After teaching in Primary Schools for 10 years, I decided to take some time out to travel more while doing a bit of supply work between trips. I'd never travelled solo before so it's all a big adventure!!
Saying goodbye to the historic town of McCarthy and the nearby Wrangell-St Elias National Park – for now at least – we were back on our Grand American Adventures minibus this morning to start the drive to the final National Park of our trip, Denali. The road to Denali was so long that we were having to break it up with a stop somewhere around the half way mark so today, we’d be travelling to a middle-of-nowhere town called Maclaren.
Our first stop today was back at the national park we had just left behind. Wrangell-St Elias is the largest National Park in the USA so despite being on the road for a while, we parked up to find we were in another part of the park giving anyone who hadn’t had the chance in Kennecott the day before to visit a park Visitor Center and pick up maps and souvenirs and giving us all the chance to experience more beautiful views across the park.
The rest of the drive was along another long, bumpy road. We made frequent stops to stretch our legs, see the views of the Alaskan Range and take photos and there was a bit of excitement when we saw a young caribou on the road.
We arrived at our overnight stop of Maclaren Lodge around lunch time. We’d be staying in, as the name suggested, lodge style accommodation with shared facilities. The main lodge area had a restaurant and communal area and after checking into our rooms, we went straight there for lunch.
After we had eaten, we had the opportunity to canoe down Maclaren River. Our arms just about recovered from our strenuous Kayaking experience in Valdez a few days earlier, we signed ourselves up and were soon being sped down the river on the lodge’s boat to the canoe rental hut.
Maclaren River is a braided river with some quite fast moving water and we had a great afternoon paddling along, especially when we accidentally got caught in a current and went took the opposite fork in the river to everyone else. We did of course all meet up again a few moments later when the 2 parts of the river once again blended into one ending our brief panic!
Our canoeing experience over, we returned to the lodge for an evening of socialising with the group culminating in a hilarious game of Cards Against Humanity. Then it was off to bed ready for an early start to get back on the road to Denali in the morning.
The next morning, after a delicious pancake breakfast at the lodge, it was back on the long, bumpy road. We made a few more stops at scenic spots to view the surrounding scenery of the Alaskan Range along the way and had reached Denali by lunch!
After an exhausting but amazing day kayaking out to an iceberg field in Valdez, it was back on the van today to set off for our next stop on our Alaskan Highlights tour of Alaska, the historic town of McCarthy from where we’d be exploring the largest US National Park, Wrangell-St Elias.
After a quick breakfast stop in Valdez, we began our long drive, stopping just outside of Valdez after spotting a bald eagle in the trees on the roadside and then again at an overlook for Lowe River.
We made more frequent stops at various viewpoints to stretch our legs along the way including one at Liberty Falls State Recreation Area to see the waterfall.
Our lunch stop today was in the small town of Chitina. As we’d once again made our own lunch up to keep costs down, we again bought a dessert to share at the cafe the group were eating at!
The road to McCarthy was long and bumpy and following yesterday’s exhausting full day’s kayaking excursion, after lunch, I did something I rarely do and fell asleep in the van!
I woke up just before our final stop before McCarthy at an overlook for the Copper River. We stopped at a long road bridge crossing the river from which there pretty views of the chalky river flowing through the canyon below. The road was so quiet, we sat on the bridge posing for photos – something we’d rarely be able to do on road bridges in the UK!
Once we reached the vicinity of McCarthy, we stopped and parked up near an old railroad bridge. We were told to retrieve our luggage from the trailer and to take it over the river bridge and once on the other side, we would be met by vans belonging to the guesthouse we were staying in who would take us the rest of the way into town as larger vehicles such as our tour van are not advised to drive the last stretch of the road.
We were staying at Ma Johnson’s Hotel, a historic guesthouse in the town. There was no wifi, no power points in our rooms – we had to use the few in the communal areas – and bathrooms were shared rather than being en suite but it had a real charm about it and the rooms were really lovely. The whole town was like something time had forgot with its swinging saloon doors and Wild West style fronts.
That afternoon, some of us had opted to take a scenic flight over Wrangell-St Elias National Park so, after a bit of time to settle in to our accommodation and look around the small town, we met at the front of the hotel to be shuttled down to the local airfield and board our small aircraft.
The flight was an amazing experience with stunning views of the park below. We flew over the braided Copper River, over the ghost town of Kennecott and then over mountains and glaciers, the scenery taking our breath away as our pilot told us about the history and geography of the area and answered any questions we had as we communicated with him through our headsets. We had saved furiously before the trip to be able to do these optional extras as we knew they would be what made the trip and while this was certainly not the cheapest optional extra on offer, it was absolutely worth every penny.
After our flight, we were dropped back in McCarthy town and all went for dinner at local diner, The Potato, where I had an amazing pulled pork sandwich. The group was really starting to gel now and the banter was in full flow as we were all on a high from our scenic flight experience.
Day 2 in McCarthy and we were off to Wrangell-St Elias National Park for a glacier hiking experience. Once again, we were picked up and shuttled out of McCarthy, this time to the old mining town of Kennecott, now a ghost town, where we met our guide for the day and got kitted out with special grips that fitted over our shoes enabling us to walk on the icy glacier.
