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The Vine: September 17, 2010

Submitted by on September 17, 2010 – 1:37 PM126 Comments

Dear Sarah,

I will be spending a month in the States shortly, flying into New York on the third of October and out of San Francisco third November. Those flights are pretty much my only parameters. I need to start formulating a plan. I have a vague idea of the places I definitely want to go (as well as the cities I am coming in and out of; that list looks something like: Miami, New Orleans, "the south"…and yes, am aware how hugely broad that is!, Palm Springs, Vegas).

Beyond this…well, understatement time — it's a pretty big country, that one you've got there! I would love some advice or recommendations, not just on where I should go but also best way to get there. Ye Olde Great American Road Trip is hugely appealing and I definitely want to drive for at least part of the time. However, I'd also love to not spend an entire month in the car, and truly get to spend some time in A and B rather than just on the road getting between them.

I thought maybe I should give you a little about me just in that it might make it easier for you or readers to make suggestions. I will be travelling with my boyfriend, who is a very practical and useful creature and can look after directions, changing tires and things where I tend to just flap and be all hopeless, we are both in our early 20s and both from Australia.

Also things we are most interested in doing/seeing on a dream list would be: getting to see or be a part of crazy or distinctly American things, be that getting a photo with the world's biggest ball of yarn, doing something special for Halloween (we totally don't celebrate this in Australia so I am quite excited to be there for it!), and of course "just" meeting interesting people, plus experiencing all different types of food and music.

I'd also add doing Into the Wild from a safe distance, if that makes any sense — I'm not hugely outdoorsy and don't mean to insult that fellow's experiences by comparison but, well, with some of your national parks and animals and things…how could we come to the U.S. and miss that?

As a general plan for the trip, I have vaguely been thinking we could fly to NYC, fly to Miami, pick up a car there and do a sort of (rose-coloured glasses firmly in place) BBQ/bourbon/jazz/blues-soaked trundle across the south, maybe through Nashville, Memphis and so on, over and up to the West Coast, if that's any help, too.

Okay, well, as most of the people who write in seem to say, that was longer than I thought it would be! I am just trying to get across how excited we both are about this trip, how open we are to ideas and ultimately how much I would value the input from a like-minded community of people as well as the lovely Sars herself, who has certainly road-tripped it in her time (!).

Thank you Sars and all your readers –

From The Probably Green and Overly Idealistic Girl Who Still Thinks "A Month In A Car? Sure, I Want Fried Green Tomatoes, Waffles and Awesome Memories — Let's Do It"

Dear Green,

I will let the readers fill in the blanks here, mostly, because I've lived in the States my whole life and driven around a good portion of it, and I have still only seen and experienced a small fraction of it.

Some general advice: 1) The independent bookstore wherever you are is a great place to get inspired. Head for the local-history section and see what the area obsessions are — a nearby prison, a long-ago battle, whatever. Then let yourself be overheard speaking in a faraway accent. This doesn't tend to work in a metropolis like New York City, which is where all the faraway accents come to hang out, but Mississippi can spot a Yankee in about six words, and the next thing you know, you've got reading material for a month and two maps to the best po-boy sandwiches in the state.

1b) While you're in there, try to grab a copy of Roadside America and/or Weird U.S. Lots of hilarious ideas, and even if you don't see any of the things covered therein, it makes great reading-aloud material for those long stretches of interstate.

2) Get off the interstate. Set your GPS to "no expressways" and take the long way; get lost a few times. In my experience, the interstates go over the country while the smaller state roads and so-called blue highways go through it, and if you plan to spend that much time on the road anyway, you should get a real sense of the place.

3) Have a plan for each day, but one that's broad and general. In each city I went to on BCLC Tour, I had, like, one thing I definitely wanted to see, so I would see that thing in a leisurely way, and then I would let other things suggest themselves — or let the locals suggest them.

4) It's your trip. If there's super-famous Must-See stuff that you just don't care about, don't go. If you'd rather see a ball of twine than a battlefield, do that. All touristy stuff, no touristy stuff — it's your money.

5) If you get out to Brooklyn, we can meet here for a pint.

Readers, hit it — but please cap your recs at three per comment. Thanks!

