1 Week Itinerary For Los Angeles, California

The last stretch of my California road trip was a week in Los Angeles. We were pretty exhausted at this point, after spending a few days in Simi Valley, San Diego, Las Vegas and San Francisco. After landing at the airport, we took an uber to our Air BnB located in West Hollywood – it was actually my favourite Air Bnb I ever stayed at!

Here a few top things to do in your one-week trip to Los Angeles.

Central LA (Hollywood)

Sunset Boulevard

One of LA’s most iconic sites, Hollywood Boulevard features dazzling attractions such as the iconic Walk of Fame and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

We were super excited to walk down the Hollywood Blvd for the walk of fame, where we saw the star-stubbed sidewalk. This is where 2,600 Hollywood entertainers have earned the achievement of a lifetime in the form of a 5-point star embedded in the sidewalk. 

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (TCL Chinese Theatre)

Down the street from the infamous walk of fame is the Chinese Theatre which décor was modelled after the red Chinese Pagoda. This is where countless blockbuster movies held its global premiere, included the 1977 George Lucas Star Wars. This place is also famous for housing over 200 handprints and footprints of famous celebrities in the front yard of the theatre. 

Hollywood Sign Hike

You cannot come to California and not do LA’s most famous hike up to the Hollywood sign! We didn’t climb all the way to the top because we didn’t have enough time, but we did walk up to the cute 1930s Griffith Observatory, which is perched on the southern slopes of Mount Hollywood and provides great panoramic views of the Hollywood Hills, the Hollywood Sign and the gridded city below.   

Rodeo drive

Just as you can’t visit Egypt without visiting the pyramids of Giza, you can’t come to Los Angeles without visiting the infamous Rodeo Drive. We really enjoyed walking down this shopping strip (and subtly trying to spot a celeb!). 

The Beverley Hills Hotel

The famed ‘pink palace’ is a great place for brunch or people watching. We went to get an ice cream sundae and of course people watch! The interior is truly stunning and a time warp in itself. 

Universal Studios Hollywood 

After already going to Universal Studios in Florida, I was excited to what the biggest theme park and film studio in the world has to offer! I was blown away – you truly get the ultimate Hollywood experience with the movie – themed rides and a behind-the-scenes studio tour.It was great watching the shows of how they make the fire effect. 

This theme does get crazy busy, so I would recommend getting there early and try to go off-peak if you can. 

Westside LA (The Beaches)

Santa Monica 

Santa Monica is famous for the beach, the pier and the stores. On the pier, you’ll find tons of restaurants, arcades, roller coasters, fairground rides and street artists performing from early noon until late at night. This pier is particularly important because it is at the end of Route 66, the highway that stretches across most of the US.

My cousin, Heba drove me here and we walked along Third Street Promenade to try Philz Coffee – defo recommended if you need a coffee fix! 

Venice Beach

There is a lot more things to do in Venice Beach than in Santa Monica. The Uber dropped us off at Venice Canals Historic District where we walked along the manmade canals, which is modelled after Venice in Italy (hence the name). The canals actually used to be 2-3 times bigger than it is today, but due to the automobile gaining popularity, most of the canals ere closed and turned into normal roads. 

We then walked to Venice Beach and very quickly noticed Muscle Beach, the outdoor gym – it was a fun but bizarre sight-seeing these hugely bulky, muscly men working out and almost putting on a show for the girls. We then grabbed a hot dog and sat on the basketball pitch stands to do some people-watching and absorb the electric atmosphere. I loved how diverse this beach town is!

We continued walked down the Venice Boardwalk where we noticed the famous Venice Beach sign and the Skate bowl where skaters performed their tricks.

We actually came back to here to watch one of the best sunsets in the world and to have dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant called C&O Trattoria. It was so authentically Italian with the food and atmosphere both being on point. As soon as you sit on the table, they would bring around these small amazing garlic knots every 10-15 minutes. Its so hard not to inhale too many before your tasty meal arrives, because they just tasted SO fresh.

Malibu

I actually came to Malibu on a day trip with my Californian cousins in the first weekend I arrived. There is plenty to do in this area, included the Getty Centre and Getty Villa. We didn’t end up going to either of these as I wasn’t really interested in museums of modern art/classical history and would rather spend it in what Malibu is best known for – its beaches. So the first thing we did was to go and grab some breakfast from the SunLife Organics where we had the best Samurai Bowl filled with granola, banana and strawberry. Heba also took me to the Sunset Café in Malibu where this woman was randomly talking to us about her husband and always being alone in the house. I forget out outgoing Americans can be compared to the slightly more reserved Brits!

Surfing in Ventura

There are some incredible life experiences you will never forget. For me, the very last minute and spontaneous decision of going surfing in Ventura with most amazing cousin Heba, was definitely one of those times.

After stopping off at Coastal Cone & Parlor for some waffle fish cone, we went to a rental shop to get a swimsuit and surf board! with those in hand and a quick lesson with Heba, we surfed until we physically couldn’t carry on! It was the best experience of the trip!

TOP THINGS TO DO IN SAN FRANCISCO – MY HEN DO CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP (PART 3)

Truth be told, I didn’t know much about San Francisco and what it offered. All I knew was that it was a city of high-tech and start-ups. Little did know that it has diverse restaurants, quirky roof-top bars and fun little neighbourhoods. 

This was the fourth leg of my amazing hen do – the first being Simi Valley, then San Diego, then Las Vegas before finally taking a plane to SF. We only had three days to explore this condensed city filled with a quirky energy unique to San Francisco. 

San Francisco is crammed into about 47 square miles of hills and coastline. One advice I would give is to make sure you pack your windbreakers and warm layers because you are essentially guaranteed a visit from the affectionately named, Karl the Fog. 

So here are top 7 things to do during your visit to the ‘City By the Bay’!

North Beach (aka Little Italy)

We went to Little Italy on our first evening in San Francisco, mainly because we were super hungry and this is were Tony’s Pizza was. This small town-treasure is a historically Italian neighbourhood and you can still the prominent influence it still holds. We really enjoyed just walking around and exploring the cutest little cafes and restaurants.

