Thursday, 7 April 2011

I have a question...

As I've mentioned, we have the wonderful opportunity to go to Los Angeles later this year. After a lot of exploring of our options, we've figured that we can manage to go for a whole month, and we've booked our trip for August. The Mother will house-sit for us while we're gone (no trashing of our home please, mother!! None of those wild parties, OK?) and we'll be staying in the house of someone who's doing their own research trip at the time, which works out well for us :-)

We are beyond excited :-) We're also just a little bit apprehensive about one or two things, and there are quite a few things about living in America that we just don't know - there are things we know we don't know, and I'm sure there are plenty of things we don't know that we don't even know we don't know.... You know?!

So, I'd really, really appreciate any suggestions, ideas and information from my American friends, and from friends from elsewhere who have visited America themselves. In particular, I'm sure anyone familiar with Los Angeles will be able to help us out here. Many thanks to those of you who have already emailed me or left comments on this subject - I've started copying and pasting all the useful info into a Word document, but I'd be glad of as many tips as possible so please feel free to add your twopenn'orth! Here's the context:

The Doctor is going out to LA to work, so weekdays he'll be going into the Huntington. Our time for family trips will therefore only be at the weekends. This means we won't be able to fit in too many longer trips. Also, going out for longer than we at first expected means that the trip will be pretty expensive, so we won't be able to afford too many big days out! We've promised the kids a day at Disneyland, and we're also going to take a whale-watching trip, but those are the big expenses we've planned in and otherwise we'll have to keep our costs down as much as possible.

We'll be hiring a car, and I'll be doing the driving. (This is one of the things I'm a bit nervous about!)

We'll be cooking for ourselves mostly, though we hope to eat out a few times.

The house we're renting is in the Pasadena area, near the Huntington (The Doctor will be able to walk there easily each day).

The Children are aged 9 and 11 (well, they will be by then!) The Girl is very tomboyish and full of energy; The Boy is quieter, and loves wildlife and all things scientific. They both like museums with child-friendly exhibits. We're none of us sunbathers, though we definitely plan to visit a couple of beaches and have a paddle in the Pacific!

So, there's the background. Now to ask for your help, please! :-)
  • Which sights do you recommend? What should we really try not to miss?
  • What kinds of wildlife might we see? Are we likely to see hummingbirds? (I'd love to see hummingbirds!)
  • Any tips on driving? (Even silly things like 'this is how you fill up with fuel' would be helpful here!) I do know that in America you drive on the right, but you can assume no more knowledge than that...
  • And what's parking like in LA? Are there (m)any free car parks? How do parking meters work?!
  • Right, grocery shopping. As I understand it, the cost of living is higher there than here. What advice can you give about where to shop in order to keep costs down? I believe that discount coupons are a very big thing in America (they're really not so much here) - where do you get these coupons?! And someone mentioned discount or loyalty cards, is that right? How would I go about getting one of those?
  • Any tips for great craft shops in Los Angeles? (I'm saving up separately for that!) And can I park OK near them?
  • Any tips for cheap but good places to eat, where fussy kids might find something to suit even them?
  • Any tips for cheap but good meals to cook, maybe taking advantage of local produce?
  • What might we not have even thought of?!
I'm really grateful for your help :-) If you have any general advice or suggestions, please leave a comment on this post. If you have more specific information, or perhaps if you're willing to have me pick your brains now and then as other questions occur to us, it would be lovely to correspond by email - I'm on ispeakmelsh {at} hotmail {dot} com.

Many, many thanks! xx


Lynn said...

Sorry I don't have any tips as not ever been to US - just wanted to say it sounds fantastic. What an opportunity for you all. Good Luck

Miriam said...

Mel this just sounds too exciting for words :) x

Maria Ontiveros said...

Yea! So glad you're coming in August. I'll be in touch. Great museums in (or near Pasadena) are Norton Simon and Getty Villa. Google Farmers Markets for fresh produce. I'm sure Pasadena has one. La Brea Tar Pits are part of natural history museum. Museum of contemporary Art (MOCA) is very cool. Definitely plan a weekend in San Francisco and a weekend in Yosemite.

Sian said...

We thought parking was easy - so many big cars the spaces are bigger than the ones here! You will also find some valet parking in shopping centres. The driving itself is about the same as in any city here. LA-ers will probably be very surprised to meet someone who walks to work :)

Disney is a day you will never forget and is definitely worth saving for so that you aren't scrimping on that one day iykwim

scrappyjacky said...

Obviously my experience is only from visiting.....but we were surprised that the supermarkets were more expensive than here....but the restaurants much, much we ate out quite a lot....the buffet type restaurants have sooooo much such a cheap price..... that you are all bound to find something you like.
I also seem to remember that even when the traffic lights were could still turn right if the road was clear....might need to check that though!!

