A road trip has always been on my bucket list, but with today’s social and professional demands, the question always becomes: who has the time? But when I found my move-out date from my apartment in Atlanta and my move-in date for my new place in Los Angeles inching closer and closer, suddenly there was no better option than to take my things on the road.
Over six days, one of my besties and I drove the 2,175 miles from Georgia to California, stopping at amazing locations in between with distinct cultures, restful accommodations, and incredible cuisine. The trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’d encourage anyone to consider, which is why I put the guide below together to show you how we did it.
STOP 1: MEMPHIS
We left Atlanta around 5pm on a Friday headed toward Memphis, TN, with my Jeep Grand Cherokee full of all of my belongings. The drive is just short of six hours and with Memphis being in the central time zone, we arrived in the Home of the Blues around 10 pm local time.
One thing I was adamant about on this unexpected adventure, was staying in hotels that had character and ARRIVE Memphis has that in abundance. With just 62 rooms, the staff is able to deliver the kind of personal touch customer service that makes a stay unforgettable — much like the smell of the fresh bread that’s made in the property’s all-day bakery and café, Hustle & Dough. Vice & Virtue is also on site brewing up the best local coffee the city has to offer.
Charming is the way I’d describe our double room which had industrial touches like a brick wall and furniture with iron accents as well as floral wall paper and a wooden barn door for bathroom privacy. For those used to chain hotels in major cities, the size of the bedroom and bathroom will be a welcome –and spacious — change of pace. Each detail, from the mirrored sliding closet door to what might possibly be the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever eaten, which awaits you in your room upon arrival, is carefully thought out and makes ARRIVE a must-return type of property.
ARRIVE’s proximity to notable sites of interest can’t be overstated either. Located on Main street, the hotel is a mere two-minute walk to the historic Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. You can peruse the outside of the premises freely or purchase tickets for a guided tour of the National Civil Rights Museum.
A 10- to 15-minute walk from ARRIVE will put you at the infamous Beale Street district which is as necessary to see while in Memphis as it is going to Bourbon street in New Orleans. The strip is bustling with music and a variety of small businesses and restaurants that guarantee a down south experience like none you’ve ever had.
For a break from the stimulating sites, I’d encourage you to stroll five minutes to South Main for brunch at Black-owned restaurant and bar Sage. It’s wise to reserve a table at this popular spot, but even if you don’t, the food is more than worth the wait. Do not leave this city without having the Soul Waffle. Though, in all honesty, you can’t go wrong with anything on their menu.
STOP 2: OKLAHOMA CITY
After a filling lunch at Sage, we hopped on to I-40W and made the seven-hour drive to The National, Autograph Collection in Oklahoma City, OK, which we learned isn’t just a hotel, but a beacon of western history.
The property, which in my opinion is as much a museum as it is a hotel, is a restored bank building which first opened in 1931 and still houses many original details from its 90-year history. That includes the secretary’s desk that sits at the top of the escalator stairs in the great hall, the hand-painted symbols along the ceiling, and the window-paned balconies where sharp-shooters would stand post in case of a bank robbery. Fun fact: Security was so notoriously tight at this building that no one ever tried.
The 32-story building has 142 guest rooms which are modern and sophisticate. The spacious bathroom with its standing glass shower and gold accents was a personal favorite, as was the clean navy blue and white color palette. You should know if you book a stay at the hotel and enjoy it, the property also houses permanent residences on one side of the building so you can enjoy the beautiful antiquity 24-7.
Remnants of the original bank have been cleverly incorporated into The National’s on-site restaurant Tellers. The name pretty much says it all, but it’s quite the cool experience to dine in one of the cozy booths and look out through a bank teller’s window into the larger great hall. You’ll also have a moment to take in the restored artwork depicting moments in Oklahoma’s history such as the land rush of the late 1800s.
The Italian grill has a menu more extensive than most hotel restaurants, offering a range of wood-fired pizzas from your traditional margherita to fennel sausage; six types of traditional pastas — we’re talking ravioli, spaghetti, and cavatelli; as well as speciality dishes like eggplant parmigiana. The Strozzapreti con scampi and classic caesar have my vote.
As a drinker, I may be partial here, but The Library of Distilled Spirits is by far my favorite element of The National– and not just because it houses more than 1,500 types of distilled spirits, though that’s impressive as well. Located in the original bank vault, the decor has the upscale feel of a New York bar while still honoring it’s roots through the preservation of the original bank safety deposit boxes which line one wall of the seating area. Plus how many people can say they’ve had a expertly crafted cocktail inside of a historic bank vault?
STOP 3: SANTA FE
Having gotten our fill of history and culture all in one at The National, on day three we hopped back on I-40 W toward our next stop: Santa Fe, NM, a destination that has been a dream of mine to visit for some time.
