RoRo's Big Adventure
May 3, 2015 5:00 AM   Subscribe

Dearest Mefites of the USA, my 21 yo daughter is planning to galavant around your country this Northern Hemisphere summer, and we'd like your input! Any advice/recommendations for things to see, places to go, how to get there, accommodation, etc appreciated. We're yet to book flights, leaving everything pretty much to the last minute. We have friends in San Fran who will likely be her first stop, then after that, all is variable.

Her interests include:
- Nature
- Music
- Food, drinking, party
- anatomy
- Horror/creepy/scary/paranormal history places, museums
- Art museums
- Amusement Parks

**Somewhere to go for July 4th - anything involving fireworks, drinking and fun**

Places and Ideas she interested in:

New York
The Morbid Anatomy Museum 424 Third Ave, in Brooklyn
Niagara falls
Times Square
NY Museum Of Modern Arts
Watkins Glen State Park

The Mütter Museum
Oktoberfest at Brauhaus Schmitz (sep 19, Souh st)
Summer Fest Craft Beer and Music Festival (JULY 25)
Nigh Market (Aug 6)

Six Flags Magic Mountain
Golden Gate Bridge
Ripleys Believe it or not
Winchester house
Interface Aviation Plane parts (Hollistor Cali)
Rainbow Room bar

Las Vegas
The Las Vegas Strip

The wave
Atelope canyon
Grand Canyon

Beale St - buy a yard of cocktail... (memphis)

Hamilton pool

FloridaDisney world
Florida Keys... anything beach, snorkling, pretty nature stuff

VERMONT! The Scully's summer party thing is a must go to.
posted by goshling to Travel & Transportation around United States (63 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh! She also must go to Louisiana & visit Cold Chef, & also New Orleans!
posted by goshling at 5:02 AM on May 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

It goes without saying, to cover the nature part in Cali, drive PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) from Northern to Southern Cali.
posted by zagyzebra at 5:19 AM on May 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

If she's already going to Philly and NYC, she might as well go to DC. The White House is less impressive in person IMO but DC itself is cool, and if she wants a 101 course in American nationalism the National History Museum wouldn't hurt. There's also a lot of good food from a bunch of places.

Speaking of which: food. I've been in Spain for awhile, and I miss Mexican food and Tex-mex like no other. I would bet there's not a ton of guacamole in Australia, too! (Your profile says that's where you're from?) Or not to the same extent. also might be fun to try American versions of Chinese takeout, etc.

Also, a vote for Colorado. Boulder specifically is a funky place and the mountains are drop dead gorgeous- there's a ton of nature to enjoy.
posted by clarinet at 5:21 AM on May 3, 2015

Response by poster: More useful info: she's just turned 21, doesn't yet have a drivers license, hopefully she'll get it in the next few weeks. That means she'll have a Victorian (Australian) provisional license for the next 3 years, not a full license, which I assume will preclude her from driving in the US/hiring cars?

We're trying to gather the list of places she really wants to get to, then devise the best route, cheap flights, buses, Amtrak, whatever. She travelled to the USA on her own for a month when she was 17, but was just saying in San Fran with friends, so wasn't really travelling solo.
posted by goshling at 5:35 AM on May 3, 2015

The Getty Villa is my favorite thing near Los Angeles.
posted by xingcat at 5:40 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

She's not going to be able to drive? Cross Arizona off your list. She'd be better off cheap-o flying between destinations too, say from LA to Texas (Autin and San Antonio are my recs) then Texas to New Orleans etc. Buses in the US are horrifying and interstate East/West trains take LITERALLY 2x as long as they say they do. Our country was built for driving around. In most cities she can take cabs/Ubers everywhere (expect to spend a ton of money on this in LA) but there's no public transportation to the Grand Canyon unless she wants to take a slow boring tour bus package with old folks. Once she gets to the east coast the north/south trains are reliable and frequent so she'll be ok there. Definitely look into whether she actually isn't allowed to rent a car. It's possible US car rental places are just like "Some kinda foreign paper? OK here ya go."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:00 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not being able to drive will change her itinerary considerably. I would suggest sticking to big cities - say besides San Francisco, pick LA, NY, and DC perhaps. The west coast is harder to navigate than the east coast without a car. Long distance trains are just as expensive as flights, and buses are probably not the way she wants to go - I've taken lots of long bus rides in other countries but I refuse to do it in the US. What's her budget?
posted by umwhat at 6:20 AM on May 3, 2015

If she can't rent a car, can she buy one and sell it when the trip ends?
posted by carmicha at 6:21 AM on May 3, 2015

If she comes to Indianapolis (and I hope she does!), I have granddaughters that she can help corrupt :)

Seriously, in Indianapolis, we have the Indiana Medical History Museum, which is located in the old Pathology building on the grounds of the old Central State Hospital for the Insane, which I used to walk by when I was in middle school. It was a scary place even from the remove of the street, being one of those Kirkbride-plan Victorian horrors, populated with marginalized and mentally-inconvenient folks.

If she's interested in motorsports, we of course are the Mecca in that area. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has quite a nice museum and is generally impressive to most folks, and you can actually take a tour bus around the track on days when there aren't cars running around at 230 MPH.

Other than that, Indy is a pretty nice place all around.

