Forget long lines at the airport or packing two weeks’ worth of luggage in a carryon. If you want to ditch the fees, pat-downs and toddler-sized seats, a road trip is where it’s at. Once thought of as the realm of Americana kitsch, road trips are becoming more popular as air travel has become more expensive and inconvenient.
A road trip can be anything you want it to be—upscale, laid-back, spontaneous or well-planned. The key is to make it fit your personality. Here, we’re rolling out four road trip ideas that are designed to give you a renewed love of the old U.S. of A.
Roadtrip #1: Foodies Off-Foot
Perhaps because of its melting-pot personality, America is home to some of the greatest culinary adventures in the world. So foodies, unite! We’re dishing up an East Coast road trip that will take about a week to appreciate and will give your taste buds memories to last a lifetime.
Our first stop may surprise you, but it shouldn’t. Ranked #7 in the Travel+Leisure America’s Best Cities for Foodies list, Cleveland is rapidly gaining a reputation as an eating oasis. Part Old World Charm, part modern sophisticate, Cleveland has an eclectic and varied culinary scene that belies its rust belt image.
- Westside Market: Housed in an historic Cleveland landmark, the Westside Market is a grand, open space where you can grab a bite while exploring more than 100 food and specialty product vendors.
- Tommy’s: Nearby in Cleveland Heights is this true Cleveland original that caters to both vegetarians and carnivores alike with everything from sandwiches and salads to traditional Greek favorites.
- Lola Bistro: For the pièce de résistance in this culinary tour, there’s Lola Bistro, legendary with foodies around the world for its incredible upscale lunch and dinner menu, and award-winning wine list.
Just a little over two hours from Cleveland is Pittsburgh. And we can’t help but think the food here is just one of the reasons Pittsburgh was ranked #3 worldwide on Conde Naste Traveler’s List of places to go in 2015.
- Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery: In the small outlying town of Millvale, just 10-15 minutes from downtown, you’ll find this hidden little gem that serves up outrageously yummy Kouign Amann, fresh croissants, warm brioche, pastries and more.
- Gaucho Parrilla Argentina: Nestled in the Strip District of Pittsburgh, this small but expanding restaurant is garnering rave reviews for its surprisingly affordable steaks, sandwiches and signature Chimichurri.
- Butcher and the Rye: For casual, modern fare, a brilliant and beautiful whiskey bar, and signature craft cocktails, head downtown to the Butcher and the Rye. But be forewarned—it’s a hotspot, so make reservations in advance, especially for Friday and Saturday nights.
Loaded with politicians, diplomats and big wigs, it’s no surprise that the Capital—a four-hour drive from Pittsburgh—is a restaurant hub. Here you’ll find internationally diverse fare, from small mom-and-pop shops to hip, trendy four-star favorites.
- Rose’s Luxury: Rated #3 in the Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants 2015, this small Capitol Hill restaurant serves up small plates and family-style fare that’s as ingenious as it is delectable. They don’t take reservations, but the incredible food and staff are well worth the wait.
- &Pizza: Some say it’s the best pizza they’ve had in their lives. You decide. Choose from a menu of signature pizzas or craft your own at several locations across the D.C. area.
- Keren Restaurant: Serving up authentic Ethiopian fare (or Eritrean, if you want to go all foodie on us), Keren Restaurant is open all day, is reasonably priced and will leave you with a new appreciation of African cuisine.
The second largest seaport in the Mid-Atlantic is only about an hour and a half from Washington D.C. and boasts some great seafood restaurants. But please, don’t limit yourself to oysters and crabs. Before you leave port, sample the divine and impressive selection this city has to offer—Italian, American, Asian, modern. Actually, just about everything.
- Aggio: New to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Aggio serves up inspired Italian cuisine, in a chic casual space, from former Top Chef contestant Bryan Voltaggio.
- Water for Chocolate: With dishes like the Sexy Spinach Salad—yes, sexy—you might wonder if this little place for casual comfort food lived up to its own hype. But it does.
- Thames Street Oyster House: You can’t leave Baltimore without the classic oyster house experience, and the Thames Street Oyster House, located in historic Fells Point, knows how to give you just that.
