Where to stop on a Chicago to SF road trip.
September 16, 2010 1:04 PM   Subscribe

A friend and I are taking a road trip from Chicago to San Francisco. We'll be staying on I-80 for the most part. Do you have any suggestions on places we should check out or places we should stay away from?

We're planning on stopping to overnight in Grand Island, NE; Salt Lake City, and Reno.
We already have our SF itinerary set, so we don't need any help in that area.

My friend and I love trying new food or indulging in awesome cuisine. We also enjoy interactive museums and art to an extent.
We're not big on checking out monuments or "natural wonders".

Also, do you have tips for driving on I-80?
Is it scary? Do you drive on narrow, curving, dangerous mountain precipices? Should we be super mindful of our speed? Are there ample gas stations? We're both people of color--are there places we should drive straight through no matter how long we've been holding it?

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide!
posted by simplethings to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
The pass (downhill) between Cheyenne and Laramie, WY on I-80 is pretty steep and long. Be careful if it's been raining and make sure you don't get going too fast.

Also, for some reason on that stretch of road I've had problems with semi-trucks swerving over into my lane.

So yeah, be careful around those parts. If you want info about a good vegetarian restaurant in Laramie, shoot me a MeFi Mail. Laramie is a pretty common stop since it's pretty far from here to a significant point to the west.

Safe travels!
posted by elder18 at 1:10 PM on September 16, 2010


I-80 is not at all scary, nor does it have any narrow, curving, dangerous mountain precipices. Most of it is boring and straight and there's a lot of desert between SLC and San Francisco.


Also Wyoming lasts forever.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:12 PM on September 16, 2010


Any hints on what kind of cuisine you consider awesome, or kinds of food you don't care for and advice about which we shouldn't bother typing out?
posted by mudpuppie at 1:12 PM on September 16, 2010


I'd get off I-80 and look around a little more. Considering the US West is pretty much filled with "natural wonders", I think you'd have to work to avoid them.

But who doesn't want to climb to 12,000 feet at Rocky Mt. National Park?

I-80 goes across a lot of the Great Plains and if you're not in some insane hurry, I'd consider taking some smaller roads and seeing more.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:16 PM on September 16, 2010


Living History Farms is right off the interstate in Des Moines. The Des Moines Art Center and the Science Center of Iowa would be just slightly off route (off 235 rather than 80 in Des Moines, but not too far off). The Great Platte River Road Archway is supposed to be pretty interactive, though I've never stopped.

I think the speed limit is 75 through most of Nebraska and Wyoming. Wyoming has a reputation for stopping people even just a little above that, so I've been careful of my speed through there. Also, unless you go off the interstate into the (few) small towns, Wyoming gas stations are also spread apart. You'll have options at Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Green River, and Evanston, though, so just plan to hit one of those for your stops.

For the last hour on 80 before you hit SLC, you'll be in on very winding section of mountain road. It's not a drive I particularly enjoy at night, but it's not bad if you still have some daylight. One of the problems is the speed differential, especially on uphills, when trucks are going really slowly because they have to and cars are speeding because they can. Otherwise, 80 is about as unproblematic as it could be, though I don't know what it's like after Reno.
posted by BlooPen at 1:23 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once you get to Auburn, CA, you'll only have about two hours left of your trip...but if you're hungry for a bite, definitely stop at Ikeda's. It is immediately off the freeway, and it's a pretty common stopping spot for tourists going up 80 to ski. (They also have a Davis location, but I only know the Auburn one.)

Specifically, their pies... THEIR PIES! They have the best cobbler I've ever had, oh my.
posted by meese at 1:37 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also Wyoming lasts forever.

Agreed, to a certain extent, but western Nebraska is an endless purgatory of emptiness and cows. After that, Wyoming looks pretty darn good. We have towns!
posted by elder18 at 1:44 PM on September 16, 2010


The Red Iguana in Salt Lake City has very good Mexican food. Also, I can second Ikeda's.
posted by pombe at 1:44 PM on September 16, 2010


The Iowa 80 Truck Stop! It's the WORLD'S LARGEST TRUCK STOP, they say. And, should you need a dentist, you can find one inside. Seriously, though, you should stop. I have not been, but friends tell me that it's a worthwhile adventure. And I've driven enough of I-80 to know you could use a worthwhile adventure during the journey.
posted by atomicstone at 1:53 PM on September 16, 2010


Thanks for the tips so far. I'll definitely put them to good use.
As for awesome food we're really open to any cuisine as long as the food is made well with quality ingredients and tastes the way it's supposed to taste.
I guess specifically we have no desire to eat insects. We've tried this raw/uncooked cuisine where none of the food was exposed to heat in any form. That was interesting in concept but probably the only type of food we didn't enjoy.
posted by simplethings at 1:56 PM on September 16, 2010


There's a lot of Basque cuisine in Nevada. In Reno, Louie's Basque Corner and the Santa Fe Hotel are the two most popular. There's also a funky little vegetarian place near the riverfront, if that's your thing: Pneumatic Diner.

