We’re going back in time to share our 2017 car camping adventure through the Southwest! While our trip ended up being shorter than planned, we had some amazing adventures, including several new national parks and getting to be on one of our favorite TV shows! Thanks for reading along!
The Plan had been to leave the Texas coast and head straight for our next stop: Big Bend National Park (cue heart eyes). But you guys should know by now that we rarely stick to the plan — and this time, it was for an unexpected and welcome detour.
At the time my brother, who lives in San Antonio with his wife, was working as a contractor in Iraq. When we were beaching camping, we learned that he was unexpectedly traveling home, and we’d be able to see him after all! His wife very graciously okayed our visit (even though we’d be passing through just a couple of days after my brother got back into the country) so we planned to spend a quick weekend seeing them and catching up.
Our sister-in-law is photography student who has visited the missions several times to take pictures. I could see why once we arrived — the missions are beautiful!
There’s also a fantastic trail between the five missions comprising the park — and if you’re really up for some miles, you can take it all the way to the Riverwalk! We didn’t have time to walk the whole thing, prefer to linger over a few of them, but it would definitely be fun to come back and walk or bike the whole thing at another time.
Mission Concepción may have been my favorite — we had the whole place to ourselves, and it was very quiet and eerie.
Travel + Leisure just released their 2016 “best of” lists — and while they all are super fun, I was especially excited by The Best Cities in the U.S. when I realized how many of these cities we’ve experienced in the last year!
Nerd Alert: Our Streamlined Stats
Because we live in a camper you might get the impression that we prefer the backwoods to big cities. But while we do nerd out over our National Parks, we also love the energy (and delicious food) that comes with big city experiences. Here’s how we scored:
Ryan has been to 9 of these 15 cities, and Rebecca has been to 11.
We’ve visited 8 in the last year alone, including #1-3.
We’ll (fingers crossed) check at least 1 more off our list this fall.
Of the 4 remaining cities, we were supposed to visit 2 on our Southwest Adventure, but didn’t make it …
… and 2 haven’t even been on our radar (but maybe they should be!).
Read on for the down & dirty details …
The List + Our Experiences
#1: Charleston, South Carolina
We visited actually Charleston twice in the last year — once in November, then again in April for a quick trip after a wedding. Travel + Leisure gave this city lots of love this year; it was also #1 on their list of the world’s best cities in 2016! It’s definitely one of the most beautiful cities we’ve visited, although I’m not sure we’d be up for the hot, sticky summers.
#2: New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans was another double-hitter for us! I visited last July, and Ryan and I spent a fun weekend there just before Christmas. New Orleans is such a unique city, with a totally fun vibe, although I don’t think I’d ever want to live there. (If you’re looking for ideas of things to do in New Orleans, I’d definitely recommend Extra Pack of Peanuts’ Destination Diaries podcast episode on the city!)
#3: Savannah, Georgia
We visited Savannah in November and of these three southern cities, I’d say it’s definitely my favorite. I loved the waterfront, the gorgeous old buildings, the food, and all the parks scattered through the city … I definitely want to go back!
#4: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is the first curveball city, for us at least! We’ve never been, although we did drive past it on our way to Los Alamos. If you’ve been, tell us … should we go? Our tentative plans for 2017 have us passing through New Mexico again, so it could definitely become a stop for us.
I (Rebecca) actually attended a journalism conference in Nashville when I was in college; Ryan has never been. We were supposed to go this spring, but didn’t make it. And while our fall 2016 plans have us spending some time in Tennessee, I don’t think we’ll make it that far west. Womp, womp. Maybe we’ll get there when we head west in 2017.
#6: San Francisco
We visited San Francisco as part of our epic 2015 road trip. We definitely loved our time there, although I think we were starting to get a little burned out on living out of the car at that point and didn’t enjoy it as much as we could have. But the weather was perfect — a highlight for me was our picnic lunch at the Beach at Presidio — and we’ll probably revisit it when we head west in 2017. (After all, we never made it to Alcatraz!)
I headed to Chicago in June for a girls’ trip with my sister, and totally fell in love with the Windy City. I haven’t blogged about it yet, but #spoileralert: this is currently my #1 city in the United States. Ryan hasn’t been yet, but I’ll definitely be dragging him there ASAP because I loved it and I kind of want to live there one day.
#8: New York City
We’ve both been to the Big Apple many times, although Ryan definitely has me beat here; growing up in New Jersey, NYC was practically in his backyard. We haven’t been in quite some time, though — maybe it’s time to plan a trip!
Austin was another destination we ended up missing this spring. We were definitely made envious by all our Instagram friends’ shots of tacos and awesome camping. If we revisit Big Bend in 2017, which we’re hoping to do, hopefully we’ll get another chance to check Austin off the list.