Tony’s Pizza Napolitana 

We were told by almost EVERYONE that if you want to experience North Beach like a local, to end the day with a slice of Tony’s pizza and then walk up to Coit Tower or Telegraph Hill for panoramic views of SF and the Bay area. Little did we know though that the queue was going to be MASSIVE and was more than 2 hours waiting list. Stubbornly, we put our name on the list and walked around the neighbourhood. 

pizza-san-francisco

Lombard Street

After walking towards Coit Tower, we walked to Lombard Street. This is where you will get a view of the famous 8 hairpin turns of ‘crooked street’. The street leading up to it was so steep that we had to walk backwards. Just by pure excitement of seeing this street, I was walking way ahead and my friends kept calling me the ‘cub scout’ – nice.

lombard-street-san-francisco

Mama’s on Washington Square: 

My friends and I remember reading about this place prior to our visit, but then just stumbled upon it whilst walking to Lombard Street. For over 50 years, this small restaurant on the corner of Stockton and Filbert in the Washington Square of San Francisco has been attracting crowds with its delicious breakfast food. Menu items include fluffy benedicts, homemade jam, fresh omelettes, spicy Italian sausage and 5 types of French toast. However, like all of the good restaurants in SF, Mama’s tends to have a pretty big line, especially on the weekends. Luckily, we only had to wait for 30 minutes, which wasn’t too bad. The food was definitely worth it!

Visit Pier 39 on Fisherman’s Wharf

Visiting the Fisherman’s Wharf in SF is a must-do for anyone visiting the city. It is central to the Historical Waterfront District in the city and is so popular with tourists. Popular attractions here are Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square (try the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company amazing chocolate and ice cream sundae – its well worth the calories!) and honking sea lions. You should also try Boudin Bakery Café to try the infamous clam chowder.

Visit the Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco’s top tourist sight, it would be almost criminal if you visited San Francisco without stopping by to see the Golden Gate Bridge! It’s a beautiful structure and draws your eye no matter where you view it from. No trip to SF would be complete without visiting here. At its completion in 1937, the suspension bridge was considered an engineering marvel – the longest main bridge span in the world. 

There is a pedestrian walkway that spans the entire mile-wide bridge, as well as a bike path – but we just took an uber to get to the other side because of the time constraints (or because we were lazy). We went to a more local spot recommended by my cousin for a great viewpoint – Battery Spencer. We took an uber to the top of the huge hill and was also blown away (like… literally). The wind was incredibly strong, especially while you still have to walk a little longer to get to the top. Once we got to the top, we were spoiled with beautiful views of San Francisco. 

Once we got down, we were about to order an uber before realising that none of us have signal! Worst of all, there were no taxis and hardly anyone present. We had to wait a while to eventually hitchhike our way to the side of the bridge. It was lucky we spotted two guys getting out of a taxi that they’ve rented for the day and they were kind enough to cram us in the back. It did make for some funny conversations! 

Once we got down, we were about to order an uber before realising that none of us have signal! Worst of all, there were no taxis and hardly anyone present. We had to wait a while to eventually hitchhike our way to the side of the bridge. It was lucky we spotted two guys getting out of a taxi that they’ve rented for the day and they were kind enough to cram us in the back. It did make for some funny conversations! 

Ride a cablecar

San Francisco is home to one of the world’s last manually operated cable car systems. We used it to get from the pier to Union Square – but the convenient exit and entry stops also happens to be located at some of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. We waited for almost 45 minutes but getting on – but it’s one of those things that you cannot leave without doing. 

Go shopping in Union Square

We didn’t actually have time to go shopping, but we walked around Union Square. Union square actually used to be where Civil War rallies were held, but the square has since morphed into a hub for high-end shopping in SF. It is a part of the city that is bustling with life with its fancy boutiques, department stores, art galleries, luxury hotels and theatres. 

Explore Chinatown

I don’t usually go to Chinatowns but after hearing that the one in SG is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest in USA, I had to go. Established in 1848, it boasts an impressive display of markets, speciality shops and restaurants. More importantly, it has played an integral part in the history, culture and livelihood of Chinese immigrants.

Many tour guides would almost mention to pop into Fortune Cookie Factory to learn more about the cookies history – did you know that fortune cookie was actually created in SF? 

I loved just taking a stroll here and enjoying the ambiance. It looks like we are in a different world altogether as its maintained many of the old traditions and customs for years. 

Alcatraz

You’ve probably seen it in movies or at least heard of it – but now, you can get the chance to see it in person. Alcatraz is an island in the SF Bay and was once a military and federal prison. It has since been converted to a National Historic Landmark that you can tour. I didn’t know much about it before I went, but it was fascinating hearing about the atrocities meted out of the prisons – its scary and gruesome. When the federal prison was in operation, it was believed to have kept the hard criminals at bay. Most notorious of them all was Al Capone, who was imprisoned here. They moved there due the to its isolated location and since the waters of SF Bay are so cold and the currents so strong, they thought that it was impossible to escape the island.

The prison was built in 1910 – 1912 as a military prison; it became a federal prison in 1934 and operated until March 1963, when it was closed due to the very high maintenance costs.

My friend and I took a guided tour of Alcatraz Island first thing in the morning. You really should book it a few weeks in advance if you can as it can get fully booked. We were quite lucky as we kept a tab on the website the day before and luckily two tickets became available for the time slot we wanted. It is usually a 1.5 to 2 hour guided tour and you would have to a 15 minutes ferry ride each way.

Charmaines Rooftop bar

We were recommended this rooftop bar by my cousin, and no wonder Charmaines rooftop bar is the hottest roof bar at the moment in San Francisco. The views are amazing and the interior is flawless – so modern and chic. When we got there, we found ourselves a firepit outside and sat around it chatting. I am such a sucker for views – but this one was amazing!

One tip from me is to get there as early as you can. This bar is so popular (and for good reason), so you could potentially face a long time of waiting to get into the bar. It is really worth the wait and you will have a fabulous time there!

