2002 to 2009

Best of the Best ~ USA, the lower 48

A compilation of our favorite places

Like many of you, we tend to travel on our stomachs, so naturally our Best Of list has to start off with Food.

Absolutely the first thing to say is that if you are interested in “local” food in any part of the country, the bible is Road Food,     by Jan and Michael Stern.  Do not wander in the United States without it.


Wayside Inn in Tuscaloosa, Alabama: biscuits and bacon that are out of this world;

Gus Balon’s in Tucson, Arizona; great breakfast, but the toast is absolutely to die for;

Casa Ramos Mexican Restaurant in Willows, California; 

Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers on Solano Ave in Berkeley, California;

Red Moose Café – Sierra City, California;

Thelma’s in Big Bear, California, for a wonderful breakfast;

Los Gueros on Huntington Blvd in Monrovia, California; be sure to try the guacamole;

BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery, an awesome California chain;

Ellen’s Pancake House in Buellton, California;

Hays Street Café in Bridgeport, California;

Mexican food – La Casa Lopez in Moscow, Idaho; 

The Ivanhoe Drive In, Upland, Indiana; burgers to die for; 

Pancakes at Lynn’s Paradise Café in Louisville, Kentucky

Sparks Restaurant, Mesick, Michigan.  Be sure to taste (and buy) Mrs Cooper’s preserves, which is what they serve there.  They win the award for the best preserves we’ve ever had in all the years we’ve been traveling.

Jim & Ralph’s Drive-In on Buffalo Road in Gates, New York; great hamburgers, but incredible onion rings;

Holiday Restaurant at the south end of Rockingham, North Carolina – best service; best inexpensive breakfast we’ve found;

Brigs in Raleigh, North Carolina for the best breakfast you could hope for, including pumpkin pancakes in the fall; 

Traditional steakhouse – Cattlemen’s in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, down at the stockyards;

Otis Café in coastal Otis, Oregon;

Tennessee BBQ is a category all by itself; here are two terrific offerings:  Stan’s along I-65 south of Nashville; and Pig-N-Catch in Pikeville; Stan’s had the advantage of chocolate pie, but those ribs in Pikeville were absolutely amazing, and we confess we didn’t try the dessert offerings at PnC.

The Pancake Pantry in Nashville, Tennessee;

Litton’s Restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee;

Monument Café in Georgetown, Texas; great food and easy access for big rigs.  Wi-fi too;

The Hungry Horse in Boerne, Texas; I had a pork loin salad with grilled green beans that was incredible.  Rick had a hamburger, less exotic but also splendid; 

The Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas, all around terrific, and don’t skip the pie;

Miss Bellows Falls Diner in Bellows Falls, Vermont – for breakfast particularly;

Fast Food chain: Chick-Fil-A; would you believe it? Great billboards, terrific food, all over the south.


Still our favorite, from back home in California, Nardonne’s Pizza in Atascadero; 

New York Pizza and Pasta in Naples, Florida.  We understand it is a chain, but this is the only one we’ve seen;

Vanelli’s in Tupelo, Mississippi;

Madison River Pizzeria and Bakery in Ennis, Montana;

Highway 16 Diner in Hill City, South Dakota  (great sandwiches, too);

Vinny’s Restaurant, Leakey, Texas;

Best chain:  Mellow Mushroom, throughout the South.  We first found them in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Specialty items:

Key Lime Pie.  Buy it at the produce stand near the entrance to Everglades National Park, Florida;

Preserves:  Burris Farm Market in Foley, Alabama; jams, honey, pies and other goodies and fresh produce.  Sasnett’s Preserves at a stand outside Byron, Georgia.  Wonderful peach jam, and Mr. Sasnett is my favorite old coot.  Also see Sparks Restaurant in Mesick, Michigan for another entry!  

Ice Cream: at  LuGia’s on the corner of Manitou and Lyell, in Gates, New York

Fresh Produce: As good as it gets: – Pattie’s Patch on Highway 4 just over the line into New York from Vermont;

Honey: Wildflower Honey by Southern Gold Honey Co..  it’s made in Texas, and you can find in small groceries along I-10 near Vidor – awesome stuff; also Walker’s, made in Rogers Texas and available around there, including in Fredericksburg.