Alison said...

A whole month Mel! How fab! I worried about driving over there too, but it was actually fine( though I wouldn't advise six-lane freeways the minute you arrive! The speed limit over there is 60MPH and most folks stick to it, and I wasn't as intimidated as I am on UK motorways. Google 'MICHAELS' and HOBBY LOBBY in Pasadena..that can be a day out on it's own! Also Google 'scrapbook stores'-and remember to make sure you have SATNAV..that way you'll always get to where you're going and,maybe more importantly, back to base!

Alison xx

Mrsjobee said...

Sounds like a fantastic trip. We are off to Tennessee for 3 weeks in the summer but are staying with family so all they will be able to answer all our unknowns. The have planned a road trip for us all and we are hoping to see some of the real America.

Mary B said...

All sounds really exciting and I love the bit where you say 'I'm sure there are plenty of things we don't know that we don't even know we don't know.... You know?!'
very Melsh :D

shimelle said...

You'll have a great time! :)

You can attract hummingbirds - look into a cheap or DIY feeder! They will come right up to your window if they find your feeder.

Driving on the other side of the road is easier than it seems. Once you are in traffic, you will just go with the flow. Be more careful if you are the first car at an intersection and you are turning (esp left) as that is the time when you may start to wonder which lane you're going to. :) Petrol filling is exactly the same! A lot of stations have pay at the pump with a card, or you can go in and pay just like normal. The parking spaces and traffic lanes are much wider than in the UK, and you will likely get some comedy if you ask at the rental place for a small car. I once asked for the smallest car available and got a people carrier.

I find cost of living lower in Cali than here, but then again I'm in London so everything is more expensive than the rest of the country. Get a local Sunday newspaper for plenty of coupons for your grocery shopping. :) And the farmer's markets in SoCal are lovely.

Anyway, just a few little things but hoping they are helpful. Have a fabulous time!

Julie Ann Rachelle Interior Design said... sister-in-law lives just outside of L.A. so I have a few suggestions for you!

1. Take the ferry to Catalina Island, and take one of the guided tours around it. Also go on one of the glass-bottom boats to see the fish. It's a beautiful island! There is also a scrapbook store on the island! I don't remember which street it was on but I'm sure you can google (Catalina Island scrapbook store)

2. Drive out to Rancho Pallos Verdes and visit the Wayfarers Chapel, designed by the son of Frank Lloyd Wright, it is magnificient as a site-seeing stop. Check out their website and you'll see what I mean. You can stop anytime and wander the grounds. It's a beautiful drive along the ocean.. Worthwhile.

3. If you like The Simpsons (do you get it there?), you'll love the Simpsons ride at Universal Studios. Also another great ride is Soarin' Over California which is a virtual hang-gliding ride.

4. We had fun when I was in high school my family visited L.A. and we window-shopped on Rodeo Drive. We also checked out the campus of UCLA, especially the Dance Building because my sister and I were dancers. Then we took a dance class at Tremaine Dance Center on Vineland. Here's a list of places to take a dance lesson in L.A.

5. You'll want to shop at Prima Marketing, Inc. Warehouse! I believe the public can shop there. You can contact them via email to ask- Public Relations:

Prima Marketing, Inc.
5564 Edison Ave. Chino, CA 91710
Tel: 1-909-627-5532
Fax: 909-627-4322

Tel: 1-909-627-5532
You can tell them that I sent you, as I used to be on the hybrid design team and also a Prima Donna (a teacher for Prima).

Let's see...what else? Venice beach is cool. I guess that's about it. Just enjoy the scenery!!! xoxo

Rachel Brett said...

Very exciting! I can't help I'm afraid but I hope you get all the answers you are looking for :)

Rhona said...

Oh wow! How wonderful that you get to go for a month. I'm afraid I can't help with your questions but I bet you'll find your way around and you'll have a fantastic time! What an opportunity! xx

Donna said...

Never been to LA Mel so I can't help with advice but have a fabulous time!

Melissa said...

So glad to see you are getting some great advice. I've never been to LA - I wish y'all were coming to Texas because the cost of living here is about half what it is in California and we could have so much fun. :>) The thing I found the most different when I traveled to the UK was the food and drinks. Here if you order a coke, you get a glass of coke with ice where in the UK you get a glass of coke with a slice of lemon (no ice!). LOL French Fries are called chips (I think) in the UK, etc. :>)

Anonymous said...

We've only been in the LA area once (last year for a trip to Disneyland), but on our way we went to the Getty Center which is not too far out of LA for a weekend day trip. It cost $15 to park, but otherwise is free. There are multiple museums, and beautiful grounds. We spend two-three hours there and could have used another hour or two. If you Google it, you'll be able to see if any of it might appeal to your two young folks.

