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“The US west coast is truly an amazing place and it is...”

Written on: 19/02/2003 by Goldilox. (1 review written)

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General Comments
The US west coast is truly an amazing place and it is definitely worth a visit. I spent December travelling from Las Vegas, Nevada, up to San Francisco, California and I have never had a better time in all my life. Check out my review for info on some of the best places I visited.

I flew from Heathrow to Los Angeles on what was about an 11hour flight. This was very tiring, but it's amazing flying in over L.A and seeing the sprawling city and massive traffic jams. Once in the airport, I had to take an internal flight to Las Vegas. Being very near to the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the security was top notch; very paranoid airport security and armed army recruits were everywhere, so there was a lot of waiting around as check-in took 3hours for everybody. This was a little excessive, however I don't know if they are still requiring this check-in length now.

The internal flight to Las Vegas took about another 1hr15mins, but it was spectacular. Flying in over Las Vegas at night was unbelievable, it looked like a giant fairground and all the lights just left you in awe, especially the light beam from the Luxor Hotel and Casino. You could apparently read a newspaper in space from the intensity of the light beam.

Las Vegas itself is an amazing place. I had the impression that it would be really tacky before I got there, but that just wasn't the case at all. The Casino's are truly spectacular and like nothing you would ever imagine them to be like. You will really start to miss the sound of cash falling out of the slot machines when you leave, and you'll even continue hearing it for a while too. Haha!

Las Vegas Boulevard, which is more commonly know as 'The Strip', is without a doubt the most amazing stretch of road anywhere in the world in my opinion. Plenty of amazing resort hotels, casinos, theatres it definitely is a Disneyland for adults. "Glitter Gultch" is the downtown area of Las Vegas, which appears to be more westernised. It still has amazing casinos, but its 'The Strip' where most is happening.

~ The Stratosphere: This is the hotel I stayed in and I was very pleased with it. It's main attraction being the tower itself; the tallest free standing tower in the US. It has its own shopping mall, restaurants (I thoroughly recommend the 'eat-as-much-as-you-want buffet) including the revolving restaurant and cocktail bar at the top of the tower, casino bars, and the rollercoaster rides on the top of the tower. The casino floors with thousands of slot machines and card tables are stunning; you could easily find it hard to leave them and I can understand totally why it is called the 24hr city.

~ The Luxor: Wow! That is what I said when I saw it. A giant glass pyramid, with a full scale sized Sphinx at the entrance and a light beam that can be seen in space! This hotel is themed around yes, you guessed it Ancient Egypt. The hotel is covered in hieroglyphics which are exactly identical to the real ones to be found in Egypt would you believe. The shear size of the hotel is unreal too, with statues inside that give you neck ache from looking up at. You MUST visit this hotel!

~ Aladdin: As I walked into this hotel, it seriously felt like I had been transported to some Arabian street market. I was fascinated! The whole of the inside of the hotel is set out like an Arabian street bazaar, with authentic looking buildings lining the cobbled floor. Then the ceiling wow! You look at it and really believe you are standing outside, especially when you find that it can rain! In the centre of the hotel there is a water pool and as one of the attractions there is a thunderstorm inside! You look up at the ceiling and see the clouds moving over all dark, then it starts raining (don't worry, you don't get wet unless you are stood right next to the pool) and before you know it, you're caught up in a thunderstorm of loud bangs and lightning.

~ Flamingo: This was the first hotel on the strip, however not the original building as it has been replaced. This is a much "calmer" resort hotel, with the main attraction being its garden. A really pretty hotel, with Flamingos and many animals roaming the gardens. Inside there is also a talking parrot which delights in abusing onlookers! Haha!

~ The Mirage: Home to the white tigers (and Sigfreid and Roy unfortunately). This is a nice hotel but one of the more basic. I think they have some dolphins in the back pools, although I never got to see them. The white tigers here however are the main attraction and although they were gorgeous, I couldn't help but think they were in a cruel environment. The tiger I was watching looked so unhappy and it's pen was awful; so artificial and nothing for it to play with. I was not impressed at all. Hopefully when Sigfreid and Roy have just spent out on another facelift, the tigers will eat them both!!! Outside however, there is a volcano. Pretty amazing structure in itself and you'll find it erupting about every 30 minutes after 8pm.

