Sunday 14 November 2010

Fish House Vera Cruz, Carlsbad, California

Near the quaint heart of Carlsbad, the Fish House Vera Cruz's huge selection of seafood attracts plenty of locals and tourists, even early in the evening on a weekday. Although the decor (lots of blonde wood and an mundane carpet) is run-of-the-mill, you can see the chefs working through a glass window and the food they produce is pretty good.  As in many American restaurants, the choice can be bewildering. As well as  offering about 20 or so main courses, the Fish House lets you choose your accompaniments - the cheesy mashed potato and steamed vegetables are plentiful and very good.  For the main act, the butter fish ($21.50 plus sales tax) is large, succulent and delicious. Surprisingly, given the restaurant's proximity to the Pacific Ocean, much of the fish on the menu seems to hail from the Atlantic or the Great lakes. You also get a free, warm bread roll, but the beer is expensive ($5.50 before sales tax for a pint). The mostly blond waitresses, dressed mostly in white, fly around the many alcoves, grinning at everyone and working hard for their tips. 8/10

Saturday 13 November 2010

Hilton Garden Inn, Carlsbad Boulevard, Carlsbad, California

A low-rise, sprawling hotel built in the style of an Hispanic villa, the Hilton Garden Inn overlooks a sandy beach a couple of miles south of Carlsbad. Although there is a dual-carriageway between the hotel and the Pacific Ocean, it is still a fine spot that draws a mixture of tourists, business travellers and even the U.S. army. The big rooms have large, comfortable beds, sturdy furniture and free Wi-Fi, while the en-suite bathrooms, decorated in dark yellow patterns, have an odd air of opulence. The Hilton Garden Inn even has a free shuttle bus that will take you to and pick you up from anywhere within a five mile radius of the hotel. But you may need to wait half-an-hour for a collection. There is also free watery coffee in the morning and free cookies in the evening.  Oustide the peak season, you can get all this for less than $150 a night, but you pay more for a room with a partial ocean-view or for a full ocean view.  For an extra $12, you can eat as much as you want from the respectable breakfast buffet, including hefty omelettes and other hot food, in addition to the fruit, cereals, yoghurts and cold fare. There is also plenty of lacklustre coffee and orange juice. If its warm enough, you can have your breakfast on the terrace. Out here, there are neat flowerbeds, an enclosed swimming pool and a fine view of the sea stretching off to the horizon. 7/10

Friday 12 November 2010

Alamo car hire, Aviation Boulevard, Los Angeles Airport

One of several car hire outlets a short shuttle bus ride from Los Angeles airport, Alamo has a broad selection of keenly-priced and well-kept hire cars. But the smallest car you can hire is a four-door saloon. Overseas customers, at least, have to pay for a full tank of petrol up front, but Brits won't find that too onerous, given the relatively low cost of gas in the USA. Although this system means you will probably pay for petrol you don't use, you won't have to find a petrol station before returning the car. 7/10

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Travelodge, Aviation Boulevard, Los Angeles Airport, California

Convenient, cheap and not very cheerful, this Travelodge is a few minutes drive from Los Angeles airport. If you call reception after you land, a shuttle bus will come and pick you up eventually. Although the foyer tries to cultivate a mid-market air, this motel isn't somewhere you will want to linger. Many of the rooms are reached via grim outside corridors more reminiscent of a British council estate than a hotel. Inside, the rooms have a dated decor dominated by flowery, swirling patterns, but they are quite spacious and typically have their own balcony overlooking the functional swimming pool. With cold tiles on the floor and unforgiving lighting, the en-suite bathrooms are also hard on the eye. Still, there is free Wi-Fi and in-room coffee and the rooms can be surprisingly quiet and comfortable. The plentiful, but plain, continental breakfast is served in a very cramped room and you may have to eat at one of the outside tables near the pool. If you want a budget dinner, there is also a branch of the Denny's chain on-site.  This Travelodge runs a shuttle bus to the airport every 30 minutes and seemingly attracts plenty of jet-lagged Europeans. 6/10

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Virgin Atlantic, London Heathrow to Los Angeles

On the 11-hour daytime flight to Los Angeles, you will probably want to stay awake, so Virgin Atlantic's extensive video-on-demand service is very welcome and very useful. If you are travelling economy, check-in online early to secure a window seat, as the middle seat looks pretty cramped. The food is okay and you won't have to pay for a glass of beer or wine. You may even get an ice cream to accompany the in-flight films. For the night flight back, it is worth paying extra for premium economy, which has many of the trappings of business class. Crucially, the seats are quite spacious and they lean back far enough to let you get some sleep. Moreover, you'll be served enough alcohol to make you sleepy. When you board, you are offered a glass of sparkling wine, followed by two glasses of wine with your meal and then a Baileys or a whisky afterwards.  You also get a menu, with a choice of food. Virgin's chicken and rice, served with a smoked salmon salad and bread roll, is not bad for airline food. For desert, you might get a respectable chocolate profiterole and a lump of cheddar, plus some biscuits. In the morning, as you approach Britain, you are served passable coffee and a bagel by Virgin's still glamorous cabin crew in their starched white shirts and red uniforms. All-in-all, Virgin Atlantic remains one of the world's more civilised airlines. 7/10