In general: Amtrak can be nice if somewhat unreliable schedule wise, although I hear it's getting better. Sleeper cars are available on most overnight trains, and do a lot to make the trip bearable. In this area, MegaBus is a cheap way to get around. Their buses are nice, and have Wifi. I'd give her the standard advice of not talking to/disengaging as politely as possible from anyone who accosts here in any manner while traveling, especially since she's a young lady traveling alone. I'd of course, be willing to escort her safely wherever I could, and I'm sure my kids would be willing to help as well.

If she hits DC, the Smithsonian is not to be missed- the Air and Space Museum and the Museum of American History on the Mall are the kids of places one can spend literally weeks in, and not see it all.

I wish Ro a wonderful trip!
posted by pjern at 6:25 AM on May 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

She should do pretty well without a car on the East Coast, I live in NY and generally get around other East Coast cities with buses (bolt is cheap, it's only a few hours depending on traffic. I would recommend bolt over megabus, bolt is a lot more reliable and nicer) or trains, it's pretty easy to take NJ transit to and from Philly. I do pretty well without a car for the most part. I Highly recommend fourth of July in Philly. They have a great parade. Also Philly has Eastern State Penitentiary which might be of interest.

Vermont might be tougher to do without a car, but Burlington is one of my favorite cities. I spend a lot of time there but I've never done it without borrowing or renting a car. Flights to Burlington are pretty cheap and only take an hour from NY, but then you'll probably have to cab to Burlington proper and really won't be able to get too far outside of the city.
posted by KernalM at 6:28 AM on May 3, 2015

Additionally, I think the Disney parks are overrated, and way, way overpriced for what you get. $100/day for the privilege of standing in line in the hot Florida/California sun for 6 hours to go on 6 rides? I can do better at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and at least I'll get a license plate out of the deal.
posted by pjern at 6:30 AM on May 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

I would really, really skip Memphis in favor of New Orleans. If the goal is just to experience some American debauchery, New Orleans is beautiful and also full of alcohol, rather than kind of depressing and full of alcohol.

Also, if she's going to California (and she should!), then just go to Disneyland there instead of going all the way to Florida.

Boston would be fun for July 4th.

Other than in the NE corridor (DC, NY, Boston, Philly) she'll need to fly. I've taken overnight buses and trains (on Greyhound only once; Megabus is fine, if super uncomfortable) and they are an option for shorter hops (I've taken the bus from Chicago to Nashville and Chicago to DC a few times) but definitely not a good idea if she's going from, like, Philly to Los Angeles.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:59 AM on May 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yeah, getting to most of the Really Awesome Nature Stuff is going to be difficult-to-impossible without a car, but given her age, I wonder if she'd be able to "hitch" rides in a college town? For example, I went to Montana State (90 miles north of Yellowstone) and people would have absolutely jumped at the chance to take an Australian to Yellowstone and show her the mountains. I'm not sure exactly how she would arrange this from overseas, besides befriending people from that school on social media. If she's recently graduated, perhaps someone in her academic department knows people from other universities.

Anyhow, natural things worth seeing that are a few hours drive from major cities:

Seattle: Olympic National Park, Mt Rainier
San Francisco: Redwood forests, Yosemite National Park
Denver: Rocky Mountain National Park
Salt Lake City: Arches and Zion National Parks
Las Vegas: Grand Canyon National Park
Knoxville, TN: Great Smoky Mountains
posted by desjardins at 7:10 AM on May 3, 2015

If she's going coast to coast, don't neglect Chicago. The fourth of july fireworks are spectacular when seen from the lakefront, and if she wants a real taste of American military absurdity, there's the Air and Water Show. Other super-unique things in Chicago are: The Bahai Temple, The Leather Archives and Museum (gay american history), Pitchfork Music Festival (usually mid July), late night Jazz at the famous Green Mill, and watching the (fake) stars twinkle above you while you catch an arthouse flick at the Music Box Theater (built in the "atmospheric" architectural style in 1929, and allegedly haunted). Puerto Rican Day Parade (June 20th) is always a blast, complete with a giant Puerto Rican Flag. Chicago food culture is eclectic, but I wouldn't go there without a trip down to the southside's Home of Chicken and Waffles. Lastly, from her interest in the Mutter museum and the Morbid Anatomy Museum, she'll also want to check out Chicago's International Museum of Surgical Science.

Also, yes, if you're going to the south, take New Orleans, Nashville, Atlanta or Asheville over Memphis.
posted by dis_integration at 7:11 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Googling suggests that she'll be able to drive in the US with a provisional license. But it can be difficult to rent a car in the US if you're under 25. Buying a beater to sell again would probably be cheaper than renting in any case but higher-risk in terms of maintenance/repair.

