ROAD TRIP: Half the Fun is Getting There
Written by Ottocina Ryan
I recently took two completely different road trips across the US. The first, from Santa Barbara to New Orleans with my brother. In a U-haul. 34 hours straight of driving. Stopping only for gas. Discipline was a predominant topic of discussion. As was “How are we still in Texas?!” I was more cold brew than human by the time we reached his new home in Louisiana. Wouldn’t recommend that itinerary.
For road trip number two, I did the advisable thing and left the planning to Santa Barbara Travel Bureau. My friend Avery and I took a two-week Southwest road trip, kicking it off in Las Vegas, followed by understated mountain towns, national parks, and desert cities throughout Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.
With the press of a button the third row seat of our Lexus RX 350L folds down to make room for our astronomical amount of luggage. You’d think we were going for two months, but it fits perfectly. The drive passes quickly, as if we teleported from Santa Barbara to a Four Seasons Las Vegas suite. The room is big enough to comfortably live in and the property is an oasis on the Strip, the only hotel banning gambling and smoking. It’s Vegas, taken down a notch.
We hit the ground running with a Lip Smacking Foodie tour at ARIA, to get a taste for the signature dishes at three opulent restaurants in 90 minutes. Sushi rolls at Catch segue into rigatoni spicy vodka at Carbone, then roasted beet and caramelized goat cheese salad at Bardot. It’s a whirlwind of delicious food, capped off with a 15-minute helicopter ride with Maverick Helicopters soaring over the neon lights of the Strip.
In the morning we open the blackout curtains and head downstairs to the spa for massages before continuing the relaxation at the pool. The pool scene is mellow, perfectly suited for reading, snacking on frozen grapes, and soaking up the desert sun.
For some off-strip entertainment we visit AREA15—a complex filled with strobe lights, Burning Man-esque installations, virtual reality simulations, and restaurants. We sit at the bar at Oddwood and sip Yerba Santa cocktails—tropical concoctions of tequila, pineapple, passion fruit, lime, and basil, while absorbing the scene. It feels like we are at a rave except the drugs are only in the murals. Then for some history we visit The Neon Museum; the graveyard for neon signs of Vegas past illuminates the night.
"There's never been a better time to enjoy the glitz, glamour, and restaurants without the rush."
Back at our 38th floor Four Seasons suite, we change into outfits we’ve been waiting all year for a place to wear and walk to dinner at Zuma at The Cosmopolitan. Purple and pink flowers draped from the ceiling evoke the feeling of dining in a secret garden. I start with Burning History, a citrusy whiskey drink mixed at the table and infused with smoke captured from a smoldering oak branch. We share the roasted potato with shiso butter and sancho lime salt (imagine potatoes au gratin, sushi style), an array of rolls, yellowtail sashimi, and flourless chocolate cake, all the while sipping lychee and rose petal and raspberry and passion fruit martinis. On the way back to our hotel, we pass the Bellagio fountains as they put on their nightly performance. We secure a prime spot at the front—something unheard of when considering typical Vegas crowds. There’s never been a better time to enjoy the glitz, glamour, and restaurants without the rush.
We wake up early, grab breakfast paninis to-go from Veranda restaurant and hit the road. I put the Lexus in sport mode (the other option is eco, which also lends itself well to road trips) and head towards Utah, passing airstream-towing trucks on desert straightaways with ease.
Approaching Zion, we stop at Feel Love Coffee and sit outside with vegan vanilla soft serve and ginger lemon tea elixirs, taking in the brilliant sculptural scenery. Driving through Zion, it’s clear why our SB Travel Bureau advisor recommended it so highly. It feels like we landed on Mars—an escape from the real world, so full of natural beauty and open space.
Horse filled pastures blur past until we arrive at Stein Eriksen Lodge in Park City. Pine trees with Christmas lights line the driveway, teasing the winter wonderland that awaits. I feel as if I’ve stepped into what I can best describe as your friend from boarding school’s grandparents’ ski chalet. We are greeted like family in the lobby of the mountain lodge and lead to our room. We curl up in hooded bathrobes, order room service and play cards by the fireplace. The beds laden with pillows (no less than ten, just how I like it) and faux fur throws entice us to turn in early.
Located mid-mountain, ski-in ski-out Stein Eriksen Lodge’s location is unparalleled and its amenities make it the perfect retreat after a day of skiing. Avery and I skip right to the après activities. An afternoon in the heated pool (the one with a waterfall) unfolds into a sleigh ride then shopping along Main Street at fashion-forward boutiques, chic home stores, and intriguing art galleries. We warm up with bourbon cocktails and caramel cashew bacon popcorn at High West Distillery then return to Stein Eriksen for movie night in the theatre.
On the way out of town the next morning we pick up coffee at Atticus, laughing at quirky greeting cards and books while waiting for our drinks. Our last stop in Utah is Arches National Park. We scamper around otherworldly copper-colored rock formations until a neon pink sunset saturates the sky, signaling us to hit the road again.
Arriving late to Aspen, we get fondue at French Alpine Bistro and spend the night at centrally-located Limelight Hotel. We wake up to fresh snow and grab breakfast downstairs at the complimentary market. We stretch our legs with a stroll around town, streets peppered with luxury boutiques like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and MARCUS, then pack up. It’s a brief stop as we’re eager to get to my favorite ski destination, Telluride.
