5 Legendary Road Trips Across America

Experience the USA on the Open Road

    The great American road trip is the best way to discover this vast and dramatically diverse country. The US has so many riches waiting to be discovered between sea and shining sea, that staying in a single destination for a full trip rarely makes sense.

    Famous journeys have been immortalised in American songs and movies, and you can retrace those journeys, be it the birth of modern music, the western migration, or even the very birth of the country itself, as we know it today. Just make sure you choose you travel companions well, because you will soon discover that America is a huge country with miles of isolated open road.

    1

    Pacific Coast Highway

    From San Francisco to San Diego

    Hugging the California coast for practically the whole journey, this is one of the most scenic ocean drives in the world. It’s best to drive north to south, so you get a full view of the Pacific Ocean without oncoming traffic blocking the view.

    Starting from San Francisco (you could choose to start from Seattle if you have the time), highlights along the Pacific Coast Highway include the hippy town of Santa Cruz, Monterey Bay, and the most dramatic part of the trip, Big Sur. This 70-mile strip of rugged, isolated coastline is breathtaking, and there are numerous beaches and quaint beach towns to stop and enjoy the relaxed vibe. As you travel south, you will find larger beach resorts around LA, like Santa Barbra and Malibu, before reaching San Diego close to the Mexican border.

    How long should I take to drive the Pacific Coast Highway? 4 days

    Highlights: The dramatic Pacific coastline along Big Sur and the southern Californian beach towns near Los Angeles.

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    photo by gamene (CC BY 2.0) modified

    2

    Route 61

    From Nashville to New Orleans

    Known as the “Blues Highway”, this historic highway travels through several cities credited with starting new musical genres. The 816 miles from Nashville to New Orleans passes long stretches of rolling prairies and farmland, but this trip is less about the landscape and more about the vibrant cities you’ll encounter along the way. Blues, jazz, country, and bluegrass were all born in this region, making this drive a trip through the story of popular music.

    Starting from Nashville, head south through Memphis – the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll – and down to the Mississippi Delta. End your trip in New Orleans, in America’s deep south. It’s the home of Creole culture, with a unique cuisine, architecture and culture all of its own.

    How long should I take to drive Route 61? 6 days

    Highlights: The so-called “Blues Highway” is a music-lovers dream. This trip is about the bands, songs and people you will encounter along the way.

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    3

    New York to Boston (and back again)

    The I-95 and I-91 each pass through fascinating historical sites

    This drive along the north-east coast of America is a lot shorter than many other American road trips (considering the vast size of the country) but is packed with interesting things to see. The route passes many of the most important historical sites relating to the founding of the United States as a nation. You could do the whole drive in around 4 hours, but that would be missing the interesting side trips that make this drive so memorable.

    Leaving NYC, head north to New Haven, home of Yale University. From here, the Interstate highways split, but we recommend heading along I-95, which hugs the coast. The Connecticut countryside is peppered with small towns that give visitors a taste of local life. Stop at Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, and learn about its important role in the Revolutionary War.

    After sightseeing in Boston, return to New York by taking the I-90 inland route, which connects to the I-91. For literary fans, don’t miss a tour of Mark Twain’s house in Hartford. Especially beautiful in autumn, the forests of New England are a photographer’s dream.

    How long should I take to drive from New York to Boston and back? 2 days (not including a stopover in Boston)

    Highlights: New England’s autumn leaves and lots of historical sites from the first European settlers

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    photo by JJBers (CC BY 2.0) modified

    4

    Route 66

    From Chicago to LA

    The legendary Route 66 runs for almost 2,500 miles through the American Midwest.. It is an epic road trip through Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, and several other states, passing through many regions seemingly left behind by progress. American diners, motels, and kitsch souvenir stores give you a hit of unmistakeable nostalgia for a forgotten way of life.

    Dramatic highlights stand out from the tumbleweed towns, be it the Grand Canyon, the Chain of Rocks Bridge or Six Flags St. Louis amusement park. The length of the drive, and the diverse scenery along different parts of the journey, make Route 66 a journey of self-discovery as much as a geographical one. If you are pressed for time, you might consider driving only the far western part of the journey, from LA to Vegas.

    How long should I take to drive Route 66? 14 days

    Highlights: Barren desert landscapes, one-horse towns, and dramatic mountain ranges, from Chicago to LA

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    5

    The Southern Pacific Route

    From the Pacific to the Atlantic

    This 3,000-mile journey from one side of America to the other is the ultimate road trip for adventurous souls with at least 2 weeks to spare. The route starts from San Diego and cuts through California, Arizona and Texas in the west, before the Mississippi Delta changes the landscape completely through Louisiana, Alabama and, finally Georgia.

    The Southern Pacific Route passes few big cities and thousands of miles of desert landscape. Some stretches of the route are straight out of a Wild West fantasy, with nothing but cactus plants and a wide, open sky. The rich lands of the Mississippi and the Appalachian mountain range mean the landscape changes dramatically for the eastern half of the journey. It really shows you the diversity and grandeur of America.

    The food you eat will change as much as the landscape, as will the towns you stop at each night. From Texan honky-tonks to Mariachi bands and the Bluesy live bands in the bars and clubs of Alabama, every night is a new adventure.

    How long should I take to drive the Southern Pacific Route? 14 days

    Highlights: See America from coast to coast, sampling Tex-Mex cuisine, cowboy culture, and seeing first-hand a genuine snapshot of Americana.

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    photo by Kevin Dooley (CC BY 2.0) modified

    Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveler

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