New York
The Morbid Anatomy Museum 424 Third Ave, in Brooklyn
Niagara falls
Times Square
NY Museum Of Modern Arts
Watkins Glen State Park

Just to note for the record that Watkins Glen is 400km from NYC and Niagara Falls is 650km away from NYC.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:14 AM on May 3, 2015

As a non-driver midwesterner who lives and has lived in several large midwestern cities, anywhere in the midwest, and I see Tennesse on her list is going to be much, much more difficult (a few exceptions, like chicago). The infrastructure isn't there, and things like uber/lyft aren't as ingrained or available as they are on the coasts. I've taken greyhound buses when I go home a few hours south, but I would expect the experience is nothing like the european experience. They tend to collect "characters" with some more shady than others, people can be boisterous/rude, they aren't scenic, and they are often located in shady areas.
posted by Aranquis at 7:15 AM on May 3, 2015

I suggest the Coast Starlight train from SF to Portland (or SF to Seattle for that matter), but in Portland she will be in a high mefite dense area and every one of her interests can be ticked. From here you can also train over to other parts of the country. I also think hitting the PACNW is nice because if she heads up to Seattle getting to Vancouver is reasonably easy.
posted by iamabot at 7:16 AM on May 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

2nding Boston for the 4th - big party on the waterfront, fireworks, millions of people. Also the Boston area is crawling with students and post-student young people, especially Cambridge/Somerville and Jamaica Plain. Lots of small clubs and alternative music.

From Boston, she should be able to get to some beaches by public transport - I believe some of the beaches on Boston's North Shore are accessible by commuter rail. Also in the same area is the Salem witch house and the Peabody/Essex museum; the North Shore, along with Nantucket, was a center of the 19th century whaling and clipper ship industries, and there are many relics of the time, including a lot of well-preserved houses.

Going south from Boston, there is a train to Cape Cod, again nice beaches. If she can get to a ferry (Woods hole or Falmouth), she can get to Martha's Vineyard & get around the island by bicycle. For the macabre, there is nothing better in the US than Fall River and the Lizzy Borden house.

She does realize that Niagara Falls is a good 6 hours drive or train trip from NYC? I wouldn't steer her away, but it almost counts as a separate destination. Watkins Glen is about 1/2 way between, but not on the major highways and not accessible by train or air. She might be happier making Ithaca her base of operations for the finger lakes - it has better transport (express bus from NYC) and more to do (again lots of students and not-quite-students), and there are several parkes with gorges & trails similar to Watkins accessible by city bus.

She should not miss New Orleans. But Louisiana and Florida with both be very hot & humid - summer is the off season.
posted by mr vino at 7:23 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We realise Niagra is a bit of a trek, it also brings her closer to a possible trip to visit Mefte pals in Canada. Canadian destinations have been left off the main list, due to time constraints/AU$ dropping, but she would like to visit Canada.
posted by goshling at 7:48 AM on May 3, 2015

New Orleans is also great for spooky stuff, especially shops in the French Quarter.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:58 AM on May 3, 2015

Response by poster: Trying not to threadsit, going to sleep shortly, but: A visit to Terrapin & Turtlegirl in Vermont is a definite, as is a trip to LA to visit Coldchef.
posted by goshling at 8:03 AM on May 3, 2015

Car rentals: It's not that you can't rent a car under 25 (21 is old enough), it's just that they charge high fees. Like, $3000 on top of the price for a 3 month long term rental. Or an extra $25-$40 per day for normal rentals. It always seems like rental companies are actually more understanding with foreigners. It is still worth shelling out, at least in some areas (California, Vermont especially).

If you can book the rental through some kind of club, group, membership, insurance company, or whatever, sometimes you can get a discount, and sometimes they can waive the young-renter fee. Worth looking into whatever memberships you have.

Practical concerns: you'll have to make sure she has a credit card (actual credit card, not debit) in her own name, with a high enough limit to pre-approve the cost of the rental.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:07 AM on May 3, 2015

Response by poster: Ah, this is interesting, thanks, Vogon. So if she gets her license, it'll be a 3 year probationary one, which comes with certain criteria (0 BAC, higher fines if breaking any road laws), much higher insurance costs.
If she is able to drive/rent cars that will open up a lot of opportunities.

She has a Visa Debit card, is that potentially a problem, being debit only?

I could get her a credit card as a secondary on my personal or business accounts, as an emergency measure .
posted by goshling at 8:18 AM on May 3, 2015

If she wants to visit Canada and is in the US, it's hard to find an easier way to do it than from Niagara Falls! Assuming she has the visas she'll just need to walk across the Rainbow Bridge (going through immigration obviously) and she'll be in Niagara Falls, Canada. I believe she could take a train from there to Toronto.

If she flies into Buffalo there are plenty of shuttles/busses/transport options, it's only a short hop. There are many direct flights from there to Orlando and other parts Florida if she decides to go in that direction. I personally love Orlando and Disney World, but will not quibble with the fact that it will be brutally hot and unbelievably expensive.

Also, if she does end up driving, it's a straight shot across the New York Thruway into Massachusetts (and up to Vermont). If she does that I highly recommend driving Route 2 across the Berkshires, it's gorgeous.
Disclaimer: I live in Niagara Falls and we need every tourist dollar we can get :)
posted by bitterpants at 8:20 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

If she is interested in sightseeing Southern Utah, Western Colorado, and Arizona, send me a message. My wife and I would be happy to take a few days to show her around. Arches, Canyonlands, Telluride/Ouray, Mesa Verde, etc etc are all very near to my house. The Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Escalante and all of that are also easily reachable. We also have a spare room to offer, if needs be.

Amtrak runs from Denver right through here (and is an amazing trip through mountains) on the way to Los Angeles. The only restriction is that I cannot take time off after August 10.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:30 AM on May 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh god, the idea of her driving alone gives me the major freakouts. She's never driven solo, and as smart as she is, she's easily distracted. She's mostly only ever driven an automatic car, and on the Australian side of the the road. It'd be great if she is able to drive in the US, but the ver idea freaks me out, I've driven in Hawaii & I was all "Who stole my handbrake!" "Why do the windscreen wipers some on when I'm trying to indicate!"and the thought of Ro doing this thing on her own as a brand new driver scares the hell out of me.