Taking a short hike out to the glacier’s edge, we followed the glacier trail until the rocky path disappeared to be replaced by ice. It was surreal walking across the seemingly endless icy plain which we had been flying over the afternoon before. We came across huge walls of ice and deep crevices with no bottom in sight. We stopped for snacks and drinks sat out on the glacier and stopped to fill up our water bottles from the icy springs – the clearest, freshest water I’ve ever tasted!
After returning to Kennecott and handing back our equipment, the afternoon was free for us to either explore Kennecott or to return to McCarthy. We decided to stay in Kennecott, grabbing some lunch and visiting the national park visitor center before signing up for a tour of the old abandoned copper mine.
The tour was really interesting, taking us through the town of Kennecott hearing all about its history and then up into the remains of the old, red mill building. Although the building had been stabilised to allow visitors in, we had to wear hard hats in case of any falling debris!
After the tour, we caught the shuttle back to McCarthy taking another trip to the Potato Cafe for dinner and relaxing after a busy day.
The next morning, we had breakfast and spent some time down by the river before we were dropped back at our tour van ready to set off for our next destination, an overnight stop in Maclaren.
Watch my vlog of my visit to McCarthy and scenic flight over Wrangell-St Elias here:
Watch my vlog of my Wrangell-St Elias glacier hike and visit to Kennecott ghost town here:
After beginning my trip exploring Anchorage and a couple of days in Seward exploring Kenai Fjords National Park, it was back aboard our Grand American Adventures tour bus early this morning to start the long drive to our next stop, Valdez. Following a supermarket stop to grab breakfast and snacks for the day, we continued on to our next quick stop of the day, Bear Creek Weir, not far outside of Seward to watch the salmon swimming through.
Next up was a stop at the Moose Pass Water Wheel and Grindstone which sit at the side of the highway at the entrance to the town of Moose Pass.
Continuing towards Valdez, our next stop was at a viewing point for Mantanuska River and Glacier before we stopped for lunch at the cute Sheep Mountain Lodge from which there were more beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Having realised just how expensive Alaska was over the last few days, we had opted to buy cheese and rolls on our supermarket stop that morning and had made our own lunch to eat on the van so instead, we ordered a delicious warm cookie and ice cream dessert to share from the lodge’s menu!
We were slowly realising that the main thing to see is Alaska is glaciers and sure enough, our next stop was a viewing point for another one, this time, Worthington Glacier.
Luckily, the views were always so beautiful, we never tired of this kind of stop to enjoy the Alaskan scenery.
As we neared Valdez, we started to pass a few waterfalls trickling down the cliffs either side of the highway. We pulled over to get a closer look at some of these and also see the Old Railroad Tunnel, a historic unfinished tunnel nearby.
Our last stop before we reached Valdez was at Soloman Gulch Fish Hatchery where we watched in amazement at the hundreds of salmon swimming at the weir. Then it was onto Valdez where we checked into our hotel and then went for a group dinner at Roma Italian restaurant.
The evening was ours to wander through Valdez or – in our case – do laundry!
We did find time for a quick walk around town, spotting some of Valdez’s many rabbits as we went!
It was an early morning the next day. Although it was a free day to spending Valdez as we liked, 4 of us had opted to spend it taking a full day sea kayaking tour. After checking in for our tour and getting kitted out in our thermal, waterproof gear for the day, we boarded a small boat carrying our kayaking equipment and sailed out to sea.
This part of the day was exciting enough as we sped across the waves and even passed a group of seals. Once at our destination, we boarded our kayaks and set off, paddling out to a waterfall in a calm lagoon at first before heading out to sea.
It was a long, cold day and by the end of it, our arms and shoulders ached a lot, but it was totally worth it as we kayaked out to see huge icebergs floating in the icy sea. We even saw one enormous iceberg start to roll until it was completely the other way up, sending small waves towards our kayaks. Just amazing.
We docked on an island for lunch and a warm cup of tea, stunning views of the icebergs in the sea in front of us before kayaking out to them again, getting close enough to touch some of the small pieces of floating ice. An incredible experience!
At the end of the day we clambered from our kayaks back onto the boat which had come to collect us and take us back to Valdez where we went for a well-earned pizza and to tell the rest of the group about our adventure.
We slept well that night and the next morning, after a breakfast stop at Valdez’s famous Roadside Potatohead Cafe, it was back on the road to begin our journey to our next Alaska destination.
Watch my vlog of our journey to Valdez here…
and my vlog of my sea kayaking experience in Vadelz here:
After 2 underwhelming days spent in Anchorage, the day we had been waiting for had arrived – the start of our 10-day Grand American Adventures Alaskan Highlights tour.
Having got the introductions and paperwork out of the way at a welcome meeting the previous evening, it was straight to loading up the trailer with our luggage, hopping on and setting off. The tour was off to a precarious start when moments after leaving the hotel, a huge moose leapt out in front of us just as we had started picking up speed down a main road. Luckily, there was nothing in the lane next to us and we managed to swerve to avoid hitting it. Danger over, we were relieved and excited to have had our first Alaska wildlife spot!
Our guide explained to us that she had a tour ‘morning song’ – a song she played as the first song of the day on the bus each morning and which we’d all get to know and be able to sing along to by the end of the tour. The song was I Got a Name by Joe Croce. It wasn’t a song I was already familiar with but by the end of the tour, we did indeed all know and love it.
