From coast to coast and everywhere in between, the great American road trip tends to be a key item on any adventurer's wish list. Cruise down California's Pacific Coast Highway, or take it slower in the Florida Keys, and appreciate the sugar-fine sand beaches. Don't overlook the cities, like Oregon's quirky Portland, and especially don't ignore the desert -Utah's red sand landscapes are unforgettable. The variety of life and landscape in America is endless. The only real question is: can we come along?
Must see and do:
Flickr/Kenny Louie (CCby2.0)
Powell’s City of Books, Portland
Bibliophiles, steady yourselves: Powell’s City of Books is the largest used and new bookstore in the world. It occupies an entire city block in Portland, and there are more than a million new and used books. There’s actually a map for you to use so you won’t get lost. You’ll likely find any piece of literature you desire here, including out-of-print and rare finds. Powell’s gives a new meaning to getting lost in a good book.
Drive Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast
Sea stacks, surfing, whale watching and epic coastal lookouts—those are just a few things you have to look forward to while cruising down Highway 101 along the Oregon Coast. Start near Astoria at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, and visit the Fort Clatsop replica. Take a fat biking tour in Newport and pedal your way along smooth Oregon beaches. Or if you want something a little slower paced, try some clamming at one of the beaches near Gold Beach.
Pendleton Round Up Rodeo 2017
If you’re on scenic overload, pause your road trip and get up close and personal with Western tradition in Pendleton. Discover Oregon’s pioneer heritage by touring the subterranean tunnels, visiting the 100-year-old Hamley Saloon, or checking out the rodeo at the Pendleton Round-Up. The West is alive and well here—you can even get fitted for a saddle or a woolen hat (just in case you feel like abandoning your wheels for a horse).
Pacific Crest Trail
You don’t have to hike 4000+ kilometres like Cheryl Strayed in Wild to experience the Pacific Crest Trail. Opt for a shorter route, like the moderate 7-kilometre route from the Bridge of the Gods to Dry Creek Falls - a 75-foot waterfall well worth the trek. Hike a little further, and you’ll see the famous basalt pinnacles. For something a little more adventurous, try a strenuous multi-day trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area.
Where to eat and drink in Oregon:
McMinnville Dining | Kari Young
Oregon’s legendary brewery scene is well known around the world, and Portland make sit easy to sample some of the best. Hop on a BeerQuest Walking Tours that will take you through the streets of downtown Portland, sampling award-winning beers while learning about the craft of brewing from local guides. Otherwise, mix things up a bit with a BrewCycle tour – a giant group bicycle that allows you to pedal between some amazing taprooms. For explorations on your own, try BridgePort Brewing, The Commons Brewery, or Breakside Brewery.
If you’re on the Oregon Coast drive from Astoria to Brookings, seafood is king. Start with Bowpicker Fish & Chips for beer-battered albacore tuna. In Manzanita, try the seared king salmon and fish tacos at Local Ocean Seafoods. But if seafood isn’t your thing, you’ve gotta try a “World Famous” hot dog at Langlois Market, loaded with homemade mustard, pickles, cheese, mayo, and more.
Wine lovers, head to Willamette Valley, where vintage wines are all the rage. The family-run Ponzi Vineyard is a good place to start, or the organic-certified Eyrie Vineyards up in the Dundee Hills. Wine Country isn’t limited to one area - you can pedal your way from Troon Vineyard to LongSword Vineyard along the Applegate Valley Wine Trail, or try goat yoga and wine tasting (seriously) at the Emerson Vineyards in Monmouth.
Where to stay on your Oregon road trip:
McMinnville Lodging | Kari Young
Considering Oregon has some of the most epic scenery in the United States, we highly advise taking advantage of the nearly 400 campgrounds available. In the south, set up your tent at Instagram-worthy Applegate Lake, providing a blissful retreat with picnic and swimming spots. In eastern Oregon, stay at the Hidden Campground in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Or glam it up at one of the state’s yurts, found everywhere from Umpqua Lighthouse to Sunset Bay.
If you’re not up for camping, stay at the luxurious Nines Hotel in Portland, well known for its rooftop bar and restaurant. Kimpton Riverplace is another great locale in the heart of the city. Soak up a quieter lifestyle at Low Heaven Farm, near Mcminnville. For something quirkier, try the Out’n’About treehouse hotel - a genuine 5-star treehouse resort.
Oregon's best-kept secrets:
Steen Mountains | adrian
The Alvord Desert
Deep in southeast Oregon lies a cracked, smooth desert lakebed surrounded by the Steens Mountains. The flats here take on a dreamlike oasis quality, and you’ll find yourself mostly alone in this secluded haven. Visit the Alvord Hot Springs or the Mickey Hot Springs, and check out the thermal spring complex at Borax Lake.
