Help me make the most of my US trip
March 11, 2013 2:02 AM   Subscribe

Mixed bag of USA travel questions! Feed me for one night in Vegas. Tell me cool things to do and eat in Seattle and Portland (anything special on while I'm there?). Anything I should shop for because it is way cheaper than Australia (everything?!), not available in Australia and is a must have, or lets me take advantage of having US IP address (e.g. Kindle subscriptions)? T-mobile deal for my phone?

Vegas - there for one night, staying off-strip with shuttle to strip. Will be tired after a long trip, so what should I go look at along the strip and where to sit and have dinner alone with good people watching?

Pacific Northwest - anything cool on while I am there? No car.
Seattle - 24-28th March, staying in Capitol Hill area.
Portland - 28th March - 2nd April, staying at the Ace Hotel. Will everything be closed like it is in Australia for Easter?

My general likes are: Food - eating, reading about, markets, kitchenwares. Thrift shops. Coffee. Beer (and wine and cocktails!). Books. Experienced solo diner, but don't like super fancy places for dining alone (bar seating is ok though) - looking forward to trying food trucks and good seafood, or local food. Photography exhibitions. Documentaries. Walking and wandering, light cycling. Funky homewares. Good places to hang out and have a coffee or a beer and people watch, or read. Interesting niche tours. Recommendations for anything including these things, or general areas to wander around?

Interested in shopping for: ingredients/food/drink to take home (bearing in mind quarantine rules) e.g. unusual flavors of bitters for cocktails, interesting chocolate, preserves, unique local spirits etc, funky homewares (good luggage allowance for larger things, but interested in browsing too), clothes (normal chain store basics and cool bits and pieces). Recommendations?

What about little things that you can get in the US that are worth picking up (e.g. lots of people here seem to recommend Tom's of Maine toothpaste)?

My friend signed up for heaps of magazine subscriptions on her Kindle/ipad while in the US. Anything else cool I can do for my tech gadgets while I'm there and have a US IP? If I want a local SIM for calls/data, it sounds like maybe a T-mobile SIM pack is the best deal?
posted by AnnaRat to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a cat? I just today discovered that Feliway plug-ins cost around $80 here, and are about $22 in the USA. (If you don't have a cat, you might make a bit of profit tucking a few into your bag and reselling on ebay back home...)

Also you could consider buying stuff in advance on amazon and having it shipped to your hotel to take advantage of the free shipping. (And this gets around the restrictions amazon has on what it ships to au too, i.e. technology, food...)
posted by lollusc at 2:16 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actually, scrap that idea - Feliway plug ins wouldn't work without a transformer I guess. But there is still a big price differential even for the sprays.
posted by lollusc at 2:18 AM on March 11, 2013

Can you get Fee Brothers in Australia? They're New York-based but likely to be carried in nicer liquor shops. Oregon's making more whiskeys than you might expect, e.g. Whipper Snapper, McCarthy's, Pendleton (sorta), and others. Other PDX threads should cover the craft beer scene there. Would you want to, and be able to, take Stumptown Coffee beans back to Oz? Same for bagels.

Check out Amazon MP3/iTunes Stone/Google Play offerings that you may be able to pick up over there. I've been surprised at international differences.

When I'm in the States, I've been known to pick up toiletries including deodorant, Biore pore strips, ibuprofen in massive quantities, and the like.
posted by knile at 2:39 AM on March 11, 2013

Response by poster: Oh, and are there any apps specific to Portland and Seattle that I should add to my android phone to make my trip easier?
posted by AnnaRat at 2:44 AM on March 11, 2013

A cautionary note on T-mobile for fast data: their usual HSPA+ bands (1700/2100MHz) differ from those used in most of the rest of the world. They have been rolling out a more standard 1900MHz network over the last year or so, but I believe its coverage is still limited. So if you're bringing your own handset, make sure that either it supports T-mobile's bands or that they've got 1900MHz coverage where you're going.

