Absorb the culture and history of the USA

  • 02/05/2018
Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles.
LA's Santa Monica Pier is worth a visit. Photo credit: Getty

If you're thinking of heading to the USA this year, help is at hand. We asked Newshub Travel editor Dan Lake to pick four of his favourite American cities and recommend some things to do.

CHICAGO

America is known for its food. That's a fact. It may not always be the healthiest option but there's no mistaking an American meal.

Chicago has the best of just about every style of American meal. The city has over 5000 restaurants.

If you are a foodie, there are special tours around some of the cuisine districts such as Rudolph Street, otherwise known as Restaurant Row.

The options along here are endless, and just about all of the restaurants and bars have a really strong Chicago vibe. There are probably more Instagram posts out of this street than anywhere else in the city.

Having said that, the reason I love Chicago and what I'd take photos of is its amazing skyline.

The Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower held the title of the world's tallest skyscraper for many years. If sweaty palms are your thing then there's a glass-bottomed balcony on level 103.

The city centre hugs the shores of Lake Michigan. I didn't realise until I was there that there's over 25 sandy beaches on Chicago's shoreline. It's worth getting a bike and doing the lakefront trail. It's a great way to see the skyline and the lake.

Fun Fact: The Historic Route 66 begins in Chicago. Head to Grant Park on Adams Street to see where the highway of history begins.

Air New Zealand will begin flying Auckland to Chicago non-stop from November 30 and the airline's alliance with United Airlines opens up many more destinations flying out of Chicago.

Chicago is famous for its hot dogs.
Chicago is famous for its hot dogs. Photo credit: Getty

HOUSTON

When I first researched things to do in Houston, one thing jumped out at me. The city is home to three of the biggest shopping malls in the United States.

The Houston Galleria is 15 times the size of Auckland's Westfield St Lukes, and it's just one of dozens of malls in the city.

There's a unique way to get around the city too. A lot of cities have an underground system, but the one in Houston is a bit different. It's for pedestrians. At 10km in length, the pathway is a series of climate controlled underground walkways and bridges running across the city. It's a busy thoroughfare with shops, food courts and of course many, many locals using it for its intended purpose, getting from one place to the next.

If you visit Houston and don't check out the space centre then Houston visitor, we have a problem.

And the room where that famous quote and many other historical sound bites have been received is open to visitors.

The Johnson Space Centre is just one small step from the Houston Space Centre, it's worth getting a special VIP tour here. There's almost too much history for one building.

Fun Fact: Houston locals dine out more frequently than people in any other city in the United States.

Air New Zealand flies non-stop Auckland to Houston 6 times a week. Houston is also your perfect gateway for the Southern States of America.

A trip the Houston Space Centre should be on everybody's list.
A trip the Houston Space Centre should be on everybody's list. Photo credit: Houston Space Centre

SAN FRANCISCO

If you're like me, then one of your first memories of anything San Francisco related will be the opening theme song of the TV series, Full House. But, everywhere you look in this city there's something worth seeing.

If you want to see the famous Full House, its located on Broderick Street opposite Alamo Square. From there you'll not only see the famous façade, but also a great view of wider San Francisco.

Of course you have to see the Golden Gate Bridge. To call it big and stunning doesn't quite do it justice. When you see it for the first time you'll have one of those breath-taking moments where you see something historic with your own eyes for the first time.

Once you've captured plenty of photos of the bridge, you can head to a place very familiar with those being captured.

Alcatraz Island is one of the most famous prisons in the world. Al Capone held residence here for some time, as did George Kelly. A visit here will take you through the old and very historic prison cells.

For a real taste of local culture head to the Castro district, known for its LGBT markets, bars and museums, the suburb was once the home of Harvey Milk.

Before leaving the city, make sure you check out another one of pop culture's most famous houses, the home of Mrs Doubtfire which is located Steiner Street just south of Alta Plaza Park  

Fun Fact: The infamous Chinese fortune cookie was actually invented by a Japanese resident of San Francisco.

Air New Zealand flies non-stop Auckland to San Francisco seven times a week.

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is very impressive.
San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is very impressive. Photo credit: Getty

LOS ANGELES

On your first visit to Los Angeles, the first thing you'll notice is just how massive the city is. Don't let that freak you out. The best option is to choose two or three areas you want to spend time in and base yourself in those areas for a few days each.

Santa Monica Pier and the beaches around it provide a good base for somewhere a bit more relaxing than the busy central city.

The walk along the pier takes about ten minutes, and when you get to the end there's a handful of local fisherman after their daily catch. You'd easily think you're in a town much smaller.

A couple of blocks back from the water is the 3rd Street Promenade. Here you'll find street performers and some decent shopping too.

If you pick a more off-peak time, an Uber ride to West Hollywood or the Hollywood Hills is quite affordable.

The Hollywood district is another area worth basing yourself for a few days. Put aside the traditional Hollywood attractions like the walk of fame, find yourself a nice boutique hotel with a view and you won't want to leave.

The last time I was in Hollywood I stayed in a hotel with a rooftop bar. The view stretched from the central city in the distance right around to the Hollywood sign.

The view of the Hollywood sign from the road where my hotel was.
The view of the Hollywood sign from the road where my hotel was. Photo credit: Dan Lake

For your shopping hit in this area head to The Grove in the evening. There's a vintage tram that will take you around this outdoor mall. The place is always buzzing, and there are usually a couple of celebrities around as well.

Fun Fact: The Hollywood sign originally said 'Hollywoodland,' the name of a residential subdivision being built in the area.

Air New Zealand flies non-stop Auckland to Los Angeles 14 times a week.

This article was created for Air New Zealand. For more USA travel tips visit Air New Zealand's website.