Our 4 month road trip across the contiguous United States was very much driven by a desire to experience national parks. We have previously written about our favorite parks and our favorite hikes within those parks. However, we were also lucky enough to experience a multitude of American culture ranging from large metropolitans to small towns, wild west shows to fine wineries, and street cart food to regional specialty cuisine.
Like the national parks, each stop on our trip had its own unique character. Below are a few of our favorite experiences from our travels thus far.
Favorite City – San Fransisco / Seattle
San Fransisco (Jon’s Pick) – San Fransisco is a city like no other, and that’s why people like us keep coming back to it with fond memories. It is a vibrant city full of fun neighborhoods with nice restaurants. But, San Fransisco also largely retains its history with cable cars and fishing piers. There was never a lack of things to do in San Fransisco. The biggest highlight for us was renting bikes to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and through Golden Gate Park.
Seattle (Alexis’s Pick) – Our time in Seattle was a flurry of sights, tours, and great food. We had amazing weather (which we were told only lasts for a few weeks of the year). Seattle appears a few more times on this list for best tours and was a big competitor in a few of the food categories. Seattle is also a great location for many outdoors activities on the water and in the mountains.
Favorite Small Town – Sedona / Key West
Sedona (Alexis’s Pick) – The red rocks surrounding Sedona may or may not be filled with energy vortexes, but there’s no denying that they give the town beauty and character. Sedona is a hikers dream filled with hiking trails through the national forests, rocky spires, and natural bridges. After hiking, you can enjoy the town with quaint shops, great restaurants, and even a few breweries.
Key West (Jon’s Pick) – Key West is a picturesque town overlooking the ocean in one direction and the gulf of Mexico in the other. However I wouldn’t exactly say Key West was a beach town. We found Key West to be very walkable and enjoyed exploring Duvall Street. Sunset in Mallory Square is a nightly event, drawing a crowd, and not to be missed. As the days cool off, Duvall Street becomes alive with live music radiating out of open air bars.
Best Meal – Elote Cafe
This was a tough category for us. Ultimately we chose Elote Cafe in Sedona, Arizona, which is slightly more formal dinning than most of the restaurants we ate at while traveling. Elote Cafe was named the #2 Mexican Restaurant in America (by Gayot.com). The entire meal was delicious from our appetizer of elote to our meals of carne asada and lamb adobe. Although very refined and thoughtfully put together, the meals also had a great home cooked feeling to them.
Runner up: The home cooked soul food at Justine’s in Charleston, SC was amazing.
Best Street Food – Taco Sano
Revered as the ‘Best Taco of Jon’s life’, we were able to sample a variety of tacos from Taco Sano while at Downtown tonight in Missoula, MT. At Taco Sano you build your own taco from a choice of 6 meats, 4 salsas, and tons of other toppings and sauces.
Runner up: Paseo’s Caribbean Grill in Seattle, WA is so well known, it holds the title of Yelp’s #2 restaurant in America. The Caribbean Roast Pork Sandwiches are amazing but be prepared to wait inline and get messy. (Unfortunately they are at least temporarily closed as of 12/27/2014).
Other Must Try Food – Pig Candy at Cafe Genevieve
Our entire meal at Cafe Genevieve was delicious and this small but popular restaurant in Jackson, WY was definitely a contender for our favorite meal. However, it was the sweet and spicy Pig Candy bacon appetizer that had our entire table talking about the meal days later.
Favorite Tour – Boeing Everett Factory
The Boeing Factory Tour is located outside of Seattle. The tour starts with a quick bus ride across an airfield from the Visitor’s Center (and Future of Flight Museum) to the world’s largest building by volume. Inside, are assembly style production lines for 4 Boeing aircrafts. The tour visits 3 production lines, the 747, the 777, and the 787. Learning about the new features on the 787 was a high point of the tour for us, as was the lucky coincidence a Boeing employee showing his family the factory joined our tour group and provided added commentary. I would highly recommend taking the factory tour on a weekday to see the factory fully functioning.
Runners up: Seattle Underground, a hilarious tour about the history of Seattle.
Favorite Winery – Ferrari-Carano
Although generally speaking we enjoyed Sonoma more than Napa because of its laid-back vibe, Ferrari-Carano is the exception. Located in Sonoma, Ferrari-Carano has the opulence of Napa at a fraction of the price, plus their wines were our favorites of the trip. After tasting at some smaller wineries we decided to go to a grand looking one. Ferrari-Carano is impressive inside and out. The grounds are beautiful with terraces overlooking the fields of grape vines, shady gardens, and even a cork tree. Inside the Manor you have a choice to sample wines in an airy room with vineyard view, or to sample reds in their Burgundy styled wine cellar. The staff at Ferrari even saved us $15 by telling us the red tasting pours would be poured large enough to be shared by two instead of purchasing a second tasting.
Favorite Brewery – Crooked Stave
Located in the craft brewing mecca of Denver, Colorado, Crooked Stave is becoming known world wide for their sour brews. (That’s right, sour, not bitter). Crooked Stave features a range of beer flavors, some fruitier than others, but all of them sour. If the beers are too sour for you, they can be served blended with Happy Leaf Brewery’s kombucha. The favorite beer at Crooked Stave was Nightmare on Brett, a seasonal that comes aged in either a port barrel or a bourbon barrel. We preferred the bourbon barrel.
Runner up: The Dirty Hippie Dark Wheat Ale at Palisades Brewing Company was a standout beer for us.
Best Road Side Attraction / Wild Card – House on the Rock
I’m really not sure what category House on the Rock should fall under. Part museum, part house, and part freak show, this is a must see attraction situated 2 hours north of Chicago in Wisconsin. The House and its eerie collection are divided into three separate tours; we were only able to see one tour. Our tour started in a dark room with the ‘world’s largest carrousel’ lit in red (pictured above) while noise machines shouted loud music from the room’s walls. There is no way to describe the House on the Rock except as a must see, so I will leave you with our favorite quote about the House on the Rock which we pulled from a Yelp review, “You leave feeling that it was one of the best experiences of your life, and you would have paid double, but you NEVER want to go again, or at least not for a decade.”