~ Treasure Island: How cool is this hotel? Too cool is the answer! Outside is a massive pirates ship and if you are lucky enough you will get to see a show performed on it, where you actually see one of the ships sink. Inside is also like outside. When I was in 'Treasure Island" the number of times I heard "It's a jungle in here" was quite frequent. This is another of the great resort hotels.

~ Mandalay Bay: This hotel is one of the ones right at the far end of 'The Strip' near Hacienda Ave, but don't let that put you off visiting it! It's one of the classiest, most beautiful hotels in the whole of Las Vegas, hosting many events, such as when Lennox Lewis was fighting there. This was one of my favourites.

~ MGM Grand: Grand it is too! The Billboard Music awards were taking place when I was here so it was quite hectic, but another fascinating hotel nevertheless. Inside the main attraction were the tigers and their cubs. I was much more impressed with how their lions were treated compared to at 'The Mirage'. They were enjoying themselves and had a lot to keep them occupied. The Rainforest caf is also in here, which is good fun, especially when a snake appears. (Only fake mind you!)

Other fascinating hotels that are not to be missed include:

~ The Bellagio (Stunning water to music shows). I believe this to be the most expensive hotel in Las Vegas.

~ Caesars Palace - they are soon to build "The Coliseum" here.

~ The Venetian (Nicer and less smelly than the real Venice I thought, with a miniature St. Marks square)

~ Excalibur (Medieval England apparently!)

~ Circus Circus (Clown around would the machine stops throwing game tickets at me? NO! I ended up with 300 and about 15 cuddly toys)

~ Ballys

~ Monte Carlo

~ Paris

~ New York, New York (I dare you to ride the coaster! Mwahahahahaha!)

Okay I guess you have now established that Las Vegas is a great place! If you ever get the opportunity to go there I suggest you go!

Enter California!

After three and a half days of "largin' it up" in Las Vegas, I then moved on to California. I was planning to go straight to Palm Springs but along the way Desert Springs and its massive outlet shopping centre caught my eye! Shoppers delight! Although I didn't find the clothes here much cheaper (only about 20%) because of the V.A.T, however they were unique to England, which made it worthwhile.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs is such a beautiful place and the weather was constantly gorgeous. Many people retire out here and feeling like one of the only young people in the area I could understand why it's called "God's waiting room". Just a lovely, slow pace of life; a complete contrast to Las Vegas.

One thing you must do when in Palm Springs is go on the 'Palm Springs Arial Tramway' up Mt. San Jacinto. There are two revolving tramcars, each capable of holding 80 people (I couldn't quite believe this!) and at 8,516 feet, if you make it, you'll find a restaurant, cocktail lounge (the 'Bloody Mary' was apparently invented right there), gift shop, movie theatre and a bunch of stuffed animals. The view at the top is astounding too, you can see the San Andreas Fault line and in the Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness, you'll find many hiking trails (whoops I had no boots), cross country skiing and snow-tubing. Sounds dangerous and I guess it was but it was fun, and fun is what's important.

Actually, I forgot I went to this place called Calico before I reached Desert Springs. A small little 'ghost town' right out in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Fun little place it was too. Originally a silver mining town however I really don't recommend you eat the 'kind lady's' pizza or sausages because I seriously thought 'stray tourists' were part of the ingredients.

Los Angeles

L.A is not how I thought it would be at all. It seemed to be one big sunny traffic jam! I loved the place, it was just very, very overcrowded and considering I was there just after the September 11 attacks and the place was considered "quiet", I wouldn't like to think what it would be like when it was actually "busy".

I stayed in the Ramada West Hollywood, which was quite a nice hotel, but the area appeared to be pretty dodgy. I didn't feel particularly safe walking around at night, but the place had character. Some interesting places around L.A are of course Hollywood itself, with Graumanns (Mann's) Chinese Theatre; not the glitzy place I thought it would be however. The 'Hollywood' sign up on the hills and the 'Hollywood Bowl'. The Hollywood Bowl is somewhere you should visit, holding host to many open-air concerts, where groups such as The Beatles have played.

Sunset Boulevard and Rodeo Drive are interesting places to see and the Brea Tar Pits are also worth visiting. Perhaps you'll actually see them bubbling. Someone actually told me that some idiot only recently had to be rescued from literally being "stuck in the mud". I couldn't quite picture it however.