Our first stop of the day was at Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Boardwalk just outside of Anchorage. We wandered the board walks and were rewarded as we looked out over the marsh with another moose appearance!
Back on the bus, we continued to Alyeska Mountain where we had the option of riding the aerial tramway to the top of the mountain. Never ones to turn down the opportunity to take a gondola ride, we got our tickets along with a few other members of our tour group and soon we were at the top taking in the beautiful views of the mountains and glaciers.
We next stopped at a section of the Byron Glacier Trail in the National Forest. We followed the short section of the trail down to the glacier viewing area then returned to the bus to continue on to Seward arriving early afternoon.
Dropping us off in downtown Seward, we visited a cafe for lunch before going to check in at the motel we’d be staying in for the next 2 nights.
While in Seward, we would mainly be exploring Kenai Fjords National Park and this afternoon we would be heading to the Exit Glacier part of the park.
We were dropped off at the Exit Glacier Visitor Center where most of us decided to take the guided ranger tour to the glacier. After taking a walk in the park ourselves while waiting for the guided walk to start, we made our way back to the visitor centre meeting point. It was quite an easy hike to the glacier with plenty of stops as the ranger talked to us about the park and explained how quickly the glacier is receding.
After our hike, we all boarded our tour bus again to be dropped back in Seward where we had a group meal after which a few of us decided to head to one of the local bars, the Yukon Bar, where it was open mic night then after a few drinks, we walked back to our motel.
Day 2 in Seward we were taking an included full day cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park. After grabbing breakfast at a cafe in town, we met with the rest of the group at the marina, spotting an adorable sea otter playing in the bay as we waited. Our cruise was lead by a National Park Ranger who pointed out where to look to spot wildlife in the area – and there was certainly plenty of it to spot! We saw seals, puffins, bald eagles and goats on the cliffs we sailed past and eventually, our patience paid off when we saw a whale swimming ahead.
During the cruise, the park ranger announced that they were running an Explorer Ranger programme on board, jokingly suggesting that adults could get involved as well as children. So, of course, we requested booklets and completed them to earn our Explorer Ranger badges by the end of the cruise.
Once back on dry land, the evening was ours to spend as we wished. We decided to walk in the opposite direction from the town where we found Seward Lagoon. After having a quick walk along the boardwalk, we went for dinner at Red’s Burgers where you get to eat your food sat on an old converted school bus!
After dinner, we walked back into town taking more pictures around the seafront then returned to the Yukon Bar for drinks at the end of the evening.
It had been a great start to the tour. Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park had been really fun places to explore and now, we were excited to head to Valdez for the next part of our tour!
Watch my vlog of my journey to Seward and visit to Exit Glacier here:
Having had a disappointing trip to Lake Clark on our first day in the state of Alaska, we figured things could only get better! This evening, we would be kicking off a 10-day Grand American Adventures tour of the state with a Welcome Meeting at our hotel and tomorrow we would be departing for Seward, the first stop on our Alaskan Highlights tour, but first, we had the whole day ahead of us to explore Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.
It was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel to the main downtown strip where all the shops, bars and restaurants were. On the way, we passed famous Anchorage resident, Star the Reindeer.
Once downtown, we grabbed some breakfast from Starbucks in the shopping mall then spent some time exploring the many souvenir stores, picking up a few last minute essentials for our upcoming tour. There was a good selection of stores, our favourite being the huge Polar Bear Gifts, claiming to be Alaska’s largest gift store!
All shopped out, we then found ourselves at the Anchorage Visitor Information Center where we saw a trolley tour of the city departing. Still having a few hours to kill before our Tour Welcome Meeting, we bought tickets for the next trolley tour.
The trolley took us out of downtown, along to the Port of Anchorage and past the Captain Cook Monument then down past Westchester Lagoon and Earthquake Park where we were told how Anchorage had suffered a huge earthquake in the 1960s – the largest quake ever recorded in North America – and how it’s effects to the landscape can be seen in the park. Then, we headed back towards downtown Anchorage past Lake Hood and Lake Spenard. Here we saw lots of small aircraft and seaplanes and were told that it’s almost as common to have these to get around in as it is cars in Alaska!
Although there wasn’t really a lot to see on the tour, our tour guide was really interesting to listen to with lots of facts about the city. But it was a shame there wasn’t the opportunity to hop off at any of the places pointed out as it would have been nice to explore Earthquake Park but we were unsure how to get back to it, not to mention short on time, after.
With it now being way past lunchtime, we decided to make our way along one of the city’s many walking trails to a retro diner we had seen on the way to our hotel the other night. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was closed – one of the downfalls of not having internet access in other countries is not being able to check these things first! – but it had been a pleasant walk past Westchester Lagoon to get there. We made do with a Subway sandwich instead and also stopped by a Walgreens to stock up on some snacks for our tour so it wasn’t a complete waste of a walk!
By the time we got back it was time for our tour welcome meeting. We met the rest of our group, just 9 of us, ranging in age from 28 to a very active 75, and our tour guide who just happened to be an Alaskan native! With the introductions and paperwork all done, we walked back into downtown to grab some pizza for dinner.