This natural wonder is as impressive as its name: an enormous bowl carved out in the basalt coastline, which surges with water when the tides are just right. Essentially, a former sea cave with its top collapsed. You can see it in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area near Yachats, just take the Captain Cook Trailhead to the Well north of Cook’s Chasm.
Unplug and unwind at Wallowa Lake, an ultra-relaxed area of the Wallowa Lake State Park that offers year-round camping without a day-use fee. You can simply show up and start fishing, if you like, or set up a tent in front of the Wallowa Mountains. No matter where you camp out, you’re bound to have the best seat in the house.
The Eagle Cap Excursion Train from Elgin
Up until the end of October, the Eagle Cap Excursion Train runs from the Elgin depot into the stunning Oregon backcountry. Amazingly, each trip is themed; you might find yourself on a Wine and Cheese Train, or an Autumn Train Robbery. Basically, you’re fully immersed in an interactive performance. You can hop off and camp out at Minam State Recreation Area overlooking Wallowa River as well.
You might not know it, but Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is the deepest river gorge in North America at 8,000 feet deep. It’s also surrounded by 215,000 acres of wilderness, making it one of the most remote destinations in Oregon. There are 900 trails here for hiking, including the multi-day Snake River Trail. At the right time of year, the wildflowers explode in a dazzling rainbow display.
Must-see and do:
Pacific Coast Highway
From Santa Barbara to San Diego, this 1,000-kilometre road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway tends to be popular on travellers’ bucket lists. Winding roads overlooking the endless Pacific Ocean, and the coastline is peppered with sea stacks and sandy beaches. What’s not to love? This stretch is the sunniest strip of coastal roadway in California, perhaps best known for the stunning sights along Big Sur like Pfeiffer Beach, and Ragged Point. Key family stops along the way: trendy Long Beach and its Aquarium of the Pacific (especially for the penguins), and LEGOLAND California.
San Luis Obispo to Ragged Point
Morro Rock | Jeremy Bishop
If you want a sampling of what California has to offer, but without the commitment of driving the entire Pacific Coast Highway, this route is for you. It packs a big punch in just 80 kilometres, with unspoiled coastline, beachy relaxed towns, and rolling hills all along the way. Take the boardwalk in Morro Bay to the 581-foot Morro Rock, or shop for glasswork souvenirs in Harmony. Tranquility is the end goal along this route!
The “Mother Road” has been captured in story and pop culture since the 20th century, when it was first used for pioneers headed west to find riches in California. You can improvise your own road trip by starting in Santa Monica and ending up in the California desert, making room for plenty of pit stops along the way. Route 66 is eccentric: don’t miss the 66 Mother Road Museum in Barstow, or Elmer Long’s Bottle Tree Ranch with welded metal trees made from discarded bottles and scraps.
California has its fair share of incredible cities, but San Francisco is special, even extraordinary. With its colourful Victorian homes, cable cars, stunning waterfront, and iconic Golden Gate Bridge, San Fran is a cultural beacon for people all over the world. Explore the food truck scene, or catch some local ballet and theatre. Take in the hubbub at Fisherman’s Wharf, wander the alleyways between Chinatown, or hit a hiking trail in Twin Peaks. You’ll never be bored in San Francisco!
Newton Vineyard, St Helena | Visit CaliforniaSt. Helena is one of Napa Valley’s most charming wine-country towns, filled with historic buildings, boutique shops, art galleries, and cozy cafes. Other than the wineries, sample chocolate unicorns at Woodhouse Chocolate, shop for souvenirs, or visit the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum.
Where to eat and drink in California:
Matcha is all the rage in California these days, and even the most sceptical tea drinkers have to admit it’s pretty darned tasty. Match is Japanese green tea, well known for its health perks and deliciousness. Try some at the Shuhari Matcha Cafe in Venice, or pick up some at Matcha Love shops in Costa Mesa or San Jose.
Cali-Baja style is a specific Californian-born taste, combining fresh ingredients with Mexican flavours largely influenced by Chef Javier Plascencia. You can actually sample his dishes at Bracero Cocina de Raiz. Otherwise, Baja-California is king in San Diego. Try Michelada-steamed mussels at Galaxy Taco or a bowl of in-season produce topped with spicy chili at Puesto.
We’d be remiss to write about California’s drink scene without referring to Napa Valley, known for some of the best wines in the world, plus its spectacular Napa vibes which can’t be replicated anywhere else on earth. There are 400 wineries here, mostly focussed on cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, but also merlot. Check out Kalon Vineyard, Screaming Eagle, or Harlan Estate...to start.
