Road Trip: Adventure Through Some of the Middle States

We’re always asked about our travel itineraries and if we work with a travel agent (nope). This is a breakdown of our latest exploration because anyone can do this. It takes a bunch of Googling and a splash of bravery, but developing a winning itinerary is part of the traveling fun. My husband couldn’t get away from work, so this adventure was me and my two kids, ages 12 and 16. This trip was 100% not sponsored.

Our family moved closer to visiting all 50 states with a middle states road trip over Winter Break, crossing off three more states for my daughter and four for my son (my daughter had already been to Arkansas and both had been to Texas). We drove through a snowstorm, ate breakfast tacos, visited The Pioneer Woman’s lodge, and had a great time.

The plan: Fly into Dallas, rent a car and begin a six-day road trip with overnight stops in Oklahoma City, Wichita, Kansas, and Bentonville, Arkansas. I’ll admit that I waited until about two weeks before to make our hotel arrangements because the weather forecast scared me. It fluctuated between BIG STORM to cold, but sunny, to VERY COLD back to cold and sunny, which is when I finally toughened up to commit to the trip with some hotel reservations. Otherwise, we would have spent a week at a Dallas airport hotel watching TV. Although that doesn’t sound bad, either. Of course, we ended up driving through a snowstorm on day one. 

Flight plan: We flew into Dallas because of the limitations of flights into the OKC airport. The cost was much higher than flying into Dallas, but more than that, the options were limited – especially sparse direct flights – and that includes looking for options from both SFO and San Jose. Flying into Dallas cost much less, had several direct options, and is only a three-hour drive to OKC. Plus, Dallas gave me an out if the weather turned cuckoo in Oklahoma. 

Day 1 – Arrive and drive
Our flight landed at 3:30 p.m., we jumped on the Hertz shuttle, and got our car. The storm had begun and we were in a hurry to get on the road or else we would have noted the crappy quality of our rental car. The license plates were from Colorado, which should have been a sign that the car had some life under its belt. It had nearly 40K miles and we soon found that the windshield wipers were dull and barely worked. By the time it all came together, we were about 30 minutes away from the airport and I opted to press on rather than return. 

First, it rained, then it turned to snow, and by the time we made it to OKC, the roads were iced. The three-hour drive took four hours, but we made it safely to our hotel, where Bricktown looked like a ghost town as the storm shut down OKC. Thankfully, this did not include the hotel valet and FLINT, the restaurant in our hotel. 

Our room at the Colcord Hotel was awesome and gave us a great view of the holiday lights at Myriad Botanical Gardens. It had plenty of room for the three of us, and the hotel gives free bottles of water, allowing us to stay in if we wanted. 

Day 2 – Explore OKC…at least what was open
We woke up to a winter wonderland with snow everywhere, no cars on the road, and news stations advising people to stay home unless they absolutely had to go out. The news ticker went beyond school closures to list museum and office closures, too. One of the main reasons we picked the Colcord was proximity to museums, which didn’t matter in the end because they were all shut down for the day. 

We layered up, determined to leave the hotel for at least a brief walk, and I assumed we’d end up eating lunch and dinner at FLINT. The Colcord offers a free shuttle, but it wasn’t operating during the storm, so a front desk staffer suggested we jump on the new streetcar that loops Bricktown and downtown. The streetcar was extremely limited due to the storm, but there was service, and it was free at the time, so we gave it a shot. It ended up being key to salvaging our day. 

Normally, Bricktown is extremely walkable, but with the ice and wet ground, the streetcar was a lifesaver. We looped around Bricktown until we saw that the one Starbucks in the area was open, which is where we jumped off. We ended up skipping Starbucks for early lunch when we noticed Fuzzy’s Tacos was open. Hooray for tacos!

We walked around a little until the snow picked up, then jumped on the downtown loop streetcar, taking it to the National Memorial Museum. The museum was closed, but there is plenty to observe and read outside. 

