Road trip - Miami to LA
Replies: 8 - Last Post: Sep 19, 2012 11:10 AM Last Post By: WSOrtega26
Sep 3, 2012 10:47 AM
Road trip - Miami to LAMy partner and I are planning a road trip from Miami to LA in May next year. We are planning to hire a car one-way from Miami airport and would love some advice from more "seasoned" travelers. We are hoping that we can do this in 18 days, do people think this will be feasible? We want to use cheap motels along the way and see as much of the culture as possible. My other half has traveled around the states before but without a specific time frame. We are mainly interested in seeing the "real" culture of the southern states and as much of the spectacular scenery as possible. If anyone has any advice it would be greatly received.
Sep 3, 2012 11:27 AM
1You know that you're planning at least 2,700 miles (4400 km) and 44 hours of drive-time by the fastest route? If you drive at least 4 hours daily westward, you have time to stop and view scenery along the way. Are you both over 25 (extra fees for the rental if you are not). Have you looked at the cost of the extra one-way drop off fees for your rental?
Be sure you know where you'll stay May 24 (Friday) - 31, since Monday May 27 is Memorial Day Holiday and traditionally that week is the start of summertime vacations.
Sep 3, 2012 11:35 AM
I have driven the Los Angeles to Miami route on I-10 and I-75 in less than 50 hours by myself. Depending on your fondness for driving, 18 days should be enough. I would add that crossing the continent on I-10 and then driving the length of the Florida peninsula is the most tedious drive I can imagine. Its only good point is that it is the shortest route time wise. I advise taking another route.
I'm not going to plan your route for you. From Los Angeles, you want to head generally north to northeast. You have the California coast, the Sierra Nevadas or Grand Canyon. Farther east lay the Rocky Mountains. There is time to see a number of spectacular national parks in California, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. Why don't you do a little research and tell us which ones appeal to you.
How will you know if you find "fake" culture of the southern states? If you are looking for Scarlett and Rhett, reread the title of the book. There are "Old South" plantation mansions preserved around the south. The best ones I have seen personally are in Eufaula, AL along US-431. Of course, you can always visit New Orleans but it was always a place and culture distinct from the rest of the "Old South." What you will find is that any remnants of the once distinctive "southern culture" are fading rapidly. The larger cities are virtually indistinguishable from any other part of the United States. I would suggest that you plan your trip around specific examples of what you want to see. You need to do the research.
Sep 4, 2012 2:52 AM
3We are mainly interested in seeing the "real" culture of the southern states and as much of the spectacular scenery as possible. If anyone has any advice it would be greatly received.
You might have done better not to mention "real" American culture on here ... it's something of a sensitive hot-button issue, as some of the comments above demonstrate.
You will need to travel at least 250km per day on average, which to me is quite a lot - but I am older and more boring - some Americans think very little of 400km per day. Assuming you are driving Miami to LA for sound reasons - then sticking to the I-10 corridor is a good thing, however with the limited time, you will not have a lot of opportunities to deviate from the I-10 to explore the scenic wonders in the region.
Is there anything you really wish to see along this path (other than the "real" South)? If your plans are still not fixed, you could in fact fly from Miami to Phoenix Arizona, and then have a fantastic 18 days in a meandering loop through northern Arizona, southern Utah, Nevada, and California - it's all excellent. I'm not sure how much "real" South you're going to experience churning down I-10 for days at a time - I think a lot of it will look pretty-much like this.
Sep 8, 2012 8:36 PM
4The last day of my last road trip I covered 850 miles (1,360 km?) in about 11 hours and 45 minutes, which included 15 minutes of stops. I've done most of the roads you will be near, you shouldn't have any problems. Just search where your going and find out if any stops look like fun to you. The cheap hotels is a different situation. If your looking for really cheap places I have no advice. I find that a decent place in the middle of nowhere can cost more then a luxury place in the middle of a city. But if you have low standards you can do it.
Just go, explore at your own pace, tons of time in 18 days.
Sep 9, 2012 12:47 AM
Sep 17, 2012 3:39 PM
Wow, driving from Miami to Los Angeles is going to be a staggering trip! Please, for the love of traveling, buy a Lonely Planet Guidebook! :)
You'll have the most fun in Miami and Miami Beach - it's one of the wildest places I've ever seen, and if you're into partying, cultural vibrancy, a different variety of music, dining and dancing, Miami is for you. The ocean is beautiful and warm, the men sport six-packs, the women are sculpted and exotic in brilliantly-colored bikinis and the buildings are ultra-modern. Expect generic and "real" to blend together here; Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Caribbean Islanders and other ethnic groups all merge together in Miami.
