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J1 Destinations in the USA


The Golden State


California highlights

  • San Diego Zoo
  • Disneyland
  • Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1)
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Alcatraz
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Sea World San Diego

California is the most populous state in the United States and the third-largest by land area. It is located on the West Coast and is home to some of America's most popular destinations: San Franscisco, L.A., San Diego and Santa Barbara. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean which gives it claim to some of the country's best surf spots.

Climate: This coastal state has a mediterranean climate during the summer. But remember its neighbour is the Pacific Ocean and it often creates summer fog near the coast.

Time Difference: California is 8 bours behind Ireland. Let your family know this as it may save you from a 3am call from your parents looking for an update on your summer adventures!

Getting around: California state is well served by bus and train services. There are also several international and national airports in the state from LAX to San Jose.

If you have some spare time and money at the end of your summer, rent a car with your mates and drive from San Fran to LA (or vice versa) on the LEGENDARY Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Taking in Santa Cruz, Monterey, the Big Sur and Santa Barbara just to name a few!

J1 Hotspots: San Francisco, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Isla Vista.

San Francisco

Want New York's hipster cool and LA's sun-drenched style? Look no further than San Francisco. With its quirky architecture, multi-cultural feel and bayside beauty, this is one of the most visited cities in America-and the world.

Cable cars carry residents and tourists alike up steep inclines to the summit of Nob Hill, once the home of the city's business tycoons, and down to Fisherman's Wharf, a tourist playground featuring Dungeness crab from a still-active fishing industry. Across the bay lies the Golden Gate Bridge, one of California's most iconic sights.

San Francisco is perhaps best known as America's counter-culture hub. In the 50s, beatnik poets and authors like Jack Kerouac frequented North Beach bars, while 1960s-style hippies are still promoting peace and love in Haight. These days, it's a city famous for its tolerance, the country's gay hot spot, and a haven for anyone interested in nature, food or nightlife.

Some practical stuff to know

  • Cost of living: San Franciso's cost of living is up there with New York. Even Americans share housing to keep up with rent here!
  • Climate: The cool currents of the Pacific Ocean keep San Francisco's climate mild, with few temperature variations. Summer temperatures peak at around 21 °C - about 9 °C lower than they are in nearby inland locations like Livermore. Summers are generally dry, but expect cool, humid weather and city-enveloping fog every so often.
  • Time Difference: San Francisco is 8 hours behind Ireland.
  • Getting Around With many neighbourhoods best visited on foot and one of the most comprehensive public transportation systems in the US, San Francisco may be one of the easiest big cities in America to explore without a car.
    • By Subway, Trolley and Bus: The city-owned San Francisco Municipal Railway operates the Muni Metro light rail and subway system, and a bus network that includes both trolleybuses and standard diesel buses. Muni also runs the iconic San Francisco cable car system. Transit runs 24/7 and fares start at $1.50. Check for routes and schedules.
    • By Rail: Commuter rail is provided by two complementary agencies. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is the regional rapid transit system which connects San Francisco with the East Bay, and extends south of the city through northern San Mateo County to the San Francisco International Airport, and Millbrae. The CalTrain rail system runs from San Francisco down along the Peninsula to San Jose. Check for more information.

For more general info on San Francisco check out

Where to Live

San Francisco is full of great neighbourhoods, many with a character all their own. If you're looking for an area that's both trendy and laid back, check out Castro or Noe Valley, home to some of the city's best teahouses and a wealth of trendy cafes and shops. North Beach is the city's "Little Italy," the hangout of 50s beat poets and popular with locals and tourists alike. The Haight was one of the centre of the 60s hippie movement and, though it's gentrified some since then, still holds on to its bohemian charm.

If you want the San Francisco experience, but want a smaller city feel, check out one of the other cities in the Bay Area. The city of Berkeley, home to the university of the same name, is the US's most famous alternative culture hotspot, with everything from legendary punk clubs to anarchist libraries. Oakland, San Jose and other smaller cities are also within easy reach.

Wherever you settle, make sure you're close to a Muni Metro or BART line so you'll have easy access to the rest of the city and Bay Area. Over 90% of homes in the city are within two blocks of a bus route, but if you can travel by rail instead do so.

Where to work

Pier 39 on the San Francisco Bay is a real tourist hot spot and a great job hunting area for J1ers. Look for work in attractions such as the area's aquarium, or customer service jobs at the Pier's many shops. Past J1ers have had success waiting tables in many of the area's restaurants.

Check out these websites, and visit our Jobs page for more job hunting ideas:

Where to go & What to see

Alcatraz Island, once the home of the USA's most infamous prison, is a must-see attraction for any visitor to the area. Located in the middle of San Francisco bay, "The Rock" offers a great view of the S.F. skyline and a look at the seamier side of American history.

