A Family Friendly Guide To The Pacific Coast Highway
As we ease into the hazy days of summer, the promise of a well-earned holiday is on the horizon.
One our most sought-after destinations at this time of year is California. The lure of its golden beaches, coastal cities, famous national parks, and temperate climate, places a road trip through the Golden State near the top of many traveller’s bucket list.
The most popular itinerary is to follow The Pacific Coast Highway; a near 600-mile stretch of road that hugs the shoreline from San Francisco to Dana Point in Orange County.
If you are travelling with children, then it can be hard to know where to start when planning a family friendly itinerary that will keep children of all ages entertained.
Over the course of this week/blog we will be travelling the length of the highway, focusing on some of the highlights that you and your children can encounter on one of America’s best loved road trips.
If flying from the UK, you are most likely to begin your journey on Highway 1 from San Francisco . The ‘City by the Bay’ is well connected from London, with up to 7 direct flights a day in the peak summer season. We would always advise taking a taxi or airport transfer to your hotel and then spending a few days exploring this beautiful city, before picking up your hire car and beginning your road trip. San Fran is easily navigable on foot and by public transport, so you don’t need to worry about where to park or how much its going to cost.
Most families opt to stay Fisherman’s Wharf, a hub of activity right on the waterfront, that is one of the safest areas of San Francisco. Here you can enjoy seal spotting, shopping, and waterside restaurants, whilst taking in beautiful views of the bay.
From the wharf you’ll be able to take the ferry to Alcatraz, an exciting day trip for all ages. Having been decommissioned in the 1960’s, it is now home to an interactive museum, where you can wander the wings and cells, getting a taste of life in America’s most notorious prison. Make sure you book your tickets well in advance to be sure of visiting, as its harder to break in than it is to escape from this piece of history!
Whether you are cycling over it, cruising under it or hitching a ride on an open top bus, you will be sure to encounter the Golden Gate Bridge one way or another during your stay by the bay. Even when shrouded in fog, the bridge makes for an impressive photo stop. Some tours will take you over the bridge to the picturesque town of Sausalito and the nearby Muir Woods – a national recreation area, with a choice of short hiking trails that weave in and out of the giant redwood trees.
A visit to San Fran would not be complete without a ride on the famous cable cars (trams). These are a fun and practical way to get around as they rattle their way up and down the cities steep hills, whilst connecting up Fisherman’s Wharf with Chinatown, Union Square and other neighbourhoods. Be prepared to queue though.
Our journey South along the Pacific Coast Highway leads us to the town of Santa Cruz – approximately 70 miles South of San Fran and 35 miles north of Monterey. Santa Cruz is one the hidden gems along the California Coast, that tends to be overlooked by a lot of visitors, due to its proximity to its more famous neighbours. Stay a night or two here though and you will soon realise why this is a perfect stop for families on a Californian road trip.
This fun-loving seaside town truly captures the spirit of a family holiday, with miles of golden sandy beaches. The Beach Boardwalk amusement park is a fun spot where you can ride a vintage rollercoaster and carousel or join in family friendly events such as an outdoor movie nights or live music on the sand. Take in a sunset at the Santa Cruz Wharf where you’ll have a prime view of sunset and the chance to spot seals frolicking.
When surfing first reached the shores of mainland USA it arrived here in Santa Cruz. The breaks here still attract crowds of surfers, and you too can try your hand at the sport by taking a surf lesson. This is a fun activity for teens and older children. The Santa Cruz surfing museum is just one of several family friendly museums in town, including the Santa Cruz Natural History museum, or the Seymour Marne Discovery Centre – where you will be able to see some of the creatures that inhabit the bay, as well as marvel at some huge whale skeletons.
Surrounded by mountains and redwood forests, a family friendly way to experience the local scenery here is to ride the Roaring Camp Railroads, a heritage steam train that huffs and puffs its way from Santa Cruz beach, up through ancient redwood forests and into the Santa Cruz mountains.
If you’ve any time or energy left after working your way through Santa Cruz’s long list of attractions, then downtown is a lovely spot to round off your day. There are an assortment of family friendly restaurants and cafés and ice cream parlours. You’ll also find a variety of boutique shops here which may appeal to teen travellers.
Follow the Pacific Coast Highway round the bay and you will come to Monterey, the next stop on our family friendly tour of the Californian Coast.
Once a thriving fishing port, built on the back off a huge population of sardines which once swam in the bay here, there’s no escaping the towns historic fishing industry.
Formerly a series of fish canning plants, Cannery Row’s industrial factories and warehouses have long since transformed this part of town into a tourist hot spot that will be popular with visitors of all ages. You’ll find some of Monterey’s best hotels here, making this a great base if you are not constrained to a budget.
Families can enjoy escape rooms, mirror mazes and vintage arcade games at Oscars Playground. There’s also an abundance of ice creameries, cookie shops and bubble tea cafés to choose between. Located directly under Cannery Row is McAbee Beach, a small, but sandy spot with a handful of rockpools that young families may enjoy exploring. Older kids will be able to hire a paddleboard or kayak and get out on the water, to explore the bay – if you are lucky, you may even see a Sea otter! For many families Cannery Row’s biggest draw is the famed Monterey aquarium. If you didn’t see a sea otter in the wild, you will definitely see on here, along with sharks, penguins, jellyfish and all sorts of other sea creatures and marine life. The huge tanks and viewing windows, make this one of the largest and best aquariums in the USA.
The Old Fisherman’s wharf may not be as polished as its San Fran namesake, but you’ll find a selection of gift shops and seafood restaurants here. Kids will love the sweet and chocolate shops, but perhaps best to save them until after you’ve taken them on a whale watching tour. There are regular departures from the end of the wharf, where you’ll have the chance to spot seals, pelicans and grey whales (during their migratory season). The youngest of families may enjoy a glass bottomed boat tour, whereas older children and teens can try their hand at fishing for rockfish, Dungeness crabs or even tuna.
If you’re travelling to California with under 12’s then they will relish a trip to the Dennis the Menace Playground, a sprawling park in the heart of Monterey. Your little menaces will be able to climb, swing and slide their way through this giant park, for hours – tiring them out nicely for the next instalment of your road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway.
Just a ten-minute drive from Monterey (longer if you are following the incredibly scenic 17-mile drive) is the pretty town of Carmel.
Despite being just the other side of the headland, Carmel and Monterey couldn’t be more different. There are no big hotels, or shopping malls here, in fact there’s not even streetlights or mailboxes! Carmel prides itself on its village feel and has worked hard to retain a unique identity which makes it so special. Explore the towns walkable downtown and you will find oodles of fairy tale cottages, little galleries, boutique hotels and countless high-end restaurants.
This all sounds delightful travelling as a couple or perhaps as grandparents (without babysitting duties), but if touring the California Coast with kids in tow, you may be wondering why Carmel has featured on our list of places to stop on a family road trip. Good question!
In short Carmel is perfect for families looking to experience the best of California’s great outdoors. With its white sand, cypress trees and crashing blue surf, The beach here is one of the finest on the Cali coastline. There’s plenty of space for families to play on the soft sand, or to watch sunset together.
Just South of Carmel is the Point Lobos State Park, regarded by many as one of the best State parks in California. Its incredible views can be easily enjoyed by following a series of short hiking trails – several are less than a mile long and the longest is just 6.5 miles. If you pack a picnic you can make a day of it here and enjoy quiet sandy beaches, or perhaps hire a kayak and enjoy the calm waters that fill the surrounding coves.
