Red State vacations?

Regular Bookworm Room readers know that we travel a lot.  Mr. Bookworm inclines towards Europe, while I hew to the good ol’ U.S. of A.

While having lunch with Don Quixote today, I said that I’d love to take the kids Boston (which I’ve been to once and they’ve never been to), New York (once for me, twice for the kids), Philadelphia (kids and I have each been once), and Washington, D.C. (once before).  Listening to my list, DQ pondered “Where would you go for a Red State vacation?”

That was a very good question.  The major tourist cities, including my own San Francisco, are bright blue.  When I think of red states, I have a hard time bringing to mind a major tourist destination other than national parks. I love national parks, but is there some Red State destination that is redolent of conservative American values?

So — If you were tasked with planning a two-week family vacation, either by plane or by car, that gave the kids a good taste of Red State America, what itinerary would you choose?


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  • Danny Lemieux

    If you want to visit the Old South and see great scenery and history, I would recommend Knoxville, TN, Savannah and Sea Island, GA, the Gulf Coast of Florida (Ft. Meyers, Sanibel Island) and New Orleans, LA. It’s awfully hot in summer, though…best done in the spring or late fall.

    To see the Old West, I recommend staring with the Black Hills, SD. Be sure to see Mount Rushmore AND the Chief Crazy Horse Memorial and Museum). This is Indian country. Visit the wildlife preserves and national monuments around Rapid City to get an idea of what it looked like when vast herds of buffalo, elk and pronghorn used to roam over the plains. 

    Then, continue with a short drive to Devil’s Tower, WY), then on to the Big Horn Mtns. (Buffalo and Sheridan, WY) before continuing onto Jackson Hole (very touristy) and Yellowstone Park, to see the geysers. Watch Old Faithful erupt while enjoying evening cocktails at the Old Faithful Inn, but keep a wary eye out for the occasional buffalo or grizzley bear that likes to come and visit the guests.

    Be sure to drive the spectacular Beartooth Highway (212) across the top of the Absaroka Mountain Range from  the North Entrance of Yellowstone to Red Lodge, Montana. While in Red Lodge, take a drive to visit the Custer Battlefield site, where Yellow Hair met his end.

    Then, of course, there is Alaska…but where to begin? 

  • Charles Martel

    Most blue states have solid conservative enclaves outside the progressive cesspools that are their main cities. For instance, if you could take Detroit and shove it deep into Lake St. Clair, you’d be left with a fantastically beautiful Michigan state. One of top attractions there is Mackinac Island between lower Michigan and its Upper Peninsula, within eyeshot of one of the most beautiful suspension bridges in America. 
    On the island itself, nobody but a select few emergency personnel and suppliers is allowed to drive an auto. You get around on foot, bike, horseback, or by horse-drawn carriage or taxi. The Grand Hotel there boasts the world’s longest veranda–700 feet–and I can’t imagine a more wonderful place to sit in a wicker rocker sipping a beer or cocktail and enjoying summer breezes off of Lake Huron. They say there isn’t a Democrat politician with his hand out (or in some intern’s pants) for miles and miles. Your kids would love it.
    Sticking to a Midwest theme, Door County on Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula (Green Bay’s at its southern end) is almost New England-like in its collection of farms, small villages, woods, and rural roads. Yes, Wisconsin is home to two great leftist hives—Madison and Milwaukee—but folks outside those echo chambers tend toward red.
    Columbus, Indiana, is a small town that has one of the most impressive collections of buildings by masters of modern architecture: I.M. Pei, Eero and Eliel Saarinen, John Carl Warnecke, Cesar Pelli, Robert Venturi, and Kevin Roche. Despite having only 44,000 people, the town ranks as the sixth richest repository of modern architecture in the States, according to the American Institute of Architects.
    The southern counties of Indiana are rolling, forested hills that give spectacular color in autumn.
    Mississippi River towns like Galena, Illinois, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, can give your kids a great feel for America’s most important river, as well as 19th century architecture and town layouts.
    Vicksburg is a great history lesson: It was the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy,” denying the Union either to the sea or into the continental interior via New Orleans. U.S. Grant laid siege to the supposedly impregnable fortress in April 1863, which culminated in its surrender on July 4, 1863—one day after the Union victory at Gettysburg. With Vicksburg vanquished, the Confederacy was effectively cut in half by a now Union-controlled Mississippi River.
    Lincoln, impressed with Grant’s “pound ’em, then pound ’em again, and then pound ’em another time” approach soon brought the hard-drinking general east to go pound on Lee.
    Don’t avoid Chicago, even though the Democrats are bleeding the town for as long as they can. Too much bustle, great urban architecture, and fantastic museums to pass up. Yes, take the damned Chicago River boat tour. I have yet to meet anybody who’s been on it who didn’t say it was a great, memorable ride.
    If you do go to Chicago, for sure do this: Go to the Willis Tower (previously the Sears Tower) and take the Skydeck tour where you can stand in a Plexiglas cube that extends out from the building’s exterior. You can look through its transparent floor 1,300 feet straight down. You’ll plotz and then talk about for years.

