Travel Daydream: The Great US Road Trip

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My US Love Affair

I can’t quite put into words what it is about the United States that draws me so. Is it the country’s boundless enthusiasm? The decadent food? The fact that each state (and even regions within each state) is so different? Is it the accent? The positive, can-do attitude of its people?

If my dating history is anything to go by, the girls might play a part.

In fact, both of my trips to the US now have been for romantic reasons. I hit Idaho, Oregon, Washington State, Nevada, and Arizona in 2009 with my then girlfriend.

I hit Maryland, Virginia, DC, New York, New Jersey, Florida, California, Washington State, Oregon, and Illinois in 2012 as part of my whirlwind romance with Nomadic American.

This time, however, I’ll be going with an Englishman who I have zero interest in bedding (Sorry Hogg).

My 50 State Challenge continues and I need your help!

What would you include on a month long LA to NYC US road trip itinerary?

The Plan

Our plan is pretty simple:

  • Rent a car;
  • Get travel insurance;
  • Consult with a specialist such as Motor Accident Legal Sevices about our options if anything goes wrong;
  • Eat delicious food;
  • Meet awesome people;
  • Drink responsibly;
  • See as much as humanly possible.

The US Road Trip Route

During next February’s Chinese New Year (one of the few lengthy breaks teachers in China get) my old friend and I are planning to rent a car and drive from Los Angeles to New York, hitting as many iconic or intriguing spots along the way as possible.

We’ve got a month to take it all in, and between hitting the obvious first time spots (for Hogg) and some new spots (for me), it ought to be an exciting trip.

We’re still working out the nuts and bolts now, but below you’ll see my proposed itinerary. I’ve yet to run it by the driver, mind >_>

us road trip west coast east coast
Image generated using Furkot, which is a fantastic resource for not only planinng a US road trip, but a road trip anywhere.

As you can see, there’s quite a few stops there. Some are for purely touristy reasons, some are so I can catch up with old friends (and flirt in person with my #1 travel blogging crush), and some are for something a little different.

Let’s break it down.

Stop #1 – Los Angeles

I didn’t love LA last time around and with the exception of a visit to Leo Carrillo Beach, it was a pretty forgettable few days in the City of Angels.

But if we’re going to land there, it makes sense that we at least see a bit of it. I’ve yet to do the cheesy Hollywood Walk of Fame thing, and I don’t have any pictures of me against the hazy backdrop of the Hollywood sign, either.

What are your LA suggestions?

Stop #2 – San Luis Obispo

Never heard of it? I certainly hadn’t!

But my #1 travel blogging crush, Where is Kait, insists that I pay her adorable little town a visit on my way up the California coast. Who am I to resists her charms or the charms of San Luis Obispo?

Stop #3 – San Francisco

Unlike LA, I really enjoyed my time in San Francisco in 2012. In addition to the thrill of riding across the Golden Gate Bridge, we also had a good time hanging out at Pier 39.

I’m sure there’s still a lot to see and do (and eat) in San Francisco, so I’m excited to pay the colourful city another visit.

What are your favourte things to do in San Francisco?

Taking a break from my ride from San Francisco to Sausalito.
Taking a break from my ride from San Francisco to Sausalito.

Stop #4 – Lake Tahoe

Two of my Shadows of Africa colleagues call Truckee home, and it would be madness to be driving through the area and not take them up on their offer of hospitality.

With our visit taking place in February, it might be finally time for me to bust my skiing/snowboarding cherry!

Stop #5 – Haunted Clown Hotel

Dani from Going Nomadic has written about Nevada’s spooky clown motel, and it’s inspired me to check it out as well.

While it won’t count as sleeping in a haunted place for my bucket list, how can I not spend a night in a place so deliciously creepy!

It also breaks up the lengthy drive between Lake Tahoe and Vegas nicely.

Stop #6 – Las Vegas

The Vegas! No boys’ US road trip would be complete without it.

I’ve written about Las Vegas quite a few times already, but it’s a place I really want to get back to.

In 2009 I went along with my girlfriend and her family, so I’ve yet to have a debaucherous boys weekend in Vegas.

This time, it’s totally happening. I am going to get drink drank drunk, eat 99c shrimp cocktails, and take in the lights and sights of sin city.