Arriving at Bishop’s Lodge was the one time in my life I was grateful I didn’t overdo my research before choosing a location because the wonder of pulling up to the picturesque southwest scenery simply can’t be described. The luscious green open plains and traditional pueblo architecture more than fulfilled my desire to have a distinct, authentic stay in every city we traveled through.
That brings me to our accommodations which, although described as a guestroom, was really our own little house. Walking through the front door into the sitting area with a kiva fireplace on one side and a kitchen area with a large dining table and welcome snacks that draw from the foods that are of great significance to the local community was a moment to take in.
Designed by HKS Hospitality Interiors, the authentic southwestern decor continued right into the double bed sleeping area, complete with navajo rugs and woven basket accents, and out onto the outdoor terrace with wooden rocking chairs meant for gazing at beautiful sunsets. In an era, where so many properties follow a cookie-cutter formula, staying in a space that honored the history of its original inhabitants was more than appreciated.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I could write an entire article on the food at Bishop’s Lodge. And I’m already frustrated with myself because I know my vocabulary can’t do the incredible cuisine crafted by Executive Chef Pablo Peñalosa at the on-site restaurant Skyfire justice. Just know that I ordered the chicken tortilla soup twice within a span of 12 hours (and even stole a few bites from my friend before she finished her bowl); shishitto peppers have now become a regular side dish in my home since my stay; and I found and followed Chef Peñalosa on Instagram after my first bite because I must visit every restaurant he has ever had a hand in.
Being able to look out over the open terrain as you dine in the indoor-outdoor setting adds to the majesty of the dining experience. And once you get used to the hire altitude, you must indulge in at least one of the delicious menu cocktails crafted with local ingredients.
STOP 4: THE GRAND CANYON
You can’t come this close to one of the seven wonders of the world and not see it up close so we made The Grand Canyon our next stop on our venture out west. And to make it easier on ourselves, we stayed at the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel which has a train that takes you right to the National Park.
Established in 1901, the historic railway is located just steps from the two-story hotel and takes tourists from the property in Williams, AZ, straight to the southern rim of the Grand Canyon where you’ll have three hours to explore the breathtaking views of the red rock before piling back into the locomotive and returning from your day trip.
Don’t think of this as any regular old train ride either, you’ll be entertained by musicians and all sorts of cowboy shenanigans along the way. And you can pick your preferred train car class, with the option of an observation dome and even a luxury parlor among others.
STOP 5: LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
What better note to end a road trip on than with a stop in Vegas? Just four hours from Los Angeles, we made Sin City our final destination before landing in my new home and it was quite the wise decision if I do say so myself.
I’ve been to Vegas quite a few times over the years, but this summer marked my first stay at Park MGM located right in the center of the strip. The Nightingale Suite was the perfect setup for a girl’s trip with its spacious layout which included two queen beds, a leather sleeper sofa, and a large wet bar area for doing what people do best when they come to Vegas– drink.
Like most hotels in Las Vegas, Park MGM has a casino in the lobby so after freshening up and losing a few dollars, my bestie and I headed to dinner at the Mayfair Supper Club inside of the Bellagio hotel.
I truly don’t know where to begin between the exciting performances, delicious food, and exceptional customer service at the Mayfair. The dining experience is truly a two-in-one as a live band complete with a cabaret-style singer and a group of dancers entertains guests as they sip on sweet concoctions and have their senses completely overloaded by the menu.
If you’re easily overwhelmed by options, my recommendation is to trust whatever the waiters suggest, which is exactly what we did as we took in the menu which was a mix of seafood, sushi, and steak. We landed on the seafood tower and the caviar service which entailed 30 grams of Daurenki Petrossian, French butter, and crème fraîche because, when in Vegas…
From there, I followed my own instincts to the coconut shrimp before we split the filet mignon and sides of creamed spinach and potato puree. Normally not one for dessert, again, this is where trusting your waiter is a must because I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I didn’t taste the exceptional cheesecake. Fashioned like a smoking cigar, the presentation alone is one to see. But I promise the taste is a match as well.
As entertaining as the Mayfair was, in Vegas there’s always more to see which is why we then headed over to the Mad Apple Cirque du Soleil show after dinner. Taking place inside the New York-New York Resort & Casino, the show is a must-see for anyone who’s ever lived in New York City or is simply fascinated by the magic of the east coast hub. There’s singing, dancing, acrobatics, comedy — it’s basically a subway ride rolled into one but on the grandest scale with some of the most talented performers you’ll ever see. And with two nightly shows every Friday-Tuesday at 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm, you can easily fit it into your schedule and still wake up in time to hit the road to your next destination the next morning which is exactly what we did.
When I finally got to L.A. I was able to take in all that we’ve seen and done over the six days prior and I couldn’t imagine starting my chapter any other way. Whether you’re making a move or just looking for a new way to get away this summer, you can’t go wrong with a road trip.
*Accommodations provided by the properties noted did not dictate the opinions shared in this article.