  • jj

    Martel makes a great point.  There are really very few “blue states” – what you have are blue counties.  Here in Washington there are 39 counties – 36 of them voted for Bush.  (McCain was an anomaly, even I could hardly vote for him.)  King County, with Seattle; and Thurston and Pierce Counties – Olympia and Tacoma – didn’t.  So it’s easy: avoid the brainless, idiot liberal – and broke – cities.  Even the vast majority of California counties don’t vote liberal, but the cities do, and they’re enough to carry the state.  (If the electoral college weren’t a “winner take all” deal, California’s delegates would be one whole hell of a lot more evenly divided, but as it is, if you win the state by five votes, you get all the delegates.)  Same with New York – NYC and Albany vote liberal, the rest of the state doesn’t.  Feel free to visit the Hamptons, Long Island has been republican since the beginning of time, and on those beaches you can actually get into the water, thanks to the Gulf Stream the Atlantic is a whole lot warmer than the Pacific!  Show the kids an ocean you can actually jump into without a wetsuit!
    Texas of course is a great deal of fun, and all red, even the cities.   Florida – Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville tend blue, the rest of the state’s red – including Disney.  St. Augustine is the oldest city in the country, history is everywhere, great food is everywhere, and there are miles of beaches without a soul on them. 
    Lots of places.  Just, as Martel says, avoid the cities.  Most Americans are not liberal, most places are red.     

  • Old Buckeye

    Danny, I’d opt for Jekyll Island instead of Sea Island so as not to break the bank on accommodations :) Jekyll has all those stately old mansions of the great robber barons. Three Tennessee cities–Knoxville, Nashville, and Chattanooga–all have up-and-coming “hip” areas. (So far they’re not as green-ified as Asheville, NC–which would be a great place if it wasn’t for all those yuppie environmentalists!) Chattanooga’s plus is its Civil War history. Nashville’s got the music scene. I’d also vote for Charleston, SC as a great walking town with history.

  • Gringo

    Big Bend National Park coupled with a raft ride down the Rio Grande would be fun. I have gone to Big Bend, but haven’t done the rafting.
    Utah has a lot of beautiful National Parks, such as Bryce Canyon. Maybe hit Grand Canyon on the way.

  • Charles Martel

    My wife and heading out for a grand tour of Utah’s magnificent parks in September–Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches. Gonna take every crappy two-lane backroad we can to get there, going over the Sierra and through central Nevada. Biggest town we’ll hit (before Reno on the way back) will have 72,000 people. Heaven.

  • Beth

    Charles, I’ll second your recommendation of Mackinac Island–honeymooned there some 22 years ago.  Enjoy the trip through Utah–Arches is spectacular.  We loved driving the Loneliest Road through Nevada.  Peaceful.  We’re off to Hannibal, MO to check out Mark Twain sites–explore a cave and take a riverboat ride for sure.  Happy trails everybody!

