Words + photos by Vina Cristobal
I was welled up with excitement as my mom drove my dad and I to the airport. Never in a million years would I have expected to go to the East Coast. Last November my sister and cousin were both offered the opportunity of a lifetime: to dance hula and play in the Hawaii All-State Marching Band at the 90th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, respectively (we later found out that this group was the largest band to perform in the history of the Macy’s parade).
We spent our first day doing an interstate road trip – starting from New York City all the way to Washington DC, so we didn’t start our vacation until the next day. Our first tourist stop was the National Air Force Memorial, which was marked by a large, three-pronged statue. Because the memorial was perched upon a hill, the venue boasted a great view of the city. However, there was a small area to stand in silence in honor of the fallen troops.
Afterward, my dad and I drove down the road to Arlington Cemetery, home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame. As we ventured onto the path leading to the tomb and eternal flame, my dad shared memories of how my great aunt would travel to DC often when she was younger. After one of her trips, she gave my dad a Viewmaster (those viewfinder toys used to create picture slideshows through a binocular lens) of all of the historical monuments. Discovering that moment of my dad’s life made the trip even more significant for the both of us.
After driving around for a while, we made it to the Martin Luther King Memorial and eventually, to the Abraham Lincoln Memorial. By that time, the wind chill factor had increased and the next thing you know, a hurricane of leaves flurried around us. Luckily, we took shelter in Big Abe’s home, where people were crowding around, observing the statue that honored our 16th president and his famed speech etched on the wall.
We ended the day with a small family reunion in our hotel, not forgetting to stop by a small pizza chain restaurant called Extreme Pizza.
The next day, Dad and I decided to take the metro (and it was the only time we took the metro on the East Coast, mind you). It was an incredible experience to relax and walk around without the trouble of worrying about our car, which was parked in front of the mall near our hotel. We took advantage of the opportunity to stroll through half of DC, walking past the FBI museum, the Newseum, the Smithsonian and the White House. We also stopped by a little shop within the F called Garrett’s, which served all kinds of sweet popcorn.
On the last full day on DC, I was able to see my sister and cousin practice in front of the famed Capitol Hill, where a local news station filmed and interviewed their group. For lunch, we indulged in a East Coast favorite — Shake Shack. My dad opted for the original Shack Burger, while I ordered a ‘Shroom burger and the house lemonade. We ended the day walking around DC one last time with a visit to the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
The next morning, we packed our bags and headed toward New York, but not before the tour group stopped in Philadelphia for the day. While most of the group was touring around the city or buying souvenirs, Mom and I were on a quest for the most delicious Philly cheese steak. Fortunately, we stumbled upon a classic gem — The Grande Olde Cheesesteak, which was located in the Philadelphia Bourse, the United States’ first trading post. The owner had told us that the shop had been in operation for 33 years, but the Bourse would be sold to and renovated by a local firm for millions of dollars.
After spending half the day in Philly, we made a stop in New Jersey for dinner and Christmas shopping at the nearest mall. Then we were on our way back to the Big Apple, where we spent the night driving through the busy streets of Manhattan and straight toward our hotel in Long Island (yes, I know it was a long drive. Yes, I know that’s a far drive from the city. And yes, the traffic is worse).
My dad and I spent the next morning walking in the Harlem side of Central Park, which had some nice photogenic areas. How we got to Harlem is a whole different story entirely, but being in THE Central Park, the same park I saw in a number of movies growing up, was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.
Now, fast forward to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This particular event is a significant part of my family tradition because my mom would turn on the television every Thanksgiving morning to see the floats and performers roam down the streets of Manhattan. Though we didn’t get the best view, I ended up sneaking up to the front to see my sister and cousin stroll down 56th Street. Later that day, my dad and I spent Thanksgiving in our hotel’s restaurant — since everywhere else was closed.
You’d think the day AFTER Thanksgiving would be a nightmare; well, it wasn’t entirely a hassle. My dad and I escaped the hustle and bustle of Times Square and rode a taxi to Lower Manhattan to see the 9/11 Memorial. Although we took pictures, it was another time to pay our respects to the fallen. We then stumbled onto the One World Observatory (we couldn’t go inside due to the long lines) and the Oculus, which took precedence of the former World Trade Center. The Oculus was a minimalist’s dream — the pristine, symmetrical architecture made it feel like we time traveled into another dimension. The Oculus was a little shopping mall and food court, along with a PATH train that transported passengers directly to New Jersey. Think of Ala Moana, but completely indoors, two floors less and an underground subway.
That same day, my dad and I watched the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at the famed Radio City Music Hall. I loved that the show focused on all aspects of Christmas, from Santa and shopping to celebrating the birth of baby Jesus and spending time with family and friends. After the show, we walked around Rockefeller Center — the same studio that houses the “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”, “Saturday Night Live,” and “The Today Show.” Roaming around 30 Rock and seeing the ice rink up close was a dream come true.
For a late lunch, we went to Tri-Tip Steak, a local hole-in-the-wall on the first floor of the Rockefeller Center. We walked outside to watch a holiday light show, coordinated by Saks Fifth Avenue. Afterward, we returned to Times Square, where I visited the M&M Store and ate a nice Italian dinner with family members from Chicago.
Our last day on the East Coast was a bittersweet one. Dad and I drove out to Battery Park in New Jersey to take an afternoon ride onto the Statue Ferry, as an early birthday celebration to him. The ferry led us to Ellis Island, and of course, the Statue of Liberty. What a way to end our trip!
To this day, I’m still reeling from our trip to the East Coast. Despite the traffic, the cold and the crowd, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything else. I had the opportunity to travel to one of my dream destinations and spend time with my parents, which we don’t get to do as often when we’re home. I’m anticipating the day I get to return to the East Coast (and maybe see real snow for the first time!).
P.S. So glad we got to ride the Moana plane home: