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The Midwest's Coolest Road Trip

By C Lee Tressel
updated September 29, 2021
Rust-Belt_Pittsburgh_Pennsylvania_120820_Whitney-Tressel_BT_PA_MG_7633
Whitney Tressel
It's time to exit the turnpike and take a closer look at northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. With a rich sense of tradition and a talent for making things, whether stromboli or specialty steel, this region serves up surprise after surprise.

Let's be honest: The media has been none too kind to the Rust Belt over the years. The usual visual clichés—shuttered factories and empty storefronts—have reinforced the idea that the region is no vacation destination.

That's old news. To bypass the stretch of the Rust Belt between Cleveland and Pittsburgh is to miss out on the pleasures of heritage and history and the excitement of an evolution in progress.

I have experienced both the tradition and the transformation of this area firsthand. After living elsewhere in the U.S. for more than a decade, I moved back to Northeast Ohio, hoping to reconnect with what I knew and loved about the region and discover what else is in the works. What better way to become reacquainted with my Rust Belt roots than to hit the road with a new perspective and an old friend—my sister.

Day 1: Cleveland to Youngstown, Ohio (75 Miles)

We started our trip from my home in the suburbs of Cleveland—a city that deserves far more than a one-day drop-in. A major player in the history of manufacturing in Ohio and a community deeply invested in revival, Cleveland has enough music and cultural attractions, groundbreaking dining spots, and reasonably priced entertainment to justify a much longer getaway.

When visiting the North Coastnamed as such for Lake Erie, Cleveland’s northern border—for any length of time, do not miss the West Side Market in the Ohio City neighborhood (1979 W. 25th St., crepes from $5). In 2012, the market celebrated its 100th anniversary, and one stroll through the indoor bazaar of fresh meats, pastries, cheese, and produce on a Saturday morning will show you why it has thrived for more than a century.

We hit the road on Interstate 80, the Ohio Turnpike. For all the times I had traveled east on the turnpike, never had I stopped at Cuyahoga Valley National Park—a 33,000-acre preservation framing the Cuyahoga River (1550 Boston Mills Rd., Peninsula). The rolling crests of the valley and rich forest had always been a pleasant sight from the highway, but to actually experience the park is to know that it really is a national treasure. We made the easy hike to Brandywine Falls then enjoyed the cliffs and birches of the Ledges Trail. Just an hour east of the park is the city of Youngstown, a place full of rich traditions and cultural assets. The Butler Institute of American Art is a marvel that boasts more than 10,000 works from the colonial era to the modern and contemporary periods, including paintings by big-name artists like Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, Chuck Close, and Georgia O’Keeffe (524 Wick Ave, free). For a different aesthetic, jump across the street to the McDonough Museum of Art, which features primarily contemporary works (525 Wick Ave). The sleek Modernist facility provides a satisfying contrast to the classically designed Butler.

A visitor will not go hungry in Youngstown unless she works at it. Diligently. Just two blocks from the art museums is Cassese's MVR, a restaurant that began in 1927 as a pool room and was granted the second liquor license in the city at Prohibition's end (410 N. Walnut St.). Since 1938, the Cassese family has served Italian American favorites named for relatives, friends, and the chefs who have made the food something to keep coming back for. The sauce is still homemade, as is most of the menu. We enjoyed a meal on the back patio, where we took in the sights and sounds of bocce on three gravel courts. We were so engrossed in the games that we almost passed up the pizza. For the crust alone, we're lucky that we didn't.

Among all that was familiar in Youngstown, we stumbled upon something new to us: Rust Belt Brewing Company, a craft brewery that makes its beers in the old B&O train station along the Mahoning River and serves them in its downtown Tap House (beers from $4.50, 112 W. Commerce St.). The flight of brews we sampled ranged from the dark-roasted Coke Oven Stout to the deliciously floral Peacemaker Imperial IPA. Jillian Blair, brewery manager, explained the brewery's interest in celebrating the city's industrial identity while refining a familiar concept. "We want to brew a good beer that everyone can enjoy," Blair said. "We think of it as giving back to and honoring the American worker." In the summer months, stopping by one of Youngstown's many Italian heritage festivals is a must. Events like the Brier Hill Italian Fest made eating trailer-prepared cavatelli, spicy sausage sandwiches, and apple dumplings cool long before the food-truck trend (Victoria and Calvin streets).

