6-Day Road Trip Santa Ana, CA to Sugar Land, TX and Back!

Day 1: Santa Ana to Las Cruces (~745 miles)

By 4 am, eight of us (my mom, my mother-in-law, my aunt, my uncle-in-law, my sister, my sister-in-law, my hubby, and me) hopped into a 2019 Chevrolet Suburban, which we rented from Enterprise, and started our trip without any written plans. Because the only sure plans we had were stopping by my cousin’s house for lunch in Phoenix, stopping by my other cousin’s house in Tucson, and the final destination which is my brother-in-law’s house in Sugar Land. Everything else was ~90% sure only.

So off we drove! We got on a bunch of freeways before getting on I-10 E and stayed on it for a majority of our trip. We didn’t make any stops at any touristy sites in Arizona both back and fourth. Hence, I have nothing to report about Arizona ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

We arrived at Hampton Inn & Suites Las Cruces I-25 around 8:30 pm. By the way, we almost didn’t have a place to stay and everyone would have been shocked and I would have been buried to the ground. Luckily, it was only me who almost had a heart attack upon realizing that I’ve booked the nonrefundable reservation with the wrong date! I would not have found that out if the confirmation page on Priceline didn’t say that I had 180 days before checking in. *SHOCKED*. I hurried and called the inn, and the lady told me I had to contact the site I used for booking. So I online chatted with one of the representatives of Priceline whose name is Pete, and he resolved the issue for me in a timely manner. Phew!!!

Tips:

  • if you happen to make any mistakes with your reservations, contact the company that you use to book it right away. A good customer service representatives will try to go beyond their duties to help. And don’t forget to be grateful for their effort!

Day 2: White Sands National Monument to San Antonio (~647 miles)

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The day my husband lost his phone!

So we woke up, got ready, had breakfast at the Hampton Inn, and left for the White Sands National Monument around 7:30 am. We arrived at the US Border Patrol Checkpoint near the monument around 8:30 am; we got pull to the side and three officers came to ask for our residency status. Five of us are US citizens and three are green card holders, among which only one had a green card with her during the trip. So apparently, non-US citizens have to carry legal documents for proof of their residency status with them at all time while traveling in the US. Even for green card holders, a state ID or DL is not enough! Otherwise, the punishment could me 100$ in fine and/or at least a month in jail. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it! However, we didn’t know that and we didn’t know what to do; we told them everyone has an ID/DL. And since majority of us are citizens, they decided to ask for the green card holders’ ID/DLs to run in their system. They took the cards, came back, explained to us one more time about the law, and gave us a copy of the section of the law for reference. As they let us leave the checkpoint, the atmosphere in the car changed from distress to relief and everyone started making jokes again.

The regular hours of the monument is from 7am to 9pm. However, it’s located in the proximity of the missile range, so the hours are affected by the missile testing also. And because I didn’t check their website, that happened to us. The dune area wasn’t open until 10am that day. We had a dilemma whether to wait or to just forget about the monument and leave since our schedule was tight. We decided to leave, but we were stopped by a patrol officer who instructed us to pull to the side of the road because the road in the direction we were going was closed for missile testing until 10am unless we wanted to turn around and go the opposite direction, which we didn’t!

So we stopped the engine and discussed our plans, to go or stick around once the road is open. Misunderstandings occurred while everyone was trying to explain to one another. We arrived at an agreement to go back to the monument visitor center and hang around in the gift shop until the dune is open.

Once the dune was open, we drove in. The fee was like 5$ per person. But that’s going to change soon, see Fees & Passes. It’s a really big place, over 200 square miles as I remember, so it’s really nice being able to drive in and stop at certain spots as we want. We drove all the way in to what is called Heart of the Sands and parked our van on the side there. The moment I got out, I ran all the way to the crest of a dune, and I couldn’t stop telling people how beautiful that place is since then. Like No Place Else on Earth. I wasn’t disappointed as I was afraid I would. Pictures you see on the Internet don’t lie. In fact, they do it only little justice. We bought one plastic snow saucer and a small cube of wax for sledding. And because we’re cheap, we took turn sledding, and we sold back the saucer and the wax to the gift shop for about 5$ :D. Yes, they buy back!

By the way, one day someone will find my hubby’s iPhone in the dune area. It will be his/her lucky day because on the back of the phone, there is a 20-dollar bill :).

Tips:

  • If you’re not a US citizen, always bring a green card or travel documents with you at all time while traveling in the US
  • Bring your own snow saucer if you want to do sledding on the sand. Or you can just buy, and keep it or sell it back

Day 3: San Antonio to Sugar Land (~188 miles)

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We left White Sands around 11:40 am and arrived at Drury Plaza Hotel San Antonio Riverwalk around 11pm on day 2.

We only had half a day in San Antonio, so we didn’t really explore much of the city. It was early in the morning on Saturday, hence there weren’t many people walking along the River Walk. And stores weren’t yet open. But I could sense that it’s a nice, relaxing place to visit for couples as well as families. Picture this: a stay at a hotel on the river, wake up, enjoy the breakfast, walk along the river, lunch and dinner along the river, shop along the river, and explore museums and historical site The Alamo all within short walking distances.

