That’s all, folks

View from Lincoln Park Zoo

And that wraps up our epic road trip adventures! We are currently relaxing at Jeffrey’s uncle Rob’s house (thanks again to Rob and Maureen for hosting the party and letting us stay here!).

We’ll be leaving in a bit to take a wonderfully short one hour drive into Manhattan, where will we return our bug-covered rental car (seriously, so many dead bugs – I hope there is a bug heaven) and then settle in to our Airbnb apartment in Brooklyn.

The end of this road trip feels pretty surreal. The time just flew by. Here are some helpful statistics!

General:

Food and drink:

  • Best unplanned meal: Sandwiches at Stoken Donuts and Deli in Mojave
  • Best fancy meal: Blackbird in Chicago
  • Best not-fancy meal: Bogart’s Smokehouse in St. Louis
  • Best snack: Brown butter pretzels with chipotle cheese dipping sauce at Sanctuaria in St. Louis.
    • Honorary mention: Tomato soup at Pizzology in Carmel, Indiana
  • Best breakfast: Bouchon Bistro in Las Vegas
  • Best adult beverage: Blood orange margarita at The Shed in Santa Fe
  • Best excuse to take an elevator up 96 floors: Cocktails at the Signature Lounge in Chicago
  • Best dessert: Bittersweet chocolate pudding at Blackbird in Chicago
  • Best burger served on an english muffin: Diablo Burger in Flagstaff
  • Best pizza in suburbia: Pizzology in Carmel, Indiana
  • Best pizza in not-suburbia: Lou Malnati’s in Chicago
  • Best side dish: TIE – Street corn from the Atomic Cowboy in St. Louis, mac and cheese from Cattlemen’s in Oklahoma City
  • Biggest gut bomb: Grilled cheese sandwiches at Melt in Columbus

Day 9: Drive ’til you’re done

We drove for 10 hours today! Not much else to report! Just kidding, today was great.

Not kidding about the 10 hours part, though. We woke up at Amber’s place at 7:30 and hit the road. Skipped lunch on account of last night’s ridiculous dinner.

Pennsylvania was dang pretty! All was well until we hit the PA/NY border on I-87 and were stuck in traffic for an hour. Why, Waze?! Why!?!

Finally, we arrived in North Salem at my uncle Rob’s house and greeted a good chunk of my family who had come up to enjoy a day of barbeque and swimmin’! I took a dip with my future nephew and we threw pool toys at each other for a bit. An excellent payoff for an otherwise monotonous (but beautiful) day.

Hours driven: 10

Audio:

  • Anna’s road trip playlist on Rdio
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything

Day 8: Nice to mead you

We visited Floriole for a nice little breakfast before hitting the road to Columbus. I had an almond croissant (which I can never resist, although I’m surprised that I didn’t select the rhubarb tart), and Jeffrey had a savory scone.

Breakfast at Floriole

Then, it was time to bid adieu to Chicago, knowing that we must return (what an amazing city!). The drive to Columbus was easy and lovely (we debated whether we saw more cornfields in Illinois or Ohio).

We stopped for lunch at Pizzology in Carmel, a suburban town about 30 minutes outside of Indianapolis, and my goodness, that was a tasty lunch. We started with bowls of tomato soup (some of the best tomato soup I’ve ever had), and then shared a pizza rossa topped with house-made porchetta, paired with local Indiana beers.

Pizza at Pizzology

Upon arriving in Columbus, we met up with Jeffrey’s friend Amber and her boyfriend Josh. Amber very generously showed us around Columbus and let us stay at her place and hang out with her adorable corgi named Rufus.

Rufus the adorable corgi

We had fantastic time! We walked around the city, got ice cream at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (yum), drank many meads at Brothers Drake Meadery (who knew there were so many meads?!?), ate ridiculously gigantic grilled cheese sandwiches at Melt, then watched an episode of Community before succumbing to sleep.

Mead at Brothers Drake Meadery

DJ Wizard Face nametag at Melt

Thanks so so much to Amber and Josh for the amazing visit! Columbus is an awesome city.

Hours driven: 6

Audio: Jeffrey’s 3-5 Star Playlist

Day 7: Walk, don’t drive

We were all over Chicago on Day 7! We might not have been on the road, but we possibly spent as much time traveling in one form or another.

We started off taking a bus to the Chicago River, where we took the Chicago Architecture boat tour, learning quite a bit about the buildings that line the river. It made us realize we’re possibly learning more about a city we’re visiting than the city we live in (suggestions for San Francisco tours welcome).

Architectural boat tour

Afterward, Lou Malnati’s, a Chicago deep-dish staple, was just up the street. We beat the lunch rush and had some killer personal pies.