Youngstown, Ohio, to Columbiana, Ohio (18 Miles)

Before leaving, we took in two glimpses of Youngstown from Fellows Riverside Gardens (123 McKinley Ave). On one end of the bloom-laden garden is a panorama of downtown; the other overlooks Lake Glacier and the northern edge of 2,330-acre Mill Creek Park. The central stretch of rolling, well-tended lawn invites leisurely strolls with plenty of pauses to smell the award-winning roses.

Inspired by memories from childhood, we made our way down to Lake Glacier and rented pedal boats (Glacier Boathouse, West Glacier Dr.). Just a half hour of pedaling across the still, forest- framed lake and we were ready to drift and enjoy the scenery. Farther south in Mill Creek Park we visited Lanterman’s Mill, a working grist mill that has been stone-grinding wheat, buckwheat, and corn just like it did when it was first built in the mid-19th century (980 Canfield Rd.). A short drive south is Columbiana, Ohio, a small village with big rural charm. We stopped by the Shaker Woods Festival, a large gathering of craftspeople that happens for three weekends each August (44337 County Line Rd). We browsed handmade wares under a canopy of century-old trees and sampled roasted pecans, sweet kettle corn, and lemonade shakes, then stayed in the heart of the village at the Columbiana Inn, a fully renovated 1904 Beaux Arts-style B&B (rooms from $125 per night, 109 N. Main St). Its highlights include repurposed-wood decor and innkeeper Paul Bissell's world-famous hash browns—a potato masterpiece of local garlic, cheese, and sausage.

Day 3: Columbiana, Ohio, to Pittsburgh (83 Miles)

Winding through the Ohio River Valley on the way to Pittsburgh, we stopped where it all started for early colonial settlers and Rat Pack crooner Dean Martin: Steubenville, Ohio. Historic Fort Steuben is a replica of the fort built after the Revolutionary War to house and protect government surveyors ($5, 120 S. Third St). Their task: Lay out the first ranges of the Northwest Territory, the land destined to become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Like Cleveland, Pittsburgh needs much more than one day for true exploration. Two hours at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh was far from enough. We marveled at the bones of Apatosaurus louisae, the dinosaur named for Andrew Carnegie’s wife, Louise, and lingered in the photo gallery—the museum was the first to exhibit photography as art. During a stop for a quick burst of fuel at La Prima Espresso Bar in the Strip District, Italian language teacher turned coffee importer Sam Patti educated us on how to do espresso in the traditional style: Start with a single, well-made shot and enjoy it while standing at the bar, preferably with good conversation and good friends (single espresso $2, 205 21st St). For dinner, we sipped alcohol-free birch beer and chose from an ever-changing selection of "untraditional" pierogies at Church Brew Works—an old church turned microbrewery (pierogie $18.50, 3525 Liberty Ave). Before heading to bed at lovely Sunnyledge Boutique Hotel and Tea Room (rooms from $139 per night, 5124 Fifth Ave), we rode the historic Duquesne Incline ($2.50, 1197 W. Carson St) overlooking downtown Pittsburgh, a fitting end to our Rust Belt road trip: watching the sun set on where we'd been and looking forward to where we might go next.

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Road Trips

What's A Road Trip Food You Can't Do Without?

