On the Road Trip

A Mother-Daughter Road Trip Through the American Heartland

by Kathleen Whitaker
Kathleen The open road. All photos by Kathleen Whitaker.

Driving from Los Angeles to New York City can be daunting, but West Coast-based jewelry designer Kathleen Whitaker pulled it off in style with a little help from her mom. She takes us along for the ride with a day-by-day guide of her cross-country sojourn.

THE WEST, USA - I spent the better part of the fall collecting pieces to complete an amateur interior design project. There was just one problem: The furniture amassed in Los Angeles belonged in an apartment in New York City. I decided to load up a van and drive it there myself with my mother as my co-pilot. Determined to make our eleven-day road trip a leisurely affair, I planned several hospitable and tasty stops along the way to make it a truly memorable experience.

Taliesin West.

Day One: Los Angeles to Phoenix

After picking up the last of the pieces from the upholsterer on our way out of town, we set off for our first stop: Arizona Biltmore Hotel, a Waldorf Astoria Resort. The rambling property with buildings designed in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright has a storied history that includes guests such as Marilyn Monroe and composer Irving Berlin (who penned many tunes while staying there, including "White Christmas"). We stayed in the casita adjoining "Ronnie and Nancy's.” Ronald Reagan was just one of many U.S. presidents who visited the property.

No overnight in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area is complete without a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's incomparable Taliesin West, which operates as an architectural school. Remarkably, a few of the original students still live and work in the area.

Los Poblanos.

Day Two: Phoenix to Albuquerque

Our route from Phoenix took us through the beautiful Tonto National Monument, which transitions from the flat, rocky landscape of the true Southwest into the lush green, high elevation of northern New Mexico. It’s a spectacular region of the country and a feast for the eyes.

You would never guess that the city associated with Breaking Bad is also home to a bucolic lavender farm clustered with charming buildings designed by John Gaw Meem, circa 1932. We arrived at Los Poblanos just in time to visit the beautifully curated gift shop and cover our Christmas gifting needs with the many gorgeous lavender products made on property. The lavender shortbread cookies we picked up may or may not have been eaten before reaching their intended recipient. A rosé champagne preceded dinner at the chef's table at the delicious new restaurant Campo in the former milking barns.

Kimbell Art Museum.

Day Three: Albuquerque to Dallas

The flat, monotonous panorama of northern Texas is no joke. With little entertainment for our eyes, we filled our ears with the second season of the Malcolm Gladwell podcast Revisionist History.

We made a quick stop in Fort Worth for the impeccable Kimbell Art Museum, where artwork is housed in adjacent buildings designed by Louis Kahn and Renzo Piano.

A beautiful, balmy night awaited us, making for a perfect evening walk from The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas, to our casual, hit-the-spot dinner at Italian-style Americano, and then through the Dallas Arts District, which is home to Dallas Museum of Art, Nasher Sculpture Center, and Moody Performance Hall.


Day Four: Dallas to Memphis

An early start for our Dallas-to-Nashville leg meant we would be passing through Memphis in mid-afternoon with plenty of time for a stop at Graceland. If you want the place to yourself, go on December 22 when it is biblically raining. The "mansion" is decorated at Christmas with the Presley's own holiday decor: a white Christmas tree in the living room, a Christmas china set on the dining room table, and poinsettias lining the staircase. It was refreshing to see a celebrity home that was modest, chic, and timeless. A well-loved, singular home for a well-loved, singular legend.


Day Five: Memphis and Nashville

We drove directly to City House for an inviting and homey meal of pizzas and pastas before laying our heads down at the newly opened Noelle. The rooms and public spaces are exceptionally appointed in Art Deco-inspired furniture and accents, many of which were sourced from the local community. In the morning, we were easily lured into Barista Parlor, which occupies a beautiful space in the lobby near Keep Shop, the sophisticated hotel boutique stocked with a tasteful curation of goods, including local brands like Lemon Laine and Salt Ceramics.

Lexington, Kentucky.

Day Six - Day Nine: Nashville to Lexington

We gave the maps a rest, turning our attention to cooking and cocktailing with my husband's gracious family in Lexington, Kentucky. It is always fun to roam around the sleepy, rolling hills teeming with stories about thoroughbred horse racing. L.V. Harkness & Company is a great destination for last-minute hostess gifts. I never skip town without a taste of the fried chicken at the Merrick Inn.

The Inn at Little Washington.

Day Ten: Lexington to Little Washington

After our fair share of bourbon, we departed Lexington, heading northeast through the Appalachian chain of West Virginia. On the outskirts of breathtaking Shenandoah National Park is the tiny town of Little Washington, Virginia, established in 1749 by George himself. The Inn at Little Washington, a Relais & Châteaux property, is slowly acquiring the charming buildings in town to create one of the country’s best hotels. From the welcome afternoon tea (which they extended to accommodate our arrival), to the juice flight at breakfast, no detail was amiss. We did not have dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant but managed to enjoy a taste of Patrick O'Connell's food by ordering dinner from the room service menu to the living room of the Parsonage building where we were staying. Everything – from the grounds, the service, the farm program, and the interior design – was impeccable.

Forest Hills, New York City.

Day Eleven: Little Washington to New York City

Crawling through the green hills of Virginia, we eventually traversed all the Mid-Atlantic States, arriving at our final destination: Forest Hills, New York City. The next day was spent unloading the van and getting the furniture into its new home. Mission accomplished.

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