Roads were made for journeys, not destinations—it’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way. This road trip required a couple of things: a well balanced diet, caffeine, salt and sugar, and an excellent selection of tunes—oh, and directions!
I don’t know if it’s an urban myth or fantasized nostalgia (think Route 66) but the desire to experience the great American road trip seems to burn inside so many of us. The idea of the open road, beautiful scenery, and family bonding while exploring our vast country seems amazing. Being able to look at the 50 states and check off the ones we’ve been to in a competitive fashion with ourselves and others is a way to validate the traveler we desire to be. This was the year and summer my family and I accomplished the big dream: nine states in three weeks, from Florida to California and back. It was definitely one for the books!
Let’s start off by mentioning that we are a family of nine, with five adults and four kids! This journey was quite interesting and adventurous because we were all together in our conversion van. I’m sure many of you are not sure about taking long road trips, but what made this road trip so incredible were the places we got to see, the memories we got to make as a family, and every experience along the way. As we considered this road trip, weeks of planning were involved. We had to figure out hotel stays, food spots, places to visit, and areas to sightsee. As a family, together we mapped out every destination along our way, all nine of us doing some individual research as to what interesting places we would like to see, visit, and eat at. We looked at each list and blended them into one master list for a more cohesive trip. Our family is crazy, fun, and adventurous.
The first challenge, and most time consuming, was all of the planning that had to be done in advance. This was the biggest surprise because I didn’t realize how much time it was going to take to organize such an adventure. It is critical to look at a map and establish a route with exactly what destinations you want to drive to and how long it takes to get to the next one from the previous one. We made several adjustments to our initial plan when we saw how long it would take to get there from where we were going to be. Then we had to see what cities, places and things were most intriguing, which then led to how long to stay in each location. Once this was accomplished, we had to include sleep in the equation: hotels or camping. We chose hotels as we felt the car would be like mobile camping. Once every hotel was booked in every city chosen for the specific days we would be there, it was time to meal plan.
Day 1, Long drive
We had to decide whether to eat out or pack for picnic in the car, choose a fast-food or sit-down restaurant, and more. Each of these have pros and cons but must be planned in order to maintain a schedule and budget, or so I thought. Out of all my planning, this was the one that ended up being completely random. Eating, sleeping, and bathroom breaks were chaotic as everybody was on their own schedule. Add in gas breaks and the driver stopping for energy boosts (coffee, soda, candy) and it put a strain on the schedule and meal plans.
Day 2, Hello Austin
The night before our departure, we were all packed and ready to go! The kids had blankets, pillows, books, games, snacks, and electronic devices to amuse them for the long ride. We took off on Monday morning and stopped in Biloxi, Mississippi, at a lovely Italian restaurant for lunch. We arrived in Houston about 12 hours from when we started and were famished. We stopped at Chipotle before going to the hotel to spend the night. The next day we loaded up the van and headed for Austin, which is one of the cities that we decided during our planning to stay for multiple days. We stopped to eat at a barbecue place outside of Houston called Chisholm’s Trail BBQ, in Lockhart, Texas. (You can check them out on our Its Your Magazine Youtube channel as we made a video of that experience.) Having a vegetarian on this trip, this wasn’t her first choice for food, but she was able to eat some of the sides and watch the rest of us enjoy chicken, turkey, sausage, brisket, ribs, and steak so tender and full of flavor—some of the best BBQ we ever had.
Afterward, we arrived in Austin and stopped at Butterfly bridge. The bridge is beautiful, and the scenery around it is just as lovely. The bridge has arcs that resemble butterfly wings. After crossing, you are in the downtown area of Austin. The family and I found ourselves staring at all that was around us with wonder and delight. We walked around another part of Austin and at night got the most delicious and funnily-named treats at VooDoo Doughnuts.
Day 3, Time to explore
The first stop the following day was at Cuvée Coffee Shop. This made my daughters, wife, and mother very happy, as they love coffee and enjoyed their selection of non-dairy milks and specialty blends. We then went to a large park called Bouldin Creek. This led to an unplanned walk, all the way from the park to Barton Springs, about two miles of battling heat and humidity, and seeing beautiful nature and many dogs along the way. The springs were extremely cold but so refreshing as we were so sweaty and hot. We spent a good amount of time there.