I'm sure they've missed me as much as I've missed them.
I’m sure they’ve missed me as much as I’ve missed them.

Stop #7 – Grand Canyon

I’m going to offend patriots aross the US with this: but I was totally underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon when I visited in 2009.

Don’t get me wrong, it was undeniably beautiful, but it had been so built up in my head that I found it just a tad disappointing. Even catching it at sunset didn’t really sell me on its majesty.

But Hogg, first time US traveller that he is, would like to see it and I’m certainly happy to see if my landscape photography skills have improved since my last visit.

I hear the south side is the best. Any recommendations?

My former travel companion taking a break to soak in the view.
My former travel companion taking a break to soak in the view.

Stop #8 & 9 – Alburquerque & Amarillo

Here’s where out journey hits a bit of a dead spot (with all due respect to ABQ and Amarillo). There’s a long ass drive between Flagstaff and Austin, and it’s going to necessitate a couple of stops along the way for sleep, drinking beer etc.

At this point, the land of Breaking Bad and George Strait seem like the best spots, but I’m totally open to suggestions here.

Any New Mexicans and/or Texans care to weigh in? Hell, I’ll take advice from Arizonans too.

Stop #10 – Austin

The land of Leave Your Daily Hell, Austin just sounds like my kind of city. With its Portland-esque hipster culture, I’m sure my mammoth ginger beard and love for craft beer will fit right in.

Hogg had his heart set on Dallas, but I think I can sell him on heading to the weird side of Texas.

Stop #11 – New Orleans

We’re not going to be there at the right time of year to catch Mardi Gras, sadly. I’d have loved to check another of my most insane parties off the bucket list.

Still, I’m looking forward to wandering the French Quarter, eating some good Cajun food, and getting to know a little of the city’s history as well.

Stop #12 – Atlanta

I dated a Georgian once, and while she didn’t have that sweet southern drawl, she painted a pretty interesting picture of her home state. Between that and the fact my favourite photographer (JoyElan) has told me I have to visit, I thought I’d see if we couldn’t squeeze it in.

What is there to do in Atlanta?

Stop #13 – Nashville or Memphis

Country music or pro wrestling? Which of them will win our hearts?

It’s probably going to be Memphis, if we’re being honest. I don’t even think Hogg likes country music.

So, the land of Jerry Lawler is likely to be our next stopping off point.

Stop #14 – Chicago

My time in Chicago in 2012 was mostly spent attending a friend’s wedding, seeing The Dark Knight Rises, and doing all of the sad farewell stuff that is unavoidable at the end of a romantic trip.

I’ve yet to see The Bean, visit Wrigley Field, or trek to Shedd’s Aquarium; so there’s plenty  for us to do in the Windy City.

I might even try to visit a few filming locations from The League.

Hamming it up for the camera at my friend's Chicago wedding.
Hamming it up for the camera at my friend’s Chicago wedding.

Stop #15 – Detroit

I have no idea why Hogg wants to visit Detroit, but I’m willing to visit the Motor City if he is.

Stop #16 – Cleveland

I’ve been kind of keen on seeing the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for some time now, and since all I know about Cleveland comes from The Drew Carey Show, I’m totally open to suggestions.

Stop #17 – Washington DC

Despite calling Annapolis ‘home’ for two weeks in 2012, we only managed the one day trip to DC. A visit to the Smithsonian was certainly fun, but there’s a lot to still be seen and photographed in the US capital.

And I’m totalyl going back to Pub Dog.

Stop #18 – Philadelphia

If my 2012 DC visit was short, my lunch break at Gino’s and Pat’s in 2012 was barely a blip on the travel radar.

I also need to lick the Liberty Bell.

Stop #19 – New York City

I did New York City in 24 hours in 2012 – hitting Times Square, a show on Broadway, Central Park, and the Statue of Liberty in rapid succession.

With a few days to kill in the Big Apple, I’m hoping we can experience a little bit more of the city. I’m intrigued by New York’s speakeasies, and I’m sure there’s more below the surface to be explored too.

Nomadic American and I preparing to explore Central Park on a tandem bike.
Nomadic American and I preparing to explore Central Park on a tandem bike.

Your Say

This itinerary is very much up in the air (aside from the start and finish points), so I’d love your suggestions!

What is on your dream US road trip itinerary?