At #14 on the Travel+Leisure America’s Best Cities for Foodies list and the center of economic activity in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia has way more dining options to offer than cheesesteaks. So take a bite out of the City of Brotherly Love with everything from street food to upscale dining.
- Miss Rachel’s Pantry: Featuring homestyle vegan eats, Miss Rachel’s Pantry is full-service catering company that features a market and Saturday Night Table Dinner. Make a reservation in advance for a superb vegetarian dining experience in a cozy, cheerful setting.
- Cucina Zapata: Real foodies can appreciate any noteworthy dining experience, and this awe-inspiring Mexican/Asian fusion food truck offers just that. Located in University City, Cucina Zapata offers extremely reasonably priced tilapia burritos, short rib tacos and more.
- Vetri: With a reputation as one of the country’s most influential Italian restaurants, Vetri offers only a tasting menu option, but don’t let that deter you. In the words of one reviewer, “This place will blow your socks off!”
Roadtrip #2: Nature Lover’s Lanes
Big-box stores and six-lane highways aside, America still has plenty of wide-open spaces, thanks in large part to our protected national forests, parks and wildlife preserves. The ideal region to explore these areas? The wild, wild West, of course! We’ve chosen five ideal spots, which will collectively take at least a 10 days to explore, but will be well worth it.
- Sierra National Forest
- Yosemite National Park
- Stanislaus National Forest
- Lake Tahoe
- Tahoe National Forest
Although the Sierra National Forest spans more than 1.3 million acres, we’re starting our tour near Sierra, California. In this general area, you’ll find lots of spots that make up a nature lover’s paradise—lakes, hot springs, mountains and camping.
- Kaiser Peak: The relatively unexplored Kaiser Wilderness is the realm of a true nature lover. And Kaiser Peak—10,320 feet above sea level—offers a spectacular view. If you want to tackle it, be in shape, start early and bring plenty of water because getting to the peak requires 3,200 feet of climbing, covering five and a half miles.
- Huntington Lake: With plenty of camping and cabin rental options around the lake, you could spend quite a few days here horsebackriding, boating, waterskiing, jet skiing, hiking or mountain biking.
- Mono Hot Springs: This spot is great for both the extreme adventurer and the comfort-seeker. For the adventurer, there’s scenic hiking, trout fishing, horsebackriding and exploring the hot springs. At the same time, those more into creature comforts can enjoy fine food, hot mineral baths, spa and comfortable accommodations.
About a three hour drive from Sierra National Forest is Yosemite National Park—a place that will leave nature lovers trembling in their Birkenstocks. Best known for its waterfalls, the Park’s 1,200 square miles is home to nature of fairytale proportions—sweeping valleys, lush meadows, ancient giant sequoias and much more. A word of caution—make sure you map out where you’re going ahead of time to make sure you know how long it will take you. The park is huge!
- Tenaya Lodge: For those who love nature, but hate to rough it, we recommend Tenaya Lodge. Just two miles from the park’s South Gate, it offers 302 rooms of high-end comfort in one of the most serene settings imaginable.
- Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias: With more than 500 ancient Sequoias and 20 miles of trails, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is simply stunning. Truth be told, most of the Grove will temporarily be closed starting July 6, 2015, but you can still access it partly and find other groves here.
- Camp 4: Located on the north side of the valley, Camp 4 is a rock climber’s dream and the birthplace of modern rock climbing. If you’re a serious rock climber, don’t mind waiting in a long line for a spot at the site or lugging your own gear everywhere, it’s a true adrenaline rush.
If you can still walk after traipsing through Sierra National Forest and Yosemite National Park, pack up the kids—or not—for a drive that should take a little over two hours. The Stanislaus National Forest is pristine, with over 800 miles of rivers and streams, campground, hiking, swimming, rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking… Well, you get the drift.
- Lake Alpine: Home to some of the best fishing for Rainbow trout, Lake Alpine also has oodles of other lake options like kayaking, swimming, canoeing and boating. You can even stay on the Lake for days in a tent or cabin.
- Mountain Adventure Seminars: Whether you’re a beginner of average physical fitness or a more experienced climber, this is a great way to explore the area. They offer multi-level courses, from one-day adventures to multi-day treks.
