This July, I spent nearly 1 month driving with a friend from NYC to SF. Routing ourselves through the southwest, we a focused on spiritual landmarks as I sought inspiration on whether or not to stay in New York, the city I’ve called home for the last decade. While I didn’t find an answer quite yet, I did find a whole lot of wild places to visit ASAP. So if your bucket list includes a cross country road trip (or just a visit to say...a desert ghost town or an energy vortex?) check out this list for adventures that’ll blow your mind. If you’re smarter than we were, you’ll avoid the heat of high summer and go during the coming months.
This charming little seaside town was a quick stopover to save us driving too long between NYC and TN. While we didn’t need longer than the afternoon and evening to explore, we did appreciate the darling seaport shops, a lovely sunset meal at Chart House and a comfortable stay at Historic Inns of Annapolis.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS OF TN
My travel buddy has family just outside of Cookeville, so we stayed in a lovely little cabin in the center of rolling fields with nothing but cows as our neighbors for a few days. Nashville and Memphis get a lot of attention (and with good reason), but my takeaway was the natural beauty of Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. If you’re looking to retreat from a busy city, this is a great area to rent a house and prepare to unplug and unwind.
Besides being Elvis’ hometown, Memphis is known for its current music scene and droolworthy BBQ. For 24 hours, we absorbed as much of both as we could. We made the River Inn of Harbor Town our home base, dipped a toe in the debauchery of Beale street (mostly worth skipping), enjoyed a classic BBQ feast at Charlie Vergos Rendezvous and live music as haunting as its venue: Ernestine and Hazel’s Juke Joint. A full list of my faves can be seen HERE via the WannaGo App.
NEW ORLEANS, LA
“Nola” as the locals call this city on the bayou, is about as rich in flavor as it is in history. The restaurant scene draws foodies and chefs from all over the world, and our first seafood feast at Peche made it clear as to why. Perhaps to counterbalance the free flowing booze and fried specialties like beignets and po boys, there is an impressive variety of healthy options too. Green Fork might be my favorite juice bar I’ve seen lately thanks to thoughtful combos and organic ingredients, and Seed down the street is worth a pitstop for a clean, fresh lunch. I stayed conveniently down the street from both, in the gorgeous mansion turned Bed & Breakfast pictured above, the Henry Howard Hotel. New Orleans is steeped in Voodoo culture and gets a rep for being haunted. I had intended to delve in with a psychic reading by the acclaimed Cari Roy, but failed to make an appointment in time. Besides the oppressive heat, I otherwise felt nothing but good vibes during our 3 days in town. These and many more suggestions including where to find the best vintage can be found HERE via the WannaGo App.
There’s so much cool sh*t in Texas!: Many told me that Texas would be a painfully long, boring stretch of the trip where Austin was the only place worth stopping. I adore Austin, but having seen it before, we sought something new. What we found was:
Art, chic boutiques, trendy eateries and the hipsters that come along with them in Marfa. Heading into Texas, this was the only destination on our radar thanks to its notoriety in the fashion and art scene. If you’ve seen photos of the Prada “store” in the middle of nowhere, you’ve heard of Marfa too. If visited during a festival (we were there during the Marfa Film Festival) it’s a veritable who’s-who from New York and LA. Otherwise, you may be the only one sipping a $14 prickly pear cocktail at Capri, but you’ll no doubt get your house made shrub and cold brew from Do Your Thing coffee shop much quicker than usual. Make sure not to miss the brand new Stellina, with food worthy of picky, big city tastebuds. Oh, and if you see a scruffy grey gent selling hats by the side of the road, don’t overlook him. Michael Malone makes gorgeous handmade creations worthy of Tom Petty, Johnny Depp, and Burning Man loyalists. But beyond the modern culture, Marfa gained attention back in the 50's thanks to the Mystery Lights that occasionally appear on the horizon. Though they're rarely spotted, a midnight trip to the deserted observatory is a spiritual experience in and of itself.
Nestled in Hill Country, Fredericksburg is where I ate some of the most perfectly cooked arctic char of my life at Otto’s and crab curry worth writing home about at Vaudeville. Mason County is known for it’s blue topaz farms, which was our initial reason for visiting. A heat advisory kept us from digging, but if you’re feeling lucky you can give it a try for about $20/day.
Thanks to it’s location near Big Bend National Park, this legit ghost town of Terlingua offers a number of stylish places to stay (I stayed in the super chic 2 bedroom pueblo, Casa Azul), drink and dine despite its exotic, post apocalyptic vibe. Think Mad Max meets The Outlaw. If you haven’t tired of fancy prickly pear cocktails after Marfa, you can find them along with craft beers, dinosaur bones and low mountain views at the underground cave bar, La Kiva.
One of my favorite towns on our trip, Taos has a little bit of everything for everyone (not just hippies). Cold mountain streams and alpine hikes, wide open spaces and natural hot springs nestled deep in the valley near the Rio Grande, great restaurants like the white washed, farm-y charm-y Love Apple and more than one main area of commerce. They’ve also got a large population of folks living off-the-grid in homes that harmoniously blend into the natural landscape while protecting the environment with self sufficient infrastructure. We stayed in the incredibly charming Casa Gallina, a working farm with a community garden and casitas complete with kitchens and no need for AC. Who says that living sustainably means giving up comfort?! Now that’s a trend I’d like to see grow. And of course Taos is a great place to visit during ski season too!
Perhaps the most highly anticipated destination for me - I had high hopes for Sedona’s famed red rocks and reputation as an energy vortex. The natural beauty here did not disappoint, and the epic rock formations that surround the city from all sides are palpably impressive. What I didn’t expect was the town itself to feel a bit flat with its monochromatic architecture and single minded focus on crystals, psychics and general wuwu. Still, the natural wonder of this place are well worth the visit, as is the magical L’auberge de Sedona where we stayed 2/3 nights and enjoyed a beautiful riverfront meal. A casual vegan feast in the garden oasis of Chocolatree was equally appreciated, where we returned twice in our three day visit. We also stayed one night at the impressive Enchantment Resort, which had a larger more corporate feel. Do your research before choosing your hikes, as they're NOT all created equal, and those energy vortex's will F* with your GPS as much as they will with your mind.