We're sending her off for some intensive classes before the test, & a defensive driving course. Should we organise some lessons for her in the US when she arrives, to acclimatise her?
posted by goshling at 8:31 AM on May 3, 2015

In my experience (but this was a long term rental), it had to be an actual credit card, with a line of credit. And it has to have her name on the front, but they won't care if you've cosigned or whatever. When you actually pay you can use a debit card, but they want to pre-approve the charge on the credit card up front. (It looks like you can use a debit card in some circumstances, but they often want a credit history check (!), and since she has no US credit history I don't see that working.)

Looking online, it looks like officials don't know or care about the difference between a provisional and regular Australian license. Which is not surprising, given the laxity of our driving tests. I would think they'd be happy as long as she can legally drive on her own.

The US is a car country. I mean don't try to drive in NYC, but the roads are pretty wide and empty most places. In my opinion, zooming around on the freeways at night is an essential part of the LA experience. Generally, I think other countries have a lot higher driving standards than the US; it's possible she's already a better driver than your average American.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:39 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

She can definitely hit up a lot of the places she wants to go without needing to drive. The cheap bus network (namely Megabus and Boltbus) on the east coast is very good and can cheaply and reliably get her to Vermont, Toronto, Philly, DC, and lots of places in between. If she plans it right, she could theoretically take it down to Florida too.

Watkins Glen, however, is really in the middle of nowhere. There is no easy way to get there from any major city without getting a car and driving for hours. The closet town is Ithaca and for some reason none of the major bus services go there.

I love traveling by train and really want to do a crosscountry journey, but it is not for the impatient or those with firm deadlines.

I think your daughter should have a credit card for big expenses like the car rental and for emergencies. It's much more of a PITA to rent with a debit card and potentially a lot of cash to be locked up in a pre-authorization. The consumer protections are better with credit, if something goes wrong with a debit transaction, who knows how long it will take to get sorted out and get access to your money back?
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:39 AM on May 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

In terms of weird/cool anatomy stuff, the Mutter Museum is really cool. The Morbid Anatomy museum in Brooklyn is totally not worth it, I would skip it entirely. If she's in the area anyway, entry to the lobby/gift shop is free, she can check out some interesting books. The admission part is two very small rooms with some photos of things somewhat related to death and dying. And by "in the area" I mean within a couple blocks. It's not worth going any further out of her way than that.
posted by Bunny Boneyology at 8:42 AM on May 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

If she's interested in weird/creepy places, she should definitely try to make it to House on the Rock in Spring Green, WI.

Chicago, Milwaukee, or Indianapolis could be good big-city midwestern stops as well - the midwest is an entirely different experience than the coasts and could be a really fun part of her trip as well!
posted by augustimagination at 8:58 AM on May 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I came to suggest House On The Rock, too. Also Atlas Obscura is a great site for finding unusual and interesting things to visit.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:44 AM on May 3, 2015

Outside the large cities the roads that get you to the pretty nature, especially in the west, are not all that busy, they are wide and well, very easy to drive on. So if she really wants to hit up some of the national parks alone that would not be the worst kind of driving for a recently qualified driver. Some of it is up and down mountains but not white knuckling type endless hairpin turns kind of stuff. When I drove round on some of the Hawaiian islands I found the roads more windy and narrow than most of the places people have mentioned in this thread.

You mentioned The Wave - you know you need a permit for that which is very difficult to get. They hand out a very small number on the day of visit on a first come first served basis and allocate the same number in a ballot three months in advance online. The ballot is massively oversubscribed. So that one may or may not work although lots of pretty stuff all around there.

Another thought - is she set on travelling solo all the time? There are companies that offer small group adventure type holidays with itineraries that hit a number of the more difficult to get to pretty nature places. In my experience there are normally diverse holiday makers, including some solo travellers, some gap year travelling friends, some young couples etc. These trips last a week or two so she could do her solo itinerary outside of that. If you memail me I can give you the name of one I've traveled with a few times, before I started to go off on my own.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:09 AM on May 3, 2015

Thirding a credit card. If her debit card is stolen and someone uses it to buy a bunch of things, it will take awhile to sort out and meanwhile she has no money.

Also thirding House on the Rock, although it's impossible to get there without a car. If she makes it to Wisconsin, I'd be happy to drive her out there if she doesn't mind spending a day with a 40 year old.

