After spending time throughout the nation, we've found new favorites, as well as confirmed old ones. Such a difficult list to narrow down, so forgive me if this isn't complete and I have to revisit. Perhaps several times.
Collier Memorial State Park (Oregon) is my favorite. It's a beautiful location, first of all. Nestled in the woods, a short walk through the woods and over a river into the logging museum, a wonderful laundromat and hot showers. Yeah, this place rocked. By no means is this the only great state park we stayed in, but state park quality varies, vibes vary, and subjective opinion all play a part here. From this location we visited Crater Lake National Park (also in Oregon) and Lava Beds National Monument (California). We could take a brief walk from our campsite to the river where the kids could take a dip and refresh and relax.
This one is much harder. Overall, our National Park system is the bomb. Such amazing properties, such wonderful lands we have available to us, we all should take advantage. Buy a year pass, take some time off, check them all out. That said, there are parks that are more crowded and less enjoyable for me. I love to be in smaller parks, where the population is smaller. Our campground in Acadia was the least popular, and the coastline was really amazing. Visiting the more popular side was filled with impressive sights, but there were miles of cars parked on the side of the road to get to the most popular areas. Not my cup of tea. If you're looking for a more leisurely experience, Joshua Tree and Death Valley in February were fabulous. The weather was good, the crowds were minimal, and the locations are so incredible. Shenandoah in May was great during the week, and even on the weekend, the property is so extensive that we were not in with crowds of people. We were able to enjoy ourselves. I just really loved getting out there and exploring the variety of parks within the system. And don't forget the National Monuments. Oh, and toss in some National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, and you might as well visit Historical Sites and Battlefields. Get the pass, and get out there!
Army Corps of Engineers (COE)-run campgrounds are the best. Cheap, on the water, hot showers. We lucked into our first one in Oregon, and we kept our eyes out for more along our route. We got to stay at more in several other states, and we will always recommend finding a COE site. As far as activities, you've got your water sports, and whatever the nearby towns hold, but they're usually only $20/night, including the hot shower. And in Vermont, where everyone else wanted to charge us per person over 2 adults and 2 kids, COE didn't care how many kids we had with us.
I am a huge fan of Herr's Salt and Vinegar chips, so we naturally had to tour. And they did not let us down. It's not a free tour, but it was one I was willing to pay.
Morse Farms had a very nice setup. It was a self-guided tour, free of charge, that gave a glimpse of what it takes to make maple syrup. The walk through their maples was really cool, as you could see their hoses up for the sugar season. And of course, there were samples. Yum!
Danforth Pewter let us check out the process of making pewter items. After the tour bus left, we were the only ones there, so we got a lot of attention from them and got a personalized introduction to their business. Way cool.
Marquam Hill Alpacas. We arrived right at closing time, and we got an hour and a half tour and talk about their operations. Such a great experience! And who doesn't love petting alpacas?
Wherever we went, we tried to get a taste of local. Not everywhere we went did we find something that we had to take with us, but there are things we picked up that we want all the time now.
Mrs. Renfro's Jalapeno Slices. Oh my. These things are crisp, wonderful flavor, just the right amount of spice. This is now what I go to when I make my salsa. Love 'em!
Tillamook anything. Except maybe their larger sized vanilla yogurt. Butter? Love it. Ice cream? Yes, please. Cheese? Well, I do like east coast stuff better, but it's good. Everything we've tried, we like. Places sell different things, so it's frustrating to find their ice cream but not their butter, or whatever. But if we find it, we buy it.
Bulgarian style buttermilk. Not a brand specific thing, but I love the Bulgarian style buttermilk. Thicker, richer, tangier. Can't find it here in Colorado. At least, not yet I haven't. I have read up on how to make it, though, so someday I'll spend the time and energy on experimenting. If you haven't had it, you can get it in the south. And it's freaking AWESOME.
Boulder Sausage. Ok, we knew heading out of here we would miss this. Their sausage really is just that much better. We kept trying local sausage, hoping that someone else would make sausage as good, but it was a bust. Their Hot Italian ground sausage is our go-to for homemade pizza, and we've been happy to have it again since being back. Trust me, it's the one to look for at the store!
Cedar's hummus. Their carmelized onions and balsamic vinegar hummus is so so very tasty. Truth be told, though, that was my absolute fave and I didn't really try any other except the roasted garlic the kids wanted. That wasn't as tasty as the onion one, so I didn't eat it. But try the carmelized onions and balsamic one if you ever find it. You won't regret it. Or at least don't tell me if you do. Cuz I won't believe you. Best part? I can find it here in Colorado. Yeah!
Joseph's pita. So soft, so tasty, so darn good. I was hooked.
lots of different farmer's market type places--Snow Goose Produce in Washington, Robert is Here in Florida. Those are just the ones I remember. Ask locals, they recommend the best places!
Vermont Country Store. LOVE IT!
Jax Sporting Goods
So many things to see and do in this wonderful country!