Why do we road trip on spring break? Because A: Those plane tickets to Machu Picchu were expensive (next year, man!). And B: Because we want to eat our way through various cities on one long haul without ever having to step foot in an airport security line. Also, road trip snacks. But if you think you’ve covered the road-and-foodie-vaca thing before (we’ve been up PCH before, okay!) think again. Below, we’ve put together some of the best underrated, food-forward road trip itineraries meant to take care of all your culinary wants and needs. Also they’ll make everyone else drool with FOMO after scoping your Instagram.
The Route: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to Burlington, Vermont
Start in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, at Bird-in-Hand restaurant and bakery where you’ll order classic Pennsylvania Dutch dishes like slow-cooked pork roast with sauerkraut, warm apple dumplings, and shoofly pie (that’s a gooey molasses cake baked in a pie crust). To sleep off your meal (or meals), stay in one of the several Bird-in-Hand Family Inns or really get into the Dutch countryside mood and opt for a farm bed and breakfast like Verdant View, which enlists guests to pitch in with morning chores like collecting eggs and milking cows.
From there, drive north through the Tioga State Forest onto the Finger Lakes region of New York, just five hours away. Serious riesling fans should visit Konstantin Frank vineyard on Keuka Lake. For a snack, Standing Stone on Seneca Lake has tastings with cheese pairings. If you have a designated driver, spend the night in Ithaca, where you can glamp at Firelight Camps or treat yourself to a luxurious night at the William Henry Miller Inn. That’ll put you in prime position to grab a bite at the famous Ithaca Farmers Market the next day (check their calendar for schedules and location), or attempt to get a seat at Moosewood Restaurant, a legendary vegetarian spot.
End your road trip in Burlington, Vermont, for some of the best cheese, beer, and maple syrup in the East (not to mention spring skiing). When you get hungry, head to Penny Cluse Café for thick gingerbread pancakes that are served all day, or drop by ArtsRiot, a restaurant-bar-event space that’s always humming. If you’re up for a short forty-minute drive to nearby Stowe, visit the Alchemist Brewery, home of the cult favorite Heady Topper double IPA, or tour the Nebraska Knoll Sugar Farm to see how maple syrup is tapped.
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The Route: New Orleans, Louisiana, to Louisville, Kentucky
Right about now New Orleans has its best weather—mid-70s from April through May, perfect for downing obligatory beignets from Cafe Du Monde and po-boys from Parkway Bakery. At some point, try to snag the famous fried bologna sandwich at Turkey and the Wolf, or tuck into a baleada, a Honduran burrito that resembles a gigantic quesadilla, at Los Catrachos. Spend the night at Hotel Monteleone, a fancy old school hotel right in the heart of the French Quarter, or at the hip Ace Hotel nearby.
From there, plunge into the best of soul food territory. For a taste of old-school Mississippi, drive about three hours north to Weidmann’s, a restaurant in Meridian that’s been around since 1870. Order fried green tomatoes, crawfish diablo, and (obviously) the black bottom pie before continuing on to Birmingham, Alabama.
Don’t go to bed without getting barbecue at Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q or Saw’s BBQ though, two of the most respected names in the business. It’s hard to go wrong at either place, but the barbecue pork sandwich at Bob Sykes and the smoked chicken at Saw’s are some of their signature dishes.
Next on the agenda is Nashville, Tennessee, about three hours away. Make a beeline for Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, the original site of the phenomenon that is hot chicken, Nashville’s infamously spicy but addicting dish. Depending on how much time you have, stay for another day and explore the city. Catch a live band (or two or three) at Rob’s Western World.
Or finish up your trip in Louisville, Kentucky, home of bourbon and the Kentucky Derby. Head to The Brown Hotel for an original Hot Brown, an open-faced turkey sandwich drowned in Mornay sauce, a cheesy bechamel. After you check out the Kentucky Derby Museum or the Louisville Slugger Museum, end the day with a tour of the Evan Williams Bourbon distillery.
