After 7 weeks, 24 states and roughly 10,000 miles with my fiancé and our two pups, our epic summer road trip has come to an end. We’re back at home, doing endless loads of laundry, and figuring out how exactly to jump back into the swings of things (what does that even mean anymore?!). This summer has been quite a whirlwind, that has left me revived and yet exhausted, with my eyes wider and my heart fuller.
I’ve been told by so many people that this was the trip of a lifetime, and I do not take that for granted for a second. I’m thankful for the opportunities that allowed Avu and I to embark on this nearly 2 month long journey in the first place, and I made every effort along the way to soak up everything my senses could handle, learn as much as possible and embrace the present moment as fiercely as I could.
Now that we’re back home, I’m still reflecting on everything we saw, everything we ate, and everything we walked away with. I’m excited to share more of what I learned and experienced on the road, as well as the places and restaurants we stopped at along the way…let me warn you now… this is a super long post, but I wanted to be as thorough as possible in documenting the details of our trip.
Please enjoy, and look out for lots of links below!
As I mentioned, we put somewhere around 10K miles on our Prius during this trip! That car was such a champ, and carried us through the trip flawlessly…. only needing 3 oil changes along the way. We left home on the morning of June 10th and pulled back into our garage on the evening of July 25th… after cutting one stop off our route (Glacier National Park is still mostly closed due to Covid-19). We obviously spent most of our time taking in the beauty from the road. Other than our stops in Dallas & West Palm Beach, we were only in our stops for a day at most… sometimes we only had a few hours to make the most of, and I think we made the best of it. Take a look at our map, and the list of stops we made.
- Seattle, WA
- San Francisco, CA
- Los Angeles, CA
- San Diego, CA
- Scottsdale, AZ
- Williams, AZ (Grand Canyon)
- Albuquerque, NM
- Dallas, TX
- New Orleans, LA
- The Villages, FL
- St. Petersburg, FL
- West Palm Beach, FL
- Savannah, GA
- Charleston, SC
- Raleigh, NC
- Nashville, TN
- Cincinnati, OH
- West Lafayette, IN
- Chicago, IL
- Milwaukee, WI
- Sturgeon Bay, WI
- Green Bay, WI
- St. Paul, MN
- Deadwood, SD
- Mt. Rushmore & Crazy Horse Memorials
- Jackson Hole, WY
- Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks
- Missoula, MT
- Coeur D’Alene, ID
- Spokane, WA
San Francisco, CA
With one day in San Fran, we wanted to see the views as much as possible. After driving across the Golden Gate Bridge (major bucket list item for me!!), we headed to Crissy Field Beach, which has awesome views of the Bridge, as well as Alcatraz Island. There’s also an Alcatraz overlook that you can drive to (comes up in google maps!) for an even better view.
Driving around the city is an activity in and of itself. You can had downtown and ride a vintage trolly, or just take in the colorful Victorian homes that line many of the streets (if you’re willing to wait in the line of traffic, Lombard street is the best place to go).
We also visited the Palace of Fine Arts, which I highly recommend if you’re visiting the area and seeking some history, art or architecture…. and Golden Gate Park, which is pretty expansive, but has a cozy landscape with plenty of groves and tree-lined pockets to lounge and have a picnic. And if you have more time to spend there, there’s a whole host of things you can do there.
We didn’t do much eating out in San Fran this time around, because we stayed with family and were treated to some wonderful home cooked meals, something we missed fondly at times on the road, after stretches of fast food stops.
Los Angeles, CA
We made our way down to the LA via the Pacific Coast Highway. It took about 9 hours with all the stops we made for photos. You could stretch it out even longer, because there are jaw-droppingly gorgeous views around every single bend of that long windy stretch of highway, and you’ll literally run out of daylight. We made a lunch stop in Monterey, CA and enjoyed a fruity summer salad and delicious hand tossed pizzas from La Bicyclette.
Once we got into LA, our first stop was In & Out Burger for a double double with fries, all animal style, course. Being the burger lover that I am, it was a euphoric experience. Sure, the chain has locations all over at this point… but there is truly something different about having In & Out in LA, where it all started.
Being a native Texan, another thing I love is Mexican food, any time of day. So California is a happy place for me! We fueled up the next morning with breakfast burritos from an LA staple, Chili Verde.