I’ll have to admit, I’ve never had much desire to visit Hawaii. Given the choice, I think I’d head to a tropical island a little closer to the East Coast, and a lot less expensive. If you’ve been — am I way off base here?
#12: San Antonio
San Antonio was another awesome stop on our southwest road trip! We loved the Mexican food, visiting the Riverwalk, and the gorgeous Japanese Tea Garden. If we didn’t have family living there, I think the crazy traffic might have kept us away from San Antonio, but I’m definitely glad we made the stop — it’s a pretty cool city.
Fun fact: when I was going to school for journalism, and thought I was going to grow up to be an intrepid girl reporter, à la Hildy Johnson, I imagined myself living in Boston and working for the Globe. Although that dream never panned out, Boston is a city we both enjoy — we’ll probably hit it up when we’re spending time in New England this fall. (Let it be known that our most-visited Boston destination is the Sam Adams Brewery.)
Seattle was a cool stop on our fall 2015 road trip; in classic Seattle fashion, it was chilly and overcast when we visited. Seattle had its own unique charm and I’m glad we were able to check it out.
Portland was a city I’d wanted to visit for a while, and when we went there last fall it definitely didn’t disappoint. Powell’s Books was the highlight for me, and I’d have loved to spend more time checking out the food scene. Next time we’re on the west coast, I’d love to revisit Portland!
Your turn! Where have you gone? Where do you want to go? And what’s your #1 city in the United States?
After a few beautiful days on the beach, we were headed for our first city of the road trip: San Antonio, where we would be spending a few days with my brother and his wife. I had visited them before, but it would be Ryan’s first time in San Antonio and I was excited for him to see the city!
We spent our first afternoon in town just relaxing, but the next day we headed into downtown San Antonio to explore the city. The first stop, of course, was the Alamo!
I was once again surprised by our first sight of the Alamo. It looks so incongruous sitting there, nestled among high rises and tourists!
We took a few selfies while standing in line to get in. The line was quite long, but moved quickly. You can’t take pictures inside the building, but it’s very interesting; there are many artifacts, a helpful diorama of the battle, and exhibits about the history of the Alamo. It’s a San Antonio must-see, but I think once you’ve seen it, there’s not much value in repeating the experience. I think next time we go we’ll have to check out the San Antonio Missions National Park.
From the Alamo we walked a few blocks to the San Antonio River Walk. It claims to be the number one tourist attraction in Texas, and while I’m not sure how they would be able to measure that, it’s definitely a gorgeous spot. I absolutely love green spaces in cities, and am irresistibly drawn to water — so I love the River Walk! It’s really a beautiful urban oasis, and if we lived in the area I think we’d be there often.
The River Walk can also be quite crowded. It was an overcast but warm February day when we visited, so we had plenty of company on our walk. I knew I wanted Mexican for lunch and Ryan and Adam were nice enough to indulge me. We enjoyed delicious food and margaritas, with lots of opportunities for people-watching.
Our afternoon in San Antonio also happened to be Valentine’s Day, so after enjoying our late lunch, we headed home to get ready for a very important Valentine’s Day celebration: a double date to see Deadpool. Coincidentally, the theater my brother suggested also popped up on many “Top Ten Must See Places in San Antonio” — the Alamo Drafthouse. It was definitely a fun way to see a movie, and the milkshakes were a-mazing.
The next day was time for another Texas must: Shooting! It was my first time, and the guys were very patient teachers. We shot several different 9 millimeter handguns, a .38 revolver, an AR-15, an AK-47, and my brother’s new 9 millimeter 30-round machine pistol, which he and Ryan were very excited about.
We rounded out the day with some homemade chili, ice cream, and a movie night!
We spent the next morning catching up on work, doing some grocery shopping for the next leg of the trip, and taking advantage of having a washing machine. By the afternoon we were itching to get out and explore again, so we headed back downtown to visit the Japanese Tea Garden.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was absolutely breathtaking!
Built down into an old rock quarry just outside Brackenridge Park, the entire spot felt like a secret garden.
The garden features winding walkways, stone arch bridges, an island, and an impressive Japanese pavilion. The lush year-round garden also has a 40-foot waterfall and calm green ponds full of huge Koi fish.
Most of the garden wasn’t even blooming when we were there (it was mid-February, after all) and it was still gorgeous.
The gardens were lush and beautiful, but this giant pavilion overlooking the pond was truly impressive. It offers a lovely view of the gardens below and provides a patio for Jingu House, the cafe that sadly wasn’t open when we visited.
The Japanese Tea Garden was a surprising addition to our San Antonio visit, and one of my favorite parts of the trip! I’d highly recommend it as a San Antonio must-see.
Our stay in San Antonio was the perfect mix of relaxing and exploring, and we thoroughly enjoyed our family’s hospitality! The next day we’d be back on the road. We had a seven hour drive planned, with target destination of Big Bend National Park — but little did we know, we wouldn’t make it there that day …