I’ve been watching a lot of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes recently, so I decided Philly is our destination for today’s Throwback Thursday!
After graduating UCLA back in March of 2013, my family and I spent 2 weeks exploring the East Coast. We flew from Los Angeles to New York City, rented a car, and drove all over the northeastern states. Philly was one of our stops!
Philadelphia is unlike any city I’ve ever visited before simply because of its significance in United States’ narrative. It’s always fun to explore a new place full of so much history and good food (who are we kidding)! We only spent one day exploring the city, which was surprisingly enough time to visit the major attractions: Independence Hall, Franklin’s grave, City Hall, Liberty Bell, and Philadelphia Museum of Art/The Rocky Statue and the Rocky Steps, and last but not least, Philly cheese steak at Ishkabibble’s Eatery.
We spent some time walking around Philadelphia’s Independence Historic Area, which was so incredibly charming! Such an East Coast vibe!
Day #5 and 6: June 16 – 17, 2014 Madison & Milwaukee, Wisconsin
When I hear Wisconsin, two words immediately pop in my head: cheese and tornadoes. We stayed overnight in Madison, and our brief stay in America’s Dairyland was quite memorable to say the least.
We arrived in Wisconsin late afternoon, and our first two stops were Humbird Cheese and Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet. It was heaven on Earth! A cheese paradise! Every kind of cheese I can imagine (and more!) laid before my eyes.
Between the two, I prefer Ehlenbach’s because a) they give free samples and b) the cheeses are not pre-packaged so you can purchase them by weight. It took a massive amount of self-control to not take home every kind of cheese they have. In the end, three ultimately stole my heart: mild brick, olive cheddar, and portobello mushroom and chive.
Fortunately, Ehlenbach’s ships nationwide so you too can try their heavenly cheese creations!
key lime ice cream!
We spent the night strolling through Capitol Square, which definitely had a college town feel because of its proximity to the University of Wisconsin. A noticeable aspect of Madison that I truly enjoyed seeing is it’s friendliness toward the LGBT community. Left and right, I witnessed same-sex couples holding hands freely and happily, and it warms my heart seeing how far we’ve come.
a pedal pub!
My family and I dined at The Old Fashioned, an All-American restaurant in the heart of downtown Madison. The food was satisfying, not to mention incredibly affordable (compare to Los Angeles prices anyway)!
Perhaps the most memorable experience we had in Wisconsin was the following day, where we were rudely awakened at 8:00 am in the morning by four different iPhones simultaneously ringing , warning us of a potential tornado. I’m sorry, what? A tornado?!
There was heavy thunderstorm that morning, and according to their local news, the storm had the potential to create a tornado. I would be lying if I said I didn’t fear for my life. I wasn’t ready to die! Not while I’m on vacation and certainly not in Wisconsin of all places! My imagination definitely had the best of me. Scenes from Twister flashed in my head. As Californians, none of us knew what to do. We’re familiar with earthquakes, but tornadoes are a whole different can of worms. Thankfully, the storm subsided, and none of us really had to take shelter in an underground bunker.
It was raining sporadically, but we were still able to spend a few hours in Milwaukee, our last stop before Chi-town!
Day #4 and 5: June 15-16, 2014 Minneapolis & St. Paul, Minnesota
The Twin Cities were our next stop after Mount Rushmore. Because of its geographic proximity (merely 10 miles apart), we were able to explore both cities easily.
Our first day in Minnesota was spent in strolling around Downtown Minneapolis. Sports arenas are always on the itinerary every time we visit a new city, so we walked around Target Field and Target Center, two nearby venues where the Minnesota Twins and Timberwolves play respectively.
The weather was warm, yet gloomy and windy. Oh man, we sure got a taste of those Midwest wind gusts.
Perhaps one of the coolest features I found in their downtown is how their bike lanes are positioned. Cars do not park next to the curb, but rather 8 feet away from it, leaving a pocket of road for cyclists to ride more safely on (and tourists like me to pose on).
Minneapolis doesn’t really have a lot of attractions for us to explore, so we played it by ear most of the day. We then came across a charming bridge that sported views of the Mississippi River.
Given the large Vietnamese population in Minneapolis, it was only fitting to eat Vietnamese cuisine for lunch. With the help of Yelp, we discovered a local favorite, Lotus Restaurant. Situated just a few miles outside downtown Minneapolis in Loring Park, Lotus has been a family-owned business for over 25 years. We arrived at the restaurant just before the rain started pouring, making it all the more appropriate to indulge in a hot steamy bowl of pho.