We spent our afternoon playing with dozens of adorable dogs in Pan Pacific Park, near Hollywood. Everyone was relaxing, and the dogs were running free all over the place. Unclear if the humans or the pups had more fun.
(P.S. I had been in LA a few months prior to this trip, and had already done the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as the hike up to the see the Hollywood sign. So we skipped it this time, but it’s definitely a must on your first trip to the city.)
San Diego, CA
San Diego was a brief day stop that we absolutely couldn’t pass up on our way to Arizona. We drove straight to La Jolla, where you can find some of the most gorgeous beach views in the area… plus the cove is usually PACKED with seals, which is always a treat to see.
After an afternoon spent on the beach, we had a sunset picnic overlooking the ocean, with our hands down FAVORITE fish tacos on earth, courtesy of The Taco Stand.
Our next stop was Scottsdale, smack in the middle of the desert. The city is small with a pretty southwestern aesthetic, and also sweltering the in the summer. As the locals like to mention constantly, “it’s a dry heat”…. but let me tell you… humidity or not, we were still sweating our asses off. 😂
The thing about Scottsdale, is that it was specifically built by non-natives to be a desert destination. So it’s got no shortage of boutiques, spas and golf courses. If you’re looking for a boogie weekend getaway, look no further.
Unfortunately, that was not on our itinerary, so ahead of meeting a friend for lunch, we explored the historic Old Town area and drove around camelback mountain (you can hike it too… but good luck with that).
We had awesome local beers and snacks at O.H.S.O. Brewery and Distillery.
In the evening, we breezed through Sedona… which is about 2 hours outside Scottsdale, and the home of the famous and stunning Red Rocks. The whole area is freaking gorgeous. It too, has become an understated tourist destination, with some great wineries and other fun eats and shops to experience. For some more upscale drinks and snacks, grab a patio see at L’Auberge de Sedona, nestled right on the Oak Creek.
The Grand Canyon
There has been soooo much said, written and photographed when it comes to the Grand Canyon. Let me just say this… nothing can ever come close to seeing it for yourself. It’s absolutely awe-inspiring. Everyone should go see it at some point if they can.
The other thing to know is that you really can’t see it all in one day (unless you’re in a helicopter, which is totally something you can do if you want to splurge). There are endless resources online with maps and guidance on the best ways to tour the Grand Canyon, so I recommend doing your research beforehand on this one.
Since we were traveling with the dogs and only had a day, we decided to explore most of the South Rim. We started at Grand Canyon Village, where there are pet-friendly outer rim trails to hike, and then drove down Desert View Drive, making all the scenic stops along the way. It’s one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever since in my life.
However, there were a lot of other exciting aspects about our stop on this leg of the trip, starting with our AirBNB. We stayed in an adorable polka dotted camper wayyy off road, just outside Williams, AZ. It was remote, and a little scary at first, (and we had no plumbing so we were seriously roughing it) but it was such a cool experience, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen the stars that clearly in my life.
We passed through Williams a few times on our way to and from the GC, something I highly recommend. Historic Route 66 cuts through the small town, and we were able to have lunch at a diner sitting right alongside it.
Williams is also home to a drive-through wildlife park, Bearizona. We got UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL with some bears, bison, foxes, even WOLVES… that literally walked right up to our car. It took about an hour and a half to drive through the whole thing before we made our way to GC.
After our long day, we had the perfect dinner of pizza and local craft beer at Historic Barrel + Bottle House. Great way to wind down the evening on their comfy lit patio.
Oh, and I had to give one more shoutout. On our way out of the state, we stopped for brunch in Flagstaff at The Toasted Owl. I can’t recommend it enough. It was eclectic and friendly and the food was off the charts, including the Green Chili Tamales (topped with melted cheese and 2 eggs) and the jalapeño popper scramble eggs plate (aka the Owlapeño Scramble). My mouth is watering just writing this.
We didn’t get to spend much time in Albuquerque, as we were only passing through for the night on our way to Texas… however after two days camping outside the Grand Canyon, it was one of the best showers EVER when we finally got there.
The one thing we did get to do was sample some authentic New Mexican food, name GREEN CHILIS. We had a chili relleno and green chili enchiladas from a local joint, El Patio de Albuquerque. OMG it was so good, but also So. Freaking. Spicy! I didn’t realize just how much New Mexicans could take the heat. Respect.
