24 Hours in New York City

Now let’s be honest – very few of us are ever likely to spend “just” 24 hours in the Big Apple.  New York City is the sixth most visited city in the world today, with around $18.5 billion added annually by us tourists.  Most people either crave another chance to get a slice of the city that never sleeps or have it on their bucket list of places to visit.  With careful planning you can cram a lot into just 24 hours – after all sleep is so over rated isn’t it?

The question is where to start? Let’s assume you’ve negotiated the immigration process at whatever airport you arrive at and have chosen the most appropriate ground transportation option for your traveling party and budget – there is little point in offers any advice here apart from always use the official options.  It is incredibly sensible to look at what events are in the city and whether there are any cheap tickets –www.stubhub.com is an excellent resource for any gigs and sporting events such as the baseball where you can pick up last (and I mean last) minute tickets for some events for a dollar.

New York has lots of things to do that are free.  The Staten Island Ferry arguably offers some of the best views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty 24 hours a day and is completely free, whilst the 9/11 Memorial Site is now fully open and you can look in awe at the size of the reflecting pools where the Twin Towers once stood.  Central Park is a beautiful place to wander in the summer whilst the area around Lower Manhattan is littered with historic buildings which can be entered free of charge such as the Federal Reserve Bank (you need to reserve a spot in advance to see the Gold Reserves where half a million gold bars are kept for safe-keeping) or Hook and Ladder on North Moore Street, a working fire station but used as the location for the filming of Ghostbusters.  If you are lucky you may also see Lindsey Lohan stagger home across the street.  If you are feeling energetic then a perfect way to spend a morning is to walk The High Line, a reclaimed railway line that through the West Side and has art galleries, restaurants and bars along its 1.45 mile route.  Alternatively head across the walkway on Brooklyn Bridge for some decent views of the city’s skyline.

There are numerous options to get a birds-eye view of the city these days.  The Rock, aka the Rockerfeller Center is in mid-town at 49th Street and the viewing platform here is often less busy that the Empire State Building on 5th Avenue although is open longer.  The new spot in town to see and be seen is undoubtably the 1,776ft, the fourth tallest building in the world and the biggest in the Western Hemipshere, One World Trade Center.  Be prepared to queue if you want to ride up to the 102nd floor to get some outstanding views of the city and beyond.  Tickets can be booked online from $32 for Adults. For a less energetic way to see the city, hop on one of the helicopter tours that leave from the piers on the East and West sides of Manhattan.

If the city gets too much then head across to the picturesque town of Hoboken in New Jersey either by a 10 minute ferry ride from lower Manhattan or on the PATH train.  The way of life here is more relaxed, the restaurants and bar not as busy and the views across the Hudson to New York are stunning.  The Main Street here is where you will find the original Cake Boss shop too.

There are thousands of places to eat and drink in the city, which is often best explored without recommendations.  However, a couple of our favourites are:-

  • Chinese Soup Noodle Dumplings – Joe Shanghai on Pell Street – expect to queue around the block for these delicious treats.
  • Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich – Charly’s Diner on Trinity Place at the east end of Zuccoti Park is the place to go – cooked in front of your eyes.
  • Steak – There are dozens of decent steak houses in Manhattan but one of my favourites, if not the cheapest, is Bobby Vans on Broadway.
  • Tapas – Cafe Barca in Little Italy is a great spot – decent choice of dishes and cheap as chips
  • Fried Chicken – How about Fried Chicken served on Waffles?  Then you need Sweet Chick in Williamsburg.  Expect to queue for the privilage to eat here.
  • Breakfast – Why compromise?  Cafe Charlie opposite Grand Central Station, under the Park Avenue approach has the best breakfast in town.
  • Smoked meats – Route 66 Smokehouse in Stone Street, lower Manhattan is a great spot in the summer – in fact the whole of Stone Street is a brilliant place to hang out when the sun is setting with outdoor seating and bars such as the Becketts, The Growler and Bavaria Bierhaus.
  • Strange and wonderful things – Apparently in the top 10 bars in the whole of America, The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog is a strange one. A ground floor compact Irish Bar, with its own craft beers provides the foundations to two floors of booth seating for over 100 cocktails and some fantastic small portions of fusion food.  Get here early or you will be queuing for ages.

The list could go on and on.  Take our advice.  Ignore our advice.  Share our advice.  Damn it, just go and do New York your way – you wont regret it!