Accommodation:

We stayed in Courtyard by Marriott San Francisco Union Square. Its a great hotel if you want to stay somewhere central, clean and affordable!

PARTYING IN LAS VEGAS (3 DAYS ITINERARY) – MY HEN DO CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP (PART 3)

Vegas’ main strip is literally “Disney for adults” – it has plenty of adult attractions with everything seemingly made with purpose. We had the most amazing 3 nights and 4 days here.  We thought that this was the perfect amount of time to see the top tourist sites and get a little crazy in the clubs/ pool parties. But trust me… after your long weekend in Vegas, you’ll be ready to go home back to normal life or move on to your next city. I LOVED Vegas but it can be over-stimulating and overwhelming. 

Watch my travel video for this trip here!

We arrived in Las Vegas at 4pm, called an Uber and headed straight to the Venetian Hotel. Once we dropped off our luggage in our room, we quickly changed and got ready to start the weekend! 

las-vegas-airport

Day 1: 

Watched a show

As we already had pre-booked tickets, my friend and I had to quickly change our clothes and run to catch the show on time. With a few minutes to spare, and a Frappuccino in hand, we went to Treasure Island to see the Mystere show by Cirque du Soleil. It’s one of eight resident Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas with the others being O, Zumanity, Ka, Love and Michael Jackson: One. Mystere has been around since 1993 and is one of the first Cirque du Soleil show to appear on the strip. I loved the fact that this particular show has the most audience participation. The entertainment began even before the show started. Everything was just incredible – from the costumes, bright lights, music and to the performance. There were high energy acrobats which had me on the edge of my seat! I never quite appreciated how flexible the human body can be (eeeek?!). 

I was blown away. I definitely recommend catching one of the amazing stage shows Las Vegas has on offer – there is a show for every taste.  

The Dorsey in Venetian Las Vegas

As my friend and I were quite tired from the travelling – we decided to stick with just going to a cocktail bar for the first night. We decided to go to The Dorsey which was based in the hotel we were staying in. It had the most beautiful aesthetics as the interior design included a rich combination of oak, leather and marble. Even though it is located on the casino floor, it still offered an intimate and lively atmosphere. 

It was meant to be an early night but was far from it! The music was old school R’n’B and so we were just dancing away the whole night!

Day 2: 

Breakfast – Go Greek Yoghurt

It must have been the excitement of being in Vegas that got us all up early and buzzing to go. We put our swimming cozzies on and walked around the huge hotel to find some breakfast. As we wanted something relatively light, we found ‘Go Greek Yogurt’. I can’t even describe how delicious this was. They describe themselves as the “Rolls Royce of Yoghurts” and you can get to choose between fresh or frozen yogurt and then add toppings including fresh fruit and superfoods such as goji berries, shaved dark chocolate, flax seeds, hemp seed, toasted coconut and cacao nibs. It tasted so good!!

Pool day

After grabbing some breakfast, we went over to our hotel’s pool where there were a number of different sized pools, loungers and daybeds. It felt like a contemporary, luxurious oasis! As my wedding was soon approaching, relaxation and getting a san tan was my goal and so I was content with just lounging on the pool chairs and dipping into the pools when it got too hot. We met some really cool Cubans there and my friends and I were just chatting to them for a while. I just loved the chilled atmosphere and how friendly people were there.

Bridesmaids surprise! 

After a day of tanning and relaxing, we went back to the room to get ready for dinner and to start our partying. When I got out of the shower, the girls surprised me by decorating the whole room with some balloons and slightly (or very?) inappropriate balloons. It was so funny; we just danced and took pictures while getting ready. It was one of those moments where I just had to pinch myself to check if I was really in LAS VEGAS, celebrating my hen do with my favourite girls. 

Dinner at the Venetian Hotel 

I know what you’re thinking – ‘its been two days and y’all still haven’t left the hotel!?!’. Trust me though, you don’t even need to – The Venetian and The Palazzo combined host more than 40 restaurants. We had our first Las Vegas dinner at the Grand Canal Shoppes, which are covered by a magical blue-sky painted ceiling, complete with vanilla fluffy clouds. Admittedly, I had to do a double-take a few times to work out if its real or not. We sat outside one of the restaurants so we could enjoy the atmosphere whilst eating a delicious Italian pasta with pesto. 

Clubbing!

SO now for the fun part! We started off the night by taking an uber to Kaos. As my cousin knew someone who is a Las Vegas promoter, we were fortunate to skip all of the queues and go right in for free. Most nights, ladies get in for free if you know someone. The day you choose to go to the club, either contact a club promotor in advance if you know anyone or just look out for the guys walking around in nice outfits asking you to come on their guest list. You will find them either in front of the club or wandering around the Las Vegas Strip. 

Kaos is an outdoor club and was by far, my favourite out of all the clubs we went to. It was just the most perfect clubbing night as the weather was amazing, the atmosphere was on point, the music was great (Latin R’n’B reggaeton) and it wasn’t too crowded so you have room to dance (I know, I’m getting old…). The highlight of the night was seeing Bad Bunny. Admittedly, I never actually heard of him until I watched him live but now I’m obsessed with his music! So good… 

After a few hours, we wanted to see a few other clubs – none were as impressive as Kaos. The last club we went to was XS where we watched Chainsmokers perform live. Everything about Las Vegas clubs is so extra and over the top, but we EMBRACED it. Xs was another outdoor club with a cool swimming pool in the middle. After dancing away for an hour, we went back to the hotel and slept like a baby. 

Day 3:

Day Pool Party! 

After waking up quite late – we spent the last full day going to Las Vegas legendary day clubs. These clubs typically open around 11am and get packed very quickly! I don’t remember the name of the day club we went to – but it was good. I just remember being randomly pulled around the pool in an inflatable sun bed and people giving me a high 5 and their top tips of being in a relationship/ married as I was the bride-to-be. Totally random but it was hilarious! 

The pool party was good fun and definitely recommended if you find yourself in Vegas – just make sure to research the best pool parties ahead of time! 

