Chicago to New Orleans (and back again.)
My mom and I are hitting the road in May. We only have two weeks to kick *ss and take names in several states. We are landing in Chicago, and the only places we have-to-see-before-we-die are New Orleans, Nashville, Memphis, and Niagra Falls. We are aiming for an Americana sort of "one night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster shells" type of experience. We like: beautiful scenery, water, architecture, small towns, back roads, dive bars with good juke boxes, roadside diners, single story motels with neon signs, and thrift stores.
Oh, and in Chicago and New Orleans we are ditching the Americana theme: staying in nice hotels, dressing up, eating and drinking well. Balance is important
Any suggestions for routes/towns/sites? We're thinking of heading to Memphis, then New Orleans for a few days, then Nashville. From Nashville back to Chicago is wide open...as long as we end up in Niagra Falls. Hoping people "in the know" can suggest a good route back.
Just did almost the same trip
2 weeks ago I completed almost an identical trip. I just posted my trip report on the Winter/Fall road trips thread. (See New Orleans trip report)
Niagara Falls will be out of the way. From Chicago Memphis and New Orleans fall nicely in line along I-55. Nashville is slightly East, but still reasonable.
I really cant give you recommendations on how to get between Nashville and Niagara falls. I have driven between Niagara Falls and Chicago a couple times. You can either go through Canada, or go south along Lake Erie. I personally perfer Canada. You'll end up a couple hours from Toronto, which could make a good stop. Its an easy day's ride between Niagara Falls and Chicago. Lots of trees. Michigan is pretty.
Pleanty of Neon Lights on Beale street in Memphis.
A good dive bar in New Orleans is Lucky's. It's on St Charles Ave on the 2200 or 2100 block.
I can recommend more. Read my other posting and get back to me.
Just so you know, highway 51 runs parallell to I-55 and is much more scenic. Im not sure how close they are, but Im pretty sure it does begin somewhere near chicago. About 45 minutes north of new orleans it merges with 1-55 to go over a stretch of interstate going through the swamp, Lake Maurepas, and Lake Pontchatrain. New Orleans is WONDERFUL and I am feel very privelaged that I live so close.
If you have time, you could do a loop from Nashville up through West Virginia and western Pennsylvania up to Niagara (I did Pittsburgh to Niagara a few years ago, it was a beautiful drive), and then continue on through southern Ontario, come out through Windsor/Detroit, and on down the road back to Chicago (don't forget your passport, which you now need to drive across the border). If you go this way, Detroit -- while having no beautiful scenery -- has Americana-ish dive bars, diners, and old-timey architecture aplenty. Let me know if you'd like some good suggestions. You could also hop up to Toronto, though it would tack a few hours onto your trip.
I'm actually doing a similar trip in a few weeks -- Detroit-Pittsburgh-Nashville-New Orleans-Memphis-Chicago-Detroit (see my posting). Down south, I'm currently looking into taking the Natchez Trace Parkway from Nashville to Jackson, then hopping onto the interstate from Jackson to NO. Do you -- or anyone else -- know if this is a worthwhile detour, given that we're probably looking at an extra few hours with the reduced speed limit? It looks pretty interesting.