Traveling more than 12,000 miles through 30 states, we viewed, tasted, and experienced more places, food, and things than even we can grasp- at least for now. After a few days at home and finally getting everything put away, we both looked back and collectively have identified the seven experiences below as the ones that made this the trip of a lifetime. We’ve listed the experiences in order of our travels; and if you haven’t already, you’ll notice that almost all of them revolve around driving or food- our two favorite things!
Driving Watkins Glen International
In upstate New York, in the gorgeous and winery-laden Finger Lakes region, lies a former Formula 1 (F1) racetrack. For lack of a better description, F1 racing is like the Ferrari of car racing. With most of the races in Europe and Asia, and having to compete with our country’s most popular sport, NASCAR, many Americans aren’t familiar with F1 racing. Being that we are car obsessed, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we are avid F1 fans and we couldn’t believe when we stumbled on a former F1 track in our travels. A bucket list item that we didn’t know was on our bucket list until we arrived trackside.
Not only can you visit the track and watch amateur racers, we got to watch the Mazda Miata class, you can also “Drive the Glen” which allows you to drive two laps around in the track in your own vehicle. Limited to 55 mph and lead by a pace car, it isn’t the fastest or most extreme driving that we’ve ever done (visit Exotics Racing in Las Vegas for that experience), but it was still an exhilarating and incredibly fun experience. We each took a turn at maneuvering the not-so-nimble, but surprisingly powerful F-350 around the track and got a chance to take our pictures at the finish line. And because we were in our own truck, Finley got to come along for a pretty awesome and certainly unique car ride.
Popovers and Tea at the Jordan Pond House
Having the distinction of being the only restaurant located within Acadia National Park in Maine, the Jordan Pond House has been serving popovers and tea to visitors since the 1870s. We had no idea that the Jordan Pond House existed before arriving in Maine, much less that we could enjoy an unforgettable experience with a stunning view overlooking the Jordan Pond for which the restaurant is named.
Thanks to the suggestion of a friend, we were able to get a last-minute reservation (a must, if you plan to visit) and enjoyed a drizzly afternoon on the outdoor dog-friendly lawn. A full-service restaurant that offers lunch and dinner, the Jordan Pond House is best known for its Afternoon Tea. From 3:00pm to 5:00pm each afternoon, visitors can order a small selection of items; but the one item not to miss is the appropriately named Afternoon Tea, which includes two light and fluffy popovers served with Maine strawberry jam and butter and the house-blended hot tea. Not only was the experience of dining in a restaurant that was gifted to the National Park Service by the Rockefeller family with incredible views once in a lifetime, but the popovers and tea were fabulous. Add this one to your bucket list and be sure to bring your camera.
Watching the Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain
Having never been to Maine, we were excited to check out the beautiful coast, Acadia, and eat some (ok, lots of) lobster rolls– little did we know that our three days spent in Northern Maine would involve so many incredible and unique experiences. We try to do enough planning before traveling to an area that we hit the highlights and be sure to experience what makes it special, but don’t want to do so much that every single moment is planned and we’re totally overwhelmed before we even start. During our stay near Bar Harbor, we discovered that one of the biggest tourist attractions not to be missed was to watch the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest point in Acadia National Park.
Not only is the view from the top of the Cadillac Mountain stunning, but what makes the experience unique is that the top of the mountain is the first place in the country to see the sunrise each morning. Coffee pot programmed, alarm set, we headed out to find a spot to watch the sunrise on a brisk October morning. We figured that we’d have plenty of time to get parked and find a good viewing spot and that we’d see a few dozen to maybe 50 or 60 other watchers. Well, little we did know that this had to be one of the hottest tickets in town, and ended up watching the sunrise with at least 500-600 other visitors. Not that it detracted from the experience, but it certainly wasn’t quite what we’d imagined. Don’t let the volume of people deter you from experiencing this at least once- just be sure to head up early enough to find a parking spot that doesn’t require a half mile hike. Bring coffee and a blanket and settle in, it’s a view unlike any other and an experience of a lifetime.
Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway
When we planned our route south along the Atlantic Coast, we intended to visit the Outer Banks of North Carolina and had in fact booked a few nights at a campground on Okracoke Island. Unfortunately, Hurricane Matthew came along and changed our plans, so we decided to head inland to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Find any article on the “Best/Most Scenic Drives in the U.S.” or anything along those lines and it’s almost certain that the Blue Ridge Parkway will be included. Running 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, the parkway travels through narrow forests, rolling fields of hay, and the Blue Mountains for which it is named. While technically not a national park, it is managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and is the most visited entity within the NPS system.
Coming in from Washington D.C., we opted to start our drive at milepost 1 (skipping the Skyline Drive portion) and were treated to a gorgeous and surprisingly peaceful drive on a cool and windy afternoon as we were one of only a few cars on the road (quite unusual from what we understand). The beautiful scenery and relatively peaceful drive made this one of our favorite experiences and something that everyone should do at least once, but it was our first night of camping- perhaps the most memorable of our entire trip that made it special.
Wanting to spend the night in the park, we found that there are very few campsites available and pushed through to the Rocky Knob Campground at milepost 161. We figured that based on the few cars that we’d passed, finding a site wouldn’t be an issue. We were wrong. Pulling in just before dark, we managed to somehow cram all 53 feet of us into a little semi-circle spot on the side of the loop road that went through the campground. This isn’t a big deal, nearly everyone that travels by RV surely has a story about trying to make a too small spot work. The exciting part about this site was that we were parked on a nearly 5° slope, and while that may not sound too bad, just try sleeping with your head at the bottom of the slope and cooking at that angle and you’ll appreciate why it was an adventure. Cold rain and 45 mph winds only added to the experience- check out the video of Finley’s water bowl moving from the wind shaking the trailer. We like to think of it as our own personal “Long, Long Trailer” experience (if you’ve never seen this wonderful Lucy and Desi movie, check it out)! As you can tell, we survived the night, woke up the next morning to sun, and continued on eventually ending our drive in Asheville, NC. Our three days spent driving 348 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, with little to no cell service, allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in the driving and sightseeing experience without any other worries and definitely made this one unforgettable.
