My daughter and I decided to embark on a road trip from California to Florida. At first glance at the map, it didn't seem like a daunting task – 2100 miles? No problem.
Once we started planning for the trip, we realized we would need at least a week to get to our destination in Florida – that is, if we wanted to enjoy the sights along the way.
If our goal was just to get there, we could take it in 3 to 4 days.
The trip was mainly a straight line on the 10-freeway with a few side trips. Along the way, we visited iconic places like Phoenix, Sedona, Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, the Alamo, Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, and Destin.
I will not say much about California here because I wrote extensively about my home state.
The California pages cover beach towns like Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach, Santa Cruz, and natural wonders like Yosemite National Park. You can also find city guides for Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.
Arizona has a reputation for being a desert state – and it is mostly true – with a few exceptions like Sedona and Flagstaff.
The first leg of this journey was through familiar California towns, palm trees, and windmills. But once we entered Arizona, the landscape started to change into desert dunes, stark rock formations, and rare lonely bushes here and there. And to complete our desert experience, we encountered a ferocious sandstorm.
Before we crossed into New Mexico, we came across Texas Canyon rock formations – they looked like two giants were tossing around a whole bunch of boulders. The best way to enjoy this unique site is to stop at the rest area with the same name.
As we approached Phoenix, we encountered the usual American urban sprawl – with a few highrise buildings in Downtown and tall cactus trees for landscaping.
If you love the hot-dry desert climate, then you will enjoy living in Phoenix – or visiting – but not for me.
Phoenix is well-known for high-end spa resorts, Jack Nicklaus–designed golf courses, and vibrant nightclubs. None of that attracted our attention.
What we really enjoyed was the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Zoo, and Camelback Mountain.
The botanical garden had many species of cactus on display; surprisingly, some were very colorful.
You can't miss the lonely "Camelback Mountain" 20-minutes outside of Phoenix. Well, it is more like a hill than a mountain, but it has nice hiking trails. Two of the trails will take you up 1420 feet to the summit for a 360-degree view of the city.
For dinner, don't miss a great dining experience at Bobby Q's, a Steak and BBQ restaurant.
During our visit, we ordered the Baby Back Ribs, Top Sirloin, and the Perfect Hamburger. They were all delicious.
Our dessert was the Pecan Cheese Cake - a delightful end to our meal.
Tucson is the second-largest city in Arizona. It was established in 1775 as a military fort by the Spanish. It has the distinction of becoming the first American UNESCO City of Gastronomy due to its vibrant food scene.
Other than sampling the food at the various festivals and restaurants, what else can you do?
Some of my favorites are Pima Air & Space Museum, San Xavier del Bac Mission, Tucson Botanical Gardens, and Saguaro National Park.
Sedona is not on the main route from California to Florida, but it definitely deserves a detour. It sits in a green valley surrounded by majestic red rocks. It is perched at a 4500 feet elevation, which makes it much cooler and greener than the Arizona desert. Read more about Sedona here.
So what can you do in Sedona? You can hike the trails around the looming red rocks – or climb some of them. You can stargaze during one of the darkest nights in the U.S. You can go on a tour of the mystic vortices locals believe have magical healing powers.
We didn't see much while crossing New Mexico. The landscape is mostly desert, with a few hills along the way. The main cities of interest, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Rosewell, were much further north and out of our way. So we continued on to Texas.
"Texas is the largest state in the contiguous U.S. The state was an independent republic for a short while before joining the union.
They say everything is bigger in Texas. We experienced it firsthand as we crossed this huge state. It took us 2-days to cross, and along the way, we saw megacities like El Paso, San Antonio, and Houston.
Interesting facts: Texas had six flags over the years — those of Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the United States, and the Confederacy—which inspired the name of the Six Flags amusement park chain.
So, what things are actually bigger in Texas – other than the Texan egos?
- The state capitol building is the largest in the country. It is even taller than the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
- Not necessarily a good thing to brag about, but Texas is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases in the United States.
- Texas has the largest wind farms in the U.S.
- New Braunfels, Texas, boasts the largest convenience store in the world
- Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is the largest in the U.S
- You can drive 85 miles per hour on some state highways
- There is plenty of big money in Texas. Of the 540 billionaires in the United States, 33 of them are Texas residents.
As we drove through the state on highway 10, the landscape gradually changed from desert to lush green.
Around the city of Junction, we started to see lakes, rivers, farms, and forests. It was a relief for our sore eyes from the long expanse of desert.
El Paso is a border town along the Rio Grande – and across Mexico's border you can see Ciudad Juárez.
If you look at the area on a map, it seems like a megacity combining the US. and Mexican sides.
El Paso has the second-largest border crossing in the U.S. With that comes a lot of commerce and the flow of workers, shoppers, and immigrants.
But we were not here for any of that; we were interested in the major attractions, which include:
El Paso Museum of Art, Wyler Aerial Tramway, and National Border Patrol Museum.
If you are in downtown, don't miss a visit to San Jacinto Plaza - a well-appointed park with a fountain and Alligator statues.
The pond originally contained seven live - and very popular - alligators. The alligators were moved to the El Paso Zoo in 1965 but were memorized with the statues.
Downtown is also home to some excellent restaurants. During our visit, we had dinner at Taft Diaz.
The restaurant and bar take a corner of a business building with ultra-modern decor, pleasant lighting and music, and a creative menu.
During our visit, we tried the Bok Choy and the Capellitti Pasta - both were delicious.
