My wife and I recently took a three-week road trip across the southeast United States. 4,400 miles and fifteen states over three weeks. Call me crazy…
For the record, my wife was not initially all that excited about my vision for our one-and-only vacation this year. I assured her we would have ample beach time to balance out all the longish stretches of driving and family visits sprinkled throughout. (You know the old saying coined by Benjamin Franklin about guests and fish? Both begin to smell after three days!)
We would drive a while, check into a hotel, have a meal or two hit the beach and move on. I lived out of a carry-on suitcase the entire time. I travel light.
Aside from a heart-stopping encounter with a colony of Golden Orb “Banana” Spiders at my mom’s home in Summerfield, FL, the trip was otherwise uneventful. No speeding tickets and thankfully, no breakdowns. Even the weather pretty much cooperated except for a torrential downpour that welcomed us to Virginia Beach! (We have a son in the Marine Corp. at Quantico, VA, who took some leave and met us there for a few days.) We also have concentrations of family around Houston and nearby Galveston, TX, and St. Louis, MO.
Along the way, we strolled the streets of Savannah, GA. Browsed historic St. Augustine, FL, ventured down Bourbon Street in New Orleans, searched for “la Petite Roche” (French for “the little rock,” a rock formation used by early river navigators to identify that particular river crossing, now known as Little Rock, AR!), paid a visit to Graceland in Memphis, even harassed some Cardinal fans in St. Louis!
Here’s my takeaway. Dayton stacks up pretty well against any of the cities we visited. Granted, Dayton is no Savannah with all its deep-south charm, history and architecture. Even though both cities have near-identical population of 142,000, Savannah’s River Street Market Place and Arts District are fantastic examples of what Dayton’s Oregon District and RiverScape aspire to be. Visionaries, leaders and community-builders in this region recognize Dayton’s potential and have been working toward a similar outcome for some time, making notable strides along the way!
Beale Street in Memphis exposes the potential of Dayton’s Oregon District… although B.B. King is not likely to open a blues club in our hometown anytime soon. What Memphis has going for them, aside from being nestled against the mighty Mississippi river and boasting of Tom Cruise’s “The Firm” having been filmed there, is a long music history that includes, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and of course, Elvis. Even U2 recorded a few tracks for Rattle and Hum at Sun Studio!
I understand cities have to play to their strengths. Virginia Beach was the first stop on our journey. It’s basically a tourist (beach) destination with a Naval base. Granted, they have nearly TWO HUNDRED years more history than Dayton. Nearby Jamestown, VA was established in 1607. (Dayton, 1796.) VA Beach is your standard touristy beach town with an avenue lined with shops selling boogie boards and beach towels and bars offering happy hour specials. Piercing and tattoo parlors are also beach-strip mainstays.
One of the first categories that I “yelped” (check out yelp.com, a social networking, user review, and local search web site) in VA Beach was “coffee.” My wife is pretty much a Starbucks snob. Nothing else satisfies. Starbucks is easy to find… There were two on the strip. But the local favorite I discovered was Bad A** Coffee, slightly off the beaten path. (Think Ghostlight or Press with a beach flair.) I enjoyed a vanilla latte there early one morning.
St. Augustine, FL, another stop along the way, was first explored in 1513 by Spanish explorer Ponce de León. Founded in 1565, there is deep history, being home to the Castillo de San Marcos, a magnificent star fort constructed mostly out of coquina, (Spanish for “small shells”) ancient shells that have bonded together to form a type of stone similar to limestone. Additionally, this region boasts 42 miles of pristine Atlantic beaches! (How can we complete with THAT?)
My wife’s cousin lives in nearby Jacksonville. She served as our tour guide through the narrow pedestrian-only streets of St. Augustine’s shopping/arts/restaurant/bar/live-music historic district. Home to both the oldest schoolhouse in the United States AND very first Catholic parish in our country!
Have you ever “yelped” Dayton?
It’s so easy to fall into a routine of simply frequenting our favorite restaurants again and again. That’s ok, but consider this…
I once saw a travel piece about “staycationing” in your hometown. It was all about venturing into different parts of town that you may not typically frequent. Instead of defaulting to the mall where you typically shop or defaulting to your favorite restaurant, explore other areas. Enjoy lunch at a café that you have never been to. Check out a park along the way that you may have passed a thousand times, but never bothered to visit. I did this a while back and was pleasantly surprised… even stunned by the beauty of Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark on Siebenthaler Ave. in north Dayton.
Brush up on your hometown history to add a little interest to your day. For instance, DID YOU KNOW that archaeological investigations of the surrounding area suggest that the Miamisburg Mound was constructed by the prehistoric Adena Indians somewhere between 800 BC and AD 100! That’s right in our back yard and I wonder how many locals have actually visited that ancient site? If I were a tourist yelping Dayton and the surrounding areas, that is a factoid I might unearth during my research.
I realize it’s not Stonehenge… (I once heard an Englander refer to Stonehenge as a “pile of rocks on the side of the road!”) Americans are fascinated by Stonehenge. Englanders? Not so much. Such is life.
My quest for the best Memphis barbecue yielded four pits that are held in highest regard. It didn’t matter to me what part of town they were located. I just wanted their best barbecue!
While Dayton may not be known for its barbecue as North Carolina, Kansas City or Texas are renown, Dayton has some solid options. A regional favorite is City Barbecue. Old Hickory is a local mainstay. Up-and-comer OinkADoodleMoo stands ready to satisfy that urge for smoked meat. (Try the burnt ends!) Don’t forget Smokin’
Bar-B-Que at the west end of the Oregon District on Fifth Street at Patterson. Al’s Smokehouse Café is now located downtown on east Third Street, providing barbecue well into the wee hours of the morning on weekends!
(For the record, yes, I have eaten at all of those restaurants.)
But have you ever sampled the best of Huffie’s Bar-B-Que? It’s west of 75 south of 35 off Germantown Pike on McArthur Ave.
I assured them that I am a SERIOUS bbq guy. (I even own a 55-gallon “ugly drum smoker!”) I ordered a massive sampler platter, which I believe impressed them. I told them I wanted the full “Huffie’s” experience. I told them I searched “best bbq in Dayton” and their establishment was on that short list. This made the guy smile.
If I were just visiting Dayton for a few days, I would sample all that Dayton has to offer. I would end up in different parts of town, at different restaurants, shopping in different areas, absorbing the local history and culture along the way.
I might venture into the far reaches of the Miami Valley to visit Young’s Jersey Dairy or the Clifton Mill. I would definitely take in the National museum of the United States Air Force (it’s FREE!) and visit the Wright Brothers’ memorial (which offers a vista that rivals that of Woodland Cemetery, near U.D.) I’d visit the Oregon District, Brown Street, Second Street Market and Riverscape. I’d check out a couple of Dayton’s many impressive MetroParks.
Dayton is LOADED with great restaurants! Check out DaytonDining for online menus, photos, coupons and real life experiences from Dayton restaurants. (And did I mention Yelp?)
I realize I talk a lot about food and restaurants, but you don’t have to spend a ton of money to participate in what I am suggesting. Dayton’s Five Rivers MetroParks are FREE! And there are a lot of them scattered across the Miami Valley, and, many (if not most) of our local festivals offer free admission.
If you treated Dayton as though you were on vacation, I believe you would approach it differently.
And you would thank me for it.
Special thanks to Wikipedia.com for helping me fill in all the blanks with much needed detail.