Another outdoor attraction is the Pacific Repertory Theatre, a 500-seater amphitheatre that was first established in 1910. Each August the theatre puts on a family friendly performance that will appeal to audiences of all ages. Previous productions have included Shrek the musical and Mary Poppins, whereas this summers performance is going to be Mary Poppins. Bring a blanket or jumper and then sit back to enjoy a performance under the stars!
Halfway between San Francisco and LA – the coastal town of Pismo Beach should be a staple stop on any family friendly Californian Road trip.
With miles of golden sand, the beaches never feel crowded here, even in the height of summer. Whether you are splashing about in the surf, exploring the rock pools or foraging for clams, there’s plenty to keep young children entertained on Pismo Beach. Older kids may want to hire a paddleboarding, or join a kayak tour to explore the cliffs, coves and caves which can be found along this stretch of the coast.
Should you fancy a break from the beach, Hearst Castle is just an hour’s drive away. This opulent fairy tale style castle was once owned and built by one time media baron William Randolph Hearst. In its prime the castle was the weekend playground of the rich and famous as Hearst entertained his guests in his lavish mansion. It’s jaw dropping swimming pools, and herd of zebras are just some of the highlights for younger visitors.
Just up the hill from Pismo Beach is the smaller town of San Luis Obispo. SLO is a quirky town with some even quirkier attractions. ‘Bubble gum alley’ – a 70ft shrine dedicated to spent gum, is not one for the faint hearted, but may appeal to those with a high ick threshold! The towns Sunset Drive-In Theatre offers up a vintage taste of America and is fun way to spend an evening. One thing not to miss in SLO is its weekly downtown farmers market – held each Thursday evening, the roads close and over 100 vendors line the streets with local produce, crafts, street food and entertainment. It’s a family friendly affair, so is the perfect place for picnic shopping.
For adventurous families, a trip to Oceano dunes is a must. Located just a few miles south of Pismo, California’s second largest dune system Here you can hire quad bikes or buggies to explore the miles of sand, that make up California’s second largest dune system.
After leaving Pismo Beach, California’s Highway 1 cuts inland, navigating its way through the Coast Mountains before re-joining the sea at Gaviota and continuing onto Santa Barbara, the next stop on our family friendly road trip of California.
Known as ‘The American Riviera’, Santa Barbara draws in travellers with its golden sands, Mediterranean climate, colonial Spanish architecture, upmarket boutiques and thriving wine scene. If you’re wondering what the pull is for families though, then read on, as this beautiful city has plenty to offer younger visitors.
Top of the list is MOXI – The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. This hands-on science museum is sure to be a hit with children of all ages, as they navigate three floors of interactive exhibits. With an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts and maths, there will be plenty of opportunities to learn through play. In true Californian style, there is even a rooftop exhibit, where youngsters will be able to splash about in an interactive water feature, whilst enjoying incredible views across Santa Barbara.
Small enough to be manageable with young children, but big enough to ensure its wide variety of animals, kept in open and naturalistic habitat’s, Santa Barbara Zoo makes for a nice morning or afternoon visit. As well as catching up with its big cats, gorillas, giraffe and penguins; you’ll have the chance to view local birds such as Californian Condors and Bald Eagles.
To view some of Santa Barbara’s wildlife in its natural environment you will need to take to the water. Between November and May, you will have the opportunity to spot migrating whales, who are attracted to Santa Barbara’s nutrient rich waters. There is a chance you may spot minke whales, Gray whales, humpback whales or the largest of them all – the Blue whale!
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is sure to delight young explorers, who will be able to roam the dinosaur forest, take a journey through space at the planetarium or enjoy the backyard playground – just some of many exhibits and activities which will appeal to families travelling to California with children.
Besides all of these fantastic attractions, Santa Barbara offers many of the activities that make a road trip down the California Coast so memorable. You’ll be able to take surf lessons from the sandy beaches, kayak on the harbour or simply enjoy a picnic in a palm tree lined park!
Continuing along the coast, around 30 minutes South of Santa Barbara is the family friendly town of Ventura.
With a walkable downtown, sheltered beaches and an assortment of playgrounds are all easy wins for parents, but it’s the towns easy access to the Channel Islands National Park which makes Ventura really stand out.
Isolated from the mainland for thousands of years, the islands are home to over 2000 species of wildlife – 150 of which are unique to the islands. Untouched by development, there are no hotels or roads here, so intrepid explorers travel on foot and stay the night under canvas. That’s not to say that that a taste of island adventure is out of reach for families though.
Around an hour’s ferry ride away, Santa Cruz and Anacapa are the closest of the five Channel Islands, making them a relatively day trip from Ventura Harbour. You’ll need to pack a picnic and enough water for your visit, but once on the islands, you’ll be able to hike cliff top trails, kayak cavernous sea caves and spot some of the unusual wildlife that give these islands the moniker of ‘The Galapagos of North America’.
Upon leaving Ventura the Pacific Coast Highway cruises through the glitzy beach suburbs of Malibu and into the sprawling metropolis that is Los Angeles. LA may not be the first destination that springs to mind when planning a family friendly road trip to California, but there’s more than enough to see and do here to justify a stopover on your itinerary.
The laidback sandy shores of Santa Monica make a good family friendly base for your time in LA, where you can continue to hone your surfing skills, or enjoy the vintage amusements and funfair on the famous pier – the official start/finish point of Route 66.
For many families, the highlight of a visit to LA will be a trip to Universal Studios, Hollywood. As well as a smorgasbord of film themed rollercoasters and thrill rides, you will be able to take the Studio tour, a behind the scenes peek at a working film studio. Harry Potters Wizarding World is sure to enchant Muggles of all ages or check out Super Nintendo World – a Mario themed area that is new for 2023.
High up in the hills is Griffith Park, home to The Griffith Observatory. By day you can explore the hiking trails that crisscross the park, marvelling the views over LA and the classic vista of the Hollywood sign, but by night you’ll be able to use telescopes to admire the night sky – not the type of star spotting you would necessarily expect in LA!
Around a 45-minute drive South of Los Angeles is Huntington Beach – California’s ‘Surf City’. With ten miles of sandy beaches and a never-ending supply of rolling waves, Huntington Beach is not only deserving of its nickname, but is also one of the most family friendly beach destinations along this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway .
Whether you are taking a surf lesson, cruising along the Huntington bike trail on a family cycle ride, building sandcastles or toasting marshmallows at sunset over a beach bonfire, it’s hard not to fall for the charms of this seaside city.
A number of family friendly resorts and hotels can be found overlooking the beach, all within walking distance of the compact downtown – which is where you will find the surfers walk of fame and The International Surf museum. A new addition is Pacific City, a shopping complex which offers a range of shops and family friendly dining with views of the ocean – meaning you don’t need to worry about driving anywhere.
Should you wish to travel further afield, Anaheim and its famous theme parks such as Disneyland and Knots Berry Farm are under a thirty-minute drive away making these an easy day trip from the coast.
Officially the Pacific Highway ends at Dana Point, but if you travel South for approximately one more hour, you will arrive at San Diego, the last stop on our family friendly road trip of the Californian coastline.
Surrounded by beaches and crammed with parks, museums, and family friendly attractions; San Diego is an easy win for families of all ages. There’s so much to see here, that you could easily make this a holiday in its own right!