- Grover Hot Springs State Park: Hike in the beautiful meadows, soak in the hot springs and explore Hot Springs Creek Falls and Burnside Lake in this majestic and family-friendly state park.
Beautiful Lake Tahoe, where California and Nevada meet, is just three and a half hours from Stanislaus National Forest and well worth the drive. Snow skiing, water skiing, hiking, biking—even SCUBA diving is popular here…and gambling. But we digress.
- Fireside Lodge: For cozy, quirky, casual charm and a welcoming staff who take great pride in the establishment, stay at Fireside Lodge. It’s a lovely little bed and breakfast in a great location. It’s also pet-friendly, has a fire pit with free s’mores and is clean and comfortable.
- Tahoe Tot Spot: This is a terrific haven if you have kids and need to entertain them on a rainy day. They have a ball pit, train table, rollercoaster… Need we say more?
- Emerald Bay State Park: Visit Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe, and get a spectacular view of Lake Tahoe from Eagle Falls—both part of Emerald Bay State Park. Hike, camp, boat, picnic, swim and more at this beautiful spot, where summer temperatures average a near-perfect 75 degrees during the day.
Just a hop, skip and a jump away (about a two-hour drive) from Lake Tahoe is Tahoe National Forest, where rivers, snow-capped peaks, dense forests and a complex set of ecosystems abound. (Translation: Awesome, nature-y stuff!)
- Empire Mine State Historic Park: The site of one of the oldest, largest and richest gold mines in California, the Park contains many of the mine’s buildings, the owner’s home and restored gardens, an entrance to 367 miles of abandoned and flooded mine shafts, and forested backcountry with eight miles of hiking trails.
Road Trip #3: Magical Musical Tour
We searched high and low for a great mix for our music lover’s road trip, and we landed on a road trip that covers just about every kind of music—from blues in Memphis to rock in Austin. It does, however, cover quite a bit of ground. To really appreciate each city and make the most of this extraordinary experience, we recommend reserve 14 days for this adventure. If not, cut it short by eliminating the last two to three stops.
Nashville ranks #1 as America’s Best Music Scene, and for good reason. You can walk down the street on any random day, at all times, and hear live music just pouring out into the streets. And although Nashville just screams country music and is home to the CMA Music Festival, its vibrant music and entertainment scene spans all genres.
- Ryman Auditorium: The original home of the Grand Ole Opry, which moved in 1974, the Ryman Auditorium underwent an $8.5 million renovation in 1994. In addition to hosting some seriously big names in music, it offers self-guided and backstage tours where you can learn about the impressive history of this musical landmark.
- Grand Ole Opry House: Catch a live show from a country legend or a contemporary star at Nashville’s top attraction, the Grand Ole Opry. Or, if you can’t catch a show, at least take a backstage tour.
- Lower Broadway: You can’t visit Nashville without visiting Lower Broadway, the legendary Nashville entertainment district. This is where the music pours out onto the streets at any hour day or night. While there, visit Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, one of the original Honky Tonk bars.
A three-hour trip from Nashville is Memphis, Tennessee, where some of the biggest names in music history got their start. It was also the birthplace of many music genres, including Memphis soul, Memphis blues, gospel, rock n’ roll, Buck, crunk, and “sharecropper” country music (as opposed to the “rhinestone” country sound of Nashville).
- Beale Street: The place to go for blues-lovers is Beale Street. A national historical landmark, it had its heyday in the 1920’s for its vibrant music scene and thriving nightclubs, theaters, restaurants, stores and pawnshops. Today, you can see a live blues band at a legendary club, visit the famous Orpheum Theatre or catch an outdoor music concert or festival.
- Graceland: If you love Elvis—or even if you just find American culture interesting—you’ll probably love Graceland. Not just the home of Elvis, Graceland has the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, Elvis’ Custom Jets, several other museums and exhibits, and of course, the Elvis-themed Heartbreak Hotel.