I think the first In-N-Out Burger you'll come to is in Salt Lake City. There's also one in Sparks, NV, just a couple miles before Reno.

After you leave Reno, just on the Western side of Truckee, get off I-80 at the exit for Donner State Park. Continue on that road, past the state park entrance and along the lake. You will eventually start climbing the summit on old US Highway 40. It is a gorgeous, gorgeous drive. Here is some information about the route (though going in the opposite direction that you'll be traveling). It takes a bit longer, and you say you're not interested in natural wonders, but you'll be really glad that you took the scenic route.

In Old Sacramento, the railroad museum is a really neat museum that may or may not qualify as interactive, depending on your definition. You can definitely yell "CHOO CHOO!" at the top of your lungs and feel well within your rights to do so, and you can't say that about just any old museum.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:16 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once you get to Auburn, CA, you'll only have about two hours left of your trip...but if you're hungry for a bite, definitely stop at Ikeda's.

Hehe, I used to work there just out of high school eons ago. He's probably not around anymore, but Mr. Ikeda was a hoot to talk with. Seconded.

Through Nevada, take a side trip at Elko and head south to the Lamoille Canyon area of the Ruby Mountains. Not too far off your route, very pretty and a good set-up for when you get to the Reno area .. and you check out Lake Tahoe. You simply cannot pass through the Sierras and not visit Tahoe.

In Reno, check out the local brewpubs; Great Basin Brewery and the Silver Peak Brewery. both excellent and have multiple locations.
posted by elendil71 at 2:18 PM on September 16, 2010


Gas up in SLC or shortly thereafter. It's a long way across the flats to Wendover (or Bendover, as it's often called, on account they know you need that gas and they charge accordingly).

If you're getting hungry and Reno is still a long ways out, the Martin Hotel (not a hotel anymore, it's a restaurant) serves great Basque food in Winnemucca. Corner of Railroad and Melarkey.
posted by bricoleur at 2:24 PM on September 16, 2010


My husband and I did this a few years back. Best thing hands down: Carhenge.
posted by Gucky at 2:43 PM on September 16, 2010


Seconding the Basque food especially in Elko, NV. stay awake for the sunsets and rise early for the sunrise.

I've done this drive so many time I just gun it.

When you hit the Sierra it's all downhill.
posted by pianomover at 3:58 PM on September 16, 2010


Lake Tahoe. Inspiration Point and Sandy Beach are two of my favorite spots there. Take the time to throw some money in a slot machine. You never know... might be your lucky day!
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 5:44 PM on September 16, 2010


I did that same trip 4 years ago with a friend who was moving his stuff from Philadelphia and Chicago to SF. He was nervous about leaving a moving van full of his earthly possessions parked unattended for long periods of time, so we didn't get off I-80 much (which made the options for roadside food pretty grim).

However, we stayed the night in Iowa City, which was a beautiful college town/city, with lots of nice options for restaurants, a good independent books store and other interesting looking shops. We didn't really have time to check it out, but the campus looked really lovely. On the way out of Iowa City, if you like architecture and want to see what Louis Sullivan did toward the end of his career, check out one of his "jewel box" banks in Grimmel, Iowa. It's in what appears to be a historic downtown area, and if I remember correctly there was at least one or two decent looking cafes. We also stopped in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which was a nice place to hang out for a couple of hours, with some decent restaurants. As an aside, we'd planned to stop in Reno for a decent meal, but it seemed pretty sketchy (not in a dangerous way, but it didn't seem seedy in an interesting way, just seedy if that makes any sense). Maybe we just didn't know where to go, or our expectations were off-base, but we jointly decided to give it a miss.

Overall, I really liked what I saw of Iowa; was disappointed in Salt Lake City and Reno; and by the end of the trip felt that if I ever had a fast food hamburger again, it would be too soon.
posted by kaybdc at 6:47 PM on September 16, 2010


The Des Moines Art Center is world-class and always free. The Archway is worth your time, as is the Stuhr museum in Grand Island, but both are pricey. There's a wonderful Ethiopian (Lalibela) and Sudanese (Juba) resturants in Omaha, as well as Mother India; I've never eaten at there (yet!) but I keep hearing great things about it. MeMail me if you wish for more things in this area.
posted by Prairie at 8:08 PM on September 16, 2010


If you're willing to take I-70 instead of I-80, you absolutely must stop in Columbia, Missouri, to eat at a local bar/burger place called Booches. It was founded in 1884 and is the best hamburger you'll ever eat. Well worth driving many hours for.
posted by adrian_h at 8:57 AM on September 17, 2010


Sometimes I think that I need to get my eyes reexamined, but my world is so pleasantly fuzzy. I thought those m's were n's, so by Grimmel, IA, I meant Grinnel. Sorry
posted by kaybdc at 1:02 PM on September 17, 2010


Nthing Pneumatic.
posted by gregglind at 6:18 PM on September 19, 2010


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