My USA Trip Planning

by April@MyFoodTrail on May 23, 2010

in Travel, USA

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know I recently went on holiday to America for just over 2 weeks, visiting New York City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. I’ve had some questions about my trip so I thought I would share some of the things I did to plan my trip, as well as a summary as to what I did, saw and ate. This post is a bit late, but better late than never!

Trip Planning

  • Read Lonely Planet Guides for the cities I was visiting. I didn’t think it was worth buying them so I borrowed them from my local library. Started a notebook, broken down by city, with things I wanted to see and do and places to eat, as well as any handy hints I came across.
  • Read online forums and other online guides for ideas.
  • Asked people. You’ll be surprised how many people have been to America, especially when our dollar was strong. Asked them what were the highlights and what they wouldn’t do again.
  • Check an aggregated hotel booking website like Expedia and use a website like Trip Advisor to check guest reviews, then check the hotel’s website to see if they offer a cheaper rate than Expedia.

Places I stayed

  • Los Angeles Airport Hotel – Hilton. Reasonable sized room and clean. Hilton has a free shuttle to and from LAX every 20 minutes, 24 hours. It only takes about 10 minutes to get to the hotel. All I wanted was a place to crash for the night before my early morning flight so I used Hotwire and booked a 3.5 star hotel. On Hotwire, you choose your level of “starred” hotel but you only find out the name of the hotel after payment, and in return you get a really good rate for not knowing the name of the hotel in advance.
  • New York City (Manhattan) – Millennium Broadway. Fantastic location and a large, clean room. The décor was dark so it felt a bit dated. Right near Times Square without being too close. I really enjoyed being able to go back to the hotel in the afternoon before heading out for dinner. Got a great rate directly through the hotel website but had to pay in advance.
  • Las Vegas – MGM Grand. Followed MGM Grand on Twitter and got access to one of their 24 hours specials and booked a bungalow suite for a steal. Huge room but again felt quite dark. Bed was comfortable and room was clean. Located at the bottom of the Las Vegas strip, but close to the airport.
  • Los Angeles – Sofitel. Again used Hotwire to book a 4.5 star hotel in West Hollywood and got this hotel. Doesn’t look like much from the outside, but nice rooms and comfortable bed. Beautiful, modern bathroom. Excellent location right opposite the Beverly Centre (big shopping centre with Macys and Bloomingdales) and down the road from the Farmers Market and the Grove shopping centre. Parking costs $29 a day though.

Airlines I flew

  • V Australia – Melbourne to Los Angeles, return. Modern, funky planes. Large TV screens, reasonable leg room and recline. It’s a full service airline, except you only get one free alcoholic drink and have to pay for subsequent ones.
  • Delta Air – Los Angeles to New York, return. Highlight was onboard wi-fi for $10 but make sure your battery can last the 5-6 hour journey. Free non-alcoholic drinks and snacks (pretzels, peanuts or cookie). Standard sized screen. We were upgraded to Economy plus seats which had extra leg room so can’t comment on normal economy seats.
  • United – Los Angeles to Las Vegas return. No video screens but was a short flight (around an hour). We were again upgraded to Economy plus seats which had extra leg room so can’t comment on normal economy seats.

Places I visited & things I did – New York City
I purchased the New York pass for 2 days which allowed entry into 55 attractions as part of your purchase price. Check it out to see whether it would work out worth it for you and the sights you want to see.

  • Empire State Building Observation Deck – Amazing views. I had read about long queues but we went around 10.30am on a Wednesday morning and didn’t wait at all.

USA Trip - Empire State Building
The Empire State Building at dusk as seen from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck

  • Top of the Rock (Rockfeller Center observation deck) – Also had amazing views. I preferred this to the Empire State Building because you could actually see the Empire State Building! Went at sunset and it was pretty crowded at the top but no queues to get in.
  • Madame Tussauds – Haven’t been before so since it was included in the NY pass, we went. Some of the wax statues were so much like the celebrity, others you could see the resemblance, but it didn’t really look like them.