San Francisco's Chinatown is an electric neighborhood of 100,000 people. Listen for the clack of mahjongg tiles, check out the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and browse through produce and live animal markets.

Perhaps the most iconic attraction in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge stretches 4,200 feet and towers as high as a 65-story building. Walk across for free, or pay a $5 toll to drive it. Once you're on the San Francisco side, you're only a quick bus ride away from Fisherman's Wharf - sure it's a tourist trap, but it's also a great place to commune with sea lions or buy a souvenir for the folks back home.

Eating in San Francisco

San Francisco is home to one of the best restaurant scenes on the west coast, and many of the city's neighbourhoods are known for specific kinds of cuisine. If you're in the mood for Mexican check out the Mission district, while sushi aficionados should head to Richmond. North Beach lays claim to the city's best Italian food, while China Town serves-you guessed it-Hong Kong and Californian-style Chinese and Dim Sum.

Dol Ho, Chinatown: Dim Sum is China's answer to tapas - plates of small, tasty buns, dumplings, meats and savory cakes. This popular restaurant's dim sum is as good as it is cheap (and it's very, very cheap).

Pork Store Café, Mission District and Haight Street: Breakfast and comfort food with a few innovative twists. Vegetarians will love their veggie-friendly "sausages" and the range of meat-free menu items. If you're in the mood for Sunday brunch, try the Haight location - its expanded seating area will cut down your wait time.

La Palma Mexicatessen, Mission District: This combination grocery story/take out restaurant serves up authentic Mexican food at very reasonable prices. Place an order for some tamales at the back of the shop, then watch workers make tortillas by hand as you wait for your food.

Recommended J1 Destination: San Jose. The first Spanish settlement in America, San Jose offers beautiful old Spanish architecture to offset its beach city vibe. More sprawled out than San Francisco and accessible from there via bart and tram, San Jose offers an array of job and accomodation opportunities. You may find

J1 Tips: Southern California is notorious for its lack of public transport. J1ers encounter difficulties each year when it comes to getting around in San Diego especially. If you have your heart set on spending your summer here, think about getting a car or hopping on your bicycle. Otherwise get to know the public transport routes!

Southern California

Ever heard the song California Dreamin', or that old Beach Boys standard California Girls? We're pretty sure this sun bathed stretch of surf and sand is the part of the state those bands were really singing about.

Home of Hollywood, Orange County and all things surfing, SoCal, as it's affectionately known, refers to the cities and towns along the state's southern coastline, starting at Santa Maria 70km north of L.A. and running all the way down to the Mexican border. SoCal is all about the beach life, and thousands of J1ers, American students and foreign visitors flock to the area every year to work on their tans, mingle with the locals and get a taste of the good life.

Over the years, a few SoCal cities and towns have become serious J1 hotspots, but all of the communities in this area have something unique to offer, whether you're looking for the laid-back student culture of Isla Vista, the Malibu-Barbie excess of the O.C. or the high-energy glam of L.A. itself.

San Diego

A haven for surfer dudes and sun worshippers, San Diego is the quintessential Southern California beach city. With miles of sand, a near-perfect climate and a laid-back vibe, this is the city to head to if you dream of spending your summer relaxing by the sea.

Most J1ers heading for the beaches live in towns like Point Loma, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, and Pacific Beach, where most residents are under 30 and surfing, parties and road trips to nearby Mexico are on the agenda all summer.

For obvious reasons, students from around the world pour into San Diego during the summer months. This makes for a busy, exciting atmosphere, but also means you'll be in an extremely competitive job and housing market. Make sure you plan ahead and get in early to avoid disappointment.

Some practical stuff to know

  • Climate: With coastal temperatures around 24°C most of the time, the weather in San Diego is ideal year-round. However, this part of California has a rather complex climate, and temperatures change rapidly as you travel inland. Don't be surprised if the mercury climbs to 30°C once you leave the beach.
  • Time Difference: San Diego is 8 hours behind Ireland.
  • Getting Around: San Diego is a sprawling city, but one with many areas that are easy to navigate on foot. Though there's a decent public transportation system, it's not the 24/7 commuter paradise New York is. When looking for jobs and accommodation, make sure you think about how far you actually want to travel first thing in the morning.
    • By Bus and Trolley: San Diego's busses run to most parts of the country, but work best in the downtown. A fare will set you back about $2, depending on your route. The S.D. Trolley is a light rail system with routes mainly in the southern and eastern parts of the city and the downtown area. The Blue Line runs all the way to the Mexican border. Check for fares and schedules.
    • By Bicycle: The best and coolest way to get around is by beach cruiser. These classic bikes are perfect for cruising along the boardwalks that line the city's beaches, and are pretty easy on the eyes as well.