  • Bookworm

    There’s certainly a lot of wonderful nature in Red States, but are there any urban places that are iconically American and that are Red?

    Not that I’m going to ignore anything you said. Since we’re going abroad again this summer, I feel that I have a big say in our next trip, and I’m going to come back to this post, study all these great comments carefully, and come up with an itinerary.

  • David Foster

    Not sure New Mexico counts as a Red State, but I was just in Santa Fe and the place has a lot to recommend it: spectacular scenery, clear air, nice climate, lots of art, horseback riding,….

  • Caped Crusader

    Two great itineraries you will never forget:
    Trip 1. Fly to Las Vegas, spend a day or two there seeing a totally grotesque, garish, outlandish, and totally artificial world. Begin an unforgettable road trip. First to Zion National Park. Next to the Grand Canyon. Then take old U.S 89 up the central valley of Utah where you will see the purple mountain majesty above the fruited plain, as heard in America the Beautiful, before and after seeing Bryce Canyon National Park. Then tour Temple Square in Salt Lake City and visit LDS Visitor Center where you will learn the story of a unique, courageous, and fascinating group of Americans and the birth of the only religion born in North America. Choose to believe or not ( I’m not LDS), but had a famous ancestor, Johnathan Browning, (father of John Moses Browning the greatest firearms genius in history) who made the long march with Brigham Young to the Salt Lake Valley after joining the church in Nauvoo, IL, after migrating from middle Tennessee. Thence up past Bear Lake, Utah to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park. Stay at Jackson Lake Lodge (reservations should be made far in advance). From JLL,  Yellowstone is only a short distance and see the most unusual area on planet earth. Spend many days hiking, rafting, fishing, horseback riding, photographing and shopping in Jackson boutiques while enjoying the most scenic area on earth, Say hello to Richard Bruce Cheney if you run into him — definitely one of my favorite red state guys. Fly home from Jackson, knowing you can’t wait to go back.
    Trip 2. Fly to Nashville, TN and see the many attractions there, especially the Parthenon. See the Grand Ole Opry, the longest continuously running radio show in the USA. Next to Chattanooga, TN to see Lookout Mountain (Civil War Battle Above the Clouds), Missionary Ridge where the father of Douglas MacArthur won the Medal of Honor, ride the Incline up the mountain (the world’s steepest railway, 78 degrees), visit Rock City and Rudy Falls, enjoy the world’s largest and best fresh water Tennessee Aquarium. Drive to Knoxville area and see the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Cherokee, NC. Next drive to Asheville, NC and tour the largest mansion in America built by the Vanderbilt tycoon. Beautiful Eastern mountains and vistas abound all around. Next along the coast to see Charleston, SC , Savannah, GA and Myrtle Beach, SC. Then along the Florida and Alabama Gulf coasts where the sand is always white and the water warm. Over to New Orleans, or what is left of it, for a different culture and cuisine. Finally. to Memphis, to pay homage to the King of Rock and Roll and a visit to Graceland and the greatest assemblage of 1970’s tacky you will ever see. As a final treat you may kiss my full color framed and autographed picture of Elvis given to me as a personal favor by Elvis in 1967 and my wife and I would be happy to have you as guests until plane time; not to exceed 3 days(TIC).

  • Ron19

    A seriously Red enclave in a blue state is Orange County, California.

    1.  President Nixon’s home.  President Reagan’s ranch is near.

    2.  Knotts Berry Farm, started as a roadside fruit stand.  A replica of Philadelphia’s Freedom Hall is across the street.

    3.  Disneyland/California Adventure, celebrations of individuals and entrepreneurship.

    4.  Home of Bill Medley of the righteous Brothers; he still performs.  The Beach Boys are from here also, or somewhere nearby.