Dallas, TX (aka my family’s home base)
After our first week on the road, we made it to my old stomping grounds in Dallas. We spent 10 days there filled with fun family time, home cooked meals, plenty of hours spent by the pool (because it is NOT a dry heat in Texas) and getting some of my favorite foods, including friend chicken from Bubba’s, pretty much everything from Chiloso, Torchy’s Tacos, and the BEST Texas BBQ from Lockhart Smokehouse.
I also made my first visit down to The Silos and Magnolia Market in Waco. The huge investment from Fixer Upper stars Chip and Joanna Gaines has really changed the town, putting it on the map for tourists… but Waco still maintains its charm .The shopping at the Silos isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be, but the affiliated restaurant and bakery are scrumptious, and the whole experience makes for a fun day trip for a group of girlfriends.
Also, it gave me an excuse to load up on kolaches at the Czech Stop. If you know, you know. If you don’t, then get on it.
New Orleans, LA
From Dallas, we headed into Louisiana for two nights in New Orleans. We had a quaint AirBNB right near City Park, and a quick 15 minute drive to the French Quarter. We got in sort of late, and with covid affecting restaurant hours everywhere, we had limited dinner options. We lucked out and stumbled upon a fantastic little southwestern/Mexican food restaurant, Santa Fe – their Seafood Combo, a mix of gulf shrimp and fish smothered in cheese and poblano sauce, was absolutely delicious.
The next day, we went to explore the French Quarter, armed with masks and hand sanitizer… and were surprised to find that we basically had the neighborhood to ourselves. Most things were still closed at the beginning of July, and the streets were virtually empty. Selfishly, it made the day a lot more enjoyable and safer for us. However, I know there’s a lot of people who want and need the crowds to return. I spoke to one shop owner who said that, from a local business standpoint, COVID hit the French Quarter harder than Hurricane Katrina.
We made the most of our day, taking in the historic French and Spanish architecture, and fighting the heat and humidity with to-go cocktails wherever we could get them. A quick mid-day thunderstorm forced us to take shelter at the Gazebo Cafe, which turned out to be the best kind of fate. The outdoor cafe had awesome Cajun food (including incredible crawfish puppies!!!) as well as their famous ice cream daiquiris (with tons of rum). A live jazz band performed while we snacked, and I can’t imagine the afternoon going any better.
After the day of drinks and music, we had some more AMAZING authentic Cajun food from Mother’s Restaurant, which has been serving up favorites like gumbo, jambalaya, po‘ boys, red beans and rice, and étouffée, for more than 80 years! There are no words, except that you can’t skip this place next time you’re in NOLA.
We couldn’t leave the city without getting some famous, classic beignets. We picked them up for breakfast from Cafe Du Monde and tried not to leave a trail of powdered sugar as we wandered through beautiful City Park (there’s a location right inside the park).
Florida – The Villages, St. Petersburg, West Palm Beach (aka Avu’s family home base)
After making our way through the rest of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, we made it into Florida. We made a quick stop in the The Villages, outside Orlando, to see some family friends for a night, before making our way to our next extended stop in West Palm Beach.
But first, we made a detour to Florida’s Gulf Coast to St. Petersburg, which is neighbors with Tampa. The area is known for it’s beaches and boating, the Dalí art museum, baseball’s spring training, and delicious gulf seafood. I wish we could have spent more time there and it’s on my short list to get back soon for a long weekend. We were able to sit outside and have lunch – shoutout to The Galley for their fresh buttery shrimp, and deep fried grouper.
Once in West Palm Beach, we had another 5 days of relaxing with family by the pool and on the beach, and having a few of our local favorites including The Nook, Silver Spoon Jamaican Restaurant and Captain Charlie’s Reef Grill (for the grouper cheeks and smoked fish dip).
After a restful week in Florida, we headed to Georgia, and I finally got to show Avu around one of my favorite cities ever, Savannah. The history, the architecture, the food, the friendly people, diverse neighborhoods, even the ghosts…. there’s so much to love about it.
We spent most of our day driving around the historic downtown area, checking out most of the 22 squares that still exist, scoping out some of the most haunted buildings, and even wandering through the Colonial Park Cemetery and the famous Bonaventure Cemetery.