For more general info on San Diego visit

Where to Live

If you're thinking about making San Diego your J1 destination for this summer it's probably because you want to live the Southern California beach life. And it probably comes as no surprise that most J1ers choose to live in beach towns along the city's northern coastline.

J1ers can't seem to get enough of Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach. These three towns are filled with shops, cafes and attractions that could double as job opportunities. In summer, the area's boardwalks are filled with surfers, students and hippies - most of them 20 to 30 years old.

Because this is a massively popular destination, competition for accommodation can be intense at times. Living closer to the beaches will increase your cost of living, but if you're after that SoCal experience, it's probably worth the expense.

Check out these websites, local classifieds and university campuses for possible accommodation:

Where to Work

San Diego isn't just popular with Irish J1ers, it's also the place to be for Americans and all sorts of international students looking to live the beach life. While this means you're sure to meet loads of people, it also makes the labour market extremely competitive.

If you're heading here, definitely look into jobs before you go. If you're thinking about living in one of the northern beach towns, why not try looking for a job at one of the shops along the boardwalks in the area, or at the nearby Belmont Amusement Park. Pacific Beach alone has a couple hundred eateries and clubs, so waiting tables may be another promising option.

A tip from past San Diego J1ers: "Sea World is always hiring"

Where to go & What to see

San Diego has some great museums and galleries, but the city's real draw is its 70+ km of Pacific Beach. Beyond that, San Diego is home to the famous Sea World, the spectacular San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, and numerous parks, perfect for an afternoon Frisbee game.

If you can't tear yourself away from the beach, take in a few of San Diego's coastal attractions, from whale-watching and deep sea fishing to scuba diving and body boarding.


San Diego is generally considered the best city in America for making quick trips to Mexico. The city of Tijuana is just ten miles south of downtown San Diego and is famous for its bargain shopping and wild nightlife. It's only a short trip by car, and trolley service is available from downtown San Diego to the US-Mexican border. Avoid driving hassles and long waits when returning by parking in pay lots near the border and walking across.

For a low-key alternative to Tijuana, take a 60 minute drive to the small Mexican border crossing of Tecate. The Tecate Brewery, home to the much-loved beer of the same name, offers tours and there are usually only a handful of people in line at the border crossing.

Annual Festivals and Events:

  • Ocean Beach Street Fair and Chili Cook-Off - June
    When you're not eating your fill of locally made chili, this popular 2 day street party also offers live bands, surf and skate shows and other free activities.
  • The US Open Sandcastle Competition - July
    This Imperial Beach festival puts all those castles you made at the seaside to shame. If you can imagine it, chances are these competitors can sculpt it out of sand and water.
  • The San Diego Street Scene festival - September
    40+ bands play at venues around the downtown and East Village during this weekend music fest. Past festivals have included everyone from Patti Smith and the Pixies to the Killers and the White Stripes.

Eating in San Diego

For a cheap and filling meal, you can't beat the city's authentic Mexican restaurants. You can find decent Mexican food almost anywhere in the city - in Pacific Beach there's pretty much a place on ever block. Locals swear by fish tacos (a bit like the Mexican version of fish and chips) and shrimp burritos.

If you're giving your taste buds a rest from the spice, check out:

Kono's, Pacific Beach: Nothing beats eating outdoors next to the beach, and Kono's is one of the best places to do it. Breakfast burritos and budget-priced breakfasts are this restaurant's specialty, but there's also a good selection of burgers if you plan on eating there later in the evening.

Filippi's Pizza Grotto, Downtown: You'll find it hard to find a better pizza for such good value in Little Italy. Along with the top class pizza, you can also get pasta dishes and lasagne.

Café Lulu, Gaslamp Quarter: This vegetarian café is excellent value. Even though there's no meat on the menu, you shouldn't have a problem finding something which takes your fancy. One of San Diego's tastiest and healthiest options.

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach is know as "Surf City" and much of America's surfing culture started and continues to evolve here. Each summer the city plays host to the world surfing championships and even where there aren't any organized competitions on, serious boarders can be found tackling the waves on Bolsa Chica and Dogs Beach. There's also a world-class beach volleyball scene, with its own professional contests and devotees.

This city of about 200,000 has some of the largest stretches of open-sand beaches in all of California and one of the longest concrete piers in the world. During the peak season (May to early September), the beaches may see as many as 500,000 visitors per day when it's particularly hot inland.

For more general info on Huntington Beach visit

Some Practical Stuff to Know

  • Climate: Huntington Beach enjoys a warm, mild climate with summer temperatures around 29ºC and almost no rain. The ocean is generally a balmy 18ºC, and the humidity you'll find in other parts of the country is almost nonexistent here.
  • Getting Around: The OCTA bus line links all of Orange County's beaches, and serves Huntington's downtown and beach areas. Fares are about $1.25, or $3.00 for an all day pass. Check for route information and times. For transport around the city, why not do what the locals do and rent or buy a bicycle.