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126 Comments »

  • Amie says:

    1) I am jealous and want to go on this trip
    2) In addition to the printed book, Roadside America also has a very useful website for finding offbeat attractions (and a mobile app, which I haven't used yet but it exists), including a Trip Planner (http://www.roadsideamerica.com/map/trip/about)
    3) If you are starting out in the northeast US, I recommend taking at least a few hours to go "Leaf Peeping" at some New England foliage this time of year. (Am I the only New Englander who hates using the term "Leaf Peeping"?)

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    AGH, hate the term "leaf-peeping." Just say "going to look at foliage."

  • --Lisa says:

    Miami:

    If you can only do three things and you are only considering Miami (and not the Florida Keys which are beautiful), I'd recommend these:

    1) Go to the Everglades for a few hours – there is nothing like it anywhere. I recommend Shark Valley for a quick 1/2 day trip.
    http://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/svdirections.htm

    2) Go to South Beach and night and see the television version of Miami. We call it "watching the local wildlife." Pick a cafe on Lincoln Road Mall and have dinner and a bottle of wine and just watch for a few hours.

    2) Eat some real Cuban food at one of the locations of La Carretta. It is a local family-owned chain with awesome low-cost food.
    http://www.lacarreta.com/

    Also, not Miami related, but if you are driving up through the state of Florida (it is about 9 hours) and you will be here when it is cool (Dec-Feb), make a stop at Blue Spring State Park and see the manatees. http://www.floridastateparks.org/bluespring/default.cfm

    Have a great trip!

  • Jenn C. says:

    First off, I would completely support Sars assertion to stay off the interstates. Especially outside of the congested northeast corridor, they move nearly as fast and you see WAY more interesting things.

    Second, most of our National Parks (having visited about 10 this summer) are very much designed so that you can do and see as much "into the wild" as you want to – you can drive through them ogling out the windows, most have shorter easy (many handicapped accessible, so wide, paved and level) paths that let you get a little ways off the "beaten path" – or at least away from the car oglers, and most have wilderness opportunities beyond that that range from a couple hours following a well marked path to backpacking for a week and never seeing another person beyond those.

    Third, if you want crazy Americana, and you get that far northwest, Wall Drug in South Dakota is a hoot and has excellent ice cream.

    I hope you have a great trip!

  • Jenny says:

    Road Trip USA (now in its fifth edition) is a fantastic book for this kind of thing. Its whole purpose is to get roadtrippers off the beaten path, and I believe they have a "southern route" trip that might work for Green. It's also loaded with facts, history, maps, photos, and reproductions of vintage postcards; sometimes I read it just for fun.

    I've taken a couple of the trips mentioned in the book, too, and had a great time. Highly recommended.

  • Dorine says:

    Many others will probably mention this, but just a note: destinations are much closer together in the eastern part of the country than in the west. Be sure to factor that into plans if you proceed with the driving tour — it isn't as easy to plan to see multiple states in one day out here (unless you route through 4 Corners, which I wouldn't recommend unless it's on your way somewhere).

    And I have to put in a plug for 2 of my favorite natural sites, if you want to venture into the Pacific Northwest — Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) and Crater Lake (Oregon). You have to take local roads to get to either one, so lots of chances to see the local scenery.

  • Stef says:

    Welcome to the US!
    If you come to DC, I'll totally buy you a drink and you can see all the monuments at night…

    Beyond that, I agree with Sars–Interstate driving can be boring (particularly through Nebraska, I have found)

  • Natalie says:

    I'm from Georgia, so most of my US travel has been in The South, as it were. There are so many cool places, it's hard to limit the recs to three. =)

    (1)Drive across the Mississippi River. I crossed at Vicksburg when driving from Georgia to Texas, and it was so cool to stand on the tourist center balcony and just watch it.

    (2)The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee and it will be beautiful at that time of year with all the leaves changing.

    (3)A general rec: find the local library and ask if they have suggestions for nearby things to do. This is also a good way to get free internet access and dining recommendations.

  • mary ann says:

    For the southwest portion of the trip, I would recommend driving from Vegas (or Phoenix, but you mentioned seeing Vegas) to Flagstaff/Sedona/Jerome/Prescott, Arizona. That would give you a pretty good overview of the scenery of the Southwest, and there are loads of major and minor/quirky attractions, natural and man made, in that general area. It's worth looking in to if you're going to be within a few hours of that area.

