My Great American Road Trip – And So it Begins

Share post

Seen on the road. Don't mind the bug splatter on the windshield!
Seen on the road. Don’t mind the bug splatters on the windshield!

I left San Francisco for good on June 15, 2015 and set out on a two week road trip with my fiancé. Our final destination was 2,894 miles and 43 hours away via the most direct route, but the plan was to see as much as possible and get a taste for what the road had to offer. We had a general timeline and a couple of hotels booked, but we also wanted some flexibility in the schedule so we could spend more time exploring places we really loved. I was excited to see the towns and cities I had never been to in the heartland, and to drive across the country for the first time. After bearing witness to a zillion car break-ins in San Francisco, we decided to travel light and share ONE BAG, which is all that would fit into the itty-bitty trunk of our bright red Mini Cooper. It was proving to be a big adventure already!

San Francisco —> Pasadena

Distance: 438 miles
Driving time: 7 hours, 8 minutes
San Francisco to Pasadena GIF

I had been packing non stop for the last two weeks but on the morning of the move I still found myself bubble wrapping the last few items. We wanted to head south to Pasadena at around 2 p.m. but it was late into the afternoon when the last bits of furniture were put into the truck.

Clockwise from top left: the mini’s speedometer reading 0 miles; a small number of our boxes; us, on the road; waving goodbye to our SF apartment!
Clockwise from top left: the Mini’s speedometer reading 0 miles at the start of the trip; a small number of our boxes; J and I, heading out on the road; last goodbyes to our SF apartment on Hyde Street!

Exhausted and completely starving, J and I grabbed lattes at our favorite cafe, and held out for dinner at La Bicyclette, a cozy French restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea. As we waited for a table, we visited the town’s candy shop – a little wooden cottage, wafting of sickly sweet air. I loaded up on Swedish Fish and Sour Patch and J grabbed his favorites – mostly things covered in chocolate. At the restaurant, we sat inside a tiny house and ate a delicious meal, not passing up the praline ice cream sprinkled with salt and hazelnuts. After dinner we said our farewell to northern California and barreled down the 5. The drive was long and I was excited, though at the same time unsure if our things would make it safely to the other end of the country. As we approached the orange glow of L.A. in the night, the lights of the city lit up our little Mini Cooper on the quiet freeway.

We pulled up to my sister’s place at 2 in the morning, and as she was away, we got the two-bedroom to ourselves. I carried my little box of plants from the back seat, and over the next day, I found places I thought they’d like in her apartment. We spent the days revisiting our old neighborhoods in Sherman Oaks, Westwood and other spots in LA, thinking of the times we had lived there, who we were and where we were going. It was like retracing our steps backwards, heading forward and back in time simultaneously. A nice way to say goodbye to California.

A trip to Pasadena is not complete without a stop at Zona Rosa Caffe, home of the most delicious Mexican hot chocolate, served in tall glass mugs and topped with whipped cream and cocoa powder. The walls are decorated with masks and day-of-the-dead icons, and the upstairs is an eclectic mix of found couches and old chairs. 

zona rosa caffe
zona rosa caffe

When I joined J in Los Angeles immediately after college, we came here a lot to meditate on life, read, and to bide our time during the recession. It always felt like a destination, a humble place that brought our spirits back up every now and then. It’s a tradition of ours to visit, to marvel at the delicious drinks and enjoy the same Marlon Brando painting that’s been there for years.

Sadly, our favorite ramen place (Asahi) was closed on Tuesdays, so we headed instead to El Rincon Criollo – Cuban food on Sepulveda near Marina Del Rey. Ahhhhhmazing! Their chicken is great and I love their sweet fruit drinks, particularly the guava. It helps that it’s also a very pretty pink! After eating all the tostones I could handle, we headed to a hobby train shop nearby and spent a long time looking through aisles of miniature trees and tiny people sitting on benches.

El Rincon Criollo
El Rincon Criollo

The next morning after a quick salute through our old neighborhood of Manhattan Beach, I snagged an armload of pressed juice in my favorite flavor and we zipped away for Flagstaff, eight hours east.

You may also like