It’s officially road trip season. Yay! So what are the best scenic road trips for a fantastic luxury family vacation in the U.S. this summer 2021? Whether you’re venturing out by car, camper, or luxury RV, we’ve got ideas. Our correspondent Julie Chang Murphy breaks down the perfect family road trips to take in the United States this summer.
best scenic road trips to take in the United States this Summer
The pandemic has re-introduced us to the almost forgotten pleasures of an old-fashioned road trip. Our friends at AAA report that “9 in 10 Memorial Day travelers will drive to their destinations, as many Americans continue to substitute road trips for travel via planes, trains and other modes of transportation.” Those trends are expected to continue throughout the summer and let’s face it — it’s a rite of passage for both kids and parents to deal with the dreaded phrase: “Are we there yet?”[white_box]
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This summer, with restrictions throughout the country lifting, we are doing a refresh of last summer’s road trip itineraries. Perhaps this is the summer to go a few more states further than you previously thought possible or meet vaccinated friends and family at a halfway point. Start making the perfect playlist and get ready to check off some boxes on your bucket list, dear reader. It’s officially road trip season! Here are some ideas to get you prepared and inspired.[white_box]
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how to prep to ensure a great luxury road trip this summer
The key to a successful road trip is all in the pre-planning. We love the image of hopping in a car and driving with the wind in our hair without a care in the world. But, in real life, that doesn’t usually work out too well. So first things first!
Our favorite tool for planning a road trip is Roadtrippers.com. The site is chockfull of itineraries where you can enter your starting and end points and the interactive map will populate accommodations, restaurants and attractions along your route. And definitely check out their guides which range from niche interests (driving through the filming locations of the cult movie ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ anyone?) to more popular ones centered around the National Parks.
the summer luxury road trip checklist
What else do you need for a road trip? A vehicle. If you already have something suitable, great. But if you need to level up for a long journey, check out Outdoorsy.com. The site is like the Airbnb of RVs. Depending on your needs, you can rent a camper van, trailer, classic C (motorhome for family of 4) or a luxurious class A (think tour bus.) Outdoorsy recognizes that there are many novices getting in on the road trip which is why they offer 24/7 unlimited roadside assistance and personal concierge services.
Aside from all the car and insurance paperwork, a successful road trip needs a touch of tech in this day and age. Here’s our checklist of must-haves:
1- Phone charge with USB cable (to stay connected.)
2- Portable battery charger (just in case.)
3- Download the Waze app if you haven’t already (its real time traffic updates can mean the difference between hungry and hangry passengers.)
3- Hands free phone mount (in case your co-pilot dozes off mid-direction.)
4- Bluetooth headphones (for when you need to drown out the “Are we there yets.”)
5- Portable speakers (for when you need to have an impromptu dance party while setting up the tent or to shake it out at a rest stop after a long stretch of driving.)[white_box]
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best scenic road trips to take in the United States this Summer
Here are a few of our favorite personally vetted itineraries. These trips are best if you have at least 3-5 days so that you can sightsee and have a day or two off from driving.
1. best scenic luxury summer road trips in the U.S.: New York to Acadia National Park, Maine
This road trip takes you through classic New England territory. You could travel along the coastal route and take in all the beaches but we think the best itinerary has room for the pleasures of Boston, one of our favorite cities. First stop out of New York City is Mystic, Connecticut, a picturesque, historic whaling town. Kids will love the aquarium there and the Seaport Museum where they can climb aboard a historic vessels. For a memorable meal, Bravo Bravo serves delicious, authentic Italian or of course, Mystic Pizza — the restaurant that inspired the 1988 movie starring Julia Roberts.
Next up, Boston! The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a gem. Walk the iconic Freedom Trail which takes you through 16 nationally significant historic sites. A stay at the elegant Eliot Hotel never disappoints. From there, a day or two in Portland is a must — get a lobster roll at High Roller Lobster Co, shop at Exchange Street, and lounge at the beach on the Eastern Promenade.
Drive along scenic route 1 to Bar Harbor. Get a scoop at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream or a tour and tasting at Atlantic Brewing Company. At your destination, Acadia National Park, hike or bike the 35,000 acres of trails or just take in the panoramic views of Frenchman’s Bay. Don’t forget to swim in Echo Lake on Mount Desert Island.
2. best scenic luxury summer road trips in the U.S.: Chicago to Nashville, Tennessee
Cars, caves and country music await along I-65. Out of Chicago, your first stop about 3 hours away is Indianapolis. It seems appropriate for road trippers to stop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the site of the Indy 500. You can even take a lap around the oval on a bus tour or in a golf cart. Get a full size sour cream coffee cake from Sahm’s to savor for breakfast the next few days.