The world's biggest music festival is in Wisconsin (yes, really) in June/July. There are musical acts from all kinds of genres, you can see if she's interested in any of them here. Lots of people drive/take the train from Chicago for this. Same offer, if she wants to go I'd be happy to accompany her. They are Very Strict about enforcing the drinking age, so she should make sure to keep photo ID with her at all times.
posted by desjardins at 10:16 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

If the grand canyon is important, she could take the Amtrak Southwest chief and then the grand canyon train. It's true that there are a lot of delays on Amtrak, so she should not plan something time sensitive after a train trip, however it is not true that it takes 2 times as long. You can look up on time performance. She doesn't need a sleeper. The long haul trains have very comfortable coach seats.
posted by SandiBeech at 10:37 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

If she goes to the Hamilton Pool, she won't be too far from Schlitterbahn water park and an area where she can float the Guadalupe River, both of which I can highly recommend. She'd also be relatively close (in Texas terms) to Natural Bridge Caverns and Inner Space Cavern, though they're in opposite directions.
posted by neushoorn at 10:44 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would encourage you to at least mock-book some trips to get an idea of the scale (and the cost scale) of the trip you are planning. I know Australians who visit one coast or the other periodically and still don't really get that it's at least 6-day drive from one side to the other. It's 8-10 hours just from San Francisco to Los Angeles, 16ish to cross Texas, and flights to do the same are - if you get an excellent sale and are flexible about airports and timing - $100-200 minimum.

I don't think a new driver who's never driven alone needs to be driving alone for long travel stretches in the US, which means she should probably pick maybe bases of operations in large cities with some kind of transportation options that will offer opportunities for organized excursions to some outlying areas of interest. If you can find a way for her to rent a car for less than hundreds of dollars a day, that would be a good option for side-trips as needed, when she's in areas and terrains and weather that is comfortable for her.

You can kind of dot your way around the continent- SF, Portland, Vancouver, Toronto, Niagara, New York, Philadelphia, maybe a brief stop in Savannah, Atlanta, Florida somewhere, New Orleans, Austin, Arizona*, Las Vegas, Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles, back to SF to return home. Most of those places are only going to be reasonably accessible by air without a car.

*Book some sort of excursion for the Grand Canyon. That's not a place to navigate to alone.

Something to consider is that all cities have a lot of the same things. All places have a big 4th of July event (and there's only like 3 pyrotechnics design companies in the US - it's all pretty much the same). All places have weird museums, and music festivals, yard-long cocktails, and state fairs (though not all of them are in summer - but I would put any state's state fair way up high on the list of things a visitor from Elsewhere should get to). A summer trip in the US should not take a $500-1000 diversion to Texas to see one thing - either go to Texas for a week or two, as early in the summer as possible, or skip it entirely.

I can't imagine sending someone her age here without a primary debit card, a second account's debit card (which you have access to and could put/move money to immediately), and an emergency credit card. Using a debit card to reserve things (hotel rooms, cars, sometimes reservations for special events or restaurants, and any purchase where the amount is unknown at the time of the swipe, like at a gas pump) can put holds of varying amounts on the card, effectively preventing her from getting at some of her cash - you're often better using a credit card to reserve and then cash or debit to actually pay.

I would also suggest you at least mock-query housing in the places she's going, unless you are planning on a lot of couches being offered. The US is not a hostel country - you'll find them in large cities, but they are often quasi-homeless-shelters, as are a lot of free/cheap camping areas. Hotel rooms are expensive in cities, and really cheap hotels are often dangerous. Since she's traveling alone, she might be able to score deals on very very small airbnb/vrbo/homeaway/etc accommodations, but they tend to be a better deal for a week rather than a day or two, and a lot of the very small accommodations are not private accommodations. This may also help you determine where she can afford to go/stay versus the return on going/getting/staying/enjoying it.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:07 AM on May 3, 2015 [12 favorites]

If you end up in Florida I highly recommend skipping the theme parks (they're fun, but you can build a theme park anywhere) and instead checking out our beautiful state parks. My favorite is Caladesi Island but there are so many others. In St. Petersburg nearby you can check out the Salvador Dali Museum which is awesome. Also, for spooky paranormal stuff, consider hitting up St. Augustine, the USA's oldest city and home to a lot of that kind of thing as a result. I can't speak for any of the tours etc. they do out there but maybe someone else can. It's nevertheless a great historic place to visit. Haslam's Bookstore in St. Pete is also purportedly haunted but I wouldn't show up exclusively for paranormal type motivations. It's a great bookstore, though!

in Orlando, a very boring place.

How dismissive. That's an unfair assessment, especially if you only showed up for the tourist attractions. Did you know, for example, that our own Enzian Theater hosts the annual Florida Film Festival? Probably not.

If you end up seriously considering heading to Florida feel free to memail me for other recommendations. Most of my knowledge is of the part of the state between St. Augustine and Tampa or so, north/south wise.
posted by Gymnopedist at 11:39 AM on May 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arizona -- those places can be very hot in the summer, and add in humidity in Florida, Louisiana, and Tennessee. Even DC can be pretty miserable.

She can do this trip without driving -- she can focus on big cities and figure out side trips along the way.

San Francisco is a great starting point. She could then fly or take the train to the Pacific Northwest, both for fun, young city things and also for spectacular nature. Summers up here are spectacular -- warm, dry, no humidity. Portland is very manageable without a car, and she could take take a bus to the coast and probably figure out a day trip to Mt Hood or the Columbia River Gorge. Then she could visit Seattle as well. The geography of the Pacific Northwest means you can get amazing mountains and coastlines pretty close to each other.

From Seattle, she could fly to LA. Then, after LA, she could fly to Philly and hit Philly, NYC, Vermont. Where are your Canadian friends, by the way? She could go from Vermont to Canada.

