Road Trip Planning Ezine Hit the Road! - June 2009

Road Trip Planning for Kitsch Lovers
You’ve probably heard of the Shady Dell (vintage RV park/motel in Bisbee, AZ) and the Ice Hotels (Quebec, Sweden, etc.), but it’s unlikely you’ve heard of Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, ID! I’ve never heard of it until recently. If you love crazy kitschy places to stay you’ve got stay here. It’s a giant carved beagle (the world’s largest - actually, there are two giant dogs here) that doubles as a B&B and everything there is dog-themed (surprise, surprise). What makes this piece of live-in roadside Americana even cooler is that the owners are very personable and welcoming - not just to people, but to pooches as well.

All of the road-trippers who’ve passed on this gem to me say that the breakfast is outstanding, the area is quiet and very beautiful with views of nearby mountains, and there’s a lot of attention to detail - like dog-shaped cookies placed on your pillow at night. Yet another road-trip destination added to my ever-growing list (a B&B like this is more than lodging, it’s a destination) and maybe to yours…

Watch Out for Speed Traps!
One tip I plan on adding to my road trip planning articles is that people should try to use cruise control whenever possible. Yes, it saves on gas, but more important, it can save you $$$ on speeding tickets. Some states are worse than others – the worst in the nation is New Jersey – but wherever you are, watch out!

With this tip in mind, you might want to check out the National Speed Trap Exchange online at speedtrap.org (opens in new window). Once you start road trip planning this summer, you can check this site for traps along your route – they update it constantly so you can protect yourself and they also offer ways to fight tickets/other articles – all for free.

Wrightsville Beach Report
I wouldn’t call our Memorial Day weekend trip to Wrightsville Beach, NC a "road trip" – it’s just a little too close and we didn’t stop at all (except for gas/coffee) on our way. However, it is a destination and you might be planning a road trip along the North Carolina coast – so here are my road trip planning tips for a trip that includes Wrightsville Beach or nearby Carolina Beach/Kure Beach:

  • Wrightsville Beach vrs. Carolina Beach/Kure Beach - Wrightsville is the classier choice of the three by far – it has a New England feel, clean-cut residents, and a fun party scene that doesn’t get too down-and-dirty. Carolina Beach is very different – really honky-tonk with an unimpressive boardwalk shopping area (it’s actually a concrete alley with stores and hucksters on either side). However – if you’re looking for a wild and rough party scene, you’re more likely to find it at Carolina Beach. Kure Beach is pretty, but very quiet – a good place to go if you’re planning to limit yourself to the beach and your hotel/rental house.
  • Wrightsville Beach Hotels – With our teeny-tiny budget, all we can afford is the Silver Gull – but we love it! Okay, it’s not high-end in any shape, way, or form, but it’s located right on the beach with private beach access, many rooms have direct views of the beach, and it’s clean. The décor looks like it’s over 20 years old (and bears the wear-and-tear to prove it), but the price is right (we paid $150 per night for a room with a view of the beach) for a beachfront hotel. We scouted out the other two big hotels on the beach: Holiday Inn SunSpree and Blockade Runner. We ate breakfast at both and wandered the hotel and grounds. Both are much more expensive ($200 to $300 more per night (up to $500) for a similar view of the water) and have more amenities, nicer grounds, restaurants, and all the goodies. We found the Holiday Inn nice, but a little snooty/unwelcoming. Blockade Runner was much more welcoming and friendly and they had pretty gardens and walkways, a nice tented outdoor dining area by the water, and poolside bar (yes! I love poolside bars!). Once we have more money to spend, it will be Blockade Runner all the way.
  • Wrightsville Beach Restaurants – We’ve been here many times now and every time my favorite is confirmed: Blue Water Grill. It’s on the Intra Coastal Waterway and you can view the busy marina area while chowing down on some delicious fresh fish. We shared the hot crab dip (dangerously delicious), a Greek salad (not really, but Americans never get Greek salads right – still it tasted great), and Ash got the salmon while I got a pasta and seafood dish with a white wine sauce that was loaded with scallops, fish pieces, and shrimp. I wish I could eat it all again right now. Their bar (outdoors on a covered patio) is great and they have live music every Sunday afternoon. So that’s my pick – what about my pans? Oceanic Restaurant never lives up to the hype my guidebooks spout (see my take on guidebooks here) – basically, great view, mediocre to bad food at very high prices. If you want a view of the beach, just take a walk on it and avoid this restaurant. We also went to Dockside Restaurant (also on the Intra Coastal Waterway) – if you want very very casual food (think sandwiches for dinner) and want it all to be fried – this is the place for you. They do have decent views from their upstairs dining room and the prices are lower to match their laid-back menu.
  • What to do in Wrightsville Beach – God help you if it rains. The weather will make or break your road trip planning in Wrightsville Beach as there is very little to do other than go to the beach and out for lunch and dinner. Shopping? Where? Shows, museums, activities? None (well, there’s a tiny beach museum, but that shouldn’t take you more than a half hour). There are two good ways to go if it rains. If you have young children and are willing to drive 40 minutes each way, you could burn off some time at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher (plus you get the thrill of driving through Honky-Tonk Heaven a.k.a. Carolina Beach). This aquarium probably won’t appeal to anyone over 12 years old – its very small and offers nothing unique, so the long drive to it would just be irritating to an adult who’s been to higher quality aquariums. If you’re over 12 years old, the next best plan is to head to nearby Wilmington. There are lots of shops, museums, historic sites, and restaurants there and you could entertain yourself for a day.
If you’re going to Wrightsville Beach, these road trip planning tips should help you out – I wish someone told me this stuff! It’s a great beach destination, one you could add to a longer road trip down the coast to South Carolina, or up through the Outer Banks.

Here’s a shot I took from our room at the Silver Gull.

Wrightsville Beach


Hot off the Presses!
I’ve been on a Route Rampage recently once I started to continually hear from people asking for route recommendations. Check out my road trip blog for the latest ones (also see my other recent road trip planning obsession: Road Food for a state-by-state rundown of great regional foods and the restaurants to visit to sample them).

Next month Ash and I are going up to CT to visit family, and you know we’re not just going to haul-it up there. I’ll be detailing our beach-oriented/seaside road trip through Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware in next month’s issue of Hit the Road! with lots of road trip planning recommendations for any of you considering hitting the same places on your own travels.

Happy trails!
Tara

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