6 Scenic East Coast Road Trip Ideas to Take in 2021
Pick a podcast, gas up (or charge up), and hit the road for one of these epic drives.
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What better way to celebrate the end of pandemic isolation and lockdowns than to hop in the car with the family or a dear friend and hit the road this summer? Here are six memorable excursions that will take you up and down large swaths of the diverse East Coast, traveling awe-inspiring coastal roads and nature-packed interior routes.
Whether youâre on the hunt for the best lobster rolls in the land or the finest key lime pie, country charm or stately design, Old World elegance or modern panache, this is your ultimate East Coast road map.
Maine: The lobster trail
Distance: 232 miles
End: Acadia National Park
With 3,400 miles of coast, the Pine Tree State boasts one of the longest coastlines of any U.S. state and, as most Mainers will proudly tell you, the best lobsters in the world. Taste for yourself on this road trip, traveling Route 1, affectionately known as âthe lobster trail,â along the storied, jagged coastline, stopping to sample lobster dishes in all formsâbuttered, steamed, on a roll, or even in a decadent mac-and-cheese.
The trip starts in quaint Ogunquit, with its rare (for the area) three-and-a-half miles of white-sand beach. Make your first lobster of the journey count, steamed with a side of drawn butter atÂ Barnacle Billyâs in picturesque Perkins Cove harbor. Stop atÂ Big Daddyâs for a cone on your way to the shipbuilding centerâand summer home of George H. W. BushâKennebunkport. Stay at the recently redesigned 150-year-old classicÂ White Barn Inn, and consider a sailing trip for an afternoon. With lobsters cooked in ocean water, the legendary lobster roll atÂ the Clam Shack is a must.
On your way to Portland, Cape Elizabeth is great for photos by the historic lighthouse,Â Portland Head Light, beforeÂ fresh seafood with an ocean view at theÂ Lobster Shack at Two Lights. Browse the cute shops and take a gallery walk in Portland before heading further up the coast to Georgetown (where freshly caught lobster meat is employed to tantalizing effect in the lobster roll atÂ Five Islands) and Rockland (with a bustling arts scene on Main Street). Windsor Chairmakers sells exceptionally well-crafted furniture made from fine woods in Lincolnville. Finally, itâs time to get out of the car for a nice long stretch at tripâs end,Â Acadia National Park, where some 45 miles of bike trails beckonâa good way to work off those crustacean confections youâve enjoyed on the way here.
Long Islandâs Twin Forks:Â From country appeal to Hamptons elegance
Distance: 45 miles (134 miles if starting from Manhattan)
Start: Mattituck, NY
End: Montauk, NY
Once you get past the horror of Long Island expressway traffic, youâll quickly see why Manhattanites have been weekending along the coastal towns of the âtwin forksâ for generations. This trip begins on the North Fork, where youâll wind along County Road 48 through country hamlets; pop into fine design shops and surprisingly wonderful wineries along the way.
In Mattituck, stop for insanely delicious treats fromÂ North Fork Doughnut Company, aka NoFo DoCo (trust us, try the Froot Loop one), and then feed the baby goats at Goodale Farms in nearby Riverhead. Further down the Fork, in Cutchogue, is one ofthe areaâs finest wineries,Â Bedell Cellars, which hosts small group tastings; next up is the bustling (for the area) Greenport, alive with colorful artisan shops, galleries, and restaurants. Try the locally sourced watermelon spirit at sustainably mindedÂ Matchbook Distilling Companyâand consider a stay at the ownerâs cute boutique hotelÂ the Lin Beach House, before taking the ferry to picturesque Shelter Island, which features interior shops like Fredric BernsteinÂ with its impossibly chic, punky decor. Take time for a kayak trip around the gentle waters, and try AndrÃ© Balazsâs Sunset Beach for a sophisticated cold beverage.
Ferry over to Sag Harbor on the South Fork, your gateway to the Hamptons, for lunch or dinner at the enchantingly warm Italian eateryÂ Tutto il Giorno. (Co-owned by Donna Karanâs daughter, Gabby, it also sells tasteful decor items.) Stock up on sustainable beauty buys from Naomi WattsâbackedÂ Onda or Gwyneth PaltrowâsÂ Goop, and browse more elegant home decor shopsâMadison Street is packed with excellent choices (like Monc XIII). Accommodation options include the iconicÂ American Hotel or the more luxuriousÂ Baker House 1650 in East Hampton for ultimate pampering. From here you can bike to Main Beach, one of the few legendarily scenic Hamptons beaches where you can also pay to park (during the week only). Or take a break from the sun and spend the afternoon basking in the magnificent gardens and outdoor sculptures atÂ LongHouse ReserveÂ while your Tesla charges right in the parking lot.