We've got road trips on the brain, thanks to the re-release of our Budget Travel Ultimate Road Trips App, available now in the App Store and on Google Play, and all the fun summer travel stories in our July/August digital edition of Budget Travel magazine (now available on BudgetTravel.com, in the Apple App Store, on Google Play, and for Nook and Kindle). To get into the spirit of things, we asked several of our staff members to share the road trip food they can't do without—here's what they said: "Frozen coffee drinks laced with chocolate are as much of a necessity as gasoline." —Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Executive Editor "I purposely don't bring any food with me so I have an excuse to stop for ice cream along the way." —Jamie Beckman, Senior Editor "I stop for unique snacks at local shops. My favorite so far was Tanka Bites (smoked buffalo meat with cranberries), which I found in South Dakota." —Kaeli Conforti, Digital Editor "A road trip isn't complete without chocolate." —Jennifer O'Brien, Marketing Manager "Candy! I've given myself countless sugar headaches on road trips. I never learn." —Rosalie Tinelli, Marketing Associate "Coffee. Does that count?" —Amy Lundeen, Photo Director "Chocolate-covered raisins. It's what I buy when I go to the movies, and driving on a road trip is sorta like a real-time flick!" —Whitney Tressel, Photo Editor "I simply cannot live without sunflower seeds in the shell. They keep me busy when I feel sleepy while driving—that's key!" —Chalkley Calderwood, Creative Director "I always have Twizzlers or beef jerky handy." —Chad Harter, Lead Developer "After living in New York City for so long, I search for an Arby's or Chili's, because those favorites of mine are hard to find here." —Michelle Craig, Director, Business Development "Potato chips! Preferably local and flavored." —Elaine Alimonti, President, Publisher "A big bag of pretzels is a must-have for all road trips!" —Cathy Allendorf, Director of Digital Media Now it's your turn: We want to know, what's a road trip food you can't do without? Share it below!

