Best fast food chains
This is the final and therefore most important insider tip. During my first U.S. trips I stuck to the well known chains and tried only few new things. Getting to know more and more locals broadened my knowledge.
The top two chains are:
Chipotle Mexican grill
Five Guys burgers
I don't want to spoil it, just go there and you'll see.
Set challanges. They are FUN. One of our favorite challenges (except the hourly smoking break never mind the weather conditions) was a photo underneath each state sign. There were many and we missed some, but the memories are valuable.
Best way to end a trip like that
drive up the Peak and reminisce over the past weeks looking over San Francisco. Make sure it's not too cloudy!
Cable cars are a must. They even have their museum. The most important thing about riding them is to get on a station that is not the final/first station, since those tend to be crowded.
22 July 2012
Golden Gate bridge
This is the best place to spot the bridge, since you have the skyline in the background. Going north over the bridge, exit the highway 101 at Alexander (3 minutes after the bridge), turn left onto Battery Road and drive through the tunnel under the freeway, then turn right onto Conzelman Road.
While you walk along Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf, stop to have this very original dish!
Seven Sisters - Painted Ladies
From this park, you have a great view at the 7 houses famous from T.V. shows like Full House
21 July 2012
Lake San Antonio
This lake that not many tourist know of is just great. Make friends with the other visitors, they'll lend you their jetskis and speedboats and might even invite you on their houseboats.
20 July 2012
If you are still not tired of nice views of L.A., drive up there. This venue also often has great concerts. It's really nice after getting dark, but closes pretty early, so that you have to climb over the fence!
This is one of the most delicious restaurants we've ever been to. If you are super hungry, order their dishes in Gargantum size, but most people are already full after the complimentary garlic bread rolls
The best place to see the signs is at Lake Hollywood Park, 3204 Canyon Lake Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90068. Don't go there on a too hot day, that was a mistake we won't make again.
This guy was one of the richest people in the world and had the biggest private art collection in the world. The center offers all styles of art and is huge! Fun fact: They only show a small percentage of the whole collection. Even if you don't like art and museums at all, you should go there, because of the nice architecture, the beautiful garden and the breathtaking view over L.A. And the whole place is free of charge (except parking).
19 July 2012
I can't fully guarantee, but what several locals and other tourists told me that this place (among many) sells medical cards with which you can legally buy cannabis in so-called dispansaries to naturally treat illnesses like headache and insomnia.
Apparently there is even a cell phone app "weed maps" that helps you locate those places.
Walk along this street in the evening and see everything people know about this place: Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the stars (on the ground), famous restaurants and people! For partying, we recommend the after-hour club Avalon (we got the advice that it is easy to sneak in when the bouncer is busy).
The best beaches are between Redondo and Santa Monica, as well as everything between Long Beach and Newport Beach and Malibu. Seriously, all of them are amazing. We hit a total of 6 beaches on that day, beach hopping is highly recommended! Every one of them has their pros and cons, Santa Monica and Venice are touristy, Newport and Malibu are snobby.
18 July 2012
Go there during the week, you will have a blast. Tickets are surprisingly negotiable (when you go there, say you read in a newspaper that the price was only this or that). Also it's an advantage if you have somebody drive you there since parking is super expensive. If you stay in L.A. longer and that's your thing, season tickets are only twice the price of day passes.
17 July 2012
We've thought a lot about going there or not and asked probably dozens of friends whether we should go or not. Almost everyone told us not to and even most Californians have never been. If you have to go, go during daytime, since nighttime is apparently even more dangerous.
Ocean Road from San Diego to L.A.
Along this road, you can practically stop everywhere where it says "Ocean" and you won't be disappointed. Great houses and amazing view all over. Sunsets were our favorite.
This is just one of the many beautiful beaches in San Diego. It's beautiful. So are most of the others.
One of the most famous sights in San Diego. We spent hours in that park playing ball games and relaxing. Great!
16 July 2012
Every hotel offers some crazy stuff, but this hotel greets you with lions in their lobby.
It's an option to drive through it on the way west. It's one of the hottest spots in the U.S., a desert. If you go, make sure to bring enough water, gas, and everything else you need to survive. The less hot the day, the more I'd recommend to go.
Pretty great roller coaster for being inside a hotel. Can't compare with Six Flags obviously!
15 July 2012
everyone knows them, and everyone loves them. Try to stay there for at least an hour at least twice during your stay during different times because day and night are different and every song creates its different atmosphere.
great daytrip from Vegas. The water is cold, but the surroundings are so hot that you won't mind.
This is the best buffet and/or restaurant any of us have ever been. Both words are an understatement, it's more like 20 different restaurant types combined. Walking from one to the other end of the buffet takes several minutes. Definitely worth the price.
14 July 2012
This is hands down one of the best nightclubs in the world. Vegas Rule: never pay the full cover but negotiate with people selling their tickets in front of the club. Be already impressed by the glass elevator riding into the club.
