Any suggestions for driving from NYC to LA?
March 25, 2008 3:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm driving from NYC to LA this weekend. Going to Ironman it with a friend of mine to Flagstaff, sleep, hang around the grand canyon for a bit, and then drive to LA. Anybody have any words of wisdom?

Some friends mention that by the time you get to New Mexico, you basically have to stop at every gas station because they're so far apart. I'm looking for stuff like that, or shortcuts, etc.
posted by taumeson to Travel & Transportation around Ndola, Zambia (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you have the windows open and your arm out the window, make sure you put sunscreen on. Drove by myself the whole way and I arrived with a sunburn on my left side.
posted by sharkfu at 3:48 PM on March 25, 2008

Since you're planning ahead, find yourself some destinations or tourist traps that require you to leave the interstates. While you can definitely see cool things and still stay on the main roads, taking secondary roads can really give you a more personal view of the places you see, and get you away from the McDonald's-type hegemony of the interstate.
posted by ninjew at 3:49 PM on March 25, 2008

Shortcuts is the wrong way to think about this. ... please for god's sake don't drive the whole way on interstate. It's a great way to see nothing (or alternately, all that is bad about the U.S., at least food-n-drink wise). Your trip out may preclude this since it's not the google-optimizing fastest. But I sure hope somebody can come into this thread and point you to some great near-the-path-but-off-it on your route. Why don't you post your proposed route and we'll see what we can do?
posted by zpousman at 4:04 PM on March 25, 2008

If you drive through Oklahoma City, stop by bricktown and get the best Vietnamese food the country has to offer.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:12 PM on March 25, 2008

Best answer: Be prepared for both very hot temperatures through the desert and very cold temperatures up in the Flagstaff area. I'm always caught off guard by how cold it is up around the Grand Canyon when I was driving through 90 degree heat just a few hours before.
posted by platinum at 4:15 PM on March 25, 2008

It would help to know what route you're taking.

Also, I'd suggest at least one nap break of a few hours with just two people, to get some sleep of slightly higher quality than you'd get in the moving car.

Also, just about any way you go will take you through prime barbequeue territory. Going through Kansas City is probably not the most sensible way to get there, but it's not too indirect, and having lived there, I can tell you as plain fact that they have the best barbequeue. Don't make the mistake of taking 40 all the way there, stopping in Memphis for some dry rub ribs. You will regret eternally that you didn't have Gates, Oklahoma Joe's, or Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City instead. As it turns out, Oklahoma Joe's, the clear winner out of them all, and hands-down the best gas station food anywhere in the United States, is easily accessible from the route you'd be taking if you were to decide to go through KC.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 4:17 PM on March 25, 2008

Oh, I forgot to mention, also if you decide to go through KC, I-70 is notoriously bad for it's entire length through the state of Missouri, last time I checked anyway. It may (hopefully) have gotten better.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 4:19 PM on March 25, 2008

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is closed [PDF], visit the South Rim.
posted by salvia at 4:28 PM on March 25, 2008

I recommend reading this. :)
posted by jmnugent at 4:29 PM on March 25, 2008

Best answer: My sister and I drove from Seattle to Atlanta and back in 1990, three days each way. I'd say don't eat a lot. I stuck to Dorito's and Mountain Dew, but I'm sure you could do better.
Be sure to get out and stretch every few hundred miles.
Be sure to take along good tunage, something for every mood, 'cause radio freakin' blows.
I've found that on long road trips, there will be a moment when something rather unexplainable will make you giggle uncontrollably...but maybe that's just me.
posted by black8 at 4:46 PM on March 25, 2008

Make a counterpoint to this. Seriously. It doesn't have to be a complete time-lapse -- just take video of the most interesting stretches of road (cities, bridges, open fields, desert, and the Grand Canyon, natch) and mash it all into a high-speed montage. It'd be a cool way to document the trip, and a merciful way to spare friends and family from being forced to watch yet another plodding and boring home movie.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:50 PM on March 25, 2008

Best answer: Don't forget your AAA card. You should also go to your local AAA and have them put a Triptik (sp?) together for you. They can also check if any roads and highways are closed or under construction.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:06 PM on March 25, 2008

If you're driving through Iowa or Nebraska between dusk and dawn, look out for deer. It's easy to drive really fast, too fast to avoid them.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:25 PM on March 25, 2008

Best answer: Flagstaff: Macy's Cafe. Travel with at least four gallons of water in the vehicle, two towels, and a water mister. Consult, watch your speed especially near state lines. AZ gas is much cheaper than CA, make sure to fill up before crossing the line, Kingman most likely.
posted by user92371 at 6:26 PM on March 25, 2008

Gas pricing: Gas Buddy gives you an eagle's-eye view of the national gas prices.
posted by user92371 at 6:29 PM on March 25, 2008

As gauchodaspampas points out, it would help to know which route you are taking. If you haven't decided yet, the shortest would be to take the north route and go through I-70, but that wouldn't be as interesting as the southern route through BBQ country, horse country, and endless stunning Appalachian scenery. AND, most importantly, you will miss the opportunity to stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel! Also, if you choose the northern route (I-70), depending on the time of year, you might hit the last of the winter storm, or the beginning of the tornado season. Oh, yeah, if you hear a tornado siren, check yourselves into the nearest motel (but it could be a monthly test, so if the sky is crystal clear, tune to the radio. And speaking of radio, don't know if you like npr, but you can go to their webpage and make for yourself a map of npr stations for your route.
Also, you will NOT have cell phone reception for parts of the way, so make sure that you have emergency supply of food, water, emergency medical kit, etc.
posted by jujube at 6:34 PM on March 25, 2008

consider investing in sirius satellite radio or XM; local radio will suck, and you will want to hear the occasional traffic report through big cities.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:16 PM on March 25, 2008

