After nine months on the road exploring our gorgeous country, I am super excited to share with you my personal "best of" list. Please note my list is only based on the cities we stopped in during our July 2020 through April 2021 road trip. I have noted the cities we visited below. I truly hope this will help guide you in your upcoming adventures throughout the many states we had the pleasure of visiting.
The Cities We Explored in the Order Visited. We moved around forty times over our 260 days on the road. During each city that we used as our home base, we ventured out to discover nearby towns, sites, and National Parks. My "Best (and worst) of List" is based on only the cities that we visited below. Feel free to click through the links to read through the restaurants, sites, parks, and excursions we enjoyed at every spot:
City With Best Practices To Protect Our Planet: Seattle, Washington. Seattle was the only city we visited where composting is a common practice in every household. In 2009, Seattle implemented a law requiring all residential properties to either subscribe to food and yard waste collection or participate in backyard composting. I personally loved composting for the five nights we stayed in our Seattle Airbnb. It was much easier to compost than I imagined! Nice job Seattle! Of course, other cities in the US, like Boulder, also require that residents compost, but again, I am only highlighting cities that we visited on our road trip.
City Win For Worst Job Wearing Masks During Height of Pandemic: Couer d'Alene, Idaho certainly wins for the least masked city that we visited (followed by Asheville, NC, and Gatlinburg, TN). Not only were pedestrians unmasked in this lake town, so were staff members in most restaurants we visited. In fact, an employee told me that most restaurants in Couer d'Alene won't let you in if you are wearing a mask.
State With Best Laws to Keep an Immaculate Coast: Oregon wins in this category. We traveled up along its entire coast and didn't see a speck of litter thanks to the state's hefty litter laws which charge perpetrators with misdemeanors. Even disposing of a cigarette butt is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500. Great job Oregon!
State With Best Art Scene: Santa Fe, New Mexico. The countless art galleries along Canyon Road and in The Plaza are truly mesmerizing. While many of the artists whose work is exhibited draw on inspiration from the area's Native American culture, as well as the surrounding desert landscapes, you will find all themes and genres available for viewing and sale. The curators who manage the shop are so passionate about the art that they exhibit and happily walk you through the artists' bio for as long as you'll listen. Similarly, the artists who are often found in the galleries, are warm and eager to share their craft with visitors. Not one gallery scoffed or batted an eye when I entered their delicate space with three children in tow. Instead, they welcomed us in and made sure to include exciting information that will appeal to my younger crew. There are many beautiful cities throughout our country that proudly display the artistic creations of their local artists. However, Santa Fe is the only city that has galleries that are consistently staffed by loving, enthusiastic, and conversationalist art lovers in spaces that blend beautifully into the desert.
Cities Worstly Run During the Pandemic: This category is tied between New York City, San Francisco, and Portland. These once bustling cities were eerily empty during the pandemic with too many businesses and livelihoods unnecessarily destroyed by poor leadership. One of the most eye-opening experiences of our road trip was seeing first-hand how most of the country handled the pandemic. Although most cities were bustling with activity, these three were sadly transformed into ghost towns.
The Soberest State: Utah. Don't bother searching for a well-curated mom-and-pop wine boutique in Utah as all bottle purchases are sold in state-run liquor stores only. The shops resemble state penitentiaries and effectively made us wonder if we really needed wine. Keep in mind when visiting, there are no sales of alcohol sold in state-run liquor stores on Sundays or National Holidays. While we were in St. George locals sent us to Nevada to stock up and while we were in Deer Valley locals sent us to Wyoming. Not only do these bordering states have fewer restrictions, their bottle prices are much lower since Utah also deters drinking by adding additional booze taxes. Another quirky rule in Utah requires you to order food with your cocktails, which is probably a good idea anyway. Finally, for the purists who like their drinks straight up and neat, be prepared for the smallest pour you have ever received. Tip: if you find yourself in a bind on a Sunday, you can order a bottle of wine at a bar and take it home, if you're willing to pay the marked-up price that is.
