Imagine steering toward a mountainous landscape where every turn opens to an unexplored vista. Picture navigating through an expeditionary saga of epic journey tales.
Whether you’re savoring fresh lobster and coastal views in New England or exploring rushing waterfalls and groves of coastal redwood trees along Big Sur, a road trip through California is a must-see.
A dazzling array of awe-inspiring natural wonders and captivating cities make California one of the best states for road trips. From the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to glitzy Hollywood and gorgeous Malibu beaches, The Golden State has it all.
Begin your trip in San Francisco, where gorgeous hilly neighborhoods showcase Victorian-era architecture and world-class museums and gardens. A stroll through the gorgeous Golden Gate Park is a must, as is a ride on the city’s cable cars. Don’t miss Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can shop, dine, see sunbathing seals and watch a spectacular fireworks show over the bay.
Continuing along the coast, the seaside village of Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of the cutest places to visit in California. Here, European-style boutiques and art galleries line the streets. Carmel Beach is a wonderful place for a long walk, and Scenic Road offers lovely views of the ocean.
In nearby Monterey, you can hop on a whale-watching cruise or explore kelp forests and tide pools. The town of Monterey is also home to the famous Cannery Row, where you can browse shops and eat at restaurants with ocean views.
The coastal town of charming Mendocino is another of the must-visit places in California. Its quaint fishing village feel is enhanced by great beaches and scenic hiking trails, including one that takes you up to Morro Rock, which towers over the little town. You can also stroll through a variety of state parks, including one that features pygmy redwoods and other eerily beautiful natural scenery.
North of San Francisco, the stunningly beautiful coastline of Big Sur is a must-visit for any California road tripper. The 90-mile stretch of Highway One winds through daunting hairpin turns overlooking the ocean, offering awe-inspiring scenery that you won’t find anywhere else in the country. The area’s many state parks provide top hiking opportunities, such as the iconic Bixby Bridge and a striking rock tower at Pfeiffer Beach.
2. New England
From stately mountain peaks to windswept beaches and acres of undisturbed nature, New England is the historic corner of America – and one of its most popular destinations. The Granite State packs a big punch for its small size, with buzzing cities and quaint coastal towns all in close proximity. It’s a four-season destination, but fall foliage is what brings many to the region.
Skiing takes center stage in Stowe, but this Vermont town is just as charming away from the slopes. The secluded landscape is perfect for hiking, sledding, and snowshoeing, and mountain biking trails are popular in the warmer months. The 2,500-acre Trapp Family Lodge, founded by the famed Austrian family of The Sound of Music fame, also offers summertime lodging and plenty of other activities.
Boston is an American icon and a storied hub of history, culture, and forward-thinking innovation. Catch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, the oldest ballpark in the nation (tours are available 12 months a year), or take in a classic New England show at the Boston Symphony Hall or Museum of Fine Arts.
Portland, Maine is a foodie hotspot with an elite reputation for its restaurant scene, and the waterfront city feels more like a fishing village than a modern metropolitan center. Its tucked-away, winding streets lead to historic homes and churches, as well as modern art galleries and shops.
Head north to Maine’s Acadia National Park, where the stunning coastline is complemented by rugged mountains, soaring rock faces, and pristine forests. Around four million visitors a year flock to this natural wonder, and it’s easy to see why – the park’s Mount Desert Island is home to 158 miles of hiking trails and carriage roads.
Dubbed “The Last Frontier,” Alaska is a place that’s big on adventures and outdoor fun. The state is home to dazzling natural landscapes that are yearning to be explored. This northern destination that borders Canada is positively brimming with natural wonders, from glaciers to mountains and more.
Getting up close and personal with a glacier is a must-do activity in Alaska. In Juneau, head to Mendenhall Glacier and Lake, just about a 20-minute drive northwest of downtown. Here, the glacier meets the water, creating a magnificent sight. You can also take a tour to explore the glacier and learn about the ice formations that form here.
You can’t visit Alaska without taking on a few hiking trails. A popular hike in Anchorage is Flattop, which provides sweeping views of the city and beyond on a clear day. Another hiking option is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which is a sanctuary for orphaned animals in the Chugach Mountains southeast of Anchorage. The center offers tours to learn more about the organization’s work with orphaned brown bears, moose, grizzly bears and more.
Aside from hiking, you can also take a cruise on Hubbard Glacier to marvel at the towering wall of blue ice crashing into Disenchantment Bay. The area is a haven for Mother Nature’s finest creations and it is possible to spot harbor seals, otters and whales from the cruise.
To gain a deeper understanding of Alaska’s Native heritage, head to Fairbanks. The town is home to the Alaska Native Heritage Center where you can surround yourself with the culture of 11 different Alaska cultures. Here, you can learn about their traditions through music, dancing and dwellings that let you experience how these Alaskan people lived in the past.
The state of Hawaii is one of the coolest places in the US thanks to its tropical climate and laid-back Pacific island vibe. Its islands jut out from the ocean, offering up stunning beaches and rugged mountains that provide a range of adventures for travelers to explore. From a lunar surface of an active volcano to lush forests filled with exotic flowers, there are plenty of things to see and do on the Hawaiian islands.
Among the most popular islands to visit on a road trip to Hawaii is Oahu. Known for its spectacular beaches and the world-famous surf of the North Shore, it’s easy to spend a few days here relaxing and soaking up the island atmosphere. For a taste of local culture, head to Ahu’ena Heiau, an ancient temple that once served as a spiritual center and sacrificial altar for the gods.
The other must-visit place to go on a road trip to Hawaii is the southeastern island of Maui. It’s famous for its luxurious resorts, 30 miles of truly stunning beaches and a vibrant sea life to snorel and snorkel around. To experience the full island, book a stay at Turtle Bay on the tranquil North Shore. Here you can skip the crowds of Waikiki and enjoy dramatic ocean views from a luxury villa.
For a more adventurous journey, drive the Hana Highway, a scenic 52-mile drive on the island of Maui that winds from Paia through lush forests and along the coast to the remote town of Hana. The town has a more traditional Hawaiian feel than other destinations on the island and is home to the most stunning natural scenery in the state, including the world’s tallest sea cliffs, the longest waterfall in the islands and Papohaku Beach.
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, wine taster, or just looking for a little tranquility Oregon has something for everyone. The drastic natural landscapes will keep you occupied with miles of hiking trails while the coast is a favorite spot for beachcombing and fishing.
Oregon is also a beer lover’s paradise with enough breweries to fill an entire state. Make sure to check out Oregon’s Wine Country and sample the Willamette Valley’s extensive vineyards and tasting rooms.
In the north of the state, Astoria is a seaside city with inspiring surroundings and a vibrant downtown district with community flavor. Movie fans may recognize the town as the backdrop of The Goonies, and the city has plenty more to offer visitors including a historic Fort Astoria and military batteries.
The Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is a gorgeous stretch of coast that treats road trippers to views of rugged cliffs and secluded beaches. It’s a popular area for ATV and dune buggy riding, horseback riding, sand boarding, and camping.
For an even more impressive coastline head to the South Oregon coast for a scenic drive along the Pacific Ocean that will take you past stunning vistas and secluded beaches. The coastline is home to a number of iconic landmarks including the Peter Iredale Shipwreck and the Shore Acres State Park.
When you’re ready to plan your next road trip, be sure to check out Atlas Obscura’s list of must-visit places across the US. From the breathtaking cliffs and canyons of Big Sur to the sandstone masterpieces of southwestern Utah, you’ll be blown away by America’s unsurpassed natural beauty.