Dinner at Lavo 

We went back to the hotel and got dressed up ready for dinner. We had a reservation at Lavo, which is right off the main entrance at The Palazzo. Its Italian food is meant to be some of the best that you’ll find on the Vegas Strip. The menu at Lavo is more extensive that you’d expect to see at a fine dining establishment but everything from the pastas to the chicken dishes are delicious (from what I tried and could see). 

Walk down the strip 

I actually left my friends at the restaurants as they weren’t up for walking down the strip. The travel blogger in me knew that I couldn’t leave Las Vegas without at least walking down the strip to check out the awesome hotels and water fountains. 

The most memorable displays are the Bellagio Fountains which goes off every 15-30 minutes and the volcano outside the Mirage which erupts on the hour from 6pm to 11pm. Luckily, i was able to catch both – its worth the wait 🙂

After another night of clubbing and dancing the night away, we went back to the hotel and called it a night. Las Vegas exceeded my expectations by far. My mum told me that I’d either love it or hate it but she was the one who encouraged us to go to Vegas as she had a blast when she went there before I was born. Thanks Mama G for the recommendation! Saying that though, after partying/ exploring Las Vegas for 3 days – you’ll be ready to head back home for some much-needed rest.  

Accommodation 

The most memorable part of the Las Vegas trip for me was the accommodation. Whether its your first time in Las Vegas or 100th time, you will want to find a hotel along the Las Vegas Strip for the 3 days you’re there. When I refer to “The Strip”, the means the four-and-a-half-mile strip of hotels and casinos along Las Vegas Blvd. The area is competitive with luxurious and unique hotels, fitting every country you can think of. If you like Egypt, stay at the Luxor which is shaped as an Egyptian pyramid and has a strobe light that (supposedly) can be seen from space! Like Venice, stay The Venetian for some of the best Italian food in the world and a grand canal weaving through the casino. You get the idea… 

We ended up choosing The Venetian which is one of those colossal hotels you cant miss on The Strip. This lavish, Italian-themed hotel was absolutely stunning with its own replica Rialto Bride, gondola canals and stunning intricate ceilings. It towers 36 stories high with 4049 rooms. I was blown away by The Venetian’s lobby ceiling! It was a magnificent painted fresco modelled after Michaelangelo’s masterpiece ceiling in the Vatican’s Sistene Chapel. Jaw dropped. 

Have you travelled to Las Vegas? Leave me your comments below…

3 DAYS IN SAN DIEGO – MY HEN DO CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP (PART 2)

The second part of the Hen Do California Trip was 3 days in San Diego. I was super excited about this stop because the city is just amazing! It’s probably one of my favourite US cities now because of its beaches, parks, neighbourhoods, food and the general laid-back beach vibe. It’s got the typical skyscrapers that most American cities have but it’s different – it’s got a real small town feel to it. 

Hence, I’ve created for you the ULTIMATE three-day guide to the city of San Diego. 

Day 1: Gaslamp Quarter, Embarcadero, Fish Market Restaurant

I arrived here after spending the weekend in Simi Valley, Los Angeles. I went on the most beautiful train journey using Amtark Pacific Surfliner. I literally have no words to describe the sea views you have. The Pacific Surfliner has two stops in San Diego: Santa fe Depot in downtown and the Old Town Transit Centre. I went to the main station which in downtown. 

Luckily, a hotel nearby was kind enough to let me hold my bags there for 2 hours until my two friends come as they were delayed. As I had a bit of time to spare – I decided to walk from downtown to Gaslamp Quarter. 

Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp District is home to boutiques, cafes, restaurants and a bunch of cool shops. I was a huge fan of the historical buildings – like Balboa Theatre and the Louis Bank of Commerce. It’s definitely got a small town feel to it as it has no skyscrapers and very few traffic lights.  Encompassing a roughly 16 block radius, the Gaslamp district has traditional Victorian architecture mixed with trendy construction which truly creates a unique mashup of styles. Make sure to try the ice cream at Ghirardelli! 

gaslamp-quarter-san-deigo

It’s also meant to have a great nightlight scene as its famous for its many rooftop bars – unfortunately we didn’t have time to check it out. 

Embarcadero

After meeting up my friends, we dropped off our bags in the Airbnb and took an uber to the Embarcadero. This is an area along the waterfront where you can explore some of San Diego’s top attractions: The Maritime Museum, the USS Midway (a long serving aircraft carrier with 29 restored aircrafts on board) and the Star of India (the world’s oldest active ship). We just took pictures here, chatted and chilled at the waterfront. 

The Fish Market Restaurant

After reading reviews about it on Google, I must say, this restaurant lived up to expectations. It had excellent harbour views and the prices were moderate for an exceptional dinner. We had the classical fish and chips. Beware though, there is often a long queue and so you might have to wait for a while for your dinner – but it worth it!

Day 2: La Jolla, Mission Beach, Sunset Cliffs, Little Italy

La Jolla

After surviving our first night in our Air BnB, we took an uber to La Jolla beach (pronounced la-hoya). We had breakfast at Sugar and Scribe Bakery before heading down to La Jolla Cove. There is no way to miss it as you just follow everyone else down the road. 

 La Jolla Cove is a beautiful sheltered cove with crystal clear waters. We continued walking along the beach promenade where we noticed plenty of seals and pelicans – the real residents around here. The beaches are so beautiful!

Pacific to Mission Beach

There are plenty of other beaches that we also wanted to see before leaving San Diego. The other top ones include Ocean Beach (traditionally hippy option), Mission Beach (home to Belmont Park fun fair) and Pacific Beach (good for surfing). As I already surfed in Ventura a few days before, we took an uber from La Jolla Beach to Pacific Beach with the aim of walking down the promenade to Mission Beach. We took an electric scooter from Pacific Beach which was super fun. It was fun until I rode straight into a wall and had a bruise that stayed until my wedding and honeymoon! All of this so I can go ahead and take a video of my friends scootering (that’s love haha!)

