The 13 Best U.S. Road Trips, According to T+L Editors
Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.
It’s an annual summer ritual: piling the car with the kids and snacks for the drive to Myrtle Beach to bask in the sunshine and celebrate the Fourth of July. For one Travel + Leisure editor, that’s the power of a road trip, with its traditions, thrill of anticipation, and comforting sense of the familiar.
The appeal for others lies in setting out for the unknown, with the possibility of discovery and (mis)adventure around the next bend. After all, when the urge to travel strikes, hitting the road is the most spontaneous way to get your fix. Even a day trip can refresh your perspective.
While routes through California and the Northeast left a big impression on the T+L staff, so did the chance to get behind the wheel in the American Southwest. It was a road trip through the infinite, vast landscape of New Mexico and Arizona, from the sandstone buttes of Monument Valley to the deep canyons of the Grand Canyon, that led another T+L editor to find the utmost peace and solitude.
Read on for our favorite road trips in the U.S.
New York City to Montauk
“My husband is from Long Island and grew up going to Montauk every summer. Back then, it was a small fishing town; now, it’s a sophisticated beach getaway with five-star hotels like Gurney’s and breezy summer restaurants like the Crow’s Nest. Both versions — old and new — have their appeal, and vestiges of the past remain, don’t get me wrong. So, once or twice a year, we rent a car and make the trek out from Manhattan to see friends and be out East, as they say. The drive itself is a lot of unexciting highways, but I do get excited when we hit the countryside and the road narrows to two lanes — you know you are nearly there. My favorite place remains the red-and-white striped Montauk Lighthouse, the true eastern end of the island and a National Historic Landmark. It’s a reminder of Montauk’s maritime past, and just being that close to the sea is healing, in and of itself.” — Jacqueline Gifford, Editor-in-Chief
Highway 1 California Coast (Los Angeles to San Francisco)
“Throughout my childhood, my family often road-tripped up the California coast, from our home in Pasadena to San Francisco. We typically stretched it out over at least a week, stopping for a few days in each of our favorite cities. We'd grab tacos at La Super-Rica, Julia Child's favorite hole-in-the-wall in Santa Barbara, and olallieberry pie at Linn's Fruit Bin in Cambria. We'd visit Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, the shops along Ocean Avenue in Carmel, and, of course, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which I loved for its touch tanks and sea otters. Anytime we stopped at a beach, I'd clamber over the rocks with my mom, searching for tide pools and the critters that occupied them. We'd be zonked by the time we finally reached San Francisco, but that didn't stop us from hitting up the Embarcadero sights and Fisherman's Wharf. I'm working on convincing my husband to repeat the trip, so we can stay at all the places I never did as a kid, like Hotel Californian, Carmel Valley Ranch, Post Ranch Inn, and The Inn Above Tide.” — Sarah Bruning, Senior Editor
Santa Fe to Los Angeles
“Back in college, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I went full-on Thelma and Louise – minus all the murder and violence, of course: We gassed up the car, cued up a playlist, and hit the open road for a summer-long road trip, hitting 35 states along the way. There were plenty of stretches worthy of the song “America the Beautiful,” but the drive from Santa Fe to Los Angeles was one of our favorites, as evidenced by the several camera rolls we filled up during the journey and the stories we told and still tell to this day. On this route, we pulled over to admire Shiprock (a 1,583-foot rock formation jutting out from an otherwise-flat landscape), stopped for a photo op at the Four Corners Monument (where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet), and explored the Grand Canyon by foot and on a jaw-dropping helicopter ride. Next up was Monument Valley, a dramatic mix of red buttes, deep canyons, and towering rock formations set against a vast sky, followed by Death Valley, which despite its punishing name, was nothing short of stunning: undulating sand dunes, peculiar-shaped trees, and mountains rising up from the desert floor. From there, we continued on to Las Vegas and then L.A., passing even more spectacular landscapes and stumbling upon unexpected gems. Now, when I’m feeling especially cramped by the crowds at home in New York City, I think of the infinite openness of this drive through the American Southwest.” — Alisha Prakash, Senior Digital Editor
New York to Los Angeles (Southern Route)
