There is no better way to see the United States of America than by car. Steeped in mythology and travel folklore, the All-American road trip has long been a signature adventure of this country and, as a result, is on the bucket list of many travelers who have spent hours combing through the words of Kerouac, Steinbeck, Thompson, and Wolfe.
Whether it lasts a few days or months on end, there is nothing more thrilling than seeing the open road span out in front of you and knowing there are limitless options for ways to fill your days. The hardest part of planning a road trip is deciding where to go and what to do. In a country this big, it would take many lifetimes of driving backward and forwards to be able to see everything.
To help you plan, I thought I would share my first cross-country road-trip itinerary (you can see my second one here) from when I drove from Cleveland to LA. I vlogged the whole thing; but, when it comes to devising your route, I know full well that it is easier to bookmark a blog post. Here we go, the road awaits!
Day 1: Cleveland, Ohio
0900: Breakfast at Greenhouse Tavern
For breakfast in Cleveland, I am going to suggest going to Greenhouse Tavern on East 4th. One of celebrity chef (and James Beard Foundation winner) John Sawyer’s restaurants, it is undoubtedly one of the best restaurants in Cleveland. Here they focus on rustic eating — food licked by fire and smoke, by fermentation, by dark, woodsy umami flavors. If the patio is full, step inside where barn-board wall panels and bicycle-wheel rims on overhead lamps decorate the interior. And, whatever you do, order the wings (even if it is breakfast time!).
1030: Lakeview Cemetery
Cleveland’s Lakeview Cemetery is one of the most awe-inspiring cemeteries in the United States. Not only is there an impressive amount of famous people buried here (John D. Rockefeller, James A. Garfield, Eliot Ness to name a few), but the cemetery itself is stunning. While you are there, make sure to look out for the Haserot Angel!
1100: Severance Hall / Cleveland Museum of Art
On your way to to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, you will drive through downtown which gives you the perfect opportunity to spend a couple of hours between Severance Hall (home of the Cleveland Orchestra) and the Cleveland Museum of Art (a fantastic free art museum). The two are located right next to each other, making it easy for you to hop between them.
1300: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
No trip to Cleveland is complete without a stop at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The museum does an incredible job of explaining the history of rock and roll and the many genres that influenced it, so you can be sure that everyone will be entertained by its extensive collection of outfits, guitars, and memorabilia. Make sure to leave at least two hours (probably more) to be able to get through all of it.
1600: (Late) Lunch at Great Lakes Brewing Co.
By this point, breakfast is going to seem like a lifetime ago. So drive yourself over to Ohio City (on the west side of the city) to Great Lakes Brewing Co. — another iconic Cleveland spot. The place is vast, yet you still may have to wait for a table, which shows the popularity of the city’s most celebrated microbrewery. Founded in the late ’80s in a run-down area by two Irish brothers with limited brewing experience, Great Lakes Brewery has fought against the odds to become the institution that it is. The brewpub is full of history and charm and is a symbol of the resurgence of the city. Every Clevelander has tasted their beer, and the annual first pour of their Christmas Ale is a celebrated tradition city-wide.
1730: Ice-Cream at Mitchell’s
While eating your late lunch, make sure to leave room for what is possibly the best ice cream in the world — Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream. This place has been serving the Cleveland community since 1999, and they opened this flagship store in Ohio City in 2014 inside what used to be the Rialto Theater. All of the ice creams and yogurts are made with pasture-raised dairy from family farms about an hour from Cleveland. Also, they use locally grown fruits and herbs and exclusively use fair trade standards when selecting their vanillas, chocolates, coffees, grains, and other ingredients.
1800: Cleveland Cultural Gardens
By this point, you are going to want to walk off your feast, and the Cleveland Cultural Gardens are the perfect place to do just that. Developed in the early 1900s as a joint effort between Cleveland’s ethnic communities, the City of Cleveland and the Federal Government, the theme of the gardens is “peace through mutual understanding.” In total, there are 31 distinct gardens, each commemorating a different ethnic group whose immigrants have contributed to the heritage of the United States over the centuries, as well as the city of Cleveland.
2000: Dinner at Alley Cat Oyster Bar
Until a few years ago, the area that is now known as “The Flats” was a complete wasteland, but today it is one of the most vibrant parts of the city. Alley Cat Oyster Bar is my favorite restaurant in this area as it sits on the water and offers expansive views of the Cuyahoga River. The menu is eclectic with a wide range of seafood, from shrimp stuffed peppers to grilled octopus to Mexican seafood chopped salad, ceviche, crab cakes, and an extensive oyster list.