  • Amy says:

    Get your BBQ in the south, nowhere else – it will be the most authentic there. The south also has sweet tea that will not taste as good anywhere else, either. And go to a Waffle House.

    There are always the usual scenic stand-bys like Mt. Rushmore, Grand Canyon, Painted Dessert, Petrified Forest, Yosemite, Redwood National Forest. You don't have to be too outdoorsy for those. Oh, also Zion Park in Utah – my friends go all the time.

    If you go to the L.A. area, the Hollywood sign is cool but Griffith Observatory has a great view. When you're in San Francisco, check out http://www.betelnutrestaurant.com – it was my favorite restaurant when I visited there. Ride a trolley car, check out Alcatraz if you have time.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Go to a Waffle House…but not the one in Murfreesboro, TN. Dir-tay.

  • mspaul says:

    Spend a little time on Bourbon Street in New Orleans (hey, you can't go wrong with a 3 for 1 happy hour special that goes from noon – 8:00 pm), but for real music and a more ecclectic scene go to Frenchman's Street, just outside the Quarter. Adolfo's, above the Apple Barrell bar, is the best Creole-Italian you'll find. I could literally name 20 awesome restaurants off the top of my head, so suffice it to say you shouldn't have any problem finding a great meal no matter what you're in the mood for.

  • Beth says:

    I would normally suggest Yellowstone, but since it's going to be during one of our cooler months up north, I would suggest the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I also found New Mexico to be gorgeous and would suggest Santa Fe. It's artsy and hippie and just a nice mishmash of culture and diversity.

    I absolutely loved Nashville and Memphis was quite enjoyable as well, so I'd recommend them since they are already on your radar.

    During my cross country trip, when possible, I would start the trip off with a walking tour or bus tour or trolley tour. This way, I could get a sense of everything in the city and then decide what I wanted to see in more detail.

    Austin was fun, but I don't know if I would recommend spending three days just to drive through Texas.

    If you're up for venturing north of California, I'd recommend Portland and/or Seattle and do the underground tour at both places.

    I haven't been to Denver or Utah yet, but they are both high on my list of places to go. If you're up for a skiing or tubing adventure, a stop in the Colorodo rockies is definitely worth while.

    Enjoy your trip!

  • Lucy says:

    Amie & Sarah – I've never heard of "leaf peeping" here in Michigan. Here it's called taking a "color tour" which sounds much less stupid to me.

  • Beth says:

    Oh, I almost forgot St. Louis. I loved seeing the Arch and you can take a dinner cruise on the Mississippi. Gorgeous city with more of a small town feel.

  • WendyD says:

    Are there any American events you'd like to take in? You'll be here in the fall which is college (American)football season and having taken a friend's fiance from England to his first college football last year, I can attest to it's something you won't experience anywhere else. Nothing like a crisp fall day spent in a parking lot with a cold beer, good food, and great people.

    There are many large universities hosting huge tailgating spectacles every Saturday. If you make it to the midwest (and you really should go to Chicago!), I'm in Iowa City, Iowa, home of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. We're playing Wisconsin on Saturday, Oct. 23rd and I will extend an invitation to our tailgate to you. (Theme is 'Beer, Sausage, and Cheese) Seriously!

  • Profreader says:

    I love road trips and love the off-the-beaten-path routes. Just a few days ago I was driving from Pittsburgh to Baltimore, took a wrong turn and ended up in a small town that wasn't originally on my route. Got out to take a picture of an old Rexall Pharmacy sign, and a guy bounded out of his shop to ask if I was lost, and basically told me everything there was to know about the area — a National Historic Site I would have missed — the diner across the way with fresh-baked pie slices the size of my head — everything.

    Which is to say: seconding everything Sars said about, stay off the interstates, and talk to people. I would only fly if you absolutely have to — there are interesting places everywhere.

    My recs:

    1) Cities: don't miss Savannah, Georgia. You might also try part of your time driving along the Mississippi, especially in the Midwest.