The 130-mile drive to Key West isn't tedious for the encompassing view of the most beautiful and warm waters North America has to offer. Relying on the idyllic weather, you could rent bikes for just $10.00 each for an entire day (includes basket and bike lock), and explore the island in that manner. It's also fun, and sports an extreme party vibe during Spring Break (all of March.) I'm not sure of the partying during other times of the year, but Duval Street, the main drag, is always lively, and offers great restaurants, bars and clubs. It has a more Spanish feel to it, as it is only ninety miles from Cuba, and chickens and roosters are free to roam the streets; they're harmless and amusing to watch. Cruise ships come and go continuously, and it's fun to observe. You wouldn't get bored, and it's still romantic. Don't fly directly to the island; for the best experience, drive from Florida City along all of the Keys' bridge.
In the midst of the Everglades National Park, expect a muggier environment, and also, you'll see all kinds of wildlife - including alligators and crocodiles lounging in the tepid waters, and along the banks of the swamps.
In my personal opinion, I found that Miami, Miami Beach, Key West, Gainesville and Panama City were the best Florida had to offer. The land is flat, and resembles much of what you'll be seeing all the way from Miami to East Texas. There are pine forests and such as well. My second favorite city there was Gainesville, a college city in the upper regions of Florida that had a pretty cool vibe. I understand that there's Tampa and Orlando, but other than the fact that they're cities designed to trap the tourist occasionally, I didn't see anything noteworthy in them.
I'll be honest and biased - only a very small percentage of people would recommend the Southern States as the best of the United States; you require a desire for a certain taste. Northern Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi can be quite beautiful and green, and you will encounter a certain culture. If you know the depressing history of the United States (only some of it is depressing; the slavery of the Africans, the genocide of the Native Americans, the discrimination eras and etc.), the South still reflects it in some elusive ways. You'll see a huge population of African Americans in these states, and they have a language, a culture and a voice all their own. Their music influenced American music hugely, and their food is renowned by many. In the South, you will see color and vibrancy, as well as the toll of neglect and prejudice that has impacted them thinly through the years, though, thankfully, has almost vanished. Only the most ignorant of America still hold narrow-minded, discriminatory perspectives. You'll have the chance to see the Mississippi River, which is the largest river in the United States. I recommend seeing New Orleans (of course), Jackson and Vicksburg in Louisiana and Mississippi, too.
Texas is overwhelming in its size, and flaunts that continually; "Everything is bigger in Texas", "Don't Mess With Texas." The drive across this state, if you've never experienced it, will convince you that road trips are a thing of the past, something better left to the imagination and experience of Jack Kerouac. Austin and South Padre Island are my favorite places in Texas. Forget Corpus Christi and Galveston - those beach cities aren't worthy to call themselves beach cities. Spend your time in Miami for that. Austin is sometimes called the "Music Capitol of the World" and it's only, so far, proving to be true. (SXSW only the most prominent example.) Musicians abound in Austin, and even if you only go to an open mic, you're sure to see some up and coming talent. Austin is eco-friendly, intent upon education (UT Austin is in the middle of downtown, and the liveliness the students exude is catching!), art, humanities, literature, music, and much more - Sixth Street knows how to throw a party, and you can see history throughout the Texas's capitol, along with its modern developments.
If you're into keeping fit and exercising, visit Zilker Park, and camp at the Emma Long Metropolitan Park - it's green and wonderful, situated between a rocky incline and a river that's fun to swim in, especially in Texas's blistering summers. You'll see the most beautiful scenery of Austin and Texas in the drive there, and there are excellent hiking trails nearby. I also recommend shopping at H-E-B, a grocery store prevalent in Austin.
