The 10 Best Summer Road Trips
Seattle to San Juan Islands, Washington State
Total Driving Time: 2 hours, 46 minutes
Distance Covered: 104 miles
Take This Trip If: You’re looking for an island escape that doesn’t require a transcontinental flight.
The San Juan Islands, an archipelago off of Washington’s coast, are a popular summer getaway and have a relaxed, back-to-nature vibe; expect farmlands, evergreen forests, nature trails, whale-watching, and mom-and-pop shops. Popular activities include hiking, wildlife spotting (whale-watching in particular is common, and the Shark Reef trail on Lopez Island leads to a harbor seal hangout), sailing, and kayaking. For those days when it does rain, the islands have several wineries, farms, and museums.
Properties are more intimate than luxurious but the Outlook Inn is a romantic boutique that boasts killer views of Eastsound from almost anywhere you can stand. Service is incredibly personalized, and perks like free Wi-Fi and fresh food from an on-site cafe make this hotel a choice pick. Those with slimmer budgets should check out the Bird Rock Hotel, a charming, 15-room no-frills B&B. The hotel’s central location, though, is definitely the highlight — just a block from the ferry landing, and within walking distance to plenty of shopping and dining in downtown Friday Harbor.
Top Driving Tip: In peak season (summer), the ferries fill up fast — so you’ll need to arrive early in order to ensure you get on board, as the lines can take hours to get through. You can find the latest ferry schedule here.
Miami to Key West, Fla.
Total Driving Time: 3 hours, 11 minutes
Distance Covered: 161.7 miles
Take This Trip If: It’s been too long since you’ve last passed out in a hammock with margarita in hand.
There’s a reason even the most sunny of Floridians love visiting Key West: Its laid-back atmosphere and beautiful surroundings make it one of the best vacation spots in the country. The island boasts warm weather year-round thanks to its Southernmost U.S City status and offers travelers a slower pace of life. For a supremely luxurious experience, check out the Casa Marina Resort, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, which has a sophisticated setting complete with a poolside bar, beach hammocks, and lush grounds.
Although not quite a steal, the Eden House is offers a variety of amenities at a fraction of Casa Marina’s price. Throughout their stay, guests can enjoy complimentary happy hour, outdoor pool (make sure to apply your FREE sunscreen!), koi ponds, hammocks, or barbecue on the small rolling grill. What more do you need for some fun in the sun?
Top Driving Tip: Be prepared for the seven-mile drive to the Keys to feel like a seven-hour drive. The bridge spanning the Florida Keys is usually heavily congested, but does offer some of the most scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean from just about everywhere.
Los Angeles to Palm Springs, Calif.
Total Driving Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Distance Covered: 107 miles
Take This Trip If: You’re looking for deserted relaxation.
Set in the middle of the California desert, Palm Springs is for those who need to get away from it all. There’s no such thing as a vibrant nightlife here (some would even say the restaurants are nothing to rave about either), but that only adds to the appeal if all you need is a little sun, some art galleries, and maybe a few quiet rounds of golf. While senior citizens make up most of the city’s residents, there are a surprising number of stylish spots, all set against the backdrop of gorgeous mountain and desert landscapes.
The Parker Palm Springs is one of the hottest hotels around, with stylish, eclectic décor; impressive rooms; an 18-hole golf course; a full-service spa; four gorgeous pools, and even a helipad. Modeled after a Mediterranean B&B, the adults-only Korakia Pensione is equally as striking, but in a more rustic-chic kind of way. It features individually decorated rooms, beautiful outdoor grounds, yoga classes, and two charming pools perfect for sunbathing and relaxing at a fraction of the price.
Top Driving Tip: Riverside, located roughly halfway between L.A. and Palm Springs, is home to the stunning Mission Inn, the largest Mission Revival style building in the U.S. and the perfect place to stop for lunch or even just to grab a few of its famous Casey’s Cupcakes.
Boston to Kennebunkport, Mass.
Total Driving Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Distance Covered: 85.4 miles
Take This Trip If: You want to bask in the sun like a quality Kennedy or Bush family member would.
Originally settled in 1610, Kennebunkport was a small fishing village that experienced an economic boom during the shipbuilding era. But it wasn’t until after the Civil War that Kennebunkport became what it is today: a summer retreat for wealthy families. In fact, former President George W. Bush’s great-grandfather’s compound, Walker’s Point, is located in Kennebunkport, and both he and his father (also former President Bush) have hosted foreign dignitaries at the summer home. What, you may ask, attracts the elite crowds to this Northeastern haven during the summer months? The private-feeling beaches are the area’s main draw and activities such as kayaking, whale-watching, golfing, and fishing are also popular pastimes.