    2) I like to do the "ghost tours" in towns that I visit (Savannah's got a great one.) What they really are is usually a walking history/architectural tour (but usually more interesting, to me at least, than the *actual* history/architectural walking tours.) Savannah and San Francisco both have great ones. They happen all year round many places, but of course pick up more attendees in October.

    3) Halloween: depending on what part of the country you're in, you can find many different kinds of things: NYC has the Halloween parade; up the Hudson Valley in Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow there are Washington Irving/"Ichabod Crane" related things. If you're anywhere in a farm-country area, see about a hayride. That's really old-school Halloween, as it used to be a long time ago, but very American. A lot of places now have haunted houses (like basically walk-through freak-out palaces) which are not my thing but if you're looking for Halloween stuff, those are very popular.

  • Colin says:

    I might be a little biased since I, um, live here, but Colorado's a pretty great place to visit, especially on a road trip. You've got juuust enough Great Plains to get that experience (without millions and millions of miles of the Midwest, a drive I actually happen to like a lot, but some people go bazoo after that many hours of flat horizon), you've got the amazing Rocky Mountains (and their corollary state and national parks), a whole load of Western-U.S. history, and some fun biggish-city culture in the Denver area (also: most microbreweries per capita of any state! Check out http://tiny.cc/i7kod for the big ol' list, and holler if you need a brewery-touring buddy. Hee).

    Also: the Four Corners region (http://tiny.cc/88iz3) is a gorgeous part of the Southwest steeped in some excellent native history, if you're interested in that.

    So jealous of your impending trip. Hope you and your boyfriend have the most incredible time!

  • Leigh in CO says:

    Another Southwestern vote here. You mention Vegas, and Palm Springs, so a Route 66 segment might be of interest. I definitely agree with the comment about how big the states get when you're heading west, but that's not to say there aren't things to see. You'll be here when the International Balloon Fiesta is going on in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is truly something; Santa Fe and Taos are gorgeous in October. And if you DO make it to New Mexico, be sure to chow down on some green chile (it's roasting season!), or do it right and get your New Mexican food "Christmas" – red AND green chile.

    Colorado is beautiful, too, with incredible national parks and amazing mountains. Just throwin' it all out there.

  • penguinlady says:

    There is just so, so much to see here! What I might recommend is bring a laptop, stay at a place with free WiFi and plan your next steps a few days as you go. There are all sorts of sites that will give you rec's wherever you are (Yelp, Chow). My hubs and I did that in Australia and it worked fantastically.

    Also, just be aware that the drive from Miami up to Nashville/Memphis will take probably 14 – 16 hours or more of driving (and vast stretches of Florida are extremely boring – or at least, I found it so).

    If you go to Vegas and have the funds, you can do a tour of the Grand Canyon right from your hotel. Ours went from the Luxor, flew by plane over the Hoover Dam (that's cool to see), then by helicopter down into the canyon, where we got to eat lunch and take a short ride on a boat down the river. It cost about $150 per person five years ago, but was a lot of fun.

    My final rec is, again if you have the funds, see if you can take the train up the Pacific Coast from LA to SF. It's positively gorgeous.

    Have a great trip!

  • Rachel says:

    Don't eat at chain restaurants! If you're not on the Interstate, this is way easier to do, but try to steer clear of McDonald's/Burger King etc. Find the local greasy spoon/homestyle/family restaurant and interrogate the waitress. Talk to the grizzled old dudes at the counter.

    Buy yourself one of those Rand McNally road atlases and look at the map for the "points of interest." When you see the billboards for something that looks appropriately interesting and/or hokey, go for it!

    Have fun!!

  • Jas says:

    Come to Michigan! Specifically, come to the Upper Peninsula if you're looking for "Into The Wild" type stuff. There are so many awesome natural things to see here, not to mention the Great Lakes. Sleeping Bear Dunes, Pictured Rocks, the Soo Locks (not natural, but still cool), Mackinac Island (horse rides!), Tahquamenon Falls, Hiawatha National Forest…then shoot down into Wisconsin to see Door County and get back into the "mainland".

  • Susan says:

    What a great sounding trip! Just a word of warning, since you mentioned Halloween. San Francisco, particularly the Castro district, used to be the capitol of Halloween celebrations. Unfortunately, it started getting out of control and dangerous, and as of last year, the city refused to issue the necessary permits, etc. It may stil be mentioned in variosu guidebooks, so I didn't want you to make a special effort to get here in time for the party.