While I was in LA, I also paid a visit to Universal Studios. Overall I was really impressed and was very interested, being a film student, in all the studios and behind the scenes stuff I managed to blag a look in on. The studio tour is very good; where you get to see things such the Bate's motel and house (Try spot Mrs Bate's peeping out the upstairs window!), a Mexican villages' flash flood, experience an earthquake and be shook on a bridge by King Kong. Other attractions which were also very good were the Jurassic Park water ride, on which I got absolutely drenched, the Backdraft experience, which helped dry me out a little and the Terminator 3D show. Terminator was fantastic and the 3D images were spectacular, but it's something you need to experience for yourself. My favourite ride however was 'Back to the Future'. You get to sit in your own Delorian and the ride itself is excellent. On the way out you also get to see the actual Delorian that was used in the film. There are many other attractions all over the park, including shows. 'Waterworld' is one of the shows I recommend; just don't sit too near the front unless you want to get soaked. Pssst any of you Buffy and Angel fans, keep an eye out for Sunnydale too and if you're nice enough they'll even show you the Sunnydale set.

The original Disneyland is also worth a visit, although I didn't actually go there. You'll find it located in Anaheim, but people I know who have been thoroughly enjoyed it.

Long Beach is a really beautiful area too; you'll find the Queen Mary located here (originally from my home town Southampton may I add!) It includes the 365-stateroom Hotel Queen Mary; the Queen's Marketplace and a shopping and dining area. The Queen Mary is truly a "must see" in Long Beach. There is also a ghosts and Legends tour. I recommend you go it because it was really fun not for the faint hearted however! All the public transport within Long Beach is completely free as well, so it's very easy to travel around. Other places around Long Beach that are worth a visit are the beach itself, the marina, the aquarium (it's quite expensive though), the general downtown area and waterfront and the Russian submarine 'Scorpion', which is located next to the Queen Mary. If you're into surfing or body boarding, I also think you'll like Huntington Beach.

The famous Farmer's Market was also a fabulous place to visit in Los Angeles. A real bustling place where you can shop, get stuff to eat etc if you ever go to L.A it is a place you really must visit.


After a general laze around Los Angeles, I thought it was time to move on so I travelled really far (note the sarcasm!) to Malibu! A lovely sunny place with a gorgeous beach. I think 'Baywatch' was filmed here and it looked very familiar just minus David Hasslehoff and all the silicone!

Santa Barbara

This was my favourite area that I visited in the whole of California. The city is shaped by its Spanish past and this is reflected in its architecture. There is a strong commitment to keeping Santa Barbara beautiful and it makes the city very easy on the eye!

At the waterfront you'll find about three beaches, loads of restaurants, a wharf, a museum, a harbour and a skate park. If you are visiting Santa Barbara, this is an area you must go to.

There is also a courthouse, (Anacapa Street) which is probably one of the most beautiful buildings you will come across. It's just 75 years old but it has the look and feel of a 200-year-old Spanish Colonial. I'm not sure if you are allowed in the courthouse whilst people are on trial, but give it a try. If you go inside make sure you go to the top of the tower because it gives an amazing view over Santa Barbara. Ever seen the film 'The Mask of Zorro'? well I haven't, but someone told me it looks like a building in that film.

There is also a zoo, which is developed like a park, with plenty of picnic and open areas. It's quite small, but there are apparently 600 animals.

Other places around Santa Barbara which I think are worth a visit are the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, El Presidio State Historic Park, Casa De La Guerra, the Museum of Natural History, the Historical Society Museum, and the Botanic Gardens. These are just some of the places to visit, although there are many more, including other museums and the shopping facilities there are fairly good.

So where was my next stop?

San Luis Obispo!!!

San Luis Obispo is a great place to visit! The central coast of California is the start of the Big Sur coastline of California, and home of one of California most popular attractions, Hearst Castle. Before my arrival in SLB, I stopped off at the beach on Ragged Point and wow, was I glad I did! The whole beach was covered with hundreds and hundreds of Elephant Seals. They were just gorgeous and one of the most amazing sites I have ever seen.