Great Sights and Things to Do:

Incredible views of the West: Mount Rainier, Washington; and Crater Lake, Oregon. We saw them both in absolutely gorgeous weather.  Also, in Wyoming, the Tetons coming in on highway US 26/287 from the east; best in the morning. 


The Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida;

Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, Maine;

Great Lake Shipwreck Museum, Whitefish Point, Michigan;

The R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing, Michigan;

The Maritime Museum in Newport News, Virginia;

Art exhibits at the Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin library, out in Door County.

Charming Small Towns:

Holidaysburg, Pennsylvania;

Lewisburg, West Virginia;

Egg Harbor, Wisconsin, near the tip of Door County; 

Cutest Itty-Bitty Post Office/General Store – Bergheim, Texas.  And that’s it, there’s nothing else in “town.”  Whether you want new jeans, fresh kumquats, or jars of local salsa, the store has it all.

Cutest Little Western Town in the Middle of Nowhere – Ennis, Montana;

Southern town that’s got the others beat all-to-hell:  Oxford, Mississippi.  It’s a combination of southern charm, beautiful old trees and homes, one of the best book stores anywhere (Square Books – on the square of course) and William Faulkner’s home.  We could live there, at least part of the year.

Best state to really spend time in for the first time:  Arkansas; surprisingly interesting, varied in terrain, and flourishing; also terrific BBQ.

Great Music Festival: at Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 

Best Bookstores: We find really good used book stores all over the place.  Two of the best (for new books only, not used books) are Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi; and Book People in Austin, Texas.

The Wildflowers in southern Texas in the springtime are incredible.


Organ Pipe National Monument campground in southern Arizona;

Forest Service campground at Pinecrest in the Sierra Nevadas, California;

Shadowy St. Joe campground, outside St. Marys, Idaho;

L’Anse Township Park, on Michigan’s Upper Penninsula; be sure to park facing west so you can enjoy the incredible sunsets;

Corps Of Engineers park along the Kootenai River near Libby, Montana;

Green Mountain Resort Park, Lenoir, North Carolina;

Farewell Bend, National Forest Service area on the Rogue River, Oregon;

Forest Service campground at Phillips Lake, Oregon;

Ken’s Lake BLM campground outside Moab, Utah;

Awesome:  Babcock State Park, near Clifftop, West Virginia.

Roads to travel: 

Roads in the Best Condition:  New York State (but not I-95), and West Virginia

Scenic Drives:

Bear Valley Rd in California between Lodoga-Wilbur Springs and Highway 20 in the Napa-Sonoma Valley area;

In California, Highway 70E between Grass Valley and I-80, and then on to Highway 70 between Quincy and Oroville along the North Fork of the Feather River, still in California; this is the Sierras at their best – good roads with great view points.  

Highway 120 between Lee Vining, California and the Nevada state line;

County roads in northern Georgia, above Atlanta all the way to the Tennessee border between I-75 and I-85;

The Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana;

I-25 south from the New Mexico/Colorado state line down to Santa Fe;

Highway 60 between Socorro and Pie Town, in New Mexico, which crosses the Continental Divide at 7796 beautiful feet, outside Pie Town; then we suggest you turn onto Highway 260 on into Payson, Arizona;

Lake George area, New York;

Highway 3 (Oregon) and Highway 127, Rattlesnake Pass, (Washington) between Enterprise (Oregon) and Clarkston (Washington); goes between northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington;

I-24 between Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee; lined with lovely trees and rocks and water, it’s a charming area of the south;

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas.  This is in the middle of nowhere; showcases the best of Big Bend, a tremendous national park.

Utah Highway 261 between Mexican Hat and Hwy 95;

Both the western and eastern approaches to Mt. Rainer, Washington are stunning;

West Virginia roads around the New River Gorge;

Wyoming Hwy 287 between Dubois and Moran Junction -- going west – looking at the Grand Tetons all the way into the national park.

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018