If you’re looking for a cozy hotel that’s also spot-on chic, The Tides Beach Club is the perfect choice. Fully renovated in 2011, the hotel’s vibe is South Beach-esque and trendy while maintaining a quaint New England feel. Two suites designed by Jonathan Adler, spectacular ocean views, and a contemporary restaurant with a sophisticated menu are just some of the upgrades that came with the renovation. For a more budget-conscious option, stay at The Colony Hotel. This historic hotel has a welcoming attitude to both kids and dogs, attracting families with its heated saltwater swimming pool and private sandy beach.
Top Driving Tip: Don’t forget about all the neighboring areas: Kennebunkport is a great launching point for visiting nearby towns like Ogunquit — known for its long sandy beaches and as being Maine’s biggest LGBT destination — or York, to see the famous Neddick Lighthouse.
Houston to Austin, Texas
Total Driving Time: 3 hours
Distance Covered: 162 miles
Take This Trip If: You’re looking for good live music in a very unconventional Texas setting.
Not only is Austin the capital of the Lone Star state, but it’s also the live music capital of the world, thanks in large part to the live PBS concert series Austin City Limits and the South by Southwest music festival, a now-industry staple. The city prides itself on art culture, embracing countless music, film, and street festivals annually, with most taking place throughout the Warehouse and Sixth Street entertainment districts. Despite several major corporations headquartered in the Austin, such as Whole Foods and Dell, the city maintains a decidedly alternative vibe, perfect for travelers in search of a different kind of Texas.
The Omni Austin Downtown is a popular spot for business travelers, but it’s within easy walking distance of Sixth Street and has an attractive rooftop pool and bar overlooking the city for guests looking for a late-night scene. But real hipsters choose the W Austin, which is also downtown and boasts a lively rooftop pool scene, but has much more stylish decor and trendy, on-site attractions like the Living Room bar, which, of course, has a vinyl library.
Top Driving Tip: Get some great BBQ eats on the drive to Austin, specifically in Elgin, just east of the Texas capital.
Charlotte to Charleston, South Carolina
Total Driving Time: 3 hours, 40 minutes
Distance Covered: 209 miles
Take This Trip If: You’re searching for some good ‘ole Southern charm.
If Charlotte is the “New South,” Charleston must be the “Old South.” It’s no wonder why some of the most popular romance novels — Dear John, The Notebook, The Last Song — have been set in or near the city of Charleston. Between the horse-drawn carriages, the colorful gardens, and the historic architecture, Charleston exudes old-world charm. Plus, the city’s height restriction ordinance has kept the downtown skyline relatively low, giving Charleston a small-town vibe. Its streets are ideal for walking, and almost always move at a quiet, relaxed pace.
If you’re aiming for the ultimate historic experience, the Jasmine House Inn is the perfect choice. Housed in a beautifully renovated mansion dating to 1843, the Inn’s 12 rooms have all the charm of a B&B and the comforts of an upscale hotel, plus great freebies such as continental breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres. For a more budget-conscious option, stay at the Hampton Inn Historic District. It has a perfectly nice outdoor pool and a cozy lobby with plenty of seating and a fireplace to cozy up next to with someone you love.
Top Driving Tip: It’s nearly an hour out of the way, but many road-trippers like to swing by Congaree National Park on their way down to Charleston by switching over to US-601 after hitting Columbia. The park features scenic rivers for canoeing, as well as beautiful plant growth.
NYC to Lake Placid, N.Y.
Total Driving Time: 5 hours, 15 minutes
Distance Covered: 288 miles
Take This Trip If: You’re looking for something besides the beach — and want to get into the Olympic spirit a bit early this summer.
The host city of the 1980 Winter Olympics, Lake Placid is a winter sports lover’s paradise. However, summer is its busiest season — the town is a haven for outdoor sports nuts, with tons of hiking, biking, and boating options. And despite the fact that it’s in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains, the compact downtown center has a surprisingly diverse offering of restaurants. But don’t let the name “Lake Placid” fool you; the actual lake is a couple miles away. Instead, the village of Lake Placid lies on the shores of Mirror Lake, one of the most stunning in all of the Adirondacks. And, there’s free trolley service that rolls alongside the lake for easy transportation.