  • zh. says:

    Let me put in a plug for Bryce Canyon National Park, located in Southern Utah. It is breathtaking and you will not be sorry.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    I absolutely second Crater Lake. http://www.nps.gov/crla/ However, be warned that the snow sometimes flies early at Crater Lake and the Rim Drive has closed as early as mid-September. And please set your parking brake if you stop at a scenic outlook. We had a wee incident of car over the rim and into the lake a few days ago.

    You might also check out Amtrak as an option to all driving all the time. It's been quite awhile since I've used them but the rail passes help make things cheaper.

  • Laura in PA says:

    For Halloween, Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia does a big haunted house thing that is supposed to be pretty great. I've never done the haunted house, but the Penitentiary is amazing and absolutely worth a visit.

  • Sarah says:

    Yosemite. Not to be missed. Since you're flying home out of California, make this toward the end. October isn't May, so the waterfalls won't be gushing, but the scenery is spectacular.

    Similarly, all National Parks have inexpensive camping options. So, if you're game, haul a tent and some sleeping bags and stay the night in some of the parks. Some also have more permanent lodging for reasonable rates, especially at that time of year.

  • Brianne says:

    sounds like you're going to be on the West Coast near Halloween, so I highly recommend spending the evening in West Hollywood. It's a crazy mob scene so you'll definitely get a full Halloween experience.

    I did a two-week Western road trip a few years ago with my boyfriend. We really loved South Dakota with its caves, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse (an in-process ginormous mountain carving like rushmore), Bear Country USA (drive-thru zoo), and the Badlands. We also hit the northern ridge of the Grand Canyon after spending a couple days at Zion.

    And I concur with the earlier poster that mentioned the long drivetimes in the western United States. We were in the car A LOT of the time, but we saw a lot of stuff once we got where we were going.

  • Sarah says:

    Oh, how wonderful! I second the recommendation for the Blue Ridge Parkway– the leaves will still be gorgeous at that time of year, and it's the most beautiful drive I've ever had.

    The Outer Banks of North Carolina are great too, for scenic beaches and for BBQ, though you're a bit late in the year for swimming.

    If you're going through Pennsylvania, check out Pittsburgh. It's an underrated city– people hear the name and think of its 1930s steel-mill reputation, but it's absolutely beautiful there, the food is amazing and the people are extremely friendly and hospitable.

  • JeniMull says:

    1, 2 and 3. Yosemite National Park!

  • Lar says:

    Penguinlady is right–it's a long drive up through Florida, and not terribly scenic. You could fly from Miami into Atlanta; that's a fun Southern city and a good starting point for a nice drive.

    Wendy D suggested a football game, and a great way to combine that with "leaf peeping" is to visit Knoxville, TN. It's only 3-1/2 hours from Atlanta through AMAZING scenery, especially if the leaves are turning, and it has the third largest football stadium in the US–it's quite the experience! Then you can drive west through Nashville into Memphis, sampling all the barbeque you can hold, and take a look at the mighty Mississippi River.

    What an exciting trip! Drive carefully, and don't hesitate to change plans at the last minute–the best parts of the US are the ones you didn't expect.

  • Sharon says:

    SO!MUCH!FUN!

    You must report back to the Nation with a travelogue!

    My suggestions:

    1) Florida Keys – driving from Miami to Key West should take you about 4 hours, but you could make an entire day of it and stop along the way:
    -GOOD Mexican food in Florida City, the Redland and Homestead
    -Robert is Here fruit stand / petting zoo in Florida City
    http://www.robertishere.com/
    -Schnebly's Winery in Redland – they make wine out of tropical fruits!
    http://schneblywinery.ning.com/
    -And any number of roadside bars / eateries along the way to Key West

    2)MUST, MUST, MUST go to Graceland in Memphis! One of the best tours I have taken.

    I will limit myself to 2 suggestions since #1 was so voluminous!