Best answer: Some tips I've learned from going cross country three times (NYC to Glacier Natl Park to Yellowstone and back, NYC to utah and grand canyon to Phoenix and back, NYC to Seattle to San Diego and back):
- Always fill the tank before you even get to a 1/4 full. ALWAYS. You don't want to wait for some drunk Montana-ian (Montanite?) to let you use his gas club card at 2AM. That no-gas-for-400-miles thing is kind of a myth. There are gas stations, but they may not be open.
- Keep lots of water in the car.
- Use fuel cleaner, and when you get to LA, get an oil change.
- Watch your tire pressure, that can kill gas mileage.
- Stop at all those crazy roadside factoid things.
- If the weathers bad, just chill at a rest stop, its not worth it.
- Sunglasses are crucial, as are comfortable shorts.
- Invest in some decent road atlases, because when you're lost, you probably won't have cell reception.
- Pillows!
- Music! And lots!
- Buy snacks at supermarkets, much cheaper, stock up before you go. Fruit is good too, keeps you up, healthy.

As far as sights go, we pretty much hit them all on our trip from NYC to Phoenix. I drove 41 hours straight with just me and a friend, switching off every gas tank. We took the I-70 route. Here's what we did:
- Left NYC (well, Newark), and our first stop was Canyonlands NP in Utah (!). The only sight along the way is the St. Louis Arch, which is kinda cool.
- The coolest part is driving on Rt 70 through the Rockies after you get past Denver. The mountains are amazing.
- After Canyonlands, we went to Moab, Arches NP (DONT MISS, its great), swung down on backroads to Natural Bridges (missable), and then camped at a KOA at Capitol Reef, which has a sweet stretch of the continental divide.
- Drove to Zion NP, also really amazing, and then down to the Grand Canyon through Glen Canyon. That area is beautiful to drive through too, we drove right through a dust devil!
- At the Grand Canyon, we camped for 3 nights, and hiked both the days we were there. There's a bus you can take that puts you about a mile out west from camp, and you can walk back, right along the rim. Theres one point called the Abyss which is a mile straight drop. Remember to bring lots of water, at least a gallon per person.
- After this, we drove to Phoenix through Flagstaff, and we stopped at Walnut Canyon, a series of native american houses build into the side of a canyon. We also went to Meteor Crater, which is touristy but fun anyway.

Also, on the road to LA from Flagstaff, you can take a detour north, and hit the Hoover Dam, and Vegas, if thats your style. Road trips are good fun!

I have to take this time to say something though, the WORST part, on EVERY trip, was fucking Pennsylvania. Those fuckers do not know how to drive, all the interstates through it are twisty and turny with truckers going 90mph and dead deer everywhere, and it just takes FOREVER. It stinks.
posted by Mach5 at 7:20 PM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I did Syracuse to Seattle in 66 very fun-stupid hours with a friend in the 90s.
We spent the nights when we did sleep in KOA parking lots, icked up a KOA national guide at the first one which helped plan future stops.

We went in the middle of the summer when it was 105 during the day. Near Mount Rushmore I thought we were going to die of the cold, there was ice on the windshield when we woke up shivering. Bring a couple blankets.

Do you have chains? Not sure if you need them still but you may want to investigate.

We bought peanut butter and a couple loaves of bread. Good in an emergency and when we had to eat, we could do it really cheaply.

Pulled off at every tourist trip (wall drug, corn palace, jolly green giant, etc...)

Get a CB radio, we had a ham radio which was good, our friends have done the trip with the cb and had a blast.

We stopped at a carnival in Idaho, that was great.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:10 PM on March 25, 2008

I think a Sirius radio, plus GPS, would be totally essential to making any road trip 100 times more relaxing. With the GPS, you can explore off the interstate without fear of losing tons of time by finding your way back the right way. Sirius, there's always something on to listen to.
posted by rbf1138 at 9:32 PM on March 25, 2008

Response by poster: Good suggestions from the lot.

And I didn't get a chance to mention my route -- if you type "EWR to LAX" into google maps, you'll get the route.

I wanted to go the northern route, but the time of year makes the trek through the mountains difficult, and the northern rim is closed.

Cities we're hitting:

St. Louis

We're gonna detour to the GC, and then head back.

Las Vegas (by way of the Hoover Dam)

In the past I had a pretty epic AskMe about Local/Regional BBQ joints -- I'm sad I'm not going to be heading to KC! But I am going to try and do some BBQ once I get to the OKC/Springfield area. It'll be lunchtime!
posted by taumeson at 5:27 AM on March 26, 2008

your route through oklahoma is going to take you around the outskirts of okc, which time wise is great. only chain places to stop on that route though, so if you want to see any of the city skip the turnpike.

If you are serious about the BBQ, let me make a suggestion. About an hour and fifteen west of okc is jiggs smokehouse in clinton. When they say call ahead, that is good advice, but you can probably share a sandwich and eat for 10.00. Definitely not a chain. Great chow chow and beef jerky. Another review
posted by domino at 7:17 AM on March 26, 2008

well hell. try this again another review

and a website
posted by domino at 7:19 AM on March 26, 2008

Regarding Flagstaff:

I second the person who recommended Macy's Cafe. It's a cool coffee joint on Beaver Street in downtown Flagstaff, and right next to my favorite breakfast place of all time, La Bellavia.

Also, the Beaver Street Brewery is good for beer, lunch + dinner.

If you'd rather not stay in a Motel 6 in town, the Arizona Mountain Inn is awesome.

My wife and I have visited Flagstaff for casual vacations for over a decade; these are our favorite spots in town.
posted by EKStickland at 1:16 AM on March 28, 2008

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