For dessert, we tried the Bread Pudding and Sorbet - an amazing way to end the meal.
The Aerial Tramway is the only one in Texas. It carries riders on a 4-minute trip to a peak in the Franklin Mountains at an elevation of 5600-ft. The park and tramway are currently closed.
If you want to get a great view of the town, take the Scenic Drive. The winding road skirts around the east side of the Franklin Mountains, offering up some of the city's most stunning views.
El Paso is also home to many cultural events and festivals. Our timing was off, so we didn't see any of them, but I sure want to attend the Great River Raft Race and the Balloonfest next time I visit.
We stopped at Fort Stockton out of necessity – after a long drive. We didn't find anything significant to see. It was still an arid desert.
We were intrigued with the Historic Fort Stockton, but we didn't see anything but the fort's ruins.
We just spent the night and departed the following day.
The first things that pop into my head when I hear San Antonio are the Alamo and Riverwalk. But the city is much more than those two attractions.
It started as a Spanish mission in 1718 and later as a Mexican town. In 1835 the standoff at the Alamo helped Texas gain its independence from Mexico.
Along with a visit to the Alamo, a stroll along the Riverwalk is a must. The paved paths stretch for several miles connecting several neighborhoods and waterside parks. In Downtown, both sides are lined with eateries, hotels, and shops.
We enjoyed a tasty dinner at Boudro's right on the riverbank. Great service, great food, and an amazing view.
San Antonio also has two major theme parks; SeaWorld and Six Flags. If wild rides and sea creatures are not your things, you can spend time at the Botanical Garden, Zoo, Tower of the Americas, or Natural Bridge Caverns.
Houston is the largest city in Texas by population and served as the capital of the Republic of Texas for a brief period.
The city is named after General Sam Houston, who liberated Texas from Mexico and became its president during its independence.
Houston is a sprawling city with a lot of history and culture. There are too many things to see in one visit, but here are my favorites: Jhonson Space Center, Museum of Natural Science, Houston Zoo, San Jacinto Museum of History, and Cockrell Butterfly Center.
At the space center, you can take a walk through the space program's history. The center has several exhibits showcasing NASA's ships, a replica of the shuttle independence, and Mission to Mars - the newest exhibit.
A stroll through downtown Houston will take you through a thriving business hub with many attractions, entertainment, and eateries.
While in Downtown, you can admire the highrises, visit the aquarium, relax at a park, have a meal, or take in a show at the theater district.
On the way to New Orleans, we spent the night in this small town outside of Houston. There are no major attractions nearby, but there are a lot of good restaurants.
Highway 10 passes by Biloxi, MS, a town famous for gambling casinos and white sand beaches.
During our second road trip, we decided to spend some time and experience this casino craze.
We stayed at the IP Casino Resort. The property is on the outskirts of town but provided a good launching pad for our exploration of Biloxi.
The room was spacious and comfortable, with a great view of the back bay.
We also loved the casino, arcade, and restaurants. The slot machines were generous - we had a winning streak - but as usual, in the end, the casino wins.
Away from the casino, we enjoyed a stroll along the beach, viewed some historical buildings, and visited the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum.
Much Louisiana land was formed from sediment washed down the Mississippi River, leaving enormous deltas and vast coastal marsh and swamp areas. This results in a lot of beautiful scenery and wildlife to admire.
The first European settlements started in the 1690s when French explorers chose this location to start a small trading settlement. But long before then, the area was also frequented by Native Americans for the same reason.
In 1718 the settlement became a city inviting all to join. Over the years, people from Spain, Africa, France, and the Caribbean made this place home, creating the Creole culture. Learn more about New Orleans's history here
New Orleans (NOLA) is world-famous for its music, Creole cuisine, vibrant nightlife, and annual festivals, most notably Mardi Gras. It is also known as the "Big Easy" for its laidback and inclusive culture.
In this most unique American city, you can find distinctive cuisine, beautiful architecture, and lots of history.
Although New Orleans has many unique neighborhoods, I think the French Quarter defines the NOLA experience. The Quarter is where you can witness the clash and merging of cultures and experience the local foods and music.
The French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carré ("Old Square"), is the oldest neighborhood in NOLA and is protected as a national landmark. Everywhere you walk, you are witnessing a piece of history.
Read the full story about New Orleans here. In this article, you can read about strolls on Riverwalk and Woldenberg Park, Jackson Square, Saint Louis Cathedral, The French Market, Audubon Aquarium, and a Swamp tour with alligators and wild pigs, and of course, about Mardi Gras.
We zipped through parts of Alabam because we were approaching our destination in Florida. We decided to come back to visit those two states another time.
Florida is located in the Southeastern region of the United States. It sits between the Atlantic ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.
The state's proximity to the ocean influences many aspects of Florida culture and daily life.
Florida is a melting pot of African, European, Indigenous, Latino, and Asian people - with a large Cuban presence.
The Florida Keys are a string of islands that extend deep into the Gulf of Mexico, making them a tropical paradise for residents and tourists.
Our final destination for this epic road trip was Florida's Emerald Coast. Our base of operations was Fort Walton Beach. From there, we explored Destin, Okaloosa, Niceville, Pensacola, and Panama City.
On previous trips, we spent time in Orlando and the Space Coast.
Florida is a large state with many distinct areas. We will need to come back several times to explore places like Tampa, Miami, and the Keys.
See the separate pages exploring the State of Florida.