From California's cliff-hanging Highway 1 to the uncrowded Gulf shores of the Great Texas Birding Trail, here are five can't-miss coastal road trips. Plus, the music to match.
Photo: David Zaitz
Vertigo-inducing Big Sur is just one portion of California's iconic Highway 1, a cliff-hugging, beach-hopping route that snakes up the coast.
Music: Set your internet dial to Coastal Living Radio for perfect drive tunes.
Route: San Luis Obispo to San Francisco
Distance: 270 miles
Start: San Luis Obispo
Drive 47 miles to Hearst Castle in time for one of the many guided tours of the day. Afterward, elephant seals await at the nearby state beach, where you can take one last deep breath before the Big Sur stretch. The undulating road was created to link isolated communities and to expedite the rescue of shipwreck victims.
Pitstop at Nepenthe (65 miles from Hearst Castle) a primo spot for lunch perched 800 feet above the Pacific and renownded for its filet mignon and triple-berry pie. Just down the road is the Henry Miller Memorial Library.
Check in to a cabin at Glen Oaks Big Sur (4.3 miles from Nepenthe; rates start at $225) and stroll past the coastal redwoods at dusk.
Continue on day two to Monterey Bay Aquarium (31 miles from last stop) and the Giant Dipper roller coaster on the Santa Cruz Beach Board walk (45 miles).
Finish your drive in San Francisco at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge (78 miles).
Photo courtesy of Little Palm Island Resort & Spa
Also called the Florida Keys Scenic Highway, this water-flanked road began life as an elevated railroad line, transformed into a hurricane-proof highway in the 1930s.
Music: For perfect roadtrip tunes, click here for Coastal Living Radio.
Route: Miami to Key West
Distance: 151 miles
Start: Southern Miami
Drive Route 1 (63 miles), stopping to snorkel or take a glass-bottom boat tour at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, with its incredible underwater gardens. Snorkelers will also love Windley Key Fossil Reef (16 miles) and its ancient limestone quarry remains.
Pit stop on Marathon Key (29 miles) for lunch—try the raw bar or seafood enchiladas at Castaway Waterfront Restaurant & Sushi Bar—as well as an afternoon of boating or seaside golf. You can also walk the original Seven Mile Bridge, part of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.
Check in to Little Palm Island Resort & Spa (shown here; rates start at $690, see our review) from the passenger ferry and relax on a private 5½-acre island of palm trees and plush bungalows. Take a dip in the sea the following morning.
Finish your casual island-hopping drive in Key West (27 miles)—visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, try the sautéed pink shrimp at Blue Heaven, and enjoy the Duval Street nightlife.
Photo: Brook Slezak
Buckle up: This Midwestern route travels through two states and one island, and gets you on the water via vintage ferry.
Music: For road-tripping music that's perfect for summer, tune into Coastal Living Radio, right here.
Route: Manitowoc to Ludington
Distance: 507 miles
Start: Manitowoc, WI
Drive Interestate 43 through the idyllic rural eastern part of of the state. Exiting at Green Bay (39 miles), stop for a tempura lobster roll with Thai volcano sauce at Chefusion, then follow U.S. Highway 41 north along the bay.
Cross into Michigan, where Hiawatha National Forest offers excellent lakeshore hikes. Maywood Historic Trail near Rapid River (124 miles) meanders through a 200-year-old hemlock forest along the shores of Little Bay de Noc.
Continue along the north shore to St. Ignace (127 miles), and then take the ferry over to Mackinac Island to spend a cozy evening enjoying views of the water from your private balcony at Hotel Iroquois (rates start at $225).
Finish by following U.S. Highway 31 along the eastern edge of Lake Michigan. There's boutique shopping on Front Street in Traverse City (110 miles) and dramatic dunes and wide beaches at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (shown here, 26 miles). Reaching Ludington (81 miles), catch the S.S. ferry Badger back to the Wisconsin shore.
This portion of the Gulf Coast of Texas is nirvana for birders and anyone who craves uncrowded shores.
Music: For a nonstop stream of summer songs that are perfect for road trips, head straight to Coastal Living Radio, right here.
Route: Port Arthur to Corpus Christi
Distance: 367 miles
Start: Port Arthur
Drive Highway 87 south through bird-filled marshes to Sabine Pass (13 miles), home to the Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge and Civil War Monument. Next up is the remarkable Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary (59 miles), with its rookery for herons, egrets, and spoonbills.
Pit stop at FantaSea BBQ & Grill in Gilchrist (10 miles) which can't be beat for a lunch of pork ribs, brisket, or Zummo Meat Co. sausage. Thousands of waterfowl can be found at Boliver Flats Shorebird Sanctuary (16 miles), where you can drive on the beach.
Finish by taking the toll bridge over to Follets Island (29 miles), followed by stops at Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary (20 miles) and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (148 miles) before the final leg into Corpus Christi (67 miles).
Photo: Reena Bammi
"Downeast" is the way ships once sailed from Boston to ports in Maine, and it's also the direction that U.S. Highway 1/1A takes.
Music: Keep the summer tunes rolling with every mile, with Coastal Living Radio, right here.
Route: Boston to Bar Harbor
Distance: 276 miles
Drive U.S. 1 from historic Boston Common to Salem (18 miles), where seagoing privateers easily outnumbered witches in the days gone by. Continue to Portsmouth, New Hampshire (shown here, 45 miles) and walk the Harbour Trail between North Church and the U.S.S. Albacore submarine.
Pit stop in the town of Kennebunkport (29 miles) from a rum-suffused "boat drink" at Heckman's Pub before a good night's sleep at the family-owned Nonantum Resort (rates start at $199).
Finish by heading through downtown Portland for some morning shopping (30 miles) before continuing up the Maine coast to Belfast (103 miles). There, Young's Lobster Pound is a great place to catch lunch before cruising into Bar Harbor (51 miles).