This is the first of a series of road trip itineraries about traveling throughout the USA. It’s one of my all time favorite things to rent a car in the USA and explore the scenic backroads, while exploring funky little towns and progressive cities. There is so much incredible nature and rich cultural heritage to explore. My first trip will be about my childhood backyard – The East Coast. I grew up in North Carolina, and I definitely get to brag a little about it in this post.
I write these blogs as if I would go on the trip with you. So, I choose places that I really love, and talk about doing the things that I care about and how I would spend my time. I hope my passion for traveling will rub off on you. These itineraries are written to get your curiosity going and to encourage you to jump over the Atlantic and have an incredible adventure. I have linked some more sophisticated words and terms to diki.pl, so tap on a word if it’s italicized and you don’t know what it means. Also when you see a bold word, it most likely will be linked to a website where you can find some more information. I am sure, you will get the hang of it!
The Full East Coast Experience!
When to plan? If I were going, I would plan to go around the first or second week of October. For this trip I have chosen the dates from: Thursday, September 28th to Saturday, October 14th. This is a great time, because domestic American vacation time is over and accommodation is cheaper (but still not that cheap) and tourist sites are less crowded. The most important thing for me, however, is the perfect weather. In October, the temperatures are cooling down, and the leaves in the mountains are already changing to an incredible display of color! You may push the start date of this trip October 5th and it would also be great. If you can’t go in the Fall, then early summer is also nice (late May – early June). After the mountains, at the end of the trip, you will be able to comfortably enjoy swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in the South Carolina “Low Country” or islands. As you can see, timing can be crucial for the perfect trip, so plan accordingly.
So where do I want to take you?
A good classic place to start your trip is NYC, especially if you haven’t been before. The cultural capital of the East Coast – NYC is simply like no other city you will visit. It is distinctly American but at the same time the capital of the modern world and very cosmopolitan. I could never live in a huge, crowded, and dirty city, but it’s fantastic for a few days for sight-seeing, trying great food, watching some great shows and getting a big dose of culture. Then I would head down to Washington, D.C. – the nation’s capital, which is worth a day of exploration to truly feel the nervous system of the country. It’s not the cultural capital of the US, but it is the central command of the nation and has a very specific – some say imperialistic atmosphere. After the capital, I would go out into the nature towards the wild and beautiful Appalachian Mountains. Here you will discover “America B,” and all of her smiles. Surely, people will not have met that many Poles and will be very curious about where you are from and genuinely happy to meet you. It is very likely you would get a ton more hospitality in America than let’s say England or Ireland. While in western Virginia, you should definitely stop in a few small, historic, all-american towns for a lunch, coffee, and to walk around the charming historical areas. On the next day, you will get up and be transported to Virginia’s highest mountain, where you will bike down it like a rollercoaster ride. It is breathtaking and so much fun! Then you will cross into North Carolina – my beloved home state. Once there, you will get to experience the best of the Appalachian mountains. The N.C. mountains are extremely wild and there are thousands of waterfalls and small mountain streams to get lost by. The hikes are easy and rewarding. Most of all, you will get to see the leaves on the trees changing colors! A sight I am sure you will never forget! Fall time in the “Smoky Mountains,” as they are called, is truly worth a visit. If you look at the N.C. mountains there are very few towns and you can truly get off the beaten path, if you so desire. I will show you some small sweet towns and a really wonderful city called Asheville. Some call Asheville “the San Francisco of the Carolinas” as it is known to be very liberal and full of culture. I also will encourage you to try camping, and will be promoting it as a truly wonderful way to enjoy the mountains, ocean or any part of the nature that makes North America incredible. You will be sad to leave the mountains but not for long once you reach your next destination – The South Carolina (S.C.) “Low Country” or the region closest to the coast. This is one of the cultural pearls of the south, known for its food, traditions, breath taking landscapes, beaches and hospitality. Both Charleston, S.C. and Savanah, Georgia are two beautiful examples of Southern Architecture and culture with such good food that for sure you will gain some weight. I would camp out at the islands or rent a vacation rental house with some friends and go swimming in the moonlight. The water temperature is still about 24 degrees celsius in early – mid October, so definitely bring your bathing suit. If that sound’s like fun, then let’s get started.
Below is the itinerary (map of trip):
First stop: NYC September 28th, 29th, 30th and October 1st. (leave on the 2nd)
– The NYC version of the “Planty krakowskie” – the High Line Urban Park.