We walked back toward the hotel, stopping for statues and art, then ended up heading back to Starbucks for hot chocolate before going back to our hotel by mid-afternoon.

My son’s wish came true when we headed to The Melting Pot for dinner. Our options for dinner were limited due to the closure, and my son lobbied for the nearby Melting Pot, and when I looked on Facebook to see if they were open, this location posted that there was 50% off of food that day. I don’t know if it was to entice people out in the storm, but it worked with us. Go wild with that fondue, kids!

Day 3 – The Pioneer Woman Day!
The sun was out as we left OKC for Wichita with a stop in Pawhuska. It took us about two hours to get there, including a stop for gas and Starbucks. 

Read more about our visit to The Pioneer Woman’s shop and lodge, and how it was worth the detour. It was worthy of its own post.

After a few hours in town, we got back on the road to drive about two hours into Wichita.

We made it to the Hotel at Old Town in Wichita in the late afternoon to find that our reservation for a room with two beds had been given away, but we were offered either a suite or two adjoining rooms at the same price. We took the adjoining rooms because that meant two bathrooms. The rooms were small, but they each had a kitchen, a feature kind of wasted on us during a one night stay.

Tip for staying at the Hotel at Old Town: there is free parking in the lot next door. The top floors of the garage are for the hotel, but we parked on the first floor when arriving because we didn’t have a way to access the hotel-only parking levels. This worked out well because the entire garage has free parking, it felt secure enough, and it allowed us to park mere steps from the hotel entrance. 

Our stop that evening was at the Keeper of the Plains for the nightly Ring of Fire show. Show isn’t the right word, but the flames are only lit for 15 minutes and everyone stands around to watch, so show?

Tip: You can see the fire against the statute much better from across the river at the parking lot. We walked over before the fire began and quickly headed back. As soon as the fire began, others walked back, too, for a better view. It only kept my kids’ interest for a few minutes before they started staring at their phones, which signaled it was time to move on.

My big regret that night was not going to the arcade, only a block away from the hotel. My daughter did not want to go, and while she’s old enough to be at the hotel alone, hanging out with your mom at an arcade wasn’t that appealing to my son. It grew more appealing later when he realized his sister wasn’t going to change her mind, but by that time, we were in PJs ready for bed. There were hard feelings all around and everyone was overtired at this point. To bed it was. 

Day 4 – Onward to Arkansas!
Our morning plan went awry quickly. We planned to have an early breakfast at the popular Doo Dah Diner, then check out of the hotel to begin our drive east. 

As we drove up to Doo Dah Diner, I was surprised the parking lot was empty, but then we saw the sign saying the location was closed for remodeling, but to try their other location. This was a huge surprise because their website and Facebook page had said nothing about this at the time, and I thought this was a one location place. Another car came up soon after us, also looking confused at the open lot. 

We entered the other location into GPS and made the drive to the other spot, only to find that it was closed, too. The second location was brand new, so new it wasn’t opened yet. There wasn’t a sign and we stood outside looking confused when a woman very kindly came out to let us know they hoped to open in a week. Okay then.

The cinnamon rolls from the Pioneer Woman saved us. We ate them in our room, packed up, stopped at a few murals on our way out of town, then drove for hours, crossing Kansas and heading south in Missouri, before reaching Arkansas. We felt every moment of this drive because it was hours of nothing. Gas stations and food options were few and far between. We found ourselves begging to see a McDonald’s. We gave up, promising to eat an early dinner when we crossed into Arkansas, passing the largest Walmart – or any store – that we’d ever seen. It was massive. Sprawling.

Soon after we closed our gaping mouths, we exited upon seeing some food trucks. We love food trucks – we have them here, we’ve been to the best in Portland and Austin, so we were a little let down when it was basic food. One food truck was a Chinese food truck. No fusion, nothing funky, just straight up chow mein and egg rolls. I can see how this helps diversify food options in an area with few restaurants, but it wasn’t enough to get us to stop. We ended up pulling into Java Dudes with the hope of getting a sandwich instead. 