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From there, head east to Montauk, stopping for a famed lobster roll at Bostwickâs Chowder House on Route 27 en route to Montauk. Hang 10 with the surfers at Ditch Plains, where you can grab lunch from the longtime food truck, the Ditch Witch, then browse the shops in town or pop into local favoriteÂ 668 the Gig Shack for its delicious blackened local fish âmontacosâ or tuna tartare taquitos. Consider a stay at the scene-yÂ the Surf Lodge (if you want an entree to its wellness classes or concert series) orÂ Gurneyâs MontaukÂ along old Montauk Highway, situated along one of the finest stretches of sand on the East Coast.
Floridaâs Overseas Highway:Â Coastal glory + key lime pie
Distance: 165 miles
Start: Miami Beach
End: Key West
Rent a convertible for this sun-kissed stretch: With 165 milesâ113 of them on the iconic Overseas Highway (U.S. 1)âand 42 bridges to cross (including the spectacular Seven Mile Bridge, whose older span you can also walk over, in Marathon, FL), this American road trip is a classic. Electric vehicles can take you the whole way without a recharge stopâand there are multiple hotels and resorts with EV charging stations at tripâs end in Key West.
Begin in Miami, by strolling along the Wynwood Art District to snap Instagram stories in front of colorful street art murals, and visit the myriad groovy little galleries or theÂ Museum of Graffiti and get a beer at any number of craft breweries. For an elevated sushi feast, book a 10-course chefâs tasting (or 6-course vegetarian menu) at the celebrated Austin importÂ Uchi. The art deco hotels along Ocean Drive are worth a look before you head out of town. Put your top down and delight in the ocean air as you traverse U.S. 1, making stops along the way for key lime pie. (You could make the entire trip a quest to find the perfect sweet/tart slice of heaven, but the best bite may be at tripâs end with the family recipe used at Key WestâsÂ Blonde Giraffe, a consistent fan favorite over the generations.)
Full-fledged divers will want to spend an afternoon underwater in the Dive Capital of the World, Key Largo, which also boasts the first underwater preserve in the United States, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Everyone else can enjoy an afternoon of snorkeling along the coral reefs of the six Keys that make up Islamorada. (Geology and history buffs may want to check out Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park and the History of Diving Museum.) Itâs worth booking one of the 16 elegant suites atÂ Casa Morada for a night or two to better savor every moment. At the tail end of the route, and the southernmost point in the country, Key West resides just 90 miles from Cuba and has an inclusive spirit thatâs long welcomed LGBTQ communities and nourished writers such as Ernest Hemingway. Check in to the colonial Queen AnneÂ Artist House, with rooms sporting 12-foot ceilings, and stroll through the historic district neighborhood.
Charleston to Savannah: A southern charmer
Distance: 113 miles
Start: Charleston, SC
End: Savannah, GA
After a year of pandemic cloistering at home, who couldnât use some southern comfort? U.S. 17 connects two of the most iconic southern towns, from the foodie city of Charleston (from which you can also venture a bit further afield to the nearby sandy beaches of Sullivan Island) to the birthplace of southern Gothic, Savannah.Â
Beginning in Charleston, founded in 1670, history buffs will want to park at the elegantÂ John Rutledge House Inn, built in 1763 for South Carolinaâs first governor, who helped write the U.S. Constitution. For a more modern design, check in toÂ the Restoration, and enjoy its notable photography installations and crab cakes at the rooftop eatery, the Watch. Or head to the aptly namedÂ Darling Oyster Bar for fresh seafood and seasonal cooking.
When you stroll along cobblestone streets to City Market, make time for at least one of the many historic plantations or gardens, such as the Gilded Age-eraÂ Calhoun Mansion and Gardens (now called the Williams Mansion), considered one of the most important pieces of Victorian architecture on the East Coast. A little over midway through the trip, stop in Beaufort, founded in 1711, for a scenic walking tour of historical sites and glimpses of Hollywood loreâparts of The Big Chill and Forest Gump were filmed here. Consider an overnight stay at the Beaufort Inn and an educational visit to Reconstruction Era National Historic Park and the Penn CenterÂ to better understand the history of slavery.Â
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Heading on to SavannahâGeorgiaâs first city, founded in 1733âsuccumb to the Gothic charms (iron gates, massive, moss-covered oak trees) that have enchanted writers such as Flannery OâConnor and John Berendt. (You can tour the sites made famous from his bookÂ Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, such as the Mercer Williams House and the Bonaventure Cemetery.) Book a night at the luxuriousÂ Perry Lane Hotel and take your time wandering this many-storied city. The upstairs art galleries at City MarketÂ are worth browsingÂ as areÂ the eclectic boutiques (must-hit:Â the Paris Market) along Broughton Street. Dine on locally sourced creative fare like quail over grits cake and creole sauce from James Beard Awardâwinning chef Mashama Baileyâs the Grey (housed in an art deco gem, the cityâs former bus stop). If you tack an additional 20 minutes onto your journey, you can check out laid-back Tybee Island with its tiny cottages, five miles of tidal beaches, and the tallest lighthouse in Georgia.