There are lots of things to see and do in San Luis Obispo-a delightful downtown with great dining, shops and nightlife; arts centre; Mission Plaza; and a world-class performing arts centre. Being a university town, there are also plenty of students around, so a big difference from Palm Springs. There is also this Mexican restaurant that I recommend called 'Izzy Ortega's' which is on Monterey Street, but err strangely is closes no later than 9:30pm.

Continuing northwards along highway 1 you'll see the cliffs of the Big Sur. Wow wow wow! The scenery is truly stunning! Take the coastal route wherever you can, it may take longer, but it is far better than some over crowded American freeway.

I then reached Carmel. A really sweet little town, where the mayor I believe is none other than Clint Eastwood!

This is a very quiet place and there is not much to. They have strange rules here too you're not allowed to chew gum and none of the streets have lighting so take a torch unless you want to be tripping up. I can't imagine there being much to do late at night anyway. Carmel was more of a rest stop for me! In the centre there is a little shopping complex, but I don't think you can afford anything unless you're on Clint Eastwood's earnings! Haha! Carmel will be your heaven if you are into buying paintings and pictures, because every building appeared to be an art gallery.

One place you should visit while in Carmel is the 'Hog's Breath Inn'. Clint Eastwood owns it and much to my madness, he had only just left the place 10 minutes before I walked in. I almost cried! Haha! He apparently goes there at least once a week, so maybe you'll be lucky enough to catch him! You will find it on San Carlos between 4th and 5th Street, but it's a little tricky to spot. (You have to go down this little alleyway).


Monterey is another must visit! Another beautiful place I would visit again without any hesitation. Read Steinbeck's 'Cannery Row' and you'll understand what I mean! Visit the Monterey aquarium on Cannery Row, you'll also find many shops, restaurants and wine tasting places here. Go down to the sea front too and you'll most certainly spot otters and seals. You can probably smell and hear them before you see them.

I then made my way to San Francisco, taking the famous 17-mile drive along the way. You can see the most beautiful houses and coastline imaginable along here along with Pebble Beach. There is a toll for the 17-mile drive, but I think it's definitely worth the money. I've never seen such breathtaking scenery in my life.

Along the drive, there are numerous points of interest. There are of course, the expensive multi-million dollar homes of the rich and famous, golf courses, the most famous being the Pebble Beach. Some guy also has a putting green as his garden! See if you can spot it! One of the most beautiful views however would be the Lone Cypress Tree. The famous Lone Cypress Tree, one of California's most enduring landmarks has withstood time and rough weather and prevailed on its rocky perch for over 250 years.

~ San Francisco ~

There was so much to see and do in San Francisco, but it really wasn't what I expected. I had this image of the Golden Gate Bridge being absolutely huge, but it really wasn't as amazing as I thought it would be. Don't get me wrong, it was fantastic, just not what I expected.

I was staying on Market Street (down the dodgy end due to a lack of money by this time), where the people are shall we say "a little crazy". It was very fun though and gave the place character. Don't be put off by the large amounts of really strange people; they're pretty much harmless. There are many neighbourhoods an attractions so I'll tell you about the ones I visited.

The Civic Centre - Landmarks in this part include the great dome of SF City Hall, I think it is at Van Ness Avenue between Grove and McAllister, but I'm not 100% on that. The elegant Opera House, Van Ness Avenue at Grove, is home to the San Francisco Ballet and award-winning San Francisco Opera, so if you're interested in that, give it a go. Herbst Theatre and the Performing arts museum and library, and the stunning Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall are also in this area.

Union Square - Located in the heart of the city, Union Square is bordered by Geary, Powell, Post and Stockton Streets. It has many fashionable stores such as Macy's, major retailers and hotels, and is one the City's major shopping areas. The adjoining streets are lined with restaurants, theatres, boutiques, and galleries and Chinatown the financial district are within Walking Distance. Cable cars run from Market Street (just off Union Square) to Fisherman's Wharf.