Road Trips

Epic Road Trip: Southern Utah & Northern Arizona

It's time to embark on an epic family road trip adventure through the rugged wilderness of southern Utah and northern Arizona. Whether you're planning to hit only a few of these places or want to cover the entire park circuit through Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Monument Valley, Arches, and Canyonlands, here's how to make the most of your trip without wasting a cent. Slow down and savor the beautiful scenic byways While your trusty GPS might say there are faster ways to get you from point A to point B, stick to Utah's Scenic Byways as you travel between the parks. State Route 12 takes you from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon on a beautiful 124-mile journey with awe-inspiring views at every turn. Give yourself at least three hours so you can stop for photo ops along the way. Step into your favorite movies in the places they were filmed There's a reason why some of this scenery looks so familiar. It's been the background in plenty of films, from John Wayne classics like Stagecoach (filmed in the Monument Valley area) to Thelma & Louise, (filmed in Arches National Park; the final scene was really filmed in Dead Horse State Point State Park, not the Grand Canyon—who knew?) Die-hard Forrest Gump fans can also be seen pulling over at Mile Marker 13 on Highway 163, outside Monument Valley, for a chance to take the perfect photo in the spot where, one day, Forrest just stopped running. Get to know lesser-known national parks like Capitol Reef Often overshadowed by Zion and Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park is definitely worth visiting: Admission is only $5 per vehicle, and you'll have access to unspoiled views of red rock country and a chance to explore the area's rich pioneer history. Infamous outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid even used parts of the park as a hideout! Stop by Rim Rock Restaurant for a gorgeous vantage point of the red rock as you dine, and stay around the corner at Broken Spur Inn (Rim Rock Restaurant, 2523 E. Highway 24 in Torrey, therimrock.net; Broken Spur Inn, rooms from $99 per night, 955, E. SR-24, brokenspurinn.com.) Don't miss Page, Arizona, on your way to or from Monument Valley Spend some time on the shores of Lake Powell, part of Arizona's scenic Glen Canyon Recreation Area ($15 per vehicle for a weekly pass), or rent a kayak at Lake Powell Resort to see the area from the water (kayak rentals from $45 per day, 100 Lakeshore Drive, lakepowell.com). Stop by Horseshoe Bend just south of Page on Highway 89 (free). Don't be intimidated by the three-quarters-of-a-mile hike through desert sands to reach the scenic overlook point. (Author's note: If I can do it, you can do it, and that amazing view from the top of the ridge was totally worth it!) Immerse yourself in Native American culture and history in Monument Valley Stay at Goulding's Lodge, a remote but charming outpost minutes from Monument Valley that's home to Goulding's Trading Post Museum. View photos and artifacts from the Old West; learn about the area's Native American tribes; check out John Wayne's Cabin, where She Wore a Yellow Ribbon was filmed; and catch classic western flicks at the Earth Spirit Theater. Goulding's also offers several guided trips into Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, including its three-and-a-half hour deluxe tour, which gives you a close-up look at scenic rock formations like the Mittens, the Three Sisters, and North Window, and the chance to explore parts of the park that are off-limits to the general public (tour from $70 per person, rooms from $89 per night November through April, from $211 per night May through October, gouldings.com). Explore Bryce Canyon on horseback Embrace your inner cowboy (or cowgirl) and get a different view of the park from the back of your trusty steed. Bryce Canyon Rides takes you on a two-hour guided tour from Bryce Canyon Lodge down to the canyon floor, past scenic spots like the Wall of Windows and the Chessmen. Bring plenty of water, and whatever you do, don't forget your camera! (from $60 per person for a two-hour trip, from $80 per person for a half-day guided tour, canyonrides.com; admission to the park includes unlimited use of park shuttles and is valid for seven days, $25 per vehicle or $12 per person entering on foot, nps.gov/brca). C'mon and take a free ride at Zion and Bryce Canyon While you can bring your car to Bryce Canyon National Park, we recommend staying at Ruby's Inn (rooms from $149 per night, 25 S. Main St., rubysinn.com), leaving your car there, and hopping on the free Bryce Canyon Shuttle to avoid spending your precious time in the park worrying about traffic. Parking at Zion National Park, meanwhile, is limited to a frequently overcrowded parking lot near the entrance, and after a certain point, no cars are allowed and you must take free shuttles to see the rest. Leave the car at your hotel—we love the Hampton Inn & Suites Springdale/Zion National Park (rooms from $197 per night, 1127 Zion Park Blvd, hamptoninn.com)—and take the Springdale Shuttle to Zion, where you can catch the Zion Canyon Shuttle inside the park (admission to the park includes unlimited use of park shuttles and is valid for seven days, $25 per vehicle or $12 per person entering on foot, nps.gov/zion). Treat yourself to dinner and a show For the Moab portion of your trip, spend your days exploring nearby Arches and Canyonlands national parks (admission to the parks is valid for seven days, $10 per vehicle or $5 per person entering on foot for each park). Don't miss the Moab Adventure Center's Dinner and Night Show: You'll start with an hour-long Dutch oven cowboy-style dinner, then board a jet boat for a two-hour journey up and down the Colorado River. Watch as the canyon walls are lit up by 40,000 watts of light and hear stories of how the are came to be settled by Native Americans and later, cowboys ($69 for adults, $59 for children ages 12 and under, 1861 N. Highway 191, moabadventurecenter.com). Back in Moab, stay at Kokopelli Lodge, a funky, retro-style motel a few blocks from Moab's walkable downtown along Highway 191 (From $79 per night, 72 S. 100 East, kokopellilodge.com). Surround yourself with culture and history in Salt Lake City Use Salt Lake City as a base for your first or last night and spend a day at the Natural History Museum of Utah, one of 13 attractions covered by the Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass ($29 for adults, $24 for children 12 and under, $23 for seniors over 65 for a one-day pass; two-day, three-day, and annual passes are also available). If you're working on a family tree, stop by the Family History Library for access to millions of records and complimentary help with your research. Stay at Hotel Monaco, a swanky Kimpton hotel with family-sized rooms from $159 per night (15 W. 200 South, Monaco-saltlakecity.com) and stop by Eva's Bakery for a delightful French café breakfast (155 S. Main St., evasbakeryslc.com). Don't forget to pack: Sunscreen: apply an ounce (about a shot glass) of SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen every two hours while you're exposed to the sun. Sun-protective clothing: Wear a wide-brimmed hat and protective shirt and pants. (Hold them up to the light; if you can see the sun through your shirt, it's not protecting your skin from damaging UV rays). Water: The National Park Service recommends that you bring one gallon of water per person per day. Sure, it sounds like a lot, but you'll be glad you did. Layers: While the dry heat of midday in Utah can be challenging, don't forget that evening temperatures drop quickly, especially at altitude. Be sure to bring sweaters and jackets. Hiking shoes: Leave the sandals and flip-flops in your hotel room! When exploring any national park or other wild place, it's best to wear durable socks and closed-toe shoes with sturdy support and water-resistance. Take advantage of free weekends at all national parks Aug. 25, National Park Service Birthday Sept. 26, Public Lands Day Nov. 11, Veterans Day Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Presidents' Day Weekend Opening weekend of National Park Week in April