If you have the endurance to do so, I recommend seeing South Padre Island, Brownsville and McAllen, all of which are at the end of Texas's tip, contentedly looking across Mexico. South Padre Island's waters are beautiful and warm, and the island has several festivities in the summer that you can participate in. You could walk throughout the sand dunes, too. A causeway runs from Port Isabel to the island, and there are cabana-like accommodations that are affordable, as well as camping beside a restaurant and docked boats. Strangely, most hotel chains on South Padre Island are extremely inexpensive for the prime location - you'll see rates as low as $20.00 a night. I recommend staying at a fairly affordable Surf Motel - it's right on the beach, and the rooms are very authentic and comfortable, completely furnished. There's a bar and a pool as well on site. You must visit D' Pizza Joint for their pizza; they're liberal with the cheese, and there's music almost every night. Locals love this place, too, albeit there are other fabulous restaurants and bars to choose from. I love Brownsville and McAllen for their genuine commitment to Mexico; tons of culture in these cities, and you can grab delicious Mexican food for cheap, too. You know it's good when they bring you a soda can as your refreshment. Overall, and with common sense, these places are safe.
Note of respect: Please do not condone the killings of innocent people in connection with the rampages of Mexico's drug cartels.
Note of advice: Never say "Hola"; try "Buenos Dias" for a level of deeper respect. In most cases, though, if you can't speak Spanish, Mexicans would prefer that you don't - it has a certain phoniness about it.
El Paso is my third favorite, though more for the culture than than any sort of architectural beauty or scenery. In Texas, it's common to see boys with short hair, faded caps, and muddy boots, and girls with bleached hair, short shorts, sitting beside their boyfriend listening to country music in their pick-up truck. And no - you're not in a different country; Texans just talk with that twang naturally. Very friendly people.
New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment, and I would agree. For the most part, New Mexico is so vast, so empty - in a good way. There are more cattle than there are people in New Mexico, and this is a land of many textures and experiences. Santa Fe is the capitol of New Mexico, and most of the city is built to resemble Native American/Early American adobes, which sets it apart from other cities you have visited. There are gorgeous mountains choked with beautiful forests surrounding Santa Fe, and the downtown has a great atmosphere; there are ample restaurants, bars and wineries. Santa Fe is rich in history, and you'll find America's oldest church here, along with great museums and art galleries. There's also the Santa Fe Opera, and Native Americans sell their goods in the downtown square every weekend. It would be romantic and fun, too. You could rent a car and drive through the mountains as well; past the Black Canyon Campground, there are beautiful aspen trees clustered together. Trains run through Santa Fe from Albuquerque and elsewhere from New Mexico. Try to catch the Native American/Indian Market Week for the best experience in August.
There's so much I love in New Mexico, but if I continue in this fashion, I'll have written an extensive, opinionated travel guide, so I'll simply list the best. Check out the Carlsbad caverns (and only the Carlsbad caverns - the city is renovating itself, but there isn't much to see here), go ahead and see Roswell, still basking in aftermath of the media's worldwide attention of the UFO incident of '42 (though the museum isn't worth seeing - trust me), the mountain towns Ruidoso and Cloudcroft (beautiful, beautiful), the artsy stylings of Silver City and Taos, the originality of Socorro and Carrizozo, the science-orientated Los Alamos and of course, Albuquerque - the mecca of university culture, the curiosity of Central, the poverty and the drug scene. Fifty miles away from Socorro, I recommend seeing the VLA, which is one of the world's premier astronomical radio observatories, consisting of 27 radio antennas. You should check out Magdalena as well, and visit the Kelly Mine, which has a sign that states, "Paranormal sightings and activity have occurred here, and should be expected." You could visit the Magdalena Ridge Observatory as well, which is perched at the top of a tall mountain - an arduous drive but an interesting experience, especially if you walk as far as the dirt path will take you. The military equipment, cars and buildings left over will make you feel as if you just landed a part in a '50's movie. New Mexico is so different and beautiful, and filmmakers acknowledge that fact; after California and New York, New Mexico is the most shot-in state. Lots of free and affordable camping, if you're into that.
I'll throw in some suggestions for the beautiful state of Arizona; see Flagstaff and Sedona, close to the Grand Canyon, if you like. Also, buy some Navajo tribal art and jewelry. The Grand Canyon will speak for itself, though I do recommend buying food in a larger city before hitting America's most famous feature. It's fairly remote, and prices will skyrocket the closer you are to the Grand Canyon. There are generic gift shops and restaurants nearby, but I'd avoid them like the plague in favor of a more authentic adventure. Expect lots of red rocks, and more beautiful pictures. The Petrified Forest National Park is something to see, and in general, I recommend seeing Phoenix, as long as you're in Arizona, and pay attention to the beauty of the desert and its colors - the cacti, saguaro, octillo, rugged and free (and yes, simmering) landscape, perhaps Tucson, Show Low and Globe. Also, I would strongly recommend that you open your mind to the powerful culture of the Native Americans in Arizona - be respectful, and take pictures only with your eyes.
