Sunday 25 September 2016

Kids in America: Our top tips for the perfect US family holiday

US city breaks

Michelle Jackson

Published 12/06/2016 | 02:30

Statue of Liberty.
Statue of Liberty.
Downtown Boston.
US Capitol Building in Washington DC. Photo: Deposit
Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay.
New York taxi
Camarillo outlet
Air and Space Museum

Travelling with children in the USA? Our expert shares her tips for city slicker families.

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LA Story

A bus tour is the best way to get your bearings in sprawling LA. We took the kids on the Starline Tours (starlinetours.com; $49/€43) red route from the Chinese Theatre. The kids loved the upbeat, graffiti-covered stores on Melrose and funky eateries like Pink's Hot Dogs. We also spent ages walking along Hollywood Boulevard, while the kids searched for their favourite stars.

California has great choice in theme parks and we opted for Universal Studios (universalstudioshollywood.com; two-day tickets from $119/€104). The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the newest attraction, though we ended up drenched at some old jewels like Jurassic Park and stunt show Waterworld. The park is huge and tickets expensive, so go early to make the most of the day.

If your kids are sports fans get tickets online for a Lakers basketball game at Staple Centre (nba.com; from $58/€51). We found ourselves rubbing shoulders with Will Ferrell. Sylvester Stallone was in the crowd too!

Don't go home without taking a trip to Venice Beach on a bicycle. Kids love the hippy vibe and henna tattoos, and my pair loved the old-fashioned theme park at Santa Monica Pier. Bikes can be rented by the hour.

Boston Tea Party

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Boston is a university city with opportunities for learning everywhere. The Boston Tea Party Ship (bostonteapartyship.com; $23.50/14.50) is good for anyone over eight. Visitors yell and call for revolution with guides wearing period costumes. When we boarded, the kids were called on to chuck the tea chests into the water and pull them out again. Down in the galley the wax figures are creepy - and kids love to be scared!

A short stroll across the bridge from the ship is the Boston Children's Museum (bostonchildrensmuseum.com; free for under-12s) with good interactive fun for small children. A must-visit for teens and tweens is the new Converse Store on LoveJoy Wharf (converse.com), the flagship of the popular brand in the USA. Kids can customise their Chucks here - though open-wallet surgery may be required for adults.

A great day trip and only one hour on the train is Salem, home of the witch trials. If you are there in October the Haunted Happenings Festival (hauntedhappenings.org) runs for the month with scary events and shows throughout the day. Get your fortune told in Omen or one of the other witchcraft shops. The kids will love it!

Washington wow factor

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DC is great for families as it's clean and orderly with a sense of space - and your kids can have fun and they won't even notice they're learning!

Nearly all of the museums are free, too - which saves a fortune, especially if you have more than two children. Must-dos include The Air and Space Museum (airandspace.si.edu), and Museum of The American Indian (nmai.si.edu), where my son especially enjoyed the challenge of finding his balance in an Inuit boat. The café serves really healthy delicious food too.

The Bike and Roll Tour (bikeandrolldc.com; $39/€34) is the very best way to visit the presidential monuments. Fully guided, the tour took us past The White House, Washington Monument and down National Mall from Lincoln to Jefferson down by the Potomac River.

Ford's Theatre (fords.org; $5/€4.40) where Abraham Lincoln was shot, cannot be missed. Booking a tour online is essential as it is busy all year around and tours start at 8.30am. The highlight for my son was seeing the actual gun that shot President Lincoln.

Bear in mind that July and August are DC's hottest months, with temperatures soaring into the 30s.

The Streets of San Francisco

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Pier 39 is tourist central and on the way to Fisherman's Wharf. Don't skip it entirely, however. Here, we found Lefty's shop for left-handed people (leftyslefthanded.com). My daughter, Nicole, had to be dragged from this store being a leftie herself.

The kids will love Chinatown. Everything is cheap and it's a great place for the kids to pick up souvenirs for the whole class back home. Take a drive down Lombard Street - more thrilling than a ride at Universal. A little further afield, Marin County is home to the ancient redwood trees of Muir Woods. For a day out in nature, this is a great park to visit and it was used as a setting in the last Planet of the Apes movie. Get there early, however, as parking is crazy later in the day. Take a packed lunch for the great picnic areas, too.

The very best way to see the bridge and absorb the breathtaking view of San Francisco Bay is by bike (baycitybike.com; $55/€44pp). It is a long cycle but older kids won't be bored - a guided tour takes up to three hours and ends at the pretty town of Sausalito, where we stopped for lunch and took a ferry ride back to the city. You can rent bikes by the hour, too.

New York, New York

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Children up to the age of 12 will love the American Girl store (americangirl.com) on 5th Avenue - with a chance to pick one of 49 dolls that will look exactly like them. I bought matching outfits and pyjamas for my daughter and her doll. We spent an afternoon enjoying lunch together at the store, while my daughter's doll had her hair done and ears pierced. It was a special mother and daughter experience we will never forget. 'Truly Me' dolls start from $115/€101.

The changing rooms at Juicy Couture (juicycouture.com) are another place to make your daughter feel like a princess, but check that there's a sale before entering. We got lucky and arrived on a day with 70pc off everything. New York isn't just Manhattan, either. My daughter's favourite place in the suburbs is the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria (movingimage.us; $15/7). It was a real treat to see props and models used in the original Star Wars movies and other epics.

Elsewhere, I recommend Top of the Rock (topoftherocknyc.com; $32/€28) rather than the Empire State Building (ESB), as your photos have the ESB in the background.

A great free attraction, not to mention a way to see Manhattan from the water, is the Staten Island Ferry (siferry.com) which leaves from the Whitehall Terminal on the half hour.

Finally, I'd recommend taking a bike or quadcycle around Central Park. A quadcycle costs $35/€31 per hour (bikenewyorkcity.com), the perfect amount of time to leisurely see the lake and the sights. Kids love to be on the move, so this is a great way to get to see the Alice in Wonderland statue, Strawberry Fields and the Chess and Checkers House.

Travel checklist

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Aer Lingus, Delta, United and American fly various routes between Ireland the US, though it's often cheaper to book flights and hotels together with the likes of Sunway, Tour America and American Holidays.

Visa Waiver travellers need to complete an ESTA (esta.cbp.dhs.gov) beforehand and, as of this April 1, to carry an electronic passport. Before travelling to the US, make sure your family has travel insurance with adequate medical coverage - healthcare can be extremely costly.

Read more: Visiting the US? Irish passport-holders face an important new rule from April 1

Shopping tips

The best way to ensure you find the exact stores you want is to look up premiumoutlets.com before travel and type your destination into the search box. Premium Outlets are outside all major cities - great for kids' clothes and shoes, and with good food malls too. Outside LA on the way to Santa Barbara, we checked out Camarillo Premium Outlets and the kids found their favourite stores such as Aeropostale, Nike, American Eagle and Gap.

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