When I visited the US last year I ended up going with AT&T for this reason. Or more precisely, I went with an "AT&T-compatible" SIM from Straight Talk.
posted by pont at 3:52 AM on March 11, 2013

Clothes and shoes. Also sheets (though that might be out of date - my dad always came back from the US with sheets).
posted by kjs4 at 4:35 AM on March 11, 2013

Seattle has almost too many great places to eat and drink. Check out Edible Seattle magazine for some tips. Be sure to see Pike Place Market, they will be open on Easter, just as on any Sunday, but with more limited hours.
My favorite cocktail of late is a rye Manhattan made with Woodenville Rye, a locally distilled Rye Whiskey that is super-delicious.
There's pretty good bus service from Capitol Hill to downtown (where the Market is). If you feel like it, you could take a short ferry trip to Bainbridge Island, where the community of Winslow is right off the ferry; or a longer, more scenic ride to Bremerton, where there isn't as much to do/see once you're there. Bainbridge is a half-hour each way, Bremerton is an hour each way. You catch the ferries on the downtown waterfront at Colman Dock.
Bring Gore-tex, or rain gear. Have a great time!
posted by dbmcd at 5:53 AM on March 11, 2013

Best answer: Vegas - there for one night, staying off-strip with shuttle to strip. Will be tired after a long trip, so what should I go look at along the strip and where to sit and have dinner alone with good people watching?

I find the whole of the Strip itself is fascinating people-watching; the Vegas strip is a very, very weird place, and simply by wandering you will see some mind-bending things. However, be prepared to go indoors to see them - the strip itself doesn't have much happening out on the sidewalks (there are some outdoors things here and there - the fountains at the Bellagio or the hourly "pirate battle" outside another casino), but those are meant to lure people inside, and that's where the real people-watching is.

As for places to sit and eat and people watch, though, I can only think of a couple options -

1. There is a cafe in the "Paris" casino that has coffeeshop-type fare. The main casino floor is kitted out to look like "Paris" (read: it looks like a stage set for a production of "Gigi" or something), with a whole hallway fitted out to look like a boulevard with little shops in different rooms scattered along it. The cafe goes so far as to have "outdoor seating" in this hallway out front; that may be an option. (There was also a restaurant I went to that had ACTUAL outdoor seating in the ACTUAL outdoors, which gave a fine view of the Bellagio casino fountains, but it may be cold in March for that.)

2. The food court area in the "New York, New York" casino. There are a bunch of food options there, all clustered in this area that's similarly kitted out with "restaurants" on a "street intersection", so you'll have a lot of people gathering here. And the decor/set dressing was spot-on enough that this New Yorker was having a serious uncanny-valley reaction to everything.

3. You could also go for a drink at Circus Circus, one of the last old-school casinos there - it was one of the first casinos to have entertainment for the kids as well as adults, so there are, like, continuous circus acts going on over your head. So you'll see a lot of kids as well as adults coming in. Circus Circus was also heavily featured at one point in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, so you may see HST fans as well geeking out over that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:05 AM on March 11, 2013

But, seriously, do just do some wandering in Vegas. One of the most bizarre things I saw last time I was there was in a toy store in Caesar's Palace; they had a window display comprised of Teddy Bears having a gladiator's match. Complete with stuffing coming out at the various "wounds."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:11 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest what EmpressCallipygos suggested, for getting a decent meal, in a good surrounding, Paris is the place.

Husbunny and I arrived on the first night of our honeymoon at Paris, and had their steak dinner at about 3:00 am. It was really good and really cheap. Also, you can play Keno while you eat and watch people.

Las Vegas is bizzare and surreal and no matter where you are, you will have a feast for the eyes. I don't recommend trying to walk on the strip. While everything looks close together on the strip, it's about a mile between places, and the people on the street are...not the kind of people you want to be hanging with.

One thing I think you should check out while you're in the US is Target. It's like Wal-Mart, only better and I think you'll really like the prices and the cool stuff they have there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:25 AM on March 11, 2013

Best answer: In Portland, you want to go to The Meadow. Specialty purveyors of artisan salts, chocolate bars, a huge selection of cocktail bitters. Bitter Cube, Bittermens, Dr. Adam Elmegirab, Hella Bitter, Scrappy's, etc.
posted by kathryn at 6:27 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, for a really delicious meal in Vegas, go to CraftSteak. Can't swear to the people watching, I was too busy inhaling my food. Make a reservation.
posted by troywestfield at 6:55 AM on March 11, 2013

Most shops and some restaurants will be closed on Easter. Call ahead first.

Oz's Target is a separate company from North America's, though they use the same logo.

