Visiting Yosemite National Park, USA

I thought we’d go to Yosemite National Park today, because it’s a pretty incredible place. Like many Australians, we didn’t really know where to start in planning our visit to the park, and a lot of information we found online seemed to be more geared towards Americans, so here are some tips that I hope will help others make the most of their first visit to this gorgeous place.

HOW DO I GET THERE?
Drive. Well, fly to the general vicinity, then drive. If you fly into San Francisco, it’ll be about a 4 hour drive, around 5 hours from Los Angeles, or 7 hours from Las Vegas.

 

HOW LONG DO I NEED?
It’ll really depend on how much you want to do – for a bit of a taste, 3 days is a good amount; if you want to do some camping and serious hiking, give yourself a solid week.

WHERE SHOULD I BASE MYSELF?
You’ll need to consider the time and money trade off when you decide where to stay. The closer you are to the park, the more accommodatiom tends to cost. But if you go with something cheaper, it may add on quite a bit of driving time to and from the park each day.

We stayed in the Yosemite Valley at the Yosemite Westgate Lodge – it took us around an hour to get to El Capitan, had a restaurant and laundry on site, and very big, comfortable rooms. If you’d like to camp within the park, head to the National Park Service website for more information.

 

CAN I PARK MY CAR IN THE PARK?
Absolutely – car parking areas are all well signed, and they have a free, eco-friendly shuttle buses to scoot you around between major sights. It’s best to check for road closures and snow chain requirements in winter online before setting off, too.

DO I HAVE TO PAY TO ENTER?
Yes – you can buy a seven day pass from USD $30.00 per car from the entrance gates situated on all the roads into the park. Basically, plug “Yosemite National Park” into your GPS and prepare to hand over $30 when you get close to the park!

 

WHAT FACILITIES ARE AVAILABLE?
If you head to he Visitor Center in the middle of the Yosemite Valley, you’ll find park staff to answer your questions, as well as a pretty impressive general store (souvenirs and food and groceries), bathrooms, a café, camping grounds and shuttle buses. When you’re out and about, taking your long drives through the park, you will be able to find toilets periodically, but fair warning: they’re drop toilets…

WHAT SHOULD I SEE IF I ONLY HAVE A FEW DAYS?
If you have limited time, I’d recommemd the following…

Day 1: Drive to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and leave your car at one of the parking lots in the area. Between walking around and using the free shuttke, you’ll be able to see summits like the Half Dome, El Capitan, Eagle Peak and Sentinel Dome, walk along Tenaya Creek and the Merced River, maybe see some deer while you picnic at Mirror Lake, and check out the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center.

Day 2: Get into your car, stock up on snacks, and drive the Tioga Pass Road all the way up to Tuolumne Meadow and back. Make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes so you can hike around Olmsted Point, and pack a picnic lunch to eat on the shore of Tenaya Lake.

WHAT SHOULD I BRING?
• Sunscreen. Always. And actually use it!
• Sunglasses. When that sun hits white rock or reflects off the water, your eyes will thank you.
• Layers. Just because the day starts cold, doesn’t mean it won’t heat up. Light layers are your friends.
• Comfortable shoes you can walk all day on uneven terrain in.
• A backpack – you don’t need to be toting a handbag around here.
• A map. If you’re planning on hiking, you don’t want to rely on your phone – batteries die, signals are lost. If you intend on exploring, even a small map is a good idea.
• A water bottle and snacks. You can of course buy it all there, but it’s always much cheaper to BYO. Just remember to take all of your scraps with you, because bears.

UMMM… BEARS??!
Yeah, that’s a thing. All you really need to know is stick to the marked paths as much as possible, if there aren’t many other people around, make plenty of noise as you walk (they don’t like that), and when you’re done with your picnic, pick up any pieces of lettuce and ham that have dropped out of your sandwich, and dispose of all food waste in one of the many bear-proof bins you’ll find in the park.

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Top 10 Things To Do in Washington, D.C.