When we finally walked back to our car, we ventured out to a German restaurant called Scholz Garten. (You can check them out on our Its Your Magazine Youtube channel as we made a video of that experience.) They had a vegan burger that our vegetarian would recommend! Their authentic pretzel was a big hit for the rest of the family and an absolute must if you go to Austin! Special tip: it’s always a good idea to chat with the locals because they can provide special secret places to see and experience in the city that aren’t always known on the Internet research. That’s what we did with our waiter, and from there we drove to a place called 360 Overlook.
We were able to watch the majority of the sunset here, which was breathtaking!
We parked on the side of the highway and then hiked up a short but steep mountain overlooking a lake where we could see beautiful shimmering water and the bridge below. We were able to watch the majority of the sunset here, which was breathtaking. An unexpected bonus: we got to witness a spontaneous marriage proposal between two people we didn’t know right in front of us, which was adorable. Closing the evening with a drive to Butler District Park, we found ourselves lost at first but then made it to an enormous hill that, once climbed, had a gorgeous view of the city buildings and skyline lit up with lights. There were little benches that I laid on to see the stars and building lights while my family looked at fountains below the hill. It was such a tranquil and magical moment. It was the perfect end to the night. My highlight in Austin was stopping at Antones, a blues music bar where the Fabulous Thunderbirds and other blues legends played, including hometown favorite Stevie Ray Vaughn whose statue I took a picture with in the park earlier that day.
Day 4, Travel across Texas
The next day was spent in the car as the adventure continued to El Paso, Texas. This was the start of the stomach bug that some got and made for many small podunk stops for emergency bathroom breaks. Along the way, neither the view nor the drive were very interesting. When we got there it was straight to our hotel room and time for sleep. The next morning we had a smoothie breakfast as we walked around the college campus at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). It was a very beautiful campus with plenty of cacti and places to take photos.
Day 5, Roaming the college campus
After we finished walking around, we got back into the van and drove to Tucson, Arizona, a multi-day city. We stayed at a resort called El Conquistador that was outstanding, with picturesque hills and our very spacious multi-room suite. (You can check them out on our Its Your Magazine Youtube channel as we made a video of that experience.) The scenery was impeccable and I was amazed at the enormous pool and numerous red rock skylines and lush green areas to admire. The entire resort exceeded my expectations and I found myself in awe the entire time. I highly encourage you and your family to stay here if ever visiting Tucson!
We stayed at a resort called El Conquistador that was outstanding. I highly encourage you and your family to stay here if ever visiting Tucson!
Day 6, Tucson is an attractive city
When we awoke the next morning, we visited Diamondback bridge, a metal bridge installation that resembles a rattlesnake. It was very cool to see, but the temperature was very hot, so we did not stay long. To refresh, we stopped to get drinks at Dutch Bros Coffee, a hit spot for unconventional drink creations; the experience was fantastic for our family. The next few hours of our day included stopping at a beautiful rose garden to “stop and smell the roses,” our family motto, and of course for photos at Reid Park, which also has some stunning waterfall trails. Then we had a family swim back at our resort’s incredible pools, which also had a featured Dive-In movie night for families with kids. They also had a special treat going on: an outdoor fire pit with S’mores. What a great way to end a perfect Friday summer night at the resort.
My highlight in Tucson was the phenomenal restaurant Gourmet Girls.
My highlight in Tucson was the phenomenal restaurant Gourmet Girls, a gluten-free cafe and bakery that my mother wished she could eat at for the rest of her life. (You can check them out on our Its Your Magazine Youtube channel as we made a video of that experience.)
Day 7, Off to California
The next day was another long drive all the way to San Diego, California. There was a lot to see on this drive, including red rocks, mountainous landscapes, and wind twisters resembling tornados that frightened me. Arriving in San Diego late, we decided on pizza at our hotel. We walked to pick it up because the air was magical—65 degrees and zero humidity. Hello, California!
Day 8, Beautiful beach towns
The next morning was so wonderful. It was 68 degrees outside when we began driving up the California coast, seeing numerous beach towns along the way: San Diego, La Jolla, Del Mar, Carlsbad, Oceanside, San Clemente, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach. On our drive, Christmas music was played as a joke because of the temperature being so low compared to the southern states we had been in, which was very fun. We stopped in Huntington Beach, where we went to Philz Coffee. This was proclaimed by my daughter to be “the greatest coffee in the world.” After eating lunch and walking around exploring the area, we drove to Los Angeles. We met up with some more family and headed to my oldest daughter’s college graduation at Staples Center. It was such a wonderful event.