Balboa Park will feature heavily on any family holiday to San Diego – not only is it home to the incredible San Diego Zoo, but it is also the base for 17 different museums, many of which are child friendly. Highlights that you will want to seek out include the San Diego Natural History museum, The San Diego Air & Space museum, and the model railroad museum. Also, at the park you’ll find kid friendly theatres, such as the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre and playgrounds for children of all ages.
Thrill seekers will be able to ride the rollercoasters at Sea World or the tamer Lego Land, or for old fashioned seaside fun you can take your mini travellers to Belmont Park – a traditional seaside funfair with dodgems, merry go rounds and a big dipper.
There’s no shortage of beaches in San Diego, so if you are looking for some family time on the sand then you will be spoilt for choice. Coronado Beach is our top pick and is just a short ferry ride from San Diego, making this a good base if you want to be based by the sand for the duration of your stay. We can arrange hotels here to suit most budgets.
A Virtual tour of the Florida Beaches
The days are getting longer and with a cluster of bank holidays on the horizon, the weeks are getting shorter!
For travellers looking for some Spring sunshine, now is the perfect time to travel to the USA as hotel and flight prices enjoy a timely respite between the peaks of Easter and the summer holidays.
Without the crowds, the beaches and coastal towns of Florida take on a very different feel, giving you the opportunity to enjoy the hot days and balmy nights, without having to scramble for a space on the sands or reserve a restaurant table weeks in advance.
We know that finding the right resort/area can prove mind boggling when faced with so many options in Florida, so with this in mind we are going to be taking you on a tour of the Florida coast, so that when it comes to picking your dream Florida beach holiday, you can make an informed decision about which is the best beach for you.
Our virtual journey is going to start at St Petersburg/Clearwater, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Around 30 a minute drive from Tampa or 2.5 hours from Orlando, these two cities are a magnet for sun seekers, looking for a post Disney break in the Florida sunshine.
Famed for their beaches, St Pete’s and Clearwater are connected by a series of barrier islands, that sit just off the mainland. Spanning over 20 miles, this stretch of coastline is a holiday makers paradise, as endless sandy shores and relaxed seaside villages blur into a heady mix of sea, sand and sunsets to create holiday memories that will last a lifetime.
The most popular of these is Clearwater beach, a lively resort which attracts millions of visitors each year. With accommodation ranging from cheap and cheerful motels, through to luxurious 5* hotels, there’s enough choice here to cater to nearly all budgets. Many of the larger hotels offer direct access to the powdery white sands and are within walking distance of the compact downtown, meaning that you can truly switch off on your Florida holiday.
Clearwater’s Pier 60 is a local landmark, which draws a crowd each evening for its nightly sunset celebration. As well as a variety of street performers there’s a market featuring locally crafted wares, so you can pick up some souvenirs or affordable holiday presents. Night or day, this is a favourite spot of local fisherman, but you can also try your hand at a spot of sea angling, with rods, tackle, and bait available to rent/buy from the kiosks on the pier.
If you prefer your seafood cooked and plated up, there are a bountiful number of cafes and restaurants along the beach front and all over downtown. These serve up fresh fish in every which way imaginable – deep fried conch fritters, sushi, fish tacos, chowder to name a few!
As you travel South down the Coast the resorts become smaller and the beaches that much quieter. Dreamily named towns such as Indian Shores, Treasure Island and Sunset beach are just some of the smaller resorts you’ll find between St Petersburg and Clearwater. These destinations have a smattering of hotel and motel options but can also be reached from Clearwater using the handy Suncoast Beach trolley; a coastal bus route that connects up all the dots, meaning you can leave the car at your hotel should you decide to explore.
At the end of the line is St Pete Beach, this is the closest resort to the city of St Petersburg (until just a few years go the resort was known known as St Petersburg Beach but was officially renamed St Pete to avoid confusion with the nearby city of the same name). It’s a great choice for families and beach goers, looking for their sea and sand, served with a side of arts and culture.
The city is just a short drive or taxi ride from the beaches and offers visitors a feast of museums to choose from. One of the most popular of these is The Dali Museum; featuring over 2400 pieces of art, it has the largest collection of the artists’ works outside of his native Spain. Also worth a look is The museum of fine Arts, it has an impressive collection of classic paintings, that include some works by European big hitters Renoir & Monet, as well as a huge collection of photography, and a relaxing sculpture garden. With many more galleries, museums, and theatres to explore, St Petersburg offers you the opportunity to take a ‘city break’ within your beach holiday.
Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach & Cocoa Beach
With the exception of Miami, which is a blog post in its own right, the East Coast of Florida doesn’t grab the attention of the UK market in the same way that the Gulf Coast does, but that’s not say its without its charms. Just an hour away from Orlando by car, the beaches here are that much closer to the theme parks, making a day trip more than doable from the ‘Beautiful City’ of Orlando.
One of the most famous beaches in all of the USA, if not the world, Daytona is a favourite amongst Petrol heads and party goers. It’s miles of white sand were once used for motor races, marking the beginning of the cities love of all things speed.
Races were held on the beach here until 1959, before moving to the Daytona International Speedway, one of motor racing’s most iconic venues. The Daytona 500 is held each February, but NASCAR fans are able to pay a visit to the speedway all year round, where they can even enjoy test driving one of the powerful racing cars.
Although racing on the beach is a thing of the past, cars are still permitted to drive in selected beach zones, with direct access enjoyed from Florida’s Atlantic Highway. Check with your car hire provider before taking your rental car on to the sands though as this can be a costly mistake.
Besides its famous races, Daytona enjoys a lively night life scene, with beach bars, pubs, clubs and live music aplenty. The cities historic Sea Breeze district is one of the best places to go in the city to let your hair down until the sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean.
The cities boardwalk and pier offer a more family friendly experience, that resonate with traditional seaside experiences -think arcades, funfairs, and gift shops. During the summer months between May-September there are fireworks, live music and street performers thrown into the mix, as well as a popular waterpark which offers more thrills and spills than a Daytona dive bar!
With 19 golf courses nearby, Daytona Beach is starting to acquire a name for itself as a premier golfing destination. There are courses to suit all abilities, including the home course of the Ladies PGA tour.
A little down the coast is the resort city of New Smyrna. Flying largely under the tourist radar, New Smyrna doesn’t draw a crowd in the same as its famous neighbour, making this a good choice for younger families or beach goers looking for a quiet experience.
As well as a wealth of white sandy beaches and the magical sunrises that are a hallmark of this part of the USA, visitors to New Smyrna will be able to appreciate historic neighbourhoods such as Canal Street, Flagler Street and Third Avenue. These laid-back neighbourhoods offer a mix of boutique shops, galleries and even a craft beer brewery.
The weekly farmers market here is a hit with foodies, as is Canal Street Nights - a monthly festival which sees street food and live music spill out onto the pavements for a family friendly evening. One of the best ways to experience these neighbourhoods is to join a walking tour, these take place regularly and include wine tasting and history themes.
For those wanting to connect with nature, the Canaveral National Seashore, National Park is just on the doorstep. One of the longest stretches of undeveloped coastline in the USA, the 57,000 acre national park is home to a huge assortment of wildlife, including manatees, sea turtles, birds and dolphins. Visitors to the park can opt to follow either ‘dry’ or ‘wet’ trails, with miles of accessible boardwalks, hiking trails and kayak routes. Visitors can hire kayaks and SUP paddle boards, or there’s the opportunity for wildlife viewing from a variety of boat trips on Mosquito lagoon.
