Go West - Exploring the US West Coast
Gold miners, teenagers, mavericks, daydreamers – the West Coast has always tempted those who craved freedom. No wonder: built amid breathtaking landscapes, West Coast metropolises still exude a passion for entertainment and limitless exploration.
Los Angeles – a good show
Melrose, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, and Venice Beach have all become keywords of popular culture. Many visitors book a flight to LA for a backstage experience. If you are one of them, start at Universal Studios; take a tour on their famous tram rattling along the sets and the monsters of the studio’s blockbusters: creatures from Jurassic Park and Jaws may surprise you along the way. The amusement only starts here: you can also catch roller coaster rides, get thrilled by 4-D movie projections and visit the House of Horror! A tour at the Warner Bros. Studios offers a peek into the production of TV shows and films, with the prospect of bumping into stars on the set! Comprehensive Hollywood tours with knowledgeable guides pay-off if you want a big dose of celebrities and the Hollywood lifestyle. Most tours include the Madame Tussauds celebrity waxworks, the Walk of Fame (a mile-long promenade with the famous bronze stars), the Hollywood sign, Rodeo Drive and Sunset Strip (a vibrant district for shopping and nightlife), the Kodak Theater (home to the Academy Awards ceremonies), and Grauman’s Chinese Theater. If you want a state-of-the-art movie experience, ArcLight cinema on Sunset Boulevard is the place to go. Note that LA is not only about Hollywood. Starting in downtown, sample the Grande Avenue, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the super modern Walt Disney Concert Hall. Near Union Station, explore Olvera Street, the oldest part of LA with Spanish colonial architecture and Mexican food. For shopping, hit Melrose Ave., Robertson Blvd. in West Hollywood or the opulent Rodeo Drive. We also love LA for its skyline and its beaches. For yet another treat, hike to Griffith Park on the hill – visit the planetarium and enjoy breathtaking scenery. A Malibu beach tour takes a day: drive down on the Pacific Highway and enjoy stunning ocean views, heading to Surfriser Beach and Lagoon State Beach. If you do not have time for such an escape, visit the beaches in Venice or Santa Monica. Apart from the hallmark buzz (street vendors, famous restaurants, skaters) experience Venice Canals, a scenic residential area with its own internal waterways.
San Francisco – historic and hip
A remarkably liberal place with a slightly European touch to it, ’Frisco’ offers a lot of wonders. Start your tour downtown, close to the docks. Taste fresh produce at the Ferry Building’s market and the local restaurants. Try also their “shop with the chef” programs! Head uphill on one of the famous cable cars to Chinatown. This is a different universe: Pagoda-like roofs and dragon-shaped lamp posts line the streets among two and three story blocks teeming with grocery stores, shops and exotic restaurants. Eat and dare to bargain. Then, you can either make a jaunt toward Union Square with its catwalk brands, or proceed to Russian Hill and Nob Hill. These upscale residential areas offer steep-street cable car rides and feature vantage points with fantastic bay views. A hidden treasure you should not miss is Macondray Lane’s urban gardens. From Russian Hill you can descend to the tourist-packed Fishermen’s Wharf. Crammed with souvenir shops and restaurants, the Wharf is a favorite place for children with to its shops, the Musee Mecanique’s vintage arcade machines, historic vessels at Hyde Street Pier, and the sea lions at Pier 39. From the Wharf, you can catch a ferry to Alcatraz, where a guided audio-tour will evoke the ghosts of infamous inmates like Al Capone. Back in town, head to the Mission district: Dolores Str., Mission Str. and Valencia Str. Still a bit hippy, this neighborhood is full of bookstores, galleries, bars and restaurants! Visit also Mission Dolores, the oldest standing building in town, and Dolores Park, a popular meeting pot for locals and tourists. Of course, walking over the Golden Gate Bridge is a must. Spanning 1,970 meters across Golden Gate Bay and the ocean, this magnificent feat of engineering attracts millions of tourists every year. Another wonder of the city is Golden Gate Park. In this urban oasis nestle a botanic garden, a Japanese Tea Garden, and a Victorian Conservatory of Flowers. Venture into the greenery and find the ocean at its West end!
Seattle – all at bay
Seattle residents know three things very well: rain, clean air and something they call the best foodstuff in America. To taste the latter, go to Pike Place Market and taste fresh seafood at local vendors and restaurants. A few blocks away at Westlake Center, take the Monorail (a single-track urban shuttle built for the 1962 world fair) to Seattle Center where you can rise to the top of the Space Needle. The Needle’s ‘O Deck’ offers a 360-degree view of the city, the bay and the mountains. Do not miss the EMP Museum, a sanctuary dedicated to pop icons and science fiction visionaries (they currently run Jimi Hendrix and Rolling Stones exhibitions, and some artifacts from sci-fi literature and films). You will have plenty of reasons to linger in Seattle Center, home to the Seattle Opera, the Children’s Museum, the Pacific Science Center, and many other cultural venues. To catch up with the history of the city, it is worth visiting Pioneer Square, the historical district of Seattle. Though the district’s main sight is the Smith Tower, it also has many galleries, great restaurants and boutiques that deserve attention (check out www.pioneersquare.org for detailed tours). Back at Elliott Bay, take a free tour around the Olympic Sculpture Park, an achievement of modern architecture. At Pier 59 on Alaskan Way, you will find the Seattle Aquarium, which will enthrall your children (the stars of the show are the otters). At Pier 55 and 56 tourists embark on vessels to set out for waterborne sightseeing. Tillicum Village takes you to nearby Blake Island where you can explore the lifestyle of Native American tribes. Ferry trips are a must in Seattle. The main ferry terminal is called Coleman Dock. Set out to Bainbridge Island (about 40 min.), to Bremerton Island (sample the Island’s galleries and its nice port), or catch a ferry to any of the San Juan islands (Orcaz, San Juan, Shaw or Lopez). These islands are famous for scenic sea views, whale watch cruises, sea kayaking and other outdoor activities – not to mention the excellent seafood on offer.
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