Help me plan my solo-travel, North American, late August adventure!
June 13, 2017 12:49 PM   Subscribe

My basics questions are-- How many days should spend in Toronto? How many days should I spend at Lake Muskoka? How much time do I need to see Kentucky & Tennessee? Helpful personal details below.

I'm a (young in style and energy) 37 straight/single California woman. I have friends (mid-30s married couple with a brand new baby) who have a family vacation house on Lake Muskoka (the husband's family is Canadian) and are staying there the whole month of August.
They invited me to visit, and the last 2 weeks of August I can take off work, but I don't want to spend the entire time there because I think I'll get bored/antsy.
I'm a city girl and while I'm sure it'll be beautiful and relaxing on the lake I want to see some new cities too. Toronto is the obvious choice since I have to fly in there anyway. I've read a bunch of "things to do in Toronto" already on here and it looks cool!

Before this Canada option came up, I was wanting to do a Kentucky/Tennessee road-trip since I've never seen that part of the country. I'm looking at flying into Louisville from Toronto, renting a car and hitting up Lexington, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville & ending in Memphis-- Doable in 7/8 days? If not which city should I skip? For the record I am a 'came, saw it--next!' type of traveler. When traveling in Europe with other people I'm always frustrated with pokiness, so I prefer solo travel.

My needs/wants--

--Character! Charm!

I don't care for shopping or big museums or tours, but I'm told by people who know me best that Graceland is a must.
I really just want to drive through bountiful tree-filled country, experience different places and be among the locals, and hopefully find some quirky spots.

--Walkability/safety...I love to just wander streets by myself and find stuff. I prefer smaller cities to the big ones, especially if theres historically preserved architecture and some local flavor.
For example I prefer Savannah GA, Portland OR, and Philadelphia to NYC; In Europe I prefer Ghent Belgium and Porto Portugal to Paris or London.

--Warm weather. I LOVE warm nights especially. And I don't mind humidity, probably just because it's different than LA's desert heat so I really do feel like I'm somewhere else. Also hoping to pack light.

--'Hip' food joints and bars, especially where its not weird for a woman to be alone. Last place I travelled alone was St. George, Utah (for a day trip to see Zion Canyon) and the only place to get a drink was the Olive Garden among throngs of families. That was awkward.

It like baseball and would be cool if there were non-chain but women-friendly sports bars to catch a game on tv. I hear Kentucky folks are very friendly plus there's bourbon culture and I heard that they are Reds fans in Louisville (who do TN folks root for?)

--Affordable places to stay, either Airbnb or motels. Please let me know where it might be dangerous for me.

Maybe I should mention I am a total "coastal elitist" college (art school) graduate, tattooed Latina who's only lived in the San Francisco and Los Angeles leftist bubble. I don't want to assume all middle America are racist rednecks, but also don't want to romanticize the area and waste my time off somewhere I'm...not wanted? In Georgia I 'stuck out' and while the Georgians were very nice about it/curious about me, I had a bad experience with some Texan former Marine visitors who were half hitting on me half picking an unwelcome political fight with me. Don't care to repeat that, but I guess that type of thing can happen anywhere, even in California. I do have a funny fondness for Rand Paul, and would love to meet some people different from me (ie Libertarians) as long as they are chill.

Sorry for the rambling! I just know it helps to get an idea of who I am in order to determine where I should visit. Thanks!
posted by hellameangirl to Travel & Transportation around Ville de Québec, QC (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't have restaurant/bar ideas for you, but if it were me, I'd fly into Memphis, take about a week to road trip around TN, KY, and maybe NC, and then head up to Toronto. It's a totally do-able drive. (Ohio will be very boring. You can get into Canada at Niagara Falls instead.) Spend your time at the lake, then fly home from Toronto.

In Memphis, I do recommend checking out the Civil Rights museum; it's very sobering.
posted by hydra77 at 1:07 PM on June 13, 2017

Schwab's on Beale Street has lots of character - plenty of places for a beverage around there. I found Graceland to be sort of sad, but YMMV. I liked poking around Sun Records and the Crystal Grotto was...interesting.

Toronto - lots of places are closed Monday, but it's a nice city and you'll enjoy it and feel safe wandering around. Eating/drinking alone there won't be an issue, though like any large city people may not be particularly friendly. The Rex is good if you want some live music with your booze.