Mission beach was amazing and i would definitely recommend going. Other than relaxing at the beach, or at the bar, there is plenty of things to do here. We had an ice-cream and took in the vitamin D that our bodies desperately craved from living in London. 

ice-cream-mission-beach

Sunset Cliffs

As the sun was beginning to set, we quickly dropped off our electric scooters and took an uber to Sunset Cliffs as this was meant to be the best place to catch the sunset in San Diego ( I think the name gives it away). It was just the perfect evening and I spent with the perfect friends a girl could ask for. 

Little Italy

My friend LOVES Italian food and so at this point, we were starving and were ready to eat. Little Italy is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in San Diego, dating back in the early 1900s when it was a fisherman’s outpost for Italian immigrants. It has since grown to over 50 square blocks. We sat outside of the restaurant (so that we could people-watch) and ate the best pasta I had in a while. We also got a few desserts to share between us – ya’ll Italians know how to cook! 

We then headed back to the apartment and packed our bags ready to leave the next day. 

Day 3: Balboa Park, Old Town

Balboa Park

Located in the heart of San Diego, the giant 1,200-acre Balboa Park is home to over 15 museums, including National History Museum, Museum of Man, San Diego Museum of Arts and the world-famous zoo. It’s the largest ‘urban cultural park’ in the world. This place is great as it offers a little something for everyone to enjoy. 

You could easily spend a whole day here hopping from museum to museum and spend time in all of the green spaces. Its also great if you are on a budget as many of the attractions are free to visit and there also countless walking paths and botanical gardens. The botanical gardens were my favourite and is home to 2000 varieties of plants. If I wasn’t limited on time, I could have spent hours inside snapping photos of the plants and even of the domed building itself. 

I loved the Spanish-style architecture. Its unexpected, yet beautiful and was apparently inspired by the Spanish maritime explorer who the park is named after (not Rocky Balboa as I initially assumed – oops). 

Old Town San Diego

From Balboa park, we took an uber to our final stop before heading to the airport – Old Town. With our suitcases in hand, we decided to satisfy our craving for Mexican food and headed to Café Cayote.  Their tacos were insane! We also had a bit of a performance from three jolly Mexican singers who assumed It was my friends birthday.

The Old Town San Diego is a sort of living museum where you can explore the origins of California. The Spanish colonized this part of California in 1769 with a hillside garrison and a Spanish Mission – it’s the site of the FIRST Spanish settlement in the US (pretty cool huh). 

Accommodation 

We stayed in a local air bnb to try and save money on the accommodation. It was really modern and pretty inside, but not too sure about the area. When we first came to drop off the suitcases, there were a group of men just sitting on the wall of their houses staring at us. Maybe we were paranoid but all we were thinking was that a group of guys just watched three girls come out of a taxi with a smirk on their faces. 

Either way, we came back later in the evening, paranoid as hell. During dinner, we were even talking about leaving our stuff there and staying in another hotel! With our families and emergency lines on speed dial, we prayed (literally, huddled in a circle to pray) and went inside. 

Okay – so maybe we over-reacted (a little?) and everything was fine… BUT its good to be cautious I guess haha. 

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An Insider’s Guide to Tampa Bay, Florida

Tampa is a rather small city, according to US standards and has almost 3 million residents. I loved how authentic Tampa was in comparison to the touristy cities of Orlando and Miami. I fell in love with its chilled out white beaches, turquoise waters and a downtown filled with skyscrapers. 

After 2 days in Miami, we continued our road trip to Tampa Florida where we’d be staying for 10 days before heading to New York. It was one long drive from the Keys to Tampa Bay, and we were welcomed with frightening storms. It was probably the worst i’ve ever witnessed! Once we arrived, we met with my extended family where they showed us our villa.

As we were here to visit family, we had some local tips on the best places to go in and around Tampa. Here a few top things you could do in the city!  

Lettuce Lake

Tampa Bay has plenty of beautiful parks to explore. My uncle, who lives there took us to his favourite lake – Lettuce Lake, located near the University of South Florida, in the northern section of Tampa. We came here during the weekend and it was a great place to come to escape both the city noice and the Florida heat.

The admission fee is only $2 per car load (up to 8 people). We started off by parking near the Visitor Centre and then walking along the 3500ft boardwalk. The shaded walk goes across hardwood swamp forest.

This path will take you up to the Hillsborough River and to an observation tower. While walking the boardwalk we saw some pretty amazing sites!

Along the way, you might even catch a glimpse of a gator! In fact, Lettuce Lake Park is well-known for being one of the best places in the city for spotting gators in their natural habitat. We saw a five-foot alligator up close and personal! He was just hanging out right off the boardwalk. 

The observation tower (pictured below) gives you the chance to take in panoramic views of the Hillsborough River. A beautiful sight – be sure to bring with your camera!

Canoeing at Weeki Wachee River

If you visit Tampa, I highly recommend the chance to kayak the Weeki Wachee River – located about an hour north of Tampa. Its suitable for the whole family as its quite a nice calm ride. The swift current makes it much easier to paddle downstream, but then going upstream afterwards, towards the end closer to the gulf –  is slightly more challenging. 

The water is beautiful and just looks like it came out some sort of Disney movie. Each turn you take in your kayak, the water turns different shade of green or blue. The spring that fed Weeki Wachee River has crystal clear water that flows in the Gulf of Mexico. 

It was really nice just kayaking for a little bit and then taking a dip in the river before kayaking a bit more. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t swim near a manatee because they’re ugly (sorry but its gotta be said). 

The river winds through the forests and mangroves and has plenty of wildlife. We jumped off the a few trees and swung on a few ropes near the riverbed. When I think of Tampa, these are the sweet memories that come in mind. 