Deep dish pizza

The next point of order was a walk to the John Hancock building, where we elevated to the 96th floor and had ourselves some drinks at the Signature Lounge, against a ridiculous view. It helped that it was a beautiful day and we were high enough to make out the curvature of the earth.

Drinks at the Signature Loungs

View from Signature Lounge

A walk along Lake Michigan seemed to suggest that half the city was out on the beach in their swimwear, playing some beach volleyball or throwing a barbeque. It was safe to assume that this would be an all-day affair for most beach-goers, as it would provide a front-row seat for the evening fireworks.

Beach at Lake Michigan

We continued onward into the entirely free Lincoln Park Zoo. Gorillas, chimpanzees, and other smaller assorted monkeys were out and about, as well as a helping of reptilian creatures, and cats of all sizes. Ever seen a sand cat? Ever seen one finish dead mice in two large bites? We can cross that off our list.

Lincoln Park

Gorilla lounging in a hammock at the Lincoln Park Zoo

View from Lincoln Park Zoo

Our next stop was Molly’s Cupcakes. Anna had a strawberry one and I got a peanut butter Nutella. We enjoyed them immensely as we enjoyed a game or two of Connect 4.

Molly's Cupcakes

After a short break in the hotel room (catching up on some of these blog posts), we boarded another bus to Blackbird, where another excellent meal (asparagus and burrata, corned beef tongue, strip loin, roast chicken breast) awaited us.

Had we finished dinner a bit earlier, we probably could have walked even further back to Navy Pier to watch the fireworks, but we grabbed a taxi instead to watch the tail end of the show, and walked back to the hostel, continuously being taken by surprise as a bunch of smaller fireworks shows erupted around us.

Distance traveled: 25,000 steps (according to Anna’s Fitbit)

Day 6: Don’t wear a skirt to the City Museum

We checked out of our St. Louis room, said our goodbyes to the Macs and the hosts and the dog, and then attempted to squeeze in as much more St. Louis as was possible.

We were dressed pretty nice that day for our dinner reservations, but that didn’t stop us from climbing up stairs and barreling down slides at the City Museum, which is more of a 10-story play place than a museum. An amazing location, nevertheless, and we were lucky enough to have the run of the place until buses full of appropriately aged kids showed up and ruined a perfectly good thing. For kids. But that’s not the point.

St. Louis City Museum

Turtles at St. Louis City Museum

Jeffrey climbing at the St. Louis City Museum

We took another risk on our fancy clothes and got ourselves some barbeque at Bogart’s Smokehouse right when it opened, scoring some excellent brisket, pulled ribs, pork skins and beans.

Bogart's Smokehouse

Soulard neighborhood in St. Louis

Off we went toward Chicago. Waze happily rerouted us a few times due to oncoming rush-hour traffic until we found ourselves back on Interstate 80, the freeway that starts around the corner from our house in San Francisco.

Highway 80

It was then that Waze – for our first time ever, mind you – got us into some pretty ridiculous traffic while passing by Grant Park. It couldn’t have known, though, as every opportunity for a right turn was being blocked off exactly before we crossed each intersection, due to the upcoming July 4th festivities.

We finally arrived at the Chicago Getaway Hostel and checked into our private room (shared bathrooms – we don’t need to be THAT fancy).

To get the most out of the city, we decided that we’d try to walk as much as possible. Our first stop was an early dinner at Balena, a wonderful Italian place that served up delicious pasta and seafood.

Our next stop was the Second City, where we saw the Depraved New World revue. It was a series of short pieces, constructed as humorous commentary on modern society/relationships, featuring an ensemble of six performers. The revue was super funny, and was capped off by a set of improv. It was great to visit Second City regardless, as the walls are covered with old photos of famous alumni performing at the program/venue (Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Rachael Dratch, etc.), and the fact that the show was also really entertaining was just icing on the cake.

Hours driven: 5

Spotted along the way: Lots and lots of corn.

Music:

  • Fez soundtrack
  • Disasterpeace – ‘Level’
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything

Day 5: One Springfield down, two to go

We got an early start with the usual continental breakfast at our Oklahoma City hotel, and hit the road.

When lunch rolled around, we found ourselves in Springfield, Missouri, a humble town that just so happened to have some excellent cajun food at the Big Easy Grill. Anna had jambalaya, I had a fried shrimp po’boy. What followed was a spirited discussion about fountain drinks and how much Missourians seem to love them.

The Big Easy Grill

Finding that we had some time to kill on the road to St. Louis, we decided to go for a little detour along a route that promised some river views, but the route was too far from the river to view it. Harumph. At least we know that Missouri’s countryside is gorgeous.

