The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reports traveler numbers daily, and if you look at this chart, the difference between average numbers in the beginning of 2021 compared to today will astound you. In January 2021, somewhere in the range of 500,000 to 800,000 travelers were passing through TSA checkpoints on any given day. Today, that figure has exceeded two million. After well over a year of having to stay home, people are ready to go anywhere away from home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) updated travel guidelines states fully vaccinated individuals face low risk when flying and is is likely fueling the surge in airfare travel. Just as good old-fashioned supply and demand can drive up prices in just about anything, it’s certainly doing so for vacations. The nearly-free flights people found in the early summer and late spring seem to have vanished.
So what happens to those who have the travel bug but don’t want to pay the high prices to fly? Or how about those who still aren’t ready to subject themselves to crowds? It’s expected that some individuals are still struggling with anxiety about COVID-19. With the delta variant on the rise and evidently highly contagious, not everyone is ready to cram into a plane with hundreds of people for hours on end. If you can relate to this, you can still satisfy your wander lust with these lit road trips across America.
The Highway-1 Up The California Coast
California Highway-1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, runs along some of the best towns to visit on the California Coast. A popular route is to begin in Santa Monica, California and go all the way to San Francisco. From Santa Monica, you’ll pass through the iconic Cliffside surf town of Malibu where you can’t go wrong with stopping at one of the many seafood shacks serving up fish tacos. From there, you’ll continue on to Ventura, where a good stretch of the highway will have nothing but gorgeous ocean to one side and beautiful mountains on the other. Santa Barbara is definitely a stop worth making. This subtly celebrity-studded, chic beach town is where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle recently bought a house in the neighborhood of Montecito. The PCH will then take you up through wine country. Make a stop in gorgeous Carmel-by-the-Sea for some iconic architecture or Monterey to visit their aquarium. Santa Cruz, with its funky boardwalk, is worth a stop, as is scenic Big Sur for some nature views. This highway will take you all the way to San Francisco. To make the most of the trip, consider setting aside five days or even a week, since there are so many places worth stopping along the way.
Great River Road
This road trip earns its name by running along the Mississippi River, all the way from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. The 3,000-mile trip should take about 20 hours and you’ll want to break it up since there are some iconic stops along the way. This route will take you through 10 states, offering a great choose-your-own adventure type of trip. You can stop in New Orleans for some amazing live street music and a stroll down Bourbon Street where you can drink a cocktail outdoors. You can stop in Memphis to check out the National Civil Rights Museum. Do a day in St. Louis to see their breathtaking botanical gardens and many museum offerings. This road trip offers an excellent sampling of all things Americana.
Los Angeles to Moab (and maybe beyond)
This is another road trip launching out of Los Angeles, but taking you through a very different landscape than the beach-dotted one associated with California. If you love a good dramatic desert landscape, this one is for you. Once you’re out of California, the Mojave National Preserve will offer plenty of photo-worthy places to pull over and take out the camera. The drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is roughly five hours, and Las Vegas will be a welcome burst back into civilization after a few quiet hours in the desert. After you’ve spent as much time as you can handle in Las Vegas, it’s back on the road through more desert landscape as you make your way to Moab, but first, a stop at the Grand Canyon. When you finally land in Moab, you can either stay in the quirky small town full of boutiques and delicious food trucks, or you can camp in Arches National Park. Whether or not you sleep there, visit it, as its deep red natural structures are something else. If you have it in you to keep driving after this, you’re just a five and a half hour drive to Denver, Colorado.
If you’re in the Florida area, this road trip is one not to miss. The 127.5-mile trip will take you from Miami to Key West, and seven miles of that will be on a bridge over water called the Overseas Highway. Naturally, you’ll enjoy the night life of Miami for a few days before you take off for the more serene leg of the trip, and don’t miss the shopping (Shops at Midtown Miami are great for outdoor shopping), and the food (try Little Havana for something authentic to the area). If it’s contact with nature you’re in for, definitely stop in the city of Marathon, which is set across 13 islands full of photo-worthy barrier reefs and beaches. Once in The Keys, you can enjoy culture or nature. Visit Hemmingway’s old residence, enjoy the Butterfly and Nature Reserve, or stroll down to Mallory Plaza for lots of foot traffic and great local seafood in quaint bistros.
This would not be an article about great American road trips if we didn’t cover Route 66. Also known as The Mother Road or The Main Street of America, this was one of the first highways in the American highway system and runs from downtown Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. Some would say it cuts through the very center (the heart) of America. Much of this route has since been removed and replaced, but some parts of America have stubbornly and rightfully so held onto small sections of Route 66. If you follow the spirit of the original highway, you’ll make your way through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before landing in California. You’ll want to set aside at least a week for this trip to make all the stops. The sites are rather kitschy on this route, like the largest catsup bottle in Collinsville, Illinois or the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri. The route is dotted with endearing cafes, gas stations, and motels that have been operating for many decades and maintain much of their original aesthetics.
Scenic Route 100
If you’re in the New England area, this is the road trip to take. Scenic Route 100 runs along the Green Mountains in south-central Vermont and takes about five hours to drive from one point to the other. That being said, you may want to set aside a few days for this trip since there are some great stops to make along the way. If swimming and paddle boarding is what you’re looking for, stop at Lake Whitingham, the largest lake in south Vermont. If it’s skiing you’re after, Mount Snow is worth a visit. Weston is a darling village with charming country shops filled with treats like homemade syrups and candy. Don’t miss the Plymouth Notch historic district in Plymouth Notch, or the Long Trail Brewing Co. in Bridgewater Corners. The Scenic Route 100 has a little something for everyone to be sure, whether it’s antiquing, hiking, or beer tasting you’re after.
The Olympic Peninsula
The Olympic Peninsula is in western Washington and covers an incredible variety of natural landscapes. It covers the Puget Sound, has the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north. This one will be done in a loop, as a popular place to begin and end it is in Seattle, Washington. Some great spots to hit include the Olympic National Park and Forest as well as the Hoh Rainforest. There are some gorgeous beaches on the Pacific Ocean side to visit including Ruby Beach, La Push Beach, and Rialto Beach. Rialto Beach is near Mora Campground, right by the Quillayute River, so you can set up shop there for the night if you want to truly immerse yourself in nature. If it’s water falls you’re after, don’t miss Sol Duc Falls, where some great hiking trails will take you past alpine lakes and stunning greenery. This trip is all about the great outdoors.
You can pack your passport for this one since the best way to take this route is by starting in British Columbia. Make sure to spend some time in the cosmopolitan city center of Vancouver before hitting the rugged road into nature. Once you are en route, you’ll go through some incredible mountain landscapes and probably encounter some wildlife like a few moose along the way. Stop in Whitehorse in the Yukon territory, the largest city in northern Canada. Tok will be the first major city you encounter in Alaska on this route, where you’ll find tons of tourist attractions from museums to mini golf. The many stops you can make (well-outlined here), will offer a combination of unforgettable wilderness activities along with some cultural gems.
New York City to Finger Lakes
If you want a trip that starts by pristine lakes and ends in bustling New York City, this is the one to take. North-west of NYC is the Finger Lakes region, named in honor of native Iroquois tribes, for its 11 uniquely-shaped series of lakes. The trip will take you past more state parks than you can count, along with some beautiful wineries like those found in the Pleasant Valley Wine Company in Hammondsport, New York. There are plenty of museums to visit, too, like the Rockwell museum in Corning, which celebrates the great American move west, or the paleontological Museum of the Earth in Ithaca. Each of the lakes feature adorable boutique-style hotels sitting right on the water, and appropriately quaint lake-side towns.