Most Played Songs on the Radio While on the Road. These three specific songs were on the radio every day, several times a day, in every state. Who would have guessed?:
Time After Time, Cindy Lauper
Red, Red, Wine, UB40
Boys of Summer, Don Henley
Most Otherworldly Landscape: Utah. Every human being should explore Utah at one point in their life. We used Moab, St. George, Lake Powell, Snowbird, and Deer Valley as home bases during our Utah discoveries. I highly recommend taking a couple of weeks to explore the first three cities I listed. There is no landscape in the country that surpasses what you will encounter in these areas of Utah. The state is as close as you'll ever get to discovering another planet.
Easiest State to Lose Track of Time: Arizona. During our first stop in Arizona, we stayed in Page, which is literally a five-minute drive into the Lake Powell region of Utah. We passed those state borders several times each day and were thrown into the two different time zones so frequently we gave up on keeping track of time. We lost track of time again as we left California to head back to Flagstaff on our second visit to Arizona. Usually, Arizona is one hour ahead of California. However, we drove over on the first day of daylight saving, which is confusing enough, but apparently, Arizona does not switch over into daylight savings time along with the rest of the country, which kept us in the same time zone as California all along. Arizona has some super-duper spiritual properties along with its Vortex energy regions. The state also perfectly sucks you into a time warp and forces you to ditch your watch, get your hiking boots on, and rely on the sun's position to let you know what's up. I mean, is it really important to know what time it is?
Best Street Art: Barrio Logan in San Diego and Alberta Arts District in Portland. Although we didn't visit Miami on this road trip, we have been to Wynwood Walls and it should be included in this category of Best Street Art in the USA. I am sure there will be many opinions in this category but I chose these three neighborhoods based on the ease of walking through the streets to view the murals as well as the quality of the murals themselves. For example, SODO Track District in Seattle has quite impressive murals but finding parking nearby was impossible as was viewing the murals themselves since they were so spread out with many being along main streets that had no sidewalks. In Barrio Logan and Alberta Arts District art lovers can easily meander through dozens of bright murals and absorb the passion, vision, and inspiration that brought each one to life.
Winner for Most Represented State on the Road: Florida. The most ubiquitous license plate on the road from July of 2020 through April of 2021 was that of the Sunshine State. Floridians were driving all over the country in masses. We literally passed them on every road, in every parking lot of every National Park, and in every state, we drove through. These folks sure did hit the road. Go Florida!
Cities With Worst Turnaround Time For Amazon Prime Members: No deliveries within forty-eight hours existed in the cities below during our time on the road. The rest of the cities we traveled to during the pandemic had very reliable delivery times. These four places specifically gave us a hard time and we had to learn to live without Amazon while visiting the cities below.
Best Kept Secrets in the USA:
Marfa, Texas. I don't want to share too much about this tiny city of 1,800 people in the middle of Texas. If Marfa was closer to an airport or major city, this art mecca would be inundated with visitors but fortunately, the closest access to civilization is two hundred miles away ensuring that this treasure is never overflowing with people. A worthwhile pilgrimage is a prerequisite to all who wish to experience the magic of Marfa. Those who are willing to make the trek are very well rewarded.
Most people have a visit to Antelope Canyon on their bucket list but there are less-crowded, undiscovered slot canyons just outside of Zion National Park. The Upper Red Cave and Lower Red Cave in Oderville, Utah are as equally beautiful as the more popular Antelope Canyon, yet there are no crazy lotteries to enter nor will you see more than five other human beings in sight (in fact, we were the only ones there).
Cholla Cactus Garden. I don't understand why the Cholla cactus is not the star of Joshua Tree National Park. I stumbled upon the Cholla Cactus Garden when researching the area but it did not pop up often or easily. This less-frequented area of the park is truly otherworldly. With the skies casting their blue hues and the Chollas resembling corals, I felt like I was walking on the grounds of a great big sea floating harmoniously through magnificent marine plants.