Road Trips

#BTRoadTrip: Tallahassee, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina

Hop in the passenger's seat on the ultimate road trip! We're posting real-time dispatches as Budget Travel's Photo Editor, Whitney Tressel, journeys across the country using tips from locals as her guide. Prepare for beautiful beaches and parks, amazing local cuisine, and one-of-a-kind experiences you only get when you talk to the real Americans who make this country great. Is it over already? After two weeks chock-full of unique towns, local eats, and activities from two-stepping to peacock-spotting, Whitney's cross-country road trip came to a close. But not before she pumped the brakes in order to settle into Georgia's slow southern pace, eventually winging her way up to South Carolina, to see the sun set quite literally on her trip. Dusk in Savannah. As the sun melted like hot butter over the horizon, over the rooftop of Whitney's hotel, she plotted her morning journey to Clary's Cafe for breakfast, on the recommendation of a local she met back in Tallahassee. Once there, a plate of perfect eggs florentine, two bright-yellow paprika-sprinkled hills, cozied up with a generous bowl of grits, materialized in front of Whitney. A side of homemade corned beef hash? Why not? Whitney hopscotched among Savannah's 22 lush, grassy squares to iconic Forsyth Park, draped in the Spanish moss that's inseparable from the idea of Savannah as a city. Trivia: The historic park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same landscape architect who designed New York City's Central Park. After capturing the trees and fountains on camera and doing some serious people-watching and music-listening—musicians constantly play in the park—Whitney took her time meandering along the river, stopping at Savannah's Candy Kitchen for a candy-dipped apple crisscrossed with ribbons of white and dark chocolate to bite into as she took in the water views. Pre-dinner candy aside, this is the south: There's always more room for home cookin'. The Olde Pink House restaurant has a much-deserved reputation for its classic dishes, including "southern sushi," smoked shrimp and grits rolled in coconut-crusted nori, and a side of "hoppin' john," black-eyed peas and rice that Whitney spooned up like it was her last meal on the road. But not so fast: One last southern state loomed on the horizon as Whitney zoomed up I-17. Folly Beach, South Carolina, grabbed her attention immediately with its classic Atlantic Coast vibe: locals fishing, eating ice cream, playing volleyball, dipping their toes in the surf, and lolling about on the sand. Come dinnertime, Whitney bellied up to the Folly Beach Crab Shack and ordered up a dish of crab balls with with rémoulade for less than 10 bucks, then set out for the best place to watch the sunset, according to a couple fishing on the pier.As Whitney watched the horizon shift from orange to pink to navy from a boat marina between Folly Beach and Charleston, she let her mind drift back to the start of her trip, her thoughts running backward across the country, up and down the south's peaks and valleys, past its ocean vistas, along the open road, accompanied only by her camera, now full of freeze-framed vistas, natural beauty, and the faces of new friends. Whitney's Final Travel Tip: Don't hesitate to travel alone. The act of traveling with others is irrefutably awesome, but embarking on a solo journey births new and different experiences that, quite honestly, couldn't happen if you weren't by yourself, surrounded by everything unfamiliar. Previously:#BTRoadTrip: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Tallahassee, Florida#BTRoadTrip: Del Rio, Texas, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana#BTRoadTrip: Tucson to Del Rio, Texas#BTRoadTrip: San Diego to Tucson#BTRoadTrip: Los Angeles to San Diego