  • Marie says:

    If you are interested in Halloween goings on, you should swing by Salem, Massachusetts. It would be better if you could be there on ACTUAL Halloween, as it turns into a town wide costume party, but they definitely have Halloween going all month long, including nightly candlelit tours of local "ghostly" things. It's also interesting to see the history behind the whole Salem Witch Trial hysteria, although the official witch museum is less "museum", and more "kitschy diorama", so depends on what you're looking for, I guess.

  • Clover says:

    Come to Portland, Oregon, home of Powell's Books and Stumptown Coffee and Voodoo Doughnuts! It's a nerd's paradise here. If you do visit, I'll give you a tour of Nike's world headquarters, where I work.

  • Amanda says:

    Having just been to the world's largest ball of twine this summer (Cawker City, KS), I can recommend it as a hoot. Additionally, the town minister's wife (or someone like that) painted an entire series of "twine art," where she painted copies of famous paintings and inserted the twine ball (i.e. Mona Lisa holding a twine ball, Persistence of memory… with twine ball, etc, etc), which makes it all the more entertaining.

    However, it is far off the beaten path in northern Kansas, though close the geographic center of the United States. But it really isn't on the way to or from anything and the ride there is long and wheat-filled.

  • Hellcat13 says:

    To steer clear of chains, as @Rachel suggested, check out these two sites:

    http://www.Roadfood.com
    http://www.Wherethelocalseat.com

    They are better for larger cities, but you'll get some great suggestions.

  • Jill TX says:

    As one of TN's resident Texans, I would have to say that 3 days in our lovely state is not too much at all! The State Fair of Texas is in Dallas and runs from late September to mid-October. Any state's fair is good entertainment, but Texas knocks it out of the park — livestock shows, pig races, crafts, concerts, an auto show, and as much crazy food as you could possibly imagine. It's really not to be missed.

    Also, as long as you're in TX, any football game you can catch will be worth your time, whether it's a West Texas 6-man high school squad, one of our wonderful Big 12 college teams (Texas Tech, A&M, UT, Baylor), or the Dallas Cowboys. [Allegedly Houston has an NFL franchise as well, though reports are sketchy... ;) ]

    Finally, though it was suggested upthread to avoid all fast food joints, they are part of the American fabric after all. By all means, eat at as many local restaurants as you like, but if you happen by a Whataburger, Chick-fil-a, or another that doesn't have much of an international presence, it couldn't hurt to try! (Whenever I go abroad, I do make a point to visit the local McDonald's just once because they have the most fascinating menu items in some places.)

    Sars is welcome to forward you my email address if you'd like more info on the "Texas experience."

  • Only This says:

    Someone probably already mentioned this, but Highway 1 (or the Pacific Coast Highway) in California is pretty much stunning. Along the way you could visit:

    Winchester Mystery House (American consumerism at it's finest): http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/

    Monterey Bay Aquarium: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/

    Monterey is a fun little town on the water.

    Hearst Castle: http://www.hearstcastle.org/

    Big Sur – I recommend the Big Sur Glen Oaks Motel: http://www.glenoaksbigsur.com/.

    Morro Bay is beautiful. Don't miss Haystack rock, and this hotel is lovely: http://www.andersoninnmorrobay.com

    Of course, while you're in California, don't miss the Redwoods or Yosemite.

  • MC says:

    It doesn't sound like you will make it up here to Wisconsin, so I'll second three recommendations:

    1. Savannah, GA is charming. Plus, it's close to Charleston, NC, which is also completely wonderful.

    2. Knoxville and the surrounding countryside is so beautiful. I kept thinking I had driven into a book, with the fences and the horses, and the cooking.

    3. If you do make it up to Oregon, Crater Lake is well worth the drive.

  • Lynda says:

    I'm sorry to say that I don't have any recommendations, but add me to the list of people who hope you will either a) keep in touch with TN to tell us about your trip, b) put up a website and post pictures and stories of your trip, or c) write a book about your month in the states — I would read any of the three.

  • Marissa says:

    Being from the Southeast, I'd have to say when you come this way

    1- Drive even a short time on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The scenery is gorgeous. The mountains, the valleys, the leaves.. all breath taking. Hop in your car, roll down the windows, and just breathe in the mountains.

    2- If you are near a university and it's Saturday, you've got to check out a football game. I don't get football at all, but the atmosphere at the stadium is something you have to see to believe.