High Peaks Resort, which features four pools (two outdoors), has a secluded vibe, yet is only four blocks from the Olympic Center. The posh guest rooms overlook Mirror Lake — do not forget to catch at least one sunrise — and those looking to bliss out have the Aveda Concept Spa at their fingertips. Spend less, but still have a great stay at the Best Western Adirondack Inn — while there’s no restaurant on site and decor is seriously dated, the prices can’t be beat, and its downtown location makes the town’s nearby restaurants quite accessible.
Top Driving Tip: Getting to Lake Placid often means passing through parts of the High Peaks Wilderness, a preserve named after the cluster of 46 densely forested mountains that define the look of the area. However, resist the urge to stop at every one of the many scenic overlooks en route, otherwise the trip may take too long—and take a toll on your body.
San Francisco to Yosemite, Calif.
Total Driving Time: 3 hours, 50 minutes
Distance Covered: 200 miles
Take This Trip If: You’ve spent too much time in the city and need some fresh air.
Known for its stunning sites, breathtaking beauty, and protected nature, Yosemite National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most flocked-to destinations in the United States. With incredible granite cliffs, clean steams, giant sequoia forests, and waterfalls, this national park is a outdoorsman’s dream. But hiking around the park isn’t your only way of seeing Yosemite — you can rock climb, too. (Well we would be too scared, but perhaps you’re not.)
Most visitors stay in the Yosemite Valley area for a typical “Yosemite” experience, and no lodging option proves to be more opulent than a stay at The Ahwahnee, which offers amazing views of nearby summits to go along with its rustic-luxe decor. Or, save a few bucks and book a room at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls — it too has a prime location, but at a fraction of the Ahwahnee’s nightly rate. Plus, the Lodge offers free shuttles to other areas of the Valley should you want to explore behind the hotel area’s confines.
Top Driving Tip: While many locals would suggest taking Route 41, we recommend taking Route 580 (the MacArthur Freeway) to Northern Yosemite Highway (120) to shave about a half-hour off your driving time.
Phoenix to Sedona, Ariz.
Total Driving Time: 2 hours, 6 minutes
Distance Covered: 117 miles
Take This Trip If: You’re seeking a New Age experience (that happens to have world-class vistas, too).
With its iconic red-rock backdrop and spiritually-charged locale, Sedona is an other-worldly paradise for earthbound explorers. The city is practically ensconced by endless hiking trails, and has four vortexes, which are natural energy fields said to possess mystical powers. In addition to having these unique geographic qualities, Sedona is also a blossoming cultural center, filled with eclectic local galleries and Native American crafts and inspiration.
For an indulgent experience, check out the Sedona Rouge Hotel and Spa. The property boasts incredible red rock views from the fire pit on the observation deck, as well as the private, in-room balconies. But the hotel’s real draw is the lavish spa, with treatments inspired by the vortexes and daily outdoor yoga classes. For a no-frills yet family-friendly stay, the Bell Rock Inn is a great budget option that still has the scenery and amenities necessary for a proper Sedona experience. The inn has two heated pools, a BBQ and picnic area, and an outdoor playground for kids, all with the same magnificent views of the rocks.
Top Driving Tip: Jerome, a 30-mile detour on the trip to Sedona, is about 45 miles outside of your final destination. Past the Old West ruins, this legendary ghost town is actually home a thriving winery owned and operated by Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan.
Tampa to Jacksonville, Fla.
Total Driving Time: 3 hours, 50 minutes
Distance Covered: 226 miles
Take This Trip If: You’re looking to hit the links (and maybe the shops).
With a lively arts scene, a great downtown district, and some of the country’s best golf courses, Jacksonville is a hidden gem located in Northern Florida. But since the weather is a bit crisper upstate (winters are too cold to play on the sand), the conditions make for ideal golf weather—and with a less-crowded beach scene, this once underrated seaside city has become a vibrant spot, with a NFL team to boot.
Those seeking a luxury experience should head straight to the One Ocean Resort Hotel & Spa. Situated directly on a clean, white-sand beach, this resort has a fantastic on-site spa (great for girls’ weekends or couples’ vacations), contemporary decor, and bathrooms with double shower heads. Save a bundle and book a space at the Holiday Inn Express Jacksonville Beach, a value hotel that offers awesome freebies like Wi-Fi, breakfast, and self-parking. Rooms are clean, the pool is chill, and the prices are great. And although you’re just a few minutes drive from the beach, that won’t matter—you’ve got the whip with you.
Top Driving Tip: While taking I-75N is faster, we recommend sticking it out an extra 15 minutes or so in the car. Take I-4E to I-95; you’ll pass right through Orlando— and maybe stop for a few roller coaster rides.