The quintessential cross country road trip might be Route 66, but there are so many other options off the beaten path.
The great forty-eight. America’s lower forty-eight states have so much to offer, so we can’t help but dream up a few amazing options for a cross country road trip. Whether you do a whole loop or just go from north to south, there are so many sites to see. I was a military kid growing up, and whenever we would move, which was often, we turned the move into a cross country road trip to experience as much of this nation as we could. I am super grateful for that experience, and I hope I can share just a few amazing sites with you for when you take your next cross country road trip. The following are two phenomenal cross country road trip options that can even be combined into one if you so desire.
The Magical West Coast
If you’re planning a cross country road trip, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Pacific Coast Highway. Highway 1 is regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, and you’ll quickly learn why. Winding around Southern California beaches to the Giant Sequoias and forests of Northern California, you can’t go wrong including this on your cross country road trip. The west coast has so much to offer, and so let’s dive into what you should see.
We’re going to start you off in sunny San Diego, where you should make sure to explore the food scene. Fuel yourself up for a day at the world-famous San Diego Zoo and take a walk around Balboa Park. Downtown has plenty to explore, from the delights of Little Italy to the Gaslamp Quarter. When you’re ready to hit the beach, drive north and choose between the family-friendly La Jolla beach or the regal Coronado Island. The latter has the infamous Hotel del Coronado, which is well worth a stay if you have it in the budget.
Santa Monica & Santa Barbara
Next up you’ll stop in Santa Monica in LA than Santa Barbara. Each city has something magical to offer. Santa Monica where Los Angeles goes to the beach, so you can get a taste of the city without going fully in. There are some phenomenal things to see and eat in the city, so you can spend as much or as little time as you’d like. Don’t delay too long, as you’ll be heading onward towards Santa Barbara. This city is rooted in Spanish culture, and the architecture is stunning. Red tile roofs and whitewashed courtyards line this place and make it the perfect place to stop for dinner. You can go on some ocean adventures or find some great bands playing here, so leave some time to explore.
Big Sur, San Francisco, & Redwood National Park
Buckle up for a longer stretch of road. But don’t fret, this is one of the most stunning From Santa Barbara to San Francisco you will pass through Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country, San Luis Obispo, and most importantly, Big Sur. Make sure to stretch your legs at either of the first two spots if you’re in need of some spectacular wine tastings or want to stroll the happiest small towns in the country. But, truly take your time when you’re twisting around the roads of Big Sur. The stunning cliffside sights, sunsets, and waterfalls beckon you to stay forever. There is plenty of hiking, camping, and beaching to be had.
But, when you arrive in San Francisco 350 miles later, I hope you’re ready for a grand old time. You’ll have sites like the Golden Gate Bridge, the Fisherman’s Wharf, and the pedestrian-friendly Maiden’s Lane. Rest up well because the next part of your cross country road trip has some of the most well-known spots in California.
We wouldn’t want you to miss out on one of the most stunning sites in all of California: Redwood National Park. Home to the Redwoods and just north of the Avenue of the Giants, it is a beautiful spot to spend a few days. Explore all that this great park has to offer before continuing on to Oregon and Washington.
The Pacific Northwest
The highway will wind you through wonderful small towns, eventually leading you to Portland if you’re willing to scoot inland for a short bit to this marvelous city. But, while you’re cruising along, check out Oregon’s best beaches. From seals to stunning rock formations, it will be hard to not stop at every single place you see something cool. But, push on, because Portland is full of wonderful things to do, as well as a plethora of great bars and restaurants.
Continuing north, you will cross into the beautiful state of Washington and get set in Olympic National Park. One of the most spectacular spots to visit in the state, you will enjoy whale watching, hiking, the rainforest, and a myriad of other things. But, make sure to explore all the state has to offer while you’re here. That includes taking advantage of the food and fun in Seattle before ending your cross country road trip. All in all, this west coast road trip is one of our favorite options if you have a week or two to spare.
The (Reverse) Oregon Trail
This next cross country road trip can be tacked on at the beginning or end of the Magical West Coast trip. Going from Portland to Cape Cod, you’ll experience the best parts of the north central states. This cross country road trip will add up to over 3,300 miles and give you a diverse experience incorporating so many different spots across America. As you start your drive east on Interstate 84, warm up to this cross country road trip at the Columbia River Gorge. Home to one of the most photographed waterfalls, you will be stunned by the raging waters and glorious sights. But, don’t stay long, as there is so much more awaiting you.
We’re not sending you here just because they have the best potatoes. Idaho is home to some of the most gorgeous natural beauty in the country, and it is still fairly discrete. You’ll travel through Boise and Twin Falls before reaching Yellowstone National Park. If you have the time, this is one of the best national parks to backpack. It will allow you to sneak away and see more remote parts of the park that most visitors don’t get to see. But, of course, if you just want to stop in for a day, Old Faithful will be there.
As you travel onward, you’ll end up in Wyoming. At the first thought, you might wonder what there is to do in this vast state. Well, it is another well-kept secret. The beauty that has tucked itself away in this central state is brilliant. So, make sure to seek out the best things to do outside, but also stop in Jackson Hole if skiing the Grand Tetons sounds enticing. Stopping in other towns, such as Lander, will make you want to settle down here for the long haul. Wyoming is filled with neighbors and scenery just asking you to stay a while.
The Stretch to Chicago
The next leg of your trip will be quite a doozy, so I hope you have a stellar cross country road trip playlist at the ready. But, you will get to see Mount Rushmore, because when else would you drive through South Dakota? Exactly. So, as you continue east on Interstate 90, stop in at Mount Rushmore to marvel at our presidents. Their four faces still stare out over the landscape today, having been carved in many, many years ago. When you’re ready to put the pedal to the metal, head onward through South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to Chicago.
You will have earned your deep dish pizza after making it this far on the cross country road trip. So, stop at one of the cities’ best bars to fuel up, then relax at any of the favorite hotels. Make sure to see the infamous Bean and enjoy the windy city. If you’re in town during the season, catching a Cubs game will an experience of a lifetime. The fans have quite a bit of pride. But, you’ll have to compare this city’s camaraderie with the next stop on our list: Buffalo, New York.
Ohio & New York
As you continue east, stop in Cleveland to enjoy a little bit of the Buckeye State. But, know your real destinations for this day of your cross country road trip are Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Buffalo, known as the City of Good Neighbors, is waiting to welcome you to their city, filled with diverse food, ample history, and the best underdog ambiance you could hope for. Head twenty minutes north to see Niagara Falls. We hope you have your passport because walking over to the Canadian side will give you a great view of the Horseshoe side, as well as let you see walk through the Butterfly Conservatory.
When you’re ready, hop on the 90 and drive through the Finger Lakes and on towards Albany and Boston. Your reward for exploring New York’s capital and the bustling metropolis of Boston will be the beaches of Cape Cod. As you finish out your cross country road trip, you can wind down soaking up the sun.
These two options for your next cross country road trip will lead you through some of the most majestic and spunky spots in America.
We hope that this has spurred your inner adventurer to fill up the tank and hit the road. If you have even more time, feel free to head north or south after your Cape Cod getaway. Spending time in Acadia National Park, or heading down the east coast both sound pretty darn good to us. So, your next cross country road trip is beckoning you out. Remember, life is short. So, go ahead and burn through that vacation time. It will be well worth it.
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