Secret Beach on Oregon Coast. You will find paradise when heading South on the Samuel Boardman Corridor, just north of Thunder Rock Cove Lookout and1/3 mile south of milepost 345 on U.S. 101. Look to the right to find a small gravel parking lot off the side of the highway. Once you park, you will see two trails. Take the one on the right closest to the "parking lot". This secluded trail will lead you to one of the most spectacular sites most will never get to see in their lives.
Madrid, New Mexico Pronounced MAD-rid, this quirky town in the middle of the New Mexico desert simply does not get enough attention. The historic village on the Torquoise Trail is packed with art, character, and plenty of eccentric characters. They even have a delicious chocolate shop run by an east coast transplant. Click on the link for more pictures and then add this undiscovered haven to your destination list. Practice the pronunciation before you head over, locals take the accentuation seriously.
City That Worst Reflects American Values: Gatlinburg, TN There are cities in this country that still proudly bear confederate flags on their car and even display Confederate-themed tracksuits in their storefronts. Gatlinburg is one of them. Although the surrounding Smokey Mountains are breathtaking, the folks here may make you pause and wonder if Americans have evolved at all.
Prettiest States: California and Oregon. Both of these states are absolutely breathtaking. Oregon's coast is so powerful, humbling, and abnormally gorgeous. From the south to the north the landscape changes along the shores and each beach has its own personality- some are so ominous you'll find yourself saying a little prayer while others are a scene out of Paradise and you'll have to pinch yourself a couple of times to remind yourself that you aren't dreaming. The little towns along the coast add so much flavor to experiencing the state. Similarly, California is equally spectacular. The mild temperature along with the constant sunshine and blue skies make locals and tourists want to be out all day soaking in the sun, beach, and incredible Californian vibe. These two states are hands down the most beautiful states in the USA.
Best State to Chase Waterfalls: Oregon. If you dream of adventures filled with waterfall chasing then look no further. Whether you explore the coast of Oregon or more inland regions of this stunning state, you will find spectacular waterfalls at every corner; yes, there are even waterfalls along the beaches.
Most Spiritual Cities/Towns:
Snowbird, UT I don't know how else to say it but to just say it: the towering mountain in Snowbird spoke to me. I know it sounds crazy, but I felt a divine presence all around me emanating from this spiritual mountain. I couldn't keep my eyes off of it and whether I meditated or exercised, its omnipotent presence really transformed me in many ways. This mountain is no joke and I had my most spiritual life experiences at its base.
Sedona, AZ The vortex energy here is real. So here's the deal: We went to Sedona a few years ago and eagerly awaited for the vortex energy to kick in while visiting the various sites that are known for their presence, without any luck. During our second time around on this road trip, a guide took us to a specific spot we would have likely missed on our own, and BOOM! All five of us immediately felt the tingling sensation and magnetic pull in our extended hands. Whether you experience the sensations of the energy, or not, Sedona's landscape is so breathtaking that it seems unthinkable that anyone would come out of it not questioning their life path, goals, and purpose. Vortex energy or not, Sedona is filled with a sense of spirituality that draws on all the senses to be present, grateful, and aware.
Santa Fe, NM We have visited Santa Fe three times, twice on this road trip. We are so drawn to the desert landscapes that permeate every aspect of the city. No other place perfectly blends into nature as well as Santa Fe does and its ability to do so brings an instant soothing and serene effect on those enjoying it. In addition, Native American culture is woven into every aspect of the culture here, further drawing visitors into spiritual realms. Finally, the nearby mountains offer many hiking trails, in various terrains, that further bring one towards nature and the divine presence that cannot be denied in this magical place.
Best Ski Villages:
It's hard to choose which ski towns we liked best since there are so many wonderful options in the country. Ultimately, these three make my "best of" list.
Snowbird, UT Although a tiny resort, Snowbird has one of the most massive mountains to shred with over one hundred and forty trails, not for the faint of heart. There is no shopping district nor are there plenty of restaurants to choose from but the Cliff Lodge is a relaxing haven with a wonderful spa and two delicious restaurants. Zero frills are offered here because the main draw is the mountain. Seven nights was not enough, I could have easily spent a month here despite how few activities are offered.