We arrived at our first Airbnb room in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis, and, in addition to the hosts, were greeted by a substantial collection of Macs, and an adorable shih tzu who seemed to be a seasoned champion at staring contests.

Audrey the dog

With some guidance from our hosts, we walked the Delmar Loop and marveled at its walk of fame, had some unique Mexican-inspired food (like a cheeseburger burrito) at Atomic Cowboy, and had a few drinks along with the best pretzel bites ever down the street at Sanctuaria.

We topped off the night with a bit too much frozen custard at Ted Drewes (so creamy!), and hit the hay.

Frozen custard

Hours driven: 8

Audio:

  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  • Mike Birbiglia: Sleepwalk with Me
  • The usual 3-5 Star stuff

Day 4: We crossed two state lines, and all we got was some (great) steak

Silver Saddle Motel in Santa Fe

Waking up in Santa Fe, we quickly realized that a stop at Whoo’s Donuts for breakfast was not in the cards. Let’s just say that this road trip has not been particularly easy on our metabolism. We opted for the much gentler option of fruit and hard-boiled eggs from the Silver Saddle’s continental breakfast.

We hit the road, a long day of driving ahead of us. We stopped at the Blue Hole of Santa Rosa, which is a swimming hole/scuba diving destination. The hole is (as described) deep blue and 81 feet deep – hence the scuba diving option. There is an adjacent park with another pretty lake to swim in if desired. We did not end up swimming, as this turned out to be the one day where the weather was not swim-friendly (i.e. slightly chilly with drizzling rain).

Blue Hole of Santa Rosa

Blue Hole of Santa Rosa

Blue Hole of Santa Rosa

We crossed through Texas, stopping at Tyler’s Barbecue in Amarillo for lunch, which was super good. Jeffrey had a cheddar jalapeño sausage sandwich with a side of potato salad, I had a chopped beef sandwich with a side of coleslaw. We both had sweet tea to drink, but mixed it with some regular iced tea (too sweet otherwise!).

Tyler's BBQ

We also walked through the very pretty Amarillo Botanical Gardens on our way out of town.

Amarillo Botanical Gardens

And it was off to Oklahoma City! We went to Cattlemen’s for dinner, which is the oldest operating restaurant in Oklahoma. Oh boy, was this a meal. We both got cuts of steak, although I went for the smaller-sized “dinner steak.” All meals came with a salad (drenched in rich dressing, complete with fresh homemade croutons), baked potato, and large dinner rolls. We also split a side of mac and cheese, which was some of the best mac and cheese we’ve ever had. Needless to say, we didn’t leave room for any of their sky-high pie slices for dessert, but overall we were glad we went.

We walked around Bricktown after dinner. Bricktown is adjacent to the downtown area, and quite lovely – especially the canal that runs through the whole area, complete with little ferry boats for tour purposes. We found Flaming Lips Alley and what appeared to be the headquarters of Sonic Drive-In, then bought some gelato and called it a night.

Oklahoma City

Flaming Lips

Hours driven: 7.5

Spotted along the way: Lots of trucks, lots of cattle, lots of religious and anti-abortion billboards.

Day 4 playlist:

  • Jeffrey’s 3-5 star iTunes playlist
  • Anna’s iTunes library
  • Mike Birbiglia’s ‘My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend’
  • Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ (audiobook)

Day 3: The Grand Canyon certainly is (Grand)

At the end of Day 2, Jeffrey suggested that we get up the next day in time to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. This would involve getting up at 4:20am. I agreed, rather begrudgingly.

And boy, am I glad that we went with the super-early morning idea. We essentially got to watch as the Canyon was slowly and dramatically lit up by the sun.

Grand Canyon

We did one of the South Kaibab Trail hikes (the 3 mile loop down to Cedar Ridge). It turned out to be just right, as we got to see more of the Canyon, and the hike was just enough of a physical challenge (without exhausting us for the rest of the day).

Jeffrey at the Grand Canyon

Anna at the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

The early morning hike also meant that we enjoyed the hike before the crowds came in, and before it became too hot outside. If you’re like us and just going to spend a few hours in the Grand Canyon, our hike/method is definitely recommended.

On the way to Santa Fe, we stopped in Flagstaff for lunch at Diablo Burger, where neither of us could finish our fries.

Diablo Burger

We also drove through the Petrified Forest National Park, just off route 40. There are options to further explore the forest by doing little hikes to see more fossils up close, but we opted to check out the Visitor’s Center for some history (lots of dinosaurs from the Triassic period) and then to do the 25-ish mile drive through the park, stopping for photos along the way.

Petrified wood

Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest

Essentially, the Petrified Forest is really really cool. We’re so glad we made the detour.