We used online resources to create a self-guided excursion… but if you’re visiting for the first time, I HIGHLY recommend going with one of the many guided tour companies in Savannah. They have walking tours, trolley tours, horse-drawn carriage tours, even Segway tours, complete with a local guide who can tell you everything about the city’s history and hauntings. They even have night-time haunted bar crawl tours. My favorite company to use is Tara Haunted Tours.
After all that touring, we needed to cool off, so we headed down to Julian Street and the City Market. There are a bunch of cute shops and art galleries to check out, plus several bars and cafes to get yourself a to-go cocktail. We camped out at the Georgia Tasting Room for some local wine and moonshine slushees, which are a blessing and a curse all at the same time. And don’t forget to stock up on fresh pralines from the Savannah Candy Kitchen while you’re there.
You also can’t leave Savannah without visiting the beautiful Forsyth Park. The big white fountain is the main attraction, but there are plenty of shady groves to read a book or enjoy a yummy specialty coffee drink from The Sentient Bean. Often times, you’ll catch a few notes from musicians playing outside in the park.
Sadly, we couldn’t eat at all my favorite places in Savannah in the short time we were there. A few to keep on your list for your next trip include Cotton & Rye, Collins Quarter, Vic’s on the River, Belford’s, Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, and Leopold’s Ice Cream.
Our next stop was just a quick skip across the border into South Carolina. Charleston has a lot of the same southern coastal charm (and haunted history) as Savannah. However, the legacy of slavery and segregation remains a lot more present there. With that in mind, we enjoyed strolling the streets of the historic downtown area, taking in the architecture – a mix of classic Greek revival, federalists and Victorian homes (most complete with big front porches) – and soaking in the salty breeze on the riverfront.
We had two fantastic meals in Charleston. The first was authentic Gullah style soul food from Hannibal’s Kitchen. The family owned joint has been in business for nearly half a century. We were told to have the crab rice, and let me tell you, it was INCREDIBLE. You can’t truly experience the rich and storied culinary and cultural history of the coastal south without understanding this food and the role it has played.
For dinner, we indulged on more classic southern fare with a contemporary twist. We ate outside at Poogan’s Porch, and I definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Charleston. It’s one of the oldest restaurants in Charleston, and they sure as hell know what they are doing. Their friend pimento cheese balls with bacon jam were to die for, as well as their cornmeal crusted pickled okra (!!!!). We had fresh caught fish for our main course, over creamy Carolina gold rice with fresh fluffy biscuits on the side.
Charleston was probably my favorite food stop on our entire trip.
On our way out, we drove out to Folly Beach, about 35 minutes outside the city. It’s a classic little beach town with sandy shores, residents living in colorful bungalows, and plenty of fresh seafood. It’s another perfect location for a weekend trip. I still think about our lunch there at the Crab Shack, blue crap dip plus fresh fried flounder.
We also stopped at the Magnolia Botanical Gardens, built into the property of the Magnolia Plantation. It was a scenic and beautiful, and somewhat uncomfortable experience. You can’t be in that place and not feel the harrowed history of it around you, nor should you. That history is real and it should be remembered and acknowledged and accounted for. But there is certainly beauty there to take in. The botanical gardens on the property are home to hundreds of species of flowers and plants that have been growing there for centuries.
Raleigh was another one of our very quick stops. We spent one night in town to visit my cousin before turning west towards Tennessee. Of course, that was still plenty of time to eat some incredible food. We had dinner downtown at Whiskey Kitchen. The craft cocktails were top notch, as was the food. I also got to try one southern staple for the first time ever… boiled peanuts. Let’s just say my eyes have been opened!
We also made sure to stop at one of our favorite regional fast food chains in the area, Bojangles. If you haven’t had the Cajun biscuit sandwich, you’re missing out.
Then we meandered through the gorgeous and scenic Blue Ridge mountains, making a stop for lunch in Asheville. I had to get my hands on some Carolina BBQ and try it out for myself.
I can confirm that it doesn’t come close to Texas BBQ in my humble opinion… but the succotash and cheesy grits alongside our pulled pork from Buxton Hall were absolutely standouts all on their own, as was their homemade peach mustard BBQ sauce. I highly recommend a stop there if you visit Asheville, along with the local brewery situated right next door.