1. Walk through Arlington National Cemetery

 http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/
Where? Arlington, Virginia
Why go? To call over 600 acres of tombs an overwhelming experience would be a disrespectful understatement. I wasn’t at all prepared for the enormity of it, or the impact seeing all of those tombs would have on me. It wasn’t easy to walk through, but I felt it was a necessary walk, not just for me but for everyone; in order to continue to justify war and hatred and taking of lives, I think everyone should take a walk through here
How long will you need? We spent around 2 hours here.
Cost? Free.
Read more:
– Arlington National Cemetery

 

2. Eat and shop your way through the Eastern Market

http://easternmarket-dc.org/
Where? 225 7th St SE, Washington, DC
Why go? The market itself left a lot to be desired on the day we visited, with very few stalls open, but the food section was pumping! Places like Market Lunch were full of people, and sitting at the big communal table with locals and my giant plate of pancakes was a brilliant way to start a day of exploring!
How long will you need? With the market not offering a lot, we were there for about an hour to enjoy some serious breaky and people watching.
Cost? My “short stack” of blueberry buckwheat pancakes with toasted pecans cost around USD$5.00. I use the term “short stack” very loosely, because the serving was so big I couldn’t finish it, even with husband’s help.
Read more:
– Eat here: Market Lunch at the Eastern Market

 

3. Take time to reflect at the Holocaust Museum

 https://www.ushmm.org/
Where? 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, DC
Why go? I’ve had a strong sense of horror, curiosity, intrigue and admiration for the victim’s of Hitler’s war of terror ever since reading Anne Frank’s Diary and Elie Wiesel’s “Night” in high school. The more I read from survivors, the more it digs into my soul, so I felt a strong pull to visit the Holocaust Museum. I moved through in in quiet reverence, took only one photo (above) in order to remember it, and left in silent tears. Again, if we are living in an age where our leaders condemn war, this is something that must be experienced, regardless of how painful that is.
How long will you need? We were in there for around 2 hours.
Cost? Free.

 

4. Indulge your inner bookworm at the Library of Congress

 https://www.loc.gov/
Where? 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC
Why go? This is an experience for both book and architecture lovers. The building will leave you speechless if you take the time to look at the little details, and the collection of books is mind-blowing.
How long will you need? We were there for an hour or so – I could have stayed all day!
Cost? Free! How wonderful is this city of free education?!
Read more:
From my travel journal: Washington, D.C., 2015

 

5. Make yourself at home at Ben’s Chili Bowl

 http://benschilibowl.com/
Where? 1213 U St NW, Washington, DC
Why go? The dogs were fantastic, more of a sausage than a frank, absolutely delicious. The chili was great too, a little bit of a kick, heaps of flavour, and plenty of it. What was even better was the gentleman pictured above in the bottom left corner; he came over to our table to say hi, welcome to Ben’s, and asked how the meal was; not only did he stay for a chat and a photo, he introduced us to the lovely lady in the photo top right, one of the owners and family members of Ben. The food was good, but the people were better!
How long will you need? We weren’t planning to stay long, but ended up there for just under an hour, chatting to our new friends 🙂
Cost? USD$5.95 for the classic jumbo chili dog.
Read more:
– Eat here: Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, D.C., USA

 

6. Wonder through Georgetown

Why go? After the intensity of the museums and monuments, it’s kinda nice to just get away and take a stroll and look at the beautiful buildings that reside in Georgetown…
How long will you need? We were wondering around for an hour or two.
Cost? Free.

 

7. Take a quiet timeout at the Reflecting Pool

http://www.nationalmall.org/explore-national-mall/monuments-memorials/lincoln-memorial-reflecting-pool
Where? National Mall
Why go? The day we visited was cold and rainy, and I was getting a bit overwhelmed by it all. By the time we reached the reflecting pool, I needed to pause, and there couldn’t be a more beautiful spot in the city to do that. Watching the ripples across the water and the reflection of the trees above, it was the perfect place to stop and consider how far we’d come by that point in our trip. And when I finally looked up, I found I wasn’t the only one taking a time out 🙂
How long will you need? I took about half an hour (under my umbrella!).
Cost? Free!

 

8. Let your inner dorky child run wild at the National Air & Space Museum

https://airandspace.si.edu/visit
Where? 600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC
Why go? I’m actually a bit of an aviation and space nerd, so when husband suggested a stop in at this museum, I was stoked! There is SO much to see in here, and quite a few interactive stations – perfect for when it’s really raining and you need a break. Or for when your kids are starting to drive you up the wall and you to distract them!
How long will you need? At least a few hours.
Cost? Free! How great is that?!