Our Alaskan adventure had been a bit underwhelming so far. We found that Anchorage didn’t really have a lot to offer and was really just a gateway city for tourists beginning or ending Alaskan tours or cruises but we were still excited to see what the state had to offer away from its largest city were eager to get on the road the next day.
Having ticked off over 20 states on my Trek America Southern and Northern BLT tours along with a few I’d already ticked off on a few previous trips to the US, it suddenly became my aim to tick off all 50 states. So why not start with one of the most difficult?
Alaska had first crossed my mind while sat on the Trek America van the summer. A few of us were browsing a brochure that was lying around in there and all agreed the Alaskan BLT looked amazing. We jokingly agreed to all meet up again to take the tour the following year and for 2 of us, that joke became reality.
Planning the trip wasn’t all smooth-running. We added in a few days in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland before flying to Alaska and a trip to Denver after the tour, all carefully planned around the start and end date of the tour as soon as it was confirmed as running. The problems began when we were contacted by Trek America to say they had accidentally confirmed the tour and actually, we were the only 2 who had signed up for it so they’d rather not run it. We could, however, upgrade to a similar tour offered by their sister company Grand American Adventures instead.
The benefits of this would be that we’d be getting a more expensive tour with better accommodation than on our originally booked tour. The downside being that 1) it started a day later – and therefore finished a day later – meaning it didn’t fit in with the flight to Denver we’d already booked, 2) the itinerary was ever so slightly different, it didn’t go to Homer and we really wanted to do the ‘Bear tour’ – an optional extra for Homer on the original trip where we’d fly somewhere and go bear spotting, and, 3) Grand American Adventures tours are open age unlike Trek America who have an 18-38 age restriction. We were worried the trip would attract an older clientele and the social side of it wouldn’t be what we’d come to expect from Trek America tours.
With the airline agreeing to change our Denver bound flight and the hotels also accommodating changes to our plans, we eventually agreed to swap tours. As the ‘bear tours’ also ran out of Anchorage, we decided to use the extra day we’d now have there to do that to make up for the opportunity not being on the new itinerary. And so, after a few days spent in Portland, we flew to Anchorage.
Despite landing at around 11pm, it was still light there and we were pleased to find blackout blinds on our hotel room windows so it at least felt like nighttime in there!
Trek America had organised for us to the ‘bear tour’ on our first day in the city through a company they had recommended after we expressed our disappointment at it not being an optional extra on the Grand American Adventures tour and so we were up and waiting for our pick up outside our hotel the next morning. We waited. And waited. And waited. Tour anxiety is not unusual whenever we book these type of tours but usually, just as you think you’ve been forgotten, the minibus turns up. But not today. We managed to get in touch with Grand American Adventures to find out what was happening and later found out they had accidentally booked us on the tour for that date but a month earlier! A different tour was running that afternoon which was still to view bears in the wild so as there were places left on it, we were quickly booked onto that!
So after grabbing some lunch, we again waited outside the hotel for our pick up. This time it arrived on time. As we headed to the airfield, we noticed the weather was changing and there was some talk about whether our tour would go ahead but soon we were boarding a small aircraft and taking off for Lake Clark National Park. The bad weather continued forcing the pilot to fly low beneath the worst of it but eventually, we arrived safely at our destination.
After being kitted out with binoculars, we took a short drive and an even shorter hike out to an open field where we stood hidden in the trees waiting for a bear to hopefully make an appearance. It was absolutely pouring down at this point and as the weather got worse and worse, we knew that the chances of actually seeing anything out there was getting less and less. After an hour or so, we were forced to call it a day. Deflated, cold and wet, we returned to the airfield and were lead into a small cabin where a lunch – and delicious brownie dessert! – had been laid on for us before we flew back to Anchorage.
The weather now clearing, it was a much more pleasant flight than the one up to Lake Clark. Unlike the company we would have used in Homer which refunded you of you didn’t see bears, the Anchorage company had no such policy in place so it had pretty much been a waste of a day and money. We knew there was a chance of this from the start but were mainly annoyed because we knew plenty of bears had been spotted on the morning tour which we should have been on if it wasn’t for the mix up.
Not the best start to our Alaskan adventure but we had at least enjoyed the scenic flight to Lake Clark and back and we were hopeful that we would get the opportunity to see bears in the wild elsewhere on our trip!
While spending a few days in Vancouver, Canada, we caught a bus out to the small town of Stevenson, otherwise known as ‘Storybrooke’ in the TV show Once Upon a Time. Like in Covington, Georgia (Mystic Falls in The Vampire Diaries), the town plays up to it’s connection to the show with some stores permanently changing their name to what they were in the show and the information office providing a free map of filming locations and Once Upon a Time merchandise. Plenty of other shows film in and around Vancouver including most of DC’s superhero shows such as The Flash and Supergirl. You can look up locations around the city to visit to see some of the buildings used in the shows and also look out for signs stuck to trees and lampposts indicating that filming will shortly be going on in that area.
While taking a tour of the beautiful city of Matera in Southern Italy, filming locations for Wonder Woman and The Passion of Christ were pointed out and some of the upcoming James Bond film No Time To Die was also shot here.
