We always knew that when the time came for us to leave Portland we would do a cross-country road trip, packing what we could in my faithful 4-runner and selling anything we couldn’t. We decided to make the move to Atlanta to be closer to family so we struck out on the open road in August – hitting all of the stops we wanted to see most along the way. Finally visiting Crater Lake in Oregon, passing through the Redwood forest, driving down Route 101 on the California Coast, one epic night in Napa Valley, admiring the Golden Gate Bridge (albeit slightly hungover from the Napa tasting rooms), passing through L.A. to hit-up a famous taco truck, a Momofuku feast and night on the town in Vegas, experiencing the grandness of the Grand Canyon, eating the best brick-oven pizza in Flagstaff, red chile drenched enchiladas in New Mexico, and spicy crawfish and sazaracs in New Orleans. It was a road trip for the books. One that everyone should experience in a lifetime. Regardless if it’s for a move or not, do it for the highway food truck pit stops, the endless gas station snacks, and the freedom you’ll feel flying down the highway, all worries tossed out of your rolled down windows.
If you find yourself on a road trip from the West Coast to East, here’s some of our tips & tricks and favorite spots along the way!
Day One – Crater Lake
Crater lake is Oregon’s shimmering blue gem and somewhere that I can’t believe we never saw until we were leaving our home of almost five years behind. It’s 4 1/2 hours outside of Portland and it’s somewhere you can spend a whole week in Crater Lake National Park hiking, cycling, boating, and enjoying the beautiful lodge. We only spent a few hours since we were anxious to continue on our adventure but I’m so excited to go back someday!
We continued into California stopping for dinner at Salt Fish House in Arcata before spending the night down the road in Eureka. We had really good poke and charred octopus! When it came to this road trip we knew we were not going to skimp on good food and I researched endlessly everywhere I wanted us to eat along the way. We saved money on coffee & breakfast in the hotels or just eating snacks in the car for the morning and then we would stop for lunch and dinner. We made sure to pack lots of snacks which is the whole point of a road trip right?!
Favorite Trader Joe’s snacks on our road trip
– chili lime cashews
– freeze dried fruit
– happy camper trail mix (has the most amount of chocolate duh)
– jerk style plantain chips
Day Two – Redwood Forest & Napa Valley
On our way out of Eureka we drove through winding roads lined with massive Redwood trees which is something I always wanted to see. We were going to be tourists and pay a ridiculous amount of money to drive our car through a Redwood, but once we saw that they were were lining the roads and we could stop off and explore, that was all we needed! Once we got out of the Redwood forest I spotted an in-n-out where we quickly whipped in and devoured double cheeseburgers, animal style of course.
At this point we were on our way to San Fransisco but after seeing a sign for Napa Valley we quickly changed our course, because who doesn’t stop for wine?! Since this was an unplanned stop, we didn’t research any vineyards and it was already later in the afternoon, so we found the Inn on Randolph which was walking distance to downtown Napa and all of the tasting rooms. The Inn was so quaint with a gorgeous outside seating area where we split a bottle of Napa Valley rosé before we walked to the Main Street of tasting rooms and restaurants.
It was an eventful wine-fueled night to say the least. First we came up on Jam Cellars where a fun band was playing so we had a tasting there before heading to dinner at La Taberna, a spanish restaurant inspired by the pintxo bars and taverns in northern spain. After lamb tartar, fried pig ears, jamón ibérico, seafood paella, copious amounts of vermouth and wine later, we were back at Jam cellars drinking MORE wine and jamming out to a rock band. Jam wine is sweeter I would say and mixing all of that together you can imagine my hangover the next morning. Our B&B had prepared a gorgeous breakfast but I was so nauseous that I could barely even look at it. As much fun as we had, I can say the next time we return to Napa it will be to go to French Laundry and do a little vineyard hop.
Day Three – San Fran/Route 101
The hour car ride was a rough one to say the least and I almost made it before Thomas had to quickly pull over, golden gate bridge literally in view, to throw up with hundreds of cars driving by. Poor people, they wanted to see a nice view of the bridge… After that little fiasco out of the way, we admired the views and drove across the bridge into the city. I still wasn’t prime for site seeing, but we did check out a cool neighborhood where I grabbed lemon ginger shots and an activated charcoal juice to try and rejuvenate myself.
I took a little nap in the car on the way out of the city which did wonders and before I knew it we were cruisin’ down highway 101 on the California coast. Driving through Big Sur across the Bixby bridge, looking out over the rugged cliffs into the turquoise waters was one of my favorite days. We did a quick stop in Monterey (Little Big Lies lover over here) and grabbed a poke bowl at Poke Time for the road. We drove to Lompoc which is two hours outside of L.A. and stayed at a Hilton there that we found on Hotels.com. We used Hotels.com because for every 10th night you get one free! Besides our splurge hotels in Napa Valley and Vegas, we tried to keep it at around $100-150/night. Using an app you can see reviews and locations so you’re not just stumbling across a random motel.
Best Hotels on our trip:
– The Inn on Randolph – Downtown Napa Valley (splurge)
– MGM grand – Vegas (great room + we were upgraded to a suite luckily since it was a weekday)
– The Mercantile Hotel – New Orleans (cool style – loved the record player and separate living room area)
– Hilton Garden Inn – best run of the mill hotel. We stayed at Comfort Inn, Sleep In, MyPlace, Country Inn & Suites, and the best out of all of them was a Hilton!