If you fly into NYC Thursday night, then you will have 3 full days: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Even though you can easily spend a week in the city, it is very expensive and you will be exhausted after 3 days of exploring.
Like I said, NYC is a place I love going to for a long weekend, but I cannot imagine living there permanently, it’s a bit too much like Babylon. Still, with that said, NYC is a must see for anyone visiting the US and won’t be sorry to taste and feel the energy of the city! However, your wallet or purse will be sorry, as NYC and San Francisco are the two most expensive cities in the USA. The accommodation is the most expensive factor part. Below are examples:
Decent but not fancy hotel: for example “hotel Pod 51” for 600 pln a night
Airbnb rooms run about 400 pln a night, and I would definitely start looking there.
Hostels are also very expensive and in NYC and not worth it unless you are traveling by yourself.
1) My favorite thing to do in NYC is free! That is to walk around and explore the different neighborhoods. Any good guide book is a necessity to NYC and you should definitely read a little about the city before going. Each neighborhood has its own mood and story, and it’s fun to explore each one. Trust me, you cannot get bored, check this link out for descriptions of each neighborhood.
2) Also besides Central park, there is a newer addition to NYC that you must visit and experience, especially in the early evening after dinner. That is the “High Line“. It’s a wonderful place to hangout and just people watch.
3) Out of all the amazing museums, I would definitely recommend seeing the MET – The Metropolitan Museum of Art. One thing most tourists know is that the price for the ticket is only the suggested price of 25 dollars. HOWEVER, This museum is subsidized by the public money, so you can “pay what you can.” So if you can only afford 5-10$, that is also OK. This can also be a relatively cheap way to see a world-class museum (I love the MET). Also you can check out this list of free museums in NYC here.
4) If you have made it all the way to the “Big Apple,” as Americans like to call NYC, then don’t save on going to a Broadway Musical. They are really wonderful to watch and you will have an incredible evening. The best way to find affordable prices are to visit TKTS. They have a couple offices around NYC and also have online booking. They sale tickets at the last minute for a discounted price. Even with a discount, tickets can be from 65 usd – 120 usd depending on the popularity and theatre (but it’s really worth it, if you can afford it). The Lion King, Cats, Chicago, or Rent, are some of my suggestions.
5) Also NYC has some incredible options for dining. For sure you should try the most NYC deli there is: Carnegie Deli . You have to try their NYC Cheesecake. They are known for their huge portions which are frighteningly large, so better share! I also usually go for some really good ethnic Chinese food in Chinatown. It’s great going for Pizza in little Italy and Korean in Korea town. Pretty much, whatever type of food you want to try in the world, NYC has it. Another NYC specialty are bagels with cream cheese and lox and I definitely suggest trying them for breakfast or lunch. Please check online for suggestions about the best restaurants in the neighborhood explore for the day.
6) When you fly into NYC, I would suggest taking a Taxi into the city. You will be tired and it will be confusing to deal with the Public Transport system. There is a flat rate of about 53usd + tip (10-15percent…yes we tip taxis in America.) 60 usd. Or you may take a transfer into the city and then from there take a taxi to your place, check here. Once you are inside the city and at your hotel you can start to use the Public transit system. It is very urban, old and dirty with rats running around, but that’s part of the NYC experience 🙂 You can download and use such an application called “my transit” for NYC like “jakdojadę” in Poland. One thing that you should be aware of it that in NYC, is that the subway/metro lines can either be express or local, were the express lines do not stop at each station, only the main stations, so be aware of that.
When you check out on Monday the 2nd. you will then take a bus to Washington, DC. Americans always call Washington, DC just “DC” so as not to get it confused with Washington State. I recommend a bus or a train because you don’t have to deal with renting a car and driving out of the city. Also the train and bus stations are centrally located in downtown NYC and it is very easy to get to. Perhaps the best part about it is the low cost. For example, they cost about 17-20 usd and take around 5 hours. If you leave at 9:30am you will be in D.C. around 2:30. Before leaving NYC, grab a bagel and some snack food for the trip.
Second Stop: Washington, D.C. October 2nd, 3rd (leave on the 4th)
– D.C. by night
You will arrive in downtown Washington and from there will need to take a taxi to your hotel or airbnb. Hotels in Washington are also also very expensive. For me, the best option was on Airbnb for 2 nights.