Housing Links

Santa Barbara

During the summer season, Santa Barbara consists mainly of police and students! It is located about 85 miles up the coast from Los Angeles. The city is a year-round tourist destination renowned for its warm weather, downtown beaches, and for being nothing like its noisy, congested cousin to the south.

With wide beaches, renowned local wineries, shopping malls in faux-Spanish style and upscale dining, Santa Barbara is as cool and classy a city as you'll find in SoCal. But if you're also hoping to shake things up this summer, take a trip to nearby Isla Vista, a community dominated by college students at UC Santa Barbara and known for its nightlife, high energy vibe and the rising number of J1ers who stay there each summer.

For more general info on Santa Barbara visit

Some Practical Stuff to Know

  • Climate: With average temperatures of about 23ºC and virtually no rain (the area only gets 15 inches a year), Santa Barbara is mild and gorgeous, like much of Southern California. Breezes off the Pacific keep the air fresh and moving.
  • Getting Around: Santa Barbara's city centre is compact enough to walk, and most people do. If you're planning on heading outside that, there's a reliable transit system with busses all over the city and to nearby Goleta and Montecito. Fares are $1.75, and day passes are available for $6.00. Check sbmtd.gove for routes and times.

Housing Links

Laguna Beach

Widely considered the most beautiful beach community south of L.A., Laguna Beach is a counter-culture enclave in conservative Orange County. This community of about 25,000 is SoCal's artistic hot spot, a beachfront Berkeley tucked into canyons and ocean-side bluffs.

With miles of pristine beach and clear blue water, it's no wonder the town has been a haven for artists since the early 1900s. Today hundreds of artists live and work in the area, and their presence gives Laguna Beach much of its cool, alternative vibe.

Though much of the town is taken up by beach resorts, its downtown 'Village' is still filled with small, bohemian shops, cafes and independent galleries. And while it's not the surfing hot spot that Huntington Beach is, there are still plenty of beaches where you can hone your long or short-boarding skills.

For more general info on Laguna Beach visit

Some Practical Stuff to Know

  • Climate: Temperatures in Laguna Beach are quite mild, with averages around 21ºC and highs in the mid-20s. Like most coastal SoCal communities, sea breezes keep the town's air clean and fresh and temperatures bearable during sweltering California summers.
  • Getting Around: The Orange County Transit Authority links Laguna Beach with the rest of Orange County and free shuttle service is available in the downtown. The town itself is quite walk or cycle-able, as well. Check for routes and fares.

Housing Links

Where to Work

SoCal is a huge summer destination, so look for work in resorts, shops and other attractions. Because most of these communities are beach-based, shops renting surf boards, bicycles and other sports equipment - such as Wheel Fun Rentals - also tend to hire lots of summer workers.

Other J1ers have made their fortunes running Pedicabs (bicycle taxis) in tourist areas, or as car valets at resorts and hotels. The latter often brings in great tips and gives you a chance to check out the OC's notoriously flashy cars. Keep in mind, if you're interested in valet parking jobs you'll need to go to the California DMV and get yourself a local license. Many J1ers also find jobs cleaning or working at reception desks in the area's many hotels.

Where to go & What to see

With busses linking most of the region, it's possible to road trip all the way down the coast relatively cheaply. Why not compare the merits of all the OC's beaches? Hang out on one of the world's longest concrete piers in Huntington Beach, mix with California's upper crust in Newport or head to Hendry's Beach in Santa Barbara, SoCal's nudist hot spot. If you're in the mood for a city break, try heading inland to check out the vibrant Mexican-American community in Santa Ana. Or take a trip to L.A., to get your fill of Disneyland, Hollywood and Venice Beach, then swing over to San Diego's Ocean and Pacific Beaches for surf, sun and great nightlife.

Annual Festivals and Events:

  • Fiesta - August, Santa Barbara
    This Spanish themed festival is synonymous with food, music, and riotous parties, ranging from the annual Covarrubias Adobe Pre-Fiesta Tea, to the Fiesta Pequeña on the steps of the Mission.
  • The US Open of Surfing - July, Huntington Beach
    This major professional surfing competition has evolved into a multi-day extreme sports and lifestyle festival. Events include professional BMX and skateboarding competitions, live music and fashion shows.
  • Pageant of the Masters - July to August, Laguna Beach
    This somewhat kooky contribution to the summer event scene features re-creations of classic and contemporary works in an outdoor amphitheatre, with local performers filling in for the paintings' subjects.

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