America's Top Driving Vacations


Driving vacations are part of the American spirit. So pack of the car, load up the kids and hit the road to discover our beautiful country.

Driving vacations are part of the American spirit. So pack of the car, load up the kids and hit the road to discover our beautiful country.

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We love our cars and we love taking car trips. That’s part of the American spirit. It’s also the only affordable vacation these days for some. However, we do owe ourselves a vacation each year and driving there is sometimes half the fun. Perhaps this year you do not have the obligation of visiting relatives and this summer will be the time to drive through new-to-you scenery. Where to go?

How about considering the Pacific Coast Highway beginning in San Diego to as far north as Seattle? This would be an over 1,100-mile trip between these points plus the getting home.

Starting in San Diego you will head north to the Los Angeles area. You might even stop at Disneyland in Orange County if the kids are with you. In Los Angeles stay in or near Santa Monica in order to branch out and see the points of interest that appeal to you and the family. So much is here. Hollywood, the studios, TV shows, a zoo, fine museums and parks and much more. There are also interesting restaurants to dine in all over Southern California. Pick up the phone book and you’ll see what I mean.

Later, go north on Highway 101. On the way, stop at the Ronald Reagan Library, which is most interesting; the kids will enjoy walking through Air Force One. Yes, the 707 is there for viewing.

Perhaps a swim or two on the beaches at Santa Barbara will keep the kids quiet before moving on.

Continue north on Highway 101 past San Louis Obispo and stop at San Simeon, which was publisher William Randolph Hearst’s estate overlooking the Pacific. Several tours are available here and well worth the time. Don’t miss this, please. It will open your eyes to what was happening in his days of “rule.”

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Metro Services photo

Driving vacations are part of the American spirit. So pack of the car, load up the kids and hit the road to discover our beautiful country.

Farther north is Monterey Bay and the interesting points to see around here. Be sure to include the large aquarium while you are diving around. Also, don’t miss the small, but famous town of Carmel. Movie stars live here including Doris Day. The downtown area is fun to stroll through with very interesting shops.

Farther north is the San Francisco Bay area where you might choose to stop. Great restaurants are here among other interests. Take a Bay sightseeing tour or simply ride a ferry around to various points. You may even wish to tour Alcatraz Island, which once housed the worst prisoners in the United States.

When you have seen enough of the Bay area, continue north on Highway 101 through green valleys, past Santa Rosa to Eureka and beyond. You will drive through beautiful pine forests and the Redwoods and be photographing all the way.

If you stay on 101 into Oregon you will be on the old coast highway, which is not fast, but worth the time and effort to travel. The Oregon coast route is famous for its winding road; scenery beyond belief, with jagged cliffs; and interesting small towns. There are plenty of motels to stay the night. Take a raincoat and umbrella ... you may need them from here north.

You will pass the Sea Lion Caves just north of Florence and at Tillamook you can stop and purchase cheese then head inland to Portland.

Portland is a very enjoyable and interesting city loaded with lots to do and things to see. Consult a touring book to discover what might interest you and the family. You might stay in the downtown area for great dining opportunities and life along the Columbia River. You could even book a river sightseeing tour.

From Portland, continue north to Seattle where there is much to do and see. Be sure to have a dinner of salmon one night while in this beautiful and friendly city. Among the activities you might pursue: a day’s ferry ride through the San Juan Island group. You’ll never forget it.

There are various routes to take home and the ones you take will depend on how much time you have for travel.

After the Pacific Coast drive, one of my favorites is driving from Vancouver, B.C. into the Canadian Rockies. You will be photographing beautiful and thrilling scenery all the way. You can make a stop at Revelstoke National Park, which includes dense old-growth rainforest of giant cedar and pine. There are wonderful views of the ice-clad peaks of the Monashee and Selkirk Mountains. There are hiking trails and it’s a perfect birders paradise. In another day’s drive you will arrive in Jasper National Park. This should not be missed because it contains some of the most beautiful sights of the Canadian Rockies.

Now, after at least two or three nights in Jasper, head south to Banff and Lake Louise. You won’t find any more beautiful locations in North America than you will find in this region. Relax in the beauty of the area and photograph all you can.

You might even wish to fly to Vancouver from home and rent a car there to drive in Canada. It would save a lot of time.

How about the Death Valley Scenic Byway, split by the spectacular Sierra Nevada? California State Route 190 traverses the otherworldly landscape of Death Valley and, to the east, offers a memorable finish in the Sequoia National Forest.

How about driving the famous Route 66? It is now mostly Interstate 40 and runs through the middle of our vast country from the west to east.

The west Cascades Scenic Byway in the Northwest in Oregon provides peerless views of the Cascade Range and gorgeous Willamette Valley with grape vines galore.

A little more in-depth Cascades coverage would include the Volcanic Legacy Byway in Oregon and through an underrated swath of northern California. Copious must-see deviations abound, from Crater Lake to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, Tule Lake Refuge to Lava Beds National Park.

While visiting Washington State, consider including the Olympic Peninsula. Take Highway 101 in Seattle for a 330-mile loop around the area viewing dense forests, and I mean dense, picturesque shoreline, waterfalls and mountains. We did this two years ago and enjoyed every mile of travel. It may be rainy, but worth the time.

If you find yourself on the East Coast, why not U.S. Route 1? It runs from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West, Fla. you’ll see many historical sights, interesting towns and cities. Key West is only 90 miles to Havana. Cuba.

Before heading out be sure to get the automobile checked out and tires full of air. I recommend joining the AAA Auto Club. I use their maps and touring information with hotel and motel guides with phone numbers to book reservations while on the road. Their touring books also give you a lot of useful information regarding what not to miss in a given location.

Enjoy planning your summer driving vacation.

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