Niagara Falls is gorgeous, but everything around it is also incredibly developed and commercial. It doesn't feel exactly like Nature in the same way as some more remote areas.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:00 PM on May 3, 2015

Also, a couple of suggested mini-itineraries: for southern California, absolutely do some days in LA and some days in San Diego (which is so full of universities and the Navy that there's a high concentration of young people in a relatively small population), and use the train to travel between the two BUT do not go to San Diego July 7-13, because that's Comic Con and there's no hotel rooms or unjammed freeways or molecule of oxygen left on the train.

Musts in San Diego: the Zoo, Pacific Beach (I think that's the primary party-grade beach community), Mission Bay. There's lots of bars and clubs in the Gaslamp and downtown-ish neighborhoods. There is a cluster of museums in the Zoo/Balboa Park area. There's also the Salk Institute, which has tours and events that might be interesting, and that's up in the Torrey Pines area where there's also excellent hiking and beaches. And then in La Jolla at Scripps Park there are sea lions and a good beach for ocean swimming (that's where a lot of people go to train for triathlons) and a couple of places that do kayak and paddleboard rental/classes.

In San Diego, you eat carne asada fries and giant burritos like in northern California except maybe with french fries in them. San Diego also has amazing Vietnamese and Thai food.

If she goes to Texas, I'd recommend several days in Austin plus a couple days in the New Braunfels/San Antonio area (as mentioned above - Schlitterbahn, the Guadalupe, German food, the Alamo), and then some days in Dallas and Fort Worth. Fort Worth has some amazing museums, my favorite Zoo, a great downtown area, cool history stuff. Dallas downtown has a lot of museums as well, and there are several hotbeds of party/club areas (Lower Greenville, Deep Ellum, Uptown, probably others I don't know about). The two downtowns are connected by a 50ish-minute train trip.

Stuff to check for in every city she visits: summer is big for touring Broadway shows. Matilda will be touring this summer, I think Book of Mormon is still doing the rounds. Single last-minute tickets can be super-cheap, so always check. She should also check the touring schedules of any of her favorite bands, comedians, etc in case she'll be crossing paths with them. Always check for film festivals, and for outdoor screenings of films or productions of interesting plays (a lot of cities are big on Shakespeare In The Park productions during the summer, sometimes with really cool additional features like live music scores), and renaissance faires.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:03 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Once she gets to NYC or Boston, getting to our place in Vermont is cake. There are Dartmouth Coach buses -- with movies and wifi -- from either of those cities that drop off in Hanover, NH (Dartmouth college). We can fetch her from there. Then she can hang with us for party weekend. We should be able to spend at least 1 day driving her to some place else in VT or she can relax at Chez Scully indefinitely.
posted by terrapin at 12:21 PM on May 3, 2015

Current hold date for The Party is August 22. We are out of town the weekend of August 7 so the the other backup date for us is 1 August.
posted by terrapin at 12:24 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hmmmm. Some thoughts...

I have taken long bus trips in both the US and Australia. While buses in the US do not have the same popularity they do in OZ, they are not as bad as I think everyone is giving you the impression they are. They are, usually reliable and fairly safe provided you take simple safety measures like you would do at home (stay in well lit areas, don't wander off into a strange city late at night alone or with someone you don't know, keep in close contact with people who know your proposed itinerary etc - basic stuff). Amtrak is a lovely way to travel IF #1 you can afford it, and #2 you are not on a set schedule. Trains are NOTORIOUS for getting delayed in the US and then then Amtrack usually has to put you on a bus to catch up with your connecting train so you wind up busing it a bit anyway, even if that was what you were hoping to avoid.

Just sayin'.

Things to see...

As others have said, Zion National Park is AMAZING!!! I think she would remember it the rest of her life. She should do Angel's Landing trail in Zion if she is not afraid of heights. She wont regret it!

The Sonoran Desert in a tiny corner of AZ/Mexico is the only place in the world where you can stand in a forrest of giant Saguaro cactus. So if you miss that, there's no where else you can go to make it up. Tucson AZ is jam packed with fantastic stuff to see and do (not having a car would be problematic I admit) including world class observatories, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, San Xavier Del Bac (the white dove of the desert) and much much more. It is also a college town and something of a party town. A good place to saty is historic Hotel Congress downtown. From there you can take a street car to many places in town including the UofA and the clubs on 4th ave.

New Mexico is another gorgeous state and some highlights are the city of Albuqerque, THE VLA, The Trinity Site (open to the public only two times a year, so check on the schedule before you go) and White Sands.

I live in Texas and honestly, I guess Austin is OK, but its not as great as everyone makes it out to be. I like San Antonio better, if I was 21, I might feel differently but I'm still gonna recommend skipping Texas, its so big it eats up an enormous amount of time just getting through it.

I also lived for years in Orlando FL and I would also recommend skipping the theme parks unless she is just a crazy all out fan of either Disney or Harry Potter (at Universal). There are other beautiful/interesting/historic things to see and do in Florida if she wants to go. Southbeach in Miami is a great party town, but if she did LA, Miami is somewhat similar. If I had to pick one of the two I almost have to say... well either one would be good I think. There's lots of cool stuff in either area.

Last but not least, New Orleans in a really fun, party city with lots of historic neighborhoods and great places to see.

I hope she has a really fantastic trip! I'm excited thinking about what a great time she's going to have wherever she goes. Lucky kid!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:25 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes! Popping back in to second the Ren Faire thing- prolly a weirder/cheaper/more memorable experience than Disney.
posted by clarinet at 12:29 PM on May 3, 2015

Just a random thought from a stranger, but Australians drive on the LEFT, don't they?

