What to do and see between central Pennsylvania and New Orleans
May 24, 2014 6:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm taking my two daughters to see my family and we're driving, from central Pennsylvania to New Orleans. Here's the basic route. Where should we eat? What should we detour to see? It'll be a two or three day drive. Help us plan it.
posted by Toekneesan to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, daughters are 8 and 10. We like home cooking, chinese food, and fried stuff. Also beautiful nature, comics, animals, and art.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:55 PM on May 24, 2014

When's your trip? You're coming through Chattanooga, and I can make better recommendations depending on daytime/nighttime, weekday/weekend, and whether you want free-only or other options.

Kids love the Tennessee Aquarium and the Creative Discovery Museum downtown, but there's also the fabulous Coolidge Park, ringed by fun little stores and restaurants, with a climbing wall and a famous antique carousel. Just drive 30 seconds over the bridge, past the aquarium, to the North Shore, where in addition to the park you and the kids can amble through a tiny but adorable neighborhood with kid-friendly food. The Hunter Museum is also in the neighborhood, and right nearby, within walking distance, is the Bluff View Arts District (with a yummy dessert place, Rembrandt's).

You can drive up Signal Mountain (not even all the way) and show your kids the Spaceship House. You can drive over to the neighborhood of St. Elmo and take the Incline Railway up Lookout Mountain and "see 7 states" (sorta) from one vantage point. While there, you can See Rock City and go to Ruby Falls. (Only have a few hours, not a lot of touristy time? You could just have lunch and hang out in Coolidge Park.)

I'll think more about food, but pretty much anywhere downtown on Market or Broad, or over the Market Street Bridge (and hang a right) onto Frazier Ave. will be easy. Chattanooga doesn't have stellar Chinese food, but we've got lots of nature, arts, and swimmy animals. (You can bypass our zoo, though. It's tiny and nothing special.)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 7:39 PM on May 24, 2014

Response by poster: We leave around June 18th.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:48 PM on May 24, 2014

Response by poster: Free is awesome but we saved some money for this trip.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:49 PM on May 24, 2014

Are you a BBQ fan? If so, definitely stop at Dreamland in Tuscaloosa.
posted by saladin at 7:58 PM on May 24, 2014

I absolutely agree with The Wrong Kind of Cheese regarding Everything Chattanooga.

Having driven the Chattanooga - New Orleans route many times in my life I can reassure you that your best bet is to make Chattanooga an overnight rest and do the next day's trip without stopping for attractions. I can't personally think of anything along 59 that I've ever passed by and thought, "Oh, I should check that out next time I'm there." saladin's right about Dreamland for food, though.

If you need recommendations for New Orleans things I'd be happy to give those but it sounds like you're set in that regard.
posted by komara at 8:01 PM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you have AAA, check in with them about discounts for Rock City/Incline Railway/Ruby Falls. You'd want to spend a couple of hours at each to make it worth it, so it only makes sense if you have the time. (Unless you want to add a day to your trip, you're either going to want to do Rock City/Incline Railway/Ruby Falls OR the Aquarium & maybe Creative Discovery. You won't have time to do all five in a day.)

If you're starting on the 18th, you'll probably be here later Thursday, early Friday (perhaps staying over in/near Chattanooga?) -- just avoid trying to head out of town between 4:30p-6:30p, as the traffic gets backed up at I-75/I-24/I-59. If you don't have a lot of time, you can skip the Spaceship House -- you can't go in, anyway, you just pull over and look at it, and it's at the crest of a hill, at a turn, so it's not super-convenient. It's just neat.

You can MeMail me as the time gets closer -- maybe I can greet you near ice cream somewhere during your visit. :-)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 8:03 PM on May 24, 2014

How far off route are you willing to go? Western Pennsylvania holds more gems than Central. Since you like nature, how about Fallingwater?
posted by unannihilated at 8:04 PM on May 24, 2014

Or, if you're not willing to go quite so far as Fallingwater, you're also passing close by my very own hometown of Johnstown, PA. A great place if you are into history, particularly history surrounding the heyday of manufacturing, unionization, immigration, and the robber barons. We also boast the world's steepest vehicular inclined plane. You get an amazing view at the top.
posted by unannihilated at 8:15 PM on May 24, 2014

I've had some fun with this road trip tool.

On the very left is the 'find places' button that opens the map up to a lot of options.
posted by MansRiot at 8:18 PM on May 24, 2014

Since you're passing right through Bedford, PA, stop at the Jean Bonnet Tavern for a drink or a meal. Cute little place with good food and a decent beer list if you're into that sort of thing, and if the girls are old enough to enjoy ghost stories, they've got some to tell.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:30 PM on May 24, 2014

This would be a little bit off your path, but not too much... .

Consider Skyline Drive in VA and perhaps a stop at Monticello.
posted by CincyBlues at 2:35 AM on May 25, 2014

Not places I have direct experience with, but I have friends who enjoyed Luray Caverns very much, and Berkeley Springs, which should be a good place to get food (sorry, no specific recommendations, but I'd expect Yelp would be useful) and/or stretch your legs.
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:45 AM on May 25, 2014

Chattanooga has a world class public library which has an amazing kids/ya department and is worth a looksee if you're going to be staying there for any length of time. They have something like a 100Mbit connection (you heard me) and are doing totally out-there things with technology. I know the children's librarian. It's worth a visit. I went to Luray Caverns as a kid (pic!) and found it to be totally otherworldly. If your kids haven't been in a cave, it's a good one. I had MeFi help me plan a trip to Alabama many years back (pix). I went to a few places not totally on your path but the George Washington Carver Museum (in Tuskeegee) and the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute (Selma -- seems to have changed considerably since I was there) stayed with me a long time. The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa has a book arts program that might be worth peeking at. I liked Knoxville a lot when I went through but I'm not sure I'd do much of a detour unless you want to drive through the Smokies (in which case ping MeFite workerant who lives neat there) or want to see the women's basketball hall of fame.
posted by jessamyn at 7:26 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Skyline Drive is great if you need a break from the Interstate monotony.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:55 PM on May 25, 2014

Skyline Drive does have a 35 mph speed limit, so you might want to factor that in time-wise, and there's a $15.00 fee. There are many overlooks so you can pull over and drink in the mountain scenery. I've attended some wonderful ranger-led wildlife focused programs at Shenandoah National Park. You might see a black bear cross the road; white-tailed deer are more likely.

You could eat at the Southern Kitchen in New Market, Va., known for Virginia ham, peanut soup, and fried chicken; it has a restaurant interior that hasn't changed since the 1950s. Here's a review by Jane and Michael Stern.
posted by apartment dweller at 7:41 PM on May 25, 2014

Also, not sure when you are returning, or if you are taking the same route back, but if you are in the vicinity of Harrisonburg, Va. on/after June 28, check out the Green Valley Book Fair in Mt. Crawford, Va. It's open for three weeks at a time; lots of good stuff for both kids and adults.

In nearby Mt Jackson, you can watch potato chips fried up in a big kettle at the Route 11 Potato Chips small-scale factory (check hours).

Those two are just off I-81.

As EvaDestruction and Jessamyn said above: Luray Caverns ("Hear Rocks Sing!") (a little off your path but not if you head a little bit east to see Skyline Drive).

Near Natural Bridge, Va. (further south just off I-81) there is the Virginia Safari Park which gets good reviews on TripAdvisor, though I have not been there myself.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:10 PM on May 25, 2014

It is a bit of a detour, but you could visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Green Bank Telescope. The tour is pretty cheap and there is some interesting presentations to go along with the actual visit out to see the giant telescope.
posted by mmascolino at 11:35 AM on May 26, 2014

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