Harry Potter locations in Scotland
On a recent trip to Scotland, I visited the Glenfinnan Viaduct to watch the ‘Hogwarts Express’ from the Harry Potter films zoom across and you’ll find plenty of other Harry Potter filming locations in Scottish capital, Edinburgh.
Australian soap operas
If you’re a fan of Australian soap operas and are on a trip down under then why not visit Home and Away’s ‘Summer Bay’, actually the town of Palm Beach in Sydney’s North Beach area or Neighbours’ Ramsay Street, actually Pin Oak Court, a cul de sac in a Melbourne suburb!
Game of Thrones in Malta
I’d not watched any of Game of Thrones when I visited Malta a few years ago but when I did start to watch, I instantly recognised some of the places I’d visited on the islands of Malta and Gozo, in the first series of the show. It’s possible to take a Game of Thrones themed tour in Malta or you can look up locations on the internet and visit the locations yourself!
Lord of the Rings
Lord of the Rings fans should head straight to New Zealand where filming of the original three films and of The Hobbit took place. I took a locations tour from Queenstown on the South Island and you can also visit the Hobbiton set near Rotorua on the North Island, hike the Tongariro crossing near Taupo to see ‘Mount Doom’ or visit the Weta Workshop in Wellington to see props and costumes from the films.
Read about the filming locations I’ve visited in the USA here.
Have you visited any filming locations around the World? Let me know!
Visiting the sets of some of my favourite movies and shows
When I’m not off travelling, I watch quite a lot of TV and am a regular at my local cinema and one of the things I love about visiting the USA is that I never seem to be far from places I recognise from my favourite movies and shows.
Here’s some of my favourite sites that I’ve visited and where I found them!
The Friends apartment block
Although Friends was actually filmed on sound stage at Warner Brothers’ Studios in LA, between scenes, shots of New York fill the screen including one of a building supposed to be the apartment block where Rachel and Monica’s apartment is. This footage is actually of a building in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan, on the corner of Bedford Street and Grove Street, just a short walk from Christopher Street subway station. I must admit to taking a few wrong turnings the first couple of times I visited but once you’re there, the building is instantly recognisable and Greenwich Village is a great area to wander around before or after your visit!
New York City in general is a great place for finding TV and movie locations. They’re absolutely everywhere, in fact, it’s like one giant movie site, and there’s plenty of websites with lists of them all. Some of my other favourites there include the Empire Hotel in the Upper West side – the one owned by Chuck Bass in Gossip Girl – with its neon red rooftop sign, rooftop bar and Gossip Girl and Sex and the City themed cocktails; the Central Park boating lake, Bow Bridge and Bethesda Fountain, recognisable from seemingly hundreds of movies including Sex and the City, Enchanted and Elf; and Katz’s Deli in the Lower East side from When Harry Met Sally.
The Vampire Diaries’ town
Having just binge-watched all 8 seasons of The Vampire Diaries, I just had to insist on taking a slight detour while travelling through Georgia en route to Atlanta a couple of years ago. The town of Covington, Georgia doubled (and still doubles in spin-off, Legacies) as Mystic Falls in the hit show and has embraced it’s connections to all-thing Vampire to bring in the tourists. Although it was possible to take a guided Vampire Diaries locations tour, it didn’t run on the day we were passing through and our schedule didn’t allow for us to return another day but it was still fun wandering around and seeing the instantly recognisable town square and the Mystic Grill restaurant. We called into the information centre to pick up a free walking tour map which pointed out some of the locations from the show including Elena’s house as well as locations from other shows and movies filmed in the area. The state of Georgia is well known as a filming location for many popular TV shows and movies and it’s possible do self-guided visits – or pick up guided tours from Atlanta – to see locations from other popular shows filmed in the area such as The Walking Dead.
Layfayette Cemetery #1
A cemetery might seem like an odd filming location suggestion but this New Orleans’ cemetery in the city’s Garden District is one of the most filmed. In fact, anytime you see a New Orleans’ set show with a cemetery scene in, it’s more than likely it was shot here. As a fan of The Vampire Diaries, the cemetery was instantly recognisable to me from scenes featuring Klaus and his siblings and from their spin off show The Originals but since visiting, I have spotted it in many other TV shows and movies.
When I saw someone post a photo on social media of their Trek America tour stopping at the High School Musical high school building for the group to get photos, I had to look up where it was and was delighted to find out it was in Salt Lake City, a city we just happened to be visiting on a roadtrip that summer. While I was looking up the address for the school, I stumbled across a notice that the school was actually open for self-guided tours outside of school hours. As we’d be passing through during the summer holidays, this meant we could visit at pretty much any time during the day although if you are visiting while school is in session, it’s still possible to go and look around late afternoon once school is out for the day.
When we got there we were quite suprised that we could just walk into the school, no questions asked – we expected that we would have to maybe check in at the office and say why we were visiting but instead the doors were unlocked, we walked uin and pinned to the wall were leaflets outlining a self-guided walking tour of the school.
Having watched the films many times, it was quite surreal seeing the dining area where a lot of the big musical numbers took place – and yes, I did hop up on a table and have a dance when no one was looking, it just had to be done! The leaflet was a very comprehensive guide pointing out every classroom used in the movie and although a lot of these were locked, we did get to see the characters’ lockers, including Sharpay’s which was still bright pink, the gymnasium and the auditorium! Definitely worth a visit if you’re a fan and in the area!!!