Our final stop on the East Coast of Florida is Cocoa Beach. Striking a happy medium between lively Daytona Beach, and relaxed New Smyrna, Cocoa beach offers a nice mix of family friendly seaside fun and relaxed downtime, making it a good spot for families with teenagers.
Cocoa’s golden sands are consistently lapped by waist high waves, making this the perfect place to try your hand at surfing. Whether you are looking to hire a board, book a lesson or shop for the latest surf gear, then a trip to ‘Ron Johns’ will sort you out. The world’s largest Surf store is open 24 hours and caters to all your needs.
Lori Wilson State Park is a popular beach, connected to the car park by a boardwalk that snakes through pillow soft sand dunes. The beach has lifeguards on duty year-round, shady pavilions, picnic areas and beach showers, making a day out at the beach safe for all ages.
Just a few miles from Cocoa Beach is Cape Canaveral, home of the Kennedy Space Centre. Featuring interactive exhibitions based on America’s space missions, past and present, including simulators, playgrounds and 3D cinema, this is a must visit for kids big and small! If you’re staying in Cocoa beach its worth considering the two-day admission ticket, so that you do not have to cram everything into one visit. If you are lucky you may even be able to see a rocket launch!
Fort Lauderdale & (West) Palm Beach
For most travellers, the coastal cities of Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, will only be glimpsed from a car window as they travel between Miami and Orlando, following the famous Route 1 (which runs from New England all the way to The Florida Keys), but should you park up and stay for a few days, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Located just a thirty-minute drive North of Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale throbs to a softer beat than its Latin neighbour. Its beaches are quieter, its streets are cleaner, and its nightlife is tamer. These factors may be a turn off for some, but if you’re travelling as a family or looking to just dip a tow into the water of Miami’s scene, then Fort Lauderdale is a great option.
Its golden sands span for miles in either direction, meaning there is plenty of space for everyone – including the colony of turtles that nest along these shores. The warm blue waters here are lovely for a swim, but also very popular with scuba divers. Fort Lauderdale is the only place in the USA where you can snorkel or dive a living coral reef from the beach. The waters here are home to host of historic wrecks, an underwater arts parks and many artificial reefs, making this one of the best spots in the USA for scuba diving and snorkelling.
There’s much more to this city than its beaches and diving though. Los Olas Boulevard is a upmarket district, crammed with shops, restaurants, galleries and bars that are sure to feature on most visitors itineraries. Nearby you’ll find The Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District. Here you’ll be able to follow a red bricked through a series tropical landscaped parks that straddle the riverbanks here. It’s a lovely place to wander or dine by the waterside.
Wherever you are in Fort Lauderdale, you will never be far from the water. Known as ‘The Venice of America’, its nickname derives from the 300 miles of Canals that flow through and around this beautiful city. You can take a gondola ride, join a boat tour, or take a water taxi along these scenic waterways, as you look goggle eyed at the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It’s here that supersized yachts bob around in the marinas and mansions are sat amongst tropical gardens, offering a glimpse into another world!
Around an hours North of Fort Lauderdale and two and a half hours South of Orlando is West Palm Beach. Strictly speaking the Palms are two different cities- West Palm Beach is on the mainland and then Palm Beach is located just across the water on a barrier island.
If you’re looking for a beach holiday with minimum effort, you’ll need to base yourself at Palm Beach. This gorgeous sandy stretch of sand takes its name from the palms which sprung up here after a ship carrying coconuts wrecked nearby. Home to numerous billionaires, the island has a reputation of being luxurious and exclusive – which is reflected in the prices of its hotels and restaurants!
If being steps from the sand isn’t the ‘be all and end all’, then you’ll find that prices plummet if you stay on the mainland in and around the city of West Palm Beach. Here you will find over 150 golf courses, heaps of family attractions and some brilliant shopping areas such as The Square and Antiques Row.
Although the cities nightlife is not on a par with that of Miami or Fort Lauderdale, there’s still a nice buzz come evening time, particularly in The Clematis district where you’ll be able to wander between bars and restaurants or enjoy a stroll along the waterfront.
The Gulf Islands (Sarasota)
Continuing our virtual tour of Florida’s beach resorts, we cross back over to The West Coast, heading for The Gulf Islands of Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key, Lido Key and Siesta Key.
Sat upon a seven-mile-long slither of white sands, Anna Maria quietly lives the Florida dream, where locals and visitors share nightly sunsets, bustling seafood restaurants and a love of fishing. The island has only been accessible by road for just over a hundred years, and not much has changed in that time. Strict regulations have kept buildings low rise and developments small, meaning that most visitors to the island will stay in a short-term holiday rentals, motels or beachfront B&B’s.
The islands beaches are connected by a free trolley service that runs from the small hours into the night, meaning that you can avoid the weekend traffic jams whilst experiencing the family friendly Bradenton and Holmes beaches or exploring the galleries and shopping at Pine Avenue.
Long Boat key shares the same white sands, turquoise seas, and magnificent sunsets as Anna Maria Island, but that’s where the similarities end. With no direct access from the mainland and a sizable population of retirees, the island has a much sleepier feel than its already peaceful neighbour.
The island has a small selection of high-end restaurants and shops, two exclusive golf courses and a tennis club, making it well suited to visitors looking for a quiet but luxurious holiday. Public beach access is limited here, and there is also an absence of kiosks, facilities. Combined with limited public parking, there’s a good chance of having the white sands here to yourself, if you are staying locally.
At the end of this chain of three islands is Lido Key, a tiny island which is a stone’s throw across the bay to the city of Sarasota. Given its size, Lido Key has a good selection of big hotels, as well as a cluster of family friendly restaurants and cafes, centred round St Armand’s Circle. Come nightfall this becomes a popular spot for revellers. At the far end of the island is South Lido County Park, a wilder part of the island where you can kayak into the mangroves, picnic on wild beaches, or spot an assortment of birds.
The last stop on our tour of the gulf islands is Siesta key, South of Sarasota. It’s around 2.5 hours drive from Tampa, although there are regional connections available from across the USA. Siesta Key is made up of three distinct beaches, each offering a different experience. All three beaches on Siesta Key are served by a combination of resort hotels and condominium rentals, many of which are located within an easy walk of the sand.
Voted the nations favourite beach on two separate occasions, Siesta Beach pulls in the crowds, but the huge expanse of sand means there is always space to relax here. It’s biggest selling point is its sugary white sands which stay cool even on the hottest of days. Combined with warm, shallow waters, this makes it an excellent choice for families, who are well also well served by picnic areas, playgrounds and plentiful opportunities for water sports.
If you are looking for a little more space and quiet, then Crescent Beach is sure to appeal. Offering a stripped back version of Siesta, beach goers here will need to bring a good book for entertainment. Keep walking to the end of the sands and you will come to ‘Point of Rocks’, a rare rocky section of Floridian coastline, that entices snorkellers and divers to explore its marine rich waters.
At the far South of the Island is Turtle beach. Named after the endangered visitors which make their nests here, the beach offers a quieter experience and a place to appreciate the natural beauty of Siesta Key. Visitors here can join a kayak tour to explore the network of inland waterways and lagoon that neighbour the beach, or they can enjoy a sunset stroll, hunting for shells.
When the sun has gone down, the action on Siesta Key centres around Siesta Key Village. By and large its a family friendly beach town with a mix of easy-going restaurants and boutique shops, but there’s also a handful of clubs and bars which keep the beach party vibes going into the night.
Fort Myers and it’s Islands.
In 2022 the world looked on helpless, as Hurricane Ian relentlessly battered Fort Myers and its Gulf islands, altering some of Florida’s favourite beach destinations beyond recognition.