Powells in Portland is the ne plus ultra of bookstores.
posted by brujita at 7:16 AM on March 11, 2013

As an Aussie that now lives in the US, not much that is cheaper than in Australia is worth buying as you kind of get what you pay for. They have cheaper shoes and clothes, but $5 dollar tshirts really last about as long as you imagine a $5 tshirt lasting before they stretch out, fade or just start coming undone at the seams. You do get more of a selection in the sneaker department even if the prices aren't significantly cheaper the styles can vary from whats back in Oz. You find most big sneaker brands have cheaper shoes as well as top end stuff but like the tshirts they are made to match the price point.

The only thing I've found cheaper here is perfume and makeup it can be cheaper here in department stores than what you can get it in duty free, so it might be worth checking out on your way out to compare prices. If you are a female pretty much every brand of make up from drugstore to top end is way cheaper in the US (I send care packages of it home to family and friends all the time)

Setting up a Kindle or Nook so you can buy books, magazines or whatever while back in Australia is a great idea, my mother did that with an old nook touch we had when she was over here.

Look into Chewing gums they have a lot of fun flavours here they don't have in many places back home and they are finally getting some flavoured chips so you might want to take something like Chicken and Waffle (yes chicken AND waffle) chips back with you.

Things I have taken back that my family loved include pumpkin flavoured coated pretzels, you can get them coated in all sorts of flavours, a great combo of sweet and salty.

Scented candles if you like homegoods are huge over here. Much nicer scents and the prices are good, though they are heavy to ship I have to send the "holiday" scents home since my family spent Christmas here, so lots of cinamon and pumpkin spice flavoured candles, though they have a lot of other unusual scents.
posted by wwax at 8:02 AM on March 11, 2013

Best answer: PDX Bus app for getting around Portland (but there's a ton you can do in walking distance from the Ace!) The Saturday Market and the Saturday Farmer's Market are both nice and close. One of the best brunches I've had has been in Clyde Common in the Ace. Walk over to Salt and Straw on 23rd for ice cream, Cinema 21 nearby may be playing something awesome. Pope House Bourbon Lounge is kind of meh on the food, but they certainly have bourbon. Little Bird has amazing food and bar seating. Teardrop Lounge has classy atmosphere for cocktails. Barista, Courier, Stumptown and Public Domain for coffee. I may think of more. :)
posted by ansate at 8:08 AM on March 11, 2013

Best answer: Point of order on something that may enhance your trip:

they are finally getting some flavoured chips so you might want to take something like Chicken and Waffle (yes chicken AND waffle) chips back with you.

Seconding this; the chicken and waffle chips may only be available for a limited time, as the manufacturer is having a sort of contest/popular vote to "pick our next chip flavor." Also, fried chicken and waffles is a classic United States "soul food" combination. So this would be a) Americana of a particularly unique variety, and b) possibly rare. (The other two options for "pick our next flavor" are "garlic bread" and "sriracha," and my hunch is that sriracha is probably going to win as there's something of a trendy sriracha craze going on right now.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:26 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Along with Powell's, your Portland hotel is in the neighborhood of Henry's Tavern. They have a hundred beers on tap, and nice happy hour food specials. The last time my wife and I visited Portland, we ended up eating there most nights, and I was able to check off several beers that had been on my bucket list.
posted by Tool of the Conspiracy at 10:01 AM on March 11, 2013

Things that I found awesome as a tourist in Portland.

Powell's books
Sur la table for kitchenware browsing and pure orange oil. (it is 5 x more expensive in Australia if you can find it!)
A bicycle tour
Happy hour - not the drinks - the food is kinda half price. Go to a diner for breakfast and happy hour for afternoon meal and that's all you need to eat for the day
Nordstrom rack - they had racks of size 11. (41/42) in quality brands for much less than in Australia.
The large organic grocery downtown. Woolworths have no idea!
posted by insomniax at 10:31 AM on March 11, 2013

For Seattle:

Try reading Capitol Hill Seattle for events around the Hill - not sure if there's an Android app.

Install One Bus Away for easy tracking of buses arriving at your stop (not so good for planning a new route, but great if you know what bus you want to catch).