On the Eastern side, there is free and convenient parking. You can tour the power plant or just look down on it.
If you are on a budget, I highly recommend this place. For little money we were able to upgrade our room to a nice jaccuzzi suite and breathtaking views. Also the offer came with free rooftop access. If you are lucky, you have the rooftop pool to yourself (when it's closed, they sometimes forget to lock the stairs).
Downside: you either need someone who drives or take public transportation/taxis since the best attractions are too far to walk
13 July 2012
The South Rim is way better than the northern part. Avoid sleeping in the village since it's so overpriced. Grand Canyon is a decent "drive by and see it" thing to do.
We coincidentally found this park on bears and other wild animals. Pretty expensive but worth the money!
12 July 2012
Four states corner
The only point in the U.S. where four states meet. Be in all four of them at the same time. Try to ignore the Native Americans. They try to sell you everything they have.
definitely worth driving through this valley known from many movies such as Forrest Gump.
Canyonlands National Park
Serious alternative to Grand Canyon. Great Canyons! Crazy to believe that there is another great park next to Moab
11 July 2012
This was by far our favorite park all over the U.S. Breath-taking! Try to walk through the most beautiful spots rather than staying in the car
The city is far from spectacular. But the nearby parks are among the best in the world!
Million Dollar Highway
Beautiful drive but NEVER during the night since it is so dangerous. Even locals don't do it.
10 July 2012
I've done the ride from Durango to Silverton once by railway and another time I've driven it along the Million Dollar highway. Both is great, your decision will depend on your budget and ability to drive scary roads! Silverton is a nice old Wild West village.
Lakes north of durango
After being in the hot desert for so many days, we were more than glad to experience some cold mountain lakes. Along the road north of Durango there are plenty beautiful ponds. Just make sure not to drive on that road after sunset, since it's pretty dangerous.
THE starting point for the Silverton Railroad or Million Dollar highway
9 July 2012
This restaurant chain is all over the U.S. and we loved it so much! The pizzas come with all-you-can-eat Caesar's salad and the meals for two should be called "meals for three" since they are so much food!
Santa Fe Park
One out of four persons you meet is a musician. In this park, all of them gather every evening to impress people with live-music or paintings, or just chill in the park for hours arguing about god and the world. Too bad we had to leave after one day!
Santa Fe general
Just walk around this city. It feels like everyone is an artist and the city a big gallery. Santa Fe was one of the greatest surprises during our trip.
8 July 2012
Mulligan's sports pub
Here is where we started and spend most of our party night after a hint of the waitress to meet us there. Even though we haven't seen her all night, it turned out to be one of the craziest nights of our trip. Amarillo people are friendlier than you could ever imagine. We started the night with a 2 $ beers bucket when one of the locals started a conversation with us. After discovering that we were from Austria, he was so thrilled that he told every person he knew in bar (which was everyone). From that moment on we didn't spend a penny, but locals brought as drink after drink (which were crazy mixes) and introduced us to all their girls.
This might be one of the most famous restaurants in the U.S., well known for their free 72 ounces steak if you can eat it within an hour. We were not sure if we should go to such a touristy restaurant, but it was more than awesome. Great food, great location and especially amazing waitresses. After being more than impressed by the amount of beer (towers) we drank, one of them came to us to invite us to one of the bars later (see the other insider tip.)
Palo Duro Canyon
Even though it was quite pricey to get in, this is a very beautiful place. One can also go camping and sleep inside!
Oh Amarillo. We were discussing big times whether we should go through here or Phoenix, Arizona. We chose Amarillo because of a girl that one of us knew (he was of the opinion that she was worth rerouting hundreds of miles). He finally didn't even meet her, but we were having a great time as you'll be able to read in the other insider tips.
7 July 2012
This is one of the most fun partying experiences in the U.S. Miles of bars, restaurants and everything else you can dream of along the San Antonio river. Unfortunately we pregamed too late and got there just before 2, when most places already closed down.
Very important for every U.S. party night: go out earlier than you are used to from Europe/Asia.
We went to this Aqua Park because it's supposed to be one of the best in the country. It was ok, but overpriced, and some of the waits were way too long. I would recommend it, if it's on your way, but unlike us, you shouldn't plan your route so that you get there. Obviously don't go to amusement parks on the weekend.
6 July 2012
Drunk tubing or just bathing in the river. The Guadelope river which we coincidentally found made us happier than we ever thought.
Best shooting ranch - lone star gun range
This shooting ranch is supposed to be one of the best, especially value-for-money wise. Found in the middle of nowhere, it gave some of us a nice shooting experience
5 July 2012
Even we ourselves were surprised about being halfway through the U.S. on day 6 of our trip. Texas is very different to every other place in the world. The cars are bigger (our 8-seater was less than average), the hats and boots are cooler, the climate hotter and the people friendlier than in any places we'd been during the first week. One can argue about their political opinion and laws, but it is a very interesting experience.