Day 2: Cleveland to St. Louis, Missouri (Driving Day)
0900: Coffee at Rising Star Coffee Roasters
Grab a cup of joe and a gluten-free pastry from Rising Star Coffee Roasters in Hingetown and then begin your drive to St. Louis. It is about an eight and a half hour drive, so get your playlist ready!
1430: Lunch in Indianapolis
Five and a half hours into your journey will bring you to Indianapolis, which is a great place to stop for some lunch. On our road trip, Mum and I went to Chipotle (sorry I was craving it!); however, you may potentially want to go somewhere more exciting. Although to be fair, Chipotle is so good, so easy, and so cheap when on a road trip. My favorite fun-fact that I learned about Indianapolis is that…drum roll please… out of the cities in the United States only Washington D.C. has more memorials than Indianapolis’s 33!
1730: World’s Largest Windchime in Casey, Illinois
Two hours later, you are going to want to stop in Casey, Illinois to catch sight of the world’s largest wind chime. This town’s slogan is “A Small Town of Big Things,” so not only do they have this record-breaking wind chime, but they also have the world’s largest golf tee, the world’s largest rocking chair, the world’s largest pitchfork, and a whole load of other abnormally large things. This is such a fun stop and a reminder that you never know what you will come across when on the road!
2000: Arrive in St. Louis
After two-ish more hours of driving, you will arrive in St. Louis! (Keep in mind that it is central time zone, so one hour behind Cleveland.) For our time in St. Louis, we stayed in this Airbnb which I would highly recommend.
2100: Dinner at Vicia
Named one of the “best new restaurants in the country” by Eater (one of my go-to sites for restaurant recommendations), Vicia focuses on vegetable-forward cuisine and has an a la carte dinner menu, as well as a chef’s tasting menu.
Day 3: St. Louis, Missouri
0900: Breakfast/Coffee at Soulard Coffee Garden
Today is another day of exploring, so it is crucial that you fill yourself up with a substantial breakfast and an extra strong coffee. Luckily, Soulard Coffee Garden can assist you in both of these regards. Both a funky coffee shop and a contemporary restaurant that serves a killer breakfast, this place has a charming patio garden for you to sit in and start your day.
1000: A Trip Up the Gateway Arch
The symbol of St. Louis, the Gateway Arch is an imposing 630-foot-tall concrete and stainless-steel structure that towers over the St. Louis riverfront, and commemorates Thomas Jefferson and the role St. Louis played in the westward expansion of the United States. Completed in 1965 and recently upgraded, the arch offers tram rides to a viewing platform at its top. A required stop during your time in St. Louis!
1130: Visit the Old Courthouse
One of St. Louis’ most prominent architectural landmarks, the Old Courthouse was the site of the first two trials of the pivotal Dred Scott case in 1847 and 1850 and was also where Virginia Minor’s case for a woman’s right to vote came to trial in the 1870s. Opt for a guided tour to learn more about this historical building and the 19th-century judicial system.
1300: Lunch at Cafe Osage
Located in the Central West End of St. Louis, Cafe Osage is next to Bowood Farms nursery which gives the cafe a relaxed, spa-like feel. Order from the lunch menu which features produce grown in a garden across the street, as well as locally raised meats.
1430: Learn Some Moves at the World Chess Hall of Fame
I am always a fan of quirky museums, and the World Chess Hall of Fame certainly fits that bill. Even if you don’t play chess, you are still guaranteed to be entertained by the range of exhibits on display. It won’t take you too long to go through it, but it is fascinating to see how chess has influenced (and been influenced) by culture around the world. The room filled with different intricate chess sets is incredible!
1530: Spend Some Time Outside in Forest Park Forever
If it is a sunny afternoon, then head over to Forest Park Forever to take in the lush, green park. Opened in 1876, Forest Park hosted the World’s Fair, or Louisiana Purchase Exposition, back in 1904. The exposition was one of the grandest moments in St. Louis history and was rich with culture. The fair hosted the first Olympic Games in the U.S, saw visitors such as Helen Keller and T.S. Elliot, and introduced popular foods like the ice cream cone and Dr. Pepper. Now, the park houses two museums, a science center, the Saint Louis zoo, eight restaurants, an outdoor theatre, four national landmarks, and countless activities.
