Cross Country Road Trip Part I: San Diego to Cleveland

Ever since I put up a teaser about our cross country trip back in October, Paul and I been inundated with questions about the trip. How was it? Which states did you like? How much driving did you do? When are you going to write about it??? Etc., etc.

Initially I was going to break down each leg into individual posts, but it would mean multiple posts spread over weeks. It’s confusing when I see it done on other sites, so I broke our trip down into just four lengthy posts. You’re welcome! The previous post was about the logistics. This is about the first leg leading up to Cleveland.

San Diego to Colorado: Leaving at 3 a.m.

Leg 1-Las Vegas
One complaint about living in Southern California is that it takes forever to leave the state. Paul and I decided to leave as early as possible to get past the western states.

“Early” for us was 3 a.m. Yup, you read that correctly. If you know anything about me, you know it takes me a very scientific 1.5 hours to get ready in the morning without rushing. So I woke up at 1:30 a.m. hoping to trick my body into its regular schedule — and it worked!

By the time the sun was up, we were already on the outer fringes of Las Vegas. I was glad we cleared Las Vegas early considering we’ve done that trip a few times. Everything past Las Vegas was unfamiliar territory.

Leg 1-Utah




We clipped Arizona to cross into Utah. The scenery started to change dramatically. Painted mountains filled out the landscape. I think Doctor even enjoyed the pee break while checking out the sights. It was warm and no clouds in the sky. I wouldn’t mind spending more time in Utah but we were aiming to bunk in Colorado the first night. To help us along, the speed limit in Utah was as fast as 80 miles per an hour.

The western part of Colorado doesn’t have any big cities until you cross the Rocky Mountains, which we did at night during a full moon.


Paul watched the temperature gauge drop to well-below freezing as we went higher and higher into the mountains. It was white-knuckle driving with a few snow flurries blowing onto the road. He would have enjoyed it more but safety was first. We crossed the Continental Divide and went through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel (11,100 ft. elevation).

We made it to freezing Colorado Springs around 1 a.m. and bunked down for the night.

Colorado to Iowa: Lots of Flat Landscape


Thank goodness for good friends! Paul’s friend Monica invited us over for breakfast at her place once we woke up. (We slept a good seven hours.) Doctor got to meet Kingston and Luna (Monica’s dogs) and Monica fed us a hearty meal with lots of bacon. She in return got some San Diego craft beer. We would’ve stayed longer but we had places to go and Kansas was in our sights. She packed us pumpkin bread to fuel our journey.




Kansas is exactly what I expected. Everything is flat and serene with lots of grass. Just imagine seeing that for a few hundred miles as it continued into Nebraska and Iowa.

We vowed not to eat at familiar chain restaurants if at all possible, so once in Iowa we checked out Culver’s for dinner where we met up with Marie (who moved to Nebraska that summer for medical school).



Culver’s is a midwestern chain specializing in butter burgers and frozen custard. Their menu is diverse with salads, seafood and lot of sides — it became one of our favorite chains during our trip. They also had pork loin sandwiches on the menu — something that I’ve never seen in Southern California — and I started seeing it pop up on other Midwestern restaurants.

It was another long night of driving and we were glad to do most of it in the dark. We arrived in Des Moines around midnight to sleep at one of the nicest, cleanest Motel 6’s ever. After years of living in Southern California, our skin is thin and we were freezing from this point on in our trip. Brr…

Iowa to Michigan: Lots of Rain

Since we hit Iowa in two days, this was finally the start of a more relaxing pace. We had time to schedule a breakfast in Cedar Rapids with our friends, Erin and Jeremy, whom we only see once a year in San Diego for comic-con.



Cedar Rapids/Marion is home to Quaker Oats (Jeremy mentioned it smells like cereal some days of the week) and also Erin’s fantastic shop, Alter Ego Comics. I wish we had more time to spend with our friends in their hometown.

Before entering Wisconsin, we tried a loose meat sandwich at Maid-Rite in Dubuque, Iowa.



The loose meat sandwich is the best sandwich of Iowa, according to a recent Business Insider report. Seasoned ground beef is cooked and piled into a hamburger roll. Think sloppy joe but without the sauce — and it’s served with a spoon. I initially thought it was weird but it came in handy to scoop up the loose meat that fell out of the bun.

Dubuque and its historic buildings sits right on the Mississippi River was next.



Once we crossed the Mississippi, we were in Wisconsin’s cornfields and ran into the occasional rain cloud. We did a quick detour into Madison and started heading north toward Michigan’s upper peninsula also called The U.P. by Michiganders.



We fought a bit of traffic going through Green Bay just as a Packers home game ended and experienced more rain and sleet approaching Michigan. It was the first time (and only time) Doctor went a little stir crazy in the back.

Hotels are hard to find in The U.P. especially late at night. Around 10 p.m. we settled into a cool, renovated lodge in Escanaba, Mich., owned by a young couple who were interested in our journey.

Michigan to Ohio: The U.P.


It’s hard to get an idea of what Escanaba looks like in the middle of the night but it was exactly what I imagined once we got up the following day. Imagine Coronado Island but much, much colder. It’s a tiny little town on on Lake Michigan. It thrives during the summer months but business tapers off with winter approaching. There were very few tourists pass through — even fewer from California.


We continued our way up Michigan, through The U.P. and down the “mitten” part of the state.



Our breakfast were pasties (pronounced past-ees), a specialty in these parts. It’s a huge handpie stuffed with ground beef, potatoes, carrots, onions, rutabagas and baked. Other variations are breakfast, vegan and spicy Italian sausage pasties. One pie was more than enough for Paul and me. It was a hearty meal that warmed us from the inside out.

We couldn’t continue south into Michigan’s lower peninsula without crossing the Mackinac Bridge. The bridge connects The U.P. with the rest of Michigan with Great Lakes Huron and Michigan on either side. Nearby Mackinac Island was the setting for Somewhere in Time featuring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. It’s another popular destination in the summer months.

The weather started turning again on our drive toward Ohio where we were going to spend the night at my brother’s. Clear skies were interspersed with cold rain.

Leg4-Mackinack Bridge



No visit to Michigan is complete with out a visit to where Paul grew up in Haslett and the place where he proposed to me. We’ve been there many times — whenever we’re in the midwest — but this time he shared his grade-school tales with the dog.


But there was one final stop before Ohio: Zingerman’s in the quaint city of Ann Arbor. It’s a food paradise and will elaborated in a future post.


According to my brother, Ann Arbor is approximately 4 hours away from Cleveland and we arrived at his home around 8 p.m. We were looking forward to a day of familiar faces without late night driving.

Next: Ohio pit stop!

5 thoughts on “Cross Country Road Trip Part I: San Diego to Cleveland

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  1. What a great post! Your photos are magazine worthy and I love all of the “Welcome” state signs! So cool! We tried Culver’s fried cheese curds when we drove through Wisconsin, but regrettably, nobutter burger or frozen custard. Next time!

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