Drive through the city center during the nighttime and enjoy the skyscrapers
Saltgrass Steak house
This is a Texan steakhouse chain that doesn't seem like a chain at all. Outstanding filets for an ok price when you consider that it comes with numerous sidedishes!
This beach is supposed to be the most beautiful beach in Texas. It was alright for a dip in order to survive the horrible desert heat, but can't really be compared to Cali or Florida beaches.
Nice amenities for BBQing etc.
4 July 2012
This stadium is great. Historically find out about the Katrina disaster and how it helped. Spiritually, you will understand after attending a game.
The ferry to cross the Mississippi is free! Beautiful view of the city
3 July 2012
Independence Day on Bourbon Street
We planned the whole trip (turned the itinerary spotaneously upside down) so that we could be in N'Aulins for Independence Day. We didn't regret that decision for a second since it was not only the most impressive fireworks we've ever seen (over the Mississippi river) but also a really crazy party night.
Bourbon Street is from what locals told us the only U.S. spot except the Vegas strip (we'll come to that later), where you can legally drink in the streets. And everyone did drink a lot!
No more insider infos necessary, just walk along this main street and you'll have a blast.
2 July 2012
New Orleans check-in
Good idea to check in in the morning after an all-night drive since you can sleep twice for the price of one night
This is the best amusement park I've ever been to, but for time and money reasons we skipped it during this trip.
Long beautiful bridge. Must do if you drive nearby. I would recommend doing it during a clear day
This miles-long beach has been awarded several prizes, such as most beautiful in the country. Breath-taking stop on the way north, which also has numerous leisure activities.
Just drive along Tamiami Trail (State road 90) west of Miami and stop wherever it says "Alligators"/"Crocodiles" or whatever you're interested in.
1 July 2012
During the night, some parts of Miami beach are not safe. We experienced a fight between two drug gangs. Ask your hotel staff about it, in some places the police is apparently paid off.
Walk along ocean drive
You'll see dozens of clubs, bars and everything else a night owl is craving.
I definitely recommend going on a day trip to the Keys rather than staying there overnight since accomodation is pricey and there is not as much to see there that would justify more than a day. It's about a (beautiful) 3 hours drive during which I recommend doing a few stops. Must see is the Southermost point (of mainland U.S.) and at least one beach.
Accomodation on a road trip
As a rule of thumb (except big holidays/events), the only places where you would want to book ahead of time are the first and last stop of your trip as well as New York City, San Francisco and Las Vegas in order to leave some room for spontaneity. Those are also the very stops where you can do without a car if necessary.
Finding the cheapest possible place to stay is easy if you follow this guideline:
At first, go on booking.com to find the bargains of the day. Then one drives to the hotels and asks for the price. After hearing the price, say you are willing to pay 2/3 of the price showing the amount of money. After you bargain a good price, ask if there is a AAA discount. It's almost never necessary, but if the ask, show your home automobile club card and say they are partners
Value food tip
Dinner for two for a good price: at the time of writing, many chains offered dinner for two for 20 or 25 $. They comprise of an appetizer to share and two main dishes. Those chains include Chili's, Olive Garden and Applebee's.
Because of the Latin American influence, I highly recommend trying some Cuban restaurants!
Communication and navigation tips
- Get a sim card with 3G! It's amazing to plan the next stops during a drive already. The only good prepaid option is offered by AT&T (there are stores everywhere), which has great service nation-wide. After putting the sim into a tablet or cell, you can use it as a hotspot for everyone else. Alternatively you can use the wifi at McDonalds and most motels.
- Get US maps for you GPS and bring it. It makes spontaneous planning much easier and spontaneity is the best thing on a trip like that. Alternatively, you can buy a GPS at Walmart and return it at every branch within 15 days if not completely satisfied ;)
There is several things to keep in mind for a trip like that:
- Agree on a driving order before going on long drives. This is especially important if it is hard to find sober drivers
- get a car that fits your group. Fullsize for up to 4, 7-seaters for 5 and 8-seater cars for 6 people. For more than that get a 12-seater (don't have more than 2 in a row!). Alamo offers good rates for people under 25. Big cars are however only available in L.A., Vegas and Miami and can often only be upgraded at the airport rather than booked ahead.
- drive overnight a few times: if you have a long trip, you can save a lot of time for the next place. What is more, many hotels provide early check-in (usually starting from 7 a.m. on, sometimes even at 3 a.m. By using this technique, one gets two nights for the price of one.
- Get a car electrity converter so that you can charge everything in your car (since you live in the car)
- Buy a ball/frisbee! You'll enjoy the park and ocean stops even more
Where to stay
When going to Miami, make sure to live on Miami beach. Firstly, because everything important takes place there. Secondly, because you always have to pay an extra fee to cross the bridge to Miami Beach. I also recommend to book the hotel far ahead, since you might get a nice discount.