I think you'd like Louisville and Nashville (there is a Parthenon replica and nearby there are boiled can you not like the kookiness of that?). Knoxville might be a little conservative for you.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 1:40 PM on June 13, 2017

Modern Nashville has more in common with Portland than you might think.
posted by Cosine at 1:57 PM on June 13, 2017

Not to second guess your plan, but are you totally set on doing your southern trip at the same time? Just asking because if you're already in Toronto area you can easily drive up to Ottawa/Montreal/Quebec city. The Canadian dollar is cheap right now. Tennessee is great but not too different in atmosphere from Georgia whereas Montreal and Quebec city are totally different from anything in North America. Plus, poutine!
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 1:58 PM on June 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

It's about a 3-hour drive from Toronto to Muskoka, so take that into account when planning your timing. Staying 3-4 nights might work for you? You can grab a car at the airport for the Muskoka portion, then drop the car at the airport again and take the train into the city. If you catch a ballgame at the Rogers Centre, any ticket will allow you entrance to the WestJet Flight Deck, which is a standup bar in the outfield. The Jays are in town from Aug 24-30, playing the As and the Angels.

I've driven from Toronto to Kentucky in a day before (enroute to Alabama) but its a really long day. Given the choice again, I would fly. I was pretty stoked about Mammoth Caves National Park nearish to Louisville, but that may not be your thing. :)
posted by TORunner at 2:14 PM on June 13, 2017

then head up to Toronto. It's a totally do-able drive.
A one way car rental between two different countries is going to be expensive. Avis wants over $1,100 for 5 days in the smallest car if you pick up in Memphis and drop off in Toronto. Dropping off in Louisville instead is only $400. Graceland can be fun if you go in expecting a tacky, touristy guided tour because it won't be as bad as you imagine. There are a lot of gift shops. Lookout Mountain is near Chattanooga and has lots of weird places and beautiful views.

St. George has more bars than just Olive Garden, so how did you end up there? =) Yelp, Google Maps and TripAdvisor will all let you search for nearby bars and you can read reviews of them. They are all helpful for finding non chain places to eat or drink in a unfamiliar place. We usually flip through the little book that the hotel has to see which restaurants are really close, too.
posted by soelo at 2:27 PM on June 13, 2017

There's a bunch of hipness in the Louisville food scene that won't be weird if you want to go in by yourself, same with bars and the like. Lots of bourbon, and it's delicious. I'm a Louisvillian so feel free to pick my brain.

And, because I have lots of friends from TN, they root for the Braves.
posted by deezil at 3:16 PM on June 13, 2017

Skip Knoxville. It's just a nice city, but I wouldn't go out of my way to visit. Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis would be my choices.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 6:45 PM on June 13, 2017

Hey--I'm a Torontonian who lived in the southern Ohio/Kentucky bourbon trail area for many years and has spent a lot of time in all the places you mention, and honestly think you might be taking on a little more than is possible to truly enjoy by combining these two (really, three, because Muskoka is its own deal and several hours north of Toronto, and four if you consider Memphis to be its own trip unto itself) trips. If I were you and were really set on combining the south with the north, I'd spend maybe 2-3 days in Muskoka, 2-3 days in Toronto, skip the Kentucky legs of this trip and fly directly from Toronto to Nashville--the flight will be much cheaper and direct, it gives you time to explore Nashville pretty thoroughly (2 days) and drive to Memphis (2 days) or the Smokies if you'd be into that. Since you mention that you're a city girl--bourbon tourism is definitely a thing, and Kentucky is beautiful,'s not as cool as Nashville or Memphis.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 9:46 PM on June 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Having a car in Toronto would be inconvenient. Traffic is bad, drivers are bad, parking is often hard to find or expensive, and there will be construction everywhere in August. Plus you'll have to contend with signs and rules you aren't used to—stop behind streetcars stopping to take on or drop off passengers, as they cross a lane of traffic. And transit here is great by North American standards. So if you're renting a car, do it at the beginning or end.

You might not need one in Muskoka if you're going up there and back. You may want to look into bus services to Muskoka and maybe your friends could pick you up. Although I would totally look into maybe driving from Muskoka through Algonquin Provincial Park (larger than two U.S. states!), Ottawa and then Quebec—way more interesting than the parts of the U.S. you're considering visiting, as TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln mentions.
posted by grouse at 4:26 AM on June 14, 2017

@grouse and @TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln
Shoot, now I'm torn. I was worried it'd be too much. KY/TN had been the plan in my head for a while but then when I got the Lake invite I had to pivot. Thought about doing a just a Canada trip after that but was still hanging on to the original plan.

How about this..if I stick to Canada, are Montreal and Quebec city all that different that I should see both? Are all the signs in French only? (I don't speak a lick of French) Would I have to make an overnight stop along the way in the wilderness?

It looks beautiful but I'm wondering if it'd be a trip I'd rather do with a companion. The idea of a road trip in the states makes me feel a bit more empowered/in control of my surroundings.
Maybe I should skip the Canada trip this year and hope for an invite next summer?

Gah! I'm so torn. But thank you all for your helpful answers so far!
posted by hellameangirl at 11:52 AM on June 14, 2017

Nobody answered your question, so...yes, Montreal and Quebec City are very different and both worth visiting. QC is a lot smaller. Good luck with your decision!
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:38 AM on June 23, 2017

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