We were also awarded the opportunity to learn a great deal about the country – the people, the sites, climate, topography, geography, history, etc. While we know the United States is not perfect, touring this expansive land has much to offer.
Here’s the scoop from our cross-country trip:
- Livin’ on the Edge?: I envisioned playing this adventure by ear. Once we started to prepare, I quickly realized that might have worked if we were younger, more carefree, and sans children. We mapped out our route, and about 85% of our travels were planned before leaving home. We had a general idea of our daily plans for each day, and more importantly, we knew where we would be in the evenings. This provided flexibility and spontaneity, especially as we drove to our next destinations. Pismo Beach, CA, and Dana Point, CA were two areas we stumbled upon. In all likelihood, we would not have if our plans were set in stone.
- Do Your Research: Some attractions recommend purchasing tickets in advance, such as Alcatraz and Major League ball games. This avoids long lines, as well as possible disappointment. Some outings you can do on the fly, like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- Pride of the Yankees: As a diehard Met fan, it pains me to accept this. If you’re with someone wearing a Yankee hat, you’ll be hit up for conversation. Often. And not just at baseball games.
- The City By The Bay: San Francisco was our first destination. We did a tour of Alcatraz, and I highly recommend the listening tour. It’s a tad eerie because it sucks you in. I’m embarrassed to admit that it made us feel slightly bad for the prisoners! We hit Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, and shopping in Union Square. There is no need to use the car much, though we did drive down Lombard Street, the most crooked street in the world with eight insanely sharp turns. Driving up some of those streets to get to Lombard Street was quite the struggle!
- Life is a Beach: We loved Santa Monica Beach, and strolling the boardwalk was lovely. The town had good restaurants and shopping as well. I may be in the minority, but the Santa Monica Pier amusement area was a little disappointing. We envisioned spending an evening there, hanging out, eating on the pier, etc…for our family. We didn’t find that.
- Hurray for Hollywood: We spent a morning on the beach and then ran around LA and the surrounding area like marathoners. Highlights include lunch at Pinks Hot Dogs – could have long lines, be patient. The Hollywood Sign – you can’t get close. However, you can probably get closer than GPS leads you to believe. The Hollywood Walk of Fame, where I’ve never seen so many people looking down while walking! PSA – Robert Downey Jr does not have a star on the Walk of Fame. I may start a petition!
- PCH to SoCal: In 2003, before our kids were born, my husband and I traveled to San Diego and San Francisco. While we loved both cities, we fell in love with the Gaslight District in San Diego. By the time we got to San Francisco that time around, we were so ga-ga over San Diego that we could take or leave San Francisco. This time around, it wound up being the complete opposite! Was it pre-conceived expectations, was it we changed as people, was it that San Francisco appeared more family-friendly? Who knows, my point is don’t dismiss a city or area because you’ve seen it before. That said, San Diego still wins the beaches. La Jolla and Coronado – no question. And if you’re a zoo person, the San Diego Zoo is a must! Seaport Village is a cute shopping and dining area near the waterfront.
- To Hike or Not to Hike: We were lucky enough to visit incredible sights in our travels and the Arches in Moab (Utah), Joshua Tree in 29 Palms (CA), Mount Rushmore, and The Grand Canyon (WOW! JUST WOW!). All dreams for adventurers, and they offer ample, beautiful, and some strenuous hiking opportunities. Nevertheless, the Jacobowitz Family is not a family of hikers. Therefore we did not hike – and 2 out of the 4 of us are not the adventurous type. We know ourselves enough to realize that long hikes are not our thing (110-degree weather aside). You can visit and observe much about these wonderful places without the heavy labor!
- But It’s a Dry Heat: Speaking of 110-degrees….it’s HOT. Humidity or not, it was rough to be outside. PS – When you’re walking the Vegas Strip and a certain hotel “looks” like it’s “right there.” It most likely isn’t.
- Speed: During our travels, we drove through Nevada, South Dakota, and Utah with a speed limit of 80! Who knew? We certainly did not! It’s tough to come back to a snail-like 55-speed limit after that.
- Our Day of Nothing: We had planned an extra day in Moab, UT purposely for this. We went for a nice lunch in town and spent the remainder of the day at the gorgeous hotel pool.
- The Roads Less Traveled: Know that when you use GPS or a similar app for ETA, keep in mind, the shorter route may have the roughest road. Trough Road in Colorado, for example. You cannot complain about the scenery with beautiful views of the mountains and rivers. Yet, 24.4 miles of mostly dirt road with some scary turns was less than expected. Oof.
- Lost Springs, Wyoming – Population 1. On the way to an overnight in Laramie, WY, we drove by that sign on the highway. It turns out the sign was inaccurate by 400%, as the population of Lost Springs is 4 according to the last census. We drove by many towns with small populations, such as McCoy, CO (pop. 43), Loa, UT (pop. 572), No Name, CO (pop. 123), and Wall, SD (pop. 800). Growing up in NYC and now living in Westchester, it can be a challenge to envision living in non-populated areas. Alternatively, it’s probably tough for those in small towns to understand our whys for living where/how we do. No judgment whatsoever. It’s fairly fascinating to think about the differences.
- Less is “More” at Mount Rushmore: The carvings were phenomenal, and the history is interesting, but there is not much else to do at the monument park itself. If we had a do-over, we would not have dedicated a whole day nor stayed in the area overnight. Unless you are hiking or exploring nearby cities, we personally found it unnecessary.