Los Pollos Hermanos
Travelling through New Mexico on a Trek America tour, I’d never seen an episode of Breaking Bad so when we stopped at a fast food restaurant called ‘Twisters’ near Albequerque, it’s significance was completely lost on me. It was, of course, the restaurant that doubles as Los Pollos Hermanos in the hit TV show and having now binge-watched the series, I know exactly why the other members of my tour group were so excited by the stop. The restaurant had the Los Pollos Hermanos logo on one of it’s walls and a poster up proudly declaring that Breaking Bad was shot there and pointing out the table Walt sat at in the show. There’s plenty of other Breaking Bad filming locations you can visit in the Albuquerque area with many websites listing exactly where these are for a self-guided tour as well as organised tour being offered.
Just before my second visit to ‘music city’, I’d started to watch the TV show, Nashville, starring Connie Britton. I was visiting Nashville as part of a Trek America group tour and as a few of us on the tour watched the show, we asked if we could stop at the Bluebird Cafe, one of the live music venues often visited by the characters in the show which is also a real life live country music venue. We visited in daylight hours en route to the city and to be honest, it was a little disappointing, just a small building amongst other buildings in a seemingly run down area and it even had a note tacked on the window telling tourists no peeking in! Still, we took a quick photo outside and continued on to the city where we could see other venues used in the show including and the Ryman Auditorium and the Wild Horse Saloon. It is possible to get tickets to see live bands play at the Bluebird Cafe but you have to book way in advance as it’s such a popular, and a relatively small, venue. The more famous Grand Ole Opry which also featured in the show is a bit out of the city centre but well worth a visit and tour and at the time I went, had an exhibition of costumes and props from the show and it’s also possible to take a guided tour of locations from the city to see the houses etc used in the show!
If you’re a fan of the old Western movies, you’d struggle to find a better place to visit than Monument Valley with its iconic landscape that’s appeared in hundreds of shows and films. (Even if you’re not a Western fan, I thoroughly recommend a visit to this amazing place!) Head to popular lookout, John Ford Point, named after the director of many of the westerns filmed there for views of some of the most recognisable scenery in the Navajo Tribal Park. Another popular film scene shot at Monument Valley was the end of Forrest Gump’s run across America on a road in the town of Mexican Hat, Utah with Monument Valley as a backdrop! The park was covered in snow when I visited making it look a little differen t to how it looks on film but just as spectacular!
The Forrest Gump bench
If you’re looking for other Forrest Gump locations, then try Savannah where you’ll find Chippewa Square, the small park where Forrest sat on the bench to tell his story from in the film. The bench itself isn’t actually there – it was never part of the square and was just put in for the purpose of the film – but you can find a replica of it in the Savannah History Museum. For the real thing you’ll have to head to Paramount Studios in LA where you can sit and pose on it for a photo!
Utah’s Little Hollywood
Another one for fans of old cowboy films is the town of Kanab, Utah, sometimes dubbed ‘Utah’s Little Hollywood’ and where over 100 movies and TV shows have been filmed. I only discovered this town when we made a brief stop there en route to Bryce Canyon National Park on a guided day tour from Las Vegas. Visit the free Little Hollywood Museum to see a Western town reconstructed from buildings once used in movie sets there as well as plenty of props and photos from its movie-making heyday.
The Mrs Doubtfire House
San Francisco is another large city where you’ll find buildings and areas familiar to you from a large number of shows and movies – the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island etc have all been featured in plenty of movies – but we were looking for a specific location – the Mrs Doubtfire house. We used public transport to head to Steiner Street in the Pacific Heights area and quickly found the Victorian-style mansion. While on a sightseeing bus tour of San Francisco, we also had the house from the original TV show Charmed pointed out to us. Having never watched the show, I didn’t pay much attention but might be worth a visit if you are a fan!
After re-watching Groundhog Day a few weeks before embarking on a US roadtrip that would bypass Pittsburgh en route to Philadelphia, I just had to look up the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to see if it was a real place. It was and we managed to slightly detour to fit in a stop and visit Punxsutawney Phil, the weather predicting groundhog, himself and the amusingly named Gobblers Knob, site of the annual Groundhog Day ceremony! While Punxsutawney is a fun place to visit, the film wasn’t actually shot there. It was actually filmed in the town of Woodstock, Illinois, a place which I’ve yet to visit, but I’ve been told that there is a bronze footprint-shaped marker there showing the place where Bill Murray repeatedly stepped in – or over – a puddle throughout the film.
As a huge fan of late ’90s cult US daytime soap opera, Sunset Beach, I was extremely excited about the prospect of visiting the Orange County town it was set in while staying for a few days at the neighbouring Huntington Beach. Despite there being a beach town named Sunset Beach just down the road, the show was actually filmed at Seal Beach. I looked up the addresses of the houses used as exteriors for the some of my favourite characters as well as the locations of bars and cafes from the show and, of course, took a stroll along the iconic pier!