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  1. Wow that is a big road trip you’re planning! We are moving to NZ in December and are hoping to go via the USA so that we can do a 6 week road trip November/December – nothng booked yet as need to sell our house first (not long to go though!!)

  2. That’s a cool route. I did Chicago to Seattle so I think I would keep my next U.S. road trip mostly to the South just like yours. I would probably start in Miami instead though.

    • Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of LA and I’m revisiting a bunch of places I’ve already done, but it’s my buddy’s first US trip and there are a few places he’d sorely like to visit.

      If I were doing my own trip, I’d probably start it a little later in the year and include Montana, Oregon, and the New England.

  3. Wow 19 stops in 30 days. That will be a heck of a trip. I did a coast to coast trip a couple years ago. We stopped in 8 different cities. Seemed like I needed more tip.

    – New Orleans: Make sure you try this drink called “Hand Grenade”

    – Chicago: Navy Pier is nice for people watching

    – Atlanta: Centennial Park, Piedmont Park, Buckhead (nightlife)

    • Thanks for the tips! We keep cutting some places and extending our time in others, so we’ll have to see how it all pans out.

      I’m just glad I’m not doing the driving >_>

  4. Another long post.
    LA? Getty museum- the white one on top of the hill with the monorail and awesome art. Yeah. That’s it.
    SF: hike Lands End. Get a Muni pass for buses and the streetcars. Sotto Mare in the North End for sand dabs. Really.
    On the way to Truckee: check out the Donner Pass hairpin drive (prob closed) or the Donner Museum; ghost town abandoned mining towns.
    Grand Canyon: if you follow the south rim east, you can get to Flagstaff through part of the Navajo Nation. Try the pizza at Pizzacletta in Flagstaff. Freakin awesome.
    On to ABU: stop and check out the black lava landscape on the way. Take the cable car to the top of the ‘watermelon’ – the big huge rock. Santa Fe is prettier. New Madrid is a nice stop, but I’m not sure it’ll be on your route.
    I-10 from Austin to NOLA: stop in/near Lafayette LA for a true taste of Cajun Country. The highway will take you over the Atchafalaya Badin, but you can take back roads from Lafayette to NOLA right thru Cajun Country. Get some boiled crawfish and boudin at a gas station. Any gas station.
    NOLA: you’ll get lots of tips. Breakfast at Elizabeth’s in the Bywater; Stein’s Market for a sandwich. You might miss Mardi Gras, but look up the dates for Super Sunday when the Mardi Gras Indians parade or the St Joseph Day or St Patrick Day parades.
    Atlanta: so many suggestions. I live here now. Breakfast at Gato Bizco, Oakland Cemetery, MLK birthplace and museum, Roswell for a hike to an old mill burned by Yankees and Greenwoods for the best fried chicken and pie.
    Nashville: Memphis is the Detroit of the South. Nashville is youthful, vibrant. Hattie B’s hot chicken. You’ve never had anything like it. Fido’ for breakfast.
    DC: Portrait Museum to see Obama and Colbert; National Building Museum- incredible place. Folger Shakespeare.
    Philly: Talluluah Garden for one of the best meals you’ll ever have (pricey). Capogiro Gelato for some of the best gelato in the U.S. The Italian Market area; Reading Market.
    NYC: go to the roof top at the Met Museum for a wonderful view of Central Park. Tenement Museum. Get a cannoli at Ferraras on Grand St. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
    Chicago: Art Institute. So many places to eat. Gotta have what they call ‘pizza’.
    Detroit: get a ‘coney’ at National.

    • – I’m hoping my local guide (comment below) can make LA a little more memorable for us!

      – Thanks for the SF tips! I’ve got a friend who runs a walking tour company there too, so I’m hoping he can help us find the best the city has to offer. I really liked Sausalito, and still need to get out to Alcatraz too.

      – Ooh! Donner Party! Totally didn’t realise it was in that area. I’m totally game.

      – I loved Flagstaff, such a cute town. We had dinner at a little brewery there last time, so it’ll be good to check out something new. What makes the Navajo Country interesting?

      – Would you recommend Sante Fe instead of ABU, then?

      – Good idea on the Lafayette front. I’ll totally amend the trip to see if we can’t make it a stop.