“My mom and I were excited to tackle a cross-country drive from New York to Los Angeles last spring (with my dog!), but we had no idea it would become one of our favorite trips of all time. Our overnight stops were Lexington, Virginia, where we stayed in a bed-and-breakfast that offers llama trekking; Nashville, Tennessee, where we paraded our very popular pup down Broadway, ate hot chicken, and stayed at the lively Bobby Hotel before making a pit stop at Elvis's Graceland in Memphis; Hot Springs, Arkansas, where we hiked the national park, drank craft beer made with hot spring water on Bathhouse Row, and stayed at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, once an Al Capone hideout; Amarillo, Texas, where we watched a steak-eating contest and were serenaded at The Big Texan, and added our own spray paint to Cadillac Ranch; Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we gallery-hopped on Canyon Road, hiked in what is now our favorite dog park on Earth, had a real southwestern meal at The Shed, and stayed at the beautiful La Posada de Santa Fe; Sedona, Arizona, where we relaxed among the red rocks and Oak Creek at L'Auberge de Sedona before checking out kitschy old Route 66 in Williams and heading to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon; and Palm Springs, California, where we visited family, hung out downtown, and shopped El Paseo in nearby Palm Desert. We rediscovered how well we travel together, learned how many amazing places exist between the coasts, and were pleased to find so many wonderful pet-friendly hotels in the U.S. I hope we get the chance to do it again someday.” — Nina Ruggiero, Deputy Digital Editor
Pittsburgh to Chicago
“My hometown, Pittsburgh, is within perfect road trip distance of multiple major U.S. cities and coastal towns. One of my absolute favorite road trip destinations is Chicago, purely because of how much there is to stop and see along the way. If I'm making the trip in the summer or fall, I'll usually start the adventure with a quick stop in Columbiana, Ohio, for the Shaker Woods Festival — a cozy and crafty shopping experience in a wooded area off Route 76 — before continuing on, homemade snacks from the festival in tow. The next stops are Cleveland (lunch at one of the city's four Barrio Tacos locations is an absolute must), Sandusky (which is home to roller-coaster capital Cedar Point and a lively Lake Erie beach), and Indianapolis. Rounding out the trip is an excursion to Indiana Dunes National Park for a little relaxation on the shores of Lake Michigan, before embarking on the final stretch to the Windy City, where deep dish pizza and the shops at Navy Pier await.” — Hillary Maglin, Assistant Digital Editor
New Jersey to South Carolina
“Every summer, my family and I head down to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to celebrate the Fourth of July, take in some much-needed sunshine, and wade in the warm ocean water. Having done this trip since I was a young girl, I’ve learned a few tricks about long road trips that have come in handy with my own family. If you’re planning a 10-hour or more trip, leave at night, especially if you have kids. We typically leave our house at 10 p.m., so the kids can sleep and we don’t have to hear ‘are we there yet?’ for hours on end. There is almost no one on the road at this time, and if you’re planning a trip during the peak of summer, it’s also a lot cooler with the sun down. Trade off driving every three hours — this is especially helpful when you’re traveling overnight. It allows each driver to rest, but driving in the dark can also become monotonous with no one around, so I’ve found that three hours is the limit for nighttime drives. Pack snacks because your options are limited, and you can’t just rely on a few granola bars. We typically pack a cooler with sandwiches, fruits, veggie slices, and other snacks. And finally, when you arrive, get a quick 15- or 20-minute massage and drink plenty of water. This is also my trick for combating jet lag.” — Deanne Kaczerski, Digital Executive Editor
San Diego to Los Angeles
“Frankly, any drive along California's spectacularly gorgeous coastline is worth doing any chance you get. But while the redwoods and rocky cliffs of Highway 1 between Monterey and Big Sur are certainly iconic, I really love the route between San Diego and L.A. You'll pass through classic Southern California beach towns with towering palm trees all along the horizon and pretty coastal views dotted with surfers and sunbathers. Start out in La Jolla to say hello to the sea lions lazing on the rocks in the center of town. Then, stop for some of the best tacos you'll ever have the pleasure of eating this side of the border at The Taco Stand in Encinitas. From there, you'll drive through Oceanside, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach, all of which have cute marinas along the water where you can grab some ice cream or acai, pick up a T-shirt from a local surf shop, or just hop out for a break to stretch on the sand. By the end of the trip, you'll be wondering, as I did: Why don't I move here, stat?” — Karen Chen, Editorial Producer