1830: Time for BBQ
After heading back to your Airbnb to freshen up, head out to dinner at Pappy’s Smokehouse for the ultimate BBQ. Smoky slow-grilled spare ribs are the dish that St. Louis is most known for, which should make your ordering process quite easy!
2100: Live Music at BB’s Jazz, Blues, and Soups
One of the oldest jazz and blues clubs in St. Louis, BB’s Jazz, Blues, and Soups has live jazz and blues performances every single night. Originally constructed as a hotel in the mid-1800s, it was converted in 1970 to a music venue and remains reminiscent of New Orleans.
Day 4: St. Louis, Missouri to Oklahoma City (Driving Day)
0900: More Coffee
Grab a strong brew from Blueprint Coffee and get back on the road! It is a seven and a half hour drive from St. Louis to Oklahoma City, so get yourself comfortable.
1500: Late Lunch in Tulsa
On our road trip, we stopped in Tulsa — six hours from St. Louis. Tulsa is known for its art deco architecture and for being the “oil capital of the world.” We didn’t spend too much time here (need to go back especially because there is a Bob Dylan museum opening in 2021), instead just stopping for some food at Hey Mambo — which I have just learned is permanently closed. So, you will have to go somewhere else! Ike’s Chili House was my first choice (my Mum quickly said “no” to that option) as it is believed to be Tulsa’s oldest operating restaurant, so you can be assured it is still open! Their most popular dish is the ‘Three Way’ Chili, which is chili slathered over spaghetti and beans. Interesting?
1800: Arrive in Oklahoma City
It is another two hours to Oklahoma City, so you should arrive right around dinner time, which probably won’t be necessary after your large chili dish! In Oklahoma City, we stayed in this fabulous Airbnb which was huge! We both wished we had more time to take advantage of it.
1900: Watch the Sunset at Lake Hefner Park
Originally constructed to help the city with its water shortages years ago, Lake Hefner has grown to become a recreational destination for all in the Oklahoma City region. Comprised of over 2500 acres, head to the park to relax and get some fresh air after your long driving day.
2030: Dinner and Drinks at Whiskey Cake
Another ‘farm to kitchen’ option, Whiskey Cake is the place to go for light and fresh meals in Oklahoma City. In addition to their extensive menu of salads, burgers, slow-grilled meats and sharing plates, they are known for their Tennessee Stud whiskey cocktails and grandma’s secret recipe whiskey cake.
Day 5: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
0900: Breakfast at Kitchen No. 324
At Kitchen No. 324, you can find breakfast being served from 7 to 10.30am every day (we were there for Sunday brunch), and it is one of the most popular spots in town. The interior is white, light, and very contemporary and it has great vibes. The menu has options for everyone from croissants to oatmeal to scrambled eggs and all your other favorite breakfast foods.
1000: Difficult History at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum
Around the corner from breakfast is the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum — a chilling museum documenting the domestic terrorist attack that took place in the center of Oklahoma City in 1995. I didn’t know too much about this horrific day, and this museum did a fantastic job of explaining the moments before, during, and after. It was so well done, and I can’t recommend it enough — places like this are essential for us to visit to learn from and to prevent it from happening again.
1200: Take in Some Art at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art
If you are still up for it, head over a couple of blocks to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. With global exhibitions in a variety of mediums, this is a fantastic place to get your creative juices flowing. Plus they have a lovely rooftop terrace for you to get a view of the city!
1400: Lunch at Picasso on Paseo
The Paseo Arts District of Oklahoma City is the creative hub of the city and Picasso on Paseo is a great way to be introduced to this area. The chefs at this restaurant only use local ingredients and change the menu daily.
1500: Browse the Galleries of the Paseo Arts District
Today is a day for art lovers, but with so many fantastic galleries in the Paseo Arts District, it would be a shame for you to miss them! The Contemporary Art Gallery is in the center of this district, as is JRB Art at the Elms, and the area is also home to 60+ additional galleries, many of which are attached to working artists’ studios. While you are there, make sure to take a moment to appreciate the Spanish Revival architecture.
1900: An Evening in Bricktown Entertainment District
Bricktown is the entertainment district of Oklahoma City, so spend your evening here browsing around the restaurants, clubs, bars, and shops. You can find a wide variety of cuisines and entertainment options — no matter what you are feeling!