- Mall of America: Raise your hand if you’ve shopped in a mall that was connected to a hotel. Not I! My daughter and I certainly did our damage shopping. I wouldn’t say the stores were new for us, but having them ALL in one place was quite convenient! The mall had a few attractions that were most suitable for families with younger children, like the Crayola Experience and Nickelodeon Universe. However, plenty to keep those of us with older children occupied. This shopping mecca could be a mini-vacation in and of itself.
- Right Place, Wrong Time? We stayed at the coolest hotel called The Brewhouse Inn & Suites, built at the former Pabst Brewery. As reminders and for decoration, the brewery’s huge copper brewing kettles are present in the hotel, and beer steins adorn the tables in the lobby. The hotel room itself was ah-mazing! We had a 2-suite room beyond spacious with high ceilings, steel beams, exposed brick walls, a full kitchen, and a living room area. My daughter declared that she’d love to live in an apartment like this when she gets older! We were bummed that we only booked this place for one night. PS: Congrats to the Milwaukee Bucs for winning their championship. Next time, let’s try not to make our winning appearances in Milwaukee on the same day. Rightly so, the celebrations overtook the city! But as a result, we didn’t get the chance to explore the town—no wonder the parking attendant looked at us like aliens when we asked about parking.
- Corny, But True: As obvious as this sounds, it is hard to fathom how many people there are in this country. Our little worlds are just that – little. Imagine how many people you will never, ever meet. And due to that, opportunities we will never, ever get. Something about it could make you feel almost insignificant.
- That said… You never know who you may bump into and where. I bumped into my childhood friend in a store in Chicago. She lives in Florida. She, her husband, and sister (who lives in NJ) took a spur-of-the-moment jaunt and chose Chicago for the heck of it.
- Chicago is…My kind of town: As I’m a city girl at heart, I adored this city! I had been there a few times yet, but I had not had the chance to really “see” it. Similar to San Francisco, we walked tons and squeezed a great deal into one day! We walked along Lake Michigan, through Millenium Park, saw The Bean, and had Chicago Pizza for dinner. The architecture boat tour was awesome. The ride is 75-minutes along the river. Our tour guide was witty, and the cruise was a wonderful way to learn about the city of Chicago. Expectations were exceeded!
- Long Live Rock-n-Roll: I loved the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All of it. Oodles of exhibits throughout the museum of the inductees and lessons on the history of genres of music. I absolutely need and want to go back! My daughter purchased a few more rock tees to add to her massive collection. Besides that, we did not get to see much of Cleveland – other than the largest rubber stamp in the world at Willard Park. Fun landmark!
- Guest Services: Often, hotel staff know the deal. Do ask for recommendations! This led us to Griffon Gastropub in Niagara Falls, New York. Delish! This was the best meal of the entire three weeks. The Banh Mi Nachos are a must-have – fried wontons, Vietnamese pulled pork, pickled carrots, red peppers, sesame-siracha aioli, and oh so much more.
- Our Fave Pastime: Going to baseball games is a true common interest of all of us. Although we did not necessarily organize our nationwide journey around baseball games, the idea was in the back of our minds while planning. We went to 4 baseball games during our travels, as well as an unexpected stop at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY before our final destination (home!) Hey, when both of the teenagers have the same idea, you go for it!
- Vacation Steven: My husband is the leader of our vacations. From the minute we woke up the first morning to head to the airport, he was in leader mode. Now, there are times when you love your leader and times when you are less of a fan. We had occasions where our leader became insistent on “his way” and seemed to have forgotten there were three others in tow. And times when I had to step in. Our leader kept us on track, led our tours, kept us safe and feeling at ease.
- Laundry: Long trip, so I recommend bringing a large extra bag for dirty laundry. We brought a huge duffle bag to keep laundry. Still, it was literally busting out of the bag, and I did laundry in a hotel for the first time in my life.
- Click Those Red Heels: As Dorothy says, “There’s no place like home.” And no place like New York, for that matter. A few tears were shed as we drove by the “Welcome to New York” sign on the highway.
My husband drove 4,601 miles on this cross-country trip. And if you ask him, he’d do it again.
This trip felt right. The time was right. And it was a perfect metaphor for our family. We experienced teen moodiness and stubbornness – and annoyance, notwithstanding major appreciation and adoration for my husband- still, this pilgrimage together was priceless. My kids cannot easily take one for the team, yet they are good travelers, love hotels, and are pretty keen on rest stops. (Loves became a fave). We got more rest than we anticipated too. We didn’t wake up at the crack of dawn, except for the areas that supposedly get quite crowded later on in the day, like Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls and The Arches in Moab. And we had very few late-night outs, which allowed us time to relax, sometimes in our corners of the hotel room, yet together nonetheless.
Before the cross-country trip, the teenagers spent a lot of time in their rooms. Not out of the ordinary. However, when you go from having kids that are attached at your hip, that change feels drastic. Since we returned home, there has been more time spent together and less alone time in their bedrooms. As time goes on and we ease back into everyday life, I hope it continues, although I feel that slowly but surely, old habits will kick in again. Hopefully, the teens will exit their rooms once in a while to say hello. In the spirit of the famous line from Casablanca…”We’ll always have Route 66.”