Mile 0 of U.S. Route 1
As kids, both of us spent a lot of time in the car. Like a whole lot. Before you can actually drive, you have to find a way to pass the time and the miles. The Alphabet Game and 20 Questions are always good standbys, but sometimes just watching the mile markers whiz by and making up games with them can be fun too. Whether a result of our childhoods or just that we geek out over road trips, we take great enjoyment and satisfaction in finding the start and end to roads, particularly very long roads.
Running from Fort Kent, Maine to the intersection of Whitehead and Fleming Streets in Key West, Route 1 is the longest north-south highway in the country and has been moving travelers along the eastern coast of the country since its inception in 1926. Connecting major cities all along the Eastern Seaboard, it is perhaps best known for the 113-mile stretch from the mainland through the Keys known as the Overseas Highway. Another one of those “Best/Most Scenic Drives in the U.S.“, the highway is built on the former right-of-way of the Overseas Railroad. Construction of the highway lasted for the better part of a decade and wasn’t completed until 1938 after the state of Florida purchased the entire right-of-way and remaining parts of the railroad that were destroyed in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 for the bargain price of $640,000.
Of the many places that we visited, Key West was one of our favorites. Seeing the Southernmost Point in the U.S. and sampling more than our fair share of Key Lime Pie in the place that it originated already made our stay memorable; but finding the end of U.S. Route 1 was perhaps the most exciting experience we had while there. We had already found the start/end of U.S. Route 6 in Provincetown, Massachusetts, so we were super excited to add another to the list. While just a brief stop and an opportunity to snap a few pictures, it was still a memorable experience, especially for two road trip geeks.
Eating Beignets at Cafe du Monde
Donuts are a girl’s best friend- or so Jen would like to believe. We challenge you to find someone that likes donuts more than she does. Beignets aren’t traditional donuts as we know them in this country, but rather more along the lines of a fritter. Deep fried pastries heavily doused with powdered sugar and synonymous with New Orleans, its impossible to think about beignets and not think about the world-famous Café du Monde. Open 24 hours a day, every day (except Christmas Day and during hurricanes) since its opening in 1862, it is hard to imagine how many delicious little fried pillows of tastiness have been served.
In creating the list of “must-dos” doing our initial brainstorming for the birthday trip that ultimately lead to the creation of Tin Sheets, one of the top three items on Jen’s list (quickly and enthusiastically seconded by Jay) was to eat beignets and drink a cafe au lait at Café du Monde. In fact, she uttered the words, “I don’t care if we have to stand in line for three hours, we’re going”, which is impressive for two people who don’t particularly like cities or crowds. Well, thankfully we didn’t have to wait three hours; after just thirty minutes in the take-out line, we found ourselves a seat on one of the benches behind the restaurant and each dug into our own small bag containing three nuggets of warm, sugar-coated, fried amazingness. And let us not neglect to mention the sweet, creamy, and perfectly paired cafe au lait.
We admit that we were worried that the beignets and cafe au lait might not live up to the hype. How often is it that something that is so famous actually lives up to such high expectations? Not only were our expectations met, but far exceeded. We found beignet heaven; and in a beautiful city with a fascinating history to boot. This was definitely one bite that we won’t ever forget. Would we do it again, you ask? Wait in line for three hours? Yep.
Art Deco Tour of Tulsa
When most people think of Tulsa, the first thing that comes to mind is most likely oil. The discovery of the Glenn Pool, south of Tulsa, in 1905 created a black gold rush and Tulsa boomed, becoming the “Oil Capital of the World” for much of the 20th century. With all this oil, came lots of money and obscenely wealthy business executives who wanted to build to leave their mark on the city. This newly acquired wealth, the desire to have the biggest building in town, and the popularity of art deco architecture lead to a concentration of glorious art deco monuments throughout Tulsa. The man who lead much of the charge was Waite Phillips, as in Phillips Petroleum and Phillips 66 gas stations, who built the fabulous Philcade and Philtower buildings, both of which were featured on our tour. Ornate chandeliers, elaborately painted ceilings, and elevators that look like they should be in the Daily Planet building (we must have just missed Clark Kent) combined with the obvious attention to detail and over-the-top design make these buildings truly magnificent. We could have spent days exploring just one of these buildings.
Approximately two hours long, our guide and the owner of Tours of Tulsa, Kelly, was spectacular. A native of Tulsa, she knew practically everyone that we encountered throughout the tour, from the guy at the snack counter to the hotel front desk clerk to the lawyer with the penthouse office, and shared many stories that she’d heard firsthand from the people that lived and worked in the buildings we toured. In addition to the Philcade and Philtower buildings, we also toured the Atlas Life Building (which has since been turned into a hotel), the 320 S. Boston Building (formerly known as the National Bank of Tulsa Building), and got to see part of the tunnel that connects the Philcade and Philtower Building. Originally built by Waite Phillips to “move freight between the two buildings”, it’s thought that it was probably built to protect himself and his family from being kidnapped, as he frequently moved bags of money between his home in the Philcade Building and office the Philtower Building. In addition to the downtown buildings, Kelly took us to the rooftop of one of the buildings (mid-century awesomeness straight out of Mad Men) and gave us more fascinating history about the surrounding area and nearby neighborhoods.
We admit, we had no idea that Tulsa was so cool, but it is and if you love art deco architecture, don’t miss a visit here. We’d even consider moving there if something could be done about the humidity…