Road Trips

#BTRoadTrip: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Tallahassee, Florida

Hop in the passenger's seat on the ultimate road trip! We're posting real-time dispatches as Budget Travel's Photo Editor, Whitney Tressel, journeys across the country using tips from locals as her guide. Prepare for beautiful beaches and parks, amazing local cuisine, and one-of-a-kind experiences you only get when you talk to the real Americans who make this country great. Swinging low from Baton Rouge to N'awlins and back up again to Slidell via I-10, Whitney found herself deep in southern Louisiana, where the pace is slow, the food is sinfully indulgent, and Lake Charles–born singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams's album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road can almost function as a road map in itself. If you've been to NOLA, you're probably no stranger to Cafe Du Monde's confectioner's sugar–dusted beignets. But we've got a new little-known pastry haven to put on your itinerary: On the advice of a photographer couple, Whitney coasted north, toward Lake Ponchartrain, to Morning Call Coffee Stand, which serves beignets off the beaten track (a.k.a. no long lines of tourists waiting patiently to shake their bags of doughnuts and/or steal your table). After Whitney placed her order, three beignets appeared on a white plate, plump and golden, a sugar shaker at the ready. After giving them a good powdery coat, she bit into the first one. Bliss. Sugar State bliss. Terrifically convenient for a post-breakfast stroll, this outpost of Morning Call is located in City Park, a stretch of nature where seas of purple and orange wildflowers paint the ground—a veritable rainbow resting beneath the trees. Think of the blooms as New Orleans's version of D.C.'s cherry blossoms. Totally worth the trip. The French Quarter, particularly Magazine Street, is a classic stop, and Whitney spent time there snapping shots of the iconic architecture. East of the French Quarter, though, she discovered the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood—Frenchmen Street in particular, a multi-block avenue with smaller blocks jutting out of it. One could say the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater 'hoods are the "new" French Quarter: edgier areas with street art (like the mural above) and gobs of live music. As Whitney walked, a lonely country boy crooned on one side of the street, a jazz singer played the piano on the other, and a singer-songwriter with two guitars appeared later down the road. It was, she says, like changing the radio station every 10 steps. Whitney couldn't leave the south without having a po'boy, and she got her chance in Fairhope, Alabama, at Down by the Bay Cafe, a family-run restaurant that Whitney chose partially out of nostalgia for the classic children's song. (Sure enough, that's what it was named after.) She ordered up a half-catfish, half-shrimp po'boy, "dressed," as one must specify in the south, with lettuce, tomato, and sauce (at Down by the Bay, it's tartar sauce, but other establishments differ). Whitney ate every piece of it. On clear days, you can see the Mobile, Alabama, skyline from the restaurant. After you eat your po'boy, walk down to North Beach Park for a stroll. Admire the ducks while you're there. Whitney continued heading east on I-10 and sought some advice from the front-desk attendant (and Florida State University student) at her hotel in Tallahassee, who gamely agreed to share her secret retreat with BT: While driving on I-10, take Route 27 about two and a half miles south, through suburban Tallahassee. Before you know it, Lake Ella will appear on your left. Grab a cup of joe at Black Dog Cafe and take a seat next to the water. It's a mini sanctuary in the city. Whitney's Travel Tip: Fight the urge to rely solely on internet reviews to determine what's good. Instead, ask the locals. Without their in-person advice, Whitney never would have found those mouth-watering beignets in New Orleans or a hidden lake in Tallahassee. Next stop: The East Coast home stretch. Previously:#BTRoadTrip: Del Rio, Texas, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana#BTRoadTrip: Tucson to Del Rio, Texas#BTRoadTrip: San Diego to Tucson#BTRoadTrip: Los Angeles to San Diego