So what to do in DC? DC is completely different than NYC, and will be a good contrast. The first day you get here, I would go walk around Georgetown Neighborhood, Georgetown University and the residential roads around the busy intersection. Here is an example of a self-guided walk. Grab Dinner somewhere by checking advise on Yelp or Tripadvisor . If you are a vegetarian as I am, then check out Happy Cow. If you have some energy left, head over to the “Mall,” which is the center park in downtown Washington, and see all the monuments lit up at night. It is very beautiful.
On Tuesday, after being fully rested, go out and explore the monuments and museums by day. You will most likely want to see the Capital building, White House and all the other impressive buildings around the Capital. Here is a good guide to what you can find. The national Museum System in D.C. is called the Smithsonian. All the many Smithsonian museums are for free! When I was a kid, my favorite was the museum of Natural History. After a rest at your hotel, you may want to explore the funky and multicultural area of Adam’s Morgon. It is a great place to find a good restaurant and a bar to grab a drink.
Third Stop: Virginia Mountains. October 4th.
– Classic “Main Street” America – Staunton, Virgina
Today, after breakfast, you will need to go for your car rental. It would be wise to get to your rental car and pick it up by 11:00am. Most likely you can go to the airport or somewhere closer to pick it up. This day will most be about driving and will probably be the least exciting day of the trip, but still, It should be exciting and fun to get out into the countryside.
After taking your car, you will head into the Appalachian mountains! A real site to see in the Fall time. Today you will stay in the Virginia part (VA) but the closer you get to North Carolina, the taller and grander the mountains will become throughout the day. The Appalachians are not the tallest mountains, but they are extremely wild and gorgeous. Like I said, the best thing about the mountains are the leaves that will be changing, which many consider one of the natural wonders of the US. These mountains have some of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in the world, therefore, with all the different species of trees, there is a rainbow of colors in the autumn when the leaves are changing. It is my favorite time to visit the mountains.
For lunch you should stop in the small historic town of Staunton, VA and then walk around and explore it for a while to get your first taste of small town America. After an hour or so, you may head on to Lexington, VA and see another historical university town. Many places date back to the 1700’s. Make sure to also take a walk and see the historical university of “Washington and Lee,” as well as the Military Academy, “Virginia Military Institute.” Here you should start noticing that the accent is turning to “Southern,” which is slower and the vowels are even longer.
Next you can stop in Roanoke, VA which is a small city where you can buy the stuff for camping at Dick’s Sporting Goods (if you decide to camp) and have a good dinner. After dinner, you can stay in town or you can drive closer to your next destination called Damascus, VA (close to where you need to be in the morning). I advise that you find a decent motel on the road somewhere along the highway like in Wytheville, VA for about 90 usd a night, or look for Airbnb.
Fourth Stop: “The Virginia Creeper Bike Trail,” and Boone, North Carolina. October, 5th
The Virginia creeper trail during the Fall.
In the morning drive to Damascus, VA where you can rent bikes and a company will transport you to the top of a beautiful mountain that you will cruise down! The leaves on the trees should be beautiful! It costs 26 usd to rent the bike and go to the top and will take you a couple of hours to come down. It’s all downhill or flat so you don’t have to be the most physically fit and it’s so much fun to do that you won’t be sorry!
After the Bike ride, jump in the car and head down to Boone, NC for a late big lunch. Boone is bit like NC’s version of Zakopane. It is the home of a good university and thriving industry in tourism. Next, check into an airbnb or go find a good camping spot. Remember to check my accommodation page. Then if you are still up for some nature, you could go on a beautiful hike to “Rough Ridge,” on the Blue Ridge Parkway. or for a less demanding but equally cool walk is to a place called Hebron Rock Colony. Or even go to Price Julien Lake and walk around it or rent a canoe and take a spin. If you have children you may want to stay an extra day in the area and go to Tweetsie Railroad or Grandfather Mountain (a wonderful place to explore for adults as well with incredible hiking, if you go ask me and I will tell you where to hike).
Fifth Stop: The Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville and the surrounding nature. October 6 – 9th
This morning, you will wake up and have your coffee or breakfast in the cute mountain town of Blowing Rock, NC (right beside Boone, NC). Then you will set off on the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Asheville, NC! This is a beautiful drive (may be a bit busy during the Autumn because of the leaves, but very much worth any crowds). There are many places to stop for beautiful overlooks and trailheads. So study the map in the link above. You can easily spend all day on this gorgeous road.
