USA East Coast
It is a dream for many people to travel the USA east coast at least one time. In this article, we want to show you that „east coast“ does not just mean Florida, or that little piece in between New York and Washington DC. There is so much more and we will show you from A to Z. A as the arrival in Boston, to Z, like Mile Zero of U.S. Highway 1 in Key West. There are about 2.500 km ahead of us and we will travel on all types of transportation available – airplanes, helicopters, ships, trains, busses, cars, bicycles and even Segways. Three weeks of exploring the fascinating USA east coast were ahead of us. In the following lines, we sum up our route and experiences for you guys. Enjoy reading and get inspired.
Day 01 to 03 – Boston
After a relaxed flight and three movies we touched ground in Boston, our first destination in the USA. Since transfer from the airport to the city is free of charge on public transportation in Boston, we used the bus to get to our accommodation. It took us about 30 minutes to get to Somerville, a little north of the city center of Boston. We booked through AirBnB and paid approximately 200€ for three nights. The room, as well as our host, were great, which made the start of our trip very smooth. After all that travel it felt so good to lay down and have a relaxing first night so we could start well rested into the next day.
That feeling when you wake up in another country and start your first full day of vacation is always amazing. That is how it was in Boston and the USA as well. We woke up to a beautiful, clear sky and sunshine which triggered the euphoria in combination with our curious anticipation. We started out with the Boston Duck Tour to get a quick overview of the town. This 80-minute tour starts on Boston’s streets and proceeds on water. Overall, the price-performance ratio is rather meager but if you want a fail-safe start in Boston (and the USA), this tour is just right.
After the tour we walked (the distances are gigantic) to the Boston Common, a huge city park, and checked out the Visitors Center, where we received the map for the Freedom Trail. Walking along this path, the interested wayfarer will discover 16 sights of Boston. This path leads from the Boston Common, past the Park Street Church, the Old South Meeting House, the Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market (you have to try a lobster roll here) to the world’s oldest, still active battleship, the USS Constitution and further up to the Bunker Hill Monument. Don’t be afraid to get lost along the way, because all historic sights are connected by a red line on the ground. This makes orientation very easy. The Freedom Trail is definitely a Must-Do when visiting Boston and you should plan at least three hours for this activity.
As we do in almost every larger city these days, we visited Boston’s Chinatown and the Chinatown Gate. From there we went to the Lookout Rooftop and Bar on Sleeper Street. Cool drinks and the best view on Boston’s Skyline await you here. It is like you can almost touch the skyline from there. Really, a place to be and unwind.
For dinner we chose The Daily Catch Seaport located directly on the shore, not far from the rooftop bar. With great food in a nice location, our first full day in Boston came to an end. As a little last highlight of the day we got to see Boston’s skyline by night before heading “home” to Somerville.
Boston –University, beer and sweets
The next day started with the Hahvahd Campus Tour on the Harvard Campus in Cambridge. This tour was for free for us because it came as gift for booking the Boston Duck Tour. Everyone taking the tour gathered in front of the Harvard Information Center, where the tour, led by a Harvard student, started. The tour takes about one hour and is very entertaining. It was almost surreal to walk on this famous campus that basically everyone has heard of and seen on TV before.
After this culture-overload we had to gear down a little and went to the south of Boston to take the Sam Adams Brewery Tour. This tour is free of charge and takes about 30 minutes. At the end of the tour you get to sample many different beers and you even get to keep your beer glass. What else can you ask for as a visitor?!
However, Boston’s south made us feel a little uneasy, so we took off in order to find two culinary delicacies in Boston. The first was a special ice cream shop called FoMu, where you might eat the best ice cream ever, and the second was Georgetown Cupcake, where the yummy sweet treats might glue up your butt.
With all that sugar in our blood circulation we had to walk it off again. Along the Storrow Drive, crossing the Harvard Bridge, we reached the MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From there we walked along the Memorial Drive, crossed the Longfellow Bridge and got back to the city center. Just in time for dinner, which we had at the Back Deck. Great food in a relaxed atmosphere – just the right place after an exciting day!
Day 04 to 08 – New York
More exciting days were about to follow. On the fourth day of our USA trip we took the Greyhound bus from Boston to New York. The bus ride takes about four hours and is incredibly cheap at only $12 per person. Just to give you a heads-up – I am a movie-damaged person. Hence, I had an image of this city in my mind which was influenced by movies like Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Good Fellas, One Upon a Time in America and, not to forget, The Godfather. Never before have I been so curious about visiting a new city and had such high expectations which this metropolis could not possibly be able to fulfill – but it did. Oh yeah, it surely did.