Day 9, Vegas, baby
The next morning we ate at a small cafe for breakfast, which was delicious, before driving to Las Vegas, Nevada. A very long but extremely beautiful drive, the topography was magnificent. We arrived late, so we drove through the Vegas strip, and my daughters were fascinated by all of the lights, hotels, people, and shows. The next morning it was time to explore the strip. The day was spent walking the strip for a good 10 hours, visiting each hotel and all of the wonders they had to offer inside. We weren’t sure if we would make it back to the hotel at the end because our feet hurt so much. It was a lot of fun touring the hotels, seeing the skyline of New York at its namesake hotel, and finding the hidden pizza place at the Cosmopolitan.
Day 10, Viva Las Vegas
The day we spent in Las Vegas was exciting and we made many memories, including the water fountain and musical show at the Bellagio and the Atlantis show at Caesars Palace. The Fall of Atlantis Show is an animatronic display of fire, water, and nine-feet-tall talking statues. The story is set in the kingdom of Atlantis, and King Atlantis has to decide which of his bratty kids will rule the throne. Who will he choose? You have to come see for yourself! The Fountain of the Gods at the Forum Shops is pretty stunning and always a sight to behold. The favorite casino our family saw was the Venetian because it resembled Italy, somewhere we have always dreamed of going. They have beautiful hand-painted frescos and architecture. The gondola ride looks so authentic, like a romantic glide down the Grand Canal in Venice. They offer this inside and outside, giving the feeling of daytime or nighttime. St. Mark’s Square is a sight, displaying ancient and modern icons that are historical and distinctive. We got a family photo taken on a unique, bold and inspiring art installation that spelled “L.O.V.E.”
It was an extraordinary sight, with painted rocks in fun colors stacked on top of one another. It was so awesome to see, but hurry! This is only a two-year exhibit.
Day 11, Amazing sightseeing
The next day we drove to a rock installation called Seven Magic Mountains just outside of Vegas. These feature seven 30- to 35-foot-high day-glow totems, comprised of painted locally sourced boulders. It was an extraordinary sight, with painted rocks in fun colors stacked on top of one another. It was so awesome to see, but hurry! This is only a two-year exhibit. After that we made a pit stop at another Dutch Bros Coffee which was one of the best parts of that day because there was a coffee war brewing as my oldest daughter proclaimed, “Their coffee is hands down the best there is in the universe.”
Day 12, Worst day of the trip
On our way to Albuquerque, New Mexico, we drove to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, which is beautiful and another must-see sight. When we got to our hotel, it was 3 a.m.! As soon as we checked in everyone passed out and we all slept in until noon. We were supposed to have a chill day but the hotel was the absolute worst hotel we have ever been in. The pool was closed, the media center was closed, they were remodeling, and worst of all the AC was broken. The room temperature reached 88 degrees and everyone was beyond uncomfortable, hot, and irritable. That day was miserable and it drove us nuts, so we packed up and left at midnight to our next destination: Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation and sculpture that was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez, and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm.
Day 13, Redemption
The installation is located in Amarillo, Texas. The drive was extremely long and frustrated me because the kids could hardly sleep and were cranky. However, it was well worth it because we made it to Cadillac Ranch right at sunrise. It was very beautiful, easily one of the best sights we saw. It was a bunch of Cadillacs buried in the ground nose first that were all spray painted graffiti like. Spray-paint cans were lying all around for us to contribute to the art installation. It was the best time; the kids spray painted half a heart, a peace sign, my name, and a bunch of other stuff—great lifetime memories!
Once we finished that, we started our drive to Ft. Worth,Texas. We stayed at Homewood Suites, and I strongly recommend this hotel to all families traveling. We had the best chill night of the trip and made pasta for dinner with the in-room kitchen. This knocked everyone out for bed quite early. Hallelujah! The next morning we got ready and stopped at Fort Worth Water Gardens by Sundance Square, which is a really incredible park with massive water fountains, fun things to climb, and lots of grass and trees. We climbed down this really cool set of rock stairs into the heart of one of the fountains, which was amazing. Then all the kids played hide-and-seek in the park; it was so much fun to see their smiles, joy, and laughter.
Day 14, Three Texas cities in one fabulous day
After that we made a quick stop to see the home of the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, where I paid homage to my favorite team before heading to Waco, Texas, where we saw the outside of the HGTV (we all love to watch) bakery/cafe, which was very pretty from the outside. After that, we ate at a hidden gem called Twisted Root Burger Company. It seemed like a little restaurant in the middle of nowhere but it was so sick. It looked like it was previously a warehouse and they had it all decked out with neon signs, fun music, projectors on the walls with music videos playing, really cool seating, a bar, and even an area that had five barrels with five types of seasoned pickles: dill, atomic, sweet & spicy, ranch, and bread & butter. The bread & butter was the best, but my mother loved the ranch. The food was, hands down, some of the best I’ve ever had. I got a buffalo burger with chipotle ranch sauce, fried onion rings, and a fried egg. It was so delicious and I would love to go back there.