The Route: Quad Cities to Cleveland, Ohio
Our route begins in the Quad Cities, a group of five cities in Iowa and Illinois on either side of the Mississippi River. Seek out Quad City-style pizza at Frank’s Pizza or Harris Pizza, two of the oldest places in the game, and become a convert to pizza cut into strips, with gooey layers of mozzarella blanketing the toppings. Afterwards, smell the roses at Vander Veer Botanical Park or grab dessert at the beloved Whitey’s Ice Cream.
Head about three hours northeast to Madison, Wisconsin, for the night. For dinner, splurge on the tasting menu at James Beard Award-winning L’Etoile, which highlights local ingredients like Badger Flame beets, artisan cheese, and even a few Wisconsin red wines. Sleep it all off at Buckingham Inn, which also offers free passes for BCycle, the city’s bike-share, for guests who want to bike along the Lakeshore Path.
Next, head to Chicago, and check out Pilsen for art walks on the second Friday of each month. You’ll also find some of the city’s best Mexican restaurants here, like 5 Rabanitos or Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan Restaurant, which specializes in goat meat. Or visit Devon, Chicago’s “Little India,” for chili chicken biryani and paratha sandwiches at Ghareeb Nawaz. At night, get a drink at popular tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash or hang out at Revolution Brewing, a taproom and brewpub with complimentary tours.
For the last leg of the trip, spend time in the underdog city of Cleveland, Ohio (with a stop at Cedar Point on the way, for roller coaster fans). Catch dinner at one of celebrity chef Michael Symon’s restaurants like Lola Bistro, or pop into microbrewery Great Lakes Brewing for a beer with your Polish pierogies and bratwurst.
The Route: Las Vegas, Nevada, to Denver, Colorado
Most travelers like to go between Las Vegas and Phoenix to maximize time spent in the great outdoors. However, if you want more of a balance between hiking and good food, consider extending your trip and journeying between Las Vegas and Denver instead.
To fuel up, indulge in a classically extravagant fashion at Joël Robuchon in the MGM Grand, where you’ll sip Champagne alongside courses like caviar, lobster, sea urchin, and foie gras. Or get a little bit of everything at Block 16 Food Hall, a Chowhound pick for most Instagrammable dining spot in Vegas. If you’re lucky enough to get a password, cap off your night at the speakeasy at Commonwealth.
From there, take a few days to bask in Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, two of the most iconic parks in the country. For easy lodging, stay at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon, a gorgeous set of cabins and suites, or pitch a tent at one of two campgrounds in the park. Food isn’t really the point out here, but if you’re willing to drive four hours into Utah, you’ll come across Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm in Boulder, a James Beard-honored restaurant that’s nearly self-sustained.
From there, you’re only a few hours from Moab, where you’ll find more natural wonders in Arches and Canyonland National Parks. Refuel between hiking, rafting, and biking with excellent burgers from Milt’s Stop and Eat, the town’s oldest restaurant. Stay the night (or two) at one of the lodges nearby, or continue driving to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and sink your weary muscles into the world’s largest hot springs pool at the aptly-named Glenwood Hot Springs Pool. For something different come dinnertime, get excellent Indian and Nepalese food at Nepal Restaurant. Order the momos, keema naan (stuffed with ground lamb), and saag paneer for a hearty, comforting meal.
From Glenwood Springs, it’s only around a three hour drive to Denver. If you’re feeling adventurous, seek out the region’s iconic Rocky Mountain Oysters (i.e. deep fried bull testicles) at The Buckhorn Exchange. Or, get Latin American dim sum at Super Mega Bien, a fun, hip restaurant complete with dim sum carts and their take on Peking duck, glazed with chipotle-honey and served with flour gorditas. To get the most of the live music, art galleries, breweries, and other amenities quickly propelling Denver to the top of next-big-city lists, stay at The ART, a Hotel, or The Stanley Hotel, a “haunted” venue that inspired Stephen King’s novel “The Shining.”