After arriving at the bus terminal, we bought the MetroCard, which was valid for 7 days allowing unlimited rides through the Big Apple for only $32 per card. This card is a must when visiting New York because you will want to overcome long distances within the city quickly. Especially if you are travelling on a “time-budget” and want to see and experience many of the countless sights this town has to offer. However, to get to our accommodation we wanted to experience the New-York-feeling and hailed a cab on the road to drive us to East Harlem. Some would probably say it was rather brave to choose this area for an accommodation. We think it was very authentic.
As we already did it in Boston, we booked our accommodation for New York through Airbnb. Apparently, New York’s hotel lobby is quite strong, and Airbnb is practically not legal in Manhattan. So, prior to our stay, our host sent us instructions on where to find the key to the apartment and how to behave when encountering other people. Everything worked out fine and it was worth taking the risk when looking at the savings. Especially since we wanted our accommodation to be in Manhattan.
The apartment itself did justice to movies like Taxi Driver – positively and negatively spoken. The rate and the location were unbeatable. In return, we had to share our flat with two other rooms, as well as some cockroaches, but hey, that was almost like the movie Joe’s Apartment and doesn’t that make it even cooler?! The two other rooms were permanently rented out, and so was the only bathroom in the apartment as well. Since we only spent very little time in the apartment though (as it is usual for a city trip) we got over it.
In proper style, we spent our first evening in New York at Wendy’s around the corner, where we ate and relaxed from the bus ride and the first overwhelming impressions. The upcoming days were well-scheduled in order to have to best New-York-experience possible. So just keep on reading….
New York – The dream comes true
Just like the early immigrants, we started our first full day in New York and the USA by visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We booked the tickets for the Liberty Cruise Tour prior to our trip. Being on the path of the former immigrants was an overwhelming experience. The tour takes about five hours and lead from the Battery Park to the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, on to Ellis Island and back to the starting point. Equipped with audioguides, we could individually manage our own pace and absorb all the relevant information. We recommend starting this tour as early in the morning as possible to have enough time and space to take pictures on Liberty Island.
The rate of $18,50 per person to take this great tour is a fair price. For those of you who have little time and very little money: An alternative to the tour is taking the Staten Island Ferry. It is free of charge and the ride also offers a nice view on the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan’s skyline. However, keep in mind, that you cannot get of the ferry at the sights.
After the tour we took a little break in the Battery Park on the southern end of Manhattan. Well rested we went on to the Financial District. We walked by the Charging Bull, visited the Federal Hall and had a perfect view on the New York Stock Exchange and the famous Wall Street. Everything was just as amazing as we imagined it.
Since we were close, we went on to the One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. To describe this place as impressive surely is presumptuous. However, I cannot think of a word that would fit. Impressive regarding the architecture, yet impressed by the respectful behavior of people and the endemic dignified atmosphere.
Our next stop was Chelsea and the High Line Park. Parts of this former railroad track were remodeled into a recreational park area above the streets. It is really fun to walk along the former tracks, high above the streets and try to eschew all the hipsters. The visit was worth it and offered a different perspective on the city. We spent the rest of the evening in Hell’s Kitchen, where we enjoyed burgers and beer before heading back to East Harlem.
New York – Higher than the skyscrapers
A real highlight was awaiting us the next day. We were about to take a helicopter ride above the roofs of Manhattan. Prior to our trip we booked the Big City Helicopter Tour through Zip Aviation, and confirmed the tour via telephone the day before. Take-off was at Downtown Heliport Pier 6 – after registration, a short waiting time and a safety introduction video. When it comes to the seats on board of the helicopter you have to be a little bit lucky (one seat in front right next to the pilot, two in the middle and three in the back). We definitely enjoyed those unforgettable, exciting and imposing 20 minutes in the air, flying along the Hudson River with the greatest view on Manhattan that you can imagine. The booking process and the organizational process on site were frictionless and we can just recommend this unforgettable experience.
After all that excitement we calmed down by walking along Fifth Avenue up to the New York Public Library. The New York Public Library, which has been part of many film sets, e.g. Spider Man or Ghostbusters, offers free guided tours through the library and so we spontaneously decided to participate. Our guide for this 90-minute tour was an elderly lady that herself looked like an actress playing a librarian. It is worthwhile taking that tour, not merely because of the famous Rose Reading Room on the third floor.