The Shining Hotel
While on a Columbia River Gorge day tour out of Portland, we called in at Timberline Lodge to see Mount Hood. This lodge is famously the one used for exterior shots of the Overlook Hotel in 1980 horror film The Shining. As we arrived, out tour guide told us that, playing on it’s connection to the film, the hotel keeps an axe at reception which visitors can request to hold and pose for photos with. Well there was no way we were leaving there without asking for that opportunity! The axe was handed straight over to us as soon as we asked. It had the famous quote from the film “Here’s Johnny” emblazoned on it and we were allowed to stand around the lodge with it taking photos.
Another city used as a backdrop for a lot of TV shows and movies. I was excited to have the houseboat where Tom Hanks’ character lives in Sleepless In Seattle pointed out while on a DUCK Tour in the city but the best place for movie fans to head to in this city is the Museum of Popular Culture. Not a movie set, but instead you will find plenty of movie memorabilia, hundreds of props and costumes from classic movies! Great fun to explore!!
LA Studio Tours
Of course, the best place to visit if you’re looking for movie sets if the movie capital of the World, Hollywood. Head up to Griffith Observatory to relive the famous dance scene from LA LA Land or to Century City to find Die Hard‘s Nakatomi Tower, actually the Fox Plaza building. You can walk in Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman footsteps on Rodeo Drive or while in Beverly Hills, see the police from the Beverly Hills Cop films – actually Beverly Hills City Hall!
As a fan of 90s/00s British pop group S Club 7, I was excited to find locations used in their LA 7 and Hollywood 7 TV shows down in Santa Monica and Venice Beach including the apartment block the band supposedly stayed at in the latter.
But the film studio tours are without a doubt, the best places to go if you want to stand on a TV or movie set. Choose from a trip to Universal Studios or take the Warner Brothers Studios, Paramount Studios or Sony Studios tours. You can read about my experiences taking all of these tours here!
Have you visited any filming locations in the USA? Let me know!
Read about filming locations I’ve visited while travelling elsewhere in the World here.
A 3-day break in Portland and it’s surrounding area
With a trip to Alaska booked for the main part of our trip, we decided to first spend some time in the Pacific Northwest. After flying to Vancouver on the West coast of Canada and spending a few days exploring there, we had caught the train south into the USA and Seattle for a 4 day visit and now we were back on the Amtrak heading South again, this time to the city of Portland in the state of Oregon.
Although Portland would be our base, we had heard that Oregon state was really beautiful so had made plans to get out of the city too and explore some of the surrounding area.
With the Alaska portion of our trip being so expensive we had been trying to budget elsewhere so like in Seattle, we would be staying slightly outside of the city center to cut costs. Arriving at Portland’s Union Station from Seattle late afternoon, we found our way to the correct light rail stop and successfully made our way out to the suburbs to find our motel.
Deciding it too late to head back into the city that night, we instead called into the old diner across the road. Jim Dandy’s Drive In is a Portland landmark. Having opened in 1937, it is one of Oregon’s oldest drive-ins. We enjoyed a traditional burger and fries meal followed by one on the largest soft-serve ice creams I had ever seen!
Our first full day in Oregon, we had booked a one day tour with America’s Hub World Tours through Viator to Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. We were picked up by our minibus transportation for day bright and early from our motel heading away from the city to our first stop of the day, Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood.
Timberline Lodge is famously the lodge used for exterior shots in classic horror film The Shining and as we approached, our guide told us that you could ask at reception for an axe to hold and pose for photos with it. Half thinking he was joking – who would hand over an axe to strangers in a hotel full of people?! – we thought we’d at least ask and see what they said and sure enough, we were immediately handed over a rather heavy axe, no questions asked and allowed to wander the immediate are of the hotel with it posing for photos!
After handing the axe back, we had a look around the common areas of the lodge and stopped by the small hotel store for some tax-free souvenirs before heading outside the back to take in the excellent views of Mount Hood. We then waited out the front of the lodge, taking in more epic views, this time of Mount Jefferson in the distance, until it was time to re-board the minibus and head to our next stop.
Stop number 2 was for lunch in the small city of Hood River. We had time to wander along the High Street before deciding on a nice cafe bar for lunch and even had time to grab an ice cream before being back on the minibus!
Our next stop was down by the Columbia River at a place called Cascade Locks to see The Bridge of Gods, a bridge which connects Oregon state to Washington state. As well as enjoying the river views, we admired the mural painted on one of the bridge supports depicting the Native American ‘Bridge of Gods’ legend which the bridge is named after.
Then it was onto the main stop of the day, a visit to Multnomah Falls, part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. On the way into the park, we stopped at a few other waterfalls including Horseshoe Falls and then we were dropped near the Visitor Center from where we could walk to viewing points for the falls. We took the short hike up to Benson Bridge for a closer look at the falls before returning to the visitor center for some souvenirs!
On the way out of the park, we stopped at one more waterfall, Latourell Falls, hopping out of the minbus briefly to grab some photos, then it was on to our last stop of the day, Vista House, a Columbia River Gorge observatory at Crown Point. It was a fantastically, sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky and the views across the river were absolutely beautiful.
From here, it was back to Portland where we chose to leave the tour rather than being dropped back at our out-of-city accommodation. We spent some time walking through the city to Pioneer Square and then down to the Willamette River, strolling a along the waterfront.
The next day was to be another day spent exploring the state of Oregon rather in Portland city itself. We were once again up early, catching the lightrail into the city then finding our way to the bus station where we’d be picking up a service to the Oregon Coast.