    5.  Lots of Barbershop Quartets and an annual convention/sing-off.

    6.  Lots of conservative/orthodox religious communities.

    7.  Hollywood Wax Museum.

    And much more.

    You don’t hear much about individual cities, because the people are more concerned with what you have done and will do, rather than where you live.

  • Ymarsakar

    A “red State” never includes the urban areas, Book. Just in case anybody was wondering. For example, the Louisiana State Police is not particularly corrupt. But the New Orleans police… welll

  • Ymarsakar

    If you go to China overseas, you can imprint upon your family the costs of “real pollution”. Just in case you were wondering how to slip in some truth among the LibProg BS. If you go outside the limited tourist areas, you’ll see what real pollution looks like. And it doesn’t look like the BP spill in the gulf.

    You can also see some amazing martial arts programs in Taiwan and in Hong Kong. But only the demos and dragon dancing are public events.

    Europe is getting dangerous, I wouldn’t go there if I were you. Crime rates have multiplied by as much as 10X. Economic desperation causes people to take up petty crime, which boosts the support structure for organized crime as well. Which means kidnapping and what not, of rich people, goes up, not down.

     In the US, I’m often surprised that foreign ignorantuses like in the UK, seem to believe our crime rates are very high. From where I’pm sitting, it’s the criminals that move delicately around the civilian property, not the other way around.

  • Charles Martel

    Book, “iconically American” runs a gamut. New York and Los Angeles certainly fit that description, but I know they’re not what you’re looking for. So here goes–just keep in mind that the red state version of iconic doesn’t meet New York Times standards.
    Houston: A skyline among the top 10 in North America; home to several Fortune 500 companies; the country’s energy capital; location of Rice University, one of the country’s top 20 schools; terminus of a seaport complex that is one of the largest on earth; the Johnson Space Center, which should wow any curious kid; the Montrose District, an architecturally interesting urban neighborhood that has become a gay hub that’s the Texican equivalent of the Castro in San Francisco. Fantastic Tex-Mex cuisine.
    Birmingham: This old steel town lost out to Atlanta as the hub of the New South, but is a town that has carefully preserved–and owned up to–its history, including the legacy of racist sheriff Bull Connor. If either of your kids likes baseball, Rickwood Field is the oldest baseball stadium in America. Taking in a game there would be relatively cheap and a delight. The town also has some great tree-lined neighborhoods near in, and is surrounded by hilly wooded country.
    Fort Worth: This is a pretty interesting city, with a lot to do ( It’s not as glamorous as its down-the-highway neighbor Dallas, or as self-consciously hip as Austin, yet it has a distinct identity. Your kids might appreciate what it took for a town on the edge of nowhere with no natural resources to become as big a player as it did in the national agricultural economy.
    San Diego: The county went for Obama in 2008, which went against its historical grain. Typically the county votes GOP while the city tends to vote Democratic. Still, the metro area is generally red, so it’s reasonably safe to say that visiting there will not leave you slathered in progressive cooties. There’s a hell of a lot going on here, from a great U.S. Navy presence to mile after mile of beaches to propinquity to Mexico to fantastic climate to Balboa Park, to the world-famous zoo. The best apple pie on earth lies about 40 miles east in the mountain town of Julian. This town is a slam dunk.

  • Old Buckeye

    (So, Caped Crusader, I must be waving to you from the other side of the Volunteer State? :) )

  • zabrina

    If you love roadtrips together as our family does, you can see a lot of America, the majority of which is red, and avoid most of the urban blue messes. We love sightseeing in Michigan’s beautiful upper peninsula around Lakes Superior and Huron. We also loved driving west through the Badlands, Teddy Roosevelt National Park, Mt. Rushmore, the Corn Palace, and all the amazing Red Rock attractions in Utah. Plus, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington State, and Arizona all have some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, and awesome national and state parks (California does NOT have it all). The ordinary people you meet along the way will restore your faith in the American citizenry.

