The USA is one of those countries I thought I had already seen long before I ever set foot there myself. From the iconic big cities (like New York City in Sex and the City), countryside romantic in the South (Sweet Home Alabama) or those typical all-American suburbs (Desperate Housewives) – you can see it all on screen. Nevertheless, nothing compares to actually seeing this vast country with your own eyes. So in this brief USA Travel Guide for Film Fans, you'll find my best tried-and-tested tips for your next film-inspired trip to the United States…
- Films to watch for inspiration
- When to go
- Where to go
- How to get around
- What to do: All USA Posts at a glance
- Good to know before you go: Four Travel Tips for the USA
1. What to watch for inspiration
31 films and series that were set and / or filmed in the USA!
Kids (1995) – filmed in New York City, USA
Pearl Harbour (2001) – filmed in California, Texas and Hawaii, USA
13 Going on 30 (2004) – filmed in New York, USA
TV Series Sex and the City (1998–2004) – filmed in New York City, USA
TV Series Desperate Housewives (2004–2012) – filmed at the Universal Studios Hollywood Theme Park, USA
The Holiday (2006) – filmed in California, USA and England, UK
Four Christmases (2008) – filmed in California, USA
New Year's Eve (2011) – filmed in New York City, USA
Young Adult (2011) – filmed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
The Artist (2011) – filmed in California, USA
Magic Mike (2012) – filmed in Florida, USA and Magic Mike XXL (2015) – filmed in Georgia, USA
Gambit (2012) – filmed in Albuquerque / New Mexico, USA
Hitchcock (2012) – filmed in California, USA
We’re the Millers (2013) – filmed in New Mexico, USA
12 Years a Slave (2013) – filmed in New Orleans, USA
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – filmed in New York, USA
Dallas Buyers Club (2013) – filmed in New Orleans, USA
Saving Mr. Banks (2013) – filmed in California, USA
Boyhood (2014) – filmed in Texas, USA
Maps to the Stars (2014) – filmed in California, USA
Jersey Boys (2014) – filmed in L.A., New York City and New Jersey, USA
Gone Girl (2014) – filmed in Missouri, Illinois and California, USA
Big Eyes (2014) – filmed in California and Hawaii, USA
The Revenant (2015) – filmed in West Canada, the USA and Argentina
Brooklyn (2015) – filmed in the USA, Canada and Ireland
Joy (2015) – filmed in New York, USA
The Night Before (2015) – filmed in New York City, USA
La La Land (2016) – filmed in Los Angeles, USA
Nerve (2016) – filmed in New York City, USA
Bad Moms (2016) – filmed in New Orleans, USA
Hail, Caesar! (2016) – filmed in California, USA
2. When to go
All year round, but I would recommend off-season due to fewer tourists. Since the USA is such a vast country though, it really depends where you go. October / November is a good time for the West Coast and the South, as it's still pleasantly warm, but not too hot.
According to my experience, May is the best month to visit New York City because this is when the city is blossoming with beautiful spring flowers and it is neither too hot nor too cold (New York City weather can be extreme in the summer and winter).
Finally, for beautiful changing autumn colours (the so-called Indian Summer), visit America's East Coast during the autumn months (September-November).
3. Where to go
1. The East Coast:
With Central Park being the most frequently used filming location of the world (!) and literally tons of films that have been shot here, New York City is a travel destination that film fans should definitely not miss. In New York City, you will even find a specialised tour provider for Film Location Tours. The budget-friendly walking and food tours by Free Tours by Foot are equally fun ways to explore the city.
Other highlights on the East Coast include Boston (lots of history and the world-famous Harvard University, which was the setting for The Social Network), Philadelphia (Silver Linings Playbook), Baltimore (Ted) and of course the capital Washington D.C. (the setting for Philomena don't miss the excellent and FREE national museums here). The must-see natural wonders of this region are the Niagara Falls!
2. The West Coast:
From cosmopolitan Seattle in the cool Pacific North (the setting of Fifty Shades of Grey) via the Hollywood hub Los Angeles (La La Land) and Silicon Valley techie city San Fransisco (The Internship) all the way to the biggest playground for adults, Sin City Las Vegas (The Hangover), – it will never get boring on America's West Coast!
Reload your batteries in the many national parks here, such as Yosemite, or the lesser known Lassen Volcanic National Park in northeastern California, where Reese Witherspoon hikes to on her "pilgrimage" in Wild.