USA Trip - Diana at Madame Tussauds
The late Lady Diana wax figure at Madame Tussauds

  • Statue of Liberty cruise to Liberty Island and Ellis Island – Make sure you book in advance online and select monument access, which gives you entry into the actual statue. It doesn’t cost anymore than the ferry but you have to specifically select it or you won’t be allowed in. Tickets sell out quickly. Put aside at least half a day for the trip.

USA Trip - Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty

  • 3 hour Circle Line cruise around the island of Manhattan – 3 hours was a bit too long and the cold wind made it a freezing journey, but it was interesting to see how the Manhattan skyline changed as we went around the island.

USA Trip - Lower Manhattan Skyline
The Lower Manhattan skyline as seen from the Circle Line Cruise

  • NBC Studio Tour – Was interesting to see the different studios where NBC TV shows are filmed but I had no idea who some of the news anchors were. We got to see the Jimmy Kimmel and Saturday Night Live sets.
  • Madison Square Garden Tour – The stadium is massive and the tour took us to the corporate boxes and inside the main arena. We also got to see the home teams change rooms (New York Knicks, New York Rangers and New York Liberty) and meet a New York Knicks cheerleader.
  • Radio City Music Hall Tour – Was interesting to learn the history of the place and we got to see the magnificent hall all lit up, which apparently is a treat because the lights are not always on. We also saw the preparation for the 2010 NFL draft.

USA Trip - Radio City Music Hall
Inside Radio City Music Hall

  • A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour – My favourite tour of the trip. Our guide was a half Jewish, half Italian Brooklynite (think the Nanny without the voice!) and I absolutely loved listening to her accent! Got to try two pizza places as well as get a glimpse of Brooklyn most tourists wouldn’t get to see. Also had a walk along the Coney Island boardwalk.
  • Check out Times Square – It is a pretty amazing signboard city!

USA Trip - Times Square
The signboards of Times Square

  • Watch a Broadway show – It was a hard choice with so many great shows on, but we decided on Avenue Q because we missed the season in Australia. We loved the show! We booked discounted tickets through Broadway Box.
  • Catch the subway – a 7 day unlimited ride Metrocard is only $27 so well worth it.
  • Walk and explore – We walked HEAPS but it’s the only way to take in the atmosphere that is New York City!
  • Visit the factory outlets at Woodbury Common – It’s about an hour outside of New York City. If you don’t have transport, you can take a bus there for about $50. I think it is worth it if you like your shopping because stuff there is really cheap and there are 220 stores! Make sure you print a map of the place and work out what stores you definitely want to go to. It’s not possible to see them all in a day (unless you just peep your head inside each one), so to avoid disappointment, make a list of stores you don’t want to miss. Sign up for free to their VIP Club to access even more discounts.

Places I visited & things I did – Las Vegas

  • Took a helicopter to visit the Grand Canyon – I’ve never been on a helicopter before so it was a great experience! The place the helicopter takes you is the West Rim and apparently the South Rim is much grander, but it takes longer on a bus to get there (45 mins via helicopter versus 5 hours on the bus one way). The helicopter ride was amazing but we happened to fly on one of the windiest days Las Vegas has seen in a long time so it was a scary ride! I booked the helicopter ride through Viator, which I found was slightly cheaper than booking with the company direct.

USA Trip - Grand Canyon
The beauty of the Grand Canyon

  • Watch a burlesque show (I saw Crazy Horse Paris at the MGM Grand) – You’re in Vegas so you have to do it! I was expecting something sleazy, but the girls are also so beautiful and the show is more sexy than sleazy.
  • Watch a Cirque Du Soleil show (I saw Ka at MGM Grand) – The Cirque Du Soleil shows have custom made stages in Vegas so you will not see anything else like it. Everything is on such a grand scale! I booked discounted tickets through Broadway Box again though if you are staying at MGM Grand, you may be able to get cheaper tickets when you arrive.
  • See inside all the casinos – Each casino has a different theme so we tried to go to as many casinos as possible and look inside. It was hard to choose a favourite because they are all different!
  • Walk down the Strip at night – The amount of lights will blow your mind!