Less than one year later and green shoots are beginning to appear, as a community has come to its feet, rebuilding itself literally and metaphorically. The beaches are being cleared of debris, and many hotels & restaurants have begun to reopen their doors to visitors once more as life starts to return to normal on this stretch of the Florida Gulf Coast.
If planning to visit Fort Myers, we would strongly recommend checking the Visit Fort Myers website before travelling to this region or consult one of our expert travel consultants.
Naples & Marco Island
Located on Florida’s ‘Paradise Coast’, Naples & Marco Island are the last of the Gulf Coast beach resorts, before the sandy white coastline gives way to the swamps and mangroves of The Everglades National Park. A 2-hour drive from Miami airport, or 4 hours from Orlando, getting to Naples can feel like a road trip, but upon arrival a piece of paradise awaits.
With 7 miles of white sand, Naples holds its own with Florida’s best beaches, but also boasts world class shopping, golf and culture, centred around a historic downtown.
For serious shopping you’ll want to pay a visit to the cities 5th Avenue, its palm lined streets, oozes sophistication, offering a range of high-end boutique stores, restaurants, and galleries. Historic third Street South has the feel of a European resort, as colourful flowers tumble down the walls of pretty cottages and courtyards reverberate to the sound of open-air restaurants and bistros.
If you are looking for a more authentic taste of Florida, then a visit to Tin City should be on your agenda. Once the centre of Naples thriving fishing industry, a handful of the original buildings were converted into a riverfront marketplace. These days Tin City offers some of the freshest seafood in Naples, as well as dozens of unique shopping opportunities.
All of these shopping areas are within walking distance (or a short trolley ride) of the cities beach and iconic pier, meaning that you can experience the best of the city and the beach without using the car. A fun way to get your bearings is to take an electric trike tour of the city.
Naples isn’t all about shopping though, it enjoys a rich selection of arts and culture too. The Baker Museum features a range of contemporary and modern art, with both permanent and temporary collections. For a more intimate experience or the chance to pick up a special souvenir there are over 80 artists working out of open studios in the Naples Art District. Here you can meet the painters, sculptors, and photographers behind the work, as well as taking the opportunity to attend a workshop or class. With two theatres and a resident Philharmonic orchestra, there is nearly always the opportunity to take in a show or a performance whilst in town.
Thirty minutes South of Naples is beautiful Marco Island, the largest of the ‘Ten Thousand Islands’ and the last major settlement before you hit the Everglades.
Despite a plethora of luxurious resorts, Marco manages to maintain a wilder feel than the manicured city streets of Naples. Here you will be able to hunt for exotic sea shells on the wide sandy beaches, kayak amongst the mangroves or try and spot some of the birds and animals that call this home. Tiger Tail beach is a popular place to relax, but also a great place to spot wildlife. Dolphins and manatees are regularly spotted offshore, whereas Ospreys can be seen flying overhead.
The Everglades National Park is just a 45 minute drive from Marco Island, making this an easy day trip. Here you will be able to spot alligators and American crocodiles, or take a swamp walk with a guide in America’s largest wetland wildernesses.
The Florida Pan Handle (Pensacola, Destin, Miramar Beach & Panama City Beach)
Our final stop on this virtual tour of the Florida beaches, takes us to the Northwest coast. Just three hours from New Orleans, the Panhandle is the perfect spot for some beach side R&R at the end of a Southern road trip, or for visitors looking to visit a part of Florida less travelled.
Nicknamed ‘The Emerald Coast’, the waters that lap this stretch of the coastline shimmer a bright shade of green when the sun shines. It’s other (unofficial) nickname ‘The Redneck Riviera’ pokes fun at this part of Florida’s proximity to the Southern states, but for lovers of food and history, this is a major plus point which makes this region stand out from the other beach regions we have explored so far.
A stone’s throw from the border with Alabama, historic Pensacola is one of the most popular destinations on the Emerald Coast, offering holiday makers the combination of immaculate sandy beaches, a historic downtown, and a thriving food scene that has been influenced by its Southern and Gulf Coast neighbours.
First settled by the Spanish nearly 500 years ago, Pensacola downtown is one of the oldest in the USA. Here you can explore The Settlement Trail, a 3-mile-long self-guided walking tour that features 26 stops enroute and over 70 points of interest. Modern day downtown Pensacola offers a broad range of dining, shopping, and cultural opportunities – including the cities very own ballet.
The main beach is Pensacola Beach, where you will find a handful of seafood shacks and tiki bars clustered around the fishing pier, and an assortment of restaurants on the boardwalk . If you travel westwards, the condominiums and hotels give way to the protected Gulf Islands National Sea shore. It’s here you will find swathes of empty beach, quiet beachside campgrounds, and the relics of historic Fort Pickens.
Travelling approximately 50 miles East of Pensacola, you will come to the bustling city of Destin – the ‘luckiest fishing village in the world’. Having grown up around its harbour (one of the largest commercial fishing ports in the USA), Destin attracts crowds of fisherman and sun seekers, who come to experience the world class fishing opportunities here. Just a short cruise from the Continental Shelf, the incredibly deep waters here mean that fishing charters have a good chance of landing red snapper, swordfish, marlin or tuna. Whether you are having your own catch cooked for you, or enjoying the fruit of someone else’s labours, there are countless seafood restaurants located around the harbour.
It’s not just the fishing that pulls in the crowds to Destin though. The harbour is a hive of activity, with shopping, restaurants, family friendly activities, live music and weekly fireworks display. Visitors can hire paddleboards voyage out to artificial snorkelling reefs or take a boat tour to join the party at Crab Island, a huge sandbar that is perfect for watery picnics and lazy afternoons paddling in the shallow waters.
Just a few miles down the coast is Miramar Beach, a quieter resort that emerged in the 1980’s. Here you will find sleepy sandy beaches, beachfront holiday homes and a clusters of tower block resorts (condo’s) offering up dreamy views of the Emerald waters. Miramar may feel quiet compared to the buzz of Destin, but you’ll still be able to find family friendly resorts and restaurants that make this a viable alternative for those looking for a quieter stay. Slightly inland you will find Silver Sands, a designer outlet mall, and shoppers paradise with over 100 stores.
As we reach the end of the Emerald Coast we come to Panama City Beach, the final destination on our virtual tour of Florida’s beaches.
Sometimes referred to as ‘The Spring Break Capital of the World’, PCB enjoys/endures its reputation as a party town, partly because of its great value accommodation and array of vibrant nightlife options. Granted, it’s not somewhere you would want to holiday during the (typically) two week period in February/March when American and Canadian college (university) students head to the sunshine to party – but you could say the same about Daytona, Miami or nearly any of the resort towns across the length and breadth of North America!
Flanked by two State Parks, there is plenty of space to get away from it all, whilst connecting with nature. Camp St Helen with its huge coastal dune lake, offers the chance for fishing, kayaking, and hiking. There are also self-guided hiking trails and the option to take themed nature and history walks with a ranger. To the East is St Andrews State Park, where 1 .5 mile of sandy beach, pine forests and sandy dunes, converge to make the perfect place to spend a day surrounded by nature. You’ll be able to spot butterflies and migratory birds here or enjoy swimming and snorkelling in the waters.
PCB is also one of the best places on the Pan Handle to spot bottle nosed dolphins. These friendly animals are regular visitors to the waters here, meaning you have a very good chance of spotting them whilst on a boat tour. Some tours even offer you the chance to get in the water with these curious creatures.
