Trip Ideas

Break Out Your Playlist: 9 Iconic American Road Trips

Nothing says summer like a drive out on the open road...shades on, windows down and music at full blast. Here are 9 ideas to get you started.

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Pacific Coast Highway

This cliffside drive is among America's most photographed for good reason: namely, the verdant bluffs that tumble down to the crystal-blue Pacific. Start just South of San Francisco in Monterey (home to that famous aquarium), and stop for a photo opp overlooking the 279-foot-high Bixby Bridge and the California Sea Otter Game Refuge. For lunch, head to the clifftop Post Ranch Inn for Pacific gold oysters and hazelnut finished pork shoulder, or grab an ambrosiaburger and fries at Nepenthe, which looks out onto Big Sur's Santa Lucia Mountains. End the trip with a tour of the 1919 Hearst Castle.

Photo by Mary Saxon


Austin to El Paso, Texas

The Lone Star State's music capital is a prime place to kick off a road trip, thanks to its great eats (Franklin Barbecue’s brisket is so legendary, President Obama recently swung by for a taste) and affordable rental cars (from $35 a day on a recent search). Your next stop: Marfa, an arts town that has reached mythic status owed in part to an influx of galleries and boutiques (don't miss artist Donald Judd's studio, a teepee and trailer hotel-meets-music venue, and the iconic Prada Marfa just beyond town limits. Stay at Hotel Paisano, where Liz Taylor and James Dean bunked while filming Giant. From there, it's just a two-hour drive south to see the show-stopping limestone canyons at Big Bend National Park, before you fly out of El Paso.

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Historic Route 1, Maine

With its centuries-old seaside towns, sun-drenched lakes, and postcard-perfect lighthouses, Historic Route 1 is one of the most idyllic drives in the East Coast. Acadia National Park is a main draw (there's no better way to stretch your legs than with the hike up to Ship Harbor Trail), but you'll also want to break for the Farnsworth Art Museum, where you can see notable works by Andrew Wyeth. For lunch, we recommend you detour to the waterside Five Islands Lobster for the legendary lobster roll with housemade cilantro mayonnaise.

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Overseas Highway, Florida

Stock up on sunscreen—you’ll need it on Florida’s iconic Overseas Highway. The series of 42 bridges leads you from Miami to Key West, over turquoise seas and a series of atolls dotted with palm trees. Go kayaking in the crystal clear water of the 500-acre Bahia Honda State Park, and snorkel the coral reef (where you can see a submerged statue of Jesus) at John Pennekamp State Park. Once you get to Key West, stop in for a slice of Key Lime pie at the Key Lime Pie Factory and to see Ernest Hemingway's former residence, still home to some fifty descendants of his six-toed cats.

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Route 100, Vermont

If driving through Norman Rockwell-esque towns is your game, this is the place to play. Route 100 winds through some 200-miles of New England perfection (this is the home of the Vermont Country Store, after all). In Stowe, check into the Trapp Family Lodge alpine chalet, still owned by the Von Trapp family (of Sound of Music fame); their biking trails are some of the best in the state. Once you've had your exercise fix, gain back your lost calories on a tour of the Ben & Jerry's Factory in Waterbury; it's touristy for a reason.

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Albuquerque to Taos, New Mexico

Ancient mines. Ghost towns. Valley views. The Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway extends 15,000 square miles through the heart of New Mexico. Along the way, stop at Cibola National Forest to hike with deer, elk, and antelope, and shop the galleries of the onetime ghost town turned art colony, Madrid. It's worth planning your trip around a performance at the Santa Fe Opera House, where works like Don Giovanni are performed in an open-air theater at sunset. In Taos, Taos Pueblo is a must-see; the village's adobe homes have been around for more than 1,000 years, and 150 tribal members still live in them.

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Going to the Sun Road, Montana

If you're a fan of snow-capped mountains, emerald glacial lakes and the occasional grizzly bear sighting, the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is your dream vacay. Start at the Swiss chalet-style Lake McDonald Lodge, where you can take an hour-long cruise on the lake, followed by a stop at Jammer Joe's for a scoop of huckleberry ice cream. Ascend deeper into the mountains, hiking through balsamroot and beargrass wildflowers to Granite Park Chalet and take in the knockout vistas of the park's green rolling hills and sculpted rock formations.

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Columbia River Gorge, Oregon and Washington

With its scenic bridges, basalt cliffs and waterfall after crashing waterfall, the 70-mile long Historic Columbia River Highway is hands down one of the prettiest drives in the country – and an easy day trip from Portland. Get a prime view of the river canyon from the 1917 Vista House at Crown Point, then hike to the top of 611-foot-high Multnomah Falls. Post hike, fill up on local wild salmon at the 1925 stone Multnomah Falls Lodge. Other must-dos: a stop in at the cliffside town of Hood River to watch windsurfers ply the Columbia River (or join them with a class), and a visit to Maryhill Museum of Art, an exquisite waterfront mansion built in 1914.

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Route 12, Utah

Although the flick Thelma & Louise didn't have the happy ending we expected, it did prove one thing: the American Southwest makes for an incredibly cinematic road trip. On the 124-mile Route 12, you'll see some of the best the region has on offer, from the twisted limestone "hoodoo" towers at Bryce Canyon National Park to the nearly two million acres of Crayola-bright cliffs at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, where many dinosaur fossils have been discovered. Make sure to stop at the Homestead Overlook for one of the most 'grammable vistas you'll ever see.

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