If you followed along with our 3 week USA road trip this summer on Instagram, here’s all of the questions you asked and lots of photos!
This is obviously not my normal type of post at all, and if you’re here just for the food, please do scroll on by. HOWEVER, I had so many questions about the 3 week USA trip that we took this summer, I thought I’d put all of the answers in one place.
This article is in no way exhaustive, it’s just out experience from the planning (and enjoying!) of that trip. I hope it’s useful, let me know anything not answered and I’ll try and add it. 🇺🇸
Background to our trip
A couple of things led up to this trip, we were supposed to go the year before, and the year before that but obviously that was the time of travel bans AND we were busy working on our house.
Also, we both collect Avios points/Airmiles and we had accumulated so many (from not being able to travel in recent years) that we could effectively book free flights this year (I’ll talk more about that below).
London ✈️ Houston (4 nights)
Houston ✈️ Los Angeles (3 nights)
Los Angeles 🚗 Pismo Beach (1 night)
Pismo Beach 🚗 Carmel (1 night)
Carmel 🚗 Yosemite (3 night)
Yosemite 🚗 San Francisco (5 nights)
San Francisco 🚂 Seattle (3 nights)
Seattle 🚗 Portland (1 night)
Deciding our Route
Free flights using Avios are amazing but the availability to use the points can be tricky (there’s only a few seats on certain flight routes that you can use them on).
Ideally, originally, we would’ve flown into LA and out of San Francisco, but making our trip cover a larger area meant it was much easier to find Avios flights with availability for 4 people.
It also happily meant that we could discover some more states and travel on one of the most iconic train journeys in the world.
Where to research a big trip?
⭐️ I spoke to people who had visited and watching lots of TikTok and YouTube videos.
⭐️ I’d then look at reviews on Google and TripAdvisor (if applicable).
⭐️ I set up a Google Map and saved every single point of interest that I’d found and had decided was worth a visit (197 places!)
⭐️ Tried to balance cities/wilderness and resting/travelling.
I have to say, the planning took HOURS, DAYS, WEEKS, but I really enjoyed it, so if you’re a planning nerd like me, you’re in for a treat!
Where we went
Below are each of our stops and notes on our favourite points from each, it’s not exhaustive, please feel free to ask any questions.
Would I recommend going out of your way to visit Houston? Probably not. Am I glad we went and experienced it somewhat by accident due to the flights we needed to book? Yes!
- HEB Supermarkets – I am a food obsessive, but wow we all loved wasting a good hour or two wandering around this epic supermarket.
- Harry’s Diner – Great place for breakfast tacos.
- Space Centre Houston – A must visit in Houston. The control centre where the first moon landing was orchestrated was surprisingly emotional!
- Buc-ee’s – This is a chain of gas stations and stores across Texas. My followers on Instagram kept telling me to go and I couldn’t work out why I was being told to visit a gas station store.. Until we did. What an experience!
- Bead Bar – Such a cute shop. Harri and I spent a happy afternoon here.
- Pinkerton’s BBQ – Totally delicious, authentic, local BBQ spot. The BEST brisket.
- The Pit Room BBQ – A little more modern than Pinkerton’s, brisket not *quite* as good but overall we rated this one more highly for tables/atmosphere and sides.
- Houston Mariott Marquis – We stayed here on our first night, honestly? Just to experience that wild lazy river! Such a fun start to our trip.
- In N Our Burger – A LA icon, you have to try it (but Google the secret menu first and order from that!) We actually only gave it a 7/10 but still, fun to try.
- Erewhon – Another LA foodie experience. Apparently where the stars shop (I am not surprised with those prices!!)
- Universal Studios – I am not a theme park person, but have to say, I LOVED this day! Definitely fork out for fast passes if you can as waits can be very long.
- The Original Farmers Market – A fun place for food lovers.
- LA Tour – We booked a tour in LA that showed us lots of areas we wanted to see. Would recommend if you don’t fancy being the one responsible for being stuck in traffic all day. LA traffic is wild!
- Hollywood Hills AirBnB – This is the place we stayed, v close to Universal Studios and very safe with beautiful views.
Pismo Beach is a little town, great for a one night stop over but probably no more.
- Watching the most amazing sunset of our lives on the beach (eating takeaway pizza!)
- Walking along the pier to watch the surfers.
Another small town for a one night stop. Carmel is absurdly expensive for accommodation and eating out, so watch out and plan accordingly.
- Wandering around the quaint little shops.
- Stationæry – Gorgeous cafe for brunch.
- Driving 17 mile drive around the coast and seeing Sea Lions.
We were here on a Monday night and lots of restaurants are shut on a Monday, which I hadn’t realised.
- Rush Creek Lodge We absolutely loved our hotel here, it was just outside the park and had heaps going on for children.
- S’mores at the hotel fire pit each night.
- Organised full day tour/hike (ours was booked through our hotel). I booked this as it was a good way to see lots of the park in just one day. It was a LONG day though for children. If I we had had more time, we’d have stayed longer and done more shorter hikes on our own using a good guide book. All that said, still a great way to see lots if you’re short on time and the park is utterly stunning.
- Tenaya Lake This was about an hour drive from our hotel, right in the middle of the park (yes you can drive an hour and still only be midway into the park!) Harri had wanted to swim in a lake on this trip and so we make the journey. I am so glad we did, it was one of the most memorable moments from our whole trip.
Yosemite is FAR from anywhere. I wish I’d planned our food a bit better here and brought some groceries with us to be able to prepare some breakfasts/meals ourselves.
This meant that we were buying dinner in the restaurant of the hotel every night which was fine but a bit repetitive and also definitely not cheap.