  • David Foster

    One thing that might be fun: visit a couple of factories. I know the BMW plant in South Carolina (on I-85) offers tours, and I think there are probably several others that are also open for visits.

  • David Foster

    Here we go…


  • Caped Crusader

    Old Buckeye
    (So, Caped Crusader, I must be waving to you from the other side of the Volunteer State? )
    Absolutely, Old Buckeye, aren’t we lucky, and you even more so! Grew up in Nashville and my wonderful wife is from Loudon County in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. We have “kissing kin” from Washington County (eastern tip of TN to Memphis). We both came to Memphis to medical school in the 1950’s and did not have enough sense to leave, for at that time Memphis was a more desirable city than it is now. We really miss the scenery and wonderful people.

  • MorowbieJukes

    DL mentioned Ft Myers, Florida, and Ms. Bookworm requested something “iconically American”.  The winter estates of two very iconic Americans, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, are in Ft Myers.  The combined tour of the two estates also features a fascinating museum largely of Edison’s inventions.  Be sure to head to Ft Myers Beach afterward to have lunch on the beach at Junkanoo.
    About an hour south of Ft Myers is “Alligator Alley”, one of the two East/West highways that traverse the state from both coasts that run through the Everglades.  I’m not sure an airboat is ‘iconic’ but it is fun to take an airboat tour through what has to be the world’s biggest swamp and one will see alligators.
    About ninety minutes north of Ft Myers in Sarasota, is the winter estate and art museum of another very iconic American, John Ringling, of Ringling Brother’s Circus fame, which can also be toured. The extensive estate is beautiful, as is his magnificent home in the Venetian Moorish style, Ca’da’Zan (House of John) The circus impressario was a man of taste and culture and there is a museum exhibiting his collection of paintings by European masters featuring such names as “Rubens, van Dyck, Velázquez, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, El Greco, Gainsborough” (to quote from their website;
    There are also two fascinating circus museums on the estate featuring a history of the American circus as well as vehicles from the Ringling Circus when it toured under the bigtop, Ringling’s custom Pullman car being among them.

  • Gringo

    Another suggestion. Follow the route some of my Dust Bowl Okie relatives took to California in the 1930s.
   Route 66 still holds allure for travelers, industry.
  Asleep at the Wheel: Get Your Kicks on Route 66.

  • lookingforlissa

    Orlando! Mr. Bookworm can take the kids to Disney and I’ll teach you how to shoot an AR-15 :)

  • Danny Lemieux

    One of the great things about a post like this is that I get so many ideas about where to go on our vacations. Thanks, everyone. Tennessee is a must to see, I see.

    One other idea that zabrina suggested….start with a visit to Chicago for the “urban” experience, then drive around lake Michigan (about 10 days), following the stunning shoreline of Lake Superior in the north, visit the Marquette memorial, historic Fort Michilimackinac and Mackinaw Island in the northern Great Lakes and descend along the beautiful, warm waters, gold-sand beaches, dunes, forests, Dutch settlements, harbors (Travers Bay) wineries and orchards of (definitely very, very red) Western Michigan. For the adventuresome, rent dune buggies and explore the awesome sand dunes of Silver Lake. One of the best trips we ever took. Western Michigan’s beaches and dunes are one of our best-kept secrets.

  • Gringo

    There have been some suggestions about going to  Chicago. I have a bias against Chicago – better said against Chicago politics. This began at an early age, with what my downstate Illinois grandfather told me about Chicago politics. Following is a video of Lake Shore Drive coupled with the song of the same title by Aliotta Haynes & Jeremiah. After viewing this video, even a Chicago-phobe  like me could become a fan of The City of Broad Shoulders- especially since the song makes no mention of Chicago politics. :)
  “Slippin’ on by on LSD, Friday night trouble bound” Aliotta Haynes & Jeremiah – Lake Shore Drive