24 Hours in Fort Lauderdale

Miami has the beat, Fort Lauderdale has the beach.  Few people will come to Florida’s 8th biggest city unless they are coming for the sun, sea and sunsets, rather passing through on the way down to Miami just 30 minutes to the south and onwards to The Keys.  But there’s enough here to keep even the most restless tourist occupied for 24 hours.

For starters there’s Sawgrass Mill, America’s biggest outlet centre with over 300 stores, located on the edge of the Everglades National Park, and rivals some of the theme parks in Florida for daily footfall.  Less busy but still impressive is the Aventura Mall that sits on the borders between the city limits of Fort Lauderdale and Miami. No good can come out of visiting either as the owner of a joint bank account or credit card.  Both really require a car to access although Aventura has the hub of a number of local bus routes, such as line 4 that runs up Ocean Drive to Dania Beach.

To get a different view of some of the amazing properties that sit on the river then use the informative Water Taxi service that runs the whole length of Hollywood and the waterways of Dania and beyond. There is a boardwalk that runs for a couple miles from South Hollywood allowing the perfect cycling conditions, with hire points at regular intervals.

You’d be mad not to take advantage of being so close to the Everglades and the best way to see them is by airboat.  Guides will point out alligators, manatees and all sorts of strange creatures at the Sawgrass Recreation Park.  Florida is one of the few states where gambling is legal and so many people will head to Gulfstream Park for some betting action whether that’s on horse racing or on the casino tables.

Take your pick from all of the major chain hotels either in the city centre or Hollywood Beach. You will pay a premium for a room with a view in somewhere such as The Diplomat on Ocean Drive which has a 33rd floor bar and an amazing swimming pool as well as a very good restaurant.  A cheaper option, The Crown Plaza 5 minutes south has an infinity pool which offers some superb sunset views from the poolside bar.

Hyde Beach Kitchen, just off  is a seriously good seafood restaurant and cocktail bar with a local right on the beach that will earn anyone trying to impress their partner significant brownie points, whilst further up South Ocean Drive is the highly recommended GG’s Waterfront Grill and Billy’s Stone Crab Shack which not only offers superb stone crab, unsurprisingly, as well as superb sunset views.  If you want to sample some of the best craft beers in the area then Hollywood Ales brews on the beach at the junction of Polk Street and North Surf Street, which also does some decent food, whilst a minute’s walk away is the always busy Taco Beach Shack.  You’ll find the excellent Hollywood Pale Ale in many bars and restaurants up and down Ocean Drive.

24 Hours in San Diego

San Diego is one of the most important, historic cities in North America, sitting just north of the border with Mexico and the city of Tijuana. Whilst the areas that you will most probably visit are all concentrated in a small central area, the city is the 9th biggest in the United States, stretching North, South and Eastwards.

The historic centre is the Gaslamp District, so called for the style of lighting that was introduced back in the day.  Today it is where all the pubs and restaurants can be found.  One of the easiest ways to get around the centre is to take the Old Town Trolley Tour which does a two hour circuit of the centre, stopping at around a dozen points.  Tickets can be bought at most main hotels as well as onboard.

If you only have time to see one attraction then it should be the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier, one of the biggest floating military vessels every to grace the ocean.  Today, the deck is filled with aircraft to demonstrate the sheer size of the powerhouse but was once the floating home of the Top Gun Pilot Training squadron.

Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban cultural park in San Diego. In addition to open space areas, natural vegetation zones, green belts, gardens, and walking paths, it contains museums, several theatres, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo, housing over 3,700 animals including giant pandas. Keeping the animal theme, many people associate San Diego with Seaworld, the first aqua-marine theme park in the world.  It is home to the fantastic Atlantis, Manta and Wild Arctic rides.  Tickets aren’t cheap so hunt around for some online bargains.  Further out of town is Legoland which could be a good stopping off point if you are journeying from Los Angeles.

Come when the sun is shining, which let’s be honest is almost every day and you could catch a Baseball game at Petco Park.  Sitting in the centre of the historic Gaslamp District, ball fans fill the bars and restaurants around the ballpark on match days, although mostly to drown their sorrows as the Padres are one of the perennial under-performers in Major League Baseball.

Want to see some sport on TV, served by some of the prettiest waitresses in California, then head to Barley Mash at 600 5th Avenue in the Gaslamp District.  Superb food (the Buffalo chicken topped fries will keep you going for days), superb beers (Californian Creamin’ ale is an explosion of cream soda followed by a hit of IPA) and superb service.  One of the most traditional restaurants in the district is Lou & Mickey Steak and Seafood House which has an eye-watering array of steaks and decent wine.  A few doors down is the Gaslamp Strip Club, disappointingly for some is a great steak house not a strip house, slap bang next to the infamous Dick’s Last Resort, known simply for the deliberately rude service (and some decent beers and food mind!)