USA Trip - Vegas Strip at night
The Vegas Strip at night

  • Visit M&M; World – Every type of M&M; merchandise you can imagine! They also have different colours and flavours of M&Ms; not available anywhere else.

USA Trip - M&M World
Entrance to M&M; World

Places I visited & things I did – Los Angeles

  • Farmers Market Tour – The tour takes you around the Farmers Market and you get plenty of samples, but I didn’t think much of the tour guide. It might be better to walk around the farmers market yourself.
  • Visit Camarillo Factory Outlets – These factory outlets are about an hour out of Los Angeles. They are no where near as good as Woodbury Common, but still full of bargains. It is run by the same company as the New York outlets so once you sign up to the VIP Club, you can get additional offers for this outlet too. Again, it is recommended to print out a map of the place and mark down the stores you definitely want to visit so you don’t miss out. The Camarillo outlets are spread over a wider area so we just drove from one area to the next.
  • Walk down Rodeo Drive – Was actually disappointed by Rodeo Drive because I thought it would be longer than what it was after watching Pretty Woman!
  • Drive up Beechwood Drive to see the Hollywood sign – It was a bit of a waste of time, but I wanted a photo of the Hollywood sign!

USA Trip - Hollywood Sign
The Hollywood sign from Beechwood Drive

  • Walk down Hollywood Boulevard to see Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Stars – I expected Hollywood to be grander than what it was – it was actually pretty dingy!

USA Trip - Grauman's Theatre
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood

  • Visit the beaches of Los Angeles – Unfortunately we only managed to see Santa Monica and on the day we went, there was a strange mist hanging around!

General Stuff

  • Cosmetics, shoes and clothes are all cheaper in the US, often about half price. We are so ripped off in Australia!
  • Food costs can add up, especially with tips. You may not like it, but you have to tip – it is part of their culture. If you don’t agree with it, don’t go!
  • It’s pretty hard to get around LA without a car as all the sights are really spread out. Driving on the other side of the road takes some time to get used to and you need to recondition your brain to think differently, but it’s manageable.
  • April / May is Spring in the USA and a good time to go. All areas were on the coldish side with temperatures around 65F (18C) most days but it was ideal for walking around.
  • The best place to buy shoes and clothes is in New York City because there is no sales tax on items under $110. Most listed prices you see, either on menus or clothes tags, don’t include sales tax.

Places I ate at

We managed to eat at quite a few places but these are the more memorable ones. I hope to get around to blogging about them!

  • Eleven Madison Park, NY – Modern American food. Our favourite meal of the trip. At lunch they have a 2 course special for $28 or 3 courses for $42.
  • Le Bernardin, NY – French Seafood. Our most expensive meal but not even in our top five places to eat! The food was good, but for the amount we paid, I expected more.
  • Dallas BBQ, NY – American BBQ. Yummy American food, reasonably priced and big serves.
  • The Halal Guys, NY – Street cart kebabs. Delicious kebabs and cheap!
  • Momofuku Ssam Bar, NY – Modern Korean. The hype is all worth it. Very, very good food.
  • Ippudo, NY – Japanese ramen. Probably the best ramen outside of Japan. Also had a pork bun which I thought was better than Momofukus!
  • Koi, Las Vegas – Modern Japanese. We went during happy hour where some of their bar menu was half price. Excellent Japanese food.
  • Izaka-ya by Katsu-ya, LA – Modern Japanese. Some dishes were identical to Koi but superb food. Meal here was one of our favourite Japanese meals of all time.
  • Soowoon Galbi, LA – Korean BBQ. Best Korean BBQ place we have been too. Highlight was definitely the galbi special. The beef short ribs (without bone) were so melt in the mouth tender.

Hubby and I had such an amazing time in America but the highlight was definitely New York. I can’t cover everything we did, but hopefully I gave you some ideas if you’re planning a trip there. Feel free to email me if you have any specific questions!