Where to stay on your California road trip:
Treebones Resort | Visit California
Whether it’s a historical home or a quirky home-style ranch, bed and breakfasts give visitors the best way to feel at home away from home. Want upscale? The Old Monterey Inn in Monterey comes with nightly wine and hors d’oeuvres, plus the comforts of a crackling fireplace and a bed fit for royalty. Stay in a converted barn at Eden Vale Inn in Placerville, or the eclectic Hillcrest House in San Diego with its quirky themed rooms and marble bathrooms.
Get closer to nature by camping out in California, under a starry canopy next to pine trees, alpine lakes, and scenic coastline. Kirk Creek Campground is the most popular spot to stay along Big Sur, on an open bluff overlooking the sea. In Santa Barbara Country, set up your tent at Jalama Beach County Park, with a few amenities but no cell phone service, so you can truly unplug. Too rustic? Try a Mongolian yurt at Treebones Resort, also in Big Sur.
California's best-kept secrets:
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Often overshadowed by the states other national parks, Lassen Volcanic National Park in California’s Shasta Cascade is a dramatic, rugged setting. Bubbling mud pots, spouting steam vents, and tranquil lakes with pristine turquoise waters are just a few things you can look forward to on this retreat.
Sierra Vista Scenic Byway
Start at North Fork and wind your way through granite domes, towering mountain peaks, and near-empty roads carving through one of California’s most under-appreciated landscapes. Stop in at Jesse Ross Cabin, built in the 1860s, and visit Jones’ Store, an old-timey shop running smoothly without electricity. Not your speed? Hop on a river rafting trip and get a different perspective of the countryside.
Sure, Gilroy Gardens might be a family-friendly theme park, but the elaborate grafted trees contorted in bizarre shapes is one of the main reasons you should visit. Known as the Circus Trees, these crazy, twisted works of art will steal your attention away from the park’s more than 40 produce-themed rides. But when you’re bored with tree-gazing, ride the Mushroom Swing, Garlic Twirl, or the Artichoke Dip.
Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace
This Bakersfield venue is where the Wild West comes alive with live music and plenty of dancing, celebrating the musical style known specifically as Bakersfield Sound. This unique rock-meets-country genre is in a league of its own, but the Palace itself is a wonder. Inside is a museum with memorabilia from the 1960s, and nearby you’ll find other honky-tonk options, like at Trout’s.
Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands
Untouched natural beauty is all yours at the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, with 1700 acres of seascape and protected lands. Take photos at the 115-foot historic lighthouse in Port Arena, the tallest lighthouse of its kind on the Pacific Coast. When the season is right, you might spot frolicking humpback, blue, or gray whales. Planning to stay a while in the area? Here are 25 things to do in Mendocino County.
Must see and do:
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is an ethereal landscape of sandstone cliffs and pillars painted in bright hues of pinks, oranges, and reds. There are plenty of hiking trails in the park, but the most memorable and challenging is definitely the trail to Angel’s Landing - a 1,500-foot rock formation. It starts out leisurely enough from the Grotto, but the climb is steady uphill. The harrowing bit lies at the end: an insanely narrow pathway plunging over 1,000 feet on both sides. The views of the valley from the top, though? Worth those shaky knees.
Indulge your outdoorsy side in Utah’s dramatic Wasatch Mountain Range, with its sharp peaks, alpine lakes, and myriad of deep canyons. It’s rugged to the extreme, and yet much of Utah’s population use the Wasatch Front for outdoor recreation. In the spring and summer, people come here to hike, bike, and paddle. In the winter months, major ski resorts like Solitude Mountain Resort and Brighton Ski Resort teem with avid skiers, snowboarders, and other winter sport enthusiasts.
Spend some time in the town of Moab, and take advantage of a two-for-one National Park deal. You’ll be incredibly close to Canyonlands National Park with its deep canyons and jaw-dropping sunrises, as well Arches National Park with its amazing red rock landscape of natural arches. Moab itself is a fun, quirky community with all the vibes of a mountain town, but in the desert. Quaint coffee shops and restaurants abound!
Salt Lake City
Nestled in the Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake City has one of the best views going. Despite having over a million residents, Salt Lake City has a quiet, small-town feel. Strolling around downtown will eventually lead you to fun cafes and excellent organic dining options. The people here are all about big nature, so join the locals on the 10-kilometre Church Fork Trail to the top of Grandeur Peak. The panoramic view will remind you why people love this city so much.