We drove the rest of the way to Santa Fe, where we enjoyed delicious (and spicy) Mexican food at the Shed. We walked around the downtown area afterwards (adorable), then passed out at our hotel (so tired).

Spotted along the way: A couple of squirrels and lots of mule poop (on the Grand Canyon hike), a heavily tattooed gentleman walking around with a large knife (Flagstaff), lots of roadside attractions with Route 66-inspired names.

Hours driven: 7

Day 3 playlist:

  • Jeffrey’s 3-5 star iTunes playlist
  • David Sedaris’ ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’
  • Mike Birbiglia’s ‘My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend’
  • Best of Bootie 2013 compilation

Day 2: Screw Vegas, go to Williams instead

Las Vegas is HOT in the summer. And crowded. I mean, duh, but still. It takes a lot of energy even to venture down the Strip to other hotels.

These are the “it’s hot as crap out and it’s not even 9:00am yet” faces:

Hot in Vegas

Our morning in Vegas (after a whopping 10 hours of sleep) started with breakfast at Bouchon Bistro, which was so delicious. I had the croque madame with too many french fries, Jeffrey had the omelette du jour, and we split a strawberry croissant, which was basically a cross between a croissant and crumb cake.

Breakfast at Bouchon Bistro

After too much food (but oh so good), we walked around the Venetian (where Bouchon is located) and admired the canals. We then ventured over to Paris and New York New York, walking through other hotels along the way (mostly to get a break from the oppressive heat). We went on the roller coaster at New York New York, which was fun but jarring (Jeffrey: “Ouch, my skeleton!”).

After our exploration of the Strip, we were ready to go, agreeing that 24 hours in Vegas was all that we needed.

We set out for the Grand Canyon, making a brief stop by Hoover Dam along the way.

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

We then found ourselves on the classic Route 66 shortly (a few hours of driving) afterward, which boasted such sights as Seligman, the city possibly better known as Radiator Springs, of ‘Cars’ fame.

Seligman

Seligman

Seligman

Our next Route 66 stop landed us in Williams, the gateway to the Grand Canyon. Williams is adorable, and we had a great time. A nice dinner at a place we quickly Yelped up (Red Raven) was followed by a visit to a local brewery/winery (Grand Canyon Winery) across the street, where we split their beer and wine tastings while having travel-related conversations with the bartender and a fellow road-tripper. The wines were great, and their sampling of beers was awesome too (sadly, we couldn’t purchase any growlers of beer). Before we left Williams, we stopped for some pie at Pine Country Kitchen, but not before walking past a wild-west gunfight (staged every evening in the summer at 7pm)!

Pie at Pine Country Kitchen

A short drive later, we found ourselves at our hotel in Tusayan, just south of the Grand Canyon. Realizing that a worthwhile sunrise hike of the Grand Canyon would require that we wake up just after 4 in the morning, we hit the hay shortly after arriving.

Spotted along the way: One mullet, a combination gas station/machine gun range, lots and lots of desert, three “land for sale” signs (anyone want to buy a giant patch of desert?), three “fire danger = EXTREME” signs.

Hours driven: 4.5

Day 2 playlist:

  • Jeffrey’s 3-5 star iTunes playlist

Day 1: We can’t stop here, this is bat country

After a fitful night of sleep for both us (too much excitement), we arose at 5:30am to start our cross country road trip! It was quite appropriate that our rental car license plate is a Nevada plate, as our first stop (and likely the longest drive we’ll take for the entire trip) was Las Vegas:

Rental car

Our rental car is super nice!

The drive was uneventful and quite nice overall. Jeffrey drove the whole way, despite my offering to take over, and I was able to enjoy a little nap.

We stopped in Mojave for lunch, at a place called Stoken Donuts and Deli, which Jeffrey described as “cute as heck.” He had a hot dog with pulled pork, I had a grilled sandwich with turkey, cheese, and mustard.

Stoken Donuts and Deli

Delicious! We didn’t leave enough room for donuts, sadly.

The last stretch of drive into Vegas was a lot of desert, unsurprisingly: Mojave DesertWe arrived at the Bellagio without a hitch. Beautiful hotel with that famous ceiling:

Bellagio ceiling

We lounged by the pool and swam for a bit, indulged in some ridiculous blended alcohol beverages from the pool bar, walked around the hotel, then went to dinner at Picasso, which was fantastic.

A great first day!

Hours driven: 8.5

Day 1 playlist:

  • Jeffrey’s 3-5 star iTunes playlist (highlight: Fatboy Slim’s “Rockafeller Skank”)
  • David Sedaris’ ‘We Are Engulfed in Flames’ (audiobook)
  • Kumail Nanjiani’s ‘Beta Male’
  • Patton Oswalt’s ‘Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time’