    3- If you are a history buff, I'd reccomend checking out some of the Civil Rights tours. I know the area where I live (near Birmingham Alabama) has some great museums that cover the major events here.

    Also, just a tip but here in the South in the fall/winter the weather is crazy. It can be 80 ° one day and the next you are digging out your coat and mittens. I've seen it go from the mid 50s to the upper 80s in a single day.

    Hope you have a great trip. You should do a travel blog so we can follow you around.

    Oh, and be sure to get a bag of pork rinds while you are down South.. yummy!!

  • Dromgoogle says:

    If you're thinking of driving through Texas, be careful! Not that it's dangerous or anything, it's just freakin' huuuuge. I'm in Dallas, and there's 4 hours of Texas to the east and like 8 or 10 hours more to the West. If you're coming from New Orleans, it might take you days to get to New Mexico.

    I'm not a native Texan, and I think I might need to put a helmet on before I say this: Texas is not all that awesome. It is big and flat and brown (especially in the north, and in October), and is full of infuriating drivers in very large trucks and hats and big freaking highways. But I guess it's worth visiting, because of its international reputation. Stop by, pick up a plethora of Texas-shaped tchotchkes, say "Y'all" a few times, then go to Colorado. Mountains!

  • Katxena says:

    Someone above recommended driving from Vegas to Phoenix — I was going to recommend doing it the other way, from Phoenix to Vegas. But either way, do it. Stop at the Grand Canyon and marvel at it, and stop at Hoover Dam too. The dam is really beautiful, and it's not only a significant feat of engineering — it alone accounts for a huge proportion of development in the Southwest. Vegas wouldn't be Vegas without Hoover Dam. If you are looking for something to do in Phoenix, consider visiting Taliesin west, Frank Lloyd Wright's home/studio. You'll see a lot of native desert plans without being in the wild, and you'll see some cool FLW architecture too.

  • Michele says:

    I can't imagine coming to the US and not going to Boston. I adore Boston. The Freedom Trail is great- you see a lot of the city, and most of the attractions there are fairly inexpensive. Oh, and Leonard Nemoy does the IMAX introduction at the Science Museum. If you go, don't miss the electricity show.

    And as someone who lives in the South, BBQ is really much more regionalized than you can imagine. I used to live in North Carolina and now I'm in Richmond, VA and boy do I miss Eastern NC BBQ. So, that would be my recommendation there. Western NC is ok, but South Carolina BBQ? Mustard does not belong in BBQ sauce.

  • devlyn says:

    The US has such a wide range of ecosystems, I would suggest driving in an "N" shape, rather than going directly across the South. The Pacific Northwest is where I live, and though we're at the start of the rainy season, the weather is temperate and can be a respite from the large desert that occupies the central western US. Portland, Oregon, is a fantastic city, and driving along the coast on Highway 1 down to San Francisco is one of the most amazingly beautiful experiences I've ever had. The Pacific coast in the US is extremely different than that of the Eastern coast of Oz, and granted, very different from the Atlantic side, as well.
    Having done many cross-country trips when I was younger, some places definitely stand out:
    The Petrified Forest and painted desert in Arizona,
    The badlands of S Dakota
    Driving over the continental divide/Rocky mountains in Wyoming
    Camping anywhere in the great plains, where grasses and soft rolling hills go on as far as the eye can see
    You'll obviously not be able to hit *everything*, so don't try. Just pick out what's important to you and make it happen. Twitter is a great way to make friends no matter where you go – you can find someone from every city whom I'm sure would love to be your local host. My twitter name is devlynpdx – if you end up this direction, feel free to give me a shout.

  • Jinxie says:

    I live in San Francisco, so I'm a little biased…but I'd say it's definitely worth a couple days on its own (especially since you'll be flying out of SF). Like someone else mentioned above, Halloween used to be a BigHugeDeal here but there isn't any kind of official party anymore HOWEVER there is still plenty going on (and always loads of people on MUNI in odd costumes!). SF would also make a great hub from which to explore Northern California. If you have a chance (and aren't too burned out on driving) take a drive on Highway 1 (which runs up the coast) south towards Monterey/Carmel (lovely coastal towns, and Monterey is home to the awesome Monterey Bay Aquarium). The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful and there are a few neat little towns on the way.

