No Matter Where You Are In The U.S., These Road Trips Are Sure To Inspire The Whole Family
There are so many hidden gems within driving distance you might not know about.
2020 was the year of the road trip. While 2021 will hopefully be different in many ways — a new President, a vaccine, and turning the corner on the pandemic — traveling by car isn’t going away. Local, short haul trips that don’t require getting on an airplane are still popular, especially for families. Many parents (understandably) found taking their kids on a plane to be daunting before the global pandemic, so the road is how many families will be seeing the world for the time-being. We’ve curated, with the help of experts, family road trips that take you everywhere — from Birmingham, Alabama, the epicenter of the Civil Rights, to a California road trip that includes a stop for surf lessons to a five-star luxury itinerary to see the Grand Canyon to a drive along South Dakota’s most famous highway. Sometimes it’s about the journey and the destination.
San Francisco to Fresno (around 3 hours and 15 minutes)
Visit California is so committed to people traveling this year that they are putting on something called California Dream Dial on January 26th (National Plan Your Vacation Day). The free limited time hotline will connect callers with California travel experts. When we asked, they suggested the San Francisco to Frenso route, aka the Family Learning adventure. Start in San Francisco at the Exploratorium and end at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. According to the experts at Visit California, this road trip can be done in three to six days, and includes fun, educational stops, including The Tech Interactive in San Jose, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Gilroy Gardens.
Santa Barbara to San Diego (around 3 and half hours)
This recommendation also comes from the experts at Visit California. They suggest a family trip along the Pacific Coast Highway South (which is often overshadowed by its Northern route through Big Sur), for a three- to five-day trip spanning the picturesque architecture and dynamic food scene found in Santa Barbara to the sunny beaches and vibrant culture of San Diego. Family friendly stops along the way include the Channel Islands National Park, aptly named the “Galapagos of North America,” Santa Monica with its lively Pacific Pier, and Huntington Beach – the perfect place for the kids to take their first surf lesson.
San Diego to Seattle (around 20 hours)
This 20-hour drive is considered one of the most iconic and beautiful road trips in the world. It’s a bucket list trip that is going to require some time. This is not a "power through" kind of drive. If you push through the first day and drive the almost eight hours, you’ll end up in San Francisco. A good place to spend the night: Hyatt Centric Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco , a family friend property with spacious rooms and centrally located near the top the Golden Gate Bridge and the city’s historic network of cable cars. After you’ve recharged, gear up for another long day of driving (9 hours) to Portland and spend some time checking out their markets, parks, and vibrant food scene. After spending a night or two in Portland, drive the final leg—a mere three hours, give or take—to the Emerald City. Take everyone to Pike Place Market, on a ferry trip to one of the islands off of Seattle (Bainbridge is a great one), and to the botanical gardens. Maybe, though, ditch the car and fly home?
Las Vegas to The Grand Canyon (around 4 hours)
When luxury travel guru Melissa Biggs Bradley was trying to figure out where they should go on a family vacation in the midst of the global pandemic, her 22 year old daughter said “hiking and healing.” The Grand Canyon is what they all agreed on for the “wide open spaces and easy social distancing.” They started in Las Vegas and booked with Delta, which is still blocking middle seats, and planned on entering the Grand Canyon near Sedona, Arizona. Their first stop was Red Mountain Resort in Ivins, Utah, which Biggs Bradley says is “the best accommodation within driving distance of Zion and Bryce National Parks, “must-visits,” she says, “for hiking.” Then it was onto the Utah-Arizona border to stay at the ultra-luxe Camp Sarika, the new all-tent sister property to Amangiri in southern Utah. From there they went onto their final stop, Sedona, Arizona, to stay at Enchantment Resort in Sedona’s Boynton Canyon and their entry point into the Grand Canyon. The verdict? It’s a must-take bucket list trip.
Washington, D.C. to Allegany County (2 hours and 20 minutes)
For those looking to get out of Washington during COVID, the Western side of Maryland became a popular getaway because of its wide-open spaces for hiking, biking, and waterways for kayaking and canoeing. The area is also home to America’s first federally funded highway, making it nation’ first unofficial road trip. Allegany County is also accessible from Philadelphia and others part of the Mid-Atlantic.
Savannah, Georgia to Birmingham, Alabama (around 6 hours)
As the country continues our racial reckoning, every person could benefit from a visit to Birmingham, Alabama and the famed Civil Rights Institute. A trip to Birmingham is a good opportunity to explain Martin Luther King’s “letter from the Birmingham jail” to your children so MLK is remembered for more than Instagram quotes. But a stop in Birmingham doesn’t have to be all about the heavy history of that period, the largest city in Alabama has become known as “Magic City”—a moniker that came from its mix of being family-family, architecturally important, and a foodie hot spot. This month, new luxury property The Valley Hotel is opening just a mile from downtown.
New York City to Washington, D.C. (Around 4 hours)
For those looking for a trip brimming with history and a city that is a literal monument to democracy, this is the year to visit the Nation’s Capital. You can give architecture lessons, showing your kids neoclassical buildings (Jefferson Memorial, National Museum of Women in the Arts) and the Brutalists (L’Enfant Plaza and the Hirshhorn Museum). Remember that the 19 museums that make up the Smithsonian are free to enter. Washington now has a vibrant food scene and is staking out its place as a destination with great hotels. Opening in early 20201, The Banneker, named after Benjamin Banneker, is a 10-story euro-modern luxury boutique hotel set to open in early 2021.