Back on dry land, families are well catered for with the thrilling Shipwreck Island waterpark and the mind-boggling Ripley’s Believe it or not museum, Gulf World Marine Park and a raft of crazy golf courses and go kart tracks. When combined with the sandy beaches and affordable accommodation options, Panama City Beach makes for a good all round family beach holiday in Northern Florida.
That concludes the end of a virtual tour of the Florida beaches – we hope that this has made your decision on where to take a beach holiday in Florida, but if not you are always welcome to get in touch with one of our team of travel experts who will be able to further advise you.
The Florida Keys are a popular destination here at AWWT. Their broad appeal means they work well with a number of the tailor-made USA itineraries we put together. Sometimes featuring at the end of a long multi stop trip around the USA and Canada, other times they are the sweet spot of a long road trip across the Southeast of USA. Combined with Orlando they make for a fun honeymoon or mixed up with a stay in Miami for a cool city break, followed by some chilled downtime.
Curving out from the mainland, they are made up of hundreds of little islands that seep far into the turquoise seas of the Florida Straits, stretching towards Cuba. Out of the 800 keys that make up this archipelago, 30 of them are inhabited, giving the first time visitor a tricky decision on where to base themselves and what to see when they are there. With glorious balmy temperatures and limited rain over the winter months, the Keys are at their best between December-March, making them a perfect choice for some winter sun.
Starting with key Largo we are going to explore the five main regions which make up the Florida Keys, giving you a feel for what this unique part of the USA can offer.
Just over an hours drive from the bright lights of Miami Beach, Key Largo is the largest of all the Keys and the closest to the mainland. Its biggest draws are its natural attractions, such as John Pennekamp State Park, the first undersea park in the USA. Home to huge coral reefs and a submerged shipwreck, this is a diver’s paradise. Glass bottomed boat trips and a huge aquarium, mean that anyone can experience the underwater magic.
For visitors wanting to enjoy Largos natural attractions on dry land its worth taking the time to visit Dagny Johnson, State Park. Here visitors can follow trails on bike or foot, with the chance to spot crocodiles and other protected species of animals.
History buffs and movie lovers won’t want to miss a ride aboard the African Queen – a 100 year old steam boat that began its life in Africa transporting hunting parties across the Nile, before becoming a Hollywood star in the film of the same name. Having sailed Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in its past life, The African Queen ‘retired’ to Key Largo in 1982. The boat has been painstakingly restored to its former glory and now offers visitors the chance to cruise the Port Largo Canal.
Come sundown on Largo you’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars to unwind as you look back on action packed days and enjoy incredible sea food.
Our next stop is Islamorada. Made up of six different islands it’s the self-proclaimed Sports Fishing Capital of the world. The deep blue waters off the coast here attract fishing fans from all over the globe, who come to land big game fish such as Blackfin tuna, Wahoo, Sailfish and Mahi Mahi. After wrestling your feisty catch aboard, you can take this to a local restaurant where it will be cooked to perfection.
There is no shortage of boats that are available for charter in this part of the Florida Keys, but if you are a novice then you can join a group sailing which will include everything you need to get started.
Back on land you will find independent shops and boutique art galleries in the village centre, as well as laid back restaurants, cafes and bars. A visit to Robbie's ticks all of these boxes in one visit! Feed the giant Tarpon that frequent the dock here, then enjoy your own meal by the waters edge, before browsing the open-air market. Here you will find local art, photography, and handicrafts.
A trip out to Islamorada sandbar is a fun way to spend an afternoon, as you snorkel over colourful reefs, before enjoying the party atmosphere that surrounds the famous sandbar. On weekends and holiday’s you'll be joined by local families picnicking and barbecuing in the shallow waters that surround it.
Roughly halfway between Key Largo and Key West, the city of Marathon makes a good stopover for a night or two if you plan to make the long journey from Miami to Key West. It shares many of the same attractions as Islamorada, but composed of 13 separate islands it is much bigger, offering the visitor a broad selection of hotels and resorts to choose from.
Marathon can make claim to having one of the best beaches in the keys, the beautiful Sombrero Beach. Its perfect white sands are often visited by nesting turtles between April and October making it a perfect spot for nature lovers as well as sun seekers. For an active experience head to the nearby Curry Hammock State Park where you can hire a kayak and explore the watery trails that flow through the swampy mangroves.
Make sure you visit Pigeon Key, a remote island, connected by an old railway line that was once part of the original 7-mile Bridge. It’s 2 miles each way, so is a good walk from Marathon or a gentle cycle ride. Upon reaching the island you will be able to explore the railroad museum or snorkel in the crystal-clear waters that lap its shores.
A visit to the Dolphin Research centre - where you will be able to experience an unforgettable encounter with these friendly and intelligent animals – is a highlight of any trip to The Florida Keys! Our team of experts will be able to help you arrange the opportunity to swim with dolphins whilst in Florida.
The penultimate region on our journey through the Florida Keys is Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys. Understated and unspoilt, this is an unplugged version of the Keys that are stripped back of big hotels and fancy restaurants. An abundance of natural attractions and a quieter way of life, make this the perfect spot for anyone looking to get away from the crowds.
Make sure you put aside a day to enjoy the beautiful Bahia Honda State Park. Its perfect sandy white beaches are the very best in all of the Keys if not the USA. Being a state park, visitors are able to camp here, so if you book early enough you can enjoy the sensation of stepping out of your RV and into the warm shallow waters which surround this stunning park. A section of the iconic rail bridge that once connected the keys can be accessed from the sandy shores here, offering up aerial views of the park.
If you linger on Big Pine Key Long enough, you are likely to experience an encounter with one of its famous residents – the pretty Key deer. Little more than the size of a dog, these pocket-sized deer are native to the Florida Keys and are only found on Big Pine and the neighbouring islands. Capable of swimming between the different keys, the deer can be spotted in a range of habitats, including wooded hammocks, mangroves or grazing by the roadside. Look but don’t touch though as this endangered species is protected.
Nature lovers will enjoy a visit to the Blue Hole. This former quarry has been flooded with rainwater, making it a magnet for birds and animals. Visit at either dusk or dawn and you may spot the deer coming to drink but look out for the two resident gators!
Now we reach the end of the line, our final destination of this virtual tour of The Keys - Key West, the best-known key of them all. Located just 105 miles from Havana, Key West sways to a different rhythm to the rest of mainland USA. It’s laidback vibes and legendary nightlife, pull in the crowds who come to experience a town that is diverse as it is inclusive.
After a day exploring the plethora of museums and shops, head to Mallory Square and join in the sunset celebration. As the sun begins its slow descent into the ocean, crowds gather to watch the tight rope walkers, jugglers and fire breathers that come out each evening to mark the occasion with a performance.
A first timers guide to the five New York Boroughs
When most people think of York, they think of Manhattan - yellow taxis, towering skyscrapers, steaming drains, hot dog stands, crowded sidewalks, and the bright lights of Times Square. These are of course all things that go to make up the Manhattan experience, but if you take the time to explore the different boroughs that make up this incredible city, you can truly get under the skin of the Big Apple.
It would be impossible to cover all of these elements on one city break, but we hope that this brief guide to the five different New York boroughs will inspire you to step out of your comfort zone and explore some of the lesser seen corners of New York City. Most first timers don’t make it beyond Manhattan, but there is so much more to New York than this, so if you’re looking to get a little off the beaten trail, then our guide to the different boroughs will give you some pointers on where to go and what to expect when you get there.