For Easter: it's nothing like as big a deal as in Australia. There is no official holiday for Easter at all in Seattle or Portland. Some shops will be closed but you won't be wandering in a desert.

e.g. unusual flavors of bitters for cocktails, interesting chocolate,
You can do a Factory Tour of Theo's chocolates in Seattle, and I remember some bitters in the shop at the end. You should also make sure to go in to Sugarpill at Pine and Broadway.
posted by jacalata at 10:57 AM on March 11, 2013

Best answer: Hit me up if you want to go thrift shopping in Portland. I can take you to the wonder that is The Bins or to some more classy thirft/resale shops.

The Living Room Theaters are around the corner from the Ace Hotel and often show documentaries and artsy movies. It's pretty swanky. they serve cocktails and food.

I recommend doing your shopping in Portland because we don't have a sales tax (like Nevada or Washington.) NW 21st and 23rd are fun for wandering, lots of swanky boutiques and what not. If you want thrifting though, there's a Goodwill on E. Burnside (between 22nd and 23rd) and the William Temple Thrift Store on NW Glisan.

Stores will be hit or miss with Easter. I was surprised that Nordstrom Rack and Target were closed last Easter. But Ulta (makeup store) was open as were many other stores.
posted by vespabelle at 11:29 AM on March 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm a wine nerd so I would totally buy wine in Washington state. Such good Cabernet and Syrah coming out of there these days. Delicious. But I don't know what the fees on them would be once you get home. When I do this coming back into the states I've been waived through because the duty is too little to cause them to due the paperwork.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:34 PM on March 12, 2013

If you can afford it, the Omakase tasting menu at Shibuya restaurant in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand is truly outstanding. Go for the sake pairing as well. Also Thomas Keller's Bouchon at the Venetian is excellent and a good place to have breakfast. Chicken and waffles! Yum!
posted by overleaf at 11:07 PM on March 12, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all so much! Vespabelle - The Bins sounds scary!! :) I've marked a few as best answers where there was something in there that really caught my eye, but I will let you know how I go when I come back.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:19 PM on March 13, 2013

Response by poster: A bit of what I got up to (I'm sure I've left plenty out):

Las Vegas - just wandered up and down the strip and through the casinos and snacked along the way. I know everyone says everything is really far apart, but while walking from one end to another would be a stretch, walking between a chunk of them (e.g. the south trip, central strip or northern strip) is fine. Stayed off the strip and was glad when I saw how enormous some of the casinos were.

Seattle - highlight was going out to Bainbridge Island and having a delicious clam chowder (with local clams) with a nice dry apple cider while overlooking the harbour at the Harbour Pub (the only time it rained, slightly, on my whole trip). Did my own little sampling tour of Pike Place market and watched the fish throwing and the massive line at the original Starbucks (but had coffee at Seattle's Best, which was very good). Loved Eliot Bay Book Company, the little Melrose Market (really, an indoor place with Sitka and Spruce, a couple of little bars and a few market stalls), Top Pot Doughnuts (enjoyed hanging out reading at the Capitol Hill one which is on a quiet street with a real neighborhood feel, and love the interior design), didn't think much of the Underground tour, enjoyed Ride the Ducks even though it was super cheesy, liked seeing the Space Needle but didn't really need to go up it.

Portland - did a beer tour with Brewvana which was great fun - the Sunday tour is more about casual drinking and eating, than technical tours of beer being made. Just loved walking around along the waterfront, and out along Hawthorne. Had a fabulous meal and cocktails for lunch at Pok Pok. Ate and drank at happy hour at Clyde Common (good value, but staff are a bit useless). Liked the Ace Hotel. Loved Powell's (went to an author event). Nibbled at food carts. Grabbed bagels from Kenny and Zukes. Sorry Portland, I got better coffee in Seattle, I think. Only a 15 min wait at Voodoo Doughnuts!

Shopping - bought a stack of bras as the brand I like cost about $70 each in Australia and were $38 each in Macys, also bought jeans, good quality t-shirts, good value work clothing (e.g. Banana Republic, which I think is like the equivalent of Country Road in Australia, but waaay cheaper - lined wool trousers for $70.. madness!!). Bought a few pairs of shoes from TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack - about $40 each for shoes that would be at least $70 on sale at home. Looked for the chicken and waffle chips, but didn't find them. Did buy a very nice scented candle, made in Oregon. Didn't get to thrift shops (oh, except Value Village in Seattle), but really enjoyed the vintage shops on Hawthorne in Portland - still cheaper and better selection than similar shops in Australia. Bought some unusual spice mixes at Penzeys.
posted by AnnaRat at 1:31 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

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