5 Coastal Road Trips

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 playlists to match.

Road Trips: California Highway 1

Photo: David Zaitz

California Highway 1

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: Our editors picked the best songs for the trip. See the Highway 1 Playlist – free on Spotify.

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).

Florida's Overseas Highway

Photo courtesy of Little Palm Island Resort & Spa

Florida's Overseas Highway

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: See the Overseas Highway Playlist

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.

Road Trips: Northern Lake Michigan Loop

Photo: Brook Slezak

Northern Lake Michigan Loop

Buckle up: This Midwestern route travels through two states and one island, and gets you on the water via vintage ferry.

Music: See the Lake Michigan Loop Playlist

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.

Road Trips: The Great Texas Birding Trail

The Great Texas Birding Trail

This portion of the Gulf Coast of Texas is nirvana for birders and anyone who craves uncrowded shores.

Music: See the Birding Trail Playlist

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.

Continue aboard the Bolivar ferry (4.5 miles) to Galveston (shown here). Check into Hotel Galvez (rates start at $134, see our review) for chic decor and a luxurious spa.

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).

Road Trips: New England Drive

Photo: Reena Bammi

New England Drive

"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: See the New England Drive Playlist

Route: Boston to Bar Harbor
Distance: 276 miles

Start: Boston

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).

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