But guys, if you can’t swim, be extremely cautious – there are some deep water areas in the river. We had an incident where my auntie and mum were in a kayak with all of our bags and electricals (don’t ask why). They were stuck in this current which quickly took them under a tree in the riverbed. They both grabbed onto the tree above their heads to try and stop the kayak moving forwards and then it capsized and flipped. I was sharing a kayak with my father and so I told him to stay in the kayak while I jump in, as he’s also not a very confident swimmer. At this point, I didn’t know my auntie couldn’t swim so I dived in to grab the mobiles, wallets and bags. It was only when I re-surfaced that I saw my cousin swimming over to pick my auntie up. Luckily everyone was fine with just a few scratches here and there. Now we laugh about it but it was scary times guys! Just be cautious… 

Clearwater Beach 

There was one afternoon where we went to Clearwater Beach to watch the sunset and swim in the sea. It is really a chilled out “local” beach – in fact, this is the sea where my uncle wakes up at 5am to go swimming in (how impressive is that!?)

We were on the beach, sunbathing and swimming for more than hour – before lightning struck, literally. We were stuck in the Pier 60 for 20 minutes with everyone else who also decided to wait it out and take shelter. We made the most of it by sitting in a circle and playing cards.

Downtown Tampa

We visited downtown Tampa in the evening and found it impressive, albeit a quiet city centre. It has stunning skyscrapers and a pleasant waterfront park. We parked our car and then walked along the river. The Tampa Riverwalk runs for 2.5 miles along the Hillsborough River and Garrison Channel.

After admiring the views, we drove around the area and the resident streets behind the city centre – the houses were MAHOOSIVE and each house/mansion has its own character. It was good fun…  

Chilling with family! 

Of course my main reason for going to Tampa in the first place is to visit my mothers brother (i.e. my uncle) and his family. The last time I saw them was in Gaza, many many years ago so it was amazing to re-connect with them. 

Do you have any questions about travelling to Tampa that I didn’t answer? Be sure to leave them in the comments, and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible 🙂

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Top Things to do in Orlando, Florida

There is no doubt that Florida is one of the best road trip destinations in the US with its endless miles of wide, sandy beaches and the unique keys. Hiring your own car is the most affordable way to experience the best of Florida.

Since we have family living in Tampa, we drove all the way from Miami to Tampa so that we could meet them. We stayed in an apartment villa which my uncle kindly organized for us to stay in. 

Orlando is home to the world’s most iconic theme parks and attractions. Because there are literally SO many attractions in Orlando, you must understand that it is IMPOSSIBLE to see and do them all in one visit (unless you are staying a very long time). It’d be much easier to manage your expectations and focus on a few top things you want to see/do. 

We chose Aquatica, Busch Gardens, Disneyland Magic Kingdom, SeaWorld and Universal Studios because we thought it was a good combination. We also made sure we had time to fit some shopping in!

Aquatica

The weather was so hot and was just screaming ‘waterpark’, so my sister and I headed to Aquatica. I really enjoyed it (before it started thundering randomly later on in the afternoon) because it had a young vibe, pop music playing throughout the park and great rides! 

Aquatica-florida-orlando

Busch Gardens

Okay so technically this is in Tampa Bay – but its close by, and well categorically relevant I guess. I haven’t even heard of Busch Gardens until this trip and is often overlooked by other Florida attractions. It’s another massive theme park but combined with a zoo. I loved the fact that it caters for everyone – for the roller coaster enthusiasts, to the animal’s lovers and foodies. The park is extremely well-marked and set on beautiful grounds. 

I enjoyed checking out the animals and seeing the beauties for myself.  The theme park also has the best thrill rides of any park I’ve been to in the US. My favorite were ‘Cobra Curse’ – a unique coaster that spins backwards and forwards along the track and the ‘Montu’ – and Egyptian mummy themed ride. 

Disneyland – Magic Kingdom

I first went to Disneyland Paris when I was a youngish teenager with my family. The one in Florida is so much bigger and extravagant. I had such a fantastic day with my family as we absorbed the Disney magic (don’t judge) and atmosphere. I think I lost my reputation when I queued for more than an half an hour to hug Tinkerbell and Mickie Mouse. I definitely forced my younger sister to come along so i can pretend to go for her sake (soz yasmin!).

Im a sucker for fireworks so obviously we waited until 9pm for the massive Happily Ever After fireworks show over Cinderella Castle. Crowds start to build from around 7pm so make sure you get there relatively early for a good spot! It was so much better than i remember!

SeaWorld

We came here because my mum loves the SeaWorld and looking at sea animals. The most impressive show for me was the Killer Whale show, One Ocean. I was also excited to see the smaller animals such as the turtles, stingray (where we could touch!) and sea lions. I loved the fact that there are lots of educational aspects to SeaWorld, which is great for kids and adults! I was blown away by the penguins in Antarctica House! We came here with my cousin Noor and she told us some cool facts while walking around – thanks Noor!

If you’re visiting Orlando, then I recommed you visit SeaWorld without a doubt. The park as a whole was better than anything we hoped for and provided countless opportunity to learn about different marine life and enjoy some thrilling rides along the way! 

Universal Studios 

We spent an entire day at Universal Studios and entered via the CityWalk. This is my father’s favorite as he loves his movies and famous actors etc. 

I loved how much effort went into making the Harry Potter section in the park – particularly Diagon Alley and its ride called Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. We went in an off-season (September) so the queues were minimal.

The favourite ride for everyone in my family is the Too Fast Too Furious ride. 

Shopping in Orlando

Obviously you cant leave Florida without doing some shopping – especially if you’re a fan of designer labels! When we left Aquatica, we joined my parents at the Orlando International Premium Outlets, located on the north side of International Drive. We stayed there until it closed at 10pm (my family loves a good shop).

Shops range from Kate Spade, Coach, Michael Kors, DKNY, Nike and Levi’s. I bought a few presents for my fiancé and his family and splurged on a few things for myself. The Premium Outlets is outdoors too, so you can enjoy the glorious sunshine while you shop! Quick tip – you can get extra discounts if you go to Guest Services and sign up with them. 

2 Days in Miami | Travel Guide + Itinerary

I never quite realised how huge and diverse Florida is before this trip. There is so much to do and the state is brimming with yummy foodie scenes, a mix of cultures and so much natural beauty. Miami was our first stop in my family’s 2 weeks Florida road trip and we only had two full days here before driving to Tampa, Orlando.  