Jackson, WY Jackson is packed with incredible cuisine options, has a bustling Main Street filled with galleries and shops, offers endless outdoor activities and wildlife sightings, and even on the coldest of days the sky is clear and the sun shines bright calling all nature lovers outdoors. The skiing in Jackson Hole is great yet there is plenty to do and enjoy off the slopes as well. Although the town is stylish, it isn't pretentious. The locals are happy, interesting, and friendly. This small city instantly won my heart.
Park City, UT likely has the largest downtown area with a long stretch of sidewalks lined with shops, restaurants, and galleries. The town has a quaint charm to it and is really fun to explore. Even with several visits, we never got bored walking up and down its streets.
Most Surprising City: Dallas, TX
We didn't expect to love Dallas but we instantly fell in love. This city is extremely well-maintained and clean with beautiful architecture, countless delicious restaurants, and a plethora of charming neighborhoods each with its own unique charm. Our favorite parts of Dallas were the West Village, Bishop's Art District, Highland Park, Art District, and Historic Downtown. Aesthetically speaking, it's one of the nicest large cities in the USA. Personally, I don't think the city gets enough hype.
Best Sunsets: Palm Springs, CA During sunset the sky turns into the prettiest hues of pink with enormous clouds that are reminiscent of cotton candy fluffs floating in the sky.
Best Cityscape Views:
The Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon has spectacular views of Portland with Mount Hood in the backdrop.
Kerry Park offers breathtaking views of Seattle.
Sausalito, CA provides stunning views of the San Francisco skyline with great views of Alcatraz too.
Bali Hai, Shelter Island San Diego. This restaurant has unforgettable views of the San Diego skyline, especially during sunset when the city glows along with the sun.
Must-Visit National Parks:
Most Unusual Landmark: The Gum Wall in Seattle, WA. This is a frequented alley that is definitely a gross, yet oddly attractive, lane comprised of millions of pieces of chewed gum making for a very unusual installation.
Best Place to Spend a Lazy, Seaside Summer Planted in One Place:
Hilton Head, SC is an ideal place to plant yourself for a few weeks along vast shores, lush jungle-like landscapes, and plenty of bike trails. This laid-back island has everything you'll need in a summer getaway including easy access to great stops in Daufuskie Island and Charleston.
St. Simons Island, GA is similarly laid back with many visitors opting to commute in golf carts around the small island. The coast here seems endless, leaving plenty of space for all sun soakers. Similar to Hilton Head, the island has great access to beautiful places to spend the day like Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, Savanah, and nearby Sea Island.
Most Beautiful Lake: Lake Powell, UT
Rent a boat for the day and spend several glorious hours on this vast lake with epic landscapes awaiting at each turn. You'll have one of your most memorable experiences as you pull into Rainbow Bridge as towering boulders lead you to dock in the aqua waters.
Highway 101, Oregon, and into Washington
High Road/Low Road Taos and Santa Fe (we drove this route on a past trip but had to include it on this list because it is absolutely stunning)
Best European Towns in America: These towns transport you right out of the United States with no passports required. You'll find authentic regional food, entertainment, and attire in these lovely little cities.
Best Architecture: Palm Springs, CA. Palm Springs has the largest concentration of perfectly preserved mid-century modern architecture in the world. The desert landscape is incorporated into every home, all of which are mostly beautifully unassuming. You can take a drive around the city to view the homes of celebrities like Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Leonardo DiCaprio, and many others. In Palm Springs, these stars don't live in estate-like mansions, instead, they vacation(ed) in unpretentious homes where the landscape is the star of the show. Architecture aficionados will have their heyday exploring the many historic homes in the area.
Best Coastal Towns:
Best Restaurants Across the USA (not including New York City):
The Stationaery Carmel, CA
Horn & Cantle in Big Sky, MT
The Foundry Grill Sundance, UT
Prospect at Hotel Jerome Aspen, CO
Best Bakery: Clafoutis Santa Fe, NM
Best Tacos: Don Bravo Grill, San Diego, CA
Best Bar: St. Regis Deer Valley, UT
Best Vegetarian Restaurant: Oliver's Santa Barbara, CA