Two blocks from the library you will find the Grand Central Terminal with its impressive station house. The main concourse has also been a film set for numerous movies, like Carlito’s Way, Cloverfield or I Am Legend. After all those impressions, our stomachs were growling and so we headed to the food court on the lower level to find something to eat. It did not take us very long to find something and so we ate our Breakfast Burritos at La Cula, which seemed to last for days.
Well nourished we went on to the world-famous Times Square at the crossing of 7th Avenue and Broadway. The most interesting part of the Broadway for tourists is between 40th and 53rd Street. After dinner we went back to the Time Square at nighttime. However, nighttime is relatively spoken in this case. This square is always bright madness.
New York – Walking through the Bronx
For the next day we had scheduled the Bronx Walking Tour, guided by our wonderful local guide Alexandra, who showed us this borough of New York City, where she was raised, during a three-hour walking tour. We started in South Bronx and learned a lot about its history and development over the past years. Literally, we walked through history, starting in the 17th century with the first settlement, getting to the period of prosperity with German and Irish immigrants and finally the crisis in the 1970s. The Bronx has been taking a positive turn lately, even though it is a slowly moving turn. The shortage of living space in Manhattan will surely have its impact on the future of the Bronx.
However, work needs to be done regarding the reputation of this borough, as well as regarding the high unemployment rate of over 60%. Another disadvantage of the Bronx is the lack of industry, which is necessary to improve the unemployment rate, the living conditions and eventually also its reputation. Unfortunately, the proximity to Manhattan and the associated high prices for living space that are already asked for, will not be beneficial to the population of the Bronx.
Enough with the socio-critical comments for now. Take this tour, and add it to your schedule. It is definitely worth it. Those of you, who are interested in art (also a form of beating the odds) can get information on artists and tours to various exhibitions at the Bronx Arts Alliance.
Our place to relax after the tour was the 230 Rooftop Bar in between Fifth Avenue and Broadway. Apart from food and drinks, you can enjoy a beautiful view on the Empire State Building. Unfortunately, this location seemed a little bit run-down. Needless to say, that the drinks were over-priced.
New York, the capital of the world, offers basically an unlimited amount of possibilities to get on top of a skyscraper. Let it be the One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Center. Every single one of these buildings has its charm and offers a great and unforgettable view over NYC. Due to cost and time reasons, we decided on the Rockefeller Center because, in our opinion, the Empire State Building had to be on the picture.
As usual, we ordered the tickets to the Rockefeller Center online to skip the long lines. The tickets were booked for a certain time, but they are valid without further time restrictions for the rest of the day. Our goal was to get a picture of the city at sunset and at nighttime. We decided for tickets at 16:30 h and it took us about 30 minutes to reach the top. After four phenomenal hours, and pictures, on top of the building, it was time for dinner. For dinner we chose the cute, little Italian restaurant D’Amore, not far from our apartment in East Harlem. We would like to say Hi to Lavinia at this point!
New York – It is never enough
On our last day in New York we finally took the time to explore the Central Park. The best way to do that is by bike and so we rented two bikes at Unlimited Biking for two hours and started pedaling. To be honest, two hours is a rather short time if you want to see all sights of the park. However, to gain a good overview, this timeframe was perfect. We started on the northern end of the park, cycled to the southern end and back again. This bicycle tour is so much fun. It might even be a must-do activity.
After the tour we went for a stroll through Harlem and passed the famous Apollo Theatre, a popular venue for Black Music in the USA. The hustle and bustle in the streets here surely indicate the turning point for this quarter, which is developing form troubled districtinto a hip and trendy neighborhood. Regarding the turning point, West Harlem is progressing a little faster than East Harlem.
Next on our list was the Brooklyn Bridge. To get there from West Harlem we took the subway to southern Manhattan. The subway in New York is a sight by itself I have to say. It is quite an experience to use the worlds’ oldest subway network. Once we reached the Brooklyn Bridge we crossed it by foot and were incredibly happy not having bicycles with us. The huge crowd of people on the bridge would have made it impossible to enjoy a bike-ride across the bridge. After arriving in Brooklyn, in Dumbo to be more precise, you have numerous possibilities to relax in newly opened cafés and restaurants. For a good shot of the Brooklyn Bridge with the skyline of Manhattan in the background you should go to Pebble Beach.
