There’s nothing quite like taking a summer road trip. Beautiful weather, picturesque scenery, and exquisite landscapes — what’s not to like? Even better, you get to see more than one place, you’ll save money by not flying, and you get to spend tons of quality time with family and friends when logging a lot of miles on the road. But before you pack a bag and jump in your car, check out this list of the best summer road trips. Some are budget friendly, some are great for family trips, and some are just plain beautiful.
1. Cruise Along the Eastern Shoreline
Covering a distance of 450 miles, this extraordinary road trip starts in Asbury Park, New Jersey and finishes in Outer Banks, North Carolina. Your venture will take you south where you can start by making a detour to Atlantic City. If you’re in the mood to do a little gambling, be sure to stop and check out the assortment of casinos scattered throughout. However, Fodor’s writes that there are also several new non-gaming hotels popping up, including the Claridge Hotel. The refurbished hotel, once known as the “Skyscraper of the Sea,” is located in the center of Atlantic City’s boardwalk.
Keep heading toward the bottom tip of the state, and you’ll eventually run into Cape May, a quaint area known for its beautiful beaches and picturesque charm. You can then move on to Delaware where you can visit Fenwick Island, a great spot for watersports, in addition to DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum, an ever-changing exhibit that displays shipwreck artifacts. From there, you’ll roll right on in to Virginia where you can check out the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center — a must-see if you’re interested in marine life. Your last stop is North Carolina’s Outer Banks, which is a collection of islands that provide beaches, fishing, and fun historic sites.
2. Route 66, Illinois to California
USA Today recommends venturing on Route 66, which provides beautiful and serene scenery. “It touches on some of the greatest mythology in American,” Jamie Jensen, author of Road Trip USA, tells USA Today. “It’s Manifest Destiny.”
There are parts of the trip that have been engulfed by interstates, but many patches throughout the trip will still offer the original two-lane highway, particularly the portion that runs across the Southwest. “The scenery is inspiring. Every other street scene reminds you of Rain Man or some other movie,” Jensen adds.
While Jensen says the Southwest offers the best scenery, it’s certainly worth taking time to check out the starting area in Illinois, too. Try visiting the town of Pontiac, which is home to the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum and the Pontiac Oakland Auto Museum, a memorable tribute to the car brands.
3. Explore the Midwest
“Chicago is a good jumping off point for a few drives. Head to the Indiana Dunes, where you think you’re in Cape Cod … the beauty of Lake Michigan feels like an ocean. Or head east to Shipshewana, Indiana, which is one of America’s largest Amish and Mennonite communities. Head up to Duluth along North Shore Scenic Drive which runs along Lake Superior. It’s Godforsaken country in the best sense of the term,” Patricia Schultz, the author of the 1,000 Places To See Before You Die books, tells The Huffington Post.
When you’re done exploring there, head toward upper Minnesota (near Canada), by the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This is a great place if you feel up for a hiking trip, or would like to experience some of nature’s beauty. It has more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 11 hiking trails, and about 2,000 campsites. Or, venture toward Wisconsin’s Door County, which is a great family area that has an East Coast feel. Pick cherries, do some boating, or dine and shop; there’s plenty to do.
4. Cruise through Capitol Reef National Park
This Utah-oriented cruise is on MSN’s list of affordable summer road trips, so feel free to spend a little in Vegas before heading toward the Capitol Reef. This is the least known of Utah’s national parks, making it a peaceful and quiet place to explore. If you’re looking for a place to stay, try the 15-room Lodge at Red River Ranch, located on 2,000 acres of open land and flowing rivers.
While staying at the ranch, you can get a $5 weeklong pass that will provide you with unlimited cherry, apricot, peach, and pear picking. There’s also Gifford Homestead nearby, where you can pick up some delicious ice cream. Once you arrive at Capitol Reef, take advantage of the climbing and hiking, particularly the 4.5-mile Rim Overlook Trail, which has to-die for views.
5. Coastal California
For a family friendly adventure, start in Big Sur, California, stop in Point Reyes along the way, and end in Eureka, California. “Stop at Big Sur Bakery for coffee cake, cinnamon twists, and picnic goodies before hitting Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. When you get there, take the McWay Falls Overlook Trail to the waterfall, which plunges 80 feet into the Pacific,” Nancy Brown, author of the blog What A Trip, tells Redbook.
On your family trip, stop at Treebones Resort, where guests sleep in tents (known as yurts) that have pine floors. Be sure to check out Nepenthe in Big Sur, too. Its tables overlook stunning ocean views. Once you reach Point Reyes, stop by Dillon Beach, a fun, popular surfing spot. It has a strong current, so keep the kiddies on the beach.
6. Explore the South
Have you been looking for an excuse to soak up some of the South’s culture? Why not see as much of it as possible by going on a 1,350-mile road trip extravaganza, beginning in Holly Hill, South Carolina and ending in Austin, Texas. Begin by following I-20 until you reach Birmingham, Alabama, where you must stop to enjoy food at Miss Myra’s Pit Bar BQ. (Warning: This road trip may not be great for your waistline!)
Venture further south and to the west to Ocean Springs, Mississippi where you can visit The Shed, which has delicious pork ribs and live blues music, recommends Fodor’s. Next on the list: New Orleans, where you’ll have access to great food, culture, music, and drinks. Save room for your last stop in Austin, Texas. The Salt Lick is known for its beef brisket, while Franklin Barbecue is “hailed by many as the best BBQ the U.S. has to offer,” per Fodor’s.
7. Explore Michigan’s Coast
Michigan’s coastline is beautiful — an often pleasant surprise for those visiting for the first time. There are endless stretches of beach dunes, wineries, orchards, and quaint towns all surrounding the coastline. Working your way from the bottom of Michigan’s coastline all the way to the top will offer plenty of picturesque pit stops along the way.
The Daily Beast suggests taking off during late summer when the weather and the lake’s waters are at their warmest. You could also visit in autumn, when the colors will be changing to beautiful shades of orange and red. If you start toward the bottom of the coast, you will eventually work your way up to Mackinac Island, where you’ll find a fun ferry. Throughout your trip, be sure to stop at the roadside farm stands for delectable items and visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
8. Overseas Highway, Miami to Key West, Florida
Searching for a one-of-a-kind trip to take this summer? Venture down the 120-mile route that connects the Florida Keys to Miami through bridges and causeways, per USA Today. The route was originally developed for the Florida East Coast Railway, but when it was wiped out by a hurricane in 1935, it ended up being converted into a highway. For a good part of the drive, you’ll feel as though you’re floating on water.
This is an ideal trip if you’ve only got a day. The drive only takes a couple of hours, but you can lengthen it by taking in some of the great seafood restaurants and tourists stops you’re sure to see along the way. Be sure to save time to see the dolphins, too! The Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, which is a 70-year-old roadside attraction, lets you get a close-up look at the dolphins, who will perform fun tricks and even let an occasional audience member give them a kiss.