Our next stop in Nashville was one of the places I was looking forward to the most on our trip, and it did not disappoint. I was in country music heaven for 2 days (and made Avu listen to the local radio stations the whole time LOL!) and the food was glorious…. not to mention, this is another city with a fantastic local beer scene.
Our first night in, we had craft beers and a savage jalapeño and bacon pizza from Tailgate Brewery, right on Music Row.
The next morning, we headed slightly outside the city to a decades old classic, the Loveless Cafe. The retro little spot has been there for decades, serving up good old southern food, including their famous biscuits and house made jams. I discovered my new true love, a biscuit stuffed with fried green tomato and pimento cheese… and also stocked up on peach preserves to take home and savor.
From there, it was time to explore all there is to see in the heart of the city… from Music Row, to the Country Music Hall of Fame (just the outside because it was closed, but still cool to see) to Centennial Park where you can find the Nashville Parthenon, to the historic Grand Ole Opry (which is disappointingly part of a massive shopping complex now), and all the rich and beautiful public art scattered in between.
The gulch neighborhood in particular is a great place to find some of the best murals in the city, including the famous “What Lifts You” wings mural.
We couldn’t leave without getting our hands on some famous Nashville Hot Chicken. And you have to get it at Hattie B’s. I got medium and I was sweating. Avu got their hottest chicken on the menu… and let’s just say he had to change his shirt afterwards! HAHA.
We immediately had to find cold drinks to wash it down afterwards. Luckily, we had a lot of options, none of which included the overcrowded tourist bars on Broadway. A few great places we stopped at for local beer that I recommend — Tennessee Brew Works, Yee-Haw Brewing Company + Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery and M.L. Rose.
After leaving Tennessee, we headed north through Kentucky, and along the Ohio River into Cincinnati. Avu lived there for several years as a child, so we spent time seeing his old house and school, along with having dinner with some family friends.
There were two other highlights from our brief time in the city. Much like Nashville, downtown Cincinnati is covered in public art. We spent half a day just driving the blocks downtown looking out for different murals, ranging in colors, sizes and meaning. All of them are gorgeous and add so much character to the city.
I also got my first taste of Cincinnati chili — yet another food that I have strong feelings about as a Texan. We went to the local staple chain, Skyline Chili for the classic regional dish…. which is served over spaghetti noodles.
I have to say, it wasn’t bad. I liked it a lot… it just didn’t feel like eating chili at all. More like a spiced up bolognese. No offense, Avu, but I’m sticking with my Texas style… served over Fritos or mashed potatoes.
West Lafayette, IN + Chicago, IL
After leaving Ohio, we headed across Indiana and made a stop in West Lafayette for a night to see some more family, do some laundry and have a home cooked meal. Then we popped right up to Illinois to spend an afternoon in Chicago, which was nowhere near enough time to enjoy all that the Windy City has to offer, but we made it work.
Our first stop was for some classic regional cuisine at the local chain, Portillo’s — a hot Italian beef and a Chicago-style dog… which comes loaded with mustard, relish, onions, tomato, celery salt and a big pickle spear. Yes please.
After driving along the lake front, we lounged for a few hours in the shade in one of the many parks in the city and let the dogs run around.
Then we headed down to the Navy Pier (definitely tourist central, but still a fun sight to see) and had some classic deep dish pizza for dinner at Giordano’s. Again, this was another food I had strong feelings about being a pizza lover – and a New York resident for almost a decade. Here’s what I have to say about it… much like the chili situation in Cincinnati, it was really good. I thoroughly enjoyed it… but HOW can you call it pizza?! It’s like a casserole full of cheese and fillings. A pizza should be able to held in your hand, preferably folded in half before inhaling. Sorry deep-dish, but you belong in a delicious category all of your own.
After that unique and ultimately very filling experience, we made our way back to the car after sunset and bid farewell to the twinkling city lights.
Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Sturgeon Bay, Sister Bay, Green Bay
After spending a night in Milwaukee, we spent a day driving along the western coast of Lake Michigan. I wish we would have had time to see more of Milwaukee (and maybe have some Miller Lites) but we did fuel up for breakfast at a cool lakefront coffee shop, Colectivo.