Those of you who know the movie Once upon a Time in America by Sergio Leone, probably remember the scene that is shown on the DVD cover. This was taken on the crossing of Washington Street and Water Street in Dumbo. No worries, you will not be able to miss it, when you come from the Brooklyn Bridge. The picture of the Manhattan Bridge, framed by the buildings of Brooklyn on the left and right, and with the Empire State Building in the background is just fantastic.
Not far from the slightly over-crowded photo-hotspot you will find Gleason’s Gym, one of the oldest, still active boxing studios in the USA. Famous world champions like Jake “The Raging Bull” La Motta or Muhammad Ali used to train here. It is worth to peek inside and smell the scent of the old-time atmosphere.
By crossing the Manhattan Bridge we walked back to Manhattan. From here you will also have a great view on NYC, less glamorous but maybe more authentic. We went on through Chinatown and Little Italy. Mulberry Street was about to burst at the seams making it impossible for us to cross the Italian quarter.
Everyone who read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series has probably seen some references to New York. Especially the location of the rose on Hammarskjöld Plaza No.2, an untilled spot on the corner of 46th Street and 2nd Avenue. However, we could not hear the chiming bells or see the rose for that matter, but maybe we just did not look or listen close enough.
Day 09 – Atlantic City
On that day we had to leave this crazy city, that left nothing to be desired, and proceeded with our tour of the USA east coast. Early in the morning, at about 7 a.m., we went for breakfast and to the car rental station. The car rental station was close to the Central Park, so we used this opportunity to take an early Sunday morning walk through the Central Park. This was just amazing! Except for a few dogs and their owners, the park was empty and we were surrounded by an epic tranquility.
As usual on this trip so far, we went to Starbucks for breakfast. At home, this would be unimaginable, but in New York (and the USA) is was the most convenient and easiest way to eat in the morning. Just as easy as picking up our rental car. We booked through billiger-mietwagen.de and picked the car up at the local contractor Thrifty. When renting a car, make sure that the toll is already included, for example by getting the E-ZPass. This saves you money plus extra effort to purchase it on site and you can basically just pick up and go.
The drive to Atlantic City was easy and it took about two hours until we arrived in front of our hotel. The Claridge – A Radisson Hotel seemed like paradise to us after our accommodation in New York. The location, the rate and the comfort (including the parking garage) were just right for our purposes.
The main reason for choosing Atlantic City as a stopover on our route was the shopping outlet Tanger Outlets. Since we arrived too early for check-in, we decided to fill up some shopping bags. The area of this outlet is quite big and stretches over multiple blocks, forming a quarter out of shops. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon and it seemed like we were the only ones shopping. This luxury, to have the stores all to yourself, was awesome and we definitely made use of it.
After check-in we got ready for dinner, which we had in the hotel restaurant. Our room was on the 19th level and the distances inside the hotel were huge. In a certain way, the atmosphere felt a little depressing though. As if time had stopped in this hotel and all of Atlantic City – just that the bloom is off the rose. Memories of The Shining by Stanley Kuberick awoke here. Fortunately, we did not run into twin-girls on the corridor.
Right after dinner we went over to Bally’s Casino where we enjoyed some slot games and tried to understand the rules of gambling. We had a few lucky moments but put everything on red in the end in order to learn that luck is a mean whore who makes someone else lucky already.
Before our departure the next morning, we used the time for a walk on the famous Boardwalk along the ocean towards the Steel Pier, an amusement park by the sea.
When we were driving away towards Philadelphia, we looked back at Atlantic City with the slight feeling of relief. The glamour of the past days was in the air, but this rainy September day with its desolate and somber atmosphere, demonstrated that it had vanished from this place of entertainment.
Day 10 – Philadelphia
The drive to Philadelphia is about one hour and every sight you will read about in the following paragraphs we saw within a few hours. The reason for this is, that Philadelphia was only a break-stop on our way to Washington DC. Nevertheless, we wanted to see as much as possible and so we did.
First, we had to park our rental car. We found a parking lot at the Eastern State Penitentiary, a former prison, for $8 for two hours and walked to the Philadelphia Museum of Art from here. Just like all the other tourists, we were not really interested in the ongoing exhibition at the museum. We came here because of the famous steps that Sylvester Stallone was jogging up in his movie Rocky back in 1976. When visiting Philly this location is a must, and on top, it offers a great view on the city.