If she has a provisional/new/inexperienced license, it's probably a bad idea to throw her behind the wheel in to a country where we drive on the RIGHT....
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 1:45 PM on May 3, 2015

The drive from Chicago to New Orleans is about 14 hours and one interstate (except for the last hour or so one she hours I-10. It is pretty flat terrain and I did it on one day when I was 22 or so. She'd be able to stop if she wants in various places asking the way including cities in Tennessee. It's pretty in the plains Midwest way. I would hand down do Pacific cost highway in California over that drive. She could do Washington state to Tijuana, Mexico. It would be absolutely amazing. There would be some neat stops along the way.

Can she bring a friend? I'd feel more comfortable if she had someone doing the whole trip with her. It is such a huge country.

I've driven from Chicago Los Angeles on route 66 which is a historical drive that is mostly major interstate but can include some backroads too. I have a personal gallery of the trip if she wants to take a look. Just mail me for the link. We did it in 7 days, camped almost the entire way and stooped at the grand canyon (which isn't on route 66 but is close ). I'd do it again.

I have an Australian transplant friend moved to chicago a few months ago and I may be able to put the two of them in touch with eachother if you would like. He is 19.

You could cobble together a trip through many of the transport options listed. I'd almost go with a touring company that sets up the nation wide trips. That way someone would be checking in with her, and everything would be taken care of and she'd get to see so many things.

Whatever she does I wish her the best.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:50 PM on May 3, 2015

I'm going to throw out the Green Tortoise bus trips. I haven't gone, but they do camping trips for single travellers, mostly young. They do weekend trips to Yosemite, SF to Seattle, cross country, etc. It would really facilitate the nature aspect since she can't drive. As an American living in Australia... The landscapes there are really worth the extra effort and are not like what you have here.

No inexperienced driver should be on Hwy1/BigSur, esp not one used to driving on the opposite side of the road!!! It's one lane, twisty, cliffs with few places to pull over and long stretches between very small towns. Also once you start you finish or turn around - you can't go inland.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:12 PM on May 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Green Tortoise link.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:13 PM on May 3, 2015

Oh, if she's in Los Angeles she might like The Museum of Jurassic Technology.

I agree with you - I do not think she should be driving, and I don't think she needs to to have a good trip. It doesn't sound like she's mature enough to handle getting in an accident (major freak out?), let alone one involving injuries. She can drive NEXT time!
posted by jrobin276 at 3:20 PM on May 3, 2015

This sounds like a great adventure, but the idea of a young woman driving on her own who is a very inexperienced (and easily distracted!) driver in a strange country that drives on the opposite side of the road with the itinerary outlined sounds extremely stressful, if not actually dangerous. The Pacific Coast Highway is a challenge to the experienced driver, LA freeways are something else, destinations on this list are a long way a part, the itinerary includes driving in all conditions from deserts to big cities, & lots of logistical challenges from transportation to overnight accommodations. We have a lot of weather, too, which can gum up travel & mess up an inexperienced driver.

What's her timeline? Creating a viable itinerary will take a lot of time & planning and the result will be a lot of travel miles & time & money. Re-read Lyn Never's answer.

Take a look at the Green Tortoise tours that jrobin276 linked to, esp the roundtrip that starts in San Francisco. It is a month long and hits many the great sites in the US and has a few days in NYC, which could allow a visit, albeit short, to Vermont. Or some other combination of their tours to accommodate some of her other stops. Maybe not as adventurous as a solo car trip or as fast as plane travel, but it solves a lot of the problems with transportation, plus being in a group can be more fun. (I did a month-long bus trip like this; it was a blast.) Seems affordable, too, and easier--certainly when compared to puzzling together cars, fights, trains, buses, accommodations, & meals. I know nothing about Green Tortoise and there may be other companies like this. Worth looking at, IMO. A touring company trip like that would let her focus on all the great stuff she wants to see, rather than the logistics. Cheaper to buy a tent & sleeping bag (as recommended by GT tours) than a car!

I hope she has a great time. She can always come back, too, and see the rest of the stuff she wants to see!
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 10:12 PM on May 3, 2015

Don't forget about Montana. There are several reasons it's called "the last best place".

desjardins mentioned Yellowstone National Park and Montana is the main gateway to Yellowstone. Visit Bozeman, Livingston, and Big Sky if time allows. The Paradise Valley is one of the most incredible places in Montana and has 50 miles that leads to the north entrance of Yellowstone.
posted by mtphoto at 11:12 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

At the risk of throwing a wet blanket on your daughter's trip, please be aware that a young person drinking while traveling alone, and possibly driving, is not a good idea. You mentioned, twice, that her idea of fun is partying and drinking. DUI laws here are strict and she will be arrested if she is caught driving under the influence. I'm even more concerned that she might encounter a predator, taking advantage of her solo status. "Date rape" drugs happen. Please urge her to be cautious and always aware of her surroundings. Traveling with a buddy would make her trip a lot safer.
posted by Aha moment at 4:33 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

If she is really keen to go to Canada, we can take her to Montreal for a day trip or overnight.
posted by terrapin at 6:27 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just to drive home the vast distances involved in traveling cross country, here's a map of Australia superimposed on the US.
posted by desjardins at 8:42 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hey yall, stop dissing Memphis! There's lots to do here, and Beale Street is great! We get TONS of tourists from around the world and know how to show them a good time. I live just a few miles from Beale, have a 23-year-old daughter that shares her partying ways and would love to help her. Memail me with Memphis dates and we'll see what we can work out!
posted by raisingsand at 7:42 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have travelled the United States by car. I have also travelled the US by train, plane, bus, and bicycle.