The hotel chains are all represented along the marina, with the ultra-shiny Marriott offering 5 star luxury, whilst the Hyatt has the views over USS Midway.  Expect to pay top dollar when there is a conference in town.  The US Grant on Broadway offers old-school luxury and more affordable prices.  Budget accommodation can be found towards the freeway.

If these aren’t good enough reasons to visit San Diego, then how about these facts:-

  • The city produces more avocados than any other place in the country. Singer Jason Mraz owns a 5.5 acre avocado farm not far from the city centre – that’s surely enough to make anyone visit or try the green gunk.
  • The district of La Jolla used to have houses built strictly for small people, sometimes referred to as “the munchkin houses” due to the fact that they were inhabited by some of the actors who played Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz film.
  • Whilst the lakes close to the city look very tempting, it is illegal to swim in them.

On a good day, the city is around a 2 hour drive from Los Angeles, although it is rather nondescript freeway journey.  For a few dollars and an hour more of your time then head down the Pacific Highway that hugs the coast and takes in the towns of Carlsbad and Oceanside.  San Diego’s airport can get a bit congested, being the second busiest single runway airport in the world behind London Gatwick. It is certainly worth the effort if you have a spare day whilst on the West Coast.


24 Hours in Santa Monica

Los Angeles by the sea is one way to describe Santa Monica but it is so much more than that. Despite sitting on the edge of one of the biggest, most cosmopolitan cities on earth  and having a population of over 90,000 itself, it has a real small-town American feel.

There can be no better way to end any day is sitting at the end of Santa Monica Pier watching another perfect sunset over the Pacific Ocean. This is the focal point of the whole area, the end of Route 66 that runs through the middle of America. Restaurants, bars and amusements are the order of the day, whilst the Aquarium will keep the kids amused. Just think Southend-on-Sea with sunshine.

Many visitors will drop in and out of Santa Monica as part of a wider trip to Southern California. Sitting just a few miles from the exclusive areas of Beverly Hills, the smart neighbourhood of Brentwood and north of the hipster community of Venice Beach, the population of Santa Monica swells as the sun rises, and contracts at dusk.

Whilst the beaches teem with life all day, with muscle-men rubbing bronzed shoulders with Baywatch-inspired lifeguards and families playing in the surf, as the sun goes down there is a serenity about the place. For the romantics among you, there is no better place for a stroll hand in hand with the sand beneath your feet.  If you fancy something different then head onto Muscle Beach to flash the abs or rent a Segway from 1660 Ocean Avenue.

Just two roads behind the ocean road you will find the heartbeat of the city – the 3rd Street Promenade.  Here you will find bars, restaurants and shops which come alive when people leave the beach.  At the south end is the Santa Monica Place Mall where many of the major brands have outlets.  There are few better places in the US to shop, eat and drink in a small area.

You don’t have to wander far to grab a drink or some food in Santa Monica with almost every option catered for under the sun.  Most of the big hotels have decent restaurants, albeit quite pricey such as the Fairmount Miramar Hotel, often the haunt of the stars.  Sultry blonde Jean Harlow rented one of the Miramar’s bungalows in the early 1930s, and years later another famous blonde, Marilyn Monroe, frequently retreated to the Miramar when she wanted to disappear from the media.  Want to splash the cash to impress someone more?  Head to Shutters On The Beach on the beach, surprisingly, where the views guarantee sunshine and sand.  A cheaper place to head for a bed for the night is Hotel Carmel on the corner of 2nd and Broadway.

The Commons Ale House at 129 Broadway is certainly a place to head for if you fancy being overwhelmed by local brews, as too is Barney’s Beanery on 3rd Avenue Promenade which also has the added benefit of some fantastic chicken wings and large TVs abound.  Trastevere is a superb spot for Italian food (on the corner of 3rd and Santa Monica Boulevard whilst if you want to splash out then head to Water Grill on Ocean which has some of the best seafood and steak in town.  If you are missing your slice of England then head to Ye Olde Kings Head pub on Santa Monica Boulevard where the walls are adorned with celebrities who have popped in for a full English over the years.  This is the place to head to watch Premier League or Rugby, whilst the shop next door stocks emergency Marmite should you need it.

Most people who arrive in Santa Monica only have two things on their mind – sunshine and relaxing.  The main things to do revolve around grabbing a spot in the sunshine, cracking open a beer and simply letting the world slip away into the Pacific Ocean horizon.