Day 6: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Santa Fe, New Mexico (Driving Day)
0900: My Favourite Coffee Shop
Honestly, I love Starbucks. And, by this point, I would indeed be heading to the closest one…asap.
1800: Arrive in Santa Fe!
It is an eight-hour drive from Oklahoma City to Santa Fe, and the ride is stunning! For the majority of the day, you won’t see much of anything, open land for as far as the eye can see. Despite getting stuck in the scariest thunderstorm of my life, this was my favorite day of driving!
We were starving by the time we arrived, so we headed to Maria’s of Santa Fe for some much-needed tacos and margaritas, before heading to our Airbnb which was in a fantastic location and had the perfect New Mexico aesthetic.
Day 7-9: Santa Fe, New Mexico
We opted to spend a few days in Santa Fe to get a feel for the city, and I am so happy we did. It was definitely as creative and eclectic as I envisioned it while also being unlike anywhere I have been before. There is a lot to do, but it is all in a small enough area that you can pack a lot into each day if you are raring to go!
Instead of planning all three days for you – here are my top recommendations!
‣ Santa Fe Plaza: For over 400 years the Santa Fe Plaza has been the heart of downtown Santa Fe and is the perfect place for you to introduce your senses to the city.
‣ Iconik Coffee Roasters: My favorite coffee spot in the city, I went to the one downtown (located in a bookshop!) each day to fulfill my caffeine and wifi needs.
‣ Cafe Pasqual’s: This restaurant came recommended by so many people that we were happy to wait an hour or so for a table. The food was lip-smackingly good, and I think this has to be at the top of your “to-eat” list in Santa Fe.
‣ Georgia O’Keefe Museum: I have always been a fan of O’Keefe’s work, but this museum took my admiration to a new level. Known for her distinct flowers, dramatic cityscapes, glowing landscapes, and images of bones against the stark desert sky, O’Keefe is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. She lived in and loved Santa Fe and was greatly inspired by the landscapes that surrounded her. This is such a beautifully laid-out museum and very educational about her life and work.
‣ Santa Fe Vintage Outpost: Slightly more expensive than the pieces in my thrift hauls, Santa Fe Vintage Outpost is known by vintage lovers throughout the country for its mix of high-end vintage clothing, collectibles, and art pieces. While you may not be going home with anything (at least I didn’t), it is still a beautiful store to browse around and get some inspiration for your next Goodwill visit!
‣ The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi: The City of Santa Fe was founded in 1610, and the first church on this site was built in that same year. The church has gone through many iterations over the resulting centuries, but it is still is a fascinating place to visit. Plus, they have the oldest representation of the Virgin Mary in the United States, theirs was brought from Spain in 1625!
‣ Coyote Cantina: For a fun evening of margaritas and bar snacks, head to the rooftop at Coyote Cantina. Located downtown, this is the perfect spot for happy hour and to watch the sunset over the historic adobe walls of the city.
‣ Canyon Road Santa Fe: This city is a hub of creativity and nowhere is that more apparent than Canyon Road. This half-mile area is home to over one hundred art galleries and boutiques. The offerings range from “that would look nice in my home” to “uhhhhh what” and some of the pieces are gigantic! But, this street is where you get to see the artistic nature of this locale. And, if you stay in the same Airbnb as us, it is right around the corner!
‣ Meow Wolf: A MUST-SEE/DO/EXPERIENCE. It is tough to explain Meow Wolf, so all I am going to say is that it is an immersive experience and you need to go.
Day 10: Santa Fe, New Mexico to Los Angeles (Driving Day)
0700: Another Cup of Coffee
Grab another cup of coffee and breakfast pastry from Iconik Coffee Roasters and then get back behind the wheel.
Santa Fe to Los Angeles is a 12 and a half hour drive. I opted to spend an evening in Phoenix to break it up, but it is doable as a one-day thing. It is up to you and your timings!
2100: Welcome to the City of Angels!
You have made it to Los Angeles! Wooohooo!
I am thinking of writing a one-week itinerary for visiting Los Angeles, so let me know in the comments if you would like to see that and if you enjoy these itinerary-style posts! I love planning itineraries, so am looking forward to including more of these type of posts on the blog!
*Originally published on July 25th, 2018*