Louisville is up next and can satisfy a variety of interests: baseball, bourbon, or horses. Learn how baseball bats are made at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. Spend the day at Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum and at night, sample spirits from Jim Beam and Evan Williams. Before you leave Kentucky, a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park is a must-see. It’s the longest cave system known to the world (405 miles!)
In Nashville, it’s all about music. There’s the Johnny Cash Museum and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Take in some live music at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. To sample all the southern favorites, hit up Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant for chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and cherry wood-smoked barbecue.[white_box]
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3. best scenic luxury summer road trips in the U.S.: Washington D.C. to Savannah, Georgia
It’s easy to get lost in history traveling down I-95. From D.C., visit the preserved historic village of Williamsburg, Virginia where costumed actors provide insight into colonial life along the streets, stores and workshops. Summer is not complete without a trip to an amusement park so indulge the kids (and your inner child) at Busch Gardens.
From here, you might be ready for some beach time and North Carolina’s Outer Banks would be the perfect spot to relax for a couple of days. Nags Head, Cape Hatteras, Kill Devil Hills, or Duck all offer laidback, family-friendly resorts. Check out the upscale Sanderling Resort for a more luxury experience.
Next up, the historic town center of Charleston is easy to walk around and admire the enchanting architecture, as well as remnants from the civil war. Kids would love a horse and carriage ride around its cobblestone streets. The Southern fare and boutique shopping is also top notch. Check out Zero George and our shopping guide here.
In Savannah, there is plenty for history buffs to love from the plantation tours to cemetery and ghost tours. Stay at The Gastonian, housed in two historic mansions, steps away from the elegant Forsyth Park.
4. best scenic luxury summer road trips in the U.S.: Los Angeles to Zion National Park, UT
This trip is full of Instagram-hits because of its otherworldly beauty. First stop out of LA, you have two options if you love eerie ghost towns: Calico Ghost Town Regional Park or Kelso Depot, both near or in the Mojave National Preserve.
From there, check out the Seven Magic Mountains art installation, located outside of Las Vegas designed by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. Vegas is open for business if that’s your thing and even if not, stop here for a decadent meal. There are so many to choose from! José Andrés’ Jaleo, Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace, Mizumi at The Wynn, to name a few.
In Utah, how can you say no to Mystic Hot Springs? Buy a pass and enjoy a soak in the mineral-rich waters while overlooking the breathtaking sunsets. You’ll need the rest because up next, Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, Coral Sand Dunes AND Zion National Park are all amazing hiking and camping experiences in Utah. For those who prefer glamping, check out Wildflower Zion Resort for luxe tents, covered wagons, and bungalows.
5. best scenic luxury summer road trips in the U.S.: Los Angeles to San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway
If you’re looking for an iconic and surprisingly easy road trip to take alone, as a couple, or with your entire young family in tow, think PCH. The Pacific Coast Highway features gorgeous scenery, lots of diversions and plenty of 5-star hotels for overnight stays.
You can start in either city, but we recommend beginning in LA. You can have a few days of glamourous fun there before you set out. Then its on to Malibu, where you can grab lunch by sea. Depending on how long a day you want to make it, we recommend an overnight in San Luis Episcopo.
Day 2 you’ll head north, and stop at Hearst Castle for a couple of hours on the way. Ideally, you’ll press on and spend the night at the gorgeous Inn at Spanish Bay. The nearby town of Monterrey is charming – and if you love aquariums, you have to see this one. Jellyfish for days!
By mid-day the third day, you’ll be in San Francisco. If you’re ready for a big city again, there are practically unlimited joys to be found here. But if nature still beckons, you can find that, too. And if you really want to stay off the grid for a while longer, head to the incredible Half Moon Bay and stay at the Ritz. Your California Dream will be utterly complete.
The best luxury road trips to take in the U.S. this Summer
Those are our destination picks and travel tips for the best scenic road trips for a fantastic luxury family vacation in the U.S. this summer 2021. Some hacks and ideas for a memorable adventure for all. Happy and safe travels wherever you decide to wander this summer!
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Crediting her training as a cultural anthropologist at Wellesley College, Julie has immersed herself in various industries in the last 15 years including fashion design, event planning, and fitness. Julie lives in New York where she loves trying every ramen and dumpling restaurant with her husband and three children. She finds joy in bold prints, biographies of fierce women, kickboxing. And spending way too long finding the perfect polish color to express her mood.