Best Coastal Drives
The best road trips are made with good company, great music and beautiful scenery, and the diversity of America’s coastline. There’s no shortage of unique terrain to explore. Set out on one of these three amazing coastal drives for an unforgettable experience.
Pacific Coast Highway - San Francisco to Los Angeles
One of the most popular coastal routes in the nation, The Pacific Coast Highway stretch from San Francisco to Los Angeles offers no shortage of attractions. The points of interest along the way are too many to list, so we’ve narrowed it down to some unforgettable, can’t-miss spots along the way.
Half Moon Bay
About an hour outside San Francisco is this stunning, moody cliffside beach that feels straight out of Game of Thrones. Hop out, stretch your legs and feel the salt air in your face before snapping a few Instagram-worthy shots.
Swanton Berry Farm
About 45 minutes south of Half Moon Bay is Swanton Berry Farm, in Davenport, CA. Buy fresh berry pies, or sign up to pick your own fruit when it’s in season. The property is beautiful, and has a comfy hangout spot with bookshelves, toys and games so you can relax while you digest.
About another hour down the coast is Santa Cruz, home to Redwood Forests, beautiful beaches and a very 1960s vibe. Wander the old-school boardwalk, check out the lighthouse and then grab a bite at the Wharf. There’s vintage shopping on Pacific Avenue and The Mystery Spot, a self-described “gravitational anomaly” is worth a look.
An hour and 40 minutes south of Santa Cruz you’ll cross the Bixby Bridge, one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world, and arrive at Big Sur, perhaps the most beloved spot along the PCH. The Santa Lucia mountains rise dramatically from the ocean, creating a truly breathtaking landscape at the edges of the Los Padres National Forest. Campgrounds abound and it’s hard to drive more than a few feet without seeing something amazing. Pfeiffer Beach, McWay Falls and Ragged Point are just a few spots that will inspire you.
Two hours south of Big Sur is the town of San Simeon, home to the famous elephant seals. Free viewing is open to the public on Elephant Seal Boardwalk. Though the seals are there all year round, the best months for viewing are January, April and October. After you’ve had your fill of the adorably ugly animals and more breathtaking coastal views, head up to Hearst Castle. William Randolph Hearst’s entrancing retreat in the hills boasts 165 rooms, 127 acres of gardens and promenades and an incomparable collection of art and objects.
This charming, uniformly Spanish-style town feels straight out of a Nancy Myers movie. 18th-Century Spanish Franciscans established the Old Mission at the center of town, which has acres of gardens and a surprisingly beautiful cemetery. Stroll past the Santa Barbara courthouse before heading over to the Deep Sea Tasting room at Stearns Wharf to sip a glass of local wine while gazing at the ocean.
Just north of Los Angeles, this beachside community and celebrity playground boasts some of Southern California’s most beautiful beaches, including Zuma Beach and Point Dume. Swing by Neptune’s Net for some fresh seafood, or grab a bite at the Malibu Farm Cafe, an organic cafe and wine bar down on the end of the dock.
Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway
The Chesapeake Scenic byway is one of the eastern American coastline’s off-the-beaten-path treasures, perfect for travelers interested in American maritime history. Begin in Newark, Delaware, and cross the Maryland state line, heading south along a coastline that was one of the nation’s earliest commercial waterways.
About 30 minutes south of Newark is the charming coastal town of Chesapeake City. Stroll through the south Chesapeake City Historic district, and grab a bite at the Bayard House. Built by Samuel Bayard in the 1780s, the building sits alongside the C&D Canal and offers what many consider the best crab cakes on the east coast.
About 30 minutes south of Chesapeake City is Mount Harmon Plantation. Listed on the National Historic Register, Mount Harmon was a former tobacco plantation during the 18th and 17th Centuries. Today it comprises a beautifully preserved manor house and 200 acres of outdoor space including trails you can walk or drive. Take a look at the old tobacco “Prize” house on the property, and wander the serpentine walled boxwood formal gardens.
Dotted with brick mansions and beautifully preserved townhouses, Chestertown is an historic waterfront town that was one of Maryland’s leading port cities in the 18th century. Take the Chester River Packet Cruise for daytime or evening sailing on a 65-foot classic yacht (food and a cash bar available). The Schooner Sultana, a replica of a 1768 Chesapeake schooner, also offers public sails and pairs a lesson on the history of the Chesapeake waterways with gorgeous views.
Cross the Chester River and head down Blue Star Highway until you reach Queenstown Harbor. A dairy farm and crop field until the 1970s, it’s now one of the most beautiful golf courses in the region. Two challenging courses promise a fun round, and Queenstown’s Harbor’s commitment to the natural landscape (it’s a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary) ensures that you’ll have firsthand experiences with some remarkable wildlife.
Terrapin Nature Park
Located in Stevensville in Kent Island, Terrapin Nature Park beach is a narrow, sandy stretch bordered on one side by a path of crushed oyster shells. Dogs are permitted and the views of the Bay Bridge are beautiful.
Baltimore’s capital city has plenty to do and see, but before you take a tour of the US Naval Academy, the Banneker-Douglas museum or the State House, try every local’s favorite activity: eating crabs. Head over to Cantler’s Riverside Inn for the Chesapeake’s finest steamed hard shell crabs, smothered in the region’s trademark Old Bay.
North Carolina Outer Banks Drive
Windswept dunes, lone lighthouses and sandy marshes make for a truly unique coastal drive along the North Carolina Outer Banks. Cruise along a narrow stretch of highway with the Atlantic on one side and the Roanoke Sound on the other.
An hour and a half south of Virginia Beach, pass the North River Game Land and cross Currituck Sound to arrive at Kitty Hawk, the birthplace of modern aviation. Browse the shops and grab a bite at The Black Pelican, a seafood restaurant operated out of an old lifesaving station built in 1872. After lunch take a stroll on the beach or head to the nearby nature preserve.
Wright Brother’s Memorial
Just to the South on Highway 12, in Kill Devil Hills, is the Wright Brothers National Memorial. A full-size replica of the Wright Brothers flyer is on display, and the memorial comprises more than 400 acres that mark the spot where the brothers made their first flights. Humbling and awe inspiring, the museum covers the history of aviation, from first flight to space travel. Be sure to grab a box of legendary Duck’s Donuts before hitting the road.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
In Nag’s Head hang glide off of the largest sand dune on the east coast. There are also self-guided hiking trails, a boardwalk and a small museum. This beautiful natural resource is a perfect place for a beachside picnic with a bottle of wine.
Pirate Adventure of the Outer Banks
If you’re traveling with kids, you won’t want to miss this. Cross the bridge over the Roanoke Sound onto Roanoke Island where adventure awaits. Little ones dress up and board the Sea Gypsy and take off on a real treasure hunt in the nearby waters of Shallowbag Bay.
Crystal Dawn Headboat
This fishing charter boat in Manteo offers inlet or sound fishing and evening cruises. If you’re a fishing enthusiast looking to reel a few in on this trip, this is the place to do it. Bait, tackle, license and fish bags all included.
Cape Hatteras Light House
Back on Route 12, about 30 miles south of Nag’s Head, is the Outer Banks’ most recognizable landmark, and the tallest, most-photographed lighthouse in North America.
Mellow in the off-season, this small town bustles in the summer. Enjoy some of the freshest fish around at The Fish House, grab some oysters at Pop’s Raw Bar or simply pack a picnic basket and head to the beach.