Afterwards we went back to the Eastern State Penitentiary. At first, we were debating on whether we want to visit this former prison that is museum and partially in ruins nowadays. In the end, we went in and, oh my, what would we have missed out on if we had decided not to go! We bought our tickets ($14 per person) for the audio guide tour.
Plan at least two hours for this tour – three hours would be even better. This tour is absolutely fascinating, yet slightly oppressive as well as super interesting and impressive. Highlights of the tour surely are Al Capone’s cell, Jesse Krimes cell (Apokaluptein 16389067: II) as well as the overall philosophy of this reformatory.
With these overwhelming impressions on our minds we went on to Elfreth’s Alley. This little residential road is the oldest, still in being, of its kind in the USA, where the houses continue to be private properties. This historic street dates back to 1702 and is definitely worth a visit. When walking along the cobblestone street, just take in the history and enjoy the atmosphere. If you want to have a look into one of the houses, go visit the museum there, but check out the opening hours beforehand.
From Elfreth’s Alley it is just a short walk to Liberty Bell. This bell was rung for the first time on July 8 in 1776, when the USA Declaration of Independence was pronounced for the first time. A milestone in American history that you get to see from close-up here. To get to the bell you have to pass a security check and a little museum (entrance is free of charge) before you can take your memory-picture of the bell.
We picked up our car and re-parked close to the Philadelphia City Hall for $2 and 30 minutes. The female part of our two-head-travel-group insisted on visiting the Love Park with the huge, red letters eponymous to the park. However, the male part of our travel-group insisted on the characteristic picture of a straight street leading to Philadelphia’s City Hall. For this shot you should go south on South Broad Street until Locust Street is crossing. From there, just enjoy the view and get you camera ready.
All that walking here and there made us quite hungry. As if we planned it that way, our last “sight” in Philadelphia was supposed to be the Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich. There are two restaurants that boast about inventing the sandwich. One is Pat’s King of Steaks and the other is Geno’s Steaks. Those two are conveniently located right across from each other on the same street. So what is your job as a dutiful tourist? You try them both! Which one is better? We leave that up to you to find out – for $10 per sandwich. We can just say, it was delicious and the French fries with cheese on top are to die for.
From here it took us about 2.5 hours to reach Washington DC, which we reached exhausted and late in the evening after starting this day in Atlantic City, with a stopover in Philadelphia.
Tag 11 – Washington DC
Our accommodation was the Windsor Park Hotel on Kalorama Road. Since we had a rental car, the location of the hotel, a little outside the center of Washington DC, was fine. This hotel had all the characteristics that also apply to our impressions of the USA on our entire trip – a little run down, but with charm. The hotel was absolutely okay for only two nights and a few hours that we spent there.
The main sights in Washington DC pretty much aggregate around the National Mall. However, this area is so huge that exploring this area by foot would take up a whole day. That was one of the reasons why we decided to do the City Segway Tour National Mall Washington DC. On Segway’s, we were able to see as much as possible and, in addition, got some interesting background information about the sights. Not to mentions the fun part of driving a Segway.
We parked our rental car in a parking garage near Columbia Plaza and walked to City Segway Tours. After an introduction we were ready to hit Washington’s roads. Our group had four participants plus our guide Tom. Our guide was very enthusiastic, lively and well informed. Time was flying by and during our three-hour tour we stopped at the main sights for further information (J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building, the White House, the Eisenhower Building, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial). The Lincoln Memorial is famous for Martin Luther Kings eminent speech “I have a dream” that was held right there. Also Forrest Gump stood there once, just to make a movie reference.
After the tour we took the subway (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority – WMATA) to the Capitol Building. It was easy to use public transportation here and it is also necessary because of the huge distances within the city. When we reached the Capitol Building, home of the USA Congress, seat of the legislative branch of the federal government, we were fine with taking a picture and not taking part in any of the tours that are offered. Instead, we went a few kilometers further north to reach Union Station, the impressive main station of Americas capital.
Another sight that should not be missed in Washington DC is the Arlington National Cemetery. This spacious national cemetery can be easily reached by subway and offers enough corners to explore for multiple hours (it is easy to spend at least two hours here, so you should plan that in). The change of the guard ceremony at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as the gravesite of the Kennedy Family should be obligatory stops on your route. Visitors can individually explore the site or book a guided tour on site.