 

9. People watch at Washington Harbor

https://www.thewashingtonharbour.com/
Where? 3000 & 3050 K Street NW, Washington, DC
Why go? This was sunset on the harbor after a long and emotionally taxing afternoon in Arlington. There weren’t many people out, being the middle of winter; a few joggers and dog walkers, and us. We sat down, watched a few planes soar overhead, and let the experiences of the day wash over us.
How long will you need? An hour or two, depending on how much is going on.
Cost? Another freebie!

 

10. Get into the greatest food combo the city has to offer, fried chicken and donuts

Where? My personal favourites were Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken (1308 G Street NW, Washington, DC) and GBD Fried Chicken & Doughnuts (which is sadly now closed).
Why go? Fried dough. Fried chicken. I had no idea it as a thing to throw them together. Now I don’t know why it took me so long to discover it! Astro’s chicken was so tender and juicy on the inside and ridiculously crispy inside, and their doughnuts were some of the best I’ve had.
How long will you need? How fast can you eat?!
Cost? Doughnuts cost around USD$3.00 each, and the big 8 piece chicken box will set you back around USD$20.00 (Tip – we didn’t get through the 8 pieces. The services are WAY bigger than those you get in Australia!)
Read more:
– Eat here: Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, Washington, D.C., USA
Eat here: GBD Fried Chicken & Doughnuts, Washington, D.C. (donuts)

Top 10 Things To Do in Los Angeles

1. Check out the view of LA from the car park of Dodger Stadium

 http://losangeles.dodgers.mlb.com/la/ballpark/
Where? 1000 Vin Scully Ave, Los Angeles
Why go? Even if you’re not a baseball fan (like me), the view from the car park is unreal!
How long will you need? We were there for about an hour, because husband discovered we could go into the stadium and just sit around. And, the gift shop was open.
Cost? Free!
Read more:
– Travel Tuesday: Dodger Stadium, LA

 

2. Eat your way around Grand Central Market

 http://www.grandcentralmarket.com/
Where? 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles
Why go? Food. All of the food. It’s also full of locals, and watching the way the huge the mix of cultures and ethnicities interact in a market setting is a true experience.
How long will you need? A few hours, preferably first thing in the morning.
Cost? How hungry are you? You can get a solid breakfast for only a few dollars if you’re struggling for cash, or you can buy all of the food!
Read more:
– Eat here: Eggslut & Tumbras at Grand Central Market, LA

 

3. Be a big kid at Universal Studios

 http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/
Where? 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City
Why go? As if you need a reason…
How long will you need? All day!
Cost? Ticket prices start from USD$105.00 per adult

 

4. People watch in Santa Monica and Venice Beach

Why go? People watching at it’s absolute best, it’s the perfect spot to melt into the background and just observe the goings on.
How long will you need? A few hours.
Cost? People watching is the greatest free activity ever!
Read more:
– Through my eyes: Santa Monica & Venice Beach, LA

 

5. While you’re in Venice Beach, check out Abbot Kinney Blvd for good shopping and great food

 http://www.abbotkinneyblvd.com/
Where? Abbot Kinney Blvd. Obviously.
Why go? It’s a pretty hipster area, but in a good way – lots of gorgeous and really unique stores to buy some different souvenirs (because do you really want to be that guy with the Hollywood Star fridge magnet?!). And with hipsters comes great food – my cereal and peanut butter bowl from Another Kind of Sunrise (above) was magic!
How long will you need? Another few hours after you’re done people watching in Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
Cost? Free to meander, bring some money to shop and eat!
Read more:
– Eat here: Another Kind of Sunrise, LA (breakfast/healthy)

 

6. Enjoy a chili dog at the institution that is Pink’s

 http://www.pinkshollywood.com/
Where? 709 N La Brea Ave, Los Angeles
Why go? Because it’s a city institution – everyone from Dolly Parton to Jimmy Fallon to Aerosmith to Betty White have been! When we visited, we came across a particularly excited lady who was finally visiting for the first time after having lived in LA her whole life!
How long will you need? We were there for about an hour.
Cost? We got the classic chili dog with mustard, onions and chili, for around USD$5.00
Read more:
– Eat here: Pink’s, LA

 