In all honesty, at the time I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first but the longer I spent there and the more I think back on it now the more I appreciate how much character and vibrancy it has in comparison to other parts of the state.

It’s a place of two completely opposing parts separated by a couple of bridges.  Whilst central Miami is heavily influenced by authentic South America, Miami Beach is pure USA at its most shiny and extravagant.  In my opinion, to get the best out of what Miami has to offer you need to experience a bit of both.

Here are some of my favourite spots in Miami that you can include on your trip to the Sunshine State. 

Day 1

Everglades

One of the nicest things to do in Miami is visiting Everglades National Park, Florida’s largest swamp. As I love nature, this was something that I definitely wanted to go to as its just such a unique national park! It’s home to panthers, alligators, snakes and birds. 

We walked the Anhinga Trail which is a 0.8 miles paved and boardwalk trail along a small section of wetlands. This is where we spotted the alligators and Anhinga birds (the bird the trail is named after). 

If you have time, you could also take an airboat ride through the swamps to see how many gators you can find. However, please don’t make the same mistake as we did and make sure you mosquito spray the hell outta your body! I definitely left with more than 20 bites. 

The weather can be unpredictable in August – it can be so hot one minute and then pouring down with rain the next!

The Florida Keys

We then continued driving south to the the Florida Keys. The Keys stretch 190 km (120 miles) from Miami to Key West. The islands (or keys) are linked by a series of bridges. It looks like a concrete snake across the ocean between mangroves. What’s nice is that each key is different to each other – but all of them are a tropical delight. We only had time to go to the first big key – Key Largo but it was heavenly! As we didn’t do any research beforehand, we stopped off at some local shops and asked the guy behind the counter what is the best local secluded beach he knows. He said that he goes to one that not even the locals go to -it had no name, but pinpointed on the map exactly where it is. We went in between the small side streets and then some more residential streets before we discovered this gem. We met this Cuban mafia guy while swimming and my dad got excited and was talking to him for a while (while I was trying to find my escape route). We must’ve been in the sea for more than an hour, just talking, swimming etc. It was just so perfect.

The sunset was legendary. 

Day 2

Little Havana

We started off the day by exploring Little Havana. This neighboured was once largely Anglo-Jewish but then blossomed in the 1960s to the lively Latin quarter it is today when Cuban emigres settled in Miami after Castro’s conquering of Cuba. 

The main street is called Calle Ocho (Eighth street) – you’ll recognise the street as soon as you go in as its full of salsa music, shops selling cigars, café con leche and the Cubano (Cuban sandwich). If we weren’t heading to Tampa that evening, it would have been nice to explore the area in the evening where it comes even more alive. 

Instead of buying my brother a keychain and fridge magnet, we headed to a Cuban cigar shop and bought him a few cigars! We watched as this fella rolled up the cigar himself.

South Beach

As the sun was starting to set, we parked the rental car near the South Beach strip and walked to the beach. We loved the colourful lifeguard towers dotted along the shoreline – its so Miami! We found a patch of sand, soaked up the sun and then watched the sunset. 

Art Deco style

I was really excited to see the world-famous Art Deco District. As the family nerd, I took it upon myself to google the fact on every retro building that caught our eye along Miami’s art deco streets: Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Lincoln Road. 

Truth be told, I didn’t even know what art deco is until this trip. Art deco style started in Paris in the 1920s and then made its way to the US in the 1930s. Because it was during the time of the Great Depression, the style was more subtle than its European counterpart. The style can be described as a representation of luxury, glamour and technological progress. It features bright colours, geometric forms and chrome plating.

 


Do you have any questions about travelling to Miami that I didn’t answer? Be sure to leave them in the comments, and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible 🙂

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Spending New Years Eve in Times Square

We had this all planned. Contrary to every advice given by bloggers, the locals, tourists and basically everyone I met whilst on holiday – we decided to spend NYE in New York City’s Time Square. On December 1st, 2016, I was able to cross that off my bucket list. Would I do it again? Definitely not. Once in your life is more than enough. I had a good time – but that is where I draw a fine line.

Here are things I learned from my experience:

1. Get there REALLY early

Yes, you have probably been told this by everyone – but I can’t reiterate this enough. We arrived around 1pm – and even though we waited for a long time – we had a great spot in the middle of Times Square. You come any later, you will not be able to see the darn ball drop and in my opinion, it’s just not worth going. My friend arrived at 7pm, a full 5 hours before the ball drop – and he ended up at 53rd street – 10 blocks away. There will be no entertainment from there and you will only get a pitiful amount of confetti every now and then.

2. If you leave, you will lose your spot

It does sound simple but it’s worth mentioning. You can’t leave to go to the bathroom – or to get food or drinks. We came packed with enough food to feed Scotland – but it was a perfect amount as you will get bored waiting, and boredom will lead to nibbling. Before entering Times Square, the NYPD will conduct a security check. You are not allowed to bring glass bottles or bags. Anything you bring in must be on you. There are also no vendors selling food or drink.

My brother, sister and I made sure we didn’t drink as there will be no way to let it all out afterwards. Unfortunately we had to witness someone in front of us who didn’t take this advice. She urinated through her trousers standing up, right in front of us. We were sitting behind her just witnessing this with a complete and utter shock on our face. We didn’t know whether we should laugh or cry. What was hilarious was that she continued her conversation without a care in the world.

3. You’ll feel like cattle

They have the strangest system of organization. The NYPD basically establishes a series of pens, with walkways around the pens. You will be in tight quarters with hundreds of your soon-to-be closest friends. If you are claustrophobic, stay far away. There was a time when my feet weren’t even touching the ground because the people were so close to me, they literally lifted me up. The same happened to my sister! We found the funny side of it as we just couldn’t stop laughing at how ridiculous we looked. You would need to be persistent and adamant to survive this part of the day. At certain points of the day, the NYPD will herd you from one pen to another – literally like sheep. Appreciate this moment – as it will be the ONLY exercise you’ll get the whole time you are there. Once the ball drops, the NYPD will open up these pens one at a time in which you will see everyone running for the bathroom.