Charleston, South Carolina to Chattanooga, Tenn. (around 6 and half hours)
Located in the rocky Tennessee River Gorge, Chattanooga is an ideal adventure town. There’s the Tennessee River, a bevy of Class IV-V rapids on the nearby Ocoee and Lookout Mountain. For a more urban experience, Chattanooga has record stores, a country music scene, and coffeehouses. On Lookout mountain, check out McLemore, a private, master-planned, mountaintop community featuring an 18-hole championship highlands course, 6-hole short course, a brand-new Clubhouse, world-class dining, stunning outdoor hiking and exploring options and a variety of standalone home rentals.
Denver to Aspen (around three and half hours)
This is a drive that is best done in the warmer months because of the windy roads that can become quite treacherous when it snows. (In fact, they close Independence Pass, one of the main arteries from Denver to Aspen because it’s a two-lane road at an elevation of over 12,000 feet that isn’t meant for slick road conditions.) But come the summer, this is a beautiful, albeit a bit of a white knuckle, drive through the mountains. Plus, June, July, and August are great times to visit Aspen. The humidity is low and there are enough activities to keep any family occupied for weeks, from hiking to fly-fishing to a multitude of cultural activities put on by the famed Aspen Institute. For those looking for more home-like accommodations, the Gant has one-to-four-bedroom condos with all the amenities of a luxury hotel. They’ve also partnered with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and more to thoughtfully create private experiences to explore the area.
Nashville, TN to Louisville, KY (around two and a half hours)
A fun family trip to a city that is spilling with sports history from Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory and Muhammad Ali Center. More for the adults, the city home to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center at the Frazier History Museum and offers an Urban Bourbon Trail with over 40 restaurants and bars to enjoy America’s native spirit. In other words, a little bit of something for everyone.
Philadelphia to St. Michael’s (around 2 hours)
A popular second home destination for the power set in Washington, D.C., this area has a cult following for a reason. Go to spend a day on Assateague Island (look for sightings of Wild Ponies) and discover the preserved land and nature trails of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. In St. Michael’s, you’ll find The Inn at Perry Cabin, a hidden gem situated on 26 acres of farmland along the Miles River Grounded. The Inn at Perry Cabin is also a great starting point to explore the underground railroad at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Church Creek, MD, located only about 45-minutes away from the resort. Continue your journey through history by hopping back in the car for a 15-minute drive to Cambridge, MD to discover more at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Conference Museum. While in Cambridge, also be sure to check out waterfowl sanctuary, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Miami to Key West (around four hours)
One of the most scenic drives in the nation is on the Overseas Highway which has over 42 bridges. (Fun game: see who can pay attention long enough to count all of them.) Roadtrippers who want to break up the trip in Islamorada can stop at the The Moorings Village, a beachfront villa community that has complimentary kayaks, paddleboards, and bikes. Don’t miss the Everglades Alligator Farm. Finish up at Mile Zero—also known as a no-passport required Caribbean vacation. Check out the The Reach Key West located on the island’s only natural sand beach where you can jet ski, attend sand sculpture workshops, book an oceanfront massages, or go deep-sea fishing.
New York City to Providence, Rhode Island (around three hours)
While Boston gets the limelight as the historic New England city, remember that Providence was founded in 1636 by renegade preacher Roger Williams, who was forced to flee Massachusetts because of religious persecution. If that doesn’t work as a good pitch for a road trip to Providence, lead with the fact that Rhode Island is the Ocean State and has over 400 miles of beaches and 15 state parks. (Many of those beaches can be done as a day or afternoon trip from Providence.) Make sure to check out the stunning and architecturally important Brown University campus. A real foodie town, no trip to Providence is complete with a meal at Al Forno, In August, Providence welcomed a hotel, The Beatrice. Don't miss The Avenue Concept's, a self-guided art walking tour through Providence.
Austin to Texas Hill Country (about 40 minutes)
Texas Hill Country is an excellent place to begin a scenic drive through the Lone Star state. Those who have done it advise going during peak wildflower season in March and April. Start out heading west by taking Highway 71 to Llano for views of bluebonnets along the roads. Under half an hour away, enjoy nearby Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, which while not an easy hike, the reward is one of the best views of the Texas Hill Country. Stop in Fredericksburg, a small historic German town known as the wine epicenter of Texas. Then drive the 15-mile Willow City Loop and enjoy views of cattle grazing alongside the road. For those looking to spend the night in the hills, Hoffman Haus is a luxury bed and breakfast housed in a collection of cottages and farmhouses, is a ten-minute walk from downtown Fredericksburg.
Minneapolis to Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, South Dakota (about 9 hours)
Named one of the ten most outstanding byways in America, the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway stretches 70 miles through the Black Hills of South Dakota. A masterpiece of artistic engineering, this byway includes spiraling bridges, hairpin curves, granite tunnels and awe-inspiring views. Shaped like a figure-8, the byway passes by iconic landmark Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and through Custer State Park, showing off the 1,300-strong bison herd, towering Cathedral Spires rock formations and aromatic ponderosa pine trees. Make sure to drive past the picturesque Sylvan Lake, regarded as crown jewel of Custer State Park. Then head to Crazy Horse Memorial, the ongoing mountain carving project designed to honor the Lakota Sioux people.