- Japantown – We spent a lovely Sunday here, George loves manga books and he was in heaven. So many fun things to do.
- iFun – This is a shop in Japantown where you can craft, covering phone cases and other items with paste and decorations (it’s more fun than that sounds!) Harri and I really enjoyed this.
- Marufuku Ramen – This was one of my favourite meals of the whole trip.
- Lucca Deli – Chestnut Street/Cow Hollow where this sandwich shop is is a really lovely area to wander and shop for a morning. The sandwiches here are EPIC. Buy one and sit outside to eat on a bench in the sunshine.
- Alcatraz – A must do while in San Francisco, book tickets well in advance and enjoy the ferry ride over!
- Sea Lions at Pier 39 – Another must do whilst in San Francisco.
- Tartine Manufactory – There are a few Tartine branches, but this is the best apparently. The turkey sandwich was off the charts good.
- Golden Gate Park – Hire bikes (we got a 4 person cycle.. thing!) it was so fun!
- Sausalito – Just over the bridge, you can cycle or take the ferry. An incredibly beautiful view back to San Francisco and some cute little shops.
- Napa Valley Burger Company – This was in Sausalito and definitely worth a stop for lunch if you’re there.
My husband LOVES an epic train journey and the Coast Starlight is billed as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world.
It lived up to expectations! The train goes from LA to Seattle through breathtaking views. We travelled from San Francisco.
I would DEFINITELY recommend booking a room if you can. I could not have managed the 22 hours (!!) with children in a seat. As it was, our family room had beds, and although very *cosy* was fine.
I would say, good if you’re a fan of that type of monumental train journey. Otherwise? Probably not worth 22 hours sitting in a (expensive) tiny box!
- Gum Wall – Gross but a Seattle icon that you can’t miss!
- Pike Place Food Tour –
- Baseball – I mean, you could go to a sports game in any city but our timing just meant that we did it here. We all had SUCH a fun night doing this, would highly recommend!
- Moto Pizza – This pizza store has a 3 month waiting list (yes you heard that right) but they have a concession at the baseball. 100% worth going just for that. It was EPIC.
Our stay in Portland was just one night so we didn’t see heaps. If you’re a reader, would recommend a visit to Powell’s Books though – WOW just WOW!
I received this question SO many times when I was away. The answer is not a simple one and I am no expert.
The levels of unhoused people on the west coast of the United States currently (2023) is incredibly high. Much higher than elsewhere in the US.
This is due to lots of factors, and during our trip I spent a lot of time trying to learn more about it. It’s complicated and nuanced and if you decide to visit, I’d urge you to spend some time learning about what’s going on there and why.
In practical terms, yes, you will see a lot of tents, encampments and unhoused people. If you are uncomfortable seeing that, you may just want to research where you visit, which parts of town etc.
Again, I am no expert. However, in every city where I fully researched the safest/best places to stay/visit we felt very safe.
Portland is the only city where we didn’t and that was 100% down to the fact that I hadn’t done a great job researching where to stay. (It was our last night, and we stayed in a smart hotel as a treat BUT it happened to be in the downtown area which does feel fairly shady.)
Like in any big city (hi London!) there are places that you just wouldn’t feel great walking at night, just do your research before you go and plan accordingly.
It also goes without saying that not drawing attention to yourself is a sensible idea.
⭐️ This cutlery set which packs up so neatly and we used for every picnic and bargain supermarket food breakfast/lunch.
⭐️ This mega multi charger. Saved a LOT of arguing!
⭐️ Some games like Uno and Dobble.
⭐️ Scrapbooks and these clever pens that are very hard to lose!
1. Spicy Chicken Ramen at Marufuku in San Francisco
2. Turkey Sandwich at Tartine Manufactory San Francisco
3. BBQ at The Pit in Houston
I plotted out where we were interested in going, anything interesting there on certain dates, travel/drive times between so days weren’t too long, and then gradually slotted it all together using that as a guide.
⭐️ I wish I’d researched the specific area of town that I was booking in. (Portland I’m looking at you.)
⭐️ Checked road/traffic updates in advance (Highway 1 was shut when we were there!)
⭐️ Taken more groceries with us to Yosemite.
⭐️ Wish we had visited Austin in Texas as it’s supposed to be foodie heaven,
🇺🇸 Plan some down time every afternoon.
🇺🇸 Don’t make the drives longer than 3 – 4 hours.
🇺🇸 Plan according to their interests and what excites them.
Honestly, I’ve done years of museums etc which is good sometimes but the stuff they will really remember is often taking part in the more day to day experiences in a new country – in my opinion.
I thought a lot about luggage before we went. We wanted:
⭐️ Bags that everyone could carry themselves.
⭐️ Where we could open them and see all clothes without having to unpack.
⭐️ Soft outer (not a hard shell) to make them easier for fitting into cars.
These Eastpak bags fitted the bill perfectly.
I honestly feel they made a big difference to the stress levels of moving from place to place as we didn’t every really have to unpack, and the bags stayed reasonably neat.
We booked everything direct (using booking.com as it earns more Avios points!)
Yes. I am a complete planner and a total nerd and I wanted to know that everything was organised and researched before, so I could totally relax and enjoy the trip.
It worked for me, but obviously you do you!
Honestly, I am not sure (and happier living in blissful ignorance I think?)
We obviously had the free flights (apart from paying the tax on them) and then because we had been booking and paying for accommodation and activities for almost a year beforehand this also helped to spread the cost.
If you’re planning on booking a trip like this.. Just do it. Book the trip. It’s one of the best things that I’ve ever done in my life. Experiencing new parts of the world, especially with your children, is such a privilege and one I’m very grateful to have had this year.
Have an amazing time!