I recommend spending more time walking around each new city and destination instead of focusing on finding a gourmet meal or the perfect tourist trap. You should be spontaneous and enjoy unexpected adventures. Sometimes Americans are glorified for their rudeness (expect on the roads of L.A. and in the shopping centers) , but in actuality, most Americans are very friendly and willing to help you. (Especially on the open-minded West Coast.) If you notice someone who intrigues or captures you, go ahead and brave the unknown by asking him/her/them what their favorite eatery is, or what experience is the most unique to their city's style. I'll be honest about L.A. - the city is ugly, the people self-absorbed and rude. But you have to love it. I recommend riding the bus along Ventura Boulevard, and stopping to see Sherman Oaks, Encino and Tarzana. These are strictly urban valley subcities, but I love them. You MUST visit Venice Beach to really grasp the hippie, cultural vibe of old school So Cal, and you should visit Santa Monica, too - catch the pier at nighttime. Of course, take into consideration what your Lonely Planet Guidebook says, too. Hollywood is not to be missed, and yes - it's required that you walk along Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard. Don't walk around with your head bent down, studying stars and what not; look around you. Buy some fruit from a Mexican flea market; at a Mexican supermarket, buy bolillos, very yummy bread rolls that will fill you up for cheap - you can get four for only a dollar. Don't forget the iconic sign! For a spectacular view, drive alone Topanga Canyon - you'll see an astounding view of the valley, the mountains and eventually, the sea. If you have the time, expenses and endurance to do so, I recommend driving an extra 100 miles to see Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is very beautiful; lush, green mountains and the calm blue waters of the Pacific cradle an expensive Spanish-style built city. Santa Barbara, I would wager, is North America's most beautiful (smaller) city of about 90,000 people. There are restaurants, bars, clubs, music venues and everything else galore; and I guarantee you will love walking along State Street, SB's main drag. You can visit the Santa Barbara Mission for free, and the architecture and art is stunning. If you climb to the top, you'll get beautiful pictures. The view is amazing and captures the city, the mountains and the ocean. There are restaurants along Santa Barbara Pier as well, and during idyllic times, sailboats cruise along the water. Four miles south of Santa Barbara, the town Carpinteria is worthwhile; it's a smaller version of Santa Barbara, in a vague way, and has much more activity because of its compact size.
As for sleeping in the car, it is doable. In fact, most Walmarts across the United States allow RVs and traveling vehicles, such as a lone car, to spend one night in their parking lot. Just buy a $2.00 sun screen for privacy, and if you're uncertain, feel free to ask the security guard driving about the premises. This is an excellent alternative to saving money by not spending it on a single night at a motel/hotel, and I think it's admirable in the passionate, young traveler opting for an authentic, expanded experience.
Motel 6 is also affordable, and very laidback. You could easily pay for a single adult, and the staff at Motel 6 would most likely not notice or care if all of you slept in the room, as long as you were discreet. The excellent thing about Motel 6 is that you can check in at any time (as early as 6 AM if there are clean rooms), and your checkout time would still be 12 PM Noon the next day. If you were tired from the driving and sleeping in the car, this is a good way to unwind and rejuvenate. Motel 6 offers free coffee in the morning (feel free to bring your own coffee cup/container) and generally, Motel 6 is safe and good quality for the price. A no-frills establishment. Remember, a lot of times, if you book online through the hotel's website, you'll be offered a helpful discount, and always feel free to haggle for the best rate - try asking for their Manager's Special, which is the lowest rate the Front Desk Clerk is allowed to sell for persistent customers.
For accommodation, I recommend camping in tents, too, at National Parks and what not.
Eighteen days for this road trip? It is possible, but cutting it close to really enjoy what you're seeing and experiencing. You should probably consider slashing your schedule of places to visit, unfortunately. The United States has so much to offer, and I hope that we make a good impression.
Have an awesome summer experience, and make it your own! :)
Sep 17, 2012 3:44 PM
Sep 19, 2012 11:10 AM
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