Over & Out, April xx

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Zina @ tastedbytwo May 23, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Sounds like you had an amazing trip and very well summed up. I'm so glad you went to Woodbury Commons in the end, hope you scored big! I also contemplated doing the helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon when I was in Vegas but was told it wasn't worth the time and money. Is it worth doing?

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penny aka jeroxie May 23, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Awesome! Thanks for sharing all the information. Definitely helpful. We will love to visti the States and NYC will definitely be on the list. Hope you blog about the food!

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Simon Leong May 23, 2010 at 11:38 pm

i look forward to reading through this post in more detail as i really want to visit Las Vegas, New York. thanks for being so comprehensive. 🙂

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Ellie May 24, 2010 at 11:09 am

Such an awesome and detailed post. I have bookmarked it for my future trip planning to NYC and LA!!!

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Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella May 24, 2010 at 12:57 pm

So glad that you're back and it looks like you had an amazing time! 😀 And the Brooklyn Pizza tour is so up my alley too lol

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Jodes May 24, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Thankyou thankyou thankyou for posting this.
We're currently going over to the USA Dec/Jan and this will help in my planning and suggestions on where to go and eat etc.

We booked through hotwire for hotel in NYC, and tempted to do the same within LA as well.

I've just started following MGM Grand on twitter too. Fingers crossed for a deal.

Fantastic blog!
x

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April @ My Food Trail May 24, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Hi Zina: Thanks for insisting I go to Woodbury Common! 🙂 Now that I'm back I wish I had of bought more, especially now seeing the Aussie dollar drop!! The helicopter ride was worth it for a once in a lifetime experience and the time saved as compared to taking the bus or driving. I'm not sure when I would get to go in helicopter again and it was amazing flying over the Las Vegas strip at the end. I paid about $370 AUD incl the fuel surcharge. I would recommend it for the experience of flying in a helicopter.

Hi Penny: Glad you found it helpful! I hope to blog about all the wonderful food soon!

Hi Simon: No worries! Hope it helps your trip and feel free to ask any other questions.

Hi Ellie: I wrote this post so I could share the info and wouldn't forget later on! Let me know if you have more questions!

Hi Lorraine: Thanks! Yes, it was one of our best trips ever – I can't wait to go back! Highly recommend the pizza tour, more so for the tour of Brooklyn we got. The pizza was yummy too!

Hi Jodes: Aww, no worries! Email me if there is anything further you want to know. I was trying to condense things in my post. You're going to have such a fantastic time!!

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MEANEIRENE May 24, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Hi April, I finally read your post on your USA trip! NYC was awesome when I went, did you see the Naked Cowboy?

I also went to Woodbury Common, I agree with your comment on Australia getting ripped off. When the dollar drops it brings a tear to my eye knowing I can't go there to spend big.

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Maria@TheGourmetChallenge May 24, 2010 at 8:52 pm

OH. MY. GOSH. You did so much!! You guys managed to cram in a hell of alot of things! and all I can say is M&M; world???!!!??? CAn't wait to see the food now.

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Conor @ Hold the Beef May 25, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Congratulations on getting so much done! Your shoes would have been walked bare by the end.

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Adrian @ Food Rehab May 25, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Glad you had an awesome time! NY still remains to be my fav place ever. I watched RENT at Broadway when it was still showing, amazing.

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chitchatchomp@yahoo.com.au May 25, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Thanks for the tip on Woodbury Common….can't wait to check it out and shop up a storm…2 1/2 weeks to go! Leigh

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Jo - SecondHelping May 26, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Wow – looks like you crammed a whole lot in and had a really amazing time.

NYC is my favourite destination in the USA too. It's hard to beat.

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April @ My Food Trail May 27, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Hi Meaneirene: Apparently we walked past the Naked Cowboy but I didn't see him! Hubby did though! I'm glad the dollar was good when we went there or else it would have been a lot more painful (though still cheaper than Australia!).

