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  • Writer's pictureKayla Brock

Spending a Week Driving the East Coast

Six years. That's how many years I've been going on a road trip with my father. It all started in 2015 and I honestly can't tell you who came up with the idea but I’m glad we did. We've driven all over the U.S. and this year, our trip took us through Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, two of which were new states for me. The purpose of these trips was to bond with one another as I grew older and it still is but it has turned more into just enjoying time with each other and no one else.

On this trip, we spent eight days on the road eating, drinking, hiking, and enjoying new experiences. I hope you enjoy this itinerary that I made for my dad and me as much as I did.

Day 1 – 3: Virginia

I've never been to Richmond, Virginia (or Virginia in general) but I have to say that I was quite surprised with how much I enjoyed the city. I loved the architecture of the homes, the college campus in the middle of the city making it feel like a city for young people, the history, and the great food.

We started by having brunch at Lunch or Supper in the district of historic Scott's Addition which is home to a lot of hip coffee shops such as Blanchard Coffee and restaurants. Afterward, we spent some time walking off brunch at a walking trail along Belle Isle. There were dry rocks that you can walk on or lay on in the sun if you’re looking to get a tan.

A humbling experience was going to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia which had an exhibit showcasing images of George Floyd rallies after his death in June of 2020. The museum has many interactive screens to read the history of black congressional members and prominent figures in Virginia that shaped what the state is today.

However, one staple of history that is food-related is oysters! Before English colonists arrived in Virginia, American Indians relied on oysters and other shellfish for sustenance. It was even cheaper than beef. Virginia is also the number one state on the East Coast for oyster production. At Fighting Fish I had the freshest oysters and shrimp tempura sushi. It was so delicious that I wish I lived close-by! Tip: Go during happy hour! Many main plates are half off and it’s best to go as soon as they open, as they fill up quickly.

After leaving Richmond, we drove to Shenandoah National Park and did the Skyline Drive to Roanoke. In the national park, we did Stony Man trailhead. It’s an easy 1.6-mile roundtrip hike, although you should come prepared, unlike us, with food and water. The parking lot is small but there is a lodge that has more parking and it’s a short walk from there back to the trailhead.

To congratulate ourselves for a hard day’s work, we stopped at Peaks of Otter Winery, Bedford county's first winery and Virginia's first fruit winery. We tried interesting flavors such as pumpkin pie, chili dawg, and blackberry cobbler wine.

Day 4: North Carolina

Traveling on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we headed to Asheville. Stopping at Rough Ridge Lookout, we headed to Grandfather Mountain to walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge and yes, the bridge swings a little. The bridge is named America's highest suspension footbridge. It was built to give visitors easy access to the breathtaking view from Grandfather Mountain's Linville Peak. The 228-foot suspension bridge spans an 80-foot chasm at more than one mile in elevation. 5280 feet high. When it’s windy, you can hear the steel cables “sing.”

Asheville was a cute town, their downtown is small and filled with boutique shops, restaurants, chocolate shops, and bars. One restaurant we visited was Plant. It’s rated as one of the best vegan restaurants in the country. Arrive early!! It’s extremely hard to call for reservations, it took me days, but they do offer walk-ins. It’s a small place so they can’t offer too many seats. It had a casual fine-dining atmosphere to it. The prices were average and it seemed to be more of family-style eating.

Before leaving, we headed to the River Arts District to get coffee from Grind AVL. Grind AVL is a black-owned coffee shop that focuses on supporting the community to build black wall street. They just ranked as the third best coffee shop in all of North Carolina. The barista made me an iced marshmallow chai latte and it was heaven! It was sweet and refreshing.

Day 5 -8: Tennessee

We made it to Tennessee! The second new state for me. The first stop was Pigeon Forte where we had southern food at Huck Finns Catfish and walked around the downtown area getting free wine tastings and even did a moonshine free tasting. Salud!

One of my favorite activities here was going on the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster. Opened in 2013, it's the first mountain coaster to be built in the Smoky Mountains and the longest mountain coaster in the U.S. It was so scary and can go to a speed of 27 mph, but you can control your speed. At one point, you go on a curve over the side of the mountain and those turns can feel like you’re about to fall off, but it was a lot of fun. I can only imagine how scary it is at night.

A must-go-to food stop was Five Oaks Farm and Restaurant. We went for dinner and let's just say there was nothing left on my plate. I had the fried catfish with turnip greens and okra. They also offer their potato soup complimentary as a starter. *Chef’s kiss.* It gets pretty busy so I’d recommend a reservation as we had a little bit of a wait but they have rocking chairs outside to wait in.

Continuing to Nashville aka Music City, we made a quick stop at Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The .5 miles is steep and the highest point in the park and the highest point in Tennessee. The point is also the third tallest mountain east of the Mississippi. It was actually so cold up there that the trees were frosted with ice.

We did a Nashville City tour with Grayline but unfortunately it started to rain. We weren’t able to sit on the top deck of the double-decker bus, but the tour gave us a great overview of the city. We then had pizza at Slim and Husky Pizzeria, the first black-owned restaurant on Broadway Street in Nashville.

Now, I couldn’t leave Tennessee without some bull riding! Let me tell you, that s*** was hard! I accidentally ripped off the skin on my fingers and I wish I was joking. But I’m proud to say that I hung on pretty long. If interested in Bull riding, do it at Wild Beaver Saloon in Printers Alley, you won’t regret it (well, maybe), but you can always join in on karaoke instead.

A must-go-to food spot was The Southern V and the Cupcake Collection. The Southern V is a black-owned vegan restaurant serving southern recipes in the Buchanan Street Business District. The Cupcake Collection is a black-owned, family-owned cupcake shop home to the sweet potato cupcake.

We also toured the Tennessee State Museum which is free to enter. Their exhibit highlights all of the state's history. You could easily spend a couple of hours here if you want to understand everything that happened in Tennessee throughout time, and it's a great way to understand the state's history.

Overall, it was such a great trip. The views alone from our drives were so beautiful and it felt so peaceful feeling the breeze and overlooking gorgeous valleys with bright, colorful trees extending for miles and miles.

I would also recommend going this time of year due to the weather. It was still warm (high to mid-60s) and sunny for most of our trip!

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