One of the owner’s sons (whose name I cannot recall, forgive me!) seated us immediately. He noticed my cousin holding a kendama, and after watching him play a few tricks, he offered us a free plate of fried chicken wings and egg rolls! The chicken was cooked just the way we like it: crispy while moist, juicy, and tender on the inside. Finger lickin’ good! The service was superb; our server knew what we needed even before we had to ask, from extra utensils to additional pho broth. The rest of the food we ordered were fresh, delicious, and reasonably priced.
With happy hearts and full stomachs, we made a quick stop to Mall of America! The name was definitely appropriate. Never before have I been to a mall with a theme park inside!
The following day we headed to Minnesota’s capital of St. Paul, which was a convenient 20 minute drive away from Minneapolis.
Home to American cartoonist Charles Schulz, St. Paul boasts numerous statues of Peanuts characters such as Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
One of my favorite stops in St. Paul was Candyland, a local St. Paul establishment that has been offering high-quality popcorn, candy, and chocolate for the past 82 years. A trip to Candyland feels like traveling back in time. The aroma of fresh popcorn and chocolate combined with the old-fashioned decor and vintage typography brings customers back to a place when men wore hats, women wore dresses, and everything was simple and sweet.
Sidenote: Their Chicago Mix popcorn is addicting. Consume at your own risk.
Chicago Mix popcorn!
Our last stop in Minnesota was Harriet Island. We spent our lunch on a picnic table under a tree next to the Mississippi river while overlooking the St. Paul skyline. Pretty cool, right?
Thanks for the memories, Minnesota! We’re off to America’s Dairyland [Wisconsin]!
The journey to Mount Rushmore was long. Getting out of Yellowstone was 120 miles alone. Plus, Wyoming is one wide state. I can’t recall how many naps I took during the car ride only to wake up STILL in Wyoming.
This is Wyoming. As far as the eye can see, miles and miles and miles of flatland and open road.
We drove straight from Yellowstone to Mount Rushmore, which took the whole night. This was the first day that we didn’t stay at a hotel. Instead, we spent the night at a rest area smack in the middle of the Wyoming/South Dakota state line. It was uncomfortable, it was freezing, we haven’t showered for more than 24 hours, but it’s what makes road trips… well, road trips! The unexpected detours and changes in itinerary make the adventure all the more memorable.
We arrived at Mount Rushmore around noon, and the weather was glorious! Clear skies and sunshine! Even the drive up the mountain was scenic.
It’s free admission to enter the the park, and there wasn’t a huge crowd when we arrived.
The way leading up to the mountain was a pathway lined with flags of the 50 states, which gave the place an even more patriotic atmosphere. It was surreal to finally be able to witness in person the monument itself. Pictures definitely did not do it justice. Seeing the faces first-hand makes you think just how much sweat and labor that was involved. Washington’s nose is 21 feet long. That’s about 4 of me! Insane!
Inside the park is also a small movie theater where visitors can watch about the history and controversy regarding the creation of mountain.
See short video diary below! (Yes, I am aware of my own awkwardness).
Day #1, June 13, 2014
California – Utah – Idaho – Montana
The journey begins! All of our bags were packed, and we were ready to go. At exactly midnight, we were off to our first stop 400 miles away, Zion National Park, Utah! My mom and dad alternated driving for the next six hours, and as scheduled, we reached the Utah state line just as the sun was rising.
It’s been more than ten years since I’ve been to Utah, and the banded-iron formations were just as majestic as I remembered them to be. Everything was red, from the pavement to the mountains! Talk about being in real-life Carsland!
*Sidenote: During my senior year at UCLA, I took a Geology class where I learned how these red rocks (banded-iron formations) were formed. Basically, the BIFs are sedimentary rocks that resulted from the iron in the ocean reacting with the oxygen being produced by photosynthetic cyanobacteria. So just imagine, these mountains used to be water! The Earth was literally rusting billions and billions of years ago! Shoutout to Professor Schopf for being such an awesome teacher that I still recall his lessons a year and a half after graduating.
Zion National Park, UT
We didn’t intend to hike or backpack around the park, so our stay at Zion was brief. After fueling up on breakfast, off to Salt Lake City we go!
Our itinerary required us to be at West Yellowstone (Montana) by the end of the day, so Salt Lake City was another quick pit stop. We visited the State Capitol, EnergySolutions Arena (where the Utah Jazz play!), and the Union Pacific Railroad Station.
Idaho? No, Udaho! (sorry, can’t help it)
More driving ensued (by me this time). The further north we went, the colder it got! Eventually, we reached Montana just before the sun went down.
We stayed the night at a cozy 2-bedroom cabin in the middle of the woods. Nature surrounded us, making it a perfect setting to restore our batteries after a long adventure-filled day.