Then you will arrive to one of my all time favorite little cities in America – Asheville! This town is known for being one of the most progressive on the East Coast. It is known for their liberal ways and open-minded tolerance. Women have won the right to go topless around town and each Friday the hippies come out to drum together in the middle of town. Asheville is one of my favorite towns to shop in with a lot of really cool and funky boutique stores and art galleries. The town also boasts some rally good food, like my favorite place to get local Southern (regional food) at Tupelo Honey’s and since I am vegetarian, I really like both Plant, and the Laughing Seed. The energy is great and one day, if I move back to North Carolina, it would be to Asheville!
Besides hanging out in Asheville (which is a lot of fun), you can also explore more of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the south of Asheville and discover one of the hundreds of incredible waterfalls there. I could easily spend a week in the area, hiking each day and chilling in Asheville each night. Also Western North Carolina has a huge concentration of gemstones in the mountains and there are lots of mines there. There is a tradition that the mines sell you dirt with gemstones in it, each time a surprise and sometimes you can even find a valuable gem! Children absolutly love it and it’s 100 times better than a Kinder Surprise egg, take a look here. One other huge attraction in the area is the Biltmore Estate which is the largest privately owned palace in the United States.
Sixth Stop: The South Carolina Lowland, Beaufort, Hunting Island, and Savannah. October 9-13th
Wake up and get ready to hit the road for the South Carolina lowland with its beaches, sun, beautiful towns, funny accent and mouth watering food! I would take off early in the morning as the drive will be about 5-6hours depending if you stop for lunch. If you are a big fan of swamps, with lots of snakes and turtles, I would also suggest stopping in Congaree National Swamp and and canoeing or taking one of the hikes. Set your final destination to Hunting Island if you want to have some great camping on a pristine Atlantic ocean beach. Make sure to stop in the town of Beaufort for some groceries for your vacation rental or your camping cooler. Look for the alligators on the island and the incredible nature. If you want to rent a house with some friends or a romantic little getaway, head to Fripp Island (right beside Hunting Island). Check out these links for suggestions with rentals: Fripp, airbnb, and VRBO. Spend the last part of your day swimming and going for some great seafood. I planned for you to have 3 full days on the island and surrounding.
The next day, I would wake up and enjoy the beach for a few hours. If you are on Fripp island, make sure at least one day you enter Hunting Island State Park to get an idea of how all these islands once looked. The nature there is spectacular. That afternoon/evening I would go tour the historic town of Beaufort. It is an incredible beautiful town that was not destroyed during the US civil war. Make sure to take a tour and see the residential areas and old church. If you are a big fan of seafood then you have come to heaven. look online for the best seafood restaurants in the area.
Another day you can go into Savanah, Georgia. One of the cultural capitals of the South (Southern part of the US). This is another place to eat and get lost exploring the parks and architecture. If you have a hard time understanding the locals, it’s because between Charleston and Savanah you will hear the deep southern accent. When you are leaving Beaufort to Savanah, make sure to stop by the ruins of beautiful and haunted Sheldon Church (just google the location).
Savanah, Georgia Park (You may notice it from Forest Gump which was mostly filmed here and around hunting island.
Another important thing you should know is that there is a local culture that is unique to America called the Gullah or Geechee. These were enslaved africans that were set free during the first year of the US civil war in 1861. Up until the 1960’s there were no bridges, white schools, police and their language, traditions and culture flourished. You can learn more about it at the Penn Center which was the first school for black African-Americans. It is a very important cultural center for the black community and I find it really interesting. One thing you may notice are the sweetgrass baskets. This tradition was brought from west Africa.
Between the sun, the water, the food and all the new and interesting experiences, you won’t get board in the Carolina Low Country. The next morning on your way to Charleston, you may want to stop on the way into Charleston and see the Angel Oak:
Seventh Stop: Charleston. October 13-14th.
Your last day and evening will be spent in the most beautiful Southern City – Charleston (besides New Orleans). Again, expect a lot of good food and nice atmosphere. I would definitely take a tour here and slow down and really look into all the gardens and shops. Make sure to walk through the Unitarian Church graveyard if you like cemeteries. It’s good to start with Beaufort and then Savanah and leave the crown jewel – Charleston for last! You may be interested in seeing an old traditional Southern Plantation. There are many in the area to choose from. Take a look at all the great places you can choose from to eat.
On your last day – the 14th, If you would like to do some hardcore American shopping and buy some clothes and electronics, then head over to the Tanger Outlet, where you can find all the typical American brands – GAP, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and other such stores for good deals. Afterwards, go for your last great Southern meal and then catch your flight before you gain too much more weight. Bon Voyage!