5 Delicious Road Trips Through the Coast’s Best Seafood Dives
The Ultimate Lobster Road Trip
There's something about the water in South Harpswell, Maine. Head out to the dock in front of Erica's Seafood and you can smell it wafting off the surface of Casco Bay: brackish, with notes of silt, salt, and even resin. More remarkably, if you sit down to a platter of steamed lobster at Erica's gravel-lined alfresco space, you can taste it.
While the term "merroir"—the way a particular body of water affects the taste of something growing in it—has been largely monopolized by oyster farmers, it's also apropos for Maine's most famous export. Whether steamed straight from a trap, boiled into a buttery stew, or tucked into a split-top bun, lobsters embody a sense of place: those cold waters, the stolid, mineral presence of rock, maybe even a whisper of pine. Which is what makes this stretch of Maine—from the town squares of Kennebunkport past the dockside dives and all the way to South Thomaston—one of the planet's singular seafood quests.
So here's to finding yourself a picnic table away from the local lobstermen who plucked your lunch straight from the Atlantic, whether you're at the foot of Dock Square Bridge or in the shadow of the Goat Island Lighthouse. And even if those hardworking Mainers didn't haul your lunch, the chef, server, brewer, or even shopkeeper almost assuredly knows who did. Welcome to the holy grail of lobster crusades. —Chris Hughes
Get Going: Click here for the Maine lobster road trip itinerary.
The Ultimate Crab Road Trip
Baltimore to Hoopers Island, Maryland
"There is a saying in Baltimore," wrote H.L. Mencken, "that crabs may be prepared in fifty ways and that all of them are good." Mencken, known as The Sage of Baltimore, might just as well be called The Guy Who Knows What's True About Crabs. And not just in the public food markets, crab houses, and upscale eateries of that city at the top of Chesapeake Bay. But also for the length of a crustacean-driven trek across the water and down Maryland's famed Eastern Shore.
Because what you'll discover—while getting your bearings in Baltimore, loitering among the historic joints and river crab houses of Annapolis, and then lazily meandering from small town to small town down the shore—is that you can indeed try crab in ways that feel as expansive as that big bay glinting at you from your open car window. In fact, you could string a whole trip together sticking solely to eating steamed crab at weathered picnic tables: smacking shells with mallets, licking Old Bay off your fingers, and washing it all down with a very cold bottle of Natty Boh. That'd be a journey of discovery as good as any. But slow down and discover that you can nearly always do crab differently—from crab cakes, dips, and chowders to arepas and tostadas. And, as The Sage put it, you'll find every single one is good. —Tracey Minkin
Get Going: Click here for the Maryland crab road trip itinerary
The Ultimate Shrimp Road Trip
Murrells Inlet to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
"What would you recommend?" I ask Gloria, who's tapping a pencil on the once-white laminate counter at Dave's Carry-out in Charleston, South Carolina. She looks at me like I fell off the moon. "Shrimp," she says. "Fried." And jots my order on a scrap of paper though I never say a word.
Shrimp it is, at Dave's and at most establishments along South Carolina's State Highway 17 as it skims along this porous coast of land, marsh, tidal river, and ocean. Shrimp is to Lowcountry menus what Spanish moss is to live oaks—elemental, inextricable. No matter if they were hauled in by a trawler, by a cast-netter knee-deep in a creek, or by a late-night baiter whose johnboat lantern is just one twinkle in a constellation of fellow shrimpers out on the inky harbor. No matter, either, if those shrimp get fried, boiled, grilled, or browned in a whisper of bacon fat and then cradled in a heap of creamy grits. It's all shrimp, all Lowcountry, all local.
And this journey—from the funky outpost of Murrells Inlet through the culinary mecca of Charleston and south to a shrimp dock on Hilton Head Island—ties those facets of shrimp culture together like pearls on a thread. As that bumper sticker often spied along this byway says, "Friends don't let friends eat imported shrimp." —Stephanie Hunt
Get Going: Click here for the Carolina shrimp road trip itinerary.
The Ultimate Fish Taco Road Trip
The beauty of the fish taco is that, if done well, it doesn't require much to blow your mind: a soft tortilla, golden-brown fish hot from the fryer, a drizzle of tangy white crema, and a squeeze of lime. Is there any food which better evokes that laid-back, hazy euphoria so often associated with Southern California beach culture? No way, José.
The fish taco's origin story goes something like this: Tempura-loving Japanese fishermen trawled the waters off the Ensenada coast, passing along their culinary know-how to locals and giving way to a beer-battered style traditionally topped with chopped cabbage, salsa, and little else. But the crispy creation really took off north of the border thanks to California surfer Ralph Rubio, who opened one of San Diego's first fish taco stands in the 1980s, later expanding his namesake chain to more than 200 locations across six states.
Despite its national popularity, the spiritual home of the fish taco remains that sandy stretch from Santa Barbara to San Diego, a length of coast where surfers and sunbathers gather over a few sauce-dripping beauties scarfed off the hood of a car or a weathered picnic table. You could drive this iconic section of highway for the scenery alone, and many do, but it wouldn't be complete without savoring the countless interpretations of what is SoCal's unoffical official dish. As you cruise with the windows down, think of these fish tacos as edible mile markers, leading you southward to where the magic began. —Garret Snyder
Get Going: Click here for the SoCal fish taco road trip itinerary.
The Ultimate Lake Whitefish Road Trip
Pulled from the icy waters of Lake Michigan, the delicately flavored and slightly sweet lake whitefish is one of the defining dishes of Great Lakes summers. And while that has one thinking of fried perch and walleye, there's also something a bit wilder happening on Wisconsin's charmingly low-key shores.
The narrow Door Peninsula on the northwestern coast of Lake Michigan is home of the fish boil, a Scandinavian culinary tradition that arrived with settlers a century ago and has become as famous here as cherry pie. Involving cauldrons and open flames, a traditional fish boil culminates in a bit of Viking high drama: a pour of kerosene on the fire creates a true fire ball, a lot of heat, and the perfect high-boil finish for the whole fillets of whitefish, potatoes, and occasionally onions that have been simmering away. It's a show, in other words, and a tasty one.
This means that any good Lake Michigan road trip has to include at least one fish boil—not to mention the opportunity to eat whitefish in as many forms as possible. The only challenge on a quest like this is to make plenty of time for Wisconsin's other culinary gifts, namely craft beer, fresh produce, cheese, and, of course, Door County's famous cherry pie. —Steve Millburg
Get Going: Click here for the Wisconsin lake whitefish road trip itinerary.