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 Brooklyn

You mean New York, right? Actually no. Brooklyn itself has a population of over 2.6million and if listed on its own would be the fourth biggest city in the whole of the United States. Whilst many visitors to New York will make the pilgrimage across the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the best free views you can get anywhere in the world, there’s so much more to the borough that it warrants a day of its own for visitors.
Originally settled by the Dutch and named after the village back in the Netherlands Breuckelen, the area grew with influxes of settlers from Europe, hence why names of locales such as Gravesend and Brighton exist today. The main turning point for the borough was In 1883 when the Brooklyn Bridge was completed, meaning transportation to Manhattan was no longer by water only, and Brooklyn’s ties to the City of New York were irrecoverably strengthened.

Start your day in Lower Manhattan, watching the sunrise over the Brooklyn Bridge from Pier 17 next to the under redeveloped South Seaport, then head over the bridge, taking in the views of the Manhattan skyline and the East River.

The opening of the Barclays Center on the junction of Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic has re-invigorated the area. Brooklyn had for too long been without its own sporting team, its own identity. The controversial relocated of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team to Los Angeles in 1957 had left the city without a team until an equally controversial move saw the New Jersey Nets NBA team skip States and take up residence in the 18,000 all seater arena which opened in 2010, although fortunes haven’t favoured the Nets recently, so much so that you can pick up tickets from around $15 on Stubhub on a regular basis. The New York Islanders ice hockey team also play their home games in the arena.

On North 11th Street you will find the world renown Brooklyn Brewery, where daily tours take you behind the scenes and allow you to sample some of their famous and not so famous brews. Close by are the restaurants on Bedford Avenue, the heart of one of the trendiest areas of Brooklyn, Williamsburg. Highly recommended is Sweet Chick (164 Bedford Avenue) which serves up savoury fried chicken with sweet waffles. If steak’s your thing then there is a Peter Luger’s steakhouse around the corner on Driggs Avenue.

One of the famous restaurants in Brooklyn is Brennan & Carr at 3432 Nostrand Avenue, a favourite of Man versus Food’s Adam Richman where you can sample their legendary hot roast beef sandwiches, dipped in beef broth. It’s a bit of a trek, with the nearest subway being Avenue U on the Q Line but well worth it. Another incredibly popular restaurant is Emily on Fulton Street, where you can expect to wait for an hour plus in peak times for a slice of their glorious pizza.

One of the growing trends in happening areas such as Brooklyn is the emergence of bar hybrids – bars that are combined with other types of establishments. One of the best rated, which has ‘America’s greatest baked potato no less’ is the deli-bar of Mekelburg’s on Grand Avenue.

Brooklyn is of course also home to the world-famous Coney Island, the Southend-On-Sea meets Margate of New York with its famous pier, amusement park and of course once a year, Nathan’s World Hot Dog eating championships on the 4th July. The Cyclone rollercoaster, built in 1927 is still in operation and has been added to the National Historic Sites register. Don’t expect much fun and giggles in the winter where the Atlantic Ocean bashes the piers but head down here in the late spring or early Autumn when the summer crowds have dispersed for some glorious old-fashion fun.

For some peace and relaxation, then head for either the Botanic Gardens or Prospect Park, the Brooklyn equivalent of Central Park complete with its own zoo, which both come alive in the summer months.

Most visitors will head back to Manhattan when the sun starts to set, with hundreds of hotels to choose from. Brooklyn has its own share of good lodgings though including Aloft and the Indigo in Duffield Street or the NU in Smith Street – all three are located relatively close to Brooklyn Bridge and the shopping mall at Hoyt.

Brooklyn is like Hoxton or Shoreditch on growth hormones. There are so many parts of the city in constant flux that the best way to experience and enjoy your 24 hours is simply to choose a starting spot and just wander.

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.