7. Eat your way through The Grove Farmers Market

 http://www.farmersmarketla.com/
Where? 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles
Why go? Food (noticing a theme?), and lots of it! While the Grove itself is a bit upper class and la-di-da, the Farmers Market is much more laid back, with those plebian food options that everyone loves. You can have your table-cloth clad restaurants, I’ll take a doughnut and pulled pork sandwich any day!
How long will you need? We visited a few times, and spend an hour or two each visit. It’s a great spot to grab a coffee and sweet and just watch the world go by!
Cost? Again, depends how much you’re eating…
Read more:
– Shop & Eat at The Grove Farmers Market, LA (Bryan’s BBQ Pit, Bob’s Coffee Doughnuts & Short Cake)

 

8. Take the trek out the Greystone Mansion and Gardens

 http://www.greystonemansion.org/
Where? 905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills
Why go? It’s stunning. It’s nothing like you’d expect to find in the neon soaked world that is Hollywood, and that’s why you need to go. It’s a little piece of paradise in a world of botox and hairspray, and that’s what you’ll need after a day or two in the mayhem.
How long will you need? Hire a car and drive. It’ll cut down on time walking and time spent in marriage counselling. Trust me (if you don’t read more below). Once you’re there, an hour or so should be enough to recharge!
Cost? Free parking and admission.
Read more:
– Greystone Mansion & Park, LA

 

9. See how the other half live out in Beverly Hills

Why go? Honestly, it’s fascinating. There is so much wealth and so many bizarre activities and conversations associated with that, and as a regular, middle class gal, it really is mesmerising to see how life unfolds for those with money.
How long will you need? Not long – we only lasted an hour.
Cost? Free to people watch, bring a few credit cards if you plan to shop!
Read more:
– From my travel journal: Los Angeles, 2014

 

10. Catch a movie at the legendary TCL (Grauman’s) Chinese Theatre

 http://www.tclchinesetheatres.com/
Where? 6925 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood
Why go? Hollywood takes a special kind of person to put up with it and find it interesting for more than an hour or two, particularly at night. When you reach your limit of fake-and-touristy, why not catch a movie at one of the most iconic movie theatres in the world?!
How long will you need? A few hours – they’re great cinemas so you may want to go back more than once!
Cost? USD$16.00 for a standard adult ticket

 

Stay here: Homewood Suites by Hilton, Chicago, USA

Homewood Suites by Hilton, Chicago – Downtown
Website

I’m heading back to Chicago today, and taking you on a quick little tour of the Homewood Suites by Hilton – this was our home for a week over Christmas, and I couldn’t have been happier! We decided to stay here on a recommendation from a friend, and that’s why I wanted to share; if you’re looking at visiting Chicago, do yourself a favour and look into the Homewood Suites.

The hotel is in the perfect location, bang in the middle of the city – it backs onto Eataly, is a stone’s throw from the red line’s Grand station, and even closer to the Magnificent Mile. A few minutes’ walk will get you to the Billy Goat Tavern (check back in tomorrow for more on that!), the river, and a Whole Foods. Location wise I don’t believe it can be beat.

The rooms are fantastic, and the fact that our was self-contained made it my favourite hotel of the trip – I was quite unwell one night, and just wanted some home cooked pasta with veggies and butter, and having the kitchen meant that was easily do-able. Happy days! Here’s what the kitchen area in the one bedroom was like:

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We went with the lead in room type, given that there was only two of us – we didn’t need anything too big or fancy. We found ourselves checking into this gorgeous suite with not only that nice big kitchen, but also a bedroom, large bathroom and a separate lounge area:

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Other amenities you can expect to find in the rooms here include:
– work station
– complimentary wifi
– 2 LCD TVs (one in the bedroom, one in the lounge)
– fully equipped kitchen, including flatware, fridge, microwave, cooking utensils, dishwasher and stove top
– black-out curtains
– dining table and chairs
– adjustable thermostat
– Neutrogena bath amenities
– iron and ironing board
– full wardrobe with coat hangers and shelving
– hair dryer
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The services at the Homewood are second to none as well:
– complimentary hot breakfast
– 24 hour Pavillion Pantry Market
– ATM
– luggage storage
– guest activity desk
– laundry and valet services
– safety deposit box
– fitness room
– pool

We paid just under AUD$120 per night for 2 people over the week of Christmas (December 23rd to 29th to be exact), and couldn’t have been happier. The amenities and services were fantastic, the staff were incredibly helpful, and it really felt like a home away from home, which was so very appreciated at Christmas  : )

Oh, and the view from the lounge room and bedroom windows?

