America’s 10 most beautiful coastal drives
Monday, May 08, 2017
Road trips are rewarding for many reasons, but nothing enhances the experience like the scenic splendor revealed on a drive along a shore-hugging highway.
To be sure, America is blessed with plenty of coastline. According to World by Map, the U.S. ranks ninth in the world for coastline length at 19,924 miles. From the rugged coasts of Maine and Oregon to the island-hopping Overseas Highway leading from Miami to Key West, you'll find an abundance of memorable vistas along our 10 favorite U.S. coastal routes.
Hana Highway, Maui, Hawaii
The Hana Highway in Maui, Hawaii, provides spectacular coastal views.
Buckle up for one of the most thrilling and spectacular coastal drives anywhere in the world as you steer the 52 twisting miles of HI 360 from Paia to Hana. You'll pass through flourishing rainforests and wind past gushing waterfalls and dramatic seascapes as you navigate 620 curves and 59 one-lane bridges on the way to the old Hawaiian town of Hana.
Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1), California
The best part of Highway 1 winds for roughly 90 cliff-lined miles through Big Sur between Carmel and Hearst Castle.
One of America's most iconic roads, PCH hugs the Pacific from San Francisco to Los Angeles — but the best part of it winds for roughly 90 cliff-lined miles through Big Sur between Carmel and Hearst Castle. It's a remote stretch of redwood-and-fog-trimmed waterfront with nary a town, shopping center or fast food outlet in sight. This is, quite simply, a magical and unforgettable drive.
U.S. 101, Florence to Bandon, Oregon
U.S. 101 features stunning views along the Oregon coast.
Although the entire 363 miles of Oregon coast from the Columbia River to the California border makes for a spectacular drive, our favorite section lies along a 72-mile stretch between Florence and Bandon.
More than just picturesque, this parcel of coastline features a number of attractions, including Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in the nation; historic Umpqua Lighthouse; and the lovely formal garden at Shore Acres State Park near Coos Bay. Scenery is at its striking best around Bandon with its sea cliffs and offshore rock formations.
Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Padre Island National Seashore is favored by outdoor enthusiasts for its camping, windsurfing and fishing.
This national seashore occupies North Padre Island on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Stretching for 70 miles, it is the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world, hosting a variety of pristine beach, dune and tidal flat environments.
Low-lying and largely primitive, Padre possesses a subtle rather than striking beauty — although sunsets here can be dramatic. It is favored by outdoor enthusiasts for its camping, windsurfing and fishing and by nature lovers for its exceptional bird-watching opportunities. All but four miles of the beach is open to vehicle traffic — best undertaken with four-wheel-drive.
Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan
The Mission Point Lighthouse on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula was built 1870.
Scenic route M-37 runs for 19 miles from Traverse City along Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula. Views of Grand Traverse Bay and a succession of fruit orchards and vineyards make it hard to keep your eyes on the road.
The drive leads to the Mission Point Lighthouse, a still-functioning light that is open for tours. For a modest $4 fee you can climb to the top for panoramic views of the bay and Lake Michigan.
Acadia National Park Loop Road, Maine
Acadia National Park Loop Road samples the best of Maine's famously rugged coastline.
Sample the best of Maine's famously rugged coastline on a 27-mile loop drive through stunning Acadia National Park. Situated on Mount Desert Island, the drive threads through mountains, forests, lakes and along a rocky coastline.
The route features several observation points for photos and, once you finish the loop, there are at least a dozen restaurants in nearby Bar Harbor serving fresh Maine lobster and other seafood dishes.
Cape Cod Scenic Drive, Massachusetts
The view over Provincetown, Massachusetts, toward East Harbor.
For some quintessential New England landscape, there's no better choice than the 63-mile scenic route along the south shore of Cape Cod Bay from Eastham along Cape Cod National Seashore to Provincetown. Natural wonders coupled with myriad activities such as hiking, picnicking, biking, birding, surfing, fishing, museum-going and dining make this a drive for every taste and special interest.
Highlights along the way include Sandwich Historical Museum, Crocker Tavern, Nauset Beach and Light, Marconi Beach and Station Site, Old Harbor Life Saving Station, and Three Sisters Lighthouse.
Cape May County Ocean Drive, New Jersey
Cape May is home to more than 600 mostly Victorian-style buildings.
This busy route from Cape May to Strathmere on the New Jersey coast hops along a string of barrier islands off the Jersey shore. It is marked by signs urging visitors to "Follow the Gull" from one island to the next.
You'll want to take time out on your drive to visit Cape May. One of America's first seaside resorts, it was (and still is) a favorite spot for summer vacationers from Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore. Much of the town is registered as a National Historic District comprised of more than 600 mostly Victorian-style buildings.
State Road 30A, Florida
Villas along Rosemary Beach on State Road 30A in Florida.
One of the Sunshine State's most popular tourist routes, scenic Highway 30A is a 24-mile corridor that hugs the Gulf of Mexico coastline in Northwest Florida's Walton County. Along this eye-pleasing drive, you'll see mile after mile of sugar-white sand beaches, sea oat-covered dunes, saltwater marshes and rare freshwater coastal dune lakes.
Be sure to stop at Eden State Garden in Point Washington State Park to stroll through a forest of centuries-old live oaks. Beyond its natural aspects, 30A is home to a string of eclectic beach communities noted for their distinctive architecture — ranging from Old Florida Traditional as seen in Grayton Beach and Seagrove, to the New Urbanism of Seaside.
Overseas Highway, Florida
Aerial photo of the road and brigdes along the Overseas Highway to Key West, Florida.
Not exactly a coastal highway, this 113-mile extension of Florida Highway 1, fondly known as the "Highway That Goes to Sea," links the mainland to Key West by way of 42 bridges. It's an All American Road offering dazzling panoramic views of an aquamarine sea, but the route is all about the pit stops along the way.
Make your first stop in Key Largo for some prime snorkeling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and next in Islamoradawhere skilled fishing guides can help you hook a bonefish or tarpon. A legendary lobster Reuben sandwich at Keys Fisheries in Marathon will get you ready for a hike and photo ops at the famous Seven Mile Bridge. Finally, brace yourself for krazy, kitschy Key West with a Corona and conch fritters at No Name Pub on Big Pine Key.
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