Although small group day tours were available from Portland to this area of Oregon, we decided to save a bit of money by using public transport. It took a couple of hours to get to our first destination of the day, Cannon Beach. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side today but it didn’t stop us heading to the beach and walking to Haystack Rock, famously seen in cult ’80s film The Goonies.
After our stroll along the beach, we took a walk along the main street calling in some of the many galleries and gift stores before catching the local bus to the neighbouring town of Seaside. Seaside was a huge contrast to the laid back calm of Cannon Beach, instead aimed at a younger crown with its arcades, amusement rides and tacky souvenir stores. Like Cannon Beach, it did still have a beautiful stretch of golden sand. After spending a bit of time having a look around, we went to a local restaurant for pizza before catching the bus back to Portland.
We had one more day in Oregon before flying to Alaska and we had allocated that day to finally explore the city of Portland properly! We began the day with a segway tour of the city. This was our first time riding segways, something we had always wanted to try and it was great fun! It didn’t take long to get used to riding them and we were soon zooming around the city!
The tour took us down alongside the Willamette River then into the city to see some its highlights including the Portlandia sculpture, the Portland Theatre and, my personal favourite, Mills End Park, the World’s Smallest Park!
After the tour, it was time for lunch. Portland is famous for its food trucks so we went in search of some deciding on a sandwich from The Grilled Cheese Grill!
Next up was a trip on the Portland Aerial Tram. Although the tram’s main purpose is to carry commuters to the Oregon Health and Science University, we had heard it was a great -and cheap -way of seeing views across the city. We enjoyed our return ride, it was a fun and unusual way of seeing the city!
We spent the next few hours walking along the riverside towards the city’s Pearl District. Along the way we came across Portland’s Saturday Market and had a browse around the stalls. We also passed the Voodoo Doughnut store in the Old Town area. We would have loved to have sampled one its famous doughnuts but there was a huge queue outside and unfortunately, we didn’t have time to wait.
Instead we continued to the quirky Pearl District where we explored Powell’s City of Books store, the World’s largest used and independent bookstore and browsed in some of the other boutique and independent stores in the area. Then it was back to our motel to collect our luggage before heading to the airport for our flight.
Taking a one day tour to Mount Rainier National Park from Seattle.
Washington state is home to a number of National Parks and while on a 5 night city break in Seattle, we were hoping to get to see some of them. Trouble was, at this point, we had never driven in the USA and didn’t feel confident to hire a rental and take self-guided trip to these places and public transport wasn’t an option. So instead, we booked ourselves on a group tour offered by the company Tours of Seattle* to Mount Rainier National Park.
Having already taken a small group tour to Olympic National Park a few days earlier, we knew the drill as we waited outside our airport hotel for our transport for the day to arrive. Today’s minibus was more like a minicoach, much bigger than the one we had travelled to Olympic National Park on meaning a bigger tour group too but not too many with numbers hovering around the 20-25 mark. Our guide was fantastic and kept the day running smoothly while still offering the group various options on where we could go and what we could do.
Our first stop of the day was for 10 minutes at a supermarket for anyone that wanted to grab lunch or snacks for the day and then we were on our way to the park.
Unfortunately, this morning, the weather was not on our side and our guide explained that on cloudy or overcast days, Mount Rainier itself often became hidden from sight. But she said the weather was supposed to clear a bit later so there was a chance we would get a glimpse of the mountain then.
We entered the park at the Paradise entrance station and began to make our way up a steep, winding road through the park. Our guide pulled over on request at a couple of viewing points so we could get out, take photos and take in the scenery and talked to us about the park and its history as we continued on again.
Eventually, we came to the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center where we were to have our lunch and be set free to explore for a while. We spent some time looking at the exhibits in the visitor center before setting off on a circular hike on the Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls. While the sun had now come out, Mount Rainier was still shielded from our view behind a large low cloud gathered around it but the views across the park from the trail were still really pretty.
As we drove back down, we pulled over at a few more view points then stopped to see Narada Falls. The sun was hitting the cascading water at the right angle to create a beautiful rainbow glistening above the falls!
Disappointed that the weather hadn’t clearer enough for us to see the elusive mountain yet, our guide said she had one more place she could take us from where the mountain was sometimes visible even on days when it wasn’t visible from the visitor center. We were told that stopping there would mean a bit less time at our last stop if the day but as we all wanted to maximise our chances of seeing the mountain, we agreed to give it a try.
So we were taken to Longmire Bridge, a suspension bridge over the Nisqually River. Disappointingly, Mount Rainier still wasn’t visible to us but it was a really picturesque spot to stop off at anyway!
The last stop of the day was in the park’s lowlands at one of the ancient old growth forests where we spent some time walking through the Douglas firs, cedars and hemlocks then it was back to Seattle where we were dropped off back at our airport hotel.
Although we’d not been lucky enough to see Mount Rainier itself, we had had a fun day at the park and having seen the highlights, are planning on returning on a self-guided tour on our next visit to the area!
Watch my vlog of my trip to Mount Rainier National Park:
You can read about the rest of my trip to Seattle here and my day trip to another Washington state National Park from Seattle, Olympic National Park, here.
*Although we were guests of Tour of Seattle on this trip, all thoughts and opinions are my own.