July 19, 2016

We have just returned from the most amazing 3 and a half weeks travelling in the USA with the family!  So many fabulous memories for our family to treasure and as always so many photos of all the places we visited!!  We stayed on the west coast of America for this trip and hired a car which was perfect for a few weeks away with kids!  Today I will share with you the first leg of our trip which was LA and Santa Monica – the perfect place to start with beautiful beaches, loads of sunshine and so much to see!  

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Our hotel above and the view from our room below.  More details on this great hotel below! 
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After our 14 hour flight we landed in LA early on a Thursday morning  We had a car booked from day one so we headed straight to our car hire location and once loaded up we headed to Santa Monica for our first 4 nights.  We stayed at the Shore Hotel which was right across the road from the Santa Monica Pier.  Great location with so much action happening out the front.  We were able to watch everything from our room and felt we were right in the middle of all the action.  There was also a fantastic Mexican Restaurant downstairs call Blue Plate Taco (you can see it in the picture of the hotel above) – highly recommend it for lunch or dinner!  The room type we booked at the Shore Hotel was a King Ocean View Suite with an angled ocean view.  Traveling with 5 is always just that little bit trickier as most rooms easily accomodate 4.  We didn’t want to get two rooms as we knew that we would be out and about most of the time so it was really just a place to sleep and leave our belongings and honestly accomodation is expensive when you want something nice.  There is also the drama in that nobody can guarantee interconnecting rooms so we were pretty determined that we wanted one room if this was going to be the case.  The suite we had was perfect and it was like having two bedrooms joined together.  I was pleased we had the extra space as we were here for four nights so glad we went with the suite over the standard room.   The suite came with a king bed in the bedroom part of the room and a pullout couch in a separate area – the pullout slept two of my girls and then we also had a rollaway which fitted comfortably next to the couch.  There was one huge bathroom but we had two TV’s and two balconies which was lovely.  I would definitely recommend the Shore Hotel to anyone staying in Santa Monica.

On our first day we stayed close the hotel and went for walks on the beach and swam in the pool in an attempt to keep ourselves awake.  The kids did fall asleep at various points in the afternoon but we didn’t let them sleep for too long for fear of the dreaded jet lag setting in!   My top tip from my Chiropractor before we left was to get outside in the sunshine and get the sun on the backs of your knees – the best way to combat jet lag she says – it seemed to work!!

On day two we headed to Universal Studios for the day – Harry Potter World has only opened a few months ago and the kids were really excited to check it out!  Universal has changed a lot since I last visited (27 years ago!!) – I don’t remember too much more than a backlot tour and a few shows but it was a full and busy day filled with exciting rides, shows and tours!  It was unbearably hot the day we were there also – the many cooling stations they had around the park were very much appreciated.  Definitely our favourite part of Universal was Harry Potter World – the rides were great and the amazing setting made you really think you were part of the magic!  Driving to Universal was easy on the freeways and there was plenty of parking available on site.  There are a few different price options available for the parking and we took the cheaper option which meant we needed to walk a little further to the gates – to be honest the extra walk was so minimal (maybe a few minutes) so save your dollars and take the cheaper option.

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For our third day we had an easy morning in Santa Monica attempting to find good coffee!  This proved harder than expected so we ended up at Starbucks – we knew that finding good coffee would be hard in the US so we soon realised that at least Starbucks was predictable and we could kind of get what we wanted we stuck with it – I think we know where every Starbucks is in California now!

After an easy morning we jumped in the car and headed up to Hollywood to show the girls the walk of fame.  Parking was easy and cheap at the Hollywood and Highland Centre right next to the  Chinese Theatre (enter the car park on Nth Highland Ave) and we were also able to get a great Japanese meal here at a restaurant called Cho Oishi on the very top level of the centre.  You also had great views of the surrounding area up here.  After checking out the stars on the sidewalk and visiting the Chinese Theatre to get our compulsory photos we headed off in search of the Hollywood Sign.  We captured brief glimpses from the residential area below but that was about it!  Hiking was not on agenda for the day so we were satisfied with at least seeing it!  Next we took a drive up to Griffith Park so we could get some great views of LA, however the parking was terrible and there was just so much traffic that we were directed back out of the area as soon as we arrived.  It was a nice drive but probably would have been better for a week day and not a Saturday afternoon.  We the headed back down to Beverley Hills, Rodeo Drive and Sunset Blvd completed to complete our afternoon of sightseeing.  Apart from the stars on the sidewalk and the Hollywood Sign I have to admit most other things were lost on the kids – they didn’t know of many of the movies that make the local landmarks famous.

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Day four was Sunday so we decided to head down to Venice for brunch and a walk along the shops at Abbot Kinney Blvd.  Again we drove down and found it easy to find parking in the street.   We had been recommended by a number of friends to visit Gjelina for brunch or lunch so this is where we headed – food and service was great and we actually found a decent coffee here! We had a nice and relaxing day which wasn’t too rushed and involved spending time by the pool in the afternoon.  Late afternoon we then walked from Santa Monica to Venice to have dinner.  The walk was quite a long one with kids that were hungry and tired after a few busy days but once we found food and then bribed them with Henna tattoos and ice cream the walk back was loads of fun!

On our final morning in Santa Monica I headed down the Pier before the crowds arrived to grab a few photos of a quite Santa Monica Beach!  It was lovely and peaceful before the madness began!  For our final morning in LA before heading to Disneyland we had two stops!  First was to the Abby Lee Dance Company – Sienna is obsessed with Dance Moms so it was the number one thing on her list to do!  She was very excited to be able to visit and see the LA studio’s and make a purchase of dance gear in the shop!  They weren’t filming the day we were there but it was still exciting for her to be able to see the studios.  After our quick visit to ALDC we then headed to the Farmers Markets for an early lunch.  It was a scorching hot day with temps in the high 30’s and with the markets being un-airconditioned it felt like a furness.   To be honest it wasn’t what I was expecting (which was more of market stalls set up selling fruit and veg like here in Sydney) but we had fun and lunch was yummy!  Whole food markets was across the road so we also made a stop here to pick up snacks and fruit for our next few days!  

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So there you have our first few days of our trip.  I also played a lot with movie making on this trip and while not as professional as I would like them to be it was great to put together a little clip of our time in each location.  Here is our LA movie which was all filmed and edited on my iPhone using the iMovie app. It was fast and easy to do it this way – if I had have left it until we came home I never would have got it done!  This LA one was mostly filmed by me and edited by Sienna.

I will be back in a few days with all the details of our time in Disneyland!

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