So we walked along the river and checked out The Alamo for a brief moment; we went on to Tower of the Americas. Everyone except me and my husband took an elevator ride to the observation deck of the tower. With the tickets they bought, they were able to watch 4 15-min movies in 4-D. But time didn’t allow, they only saw one, and we had to kiss San Antonio good bye!

We left around 12pm and arrived in Sugar Land around 3:30pm. We had homemade hot pot for dinner, and my brother-in-law took us to see Christmas lights in Houston after dinner. It was really romantic and spectacular! Trees were all wrapped with twinkle lights. Twinkle lights and big Christmas ornaments were everywhere, on the roofs, fences, and bushes. Lighted Santa Clause sleigh and reindeers everywhere on the front lawn. There was this big angel in front of one house, and there were even artificial snows in one corner of the neighborhood. There were also carriage rides. They really went all in with Christmas decorations.

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Tips:

  •  Try to make time for at least a whole day if not more  in San Antonio downtown on your Texas road trip or travel itinerary.

Day 4: Explore cities near Houston

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We spent two nights at my brother-in-law’s. So on day 4, we explored places nearby. We went to Battleship Texas State Historic Site, which is less than an hour from Sugar Land. We got there around 9am, took some pictures, and then went to the nearby site San Jacinto Museum of History. This time everyone took an elevator ride to the observation deck. We got a really good deal on tickets since we bought the tickets as a group. If I remember correctly, the total price for 11 adults and 3 kids came up to be only 24$. Everyone had fun up there looking down through one of those coin operated telescopes and playing with an elongated penny press machine.

The museum is small enough to explore and learn about some of the historical figures and about Shell company if you have a little more than a few hours to spare. But we had to leave.

So we left San Jacinto Museum of History around 10:30 am and went to check out the city of Galveston. I’m not sure what problems beside flooding the city is facing, but it seems very odd for a city that is surrounded by ocean like that. It’s old and not as developed. The sand is clean, but the water doesn’t seem so. Or maybe there’re nicer beaches there since we only went to the Pleasure Pier.

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We got back to Sugar Land around 4pm and had BBQ at home. And our moms prepared food for our next day super long drive back home.

Day 5: Sugar Land to Casa Grande (~1,125 miles)

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We started our longest drive around 4am. We wanted to get as far as Tucson at least, so we could have a more relaxing, shorter drive back home the last day of our trip. We spent roughly 16 hours driving with two stops for lunch and dinner, restrooms, and refuel.

I cannot be thankful enough for the thoughtfulness of America to build and maintain rest areas along the interstates. For me, each rest area stop was also something somewhat exciting. You don’t know how each structure looks like from one rest area to the next or what it has in there, a TV, AC, Heater, or maybe free coffees. Some are even like vista points. One is cleaner and/or nicer than the other.

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We managed to drive all the way to Casa Grande, which is almost an hour pass Tucson. We arrived at Quality Inn around 8pm and called it a day because everyone was exhausted from sleeping too much in the van. So we let everyone have a good night sleep in bed and no need for rushing to get up the next morning.

Day 6: Casa Grande to Santa Ana (~405 miles) 

Even though we gave everyone a permission to sleep a little more, I guessed the excitement of going home just woke everyone up early still :D. We left the inn around 7am with two more stops in mind. We stopped at Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center for a brief moment. And because everyone was starving, we didn’t go any further into the park.

As we continued the drive out of Joshua Tree National Park, the only purpose we had was to find asian food in the nearest distance as possible. Even home means asian food, no one can wait any longer. We found a bunch in Palm Springs, but it was still too far compare to the one we found in Indio. So we took an exit for Indio city and headed to a Thai restaurant there called My Thai.

Well, let’s just say everyone wasn’t impressed with the quality of the food there. There was serendipity in that of our quest for asian food though. Before that, we had no idea how beautiful the city of Indio is. I just always thought of it being a deserted city, hot and dry. But wow, was I wrong! The city looks new and beautiful with so man palm trees along the streets, vibrant colors of flowers, and mountains as its background when driving face them. I’m not sure how Summer changes it though!

Anyhow, our last stop was Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. We weren’t really planning on getting on the tram car ride. I just wanted to check it out. But the moment we saw snows, we were like 85% sure we were gonna get on it. And we did! It was actually really nice up on the San Jacinto Mountains (I wonder how the name relates to the San Jacinto Monument!) We thought it was gonna be really cold like around 30~40 degree. But it was only around 50 plus degree, so it was nice! And I think the price is reasonable, especially the one that includes dining; however, that’s only available after 4pm.

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And we got home around 7pm!

Overall, it was a really fun road trip. It was a lot of driving, but everyone seemed to enjoy it. And I’m proud that we only ate at the restaurants three times, thanks to our moms who prepared food and snacks for on the way. Car rental was the second most expensive, but it’s so worth it. I will never use my own car for such a long road trip. Gas cost was the third highest, which was expected. And luckily, the gas prices are cheap in Texas and reasonable in New Mexico and Arizona. Hotel cost was the highest, but it could have been less if my hubby was the one who booked it :D. I tend to be a little as picky as I can when it comes to choosing a place to stay :).

However, it probably won’t be at least another year or so before we take on another long road trip. I definitely want to take them on a California to Vancouver road trip. I did that with my hubby in 2016, and now it’s still the best trip I’ve ever taken.

Well, until next time!

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