Phoenix to Las Vegas
“The American Southwest has a number of worthy road trip destinations, including several beautiful national parks. Years ago, my family and I went on an unforgettable road trip, starting in Phoenix and ending in Las Vegas. Along the way, we made multiday stops at the Grand Canyon to hike, raft, and take in the stunning views as well as Sedona, Arizona, where we explored the red rocks and visited vortexes. On the road, we stopped at ghost towns, Native American ruins and cultural sites, and finally, the Hoover Dam as we drove closer to Las Vegas.” — Elizabeth Rhodes, Associate Digital Editor
New York City to Portland, Maine
“There are so many doable road trips from New York, including plenty to destinations in coastal New England. Last year, I drove from NYC to Portland, Maine, which is a little over 300 miles. The bulk of the trip will take you through Connecticut (Frank Pepe’s in New Haven is worth a stop for the white clam pizza) and Massachusetts, but my favorite part of the route begins around Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and continues through many beach towns that you can stop in on the way to Portland.” — Madeline Diamond, Associate Digital Editor
“Many years ago, I took a summer-long road trip that took me to 30 states. I drove down a lot of beautiful highways, and Interstate 10 wasn't really one of them. But I'd still recommend this long, long drive — one of the country's longest, in fact — because of the places this southern freeway can take you: the Florida Panhandle; Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans; West Texas; the deserts of New Mexico; booming Phoenix; and the shores of the Pacific Ocean. It's some of the best of America — all easily accessible — right off that exit. Just make sure you budget enough time to enjoy the ride.” — Paul Brady, Articles Editor
High Road to Taos
“I've always been more of an air traveler, but a few years ago, when I discovered that the High Road to Taos exists, I couldn't understand why everyone wasn't talking about it. This New Mexico scenic byway stretches just over 100 miles and allows drivers to visit the gorgeous remote mountain villages that dot the land between Santa Fe and Taos. Small villages of old Spanish-style architecture is something I never expected to see stateside, so I cannot wait to go exploring.” — Kendall Cornish, Associate Digital Editor
Around the Country
“During my senior year of high school, my best friend, Brooke, and I decided to take a road trip after graduation — a big road trip. It was our last chance to spend time together before we seperated for college, and an opportunity to explore our backyard. We made a list of the main places we wanted to go — Chicago, Boston, NYC, Nashville — then plotted out a three-week trip to go there (and everywhere in between). From floating on the Little Pigeon River near the Smoky Mountains to reenacting the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts, driving around the country was a life-changing experience. In 21 days, we went to the top of the Willis Tower and Empire State Building, lost a flip-flop in a national park, sat face-to-face with Steve Carell, realized the 17.6-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is horrifying (and amazing), and tried to escape a never-ending bus tour of Niagara Falls. It doesn’t necessarily matter where you go, but I recommend filling up your car with junk food and gas, a fully loaded iPod, and your closest pal...and just simply going. Bonus points if you go in a Jeep Wrangler.” — Tanner Saunders, Associate Digital Editor
“Being Texan, all my earliest travel memories were road trips in Texas. The state is so big, it takes a day or more to drive out of it. On a recent 14-hour road trip from Dallas to Santa Fe, 12 of those hours were spent in Texas. If we wanted to drive to the Gulf of Mexico, another 10 hours. The best part of this is Texas has so much to offer. A memorable road trip my family took when I was young was through small towns and back roads on our way to Austin. We stopped in Brenham to tour the Blue Bell ice cream factory, and in Waco for the Dr. Pepper Museum. We then drove through Austin, stopping at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, and ended up outside in the Hill Country at Lake Travis. You could spend a week or more driving around the state and have some of the best experiences of your life.” — Mariah Tyler, Photo Editor