We spent the evening of this eventful day in Washington DC’s historical district, in Georgetown. After the big monuments and the imposing sights in Washington’s center, Georgetown was just the right place to calm down, unwind and recapitulate the day in a placid environment. And, of course, the movie reference here shall not be forgotten. Those of you who have watched the horror-classic The Exorcist from 1973, probably remember the famous steps. These steps can also be visited in Georgetown (between Prospect Street and Canal Road west of the university). For dinner we went to the hip and trendy sweetgreen.
Day 12 and 13 – Charleston, SC (The Charleston Way of Life)
We drove to the international Airport Dulles Washington DC and dropped off our rental car, which went quite smoothly, just like the transfer to the terminal did as well. The flight itself was peanuts and after only one hour we touched ground again. From the airport in Charleston, South Carolina, we took the airport shuttle for only $3,50 to the city center. Once we arrived in Charleston we realized that certain bus lines were free of charge! The CARTA Downtown Area Shuttles (Dash) are equipped with three lines that basically cover the relevant area within Charleston’s center. That was just amazing!
And as if we had been aware of that, one bus stop was right in front of our hotel – the Comfort Inn Downtown. Therefore, the hotel was conveniently located and was the perfect accommodation for the upcoming two days. We were positively surprised and were able to easily reach the center to get some first impressions on the city. These first impressions of Charleston were great and we already knew that we made the right decision by adding this town to our USA east cost travel plan. It reminded us a little bit of Georgetown, just more Caribbean-like. The 900 km from Washinton DC to here are really obvious. The climate and the people are different here – both much more friendly. Welcome to the South.
In order to explore Charleston we booked the Historic Walking Tour prior to the trip. The historic center of the town is manageable, so a guided walk seemed suitable to get to know the town and its history. The tour itself is free of charge (there was just a fee of $3) and you just tip the guide whatever you think is reasonable after the tour. This tour takes about two hours and our guide was awesome. Walking through the historic lanes was quite adventurous for us.
After lunch in one of the restaurants in the historic city center we went to the oldest liquor store in the USA. In the Tavern Wine and Spirits we bought whiskey and Moonshine, which got its name from illicit distillation of alcohol during the prohibition time.
In the early afternoon we went on the ferry to Fort Sumter. The first shot leading to the Civil War and the subsequent far-reaching history was fired from this sea fort. The tour took about two hours. However, I would only recommend this tour if your stay in Charleston is longer than two days. Otherwise it makes more sense to take some more time in the city center around the French Quarter, spend some time in the Battery Park or just enjoy the beautiful architecture of the houses painted in different pastel shades. Another alternative would be a trip to the plantations in the countryside and the impressive Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island. There is also the possibility of taking a water-cab ($12) to one or the other island.
Day 14 to 21 – Miami
The following day we went back to the airport and the rental car agency. We pre-booked the car online on billiger-mietwagen.de at Alamo, Argus Car Hire as the local agent, respectively. The drive we planned for that day was 900 km long. From Charleston, SC to Miami, FL. And so we climbed into our Mustang, and did what Mustang-drivers do. We drove Ford.
It took us 13 hours (including getting gas, something to drink and stopping for a restroom) to overcome that distance. But we also stopped in America’s largest city, in terms of area size. We stopped in Jacksonville – hometown of Limp Bizkit. In a mall we just randomly asked a guy who worked in a shop there, if there are any sights in Jacksonville that a fan from the first hours should see. And so we were sent to Jack Rabbits. The band performed at this location in its early days.
Next to the club you will find a record store named JAX Records. We went inside without even knowing what we were expecting and asked them if they had anything from Limp Biskit. One guy nodded at us and took as to the back of the store, without any further comment. At the back, there was an old, scribbled over door from the club next door leaning on the wall. He pointed on one drawing and said that this one was from Fred Durst himself. It was a frog with a speech balloon stating, “Piss off!”.
We passed a few state boarders on our way down. As a driver you realize that at the latest when you spot the “Welcome Center”. These rest areas are very welcoming and well equipped. Like the Welcome Center in Florida, were a free juice awaits you, next to the possibility of purchasing the street toll pass. The SunPass can be purchased from a machine and you just top it off with the desired amount of money (if there is still some money on it when you return the car you can get reimbursed upon deactivation). We had the chance of directly asking the staff for support. For our purposes the SunPass Mini was sufficient. Especially for Miami and the surrounding area this pass is necessary.
