Saying HI to the USA From Australia
27 days equated to 8 flights, 16 different accommodations and 2500km driving up the West Coast of the USA, a whirlwind trip staying in many HI Hostels and some glamorous hotels along the way.
A quick stop over in Honolulu before we flew to our favourite island of Hawaii, the Big Island. I was told by an Irish traveller that there is a great HI Hostel in Hilo, as we were short of time we stayed in Kona and enjoyed happy hours at sunset daily with $4 Mai Tais.
Tip – fly into Hilo if you want to hike the volcano.
We then flew from Kona to Seattle, only direct flights on option on this day and for a 5 hour flight on Alaskan Airlines it only cost $330, they are very lenient on carry on baggage but we still got stung $20 per bag that we wanted to check in. Once in Seattle it was very economical to take the light rail from the airport for $2.60 straight to the bottom of the street where HI Seattle is located in Downtown Chinatown.
The hostel in itself was extremely clean, offering plenty of cheap activities such as a tour of the Safeco Field for $9 and a free beer tasting night to welcome new guests. We were also able to use free wi-fi in the dining area and enjoy a daily free breakfast consisting of bagels, juice, tea and coffee. We stayed in a private double which had a double bed with single bunk above and a basin with mirror.
There is a free loop bus through the city which we stumbled upon, very convenient taking you to Pike Place Markets, The Space Needle and the shopping districts. The market place is abuzz with fresh seafood, flowers and amazing bakeries.
Tip – book a tour to Mt Rainer it looked stunning.
Next stop is Las Vegas for my birthday; we rocked out at a Steel Panther concert at The House of Blues and had fine dining at The Top of the World. If you are into gambling make sure you tip a waitress for free drinks they will just keep coming back as long as you have money in the machines. A lot of Vegas was a blur and I don’t think we will go back for a third time; it takes you too much time to get over it. As the old saying goes what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas.
Tip – buy a $7, 24 hour ticket on the Deuce bus that constantly goes up and down the strip, save your feet.
We picked up our hire car from Hertz in Vegas to make our way up the Coast stopping at two amazing National Parks. First stop the Grand Canyon, nearly a 6 hour drive through some amazing scenery, there is no quicker way unless you jump in a helicopter as there is only one road in and out. We stayed at a lodge right in the middle of the park which book out 10 months in advance. A free lookout bus ran every 10 minutes so you could see this amazing spectacle from different angles, you can also drive to these lookouts but it’s great to hear the coach commentary about the local wildlife and history. It costs $25 to enter the Grand Canyon for a 24 hour period, it was well worth it.
We needed to pick a place half way to LA, so I google mapped and found a place called Laughlin, Bullhead City about a 4 hour drive from the Canyon. It was located on the Colorado River with amazing mountain views, a strip of Vegas like Casinos in the middle of nowhere. Great place for a stop over to break up the drive, you can take a cheap cruise up and down the river to the dam, they leave every hour.
Tip – a hire car from Vegas (drop off San Francisco) only cost $400 for nearly 9 days, petrol is cheap and if you find some friends to share it is a very affordable way to get around the USA.
Another 500k’s to HI San Pedro, South Bay, which is unfortunately for us listed in google maps wrongly so we got lost and it took us an extra hour to arrive. This hostel has views of a gorgeous Chinese Garden Friendship Bell and in the distance you can see Catalina Island. We had a private double room, simple and clean, work for accommodation staff were looking after us, and if you want to make pancakes for breakfast go ahead, it’s free as well as wi-fi in the kitchen area.
Tip – pick up some food before you arrive as there are no shops within walking distance.
Next stop HI Santa Monica for 2 nights, the girls are lovely on reception and were very happy with their goody bag and loved their new YHA lanyards. Our private double room was really funky with zebra patterned covers on the bed, plasma screen and a stand up rotating fan. There is so much to do in Santa Monica, just a walk down the pier can take you a few hours to absorb in, the beaches were busy and so many pubs and great little tapas cafes to choose from. We met many a backpacker at the Kings Head Pub which is located on the same street as the hostel. The hostel had free comedy night, open mike night, breakfast and free wi-fi in the lobby and communal areas. I bumped into many Australians staying at this hostel, if you intend on visiting make sure you book well in advance as it is always booked out. It’s also easy to get to theme parks, we went to Universal Studio, pretty expensive at $80 a ticket but we had a fantastic day out and the park was open from 10am – 7pm on a Sunday.
Tip – parking is expensive, we found a carpark in the same street if you park after 6pm it is around $9 a day.
Next stop HI San Luis Obispo which is a small town just off the coastal road, this hostel is located in a residential street which is about a 15 minute walk into the main town where there is an abundance of pubs with their own beers brewed on site. We stayed in a loft type room which had a spiral staircase which met an outside balcony just outside our room. Free wi-fi and pancakes for breakfast at this hostel was a bonus and they also have free on-site carparking.
Tip – you cannot check in until 4.30pm, there are plenty of lookouts on the way to see local wildlife.
Next stop HI Santa Cruz which is a beachside suburb of California. If you have ever seen the movie the Lost Boys, the theme park fair on the boardwalk was a location for this movie. The hostel had immaculate gardens, clean rooms and bathrooms. It’s a short walk to the Pier, theme park, restaurants and shops. The staff were so kind and allowed us to park in the staff car park as you need a resident permit to park in the streets. Chelsea on reception had already eaten 4 Tim Tams in about 10 minutes, and she enjoyed reading our Australian Adventures Brochure.
Tip – the Pier has some great little cafes and restaurants overlooking the water.
Another big drive ahead to Yosemite staying at HI Bug Mountain Resort, I must say this was the best hostel so far on the trip, we stayed in a beautiful lodge nestled in the park, they have an amazing restaurant with a lot of the ingredients grown fresh on site and a day spa which is open until 10pm. We met some Irish backpackers who were off to climb El Capitan the next day which would take them 12 hours to do so with no ropes, yet they stayed up and drank many a Corona with us until quite late, I hope they made it to the top. The Hostel is located about 30 minutes drive from Yosemite National Park which costs you $20 for a 7 day pass, if guests are finished with their pass you may end up with a free one from reception. I wish we had stayed here an extra night as it was an amazing location.
Tip – stay a minimum 2 nights so you can explore the whole National Park.
Last but not least it’s time to visit San Francisco, I chose to stay at Fishermans Wharf which is located in Fort Mason which was a former United States Army Post. Our room was simple and clean with a window view of the Bay. We were given breakfast vouchers which included our choice of waffles or bagels plus a piece of fruit and juice. The hostel was walking distance by bay front to Pier 39 where all the tourists venture to eat, watch the seals or go for a cruise. We chose to do a hop on hop off bus tour ticket to Downtown for $24 which was well worth it to see the whole city with commentary. We also went on board an hour ferry cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz which went for an hour.
Tip – make sure you take warm clothes as it was freezing in Summer and if you want to do an Alcatraz Tour you must book at least 2 weeks in advance!
Our last stop of our holiday was back to Honolulu to chill out and relax before jetting back to Sydney with a brief stopover at Sydney Central YHA (thanks Jon).
Thank you to all the hostels that offered accommodation for our journey, it was great to see how you all operate and we met some lovely people. I hope you enjoyed your Aussie gift bags I delivered to you in the US which included Tim Tams, koalas, YHA Australia and Gold Coast merchandise.
I just wish I could of brought my little friend pictured left back with me!