4. Make sure you are with good company

I couldn’t have asked for better company than my brother and sister – we played cards, we made friends with the Colombians, we argued just for the sake of it. I should have brought a book with me as we sat down in the place where we were standing. I highly recommend you befriending the people around you. Not only you would meet people from all over the world, but it will make time go quicker.

5. Wear lots of layers!

I say this, but it wasn’t actually as cold as I thought it would be. My siblings and I left the house looking like we were just about to tackle the Antarctica as we went slightly overboard. I initially expected it to be really cold – but I think being in a large crowd helped block the wind. We also bought hand warmers which really helped! It lasts for 8-9 hours and you put it inside your gloves. I leant mine to the old woman who’s hands were freezing – they were life-savers though, kept my hand warm all night long

6. Have extremely low expectations on the entertainment

A few sound checks were done before the event officially started. By then, time started going quicker when they played some music in between, which made us all dance (+ stay warm!). 6pm finally rolled around and they raised the ball. The ball looks much better than on TV and we were all getting slightly more excited after swearing under our breaths most of the afternoon about why we decided to spend NYE here.

What truly amazes me with such a technologically advanced country such as the US – why is there only one small screen in Times Square for the revellers to view the events happening on the stage? Just one small Toshiba screen beneath the ball to show most of the event. My bedroom TV seemed bigger. Pfft.

A few people near the railings were interviewed – including my younger sister because of her crazy hair band but the channel was never announced. As soon as the camera popped up, everyone would start cheering and pushing to get their faces on TV. Planet Fitness passed out huge hats around 7pm but they passed them out from the railing so not everyone gets them. Luckily, with my brother’s help and determination, we all got a hat.

Things really started to pick up after 8pm and as each hour passed, they would do a countdown and show how many hours were left until midnight. We passed the time by talking, dancing and taking lots of pictures. Each hour went quicker than the last. The last hour went by the quickest with most of it filled by performance. By this point, I was SO excited to see Mariah Carey come on stage. However, when she did come on – her performance was disastrous when she suffered a series of mishaps. At the end of her ‘performance’, she walked off stage and signed off with “it just don’t get any better”, telling us that “I’m trying to be a good sport here”. Mate, please don’t trouble yourself. She stopped singing her song Emotions, paced the stage and the told the audience to finish the lyrics for her. I was just impressed that her backup dancers were still dancing/ keeping a straight face while all our jaws were on the floor. Bloody fantastic.

A minute before midnight, we all counted and watched the ball drop, a ton of confetti were dropped as they played Frank Sinatra, “New York, New York” – which ended the night nicely. This event is not for everyone – but I admit, we got very lucky with our timing, position, food etc. You have to come in appreciating what you get and have low expectations . That way, you can just enjoy the evening. I did enjoy the experience, but would not do it agin.

The Best of NYC Food

1. IHOP, Brooklyn

http://www.ihop.com 

My brother wanted us to try the infamous IHOP (Intentional House of Pancakes) before leaving NYC – and boy am i glad that i did. They offers different styles of pancakes such as chocolate chip, strawberry banana and New York cheesecake pancakes etc. I chose the breakfast pancake as it looked amazing with the avocados. This is a really good place if you like good, affordable and some big portion American breakfast.

2. Joe’s Pizza, Greenwich Village

http://www.joespizzanyc.com 

If you want a really authentic New York pizza, then there is no better place to go than Joe’s Pizza in Greenwich Village. It is owned and operated by Joe Pozzouli who immigrated from Naples, Italy in the 1950s and funnily enough, the pizza recipe used has changed since the pizzeria first opened in 1975. You will see many New Yorkers as well as celebrities coming here.

3. Shake Shack

https://www.shakeshack.com

After taking what seemed to be like hundreds of photos on Brooklyn Bridge, we decided to stop for some dinner at Shake Shack. I’ve read so much about them so was excited to see if it could live up to my expectations. When we entered the burger joint, we noticed the queue was all the way outside even though it wasn’t peak meal time. However, i can see what all the fuss is about. We went with a ShackBurger (cheeseburger, lettuce, tomato and ShackSauce) and Lemonade. In terms of size, it was surprisingly small but the flavour definitely made up for it. The beef taste fresh and the fries were to die for. The Shakes are also really good – thick, but not too thick and tastes like they’re made from high-quality ice cream. We went to the Brooklyn branch but apparently the original and the best is the store in Madison Square Gardens. Shake Shack New York tops my list of best inexpensive burgers.

4. Levain Bakery

https://www.levainbakery.com

I couldn’t wait to sample some of these delicious cookies from the famous Levain Bakery. I can honestly say that these are the most delicious cookies i have ever had – and i’ve had a LOT of cookies :’) I was suprised by its tucked away location, hidden down a short flight of stairs. But after trying these, i wasn’t surprised by its very long queue. It was so good that on my last day in New York, my sister and I had to run in the heavy snow, wait in a long queue, and even close to missing our flights just to get a few more of these for my parents to try. Oh these cookies are just so warm, melty and gooey!

5. Serendipity – Frozen hot chocolate

http://www.serendipity3.com

It took me two tries to get in to this infamous cafe as the line is very long – much longer than the five people you see in the movies. Being the opportunist that i am, i thought we should just wing it and turn up, grab a frozen hot chocolate, take a few pictures then be on our merry way – but it wasn’t to be as they manager told us it would be a 2-3 hours wait. Serendipity 3 is New York’s first coffee boutique opened in 1954. It has seen the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol and Jackie Kennedy sipping the frozen hot chocolate. It really is worth trying if you get the chance.

6. Magnolia Bakery

7. Sarita’s Mac and Cheese

Unfortunately, we never came across this due to time constraints but have heard Sarita’s Mac & Cheese are the best in NYC. S’MAC is created by Sarita and Caesar Ekya. They have a menu of about ten different signature Mac 7 Cheese dishes and also have a build-your-own creation option. I will definitely try this out next time i go to NYC.

I have not tried these out myself but have been told these places are worth checking if you have the time:

8. The Bagel Store – rainbow bagels!

9. Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory