The Oregon coastal highway

Summer. With its long, sweltering days, a primal thirst starts building in most souls that only a trip to a body of water can quench.

While a local swimming pool could suffice, why stop there? Why not satiate the longing with a road trip that’s nothing short of epic. After all, when people ask what you did this summer, saying that you drove to the island where pirate Blackbeard met his end is far cooler than saying you hung out in your neighbor’s backyard.

Oregon Coast Highway 101

Start: Cannon Beach, OR

Located 80 miles west of Portland lies Cannon Beach, one of many sleepy coastal towns that dot the western edge of Oregon. From here, head south on Highway 101 and its hundreds of miles of asphalt that wind through scenic coastlines, national forests, state parks and wildlife refuges. But before you depart Cannon Beach, make sure to check out Haystack Rock, a 235-ft. tall igneous rock that sits off the beach and is accessible by foot during low tides.

Rest Stop: Tillamook Cheese Factory (4175 Hwy 101 N, Tillamook, OR) – Take a tour of the working cheese factory of the same name. Afterwards, stop by the Creamery Cafe that serves savory products featuring their curd (grilled cheese, anyone?) and the fudge and ice cream counter.

Scenic Highway 30A

Start: Panama City Beach, FL

For those of you desiring a destination with a tropical flavor, head south to Florida’s Panama City Beach. Scenic Highway 30A traces the Gulf of Mexico, offering relaxing views of shimmering white sand beaches lapped by warm turquoise waters. The aquatic features aren’t all oceanic, either. As you head west on Highway 30A, rare coastal dune lakes found elsewhere only in New Zealand, Australia and Madagascar, line the coastline.

These shallow bodies of water are unique because they are mostly freshwater habitats located adjacent to the sea, sometimes only feet apart. The dual environments offer contrasting views and an assortment of activities such as kayaking and canoeing, and the area is teeming with wildlife. Herons, egrets, white-tailed deer, foxes, coyotes and even sea turtles during the late spring and summer months can be spotted in this rich ecosystem. 

Rest Stop: Dee’s Hang Out (10440 Front Beach Rd Panama City Beach, FL) – Before you start your drive, load up at Dee’s Hang Out. Their shrimp po’ boy, fried seafood platter, raw oysters and other Cajun/Creole cuisine will more than get you going.

Outer Banks Scenic Byway

Start: Kitty Hawk, NC

Planes, ferries and automobiles, this route in North Carolina has them all. Start your journey east on U.S. Route 158 from Kitty Hawk with a stop in Kill Devil Hills, the sandy site where the Wright Brothers took motorized flight back in December 17, 1903. At the Whalebone Junction in Nags Head, turn left and head south on Highway 12 where you will travel more than 100 miles over sliver-thin barrier islands with sand dunes and wind-swept beaches.

At Hatteras, you have the option of continuing on via ferry or turning back. Should you decide to venture on, you can explore Ocracoke Island, an old pirate haven where the infamous Blackbeard was killed in a surprise attack. A second ferry trip awaits you at the end of Ocracoke that offers oversea passage to Cedar Island. From there, you’re only 13 miles to Highway 12’s terminus at Sealevel, NC. If you decide to take a ferry, it’s a good idea to reserve ahead of time online at http://www.ncdot.gov/ferry/. 

Rest Stop: The Hatterasman (57449 Nc 12 Hwy Hatteras, NC) – While pondering whether to ferry or not to ferry, grab a bite to eat at The Hatterasman. The local drive-in offers fish sandwiches, shrimp baskets and burgers, all at reasonable prices.

Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail

Start: Traverse City, MI

The sole non-oceanic drive of the group, what this route lacks in brine, it more than compensates with wine. Jutting 30 miles into Lake Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula and its steeper terrain and surrounding water boasts a mild climate ideal for vineyards. As such, more than two-dozen wineries and wine cellars call the region home.

Head north from Traverse City on M22 and it’s not just the agriculture that makes the area special - the view to the east offers striking views of the sparkling waters of the Great Lakes, while the left offers landscapes of serene rolling hills swathed in trees. If you plan on sampling the region’s various spirits, leave your car keys at home and let someone else do the driving. Several tours and limousine services are offered in the area:http://www.lpwines.com/touring/tours-limousines/.    

Rest Stop: The Garage Bar & Grill (108 Waukazoo St Northport, MI) – Before heading back south on the M22 from Northport, try the pulled pork at The Garage Bar & Grill.

Acadia National Park Loop Road, Maine

Start: Hulls Cove Visitor Center, Bar Harbor, ME

This loop takes you on a 27-mile lap of a section of the Acadia National Park, a 47,000-acre span of protected land that includes mountains, woodlands, lakes, islands and a spectacular shoreline. The latter is best seen on the southern part of the loop where the road takes you right up to the breathtaking panoramas of the rocky coast.

Beyond gorgeous vistas, the oldest National Park east of the Mississippi River offers a wealth of outdoor activities such as hiking, climbing, fishing, bicycling, boating and swimming. To access the natural wonders, park visitors are required to pay a nominal entrance fee (free days are offered on select holidays). Click for more info: http://www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/fees.htm

Rest Stop: Side Street Café (49 Rodick St Bar Harbor, ME) – This cozy restaurant in Bar Harbor is known for its lobster roll, mac and cheese, burgers and other hearty American fares.

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