Then we made our way out to the Wisconsin Peninsula, making stops in Sturgeon Bay (and had a great lunch of perch and chips at Kitty O’Reilly’s pub), Sister Bay and Ellison Bay. The whole drive was absolutely stunning. It feels like a little hidden pocket of the country that I’m so excited to know about now. The little towns along the way are spotted with charming bed and breakfasts, waterfront restaurants, ice cream shops and more. It’s yet another place on my weekend getaway list.
Then we headed to Green Bay for the night. It’s definitely a quieter, more industrial city, but has some cool spots downtown to hang out. We grabbed local beers at Copper State Brewing Company (which as some fantastic sours) and munched on cheese curds for dinner, because what else would we get?!
Before heading out, we drove by the main attraction in Green Bay, Lombardi stadium, of course. The city loves its football team and it shooooows.
We also had amazing burgers at a tiny little hole in the wall called Al’s Hamburger. It’s been in business since the 1940’s and is as classic as it gets. The burger was fantastic. Pro tip: get your burger to go and head a few blocks down to the river front to enjoy it outside!
St. Paul, MN
As we started our long home stretch west, we stopped for a night in St. Paul. There was a HUGE thunderstorm that night, limiting our activities, but we had time to see a couple can’t miss sights, including the state capitol building which overlooks the city, and the impressive Cathedral of St. Paul. While you’re in that area, it’s also worth it to take a drive down Summit Avenue and see the collection of old, and huge, Victorian houses that line the block. After our mini-tour, we hid from the rain at Patrick McGovern’s pub… the menu wasn’t very exciting, but they served local beer and had a very neighborhood feel to it.
My one regret, the next morning we weren’t able to get a reservation at Hope Breakfast Bar. It’s a super popular brunch spot with a killer menu. Make it a priority if you ever visit!
Our last stop before heading out was to hop over to the Minneapolis side and visit Paisley Park. We couldn’t tour the whole museum with the pups, but seeing the property itself was cool, knowing that Prince lived and worked there. Plus the gift shop is decked out as a music lounge with his Super Bowl half time show playing. It’s definitely a must see tribute to the iconic legend.
Deadwood, SD, Mount Rushmore & Crazy Horse
Our next stop was right in the heart of the Wild West. We stayed for 2 nights in Deadwood, SD. It’s a famous western mining town, once home to prospectors, outlaws and the likes of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock, Al Swearengen… and a bunch of other famous people you’ve seen on the HBO show. Many of them are buried at the Mt. Moriah Cemetery which overlooks downtown. It’s still decked out like the old western mining town that it was 150 years ago… except for the gift shops and casinos that you’ll find at every other shop. Plus there are live mock shootouts held in the town square 6 days a week. It’s QUITE the kitschy tourist trap, but it was still a ton of fun and it’s a great family vacation stop. Most of the restaurants are pretty similar, but we got some yummy steak tips at Mustang Sally’s, and I had a pretty decent chicken fried steak at the Buffalo Bill Stockade. We also had some great local wine at Belle Jolí winery while we were there, and I’d recommend a stop for their house made sangria.
While we were in Deadwood, we spent a day driving through the beautiful and expansive Black Hills National Forest, making our way down to Mount Rushmore. I got to cross that off my bucket list as well, although I have to say… it’s not quite as big or impressive as I thought it would be and it also has a controversial history with ties to white supremacy. But I do appreciate the time and talent it takes to carve a monument out of the side of a mountain, and understand that it’s become an important American symbol. 🤨
Once you start driving through the Badlands of the Dakotas and the states west of that, you start to see A LOT more wide open road traversing hills and valleys, surrounded by canyons and mountains. It’s absolutely stunning. A lot of this land area is designated Indian Reservation Land… so we decided to take the opportunity to learn more about the Native people who first lived off this land (specifically in that area, the Dakota and Lakota people), by starting with this podcast. It’s not an easy education, and it means confronting the genocide (Yes, that’s what it was) that white settlers committed against the indigenous people that lived here for thousands of years before colonizers arrived. But it’s a reckoning that we need, and that Native Americans deserve at the very least. It doesn’t feel right to explore and enjoy the land without fully acknowledging the true history.