Although Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is technically its own entity separate from both Utah and Arizona, it’s still a must-do when visiting Utah. The Navajo have been using this ancient valley for centuries, as evidenced by the rocking paintings you’ll find around the park. With an experienced Navajo guide, you’ll be led deep into the heart of the valley, where you can camp out in a traditional hogan or engage with Navajo leaders around a fire. With drums echoing off the valley walls and dancers circling the fire’s glow, you’ll be moved by this soul-stirring experience. Not to be missed: sunrise over Monument Valley.
Where to eat and drink in Utah:
Don’t let this Mormon state fool you--there are plenty of high-calibre beer-tasting options in Utah. Roosters Brewing Company and Restaurant in Ogden is one of them, and you’ve got to try the Honey Wheat. If you’re in Salt Lake, head to Beer Bar with its 140+ beer selection and beer-cocktail menu. Bonus: it’s owned by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell.
If you’re travelling down Scenic Byway 12, swing by the Hell’s Backbone Grill, famous for its locally sourced organic food and epic dinner menu. Otherwise, treat yourself to some fine dining at Valter’s Osteria, a new-and-hip restaurant in Salt Lake.
For dessert, head to Les Madeleines for their Kouing Amans, named Pastry of the Year by Food and Wine. This rich, buttery pastry hails from Brittany, France, and is guaranteed to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Where to stay on your Utah road trip:
Moab Under Canvas | Adam Skalecki
Luxury seekers, Utah’s sprawling resorts and glitzy hotels will impress even the hardest to please. The desert oasis retreat known as Amangiri Resort in southern Utah is world famous, and so are the 5-diamond resorts in Park City. Stein Eriksen Lodge, for example, has special suites with on-balcony hot tubs and white marble kitchens.
For people who like a more unique setting, try the Washington School House Hotel in Park City. It’s literally an old schoolhouse bed and breakfast. Then there’s Shooting Star RV Resort in Escalante, a themed Airstream resort with all the amenities.
If you’re a city dweller, in Salt Lake City you’ll find over 120 hotels. The Little America hotel is an upscale option with a pool and grill, while the Hyatt Place Salt Lake City has some great perks like free breakfast and ultra-fast WiFi.
Utah's best-kept secrets:
incredible state and national parks
Utah is home to 43 state parks, with plenty of hidden gems poked in between. See the 500 free-roaming bison at Antelope Island State Park, or sandboard down the dunes at Coral Pink Sand Dunes. Take in the turquoise water at Bear Lake State Park, or hit the hiking trails around Dead Horse Point State Park. The range and diversity of landscapes and experiences between each park is astonishing.
Glen Canyon National Recreational Area
The sheer size of Glen Canyon aspires to overwhelm. Over 3200 kilometres of perfect, serpentine shoreline along Lake Powell await. Although Lake Powell itself is pretty world famous, the side canyons, inlets, and coves all awaiting your exploration make for some fun adventuring.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Some people prefer the quieter, understated qualities of Bryce Canyon National Park over its big brother, the Grand Canyon. This 800-feet deep amphitheatre has been mostly carved out by millions of years of melt water, but it’s still home to towering red limestone pinnacles and hoodoos. Ride a horse or mule down the switchback path deep into the canyon, and appreciate the silence wrapped all around you.
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Few people know that Utah is one of the top birding destinations in the United States, and is home to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge. Both have bountiful bird-watching opportunities. Birders, keep on the look-out for black-throated blue warblers, short-eared owls, prairie falcons, loggerhead shrikes, horned larks, and more.
Road-tripping: Florida Keys/Key West
Must see and do:
Hop on a Seaplane Tour
Take a seaplane tour to Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Jefferson for a bird’s-eye view of stunning Key West. From the sky, you’ll see submerged ships in crystal clear waters, uninhabited mangrove islands, and Fort Jefferson (once used as a prison during the Civil War). And yes, you can pause the tour to snorkel in the coral reef.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Made up of seven small islands, Dry Tortugas National Park is a unique eco-attraction perfect for snorkelling, bird watching, or simply just relaxing on a pristine beach. You can tour Fort Jefferson or snorkel around the fort as well.
Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum
Flickr/faungg's photos (CCbyND2.0)
Home to quite possibly the most famous six-toed cats in the world, the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum is a glimpse into the most prolific period of Hemingway’s writing career. You’re welcome to explore the rooms and gardens. Hemingway drew inspiration from the turquoise waters and tropical seclusion around his property, and lived in the house for 10 full years. Address: 907 Whitehead St., Key West.
Sail the Keys
Hop on a sailing adventure with Sail the Keys, the only sailboat charter company on Islamorada’s Windley Key. Sail from Key Largo to Key West while snorkelling, paddleboarding, and kayaking along the way. You’ll be able to enjoy those harder-to-reach reefs, like Hens & Chickens Reef and Alligator Reef. Or, if you’re in ultra-vacation mode, relax and dangle your feet overboard and enjoy the warm ocean spray on your face.