Sometime that Friday night we finally arrived at our hotel in Miami. The streets were full of people in party-mode and nightlife was in full swing. The journey through the USA ended now and vacation began. The location of our sixth, and last hotel The Shepley Hotel, was perfect – in second row to the Ocean Drive in South Beach. The “party mile” and the beach were only a stone’s throw away, yet it was quiet. Across from the hotel was a parking garage – very convenient if you need a place to park your car in South Beach. The hotel definitely delivered what was promised and it was chic and fashionable.
Miami – Along the Florida Keys
The first day in Miami we left Miami again. Because we still had our rental car we drove towards Key West, passing the famous Florida Keys. The pure driving time is about three hours and leads across numerous bridges out onto the ocean. It is a great experience to drive on U.S. Highway 1 in a convertible and to watch boats, divers and people fishing on the sky-blue ocean.
Immediately after breakfast, at around 9 a.m., we were on the road on reached our first stop in Key Largo. At the Carribbean Club (reference to the movie Key Largo featuring Humphrey Bogart in 1948) we rested, had an alcohol free beer from a can und watched the fishermen that were about to prep their boats for the day.
From Key Largo we drove on to Marathon and the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar where we stopped for a lunch break. The back deck offers a great view on the Seven Mile Bridge and it is even more fun to enjoy this view with a typical Margarita. Make sure you do not miss out on the regional specialty Key Lime Pie for dessert. A pie made from lime juice originating from the Florida Keys.
After the Seven Mile Bridge you arrive in Bahia Honda Key. A stop at the Calusa Beach should be on your schedule. The beach is part of a national park and therefore you have to pay an entrance fee of $4.50 per person. However, what you get is a nice beach and a view on the old Bahia Honda Railroad Bridge, which you can also walk on for a few meters and get some great pictures of the area.
After one more hour of driving across bridges and islands we reached Key West and our first destination there – the Southernmost Point of the Continental United States. This term is wrong in at least two ways though, but who cares if tourists line up to get their picture taken at the buoy?! The real southernmost point of Key West is located on the premises of a US Navy Base a little further, which, of course, cannot be entered by tourists. And, Key West is an island and therefore not quite “continental”. But oh well, we do not want to be picky about that. The buoy is pretty and looks good on pictures.
Key West is also famous for the Hemingway House on the U.S. Highway 1, which by the way ends about 500m further down the road at Mile 0. It is fun to walk through the streets, passing Mallory Square, and suck in the atmosphere of the last island of the Keys. Nevertheless, all the bars and tourists remind me a little bit of the “Ballermann 6” on the Spanish Island Mallorca. We looked for a good place to have dinner and also be in first line for the upcoming highlight.
The main reason why we visited Key West surely was the spectacular sunset that you can witness there. The crowds daily celebrate the sunset. You can feel the uprising tension and electrified air. When the sun is finally gone, people cheer and applaud. It should really be on your bucket list to experience this panorama and the sunset at Key West in the USA.
We can recommend Bistro 245 on the southern edge of Mallory Square. Choose chairs and a table directly on the rail and make sure to sit close to it. That way no one can shove in front you and block your perfect view on the ocean with all the boats and the setting sun. Try to sit down by 7 p.m (in September) to get the best out of it.
After the sunset it was time to lock away the magical moment and drive back to Miami. It took us about 3.5 hours to get back to South Beach and we arrived around midnight, the best time for party on the Ocean Drive. It seemed as if we were part of a movie being stuck in traffic between the party people, the pimped rides and the Hispanic people in this SUV that were arrested and disarmed by the police right in front of us. I shrugged and turned up “Miami” by Will Smith.
Miami – Welcome to Miami. Bienvenidos a Miami.
The plan for the next day was to explore the continental part of Miami. Since we had to return our rental car at the airport anyway, we used this task to see more of Miami than South Beach. After returning the car we informed ourselves about public transportation in Miami (Bus, Metromover and airport shuttle). Using public transportation went without problems, even though some bus stops were hard to identify. There is even a free-of-charge bus network in Miami Beach, the so-called Miami Beach Trolley. And once more, we experienced that you get familiar with a foreign city when using and understanding the public transport system.
