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Trip Report

American cross-country road trip

Ten day trip from New York to the San Francisco Bay Area with my brother

by cormacthorpeAbout Me:I'm a friendly New Yorker taking some time off from school to work and travel. read more

North AmericaUnited States9 days / September 2019

Highs & Lows

Too many to pick one, but an unexpected highlight was Terra Studios in Arkansas

Not finding some small attractions

Itinerary Overview

There was so much packed into our trip, and there are lots of other options you have with more time or a different east-west route through the U.S., but I thought what we did was near-perfect. We explored Civil War Battlefields, the Blue Ridge Mountains, Southern barbecue, a NASCAR track, the Civil Rights Movement, the Ozarks, Route 66, multiple National Parks and scenic wonders, and a handful of museums, getting to visit friends, spend quality time together, and blast music in the car along the way.

Starting in New York City, my brother and I began our road trip across the country. We got off to a late start, so our first night was in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where we met up with a friend, walked around the town and College, and had dinner at Garryowen Irish Pub.

The next morning, we drove around Gettysburg National Military Park, where we learned about the details of the Battle of Gettysburg. Our next stop was Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, followed by a quick stop in Shepherdstown, West Virginia for lunch. To round out our day of battlefield tours, we saw Manassas / Bull Run in northern Virginia - I’d recommend seeing all of these if you’re looking for a Civil War history trip. We had to rush through Richmond, Virginia on our way down to Durham, North Carolina, where we met up with a friend for dinner at Juju.

We woke up early to start our drive west to Asheville, North Carolina, and had some insanely good barbecue at Buxton Hall Barbecue (I’d recommend getting all of the sauces, multiple sides, and trying lots of things on their menu if you’re eating with other people). We walked and drove around town for some time, visiting the River Arts District and Urban Orchard Cider on our way to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway is a must-see if you’re visiting the area; driving on it engulfs you in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains as far as the eye can see - plus, you might get to see some waterfalls and could even stay at an inn along the route. After we got our dose of the Parkway, we drove through a sliver of South Carolina on our way to Atlanta, Georgia, where we met up with a friend for darts at Maggie’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill.

Day four began with a drive west to Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, where we explored the museum and got a tour of the superspeedway. Our next stop was Birmingham, where we visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Kelly Ingram Park, and the 16th Street Baptist Church. Definitely spend time in these locations to learn more about crucial pieces of American history. For lunch, we drove to Dreamland BBQ in Tuscaloosa (some of the best ribs in the South), followed by walking around the University of Alabama and Bryant-Denny Stadium. From there, we drove to Tupelo, Mississippi, where we saw Elvis Presley’s birthplace and the small memorial surrounding it. We then headed to Memphis, Tennessee, picking up Gibson’s Donuts and walking on the hectic Beale Street before making it to The Rendezvous for more mouth-watering barbecue.

We crossed the Mississippi river the next morning as we drove to Little Rock, Arkansas. While there, we walked around town, visited Historic Arkansas Museum, William J. Clinton Library, and the Arkansas State Capitol. On our way west, we decided to drive through the winding roads in the Ozark National Forest to get to Terra Studios, an incredible art wonderland hidden in the mountains. We went to Bentonville next, birthplace of Walmart, where we walked around town, toured the Walmart Museum and Meteor Guitar Gallery, and had lunch at The Preacher’s Son, a restaurant inside a restored church. We picked up some snacks for the road at Kyya Chocolate in town and some pizza at Jim’s Razorback Pizza just across the border in Missouri. We were going to stay at our friend’s house in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma that night, so we got back on the highway (now along historic Route 66), stopping around Tulsa only for some cool statues (Blue Whale of Catoosa, Golden Driller Statue, and Praying Hands).

In Oklahoma City, we walked through the OKC Underground, saw the Architectural DNA as we walked around, and explored the powerful Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. We then drove out of town and made an impromptu stop at the National Route 66 and Transportation Museum in Elk City. Lunch was at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas (which also hosts a massive steak-eating challenge), and we admired the Cadillac Ranch art installation as we drove out of town. The sun was setting as we drove on the empty highway and looked in awe at the vast expanses of dramatic scenery on the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We had dinner at Café Pasqual's downtown.

We started the next day by driving around Santa Fe, seeing the Railyard Arts District, New Mexico State Capitol, San Miguel Chapel, Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, and Palace of the Governors. We enjoyed some time sitting in Santa Fe Plaza and exploring the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. We tried to see La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs southwest of town and Musical Highway in Albuquerque, but couldn’t find either. Continuing on Highway 40 west, we stopped in Window Rock, Arizona, the capital and seat of government of the Navajo Nation, to spend some time in the Tribal Park and Veteran’s Memorial. Back on the road, we drove through a section of Petrified Forest National Park, checking out the awesome scenery and attempting to take some pictures on the windy overlooks. There were tons of old “trading posts” and other monuments or pieces of history along Historic Route 66 (often on the frontage road, Old US-66), one of which was the Jack Rabbit Trading Post, a good rest stop along our way. We spent the night in Flagstaff, preparing for another long adventure the next day.

On our eighth day, we drove south through the higher-elevation wooded area around Flagstaff and down into the beautiful canyons of Slide Rock State Park and around Sedona. We drove around town, stopping to look out at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Chapel of the Holy Cross, and Bell Rock. For the first time in the trip, we retraced our drive north to get back on the highway and continue west. Our next stop was Hackberry General Store, another dusty trading post along Route 66 with some great souvenirs and an old Western feel. Crossing over the Hoover Dam took us into Las Vegas, Nevada, where we stopped at In-N-Out Burger before heading out into the desert to get to the hottest place on Earth, Death Valley National Park in California. The sun was setting as we got to the top of Dante’s View, but luckily we got to see Zabriskie Point and Artist’s Palette before it got too dark. The drive out of the valley was winding and constantly changing in elevation, but we eventually got to Lone Pine, where we spent the night.

After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we drove up the valley to see Devil’s Postpile National Monument and Mono Lake. Then began our drive into Yosemite National Park and descent through thin clouds into the cool, breathtaking valley (a full 60°F colder during the day than Death Valley at night less than 24 hours before). We were able to see all of the major peaks and waterfalls along the valley, and made it just in time to the top of Glacier Point for sunset. Still processing the natural wonders of the day, we spent the night at a lodge just outside of the valley. Our trip finished the next afternoon when we met up with family in the Bay Area.

  • 1 Night: Gettysburg
  • 1 Night: Durham
  • 1 Night: Atlanta
  • 1 Night: Memphis
  • 1 Night: Oklahoma City
  • 1 Night: Santa Fe
  • 1 Night: Flagstaff
  • 1 Night: Lone Pine
  • 1 Night: Yosemite National Park
  • Day trip: San Francisco Bay Area

Q & A

  • What would you have changed?

    I wish we had more time in Richmond, Asheville, Atlanta, Memphis, Santa Fe, and Death Valley.

  • Anything go wrong during the trip?

    Not really - we could have started our days a little earlier to get the most out of daylight.

  • How was the food?

    All of the places I mentioned in this report were incredible.

  • What tips would you give a friend?

    Look for a combination of things to do on your trip - good food, interesting sites, some walking, some museums, some random adventures - and definitely have backup plans. I planned our nights and booked hotels first and then filled in the gaps for what to do (some of that research was before the trip, but a lot of it was in the car or after our days were over).

  • Transportation Tips?

    Split driving time with the other people on the road trip, and make sure whoever isn't driving is helping navigate, plan, and look around for interesting sites on the road.

  • Any surprises?

    So many interesting things to do and see in parts of the country that don't normally get talked about for travel!