3. The Mid West:
The Mid West might be a less popular choice for (oversea) tourists and frankly, I only became aware of the city of Cincinnati because several of my American relatives live in the area. However, as I found out on my three visits in 2011, 2015 and 2017, Cincinnati in Ohio as well as Louisville in Kentucky, have a lot to offer… especially in terms of food, history and even filming locations…
Read more in my Travel Guide posts Spotlight on Chicago: All you need to know before you visit Chicago, USA, Spotlight on Cincinnati: All you need to know before you visit Cincinnati, USA and the Sweet Stroll Food Tour in Cincinnati.
4. The Deep South:
The Southern States are great to travel back in time and for Old School America at its best! Check out the plantations around New Orleans (12 Years A Slave), countryside romantic in Alabama (Sweet Home Alabama), Memphis, Tennessee (home of "the king" Elvis and his "Graceland"), and Albuquerque in New Mexico (Breaking Bad) for a steak challenge in Amarillo, Texas (as seen in The Guilt Trip).
Read more in my post New Mexico, USA – 3 Ways to Get Your Film Fan Fix
4. How to get around
Rental car: If you want to experience one of those epic road trips you've seen in the movies, a rental car is your best bet. As you can stop anywhere you like, even in the tiniest of villages, this is the most flexible way to see the country. Remember to clearly plan your route beforehand though as distances are very long! Cars drive on the right side of the road and gas is a lot cheaper than in Europe.
Trains: The train network in the USA is unfortunately very limited and very slow. I once took the 24-hour train ride from Seattle to San Francisco with Amtrak (the main train company). The train ride was scenic, but very long, so do keep that in mind. In terms of standards though, the Amtrak trains are comparable to those in Europe, so for shorter distances (for example Vancouver in Canada to Seattle in the northeastern USA, which takes about 4 and a half hours), trains can be a budget-friendly and stress-free travel option if booked a few weeks in advance.
Buses: Long-distance bus services connect the major cities and are a particular good way of transport in the Midwest. On my most recent trip in 2017, I took the Megabus from Louisville to Chicago and from Chicago to Minneapolis for just 10 Dollars each! It depends on the time of your booking, but if you book a few weeks or better months in advance, you can bag yourself a really great bargain! Just keep in mind that the Megabus is pretty popular and can get crowded, so it's advisable to book an assigned seat as well (it's only 1 Dollar more).
Guided Tours: Tour companies such as Contiki offer various group tours for young people aged 18 to 35. Some of these even go all the way from East Coast to West Coast. This is certainly your best bet if you want to see and learn as much as possible in a limited amount of time.
Public Transport: If you stay in a big city, public transport is usually the cheapest and easiest option to get around. However, the only city where you can truly get everywhere by public transport is New York City. Other US cities, such as Washington D.C., Chicago, Minneapolis, Cincinnati or L.A. usually limit their reliable public transport opportunities to their Downtown areas. So if you want to use public transport in these cities, it's best to stay at a centrally hotel or hostel in Downtown.
UBER: A lot of American cities have no public transport system at all. But thanks to the arrival of Über, you can now get a ride with your smartphone everywhere you have an internet connection (even in small towns). Thus, getting around American cities without a car has become much easier and cheaper.
Airplane: If you travel on longer distances and / or you have limited time, flying is your best travel option.
5. What to Do
All USA Posts at a glance
For film-inspired travel ideas, check out my USA Destinations Category or this list of all my posts:
6. Good to know before you go:
Four Travel Tips for the USA
1. Tipping: In the USA, tipping is absolutely mandatory! Even if you order a beer at a bar, you have to give the waiter at least a 1 Dollar bill as a tip. Otherwise, you will not get a second beer… In general, tipping is expected everywhere within the service industry (restaurant waiters, bar staff, porters in hotels, even massages, hairdressers and so on…)
2. Credit Cards: You can pay with credit cards in almost all places, so keeping huge amounts of cash is usually not necessary. However, for the compulsory tips (see point 1), you should always keep some one-dollar bills in your pocket. For tipping tour guides, you should also have some ten and / or twenty dollar bills handy. Furthermore, you may also need some quarter coins (25 cents) for things such as washing machines and dryers in laundrettes (although at some of them, you can even pay by credit card these days).
3. Budget-friendly Accommodation: For budget travellers, hostels can be a good alternative to hotels, although not everywhere. In New York City, for example, I found that an AirBnB usually offers better value for money than hostels (which unfortunately have become quite expensive). I you book an AirBnB though, make sure you carry out a thorough research on the area. If you've never booked an AirBnB before, just click on this link and I'll give you 41 US Dollars off your first booking!
4. Tax: The value added tax is different in every state. Thus, the tax is not always included in the prices you order from a menu. Instead, tax is often added at the end, but will be visible on your bill (or "the check" as the Americans say).
Unless otherwise credited, all photos by © Sonja Irani | filmfantravel.com
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