- Sun Studio: Dubbed the birthplace of rock n’ roll, Sun Studio was opened by rock pioneer Sam Phillips and was the recording studio of a long list of legends, including Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Photo Credit: Natalia Bratslavsky
After you get your fill of Memphis, head out on the five-and-a-half-hour journey to New Orleans, rated one of the top cities for music lovers. With European, African and Latin American influences, New Orleans has its own unique music culture. The birthplace of jazz and brass bands, the city is also influenced deeply by Acadiana (the French Louisiana region), which is home to Cajun and Zydeco and Delta blues.
- Frenchmen Street: This two-block stretch is home to some of New Orleans’ most epic jazz and music clubs, most notably The Spotted Cat and Snug Harbor.
- Preservation Hall: Preservation Hall was established in 1961 to honor traditional New Orleans jazz and operates as a touring jazz band, a live music venue and a non-profit organization.
- Tipitina’s: Tipitina’s was established in 1977 by a group of young fans as a place where one of New Orleans’ music legends, Professor Longhair, could perform in his final years. Since then, it’s grown into an international music icon and has expanded into a two-story music venue from which all profits are donated to Tipitina’s Foundation.
Photo Credit: Joseph Sohm
A little over five hours from New Orleans—and on the way to Austin—is Houston, Texas. And although it’s not known for its music scene necessarily, it’s a big enough city to offer a rich heritage of music, culture and plenty of things to do for music lovers who want to visit a city that has something for the whole family.
- Miller Outdoor Theatre: Grab a blanket, a snack, maybe a bottle of wine, and kick back to enjoy a free concert at Miller Outdoor Theatre. You might want to get there early to reserve tickets if you want stadium seating, available on a first-come, first-served basis, but it’s a great chance to enjoy live concerts like the Houston Symphony, singer-songwriter concerts, Bollywood Dance productions and more.
- Anderson Fair: This intimate music venue has featured original singer-songwriters from all across Texas and all over the world since1969. Although it only holds about 50 seats, only takes cash and is open only for booked shows, Anderson Fair is known as a top-notch musical experience.
- Shoeshine Charley’s Big Top Lounge: The funky, kitchy interior, reasonable prices and dance-ability of this place is enough to make you want to funk out. Plus, it has plenty available seating and great local bands.
Photo Credit: Deepak Bawa
Three hours away by car lives America’s second best music scene as ranked by Travel+Leisure. Perhaps best known today for its annual music-and-tech festival South by Southwest, it also has a rich history of music greats and more music venues per capita than any other U.S. city.
- Austin City Limits Live: The Moody Theater, also known as Austin City Limits Live, is a state-of-the-art, 2,750-person capacity live music venue that hosts approximately 100 concerts a year and also is home to the taping of the acclaimed PBS series, Austin City Limits, the longest running music series in American television history.
- The Continental Club: For a smaller venue, try the Continental Club. With a genial staff and diverse crowd, you’ll fit right in—as long as you don’t need a lot of personal space and don’t care about the conditions of the restrooms. But you come here for the music, right? Which we have to say is superb! Pure Austin.
- Waterloo Records & Video: While you’re digesting your lunch or maybe recovering from the night before, check out Waterloo Records & Video, where you’ll find an incredibly knowledgeable staff and an amazing collection of vinyls and CDs—both new and old. You can hop in a listening booth, listen to a live band or buy some authentic Austin gifts for your jealous friends back home.
Photo Credit: Tricia Daniel
Road Trip #4: Of Historical Proportions
We know it takes a while to go back in time and to appreciate the stories that each of these stops has to offer, so we’ve made the trips between stops shorter. Sure, you could handle all of these East Coast stops in a week or less, but why rush it? The past isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
- Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
- Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Annapolis, Maryland
- Washington, D.C.
This small city has a wealth of sometimes undiscovered and always underappreciated treasures for history enthusiasts. Not only is it free from the crowded mayhem of bigger cities; it also has beautifully preserved buildings, an abundance of historical landmarks and natural beauty.
- The Pennsylvania Capitol: This “Palace of Art” is as majestic as it sounds, with a 52-million-pound dome, stunning murals and craftsmanship that will leave you awestruck. Take a 30-minute guided tour, offered every half hour, to learn about the historical significance of this spectacular building.
- National Civil War Museum: Learn about the fascinating—and often horrific—human costs this war between the States demanded of our country. Not just a specific battlefield or landmark, this museum tells the whole story from both sides.