Bicycle is far and away the best way to see the United States. Here's a great starting point. Let me know if you need more resources. Amtrak (train) is the number two best way to see the states.
posted by aniola at 9:29 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Philly stuff :
Mutter Museum is great, so is Eastern State Penitentiary.
For food, I recommend Reading Terminal Market and the Italian Market. There's lots of good Mexican food in and near the Italian Market. Also in the summer there are a number of beer gardens which all have good food. If she is into beer, Monk's Cafe is excellent, and there are two breweries in town with tours. There is a ton of excellent food here. Don't get a cheese steak at Pat's or Geno's or with cheese whiz.

The Wissahickon section of Fairmount Park has beautiful hiking and can be reached by public transportation. I don't know if there's a public transit route to the Jersey pine barrens but they are a really unusual wild landscape.
posted by sepviva at 11:09 AM on May 6, 2015

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for the input everyone, you're all amazing!

*Ro wants me to emphasise that the possibility of her driving was unexpected & remote - we never expected she'd be allowed to drive on a probationary Aus license.*

Aha_moment, thanks for your thoughtfulness, but your comment made us laugh, I think Australian Road regulations are some of the strongest in the world, and while she still doesn't have her full license, anyone born here since the 70's is pretty much impregnated with "slip slap slap, always wear a seatbelt, wear a helmet on bicylce/motorbike, never drink & drive"
In the 90's we added in "it's illegal to cylce without a helmet "
Yes, we still have people breaking these laws, but we're pretty well indoctrinated that you must wear a hemet while cycling,etc We also know to avoid US police & to have appropriate travel health insurance & to avoid the USA health system.
I will also be warning her that many random people may be carrying guns.
I have emailed a few people who have offered further info, thanks guys, we'll be making a list of things to bother a travel agent with, as I think we need a professional.
We'll be watching IRL & sending her on meetups vicariously.
posted by goshling at 5:16 AM on May 10, 2015

Response by poster: She's wantingto do some snorkelling with the lovely fishes - which she assumed Miami?

The more we look, the less attractive Miami looks - I said if wants to snorkel I'll meet in Hawaii in on way home.
As far as Florida goes, she's just as happy to see Disney La, Six flags on LA
posted by goshling at 5:38 AM on May 10, 2015

Can't she snorkel in Melbourne?
posted by terrapin at 10:35 AM on May 10, 2015

I would look for more interesting and American types of snorkeling/water-related adventures. We have a lot of lakes and rivers that are geologically and biologically interesting to explore.

However, if she wanted to, my recommendation to go to La Jolla Cove/Scripps Park in San Diego would tick that box - Scripps Park includes the Scripps Underwater Park, and the shops around the cove offer all kinds of kayak, paddleboard, surf, snorkel (with sharks, if you like), ocean swim, water bike tours and equipment packages. But there's all kinds of really amazing lakes that she's probably going to be crossing paths with anyway that might afford a special snorkeling stop.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:12 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Alas, no, terrapin. Maybe in a few decades, global warming pending, but by then all the sea life will probably be dead.
There's some interesting diving around here, but that requires SCUBA, PADI, wet suits, etc.
She'd like to just swim about with the fishes casually in a warm environment with decent visibility.
posted by goshling at 1:12 PM on May 10, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for all of the wonderful responses! The AU$ is at it's lowest point in a long time, so that's a bit disappointing and a limiting factor.
Today we went & saw a travel agent and we've booked her flights in & out of the US, and one tour, and that cost AU$6000!

So she's out of here on 1st July, arrives LAX on 1st July. Comes home from LAX 28 Sep 2015, so that's her 90 day visa.

Thanks to jobin376 for the Green Tortoise link, looks like great fun, but we went with tour booked here thru the agent - the Green Tortoise tours look better for locals or backpackers - lots of camping. The tour we booked try via the agent is hotel/motel/lodges, etc, so she won't have to be pitching tents, outback cooking, etc. The agent said the Coputer has hit her with a solo traveller fee, so they'll probably match her up to room share with another solo female. Ro is cool with that.

Logistics: She decided she'd rather fly to the west coast, do the tours first, just to acclimatise herself to travelling on her own, maybe get some contacts, and then explore more.
So, she'll be in LA on the afternoon of 1st July,
Coach tour leaves LA 20th July, noodles around and hits Las Vegas, Yosemite, SF, and cumulates in NY.
Arrives in NY on !st August.
From there she will visit friends in PA & Va, the Scully's being the one certain.
Looks like she'll miss Memphis & pjern & Coldchef (this time) (boo)

She's got her in & our booked (no time left to meet e in Hawaii...booo)
posted by goshling at 5:17 AM on May 16, 2015

A visit to Terrapin & Turtlegirl in Vermont is a definite

And yet we were canceled on. *sniff*
posted by terrapin at 8:16 AM on September 1, 2015

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