Hi Maria: We did cram a lot in but not as much as I would have liked, can you believe?! 🙂 There's just so much to see and do and we ran out of time!

Hi Conor: Yes, we had sore feet at the end of every day, but it was well worth it! Having comfortable shoes is a must for NY!

Hi Adrian: Thanks! It's one of my favourite places too. I'm so glad I got to experience it.

Hi Leigh: I've got my fingers crossed the dollar picks up, but even it doesn't, things will be cheaper than Australia anyway. Hopefully there's a lot of sales at Woodbury Common when you go!

Hi Jo: Yeah, we did! I'm dying to go back again! 🙂

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ms s loveridge May 28, 2010 at 12:29 am

Ah… I want to go back to New York! 🙂 Sound like you had a blast, April. Some of the places you visited as part of the New York Pass sounds great. I probably should have tried them out! Next time! 🙂

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April @ My Food Trail May 28, 2010 at 9:44 am

Hi ms s loveridge: I did have a blast! Check out the list of included places on the New York pass to see if it's worth it for you. Remember also to factor in time it will take at each attraction… there's only a limited amount you can see in each day!

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What's For Tea? May 28, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Oh you lucky thing what a great trip! I love NYC too!

Thanks for taking the time to put up such a comprehensive post.

Hope you're coping now you're back to reality 🙂

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Clare @ Mrs Multitasker May 29, 2010 at 1:54 am

April!
I think we were in the US at the same time girlie…
Did you go to the biggest farmers market in LA – the grove? It's my all-time favorite. Was so bummed I didn't make it there this time round…

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Betty @ The Hungry Girl May 31, 2010 at 10:16 am

OMG! Sounds like you had a fabulous trip! I'm planning on going to NYC in September, so I'll have to hit you up with some tips before I go 😀

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April @ My Food Trail May 31, 2010 at 10:49 am

Hi What's For Tea: No worries! 🙂 It took a while though! Yes, back to reality now… *sigh* I'm dreaming of my next holiday!!

Hi Clare: HUH??? Oh no, another missed opportunity to meet up! 🙂 Yes, we managed to make it to the LA Farmer's market and they were really good. A bit different to the markets here but plenty to see!

Hi Betty: Sure, email me if you have any questions!

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Chris Chun June 2, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Hi April. I've just discovered your blog. I was in NYC a couple of weeks ago and went to Eleven Madison Park for dinner and Momofuku Ssam Bar.

Both were excellent. Eleven Madison was amazing; I forgot how many extra nibbles are included in the set menu. Did you try the peanut butter and jelly macaroons – one was not enough.

And the steamed pork buns at Momofuku – I am still salivating over them.

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April @ My Food Trail June 8, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Hi Chris: We got some maracons at the end of our meal at Eleven Madison Park but I can't remember which was which! And how good were those Momofuku buns?!! Though if you back again, be sure to try the ones from Ippudo.

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Forager June 14, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Ooh so jealous of your trip – I have travel envy! Haven't done much of the states yet so this will come in very handy when I do, especially the detail you added on booking engines. Thanks for the excellent post! Can wait to see some more detailed food porn from the trip.

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April @ My Food Trail June 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Hi Forager: I have travel envy of you and all the great places you go to! 🙂 I'm so behind on my blogging so hopefully I post soon on my US eating adventures!

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NytixBlogTeam July 9, 2010 at 7:19 am

Wow, what a trip! As a New Yorker, I'm glad you got to see some of the coolest things that the city has to offer. I have never heard of the Pizza tour, but am intrigued (I never even liked pizza until I discovered the joy that is 'New York pizza'!). For cheap Broadway tickets, my site, http://www.nytix.com, also has amazing discounts and info on how to do a lot of NYC sightseeing on the cheap. This can seem like a pricey city, but with a little research, there are actually a lot of ways to have fun here at minimal cost.

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April @ My Food Trail July 21, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Hi nytixBlogTeam: Thanks for your input! You should try out the pizza tour if you get the chance and don't know Brooklyn well.

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