I’m not going to let go of the idea of a 48 state, continental road trip very easily. At the ripe young age of 22 I’m convinced I will find the time, money and vehicle to do it, not to mention the perfect friend to come along with me.
So here’s my list of stops that are MUSTS for me and should be for others:
I’m a bit of a sucker for cloudy, overcast, and rainy days. As a born and raised Westerner I enjoy mountains and hiking. I’m also, unabashedly a tree hugging granola eating liberal. I’ve never been to Seattle, but I’m told I’d love it. There are ferry boats and hiking, the space needle and Pike Market Place and some pretty cool surrounding neighborhoods like Ballard and Fremont. Right now, if I had to pick just one place in the United States to go to, it would be Seattle.
2. Pacific Coast Highway
Most peoples’ dream vacation involves some sort of beach, with 80+ degree weather and palm trees. I’d rather take a long stroll through a wooded area on a foggy morning. In fact, I’m not a fan or beaches or sand. Strange I know. I’m also not fan of heights. So the Pacific Coast Highway may seem like a strange choice, but it’s said to be one of the most beautiful drives in the country.
3. Grand Canyon
I may have only grown-up a few states away, but I have never made it to the Grand Canyon. There’s not much more to say other than it’s the Grand Canyon and photographers and verbal descriptions are not going to do it justice.
4. New Orleans
Birthplace of jazz. Yummy Cajun food. French speaking. Mardi Gras. New Orleans is one of the most unique cities in the country. There’s no question that the horrific events that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005 have had serious implications on the city and its’ culture. Despite all of that it remains vibrant, a must see for any traveler.
Most people don’t think of the Badlands when they’re making a decision to travel. In many ways there’s not a lot there. But, the deep crevices in the earth played a significant role in American westward expansion. Many pioneers failed to make it much farther due to the terrain and small cities popped up along the way. Whether you’re a history buff or not, the expanse of the Badlands, just like the Grand Canyon, has to be seen to be understood.
6. New York
Arguably more songs have been written about New York than any other (except maybe Paris). It’s the city that never sleeps. It’s the epicenter of American city life. It’s business and artsy, grunge and elite. There’s history exuding from almost every crack, above and below ground. It’s New York. You’ve got the Met, Lincoln Center, the Stock Exchange, the Yankees, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty…you name it and chances are New York’s got it. It’s a definite not miss if you’re doing a 48 state road trip.
The Founding Fathers may have signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, but the beginnings of the American independence started with Bostonians like Patrick Henry, John Adams, and Paul Revere. My one quick trip to Boston was less than 24 hours and not nearly enough time to experience the city. The Freedom Trail, Bunker Hill, the Old North Church, cobbled streets, a heaven for history nerds. There’s the Red Sox and the Green Monster. There’s the real Cheers. Great Seafood. Boston is essential.
8. Appalachian Trail
You can spend a day driving through the Appalachian Trail area and see less than a quarter of it. It stretches from Georgia to Maine. Each year thousands of people try to hike the entire trail and fail. I have dreams of hiking at least a portion. But if I’m going to be doing a 48 state road trip, it’s essential to drive through at least part of the trail and stop at one or two of the lookouts.
9. St. Louis Arch
The St. Louis Arch marking the Gateway to the West is one of those points that on a road trip you can’t miss. In all honesty, not to offend anyone from the city, but St. Louis doesn’t have a lot to drag you there. Historically though it provides great significance. It comes by its name “Gateway to the West” honestly. As pioneers moved West during expansion, searching for land to call their own, St. Louis was the last city (and often the last buildings) they would see for days. If you’re out on a road trip to discover America, you can’t miss St. Louis
Chicago for me has familial connections. My family practically help founded the city. The story of the Great Chicago Fire was written by one of my ancestors. A handful of train trips have taken me through the city, but I have never had a chance to actually explore. Aside from my connections, Chicago is a must for anyone. Many new lives started here. People from all over the world, the Polish, the Germans, the Scandinavians, the Italians, flooded there looking for a new life in America. Think industrialization as seen in The Jungle or Sister Carrie. Chicago is a chance for everyone, not just me, to get back to their roots.
11. Mesa Verde
As a born and raised Coloradoan I had to find at least one Colorado stop for the list. The mountains and skiing towns may draw tourists to the state year round, but they’re not necessarily must see stops along the way. Mesa Verde is an often overlooked and well worth it stop (even though I haven’t yet been myself). It’s home to the Anazazi ruins, an ancient cliff dwelling Native American civilization. Talk about a truly American, if not prehistoric, experience.
12. St. Augustine
The Florida climate isn’t one that makes me want to go there. It’s hot and sticky. There are hurricanes. Not to mention wild alligators and pythons living in the pipes. At some point I guess I’d like to go to Disneyworld (I’ve been to Disneyland) and to take a trip through The Magical World of Harry Potter (because honestly who wouldn’t). But, if there’s one thing I would like to go and see it would be St. Augustine. It’s one of the earliest European settlements on the continent. That’s just cool.
No tour of the 48 continental states would be complete without a stop to a Civil War site. Everybody goes to Gettysburg, but from personal experience as intriguing as the town and the sites are, it’s swarming with tourists and full of kitsch. Savannah was Sherman’s last stand. It was one of only a few Southern cities left unburned, but it’s capture helped lead the Union to victory. Anyone I know who has ever been has told me it’s a charming, beautiful place, with good food. Savannah is a must.