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Eat here: Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, Washington, D.C., USA

Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken
1308 G St NW, Washington DC
http://astrodoughnuts.com/

It’s been a cold, grey, miserable day in Washington DC, our first of two days in the city. We spent the day exploring the National Mall and surrounds, but the rain picked up around lunch time, putting the kibosh on our sightseeing for a little while. Pretty sure that was the universe telling us to go get fried chicken and donuts.

I’d heard good things about these guys, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, they’re only a small shopfront set up with no indoor seating, so we pulled up a table and chairs just undercover and out of the rain to enjoy our lunch – the first part of which was a box of fried chicken.

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We ordered 8 pieces, being used to Melbourne’s undersized and overpriced portions, and we’re shocked to receive a huge take away box containing what equated to a FULL chicken (2 wings, 2 breasts, 2 thighs and 2 drumsticks). Best fried chicken I’ve ever dug my teeth into; the chicken itself was perfectly white and succulent and juicy, the coating was genuinely crunchy and crispy and amazingly seasoned. We didn’t get through it all, so if you’re visiting, don’t make our mistake and over order!

After the chicken came the donut portion of the afternoon; luckily I ordered only one (I ordered it all at the same time, figuring if it was only a small serve of chicken I could go back for the second donut later). I was tossing up between the PB&J and the Maple Bacon, but the guys said the PB&J was their favourite so I went with that. Definitely one of the better PB&J donuts I’ve had and very different in that it wasn’t a whole filled piece of dough; it was traditional donut shaped with the hole in the middle, yet still filled with the most delicious strawberry jelly (not too sweet, just right). The crushed peanuts on top were a really nice touch, too.

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All up, couldn’t fault this place – perfect fried chicken, top notch donut, really lovely staff, we need this in Melbourne!

Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

USAdventure days 4, 5, 6 & 7: Los Angeles

Stayed at: Days Inn Hollywood

Ate at:
– double double animal style at In N Out
– the slut at Eggslut (felt so very inappropriate ordering that!!)
– chilli dog at Pink’s hot dogs
– The Original at Umami Burger
– Peanut butter cup cereal bowl at Another Kind of Sunrise
– pulled pork & donut at The Grove’s Farmers Market

Got up to:
– hired a car to drive from Anaheim to LA, then to Dodgers Stadium, Staples Center & Central Market
– The Grove
– Santa Monica and Venice Beach
– Hollywood Blvd, the Walk of Fame and Grauman’s Chinese Theater
– Universal Studios
– Greystone Park & Mansion

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BRB, just going on another adventure!

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So this is a bit exciting and totally surreal – as you read this, I’ll be boarding the plane that’ll take me to the other side of the world. To say this trip has been a long time coming is a gross understatement. When we started dating 10 years ago, husband and I both discovered the other badly wanted to take a trip around America. It was an impossible idea while we were completing university and renting our first house, considered and quickly discarded as a honeymoon option, knowing we couldn’t afford to do it properly after a wedding and buying a new house; an idea frequently entertained, but always kept on the back burner. That far off dream we all have that we’re never entirely sure will eventuate.

But right now, we’re buckling our seat belts and stowing our carry on bags in preparation for the long flight that is going to take us on the trip we’ve been waiting so long for. I won’t say that the adventure starts today; we started actively planning this trip around 16 months ago. What lies ahead of us now, after all of the planning, the saving, the sacrificing and compromising and dreaming, is a 45 day trip from coast to coast, with a few detours in between. Our path looks something like this…

Anaheim
Los Angeles
San Francisco
Las Vegas
Chicago
Toronto
Washington DC
New YorkNew Orleans
Isla Mujeres

A brand new travel journal sits right below the zipper of my carry on bag (probably being scrawled in right now), so that I can, as usual, capture it all while I’m on the road. I fully intend to blog about it all when I get back home, but in the mean time, 6 weeks is a very long time to go AWOL! So I’m going to be suspending regular programming and will post a quick update at the end of each city visit, of what we’ve been seeing and doing and eating and what not. Once I’m back in the real world, I’ll go back to posting properly, photos and all; I’d rather have time to write properly and do it justice than bombard you with rushed writing and crappy photos!

And if you want to see what we’re up to (and probably more importantly, what I’m eating), play along at home with Instragram 🙂

On that note, it’s time for me to momentarily put down my notebook and pen, shut my eyes, and let the reality sink in; I am living the life I’ve always wanted, the life of travel and adventure and discovery… we’re finally doing this!