Rinda is right. Be sure to get to Yosemite if it's at all possible. We spent three days there when our kids were in their early teens. It was an awesome experience.

California is expensive (at least compared to western New York.) The cost of groceries always surprises me when we are there visiting Sarah.

What an exciting trip! I know you'll have a great time.

Deb @ PaperTurtle said...

Hi Mel ~ Well, I see that you already have lots of great advice here in your comments! I'm not familiar with the LA area myself, though I will add that a trip up the coast of California will be a beautiful drive! Can't wait for your visit!!! xo

PS: Shimelle is right about the hummingbird feeder. And since you'll be staying in a house for a month I'd say put one up right away and they'll be all over it by the time you leave. A DIY version is a good idea, but the store-bought kind can be very in-expensive as well. Ooooh! I'm so excited for you!!! :o)

Amy said...

As an Australian who has never been to the US but is used to sun, sand and surf ... take good hats, plenty of sunscreen - though I am sure they have loads of it there and even some insect repellant. The saying here is 'Slip, Slap,Slop' Slip on a shirt, Slap on a hat and Slop on some sunscreen - getting sunburnt will not make for a fun time!

I think I would like to see the Melsh Collective all learning to surf ...... just keep it in mind, the photos would be scrapworthy and certainly bloggable!

Fun times Mel - enjoy the whole experience!

Cathy {tinniegirl} said...

Just catching up on the news. How very exciting for you all. Here's a link to the Urban Craft Center in Santa Monica. It's not too far from LA and looks like an awesome place. I'd love to go there

Unknown said...

What a great opportunity for you and the kids! I live in WI so I can't recommend you any attractions in CA. We visited San-Francisco once. It was beautiful. If your kids like museums you may consider a membership to science museum. It will give you free entry to many other museums. I would suggest checking the driving rules, especially left and right turns. It was a big surprise for us when we moved to US.

Wanda said...

I'm afraid I can't help either because the only time I was in LA was so long ago that it really doesn't count! Anyway, your trip sounds so-o-o exciting and I'm sure you will enjoy almost anything you do. I can hardly wait for the blog posts. BTW, I'm a firm believer that planning for a trip is more than half the fun, so enjoy this part too!

Cheri said...

I'm so excited for you & your family that you get to make this trip! A little bummed that you are visiting the West Coast though. California is almost as far (mileage) from me as London is! I don't have any specific tips on California itself (except that the cost of things there is higher than almost anywhere else in the US) but would be more than happy to answer any general questions about life in the USA that you care to ask!

ComfyMom~Stacey said...

We used to have a lot of Brits passing through our area, staying for 4-6 weeks at a time while working for a bank based in Belgium that had an IT center here for some reason. They rented at an extended stay hotel where I worked (rents efficiency apartments basically). The one thing I remember all of them saying was "We don't speak American. What do you call ..." followed by the British term & a description. Be prepared to describe the simplest things when you are trying to find them in stores. Baked goods caused no end of confusion.

JO SOWERBY said...

u have to learn to surf guys, i have been to san francisco and it was amazing. i'd defo recommend a trip up if u have time. the views across the bay are gorgeous and the ferry across is cheap and you get to see the city laid out perfectly. there are lots of parks to wander aorund as well.
Jo xxx

Stephanie Medley-Rath said...

I will be making my first trip to LA in May, but I am born and raised in Illinois. Anyway, check out . It is a coupon book for restaurants, grocery stores, and entertainment (movies, rental cars, etc.). If you use two coupons from the book, it pays for itself. Yes, the Sunday paper has other coupons and ask about the discount card at the grocery store. You give them your name/address and you get the sale prices on food. We are actually flying into Orange County, spending only a day in LA and spending the rest of our time in San Diego. We will be going to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo. I will say that "foreigners" have a reputation for not tipping in American restaurants. I don't know what the tipping customs are in the UK, but in the US, tip 15-20% (pre-tax). Servers are paid very poorly here and they survive on tips. (My sister used to be a server, so I have to share this bit of information).

Ginger said...

Hey Mel! This is going to be lots of fun for you and the family, I don't have much to add other than a suggestion for Disneyland... We purchased "front of the line tickets" which allows you to move up the line at a quicker pace then the regular lines for the rides. They are a bit pricier, but worth it if you only have a day. Just thought of a couple other things...Muir Woods, just outside of San Francisco is beautiful, I absolutely loved looking at those magnificent Redwoods. Hummingbirds love sugar water, we have them here all the time... you could always drive straight north and come to Canada....just a thought ;) oh yeah, if you're driving definitely rent a vehicle with GPS...we were thankful for it... Don't know if you like shows like "Jay Leno" or if you even get that show but you would have plenty of time to request tickets. That's about all I can think of:)