San Pedro Underwater Archaeological
Preserve State Park
This underwater archaeological preserve is a diving/snorkelling dream, featuring the submerged 287-ton San Pedro shipwreck that sank during a hurricane in 1733. Eighteen feet below the surface is San Pedro’s remains, including its ballast stones, as well as seven replica cannons and an anchor. A quick boat ride will take you there.
What to eat and drink in the Florida Keys:
Key West is big on its own brand of organic agave spirits or tequila, known as mezcal. Distilled at the newly opened Key West Legal Rum, it’s the only one of its kind in Florida. Drop in for a tasting, but leave the rental car at home. If you’re looking for fun in Key Largo, there’s live music and happy hour at Snook’s Bayside Restaurant & Grand Tiki Bar.
Try some traditional conch and Caribbean dishes, using local indigenous ingredients at Mangoes in Key West. You’ll find more conch offerings at Hungry Tarpon Restaurant at Robbie’s Islamorada, a Keys-style marina and fish shack where you can dine bay-side on the deck.
If you want to bump shoulders with the locals, start your day at Camille’s Restaurant -- a funky eatery that’s been around for 20 years. Looking for something a little more romantic? Enjoy the decadent dishes at Alma, with its bold Latin dishes fused with Caribbean flavours.
Where to stay on your Key West road trip
Key West and the Lower Keys are well known for their glam resorts with tropical vibes. Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is a bungalow-style accommodation on a private island off Little Torch Key, while The Marker Waterfront Resort offers cozy rooms on Key West’s historic seaport. Our favourite, however, is the Southernmost Beach Resort with a private pier jutting out into the Atlantic. Take advantage of sparkling pools, tropical bars, and quiet gardens.
The Keys aren’t without their quirky accommodations, either. In Key Largo, stay at the Dolphin Point Villas and swim with the dolphins at Dolphins Plus. This place is ideal for large groups, with the Nautilus House estate holding up to 16 people with its own private pool and wraparound porch. H20 Suites in Key West is the latest adults-only contemporary hotel in town, and each suite comes with private balconies, a wet bar, and spa-inspired baths.
Florida Keys' best-kept secrets:
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
A 5,000-square-foot glass-domed habitat where tropical butterflies soar free - you’ve gotta see it to believe it. This modern solarium is also home to more than 20 species of exotic birds, as well as thousands of tropical plants and trees. Save some time to peruse the on-site gallery featuring butterfly artwork from Sam Trophia, the conservatory’s co-founder. Address: 316 Duval St. Keywestbutterfly.com
Marathon’s Turtle Hospital
Marathon’s Turtle Hospital is the world’s only licensed veterinary hospital devoted to the treatment of sea turtles. There’s even a turtle ambulance! As a visitor, you can take a guided tour of the facilities and visit the turtles in the rehabilitation area. You’ll also learn about the different types of turtles being treated here, including hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead, and green. Address: 2396 Overseas Highway.
Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters
Have you ever seen a lionfish? There’s a full exhibit at the Florida Keys Aquarium, featuring colourful lionfish and rocks overflowing with sea-life in this 300-gallon custom tank. The exhibit is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM.
Take a Backcountry Tour
Lazy Dog Adventures at Stock Island’s Hurricane Hole Marina has recently launched a series of backcountry tours giving visitors a chance to experience The Keys like a local. Climb aboard a six-passenger pontoon for an adventure-filled day of kayaking and paddleboarding, as well as snorkelling and swimming in the mangroves. You’ll have an isolated sand bar all to yourself!
“Running the Old Seven Mile Bridge is my favorite thing to do. Mornings I can see spotted eagle rays feeding in the water below, tarpon or an osprey landing at the end of the bridge. I see more life there than anywhere.” - Bette Zirkelbach, manager of Marathon’s Turtle Hospital
"If you’ve got a sweet tooth, stop at Key Largo Chocolates, home to the Florida Keys’ only chocolatier, located at mile marker (MM) 100.5 bayside. Self-described as a “grandma and grandpa operation,” Key Largo Chocolates infuses local flavors into handmade chocolate treats - like Key lime white chocolate truffles and quirky “chocodiles” shaped like tiny crocs." - Carol Shaughnessy, writer
“Take a sunset cruise, it’ll blow you away. Eat some local seafood. Have a margarita on the beach at sunset, and see the Keys like a local. That’s how you see the real Keys.” Bobby Mongelli, Keys restaurant owner.
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