In light of all that, we wanted to go and see another amazing monument that is in the works, not 20 minutes down the road from Mount Rushmore. The Crazy Horse Monument is a memorial not only to the warrior Crazy Horse, but stands as a larger symbol of the great and brave Native American leaders who fought to save their people. The monument is still a work in progress, and once completed will actually be wayyyy larger than Mount Rushmore. The site also has a museum/education center where people can learn more about Native American history and culture. It was such a privilege to get to visit and see this monument in the works…and we already can’t wait to come back in future years and see what progress has been made.
Jackson Hole, WY + National Park visits
Our next stop took us across the state of Wyoming, down to Jackson Hole, at the foot of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The only stops we made were for gas, and for lunch at at the Western fast food staple, Taco John’s. I’d literally never heard of it before this trip, but it’s apparently all over the western part of the country. It’s not bad at all, and their quesadilla tacos rival that of the Cheesy Gordita Crunch.
After another day of stunning wide open country, we made it to Jackson by dinner time, and treated ourselves to some good wine and tapas at Bin22 before driving down to Alpine (right on the border with Idaho) and crashing at our quaint little rented cabin.
The next morning, we had an AMAZING breakfast back in town at a place called Hatch. I highly recommend it, especially their chorizo burrito smothered with queso. After our first day in the parks, we came back to Jackson to have dinner (Elk Steak and Crispy Skin Idaho trout) at Cafe Genevieve, another good spot to try if you visit. All in all, yes it’s another very touristy place, but we were very impressed with the food scene in Jackson Hole.
We spent two full days driving through Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone. You definitely can’t do it all in one day and see everything. We honestly wish we would have had several more days to fully take things in, and enjoy all the different recreational options there are, including fishing, boating, even swimming if you’re up to it. There’s just so much to see and do! Also, make sure you bring a cooler full of water, drinks and snacks with you. There’s hardly anywhere in the park to stop and get food or concessions… so make sure you come prepared.
On day one, we took in the Grand Tetons, before driving the east side of Yellowstone. That’s the side with most of the Geyser basins, including the famous Old Faithful. Be warned, there is A LOT of traffic by that stop on the one lane road that winds through the park, so make sure to plan for it. Once we got up to the geyser though, we only had to wait about 10 minutes for it to start spewing, and it was so cool! And yet, it’s not even the biggest or the most active geyser in Yellowstone.
The area was formed and developed by volcanic activity over thousands of years, creating beautiful basins, colorful mineral deposits, steaming hot springs, and a stunning landscape.
On day 2, we explored the western side of Yellowstone, driving through West Thumb, Hayden Valley, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake and River, the Mud Volcano, and Mammoth Hot Springs on our way out. We saw tons of wildlife on day two, including getting super up close and personal with a huge herd of Bison — though it was from a safe distance in our car and park rangers were out making sure the people and animals all stayed safe. Hands down one of the most awe-inspiring places I’ve ever seen.
After leaving the parks, we drove through Montana up to Missoula before crashing for the night. We stopped for dinner in Bozeman and had some incredible pizza at a cute little place called Red Tractor.
The next day, we had lunch (and cherry mojitos) at the Iron Horse Cafe, right in the downtown area of the college town.
Before hitting the road again, we visited Garnet — this is considered the oldest ghost town in all of Montana. It’s an old mining town buried deep in the mountains. It was a lot different from, say, Deadwood, because it’s for the most part totally untouched. The old wooden buildings are still standing exactly as they did 150+ years ago… and many of them still even have old furniture and knick knacks inside, including some of the miners’ houses, the general store and the saloon. It was literally like stepping into history for a second. It’s about an hour drive, a lot of it on gravel roads while making your way up the mountain, but it’s TOTALLY worth it. Plus the gorgeous views of the Blackfoot River on the drive were pretty great too.
Finally, on our way out of Montana, we stopped off for two local specialties. First, we got some fresh local flathead cherries to bring home. And second, we had to try some huckleberries, a tiny sweet regional berry. And I can now say huckleberry is one of my new favorite milkshake flavors.
Coeur D’Alene, ID
After Montana, we made our way through the panhandle of Idaho on our way back to Washington. We stopped for dinner in the gorgeous and charming town of Coeur D’Alene. It sits right on the namesake lake, surrounded by by forest and mountains. It’s so beautiful, and it’s at the top of my now very long list of weekend getaway destinations. The lake has a ton of beachfront access for swimming, marinas for boating, and the town itself has so many great restaurants, galleries and wineries.