Chinatown - Enter through the Dragon Gate, which someone in a shop there told me was a gift to San Francisco from the Republic of Taiwan. (Just off Bush and Grant Streets). The streets are lined with shops and trading companies offering a variety of colourful merchandise - silk, jade, artifacts and antiques etc. There is also this gorgeous diamond necklace in one of the stores, so if anyone wants to buy it for me, I won't complain! Hehe! Be sure to take advantage of the renowned restaurants and outdoor food markets though because the food is great. One restaurant that I really recommend is the 'Oriental Pearl'. Its really good value and the food is fantastic. Sean Connery's favourite (a regular guest) I was told, is the Mongolian Beef. I passed on that, not liking red meat but the chow mein and sweet and sour chicken was the best I ever had. I also had this lovely other meal, but I can't spell the name of it! Haha! There is also Old St. Mary's Church, nearby which was one of the few buildings to escape destruction by the great fire of 1906.

Fisherman's Wharf - The north end of Columbus Avenue marks the beginning of historic Fisherman's Wharf. Within walking distance are PIER-39 (my fave area), The Anchorage Shopping Center, The Cannery and Ghirardelli Square. Hop off the cable car at the end of Hyde Street and explore Hyde Street Pier with historic ships including the Balclutha. I was lucky not to have to queue for the cable cars, but I guess now as tourism in the US is getting back to normal, you could find yourself queuing for at least 2 hours. At the foot of Polk Street at the edge of Fisherman's Wharf, is Aquatic Park which includes National Maritime Museum and a beach. Numerous ferries leave from Piers 41 and 431/2 for scenic bay cruises and stops at such popular destinations as Alcatraz (you must visit!), Angel Island and Oakland.

On Pier 39 you'll also see tonnes of seals that are really cute, so pay them a visit too! You should also try clam chowder, which is a speciality seafood. It normally comes in it's own bread bowl but I didn't try any because the thought of eating clams didn't really appeal to me, although the people I did see eating it said it was lovely. You may as well give it a try!

Other areas you should perhaps pay a visit to are North Beach (get some nice Italian food), Richmond/Sunset, Financial District and the waterfront, Japantown, Union Street and Pacific Heights (the famous Franklin Street with Victorian houses). There are plenty more neighbourhoods which I'm sure they would be great to visit too.

Now onto the feature attractions

Alcatraz Island - Alcatraz became a federal prison from 1934 to 1963, home to the likes of Al Capone and the "Birdman." You will learn all about them when you visit. Alcatraz, a mile and a half off the coast of Fisherman's Wharf, is now maintained as part of the National Park Service. You can visit the barred cells while a tape-recorded tour lets you hear what life was like from its former residents, both prisoners and correctional officers. There are the actual papier-m ch heads used to fool the prison guards the night 3 convicts escaped in some of the cells. I didn't really think I would be interested in Alcatraz, but I'm very glad I did visit it because it was very interesting. I would strongly recommend that you book your tickets before you go to San Francisco because family of mine recently went and people were queuing for hours to get tickets.

Winchester Mystery House - This historic mansion is the legacy of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune, who thought she would die if construction on her house stopped. The mansion has 160 rooms and 2,000 doors - some opening to blank walls. Now do you believe San Franciscans are a little wacky?

Lombard Street - This is the jagged, bendiest street in the world! You can attempt to walk up all the steps along the side (and end up with buns of steel!) or just as fun, get a taxi down the road!

Twin Peaks - The highest point in San Francisco! Make sure you go all the way to the top and just wish that it is not foggy! I was very lucky having perfectly clear skies because the Twin Peaks provide sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, Yerba Buena Island, Berkeley, Oakland, Downtown San Francisco and much of the San Francisco Bay and beyond.

Alamo Square - this is the area where Franklin Street is. Probably the most photographed area in the whole of SF.

Anyway there is so much more to see and do in San Francisco, I've just highlighted some of my favourites to saves my hands from dropping off, but the whole of California is a truly stunning place and I would recommend anyone to go there.

So I left San Francisco from San Francisco Airport and had another short internal flight back to LAX, Los Angeles International which was once again a nice little flight, if not a tiny excessive with the security. I'm sure 18 year old girls could have a real attempt at bringing down a plane! I just think the guys fancied a peek in my bag however! Haha! So 11 and hours later I arrived back home in Blighty to the freezing cold, said my goodbyes to people I'd met on the trip and caught my coach back home to Southampton. Whoa! What an adventure! It was great too because I was so jet lagged, that having a night out on the town until 3am that evening with my mates felt like I had just got up! A bargain way to finish my travels!

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