Day Four: Los Angeles & Vegas
I have been to LA twice visiting a friend but had never driven into Malibu down highway 101 so that was a neat experience to see all of the houses – but they’re so close together you can’t see the beach for miles! Our main goal passing through L.A. was Howlin’ Rays hot fried chicken and street tacos. Unfortunately the line at Howlin’ Rays was 3 hours long!! So we skipped that and headed straight to Mariscos Jalisco for their famous crispy shrimp tacos, taco de camaron . BEST TACO I’VE EVER HAD. That’s 100% true. I’m actually watching the Ugly Delicious taco episode right now as I write this talking about Mariscos Jalisco! Underneath a layer of chilled tomato salsa and sliced avocados sits a hot freshly fried taco filled with the best soft shrimp. Fun fact, Chrissy Teigen special ordered the truck to come to her house. I can’t wait to go back to LA just to go to this humble food truck.
With a full belly of shrimp tacos, we headed out on our four hour drive to Vegas. We checked into our room at MGM Grand and got ready for a night out on the town! We had a couple drinks at the Cosmopolitan before heading to Momofuku for dinner. If you’re looking for a good dinner the next time you’re in Vegas I loved Momofuku – we had pork belly buns, spicy cucumber salad, the best roasted Brussels with kewpie mayo and bonita flakes, a WHOLE FRIED CHICKEN, and Sichuan beef noodles. A lot of food to say the least. I’m from the South, and that was some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had which is saying a lot. In a food coma, we were in bed by midnight which was a warm welcome compared to a typical Vegas night.
Day Five: Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon & Pizza in Flagstaff
We woke up at a decent hour and headed to the Hoover Dam which is 30 minutes away from the strip. My favorite scene from Vegas Vacation with Chevy Chase is when the guide says: I am your dam guide, Arnie, please don’t wander off the dam tour and please take all the dam pictures you want. Now are there any dam questions? and Cousin Eddie says “Yeah, where can I get some damn bait?” 😂
Next stop was the Grand Canyon which is almost 5 hours from the dam. I can tell you, photos of the Grand Canyon just doesn’t do it justice. There’s no words to describe the feeling of awe you get when you first step up to the rim and see how truly massive the canyon is. We sat there overlooking it for what felt like hours and soaked up its magnificence.
We ended up in Flagstaff, AZ where we found one of the best pizza spots I’ve ever been to! Pizzicletta is a cute tiny pizza joint serving up charred, authentic Italian pizza out of a tiled wood-fired oven. The crusts are extra thin and the toppings are simple and Italian. We started out with a delicious apple, balsamic and burrata salad and then finished with gelato of course. If you find yourself in Flagstaff this is a must!
Day Six: Enchiladas in Albuquerque, Indian food in Amarillo and lots of driving
We knew leaving the canyon it would be two big driving days for us to get to New Orleans since there wasn’t much in particular we were dying to see in New Mexico and Texas. Our two highlights of day six were stopping for hatch red Chile drenched enchiladas at Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque and finishing the day with Indian food in Amarillo TX. I know, I know, we should have had BBQ or went to steakhouse in Texas but I was craving Indian food and they said the best restaurant in Amarillo was It’s a Punjabi Affair.
Day seven: 870 miles…
Day seven was 870 miles, almost 13 hours of driving before arriving in New Orleans that night. We ambled our way through the endless stretch of sun-bleached highways in Texas with not much of a view besides tumbling tumbleweeds and massive windmills.
Here’s how we kept ourselves occupied during the longest driving day of our trip:
– Ate an entire bag of the dill pickle sunflower seeds, spitting the seeds in an empty water bottle like a true Texan.
– listened to almost every episode of How I Built This – my favorite being the story of Stacey Brown starting Chicken Salad Chick!
– stopping at Chicken Salad Chick for lunch since we were so inspired after listening to the story! Have you been to one?!
– played the mood booster and relax & unwind playlists on Spotify on repeat.
– debated on when Steve Martin went grey and other celebrity trivia
– my drive to Nola felt more like 6 hours since I spent the majority of the time napping… poor Thomas.
Day 8: Spent two nights and a day in New Orleans
Our last hoorah on our cross country jaunt was Nola. The best note to end on and now one of my favorite cities. You can read my first-timers guide to New Orleans here!
Highlights of New Orleans:
– staying in the cool Mercantile Hotel
– dancing up to Cafe du Monde to a live jazz band playing in the street and then being covered in powdered sugar as I inhaled beignets.
– sipping bloody mary’s at Stanley looking out over Jackson Square
– slipping into cute boutiques (and a couple voodoo shops) in the French Quarter.
– Getting messy with endless platters of spicy crawfish washing it down with ice cold beer at saints & sinners.
– strolling the historic cemeteries off of St. Charles
– digging into the glorious muffuletta from Central Grocery and Deli.
Day nine: Last day on the road to get to Atlanta
We woke up early on the 9th day eager to arrive in our final destination. We didn’t have an apartment or a place in mind at all to live so we stayed in a hotels for a couple more days until we found a cute apartment in Alpharetta, right outside of Atlanta! Our journey to get back to the South from Portland was certainly an adventure and memories I’ll cherish as a lifelong souvenir of our trip. I definitely have more road trips in mind like the Canadian Rockies in the summer and a Northeastern trip through the New England states.
Happy Road Trippin’ my friends!