Blue Ridge Parkway: Scenery that commands you to slow down
Distance: 384 miles
Start: Charlottesville, VA
End: Asheville, NC
Slow it down and take in the memorable scenery on this bucolic trip. This favorite stretch of the 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway, which takes you from Shenandoah National Park over the Blue Ridge chain to the Great Smoky Mountains, offers unparalleled vistas and natural highs, plus a multitude of cultural charms. Book a night at the 35-roomÂ Oakhurst Inn in Charlottesville, and take time to visit Thomas Jeffersonâs Monticello before embarking on the journey. There are opportunities to hike along the Appalachian Tail or go fly-fishing at the Tye River before replenishing with a country ham sandwich atÂ Layneâs Country Store in Glasgow. And just a 15-minute detour from the Parkway is the impressive limestone arch of the National Historical LandmarkÂ Natural Bridge, or âNatureâs Cathedral.âÂ
An afternoon in Roanoke, an hour away, brings you the contemporary and folk art delights of theÂ Taubman Museum of Art, and the farm-to-table fare ofÂ the River and Rail Restaurant. Get your bluegrass fix afterward atÂ Floyd Country Store. Further up the road, youâll find the sights and sounds of rural Appalachia atÂ Mabry Mill; Sunday afternoons are made for hootenannies here. Stay overnight in a luxury tree-house cottage or romantic log cabin atÂ Primland, which offers an observatory for stargazing.
Keep the tunes a-cominâ with a stop at theÂ Blue Ridge Music Center, where string bands knock out bluegrass music daily. Wind around spectacular curves as you cross the North Carolina border. The Parkway Craft Center outside Blowing Rock offers the chance to get crafts, with the Southern Highland Craft Guild hosting demonstrations by artisans on the porch of theÂ Moses Cone Manor. In Asheville, you can tour the fabledÂ Biltmore Estate (stay over at one of three on-premises hotels), browse theÂ Mast General Store downtown, and cap things off with a hearty meal at the community-drivenÂ Rhubarb and a craft beer from among the 48 companies that brew here.
Check out AFAR’s favorite Blue Ridge Mountain cabins to rent on Airbnb and VRBO.
From NYC to Woodstock: An upstate sojourn
Distance: 142 miles
Yes, New York City is one of the great cultural centers of the world. But thereâs a world of art and culinary treasures just outside the city thatâs worth exploring as well, not to mention scenic mountain ranges and preserves. Cross the GW Bridge and take the leafy Palisades Parkway, which hugs the Hudson River, up toward Storm King Art Center for an afternoon of awe-inspiring large-scale outdoor art sculptures. From here, travel another 22 miles north, crossing back over the Hudson River (via I-84 North), and check in to the industrial-chicÂ Roundhouse in Beacon, housed in an old textile factory and offering romantic views of the waterfall that feeds into Fishkill Creek. Thereâs a creative restaurant on premises, andÂ Dogwood Bar & Restaurant down the street offers craftÂ cocktails (like the hot and smoky Dogwoodrita).
Here you can spend the next morning viewing the impressive collection atÂ Dia Beacon (the Dan Flavin installations are worth the trip alone) before crossing back over the bridge and taking 87 to 299 W to get toÂ Mohonk Mountain House. Spend a night or two soaking up the Old-World rustic feel and immersing in nature: You could canoe in the pond, hike the magnificent property, or rock climb the Shawangunk Mountains in nearbyÂ Mohonk Preserve. Take a drive through adorable towns like Rosendale and High Falls, where youâll find upscale design shops (like Object Found or Nectar) on your way to Kingston, which has become a bit like Brooklyn North. Browse shops and dine at Kingstonâs first zero-waste restaurant and cocktail bar,Â Miss BÄo.
Wrap things up a short 11-mile drive further upstate in Woodstock, which still retains its bohemian charm all these years later. (Go on, cut loose and free-form dance to drum circles with the tie-dyed set in the town square in the evening.) It also boasts fine dining (likeÂ Cucina), tastefully curated boutiques, and a killer bookshop,Â the Golden Notebook. For a quirky stay, considerÂ the Herwood Inn, with four suites paying homage to female music icons. Rock on!
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