Special Report

America's Most Beautiful Seaside Road Trips

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The phrase “road trip” has a particular resonance to those eager to embrace an adventure that’s long on possibility and limited only by time and how much gasoline you can afford. That’s especially true these days, when we’ve been cooped up at home for almost two years and even now may be reluctant to face a crowded airport or plane.

For many Americans, a road trip has long meant a drive along some of the nation’s most spectacular coastal routes. Though visitors flock to the national parks, majestic mountains, verdant forests, and soothing streams, no getaway quite fires the imagination as much as a seaside journey. (We still love our national parks, of course. These were the most visited U.S. national parks in 2020.)

To compile a list of some of North America’s most beautiful seaside road trips, 24/7 Tempo consulted numerous travel websites and guides, assembling a shortlist of 50 highly recommended itineraries, then narrowing down the selection to 22 based on their visual appeal.

Click here to see America’s most beautiful seaside driving routes

Our list includes trips in expected places, like California, Oregon, and Hawaii, as well as some in states you wouldn’t associate with escapist jaunts, like Illinois and Texas. Some excursions follow famous routes, like 17-Mile Drive in Northern California, or travel along seaside roads such as those in Oregon, which were deliberately designed to provide motorists with better ocean views and greater access to the beaches. (Don’t take our beaches for granted. These are 30 American beaches that may soon disappear.)

Other drives on our list are less well-known, and the stunning vistas they can provide might be coincidental. But all are well worth considering when a road trip beckons. Here they are, in no particular order.

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Hana Highway
> Location: Maui, Hawaii

Hana Highway is also known as the Road to Hana, which may sound like an old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movie. The twisting and turning 52-mile highway on the island of Maui features any number of hairpin turns, one-lane bridges, and blind spots. The payoff is enjoying the spectacular geography and flora and fauna.

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17-Mile Drive
> Location: California

This drive on the Monterey Peninsula includes Pebble Beach, the site of one of America’s great golf courses. Motorists can spy seals gamboling in the surf, dramatic cliffs, and the famous lone cypress tree. The cost for driving the highway is $10.75 per car.

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Cabot Trail
> Location: Nova Scotia, Canada

Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia was named after the explorer John Cabot, who came to Canada in 1497 under English sail. The 185-mile road wends past sleepy fishing villages and rewards the traveler with memorable vistas.

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Padre Island National Seashore
> Location: Texas

Padre Island National Seashore, near Corpus Christi, takes you through a mostly undeveloped stretch of Texas. The 66-mile expanse is popular with campers.

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Pacific Coast Highway
> Location: California

When you think of seaside driving trips, this one tops the list. Building for the iconic road began in the 1930s, and Pacific Coast Highway — or PCH — now covers about 600 miles of California coastal glory, running from Mendocino County to south of Los Angeles, a span highlighted by redwood trees, waterfalls, dramatic bluffs, and pristine beaches.

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Overseas Highway
> Location: Florida

As the name says, this roadway covers 113 miles of Florida, almost all of it surrounded on two sides by water, from up-all-night Miami down to the funky redoubt of Key West. Besides driving through the Keys, travelers can spot tiny coral and limestone islands enroute. Traveling over the Seven Mile Bridge between Knight’s Key and Little Duck Key will make you feel like you’re flying.

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Golden Isles
> Location: Georgia

The 100-mile drive in Georgia takes you through the state’s four barrier islands and across marshland with trees garlanded with Spanish moss.

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Seward Highway
> Location: Alaska

This 127-mile long road is named after the man who championed the purchase of the territory by the United States in 1867. The highway stretches from Seward to Anchorage, taking you through the expanse of the Kenai Peninsula and past the base of the Chugach Mountains and the shore of Turnagain Arm. Beluga whales, Dall sheep, and eagles are common sights.

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Route 6A
> Location: Massachusetts

One of America’s most scenic routes, skirting the Atlantic Ocean between Cape Cod and Provincetown, is also one of the country’s oldest. Also known as Old King’s Highway and originally a Native American trail, the road takes you past old stone walls, cemeteries, and antique shops.

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Lake Shore Drive
> Location: Chicago, Illinois

Lake Shore Drive is considered the best urban drive of its kind in America. On one side is Lake Michigan and its beaches, and on the other is the looming wall of modern-day Chicago skyscrapers.

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Cape Perpetua
> Location: Oregon

This part of US 101 skirts a stretch of Oregon’s coastline that is thick with forest. Some portions afford the traveler unimpeded views of the Pacific Ocean, and one leg of the scenic drive takes you through Siuslaw National Forest. Another feature of the route is the Cape Perpetua Day Use area, the highest accessible point along the Oregon Coast.

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Carolina Beach
> Location: North Carolina

Most seaside drives mean the motorist views the shoreland from afar. At Carolina Beach, you can literally drive down onto the sand. Carolina Beach is definitely 4×4 territory, though, and you need a permit to drive on the beach.

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Point Reyes National Seashore
> Location: California

This drive starts north of San Francisco, on the Shoreline Highway through Stinson Beach. The road hugs the coast and provides lots of life-savoring photo opportunities. The trip takes you into the San Andreas Fault zone and the Olema Valley Trail. There are many picturesque, below-the-radar towns with quaint restaurants and B&Bs.

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Crater Lake West Rim Drive
> Location: Oregon

A different but no less spectacular motoring experience is the Crater Lake West Rim Drive, a delight for amateur geologists. The lake was formed from a violent seismic episode almost 8,000 years ago. The 33-mile journey provides about 30 views of the lake, forests, waterfalls, and other landscape features.

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Highway 101
> Location: Oregon

Cape Perpetua isn’t the only part of US 101 in Oregon worth driving. The highway extends the length of the state’s coastline, from the Columbia River to the California border. It crosses through forests of Oswald West State Park and across the well-known Depression-era McCullough bridges.

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California’s North Coast
> Location: California

Another of California’s great shoreline drives puts you on a portion of Highway 1 north of San Francisco, a rugged anxiety-ridden stretch of road that winds through Mendocino County. Among the points of interest are Point Arena Lighthouse, the Russian River, Bodega Bay (where the film “The Birds” was shot), Bolinas Lagoon, Fort Ross, and Tomales Bay.

Highway 399
> Location: Florida

Over on Florida’s west side is Highway 399, which takes drivers out of Pensacola and across the state’s Panhandle. The 22-mile road offers the driver views of sand dunes and plenty of opportunity to take in the Gulf of Mexico.

Delmarva Peninsula
> Location: Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia

The Delmarva Peninsula includes three states, though most of the region is within Delaware. The drive starts in Annapolis, Maryland, and winds its way through wetlands and sleepy beach towns. It is also a bird-watcher’s paradise.

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Old Mission Peninsula
> Location: Michigan

The Old Mission Peninsula is a 19-mile drive that starts outside of Traverse City. Along the way are wineries and cherry orchards.

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Olympic Peninsula Loop
> Location: Washington

As the name indicates, Olympic Peninsula Loop encircles the Olympic National Park, which has about 300 miles of mountains, rain forests, and waterfalls. The route starts at the Washington state capital of Olympia and darts between the park and the Pacific Coast.

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Park Loop Road
> Location: Maine

Another drive in Maine is the Park Loop Road at Acadia National Park. The thoroughfare is 20 miles long and brings visitors around the eastern of the park’s Mount Desert Island. There are a number of stunning overlooks.

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