- Fort Hunter Mansion: This perfectly preserved Victorian-era house depicts Victorian life perfectly. It’s a world full of strange, fanciful rituals and excesses that seem strikingly out-of-place in our modern world. Take a 45-minute tour if you want to appreciate all that the mansion and grounds has to offer.
About an hour away from Harrisburg is Gettysburg, which, if you’re in any way interested in American history, you probably know all about. Home of the Gettysburg Address and a decisive battle of the Civil War, Gettysburg also has some other interesting spots you may not know.
- Gettysburg Visitor Center and Battlefield: Okay, so you were probably planning on visiting this place anyway, but we had to include it nonetheless. Before you do anything, stop by the Visitor Center to view the film and cyclorama, and find out about the museum and tours of the Battlefield.
- Eisenhower National Historic Site: When you think of Gettysburg, you probably don’t think about Dwight Eisenhower’s very first private home, where Ike, tired of formalities, would host some of the most powerful world leaders. Tour the home, farm and grounds, and hear insider stories of the Cold War and the 34th
- Historic 1776 Dobbin House Tavern: When it’s time for history buffs to rest a spell, there’s no more appropriate place than the Tavern House. Get a bite at the Springhouse Tavern or the Alexander Dobbin Dining Rooms, stay in the bed and breakfast, or take a free, historic tour.
Little known fact: Baltimore is the largest independent city in the U.S., which means it does not belong to a county—a rarity outside of Virginia. A must-see for any fan of history, Baltimore, an hour and a half outside Gettysburg, is one of the most historically significant cities in the country. It’s also the birthplace of the American flag and home to what most consider the significant turning point in our independence as a nation.
- Fort McHenry: With beautiful grounds, extensive exhibits and a fort that served as a pivotal point during the Revolutionary War, Fort McHenry is worth at least an afternoon.
- Baltimore Maritime Museum: Historic Ships in Baltimore provides “hands-on encounters with history” through tours, activities, live cannon firings, educational programs and one of the most impressive collections of military vessels in the world.
- The Star Spangled Banner Flag House: Built in 1793, this historic home is where Mary Pickersgill, who sewed the flag that inspired our national anthem, lived and worked. Parking is free, and you can hear the story of the flag’s history and view some beautifully preserved exhibits.
Situated on the Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis is the capital of Maryland and a short 45-minute drive from Baltimore. The city served as the seat of the Continental Congress from 1783–84, has more 18th century structures than any other city in the U.S. and is home to the U.S. Naval Academy.
- S. Naval Academy Museum: Free and open to the public, the U.S. Naval Academy Museum is on the grounds of the Academy and offers exhibits and information about the history of the U.S. Navel and the Navel Academy. While you’re there, you can make a day of it by taking a guided tour of the Academy itself, along with its historical grounds and monuments.
- The Maryland State House: Completed in 1779, this National Historic Landmark is the oldest state house still in use, the site of George Washington’s resignation as commander in chief of the Continental Army and where the Treaty of Paris was signed.
- The Benson-Hammond House: While you’re in Annapolis, you visit the Annapolis countryside, once a booming local farm industry. Built in1830, The Benson-Hammond House is a period museum and a fully furnished farmhouse—one of the last surviving of the industry.
Did you really think we were going to let you get away without visiting the U.S. Capital on a history tour? Only an hour from Annapolis, it’s so steeped in history, you could spend a whole week here alone.
- The Smithsonian Museums: No visitor to D.C. should skip a visit to the Smithsonian Museums. Most are free and open every day, except December 25. Of special significance to those interested in history are the American History Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, the African American History and Culture Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian Castle.
- The U.S. Capitol: You can’t visit the Capital without visiting the Capitol—a monument, a working office building and one of the most recognizable symbols of democracy in the world. Enter through the Capitol Visitor Center, located underground on the east side of the Capitol to view the Exhibition Hall and book a tour.
- Lincoln Memorial: Majestic and commanding, the Lincoln Memorial is a shrine to the memory and honor of Abraham Lincoln, and also where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic and unforgettable “I Have a Dream” speech.