Why we love it: With Napa a few hours inland and Big Sur getting all the attention to the south, many folks miss this pastoral coast where cell phones rarely work and humble towns belie the sublime scenery that spans 96 miles of California’s Highway 1 from Jenner to Fort Bragg.
Please pull over: At Point Arena Lighthouse, day-trippers can tour the beacon for some of the best coastal views in the state, or rent a historic keeper’s house for the night; pointarenalighthouse.com.
Stay: The Philo Apple Farm, cottages from $175; 707/895-2333 or philoapplefarm.com
OUTERBANKS, NORTH CAROLINA
Why we love it: Map aficionados can’t help but be drawn to this arch of islands curving out from North Carolina’s coast like a spinnaker taking wind. Small towns dot the islands’ landscapes of dunes and long, sweeping beaches. (Nights in Rodanthe was filmed here.) Create a circuit by taking U.S. highways 17, 158, and 64. Back on the mainland, weave through marshlands and historic towns like Edenton.
Please pull over: The Rodanthe house is called “Serendipity” and is the northernmost oceanfront home on Hatteras Island.
Stay: Nags Head Beach Inn, rooms from $75; 800/421-8466 or nagsheadbeachinn.com
WHIDBEY ISLAND TO CHUKANUT DRIVE, WASHINGTON
Why we love it: You can get from Seattle to Bellingham two ways: a boring drive up Interstate 5 or a Puget Sound adventure on state highways 525 and 20 that lead from Whidbey Island to the famed Chuckanut Drive. Start with a ferry to Whidbey, then work your way by Deception Pass to Anacortes and back to the mainland. Finish up on Chuckanut Drive for a winding, sunset-perfect, Sound-hugging meander to Bellingham.
Please pull over: Trails at Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve on Whidbey Island lead to a steep bluff and down to a beach.
Stay: Historic Fort Casey cottages in Coupeville, on Whidbey Island, rooms from $75; 866/661-6604 or fortcaseyinn.com
EASTERN AND NORHTERN SHORE, KAUA'I, HAWAII
Why we love it: Start this 52-mile drive in Lihue, then cruise Highway 56 around the northeast corner of the “Garden Isle.” Check out waterfalls, old plantations, water-filled caves, and nine county beaches before reaching the end of the road (which becomes Highway 560) at one of the most rugged, spectacular, and inaccessible shorelines in the world―the Napali Coast.
Please pull over: Princeville has it all: river trips up the Hanalei River (kayakhanalei .com), tours to the spectacular Fern Grotto, and, of course, relaxing at a nearby beach.
Stay: The St. Regis Princeville Resort is set to open October 1, rooms from $360 (opening specials may be available online); stregisprinceville.com
MOBILE TO NEW ORLEANS
Why we love it: Begin with antebellum homes and boutique shops along Mobile Bay, then wander Mississippi’s quietly energized artist’s enclaves of Ocean Springs and Bay St. Louis. Let the mind wander along the 40 miles of wetlands separating Mississippi from New Orleans. Then do as you please in the Big Easy.
Please pull over: In Ocean Springs, visit the Walter Anderson Museum of Art to see and buy iconic Gulf Coast painting, pottery, and etchings; walterandersonmuseum.org.
Stay: Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear, Alabama, rooms from $179; 800/544-9933 or marriott grand.com; or, in New Orleans, The House on Bayou Road, rooms from $125; 504/945-0992 or houseonbayouroad.com