Days 15 & 16, Remember the Alamo
We then drove from there straight to San Antonio, Texas, which is one of the cities during our planning that we decided to stay in for multiple days. We spent the night relaxing in the hotel after our long drive. Our first day spent there was really cool! We went to the San Antonio RiverWalk, a15-mile urban waterway tucked quietly below street level, and it was breathtaking. We found it by walking down a little alleyway and then following some stairs to the bottom, which were almost fairy tale like. It was exactly what I had pictured in my imagination, with cute little walkways everywhere and the river running through, with riverboats of people taking guided tours. On the sidewalk, there were a bunch of restaurants, shops, and little cafes. My favorite part of the RiverWalk was all of the plants and waterfalls that they had all throughout. It was truly so beautiful and made me want to make my future backyard similar to that. After some lengthy exploration, we had worked up an appetite, so we stopped at this pretty good Mexican restaurant overlooking the river that had amazing queso and horchata.
Day 17, Magnificent meditation
The Alamo was next, and for history buffs, it was amazing! This is a former Roman Catholic mission and fortress compound, and the site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. It was pretty rad with all their architecture and artifacts from fighting in this historic war. The next day in San Antonio, we went to the Japanese Tea Garden, located in Brackenridge Park, which was stunning—one of the most breathtaking places I have ever seen! It was free to get in and I’d definitely recommend it as it was one of the prettiest sights and a must-see.
Day 18, Celebrating the 4th of July
The next morning was the Fourth of July, and there was an authentic southern parade taking place in Roundtop, Texas. Driving through the country to get to Round Top, we arrived to see an old-fashioned celebration parade. It was full of good ole boys, horses, and classic hot rods. Kids got candy and had a lot of fun. We then enjoyed treats at a cute, charming small-town pie shop called Royers Pie Haven! (You can check them out on our Its Your Magazine Youtube channel as we made a video of that experience.) Royers Pie Haven is a place to go if you want some really delicious homemade pie! My favorites were the apple pie and the blueberry lemon pie. Eat.Pie.Love is the theme, with quotes written all over the walls.
Then it was on to Houston, where fireworks lit up the sky at the corner behind our hotel, so we had a pretty great view and didn’t need to go anywhere to see a fireworks display—no need to drive and deal with traffic. Some free BBQ, leftover Pie Haven, pool time and fireworks—what a great end to our Fourth of July evening.
Day 19, Houston’s Aquarium
We stayed an extra day in Houston and visited Tapioca Master to start the day with some coffee/tea. They had a brilliant idea to have baskets of sample tastings of their coffee, teas, smoothies, and slushies to avoid your children ordering a drink they don’t like. They get to pick what kind of drink they like because they get to sample it just like sampling gelatos. I had Thai Iced Tea of course! Special thanks to the Downtown Aquarium for allowing us to experience their amazing place. It was all about sea life, including touch pools, a shark tank, displays of aquatic ecosystems, and fun rides. It was a great experience! They have beautiful white tigers living in a fancy ruined Maharaja’s temple. We all went on a shark tour aboard a train. We got to ride a few rides like the Grasshopper, the Lighthouse Dive, and the Ferris Wheel. I showed off by ringing the bell at the sledgehammer game. The next morning we were homeward bound.
What a great three-week family road trip adventure! It was definitely worth the drive to have the opportunity to explore different cities, and what surrounded them was very interesting. Driving through each state, seeing how each state’s scenic views change, is unbelievable. As we drove we saw palm trees, mountains, rocks, the desert, imperial sand dunes off Kumeyaay Highway 8 in California, and so much more. We made so many memories and captured beautiful places around us that caught our interest. Documenting our entire trip was well worth it! Our trip gave us a perspective of what is possible and the things we can do. It was an amazing summer adventure, and although people fear long road trips because of having to sit in a car for hours, it’s actually not as bad when you can stop every three to four hours to stretch, use the restroom, get a bite to eat, and explore while driving to your destination.
Home, sweet home! My bed and my home have been missed! Time to detox my body and rejuvenate after this long trip and get back to business. I highly recommend this adventure to all families!