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A Summer Trip in the USA

The USA doesn’t always spring to mind when planning a summer holiday. In fact, most families tend to pick Europe for its sun, sea and sand. But with fantastic beaches, bargain shopping and cosmopolitan cities, (and a much better exchange rate), the USA makes a great alternative summer break.

A Bargain Break

Whilst most tourists head straight to Florida in search of Mickey Mouse, there’s far more to this vast country than all-you-can-eat buffets and theme parks. America is a huge country with an ever-changing backdrop, and with wide open roads, cheap gas and car hire easily available, it begs to be explored by car.

If you’re traveling on a budget, there is plenty of cheap accommodation available on the road – from campsites in scenic national parks, to traditional kitsch motels, and comfortable hostels in major cities.

It’s even easier to eat out on a budget - America is a nation of restaurant lovers, with many families dining out several nights a week. This is because food is excellent value in the restaurants, and the portions are huge - most diners leave with a ‘doggie bag’ of leftovers to eat the next day.

The US is a shopper’s paradise, especially if you love a bargain. From the cavernous malls around every corner, to the huge discount stores like Marshalls and Target, you’re sure to pick up a souvenir or two. That’s before you even start on the Outlet Malls, where designer brands are reduced by up to 60%.

Here’s a guide to the best US destinations to visit in the summer months, and two road trips to give a taster of those 50 states.

California Dreamin’

California is America’s kookiest and most laid back state, the home of free-love and boho-cool since the 1960s. From ageing hippies to surfer dudes, you’re sure to find classic Californians in every town, but the locals are also famous for their healthy, active lifestyles and chilled out attitude, and it’s easy to slip into a Californian state of mind.

Wine Buffs will love Napa Valley, in the far north of the state. The endless fields of grape vines are broken up with top-class wineries where you can tour and taste the best local wines. The pretty towns of Napa and Vallejo are great places to stop off.

The most northern major city is San Francisco, famous for its steep hilly streets, cable cars, the eerie Alcatraz prison and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. With a cool and edgy atmosphere, the city is great for a budget break – cheap food can be found in the many Asian restaurants in Japan and Chinatown, and there are plenty of cool San Francisco Hostels close to the city center.

The sprawling city of Los Angeles offers far more than the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, with a diverse population and character in each city ‘neighborhood’. Beverly Hills is home to the rich and famous, and you can see immaculate homes and mega-mansions on a tour of the star’s homes. For more star-spotting, visit the Chinese Mann Theatre and the Walk of Fame, or Universal Studios to go behind the scenes and visit film sets and back-lots.

Away from the bright lights of the Sunset Strip, Santa Monica is a charming enclave with an old-fashioned pier and great restaurants, and nearby Venice Beach’s boardwalk is an arresting sight of muscle men and street artists. Many of the Los Angeles hostels are downtown, close to the bustling districts of Little Tokyo and Chinatown.

Drive south of the city and you’ll come across some fantastic beaches. The ‘PCH’ or ‘Pacific Coast Highway’ is a scenic drive past some great surfing spots, from the rough waves at Huntingdon Beach to celebrity favorite Malibu. With endless golden sand and safe swimming, California’s beaches are the perfect way to end your grand tour.

A Historical Trail

For historical sites and a taste of America’s colonial heritage, head for the east coast and the capital city, Washington D.C. Home to some of the most powerful politicians in the country, the city has a reputation for being pricey, but it’s actually perfect for budget travelers.

Many of the main sights are free – such as the staggering 19 museums and galleries in the Smithsonian Institute, and all the major memorials. It’s free to visit the White House and Capitol Building, as long as you don’t want to go inside. There are also plenty of cheap Washington Hostels close to all the main sites.

Continue a tour of America’s past in Virginia, a state packed with history. Start off at Jamestown, the first permanent British settlement in America, which now has a fascinating museum and replicas of the ships used by the first settlers. For an insight into two of America’s greatest leaders, visit Monticello, the house of Thomas Jefferson, and Mount Vernon, the plantation home of George Washington, America’s first president.

One of the most family friendly sites in Virginia is Colonial Williamsburg, a recreation of Virginia’s colonial capital, before America became independent. With historic buildings from the 1700s, and staff pretending to be from the colonial era, this is a chance to see living history rather than another dusty museum.