Road Trip in a Hurry
April 30, 2013 5:01 PM   Subscribe

My friend and I are planning a one-way road trip from Denver, CO to Rochester, NY this June. The catch? We would like to complete it in around 7 days. I'm looking for your insight on how to make the most of the cities along our route in a limited amount of time (probably about 5 hours of exploring), suggestions for a better route, or general road trip advice.

The route I've drawn takes us through the following cities:
Denver, CO -> Kansas City, MO -> St. Louis, MO -> Chicago, IL -> Detroit, MI -> Toronto, ON -> Rochester, NY

I anticipate spending around 4-5 hours driving and the rest of the day in the city, and will probably stay a full day in both Chicago and Toronto. Best answers would look like this: "Go to A neighborhood, park your car at B, visit park C/explore quirky museum D/visit tourist site E/shop at the cute shops on F Street, eat dinner at G, go to cheap bar H, and stay at cheap-but-clean motel I," where B - H are in walking distance. Motel recommendations/locations outside of the city are good, too, as long as they're on the way. In Denver, we will be starting at the Denver Airport. Rochester is home, so no need for Rochester attractions.

I'm also open to alternative routes, though they should be similarly direct.

General road trip advice is also welcome. We are two young women. Only one of us will be driving. I am a AAA member.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
I've heard City Museum in St. Louis is amazing.
posted by txtwinkletoes at 5:24 PM on April 30, 2013

You may already know this, but denver to KC suuuuuuuucks. You might consider trying to stop in Hayes and at least grabbing a beer (there is a microbrew there) and food to break up the monotony. STL->CHI makes Kansas look like disaster porn by comparison.

KC->STL is 3.5 hours at the speed limit. No one goes the speed limit. If you are in St. Louis on Wednesday or Saturday morning, the Missouri Botanical Garden opens early at 7. I go there weekly, and still find awesome spots. (Even if you're here some other day, the Gardens are still worth it. Largest Japanese Garden in the western hemisphere.)

You should probably go to the Arch for kicks. The grounds are free.

City Museum is a blast. It is also a timesuck so plan accordingly. Think of a 7-story shoe factory turned into an adult playground by artist types, using concrete, old airplanes, railroad spikes, moveable type, shredded parachutes, and an aquarium. And a ferris wheel on top.
posted by notsnot at 5:35 PM on April 30, 2013

Chicago: Go to Hyde Park. Park at the Medici on 57th. Walk to the Regenstein Library and then into the UChicago quad, admire Gothic architecture ("When Harry Met Sally" begins there). Pass through to the Midway Plaisance. Say hello to statue of Linnaeus. Visit the museum at the Oriental Institute. A Frank Lloyd Wright building is nearby. Hit the Co-op bookstore. Return to Medici for pizza.
posted by seemoreglass at 6:45 PM on April 30, 2013

Pretty much everything Notsnot said. Unfortunately for your "park the car" plan, hotels in the city are likely to be pricey. If you do St. Louis stuff during the day and then drive across the river to Collinsville (≈15 miles) or Troy (≈20 miles) there are a number of cheaper, not scary motels.

I've found that Roadside America is great if you're into absolutely weird stuff that most people wouldn't hunt down.

If you'd like a native guide or a meetup send me a mefi mail.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:55 PM on April 30, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. More please! To clarify re: parking and hotels, Kid Charlemagne, you're advice about Collinsville and Troy is exactly what I'm looking for. The only thing that would make it more perfect is info about conveniently parking during the day in the city!
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 7:42 PM on April 30, 2013

Being the "Motor City," Detroit isn't the most pedestrian-friendly place. In Downtown Detroit, park at Greektown Casino's parking garage for free (if there's not a baseball game that day). The dueling, semi-famous Lafayette and American Coney Islands are a ten minute walk from there. (I admit, I haven't been to either, but my boyfriend endorses Lafayette). Five minutes from Greektown Casino in the opposite direction, Jacoby's is a lively bar with cheap, strong drinks and a variety of German beer. I haven't had anything to eat there, but I hear they have good food too. As for hotels, I think Greektown Casino might be your best bet as far as being in a safe area and close to the main attractions.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is a really large, really nice art museum. It's in Midtown Detroit and so it's a short drive from the downtown area (10-15 minutes). You'll probably have to pay to park here, but there are more than a few lots with paid parking, street parking, and garages.

For shopping, Pure Detroit (just outside the city center) has a bunch of Detroit-related gifts and apparel. Haven't been to the store, but have friends who have bought some nice things from there.

The Riverwalk is a newly developed scenic park/path along the Detroit River. Haven't been, but have wanted to go.

Lastly, safety factors: if you are considering visiting Detroit, you probably already know the basic facts on crime in the city. Downtown Detroit and Midtown Detroit are probably the safest areas in the city. When walking around at night, as always, safety in numbers and be on alert. Also, be prepared for the possibility of being accosted by beggars and be mindful of pulling out expensive cell phones or electronics while out in the street. Likewise, you'd also probably want to hide any electronics or change that you might keep in your car. (I do this myself and, though you might think this is overkill, having one's car being broken into is, unfortunately, a somewhat common occurrence here.) All pretty basic stuff that I'm sure you've thought of yourself but I thought it might be worth mentioning.

If you have any other questions, feel free to memail me. Enjoy your trip!
posted by sevenofspades at 7:58 PM on April 30, 2013

The Botanical Gardens are outside of downtown (five minutes) and have their own parking. The City Museum has parking on site.
As for hotels, you might get lucky at the Red Roof Inn at Hampton and 44. Easy access to downtown. There are a couple other hotels, but more pricey, at the same intersection.
posted by notsnot at 8:00 PM on April 30, 2013

WikiVoyage has a good summary of what there is to see in Toronto.

Personally I'd skip the CN tower, it's alright, but it's expensive and will eat up a chunk of time. The distillery district is also alright, but very tourist-ey. The Royal Ontario Museum is good, but perhaps worth skipping if you're going to other museums along the way. Eaton Centre's just an overgrown mall.

Kensington Market/Chinatown is fun to walk around in, lots of quirky stores. Queen west and the St. Lawrence market too.

For getting around the subway system is quite good, I recommend getting a day pass.
posted by Kowh at 7:32 AM on May 1, 2013

Here's a thing I will tell you about long car trips. When my friend Donna and I moved from California to Florida, we took 3 weeks to do it and meandered across the US and hit all sorts of places we wanted to see.

Here's what I recommend. Travel in the early afternoon until the evening. Here's why.

It's so much better to be able to sleep in, wake up, leausurely get dressed and then head off to the day's entertainment. If we weren't staying in the area for more than over night, it was perfect this way.

So we went from LA to Laughlin, NV. We missed traffic because we got a start at around 2:00 in the afternoon, and were well beyond the metroplex. We rolled into Laughlin, changed clothes hit the casinos, had some dinner, returned to the hotel. Woke up, showered, changed, put our gear in the car, walked around, had brunch and hit the road.

We did this across the country. We went in the summer so we missed the heat of the day, drove mostly at night and didn't have issues with traffic. You can't check into a hotel until later in the day anyway, and having time to loll around the room in the morning kept all that frantic rush to a minimum.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:05 AM on May 1, 2013

Laumeier Sculpture Park, just west of St. Louis near the I-44/I-270 interchange, is easy to get to and will allow you to stretch your legs.
posted by Rat Spatula at 4:10 PM on May 1, 2013

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