  • Amy Too says:

    A whole month?! Sounds fantastic! My husband and I take road trips every summer; here are some of our favorite places/recommendations:

    1. Yellowstone National Park (mostly Wyoming, partially Montana): It’s amazing, really – you won’t see anything else like it. And it’s easy to be as outdoorsy (or not) as you’d like; many of the popular trails are at least partially boardwalk, so they’re not tough hikes. Of course, there are serious hiking trails out there too, if you’re in the mood. Also, if you decide to drive up into Montana out of Yellowstone, you can drive the breathtaking Beartooth Highway through the mountains (http://tinyurl.com/2ctuvbb).

    2. Mesa Verde National Park (southern Colorado): I love Colorado; so much of it is so beautiful. At Mesa Verde, you’ll be able to see the incredible cliff dwellings, a real part of Native American history. You can take inexpensive, ranger-led tours right into the dwellings themselves, and climb around and ask questions. We did all of the tours, in both of the main parts of MV, and it was absolutely worth it. They also have a nice campground there (with free showers!).

    3. If you’re headed through Arizona – and you definitely should go see the Grand Canyon – stop in tiny Holbrook and stay at the Wigwam Motel (http://tinyurl.com/5h25ma). This is a Route 66 landmark, and, from what I’ve read, the nicest of the Wigwam Motels still in existence. We stayed there in 2004, and loved it. It’s not fancy at all, but it was very clean, and the atmosphere was great. We ate breakfast the next morning at a local spot called Joe and Aggie’s Café, and my husband still talks about the breakfast enchilada.

    4. If you find yourself in Maine (and it sounds like you might not be headed that way, but, in case you do…), we love Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. Lots of trails to explore, both old carriage roads and hiking trails, but you can also drive to most places of interest. Go to the Jordan Pond House for lunch on the lawn – the tea and popovers are a delicious tradition and not to be missed (the lobster quiche was pretty amazing too). Work off lunch by climbing the Bubbles – twin “mountains” (they’re not very big, actually) at the opposite end of Jordan Pond – and taking in the fantastic views.

    I use http://www.tripadvisor.com constantly when planning road trips – their reviews are generally pretty accurate. Check out http://www.nps.gov for information on the National Parks. And have a great time! I’m feeling very envious (must go start planning next summer’s big trip…).

  • Kelly says:

    1)Thirding (?) the Blue Ridge Parkway – don't skip over the east coast (I would also say don't waste your time in Florida, but it is your time, after all. But you guys have beaches in Australia, and nicer ones at that). You can easily get to bits and pieces of the Appalachian trail at least on your way through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It's a beautiful drive through there on the parkway (it's called Skyline Drive in the park) and a beautiful place to do a little or a lot of hiking.

    2) Yosemite is a must. I'm sure it will be glorious that time of year. Make sure, in general, you leave yourself enough time for California and the west coast. CA is a country all its own, with so many different climates and landscapes- it's wild. Have some tacos at a taco stand in LA (or eat from one of their crazy food trucks, as they are all the rage). Damn, now I'm hungry.

    3) And generally, just wiggle your way across the country, since you have the time. I really liked driving through Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado my last time across, but of course Texas is an alien nation all its own (Austin rocks). Go north and south as you work your way west.

  • emilygrace says:

    Yosemite. So beautiful that paintings of it helped create the whole idea of the promise of the American west. Also, if you're driving from Las Vegas to San Francisco, Yosemite and Death Valley are right along the way. Yosemite has nice camping cabins so you wouldn't have to rough it.

  • Holly says:

    I'm going to chime in here to recommend Yosemite as well. I was just there for the first time a few weeks ago, and… wow. Pictures just don't do it justice. I was only there for about 2.5 days, so I know you can get a taste of the valley on one day, and a taste of the high country by driving up to Tuolumne Meadows the second day (if the road is open at the time you'd be there). The latter has the virtue of having some nice short, flat hikes out into the countryside, while missing out on most of the crush of people in the valley.

    Meanwhile, on the coast — if you can't drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco along the coast (Rt. 1), at least try to drive a bit on that somewhere. It's gorgeous.

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