First stop that we selected to reach by public transportation was Little Havana. We already had the opportunity to visit Cuba – you find the article here – and the walk along Calle Ocho was pretty authentic. This district is very much like Cuba, on the good side and the bad. I imagine Cuba to be just like this in about 10 years.
It was incredibly hot as it felt like 40°C in the shade, and we walked east towards Brickell and Downtown. After reaching the imposing mall Brickell Village we realized that we were short of one or the other dollar to afford the luxury products that are offered there and decided to wait for the next outlet mall. We were spoiled by Atlantic City. Another nice shopping mall is the Bayside Marketplace, for all the consumers out there. On public transportation you experience the funniest situations. And so did we in the metro. A man with dark skin color distributed an advertisement for a tanning studio solely to people with white skin color. Is that racist or just a fact-driven act?!
Our next destination was Wynwood, the upraising artist- and hipster district. The former blue-collar neighborhood was taken over by artists from all over the world as well as young entrepreneurs. This old, abandoned neighborhood was brushed up by colorful art, which it is now famous for – the Wynwood Walls. Artists painted huge pictures on the walls and you will find the paintings throughout the entire district. An exhibition of the collected works is shown in an Open-Air Museum (2520 NW 2nd Ave). Just make sure to walk along the main street though. If you wander off to far into the side streets, it feels like being on a battlefield and not so safe anymore.
We were done with continental Miami after this and went back to South Beach. After arriving there, we walked along Lincoln Road, where you will find many bars, restaurants and shopping possibilities. For dinner we went to one of the touristy restaurants on Ocean Drive. We wanted the all-over experience of this circus-like road. On top you will find 24-hour Happy Hour offers here. This was just an unbeatable offer and so we had to make use of it. It was very first time in my life that, apart from the usual fruits and an umbrella, my cocktail was equipped with two bottles of beer. Two bottles of beer!
We had a good dinner with lots of food and drinks and were now ready to party. It did not take long to find a location – the Palace. Relaxed bouncers, no entrance fee and we went straight to the dance floor. This was perfect. The music was great and the party was on. With a little delay I started to notice all the muscular, shirtless guys on the dance floor…
This is Miami as well. Everyone can do and be whatever they want, and no one gets harassed about it. People live the diversity here in mutual respect. Even the crosswalks are rainbow-colored. We realized that Miami only belongs to the USA on a geographical level. The attitude to life is different here, what makes the stay even more unforgettable. This is Florida. This is Miami. This is freedom and anarchy in the robe of liberalism.
Miami – Between alligators and art
For the next day we pre-booked the Everglades Classic Tour by Banana Joe Tours. A visit of the national park in Florida’s southern swampland is obligatory. We were picked up at the hotel at 9 a.m. and our guide Karin used the drive to give us some insights about the tour and the park. We arrived at the Everglades Holiday Park, went straight to the airboats and the actual tour started. On airboats we flew over the water and through the impressive nature of the swampland. We even saw a few alligators quite close to our boat. After the tour on the water there is an alligator show. At about 1 p.m. we were back at our hotel.
After lunch we took a walk along the beach to the South Pointe Park Pier. From here you have a great view on the ocean and the beach of South Beach. It is also a great spot to enjoy a sunset. Definitely a location you should not miss out on in Miami.
One more highlight in Miami and South Beach in particular is the historic Art Deco district. We can recommend the audio guide tour for $20 per person. The tour takes about 90 minutes, depending on you speed and interest in the specific locations. This tour guides you by the most famous art-deco buildings, of which the majority are hotels at the moment, and you get to know interesting facts about the history and the special design. Tickets can be purchased inside the Welcome Center on Ocean Drive, next to Lummus Park. Inside the Welcome Center you will also find a small Art Deco Museum,which is already included in the ticket for the audio guide tour. The visit of the museum is optional, takes about 30 minutes and gives this tour the final shape. This tour is also interesting for people that are usually not interested in architecture.
There are two more recommendation regarding food. One is the 11th Street Diner, which is a must for burgers and shakes. The other one is basically every restaurant on Espanola Way at the crossing of Washington Avenue. We spent our last evening in Miami on this street. A perfect location for the final evening of our trip.
We used the remaining days to relax on the beach and process all the new impressions from the past three weeks. We overcame 3.000 km, got to know 9 cities, 13 states and used all ways of transportation that you can think of, starting with a helicopter, boat, ship, bus, subway until bicycles and Segways. In short, we conquered the east coast of the USA.
You find more impressions on Instagram.