Full day highlights of Chicago

Winters are brutal, but in the summer Chicago is one hell of a place to be with its lakefront beaches, host of activities and with its general buzzy sassy attitude.  I, from a personal point of view, had one of the best days of my life in Chicago because I managed to combine a cycle up the lakefront, the boat tour of the sites, a baseball game, concert and drinks.  Chicago in summer is raring to go and I’ve listed my top tips for an amazing day in the Tips section below

City sights of New York City

What a city – I loved New York everytime I’ve visited for work and as a tourist, winter and in summer.  But, I tended to visit before the simplicity of quality photos on the phone and before I really started to travel around the world trying things that weren’t on the standard checklist.  For these reasons, I don’t think I can do the place anywhere near the justice it deserves by writing a review, so haven’t shared photos and tips.  Instead, I’ll just give it a score based on how I found it those years ago – can’t miss out on such an obvious global city in the ratings

Rapid 2 week roadtrip around the US West Coast States

My favourite road trip – the contrasts of natural landscape along the way with snowy mountains, red / yellow deserts, and temperate rainforests; the tasters of the different culture snapshots of the US with conservative cowboys through to uber-liberal SoCal and Pacific North West; the sheer world-fame of some spots like Las Vegas, LA, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon; but more than anything – its a trip that is simply perfect for driving.  The distances involved, the way the US in particular is set up for the drivers and the scenery to take in in between the obvious highlights is just world-beating

It’s also a super high octane trip – 4200 miles / 6760km of driving – the sort of thing you rattle off in your 20s, when you have the energy, 2 weeks of vacation and are keen to see and do everything.  There’s something just so incredibly fun and fantastic about seeing one world-famous site one after the other in rapid succession – one day being in the likes of Yellowstone National Park, the next in Arches National Park, the next the Grand Canyon, the next Las Vegas, the next LA etc etc.  An exciting whirlwind that creates a feeling most will never forget . . . and in a way equally spoils / sets the bar incredibly high for any other trip

A bit rushed? – on the trip itself, we didn’t feel overly rushed.  Again, we had 2 weeks vacation and wanted to see as much of this part of the world as possible.  For example, I actually found a day / half day in each of the national parks perfect to do a basic walk, see the main attractions and get the feel for them.  But of course, it would have been nice to spend longer in each – perhaps take a 3 day hiking trip across one of them.  Or perhaps see some of the other pieces we of course missed along the way.  Ultimately, I always suggest avoiding the mass tourism standard experience on offer, and I shudder just thinking of trying to do this again, but in a part of the world that has world class sites one after the other, the gorging on them was great fun

A day sampling some of the microbreweries of Portland

Portland? Oregon? I mean it’s not usually top of the list of fun places round the world.  What if I told you it had the most microbreweries per capita?  (and most strip joints per capita of any city?)  Yep, give it a go – working your way through the various microbreweries in this super friendly, and very liveable, city is good fun and a pleasant surprise

Drinking in Portland was a small part of a whirlwind road trip around the Western US states.  See the itinerary and tips for this adventure here – Rapid 2 week roadtrip around the US West Coast States

Half a day walking through redwood national Park

Redwood National Park has some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world, and being one of only 12 sites in the US that meet the UNESCO criteria for natural world heritage.  Just walking into this forest gives you a feeling of real relaxation as you wander through the damp clean air and look up at these giants to give you a real feeling of context as to how small we all are

Walking through Redwood National Park was a small part of a whirlwind road trip around the Western US states.  See the itinerary and tips for this adventure here – Rapid 2 week roadtrip around the US West Coast States

A day walking through Yosemite National Park

One of the most intensely beautiful spots in the world, with scenery as jaw-dropping as it is compact.  The drive along Yosemite Valley has you straining your neck to look up out the window at the likes of the colossal Half Dome and El Capitan, whilst also enjoying the tranquil, picture perfect forests and streams on the valley floor.  Picturesque doesn’t quite do it – this really is vistas on steroids, and that’s before you’ve even started hiking

As we were on a turbo charged road trip around the Western States (Rapid 2 week roadtrip around the US West Coast States), we only had a day for this magnificent place and so had to pick which hikes to do.  Other than generally wandering around the valley and soaking it all up, I would recommend the Four Mile Trail towards Glacier Point (centre of the south side of Yosemite valley) – you don’t have to walk the whole way up, the views after only after a short walk up are spectacular of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and generally across the valley

Wish I’d had a week

Soaking up the atmosphere around Santa Monica

LA is vast and sprawling, with so many things to do.  But often these things are a little underwhelming – trips to the Chinese Theatre, seeing the Hollywood sign, downtown LA . . . all a bit meh.  Whereas strolling around in the afternoon in Santa Monica was cool, and would be my recommendation for a place to stay for a first time visitor

Staying in Santa Monica was a small part of a whirlwind road trip around the Western US states.  See the itinerary and tips for this adventure here – Rapid 2 week roadtrip around the US West Coast States

Two night stay in Las Vegas

There’s nothing quite like Las vegas – a giant theme park where you can lose yourself in all type of excitement and opportunities to get up to mischief.  If most gambling centres are focused on gambling, Vegas is focused on entertainment, so hit up as many shows as you can, enjoy walking down the strip looking at one audacious casino to the next and go for it on the lash / partying – no place quite like it

Big tip – make sure when you first arrive to just head off and have a drink without any real plans.  The casinos are like labyrinths and there’s something so fun about stumbling into one of the magical spots that you had no idea was around the corner or even existed, enjoying it and moving on to the next

Looking across the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon obviously comes with high expectations – natural wonder of the world, the scene for so many movies and photos, UNESCO world heritage listed etc – and it doesn’t disappoint.  As you walk up to it for your first view from above, you can’t help but have that “wow” moment at the sheer immensity of it.  It may not be the deepest or longest canyon in the world, but its the most impressive

The perfect western cowboy set at Monument Valley

Driving through this part of the Navajo Nation really is like something from a movie set.  The strong reds of the desert and mountains, and the looming giants of the buttes make you feel like at any moment you’re going to bump into John Wayne doing the rounds with the US cavalry, or try to avoid an awkward conversation with Tom Cruise following his rock climbing

The highlight is Monument Valley, which doesn’t have a familiar name but is a view everyone will recognise.  You can see the 3 giant buttes (isolated hills with impossibly steep sides and flat tops) as you drive anywhere near them, with some of the simplest and best views from the View Hotel.  One thing I wish we’d done was to head into the Monument Valley Tribal Park to be driven by some of the locals to see some of the buttes up close (something you can’t do on your own)