"The quaint mountain town is unpretentious and undeniably cool, making it our most fun stop yet."
The drive parallels rivers lined with aspen trees and boasts the most spectacular mountain landscapes we’ve seen on the trip so far. Upon arriving in the picturesque box canyon, we walk down Main Street, dotted with Victorian homes and purely local businesses and restaurants. The next couple days, spent snowmobiling by Alta Lakes and skiing with beautiful views and nearly nonexistent lift lines, turn into late nights at the Last Dollar Saloon (known as “The Buck”), and subsequent late mornings at The Butcher and the Baker, where we gravitate towards the “breakfasty cocktails” section of the menu. The quaint mountain town is unpretentious and undeniably cool, making it our most fun stop yet.
An evening departure from Telluride has us driving at night to Santa Fe. Automatic braking comes in handy with deer darting into the road. Every time we cross a border, a photo of the new state pops upon the GPS screen, making us excited for what’s to explore in the daylight.
Sunrays stream through the windows of our suite at Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, illuminating the understated Southwestern decor. The room is cozy with a fireplace and exposed beams. Not ready to leave bed, we start the day with spicy huevos rancheros and pancakes from room service.
To get the lay of the land we take out bikes from the hotel and ride around neighborhoods of adobe homes, dried red chilies hanging from sconces. We visit Shiprock gallery, a have-to-know-it’s-there place on the second level of Santa Fe Plaza. The floor creaks with each step as we wander the gallery. Sunlit rooms filled with Navajo blankets, eclectic furniture, and cases of turquoise jewelry paint a beautiful picture of New Mexican heritage. On a friend’s recommendation, we stop at Back at the Ranch. The handmade cowboy boot boutique is lined with boots of every color and texture. There’s even an alligator suede pelt draped over the cowhide couch, waiting to be made into boots. After chatting with the owners of over 20 years, I leave with a newfound enthusiasm for exotic skin cowboy boots.
Avery and I bike back to the Rosewood to spend the afternoon catching up on emails in the library. The walls lined with old books and New Mexican artifacts are juxtaposed by the oversized Rhianna coffee table book on the table in front of me. It’s peaceful, a dream work from home situation. When 6 p.m. rolls around we head down the hall to The Anasazi Restaurant for spicy palomas, creamy tortilla soup, seared salmon with chile polenta, and flan with cajeta sauce.
En route to Scottsdale the next day, Highway 10 extends to the horizon, dust devils swirl roadside and colorful freight trains chug along in the distance. Even 11 days in, the drive doesn’t seem monotonous. It’s not often I’d volunteer to drive all but one leg of the trip, but the Lexus rides smoothly and the ever-changing scenery and weird billboards provide endless entertainment. We stop at White Sands National Park. Traversing rippled white sand dunes touched only by the wind in the brisk morning air feels ethereal. A phenomenon worth the deviation from the fastest route.
We drive for hours until the desert morphs into the palm tree lined driveway to The Phoenician in Scottsdale. The adrenaline from our active road trip dissipates and time coasts to a crawl. We are welcomed into the grandiose lobby of the exclusive Canyon Suites resort-within-a-resort by our Canyon Ambassador. Whitney, like all employees, wears a tag with a headshot and a quote about what makes her smile. She gives us a property tour, pointing out the Mother of Pearl tiled pool—built in 1925 and the most expensive pool in the state to this day, the full-sized athletic center, and a Drybar, among other highlights, before escorting us to our room.
Our contemporary suite opens to a balcony with a round daybed and view of Phoenix. The only sounds are the ping of golf balls and the fountain in the lake just outside. Spoiler alert: we don’t leave The Phoenician our entire time in Scottsdale. The resort is like its own city, with golf carts happy to take you to the on-property shops and restaurants.
Our second day starts at the Phoenician Spa. Avery and I sink into egg chairs in the relaxation room before my masseuse, Amy, summons me back for an aptly named Body and Soul Massage. The combination of gentle kneading, arnica, lavender, and shea butter quiets my mind and soothes my body. Relaxed as can be, we lounge at the pool all afternoon; yellow cabanas and palm trees pop against the desert landscape.
We watch the glittering city lights and pink sunset from our balcony then catch a golf cart to The Phoenician’s fine dining restaurant Mowry & Cotton. Our server, Art, communicates the nuances of the menu as if he created it. I sip a Bourbon& Boujee cocktail as he recommends dishes with unbiased authenticity, explaining that Chef Boyer doesn’t shy away from bold ingredients and unexpected combinations. We experience this firsthand with purple, orange, and yellow carrots with dill taziki and sweet quinoa granola crunch; meatballs blanketed by cheese and tomato sauce and accompanied by bread from a bakery down the street; Cod with a stew of garbanzo tied together by spicy chorizo; and unique local mushrooms with creamy yogurt sauce. A memorable meal to say the least.
The glowing sun rises over Scottsdale and it’s time to head home. I arrive back in Santa Barbara and brush the white sand and gold aspen leaves out of the Lexus as I unpack—trinkets from five states in two weeks. The trip planned by Santa Barbara Travel Bureau ensured a route as scenic as the hotel balcony views, and our car made the drive as comfortable, safe, and spacious as the suites we stayed in. Best of all, we had time to stop and enjoy the journey.