Java Dudes was super cute, the people were nice, and we split two personal sized quiches that were great. It was a great stop.

Bentonville is more spread out than we expected and it’s growing. I had regrets as we drove up to the DoubleTree Suites because it was on a super bland street of economy hotels and strip malls. Once inside, my regrets disappeared instantly. The DoubleTree was awesome and I was so glad we opted to stay here instead of the hipper, pricier option off the main square downtown. The hotel was modern, clean, and our room was great. Again, free water bottles in the room and warm cookies at check-in. We were happy.

Our only true museum of the trip was Crystal Bridges, which has free admission thanks to sponsorship from Walmart. Special exhibits can require paid admission, but it was all comped on the day we attended due to an additional donor. 

The grounds are amazing, with outdoor sculptures, paths for hiking, and myriad spots for photos (we saw a few photoshoots). The museum is just as beautiful, with huge windows connecting the indoor and the out. We saw works from a diversity of artists while standing alongside a diverse group of people of all ages. This was not a stuffy museum by any means. It truly appears that by taking away admission costs, it made the art accessible to everyone. This is one of the best museums we’ve ever seen.

Technically, we went to a second museum, which was Walton’s 5&10 in downtown Bentonville, the start of Walmart. It’s free, off of the small original 5&10, and has two or three rooms with Sam Walton and Walmart historical memorabilia. It doesn’t take long and the interactive elements were entertaining for the kids. The prices in the tiny store are amazing. If you need some throw-back toys, this is the place to find them. There were so many toys from my childhood and while I wanted to buy them all, I couldn’t justify it. But boy, the prices were low.

The museum ends in The Spark Cafe Soda Fountain that had a line the entire time we were there…and this was a cold day in January. We skipped the ice cream to head to dinner at Tusk & Trotter because we’d read it fills up fast and doesn’t take reservations for small groups. We walked into an open restaurant, but true to word, it filled fast and people were being turned away. My kids thought I was crazy going early to secure a table, but it was one of those times where they were glad we did. The food was good, the grapefruit gin and tonic was one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had, and our server was great. Win.

We chose going back to the soda shop instead of having dessert at Tusk & Trotter, getting two single scoops and a kid scoop all for about $3 TOTAL! Every day of the trip I was blown away by the low prices we don’t see in the Bay Area. I swear that our receipts are probably my favorite souvenirs because I’m still in disbelief.

Day 5 – Back to OKC for a Thunder game
We stopped for breakfast at Cracker Barrel – a first for my son, and he took advantage of the situation by ordering about a million plates of food. 

With very full bellies, we drove back to OKC, this time staying at the Sheraton because the price was much less than the Colcord, which we could see from our room. The Sheraton location is ideal for a game because the doors of the Cox Convention Center across the street are unlocked and everyone cuts through the center, exiting across from the Chesapeake Energy Arena. It took no more than five minutes to walk there from our room.

The Thunder game was fun. There were drummers outside, tons of photo opportunities inside the arena, including a free photo booth, and the prices for food and beer were crazy low. 

After the game (blow out loss by the Thunder), we walked through the outside of Myriad Gardens, and enjoyed the lights on our way back to the hotel. 

Day 6 – Wrapping it up
We left OKC in the morning and headed back to Dallas, stopping in Norman for breakfast tacos from Torchy’s. Before returning our rental car, we filled up at Buc-ee’s in Denton, to see what the hoopla was all about. We were in love. The store is huge with all kinds of food, jerky, fudge, fountain drinks, and swag. We bought so much stuff that I didn’t know if it would all fit in our carry-ons. Yes, we are the people who bought a Buc-ee’s pillow. 

After dropping off the car and getting through security, we wrapped up Texas with Whataburger for lunch and live music near our table (from a real musician, not some rando serenading the food court with his harmonica). The perfect ending to a memorable trip. 

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