you can watch brown bears snatch salmon from waterfalls at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. The grizzly bear, a subspecies of brown bear, generally lives in the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) and the Rocky Mountains.
Mountain Lion Viewing
Called the cougar, panther, or puma depending on location, the magnificent mountain lion differs from its African cousins in that it has no mane and no loud roar. Mountain Lions roam free in Big Bend National Park, Texas, as well as the Chihuahuan Desert and the Chisos Mountains, where they have been known to follow hiking trails at dawn and dusk.
Everglades Alligators and Crocodiles
You can find alligators and crocodiles living side-by-side in the Everglades National Park, Florida. Incidentally, these subtropic wetlands are the only place in the world that this happens. To tell the difference, check its snout. If it has a broad one, it is an alligator; if it has a narrow one with an exposed fourth tooth, it is a crocodile. You will see alligators sunning themselves along the Anhinga Trail in the Royal Palm area along the Shark Valley loop. Crocodiles chill in the saltwater of the Flamingo area, at the southern tip of the park near Florida Bay.