We enjoyed some wine at Studio 107, a wine bar and art gallery which served us dinner from the restaurant next door, Collective Kitchen and Public House. I wanted some Idaho potatoes of course, and I was NOT disappointed by the glorious crispy fries I devoured. Some other great spots I’d recommend include Craft Tap House + Kitchen, and Bier Haus. We’re already planning out next trip back to Coeur D’Alene.
Our final stop on our journey was in Spokane, on the eastern tip of Washington. Some highlights there to see include the River Front, where there’s tons of restaurants, shopping and more… Spokane Falls, the Centennial Trail for hiking, and the botanical scenery of Manito Park.
The highlight for us though, was the absolutely delicious BBQ we had from a little family run company called Nordic Smoke. Their famous 15 hour brisket landed them an appearance on Diner’s, Drive-ins and Dives, and that along with their pulled pork and scratch made sides are all cooked and served out of their humble food truck.
Here’s where it gets better. We drove out to their truck, only to find out they were closed because this year because of Covid. BUT, one of the guys who runs the truck was already cooking up a bunch of BBQ for his family… and decided to fix us up plates for the road, totally on the house. We sent us away with some of that famous brisket, as well as pulled pork, Granny’s baked beans, and some scratch made huckleberry cornbread. It was such a kind gesture, and the food was FANTASTIC. We literally cannot wait to drive out again when they open up to the public. It was the perfect way to end our trip. With full stomachs and full hearts, we finally hi-tailed it back to Seattle.
What I’m taking with me from the road…
I raise my wine glass to you if you’ve made it this far in my post. I am so happy we spontaneously decided to make this trip, I’m incredibly grateful we had the means and opportunity to make it happen, and I’m forever changed by the memories I made along the way. Some of the most important things I’m carrying with me from the road include…
- The beautiful landscapes I saw all across America. The rocky coast of California, the bright red rocks of the Arizona desert, the lush gulf swamp land, the tranquil Appalachian region, the glory of the Great Lakes, the awe-inspiring vastness of the Badlands, the sweeping forest and mountain regions in the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana… I could go on and on. We’re blessed to lived in breathtaking country… and I truly wish people could see more of it so that they would feel how imperative it is that we protect it from further development or environmental destruction.
- So. Much. Good. Food. America is full of amazing, flavorful regional cuisines and dishes. This speaks solely to the historical diversity of cultures that color this country and the strong traditions that have been passed down through generations. It’s so important to understand that and be proud of it.
- Speaking of that diversity… we saw so many different types of neighborhoods, communities, peoples and economies all across this country… and it opened my eyes. There is no one community, tradition or way of life that is inherently American. It’s so eclectic. On a larger scale, I saw a big difference between the eastern and western parts of the country… and between the rural and urban communities (the former well outnumbers the latter, from what I saw). But the differences go way beyond that and are so much more nuanced than I can explain in this post. I saw a lot of economic disparity on full display across the country… and I have a deeper awareness now about what makes it possible that people can think so differently about certain political issues around the country….because their lived experiences are night and day. We truly have to learn to put aside our ideas about what we think we know, and work to listen and understand others if we are ever going to come together as one united nation on any issues, whether it’s COVID-19, the next election, economic policy, education priorities… you name it.
- Despite all that though, something else I’m taking away from this journey is some of the heartwarming similarities I witnessed among people and communities across the country. We met so many incredibly kind and helpful people, were hosted by lovely hospitable humans in their own homes at AirBNB’s across the country, saw hundreds of families spending time together, and even more people just working hard at their jobs. Those core values, of kindness, family, tradition, hard work were tangible everywhere we went.
More to come from the trip…
If I haven’t said it enough yet, we learned so much on this trip, and I want to share as much as possible. So I’m working on a few more posts to share with everyone including….
My best road trip advice, and our successes and failures on this trip, from everything to planning, packing, car entertainment, health & wellness, and more…
The honest assessment of what it was like traveling with the dogs, and which places were the most and least pet friendly around the country….
My top travel picks — the gear we made sure to pack, and what I wish I would have brought, with links to shop it all!