Whatever you are into, you are sure to find it in the city that never sleeps. Art, theatre, museums, shopping, food, and nightlife are all world class here. Measuring just 23 square miles, much of New York’s smallest borough can easily be tackled on foot. Pack a pair of comfortable trainers and you’ll find that you will soon rack up the miles, as you tick off a long list of must-see sights.
Whether you are walking the high line (an elevated railway that has been converted into a landscaped city park), exploring boutique galleries in hipster Chelsea, taking a walking tour of Harlem, doing brunch on the Upper West, browsing farmers markets in the village, or rubbing shoulders with city folk during happy hour in the financial district – you’re soon realise that each neighbourhood has a different texture to it.
One of the best ways to see the city is form above. Manhattans famous skyline can be viewed from a choice of look out points, each offering a unique view of the city streets below. The new kid on the block, is Summit One Vanderbilt, a swish skyscraper climbing way above Grand Central Station. Take an elevator to the 57th floor and you’ll be able to indulge in sensory overload, as you navigate your way round four floors of imaginative and immersive art, whilst drinking in the jaw dropping views. For a more classic experience, The top of The Rock experience, at The Rockefeller Centre, gives you a premium open-air view of the Empire State Building to the South and Central Park to the North. Or for the classic skyscraper experience then you should ascend the original and the only Empire State Building.
Although the observation decks are best viewed by night, Central park should definitely be seen by day. With miles of paths to explore, boating lakes, jogging trails, Spring blossoms and Autumn colour, this is a fabulous place to wander and rub shoulders with native New Yorkers. One of the best ways to see Central Park is to hire a bike, or for the less active take a carriage ride! Linger for a while with a picnic, or if you want to continue sightseeing, make a beeline for West 72nd street where Beatles fans pay tribute to John Lennon at the Strawberry Fields. In winter you can skate beneath skyscrapers on the Woolman rink or cosy up in the boathouse restaurant.
At the tip of the island, you’ll be able to take a boat ride to the most famous statue in the world – The Statue of Liberty. Make sure you book well in advance if you plan to make the steep climb up into her famous crown though as there’s not the option to do this on the day. When you travel back from Lady Liberty you will have the option to stop at Ellis Island, a former immigration processing centre which once welcomed thousands of migrants arriving by sea. Do factor in enough time to visit the fascinating museum that now occupies this site.
Most visitors choose to stay in and around Times Square, here you will find a concentration of good quality, centrally located hotels that will put you in easy reach of New Yorks biggest sights and shopping opportunities. If you prefer to stay somewhere a little quieter though we would recommend choosing a base in Chelsea or The Upper West Side, here you will be able to appreciate the calmer side of Manhattan without the crowds and traffic. As with all our tailor-made USA holdays and city breaks, we would recommend speaking to our team of experts first though, so they can help you make an informed decision.
By far the city’s largest borough, Queens can be found directly East of Manhattan and North of Brooklyn.
Home to two major airports – New York JFK and La Guardia, most visitors to New York, fly in and out of Queens without ever stopping, but if you know where to go, there’s plenty in the borough to warrant a longer visit.
If you’re looking for a taster of Queens, without diving in headfirst, the Long Island city neighbourhood is a great entry point to the Borough. It’s just one subway stop from Midtown Manhattan or neighbouring Brooklyn and or a short uber/lyft ride away. Your first stop should be its riverside parks. Choose between Hunters Point South Park, a former or Gantry Plaza Park. Once the industrial heartlands of Queens, these regenerated areas are now beautiful green spaces offering up wonderful views of the midtown-Manhattan skyline, making this the perfect place for a chilled walk or picnic. Follow the boardwalks, people watch or admire the view – its impressive day or night. One must see here is the historic Pepsi Cola sign which you'll find at Gantry Plaza Park. When lit up this iconic sign can be spotted from the deck of Summit One Vanderbilt.
Although not on the scale of Manhattan, Queens has made its own contribution to the New York art scene, including MoMA PS1, an “artist centred and community driven” space that encourages visitors to encounter and engage with new art. Based in Long Island City, it has been affiliated with the MOMA for over 20 years, but retains a strong identity of its own, offering up a range of installations and exhibitions. In the summer months the courtyard space draws revellers from across the city who come to attend Warm Up, a series of live music nights held throughout August.
Film lovers will already associate Queens with Peter Parker, the boroughs friendly neighbourhood Spiderman, but what they may not be aware of is that New York’s largest borough is also home to the Museum of Moving Image. The museum is dedicated to the history, technique and appreciation of film, television, and digital media. Visitors to the museum will be able to view a collection of 1400 artifacts that are on display in the museums core exhibition “Behind The Screen”. Featuring audio-visual material, art works and interactive experiences, the exhibit focuses on the creative process that goes into putting a film on the silver screen. Fans of the muppets will enjoy the muppets will enjoy the Jim Henson exhibition, but there is also a series of regularly changing exhibits which are sure to pique the interest of film devotees. With a packed programme of film screenings and talks, movie lovers will want to stay for an afternoon/evening to fully make the most of their experience here.
Near enough at the centre of the borough is Flushing Meadows, an expansive park that’s best known for its Billie Jean King tennis complex, home of the US Open. Tennis fans will want to pay a visit to the complex, where they can reserve and play on the very same courts that have seen some of the sports greats do battle. Also nearby is the Citi stadium, belonging to the Met’s New York’s other, slightly less prolific baseball team. Unless it’s a big game, tickets for the Mets are affordable and easy enough to come by, making this a good option if you are looking to experience a ‘ball game’ whilst in New York.
Besides its sporting credentials, Flushing Meadows is a pleasant place to wander, featuring plenty of green spaces, as well as some interesting sculptures that date back to when it hosted the World’s Fair exhibition– notably the Unisphere, a huge metal globe surrounded by fountains that you may recognise from various films and tv shows that have used the iconic structure as a backdrop. The Queens Museum is nearby too and is well worth a look, if only to see the scale model panorama of New York. At the time it was created, this mind-blowing exhibit, featured every single building, in every single borough of NYC.
To the west of Flushing Meadows is the neighbourhood of Corona, once home to Jazz legend Lois Armstrong. From Thursday to Saturday, visitors to this part of the borough can visit his former residence, a rather humble abode given his musical achievements. There is the option to tour his home and garden, as well learn more about his life and career in the accompanying museum. Sometimes there are screenings and concerts which take place here, but booking is essential!
As the most ethnically diverse borough in New York, it should come as no surprise that you can eat your way round the world without leaving the borough. There’s a seemingly infinite amount of choice here, as food from every continent is represented. Whether you are snacking from a food truck or going all out with a sit-down meal, there’s no shortage of choice here including Greek, Korean, Peruvian, and good old fashioned USA cuisine. The best way to get a feel for both Queens and its food scene is to take a foodie tour, this is a great way to see the neighbourhoods through the eyes of a local.
Now that we’ve whet your appetite for Queens, our virtual tour of the five New York boroughs will move onto The Bronx.
Once a no-go area for tourists, much of the borough has long cleaned up its act, making it an upcoming area for locals and visitors alike.
The South Bronx may still feel quite edgy but is home to some unmissable attractions including the famous Yankee baseball stadium. If you’re lucky you will be able to get a ticket for the game in the summer months, or you can take a stadium tour and learn about sporting greats such as Babe Ruth and Joe Di Maggio, who made history on this fabled diamond.
