Whether it’s a vacation to discover some of the nation’s rich history or to explore destinations previously enjoyed only from postcards, one of America’s favorite pastimes is to head out on a classic road trip. With a vast network of roads and highways along the coastline or into America’s heartland, travelers have a wealth of options to plan out the perfect itinerary. Yet only a select group of roads are designated as National Scenic Byways or All-American Roads, based upon a handful of characteristics, including cultural, historic, recreational and scenic. The following are five of America’s legendary drives, listed as National Scenic Byways or All-American Roads, to embark on a memorable journey.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Widely regarded as “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 picturesque miles through the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to North Carolina. Established to promote tourism during the Great Depression, the Parkway is owned and operated by the National Park Service and has been the most visited unit in the system for more than 50 years. The parkway traverses through several prominent points of interest, including the historic Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Chimney Rock State Park, Roanoke Mountain, George Washington National Forest, Mount Mitchell State Park and the Great Smoky Mountains. There are numerous spots for hiking, food and lodging, in addition to 15 visitor centers allowing travelers to stop, relax and enjoy the endless vistas along the parkway.
This fabled stretch of road spanning 2,448 miles between Chicago and Santa Monica is one of the original and most famous highways of the U.S. Highway System. Having been featured in its own television show and in fiction, film and music, Route 66 has achieved iconic status in American pop culture and further glamourized in the 2006 animated Disney film “Cars.” Although Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985, the highway often known as the Main Street of America, the People’s Road and the Mother Road remains a popular road trip filled with an abundance of quirky roadside attractions. Among the most familiar stops along the way include the 66 Drive-In in Missouri, Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park in Oklahoma, Cadillac Ranch in Texas, Wigwam Village Motel in Arizona and a handful of Route 66 museums. A classic road map and fragments of the legendary Route 66 can be found in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., as part of the “America on the Move” exhibit.
Florida Highway 1 to Key West
While U.S. Highway 1 runs 2,369 miles through New England, across the Carolinas, then into Georgia, the most thrilling portion of this legendary road is along the Florida coast to the southernmost point of the continental U.S. A trip from Miami Beach to Key West takes more than three hours, but this 127.5-mile stretch known as the Overseas Highway is simply unforgettable. The Florida Keys are an archipelago of more than 1,700 islands, comprised mainly of coral reefs. The word “keys” comes from the Spanish word “cayo” or small island. Famed American author Ernest Hemmingway called Key West his home and his former residence is now a museum and a designated U.S. National Historic Landmark. A popular attraction in Key West is a brightly colored buoy designating the southernmost portion of the continental U.S., just 90 miles from Cuba.
California Highway 1
California Highway 1 runs 655.8 miles along the rugged California coast from southern California’s Orange County to its northern terminus in Mendocino County, 180 miles beyond the Golden Gate. Also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1 is easily one of the most scenic and photographed highways in the country. The southern section between Dana Point and Malibu is filled with images of California beaches, sun worshipers and Hollywood celebrities, but even more impressive are the captivating views of Big Sur, where the grand Santa Lucia Mountains greet the Pacific Ocean in a symphonic display of natural beauty. Other points of interest include the strikingly beautiful Bixby Bridge, the community of Carmel with its world renowned cypress trees along 17 Mile Drive and azure blue waters, one of the few remaining seaside parks on the West Coast in Santa Cruz, challenging yet picturesque roads past Half Moon Bay and the redwoods of Point Reyes.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Lincoln Highway was America’s first paved transcontinental highway. Created under the leadership of Carl G. Fisher, owner of the nation’s first automobile dealership and a principal architect of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Lincoln Highway was the first national memorial dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln, predating the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. by nearly 10 years. The coast-to-coast route extends between New York City’s Times Square and Lincoln Park in San Francisco, a distance of 3,389 miles. Like Route 66, the Lincoln Highway has been presented in film, television, literature and music by notable American artists such as Woody Guthrie, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com.