      Love the rest of your tips! I’m going to need more than four weeks! Haha

  5. -LA isn’t bad at all, you just have to know where to go! I’m happy to show you around! Kait can vouch for my LA tour guide skills, even though I live in Orange County! Speaking of, I hope your liver is prepared, because taking on SLO with Kait is always a great time!

    – I definitely recommend Nashville, even if you don’t like country music. There’s so much more to see, a great local bar scene, fantastic food, and great people.

    – DC is great too, for a lot of the reasons that Nashville is, but with a totally different vibe.

    – Make sure that the car you rent has chains, in February there will definitely still be snow in many parts of the country!

    • I’m sure we won’t turn down the services of somebody who knows the city! To be fair to LA, I did like both Leo Carrillo and Santa Monica, and even the day in California Adventure was fun. The city just lost out because San Francisco, Monterey, Portland, Seattle, and Chicago were all so much nicer.

      – Glad to hear Nashville isn’t too bad! I’ll see if I can convince him that we can catch pro-wrestling someplace else, as I dont know what else there is to do in Memphis.
      – I liked my time in the DC area, although I only made it into the city once.
      – I totally thought of that already haha. I don’t drive, so I’m very proud of myself for realizing that might be a factor. I hope my mate is okay with driving in the snow…

      And I am Australian, my liver is in a permanent state of preparedness. It’s Kait who needs to be careful! :-p

  6. I’m not sure when you’ll be in DC, but hopefully it’ll work out for me and Gav to meet you there! It’s as close as you’ll be to us 🙂 Despite living just 2 hours away, I’ve only been a few times myself and don’t have any words of wisdom to share…but I hope we can reconnect!

  7. oh my god i cannot believe you are going to do all of this in one month. that’s…ambitious? i need a word stronger than ambitious.

    that being said, apologies in advance for how long this comment is going to be. i love my country. so…

    -spend as little time in LA as possible. no one likes LA. not tourists, not locals. get out of town as fast as you can. but if you have to stay in the area, there’s a hotel in long beach that’s actually an old ship. it’s supposed to be one of the most haunted hotels in america (to cross off your bucket list item). i spent the night there last year. i don’t know if there were any ghosts, but i can tell you that there were spirits. because i got pass-out drunk on bourbon.

    -i’m assuming this is a given, but please please please drive from LA to SF via the coastal route. and when you are in SLO, go to Firestone Grill for a tri-tip sandwich. thanks.

    -albuquerque isn’t bad. well, parts of it aren’t, anyway. if you’re just in town for the night, you should be good. there’s a cute (small) historic area and lots of great food. please go to sadies and have the stuffed sopapillas. or go anywhere and get regular sopapillas (with honey). thanks.

    -i know you don’t have time for this, but the area 1-3 hours north of ABQ is the most beautiful part of the country (in my opinion only). north of santa fe (also worth a stop if you want to skip ABQ all together) into the mountains is desolate and epic.

    -i can’t even begin with food recommendations in new orleans, because this is already long and i have a million. just…eat food. thanks.

    -same as above with chicago. also, don’t let people scare you about chicago in the winter. i spent this past winter there and loved it.

    -detroit is actually quite up-and-coming.

    -if you want a great bar scene in DC, check out adams morgan. also, i could recommend a bunch of fabulous restaurants (Little Serow is my favorite restaurant on the east coast, and Rasika comes in a close third) but i fear recommending thai and indian to someone who has spent time in thailand and india. oh, and please go to the library of congress. sounds dull, but it is probably the most beautiful building in america.

    -hang out with me in new york. 🙂

    • It’s very ambitious, I agree. It *just* fits into the thirty days we have (with a few longer stops in places like Vegas and NYC), but I’d extend it to six weeks if it were up to me. Alas, my traveling companion (and the guy doing the driving) has a four week break and that’s it.

      – Agree on LA. It really didn’t excite me overmuch. If we just land, sleep, and then leave we can take extra days elsewhere.

      – Of course! There’s no way I’m going to miss out on that drive. I’ve got Where is Kait to show me the sights in SLO too, which is handy 🙂

      – Sounds good for ABQ! I had no idea about it beyond Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul haha.

      – I’ll totally take your Chicago/New Orleans food recommendations when the trip is closer!

      – What’s good in Detroit?

      – Of course! I’d love to catch up and see NYC with somebody a bit more local than myself 🙂

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