The neighbourhoods’ coolest destination is the Universal Hip Hop museum, a fantastic pop up dedicated to the cultural movement born which was born and raised here in the Bronx. Pioneered by hip hop legends such as Grandmaster Flash, Nas, Ice Cube and LL Cool J. The current incarnation is a pre-cursor to a much larger museum that is due to open in 2024. The museum will explore the origins of hip hop, its impact on popular culture and its evolution over the past 50 years, through a series of archive footage, memorabilia, and artefacts. The current exhibition focuses on hip hop between 1986-1990 but is soon to move onto the 90’s era. This is a must visit for any self-respecting music fan!
Stay on the subway a little longer and you’ll find yourself in the North Bronx, home of the beautiful New York Botanical Gardens. These lush, landscaped gardens cover 250 acres of Bronx park, a green oasis in this part of the city. Although the gardens visited by 1 million people each year, there is plenty of space to unwind and escape the city crowds. Whatever time of year you visit there is always something to enjoy; this could be spring blooms at daffodil hill, a technicolour display at the azalea gardens, the fragrant roses in summer or the changing colours of Autumn. There are miles of paths to explore on foot , or you can take a guided tram tour which points out highlights of the gardens.
To the South of Bronx Park is the incredible Bronx Zoo, the largest metropolitan zoo in the USA. Home to over 6000 species from around the world, the zoo is sure to be a hit with families and animal lovers. You can explore the African Plains, the Himalayan Highlands, and the Congo Gorilla Forest are just some of the exhibits you can cover in a day at the zoo. There’s a handy zoo shuttle to connect up the park, helping you to cover as much ground as possible.
Foodie visitors will want to make a pilgrimage to Arthur Avenue, the heart of ‘Little Italy’ in the Northern Bronx. With over 100 years of Italian Heritage in the neighbourhood, you will be able to find some of the best Italian restaurants in New York here, alongside bakeries, deli’s and cafés, serving up tasty Italian treats such as buffalo mozzarella, handmade pasta and of course pizza!
Should you wish to stay a little longer in The Bronx we would recommend The Opera House Hotel, an attractive boutique hotel in the heart of South Bronx. Once a famous theatre, this historic building hosted shows for acts such as The Marx Brothers, Harry Houdini, and Fats Waller, this previously neglected building was transformed into a 60-room boutique hotel. Although much of the old theatre couldn’t be saved, there are reminders of its heritage in the spacious rooms, most of which are decorated with old posters from the theatre’s heyday. Just a short walk from the subway and minutes from the Yankee stadium, this is the perfect base for anyone wanting to explore the borough further.
Stay with us for the next stop on our tour of the five New York boroughs as we travel South to Staten Island!
For most visitors to New York, Staten Island is not so much about the destination, but the journey itself. The Staten Island Ferry operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without fail. The iconic orange vessels chug across the bay, offering its passengers a bargain basement sightseeing cruise between Manhattan and Staten Island. The free ferry ride provides amazing views of Lady Liberty and the skyline and an authentic New Yorker experience but are no substitute for a proper sightseeing boat!
Step off the ferry though and you will find plenty to explore on Staten Island, including Snug Harbor Cultural Centre and gardens.
Once a respite for 'worn out sailors', Snug Harbour’s historic buildings formed part of a huge self-sustaining community, that at the time was one of the richest charities in the USA. These days the harbour buildings are protected by the national historic register of places and are now home to an assortment of museums exhibitions and gardens, including the Staten Island museum and Staten Island’s Childrens museum.
The gardens here include nine botanical gardens and acres of wetlands. One of the highlights is the spectacular Chinese Scholars gardens, with its pavilions, zigzagging paths, zen like waterfalls and bamboo forest. This mystical space is sure to transport you away from New York to the mystic East!
If you prefer your museums a little smaller, then why not check out the Lighthouse museum (a homage to the USA’s many lighthouses) or the Alice Austen House museum, a collection dedicated to the life and works of Victorian photographer Alice Austen. Her historic house offers a window into New York’s past and is also a designated national site of LGBTQ history.
Whilst you're in the borough it would be rude not to pay a visit to Flagship brewery - here you will find one of New York’s best micro-breweries, serving up a huge selection of beers from their taproom. If you follow this up with lunch or dinner and you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants. Staten Island has a wealth of Italian eateries and authentic delis for a quick bite, but other interesting picks include Sri Lanka, Filipino, and New Orleans inspired cuisine, so you won’t head back to the city hungry.
Before you take the ferry back to Manhattan, shoppers won’t want to miss Empire Outlets, the only outlet mall in New York City. With over 100 shops , featuring much loved American Brands such as Gap, Nike, Banana Republic and more, there's plenty of bargains to be had, as we well as stunning waterside views of the financial district.
That wraps up our visit to Staten Island but stay tuned for the final borough on of our tour of NYC – Brooklyn!
In recent years Brooklyn has been wooing visitors away from the bright lights and sky scrapers of Manhattan, as they cross the East River in search of relaxed neighbourhoods.
Here you will find buzzy nightlife, foodie hotspots, leafy residential streets and old-fashioned seaside towns.
DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is the closest neighbourhood to Manhattan and is an easy walk from Manhattan via the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. The huge suspension bridge, is an attraction in its own right, offering up magical views of the city skyline as you tread its wooden boardwalk.
Having crossed the bridge you'll have worked up an appetite after the walk, so stop for pizza at Juliana's, a mainstay of TripAdvisor and critics guides to the best pizzas in New York. There's no reservations, so bring a friend or a good book and jump in the queue. If you manage to finish lunch, you'll need another long walk, so take a stroll round the historic streets of DUMBO which offer up gram worthy views of the bridge. You'll find boutique stores and cosy cafes aplenty, as well as the fancy Time Out Market. The Brooklyn Bridge Park is a great place to enjoy a picnic, whilst feasting on the skyline views across the water.
For a longer walk, follow the promenade all the way along the shoreline and up into Brooklyn Heights, a beautiful neighbourhood, characterised by its brown stone houses and tree lined streets.
Continue onto Redhook and you’ll get a taste of Brooklyn’s industrial past, here you will find converted industrial buildings, cobbled streets and The Waterfront museuem a floating musuem based on an old barge! You won’t find fancy restaurants here but there are plenty of authentic cheap eats; such as Home Town Bar B-Que, Red lobster rolls from Red Hook Lobster Pound or Steves Authentic Key Lime Pie.
Hipsters will want to make a beeline for Williamsburg, a short uber ride from Manhattan or just a couple of stops on the subway. This low rise neighbourhood is crammed with bars, craft breweries, clubs and paths to explore, making this a good night out if you want to escape the tourist crowds! If you want to stay a little longer then you'll find stylish boutiques such as The Hoxton Hotel or The Williamsburg either of which can be incorporated into your city break.
If you ride the subway to the end of the line you will come to Coney Island, a traditional seaside resort that is etched on the hearts of New Yorkers. Here you can ride the rollercoasters at Luna Park, chow down on a famous Nathans hot dog, or enjoy the views from the sandy beaches as you see a different side to the city. In summer months this resort will be heaving with native New Yorkers, but visit out of season and you will have the place to yourself. If you’re looking to stretch your legs, then you can follow the boardwalk all the way to Brighton Beach, a quieter seaside suburb famed for its Russian community.
That concludes our tour of the five New York boroughs, if we have inspired you to visit the Big Apple for the first time, or try somewhere new on your return, then get in touch with one of our team of experts who will be happy to help you plan your trip.