The route: Sedona, Arizona, to Dallas, Texas
Maybe you’re not much for hiking or national parks, or maybe you’ve been-there-done-that. If so, plot a route between Sedona, Arizona, and Dallas, Texas, for plenty of beautiful scenery and burgeoning food scenes.
Sedona is best-known for its popularity amongst mystics and meditators looking for an upscale retreat from daily life. For the full spa treatment, stay at Mii Amo, a luxury resort with guided meditations, aura readings, and hot stone massages. If you’d rather forge your own path though, a cabin with Briar Patch Inn might be the way to go. Stop by the Cowboy Club for classic Western fare like cactus fries and elk chops, or at Latin-inspired Mariposa for incredible views of the rocks.
Next on your route will be Santa Fe, New Mexico, around six hours east. Along the way, pass through Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert, which both have gorgeous overlooks if you don’t have time to hike. Once there, take a few days in Santa Fe to explore. Fans of “Game of Thrones” will want to pay a visit to Jean Cocteau Cinema, the single screen theater owned by George R. R. Martin.
As for food, New Mexico is all about the green chile—you’ll find it in cocktails, stews, and sauces. But the must-eat format is adorning a thick cheeseburger. Two of the bests are at Shake Foundation and Second Street Brewery (though we won’t tell if you decide to have a third). For a gorgeous, mosaic-decked room to rest your head, get a room at The Inn of The Five Graces.
You’ll be well-rested for the eight hour drive to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. On the way, you’ll pass through Tucamcari, New Mexico, a legendary stop for road trippers in the West, and Amarillo, Texas, known for its public art installation of half-buried Cadillacs called Cadillac Ranch. In Oklahoma, make a beeline for Nonesuch, a gorgeous restaurant with a seasonal tasting menu that “Bon Appetit” named as its best new restaurant in 2018. Beer enthusiasts should also pay a visit to Prairie Artisan Ales, a local brewery known across the country for their imperial stouts.
Dallas, Texas, a short three hours from Oklahoma City, is your last stop. Since you’re in Texas, you need brisket, and you need fried chicken. Get exemplary versions of both at The Slow Bone, which also offers miraculously good sides like a brussels sprouts and cauliflower gratin. If you prefer your brisket in taco form, head to Mia’s Tex-Mex. Afterwards, tour the Sixth Floor Museum, dedicated to former president John F. Kennedy.
The route: Berkeley/Oakland, California, to Orcas Island, Washington
California’s Route 1 is one of the most famous road trip routes in American history, but there’s more to the region than just California. If wildfire conditions allow, shake things up by traveling from San Francisco to the Orcas Island in Washington (and even take your car on the ferry!).
If it’s your first time in San Francisco, seek out Mister Jiu’s, a modern Chinese-American restaurant with dishes like wild mushroom bao and toasted rice congee. Otherwise plan on eating at Chez Panisse, Alice Water’s famed restaurant in Berkeley, or eat at Dyafa in Oakland, a rising star of modern Arabic dishes. At the latter, order mana’eesh, a zaatar-seasoned flatbread, and a vegetarian maklouba, a sort of casserole built with rice and vegetables. Rest up in one of the unique Airbnbs in Oakland, which range from cottages and cabins to yachts and caravans.
En route to Bend, Oregon, stop to see the famed redwood forests in northern California or the country’s deepest lake at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. Since Bend is nearly nine hours from the Bay Area, break up your drive by staying in one of the lodgings or campgrounds in either park (most of the redwood lodgings are west, by the coast).
Once you reach Bend, embark on a tour of its many breweries. Deschutes is one of the most well-known, but Silver Moon Brewing and Crux Fermentation Project (which also has a tasting room) should be on your list too. At Crux, chow down on excellent cheese boards, stuffed dates, and pretzels, or seek out the famed ocean roll at Sparrow Bakery, essentially a cardamom-take on a cinnamon roll.
Drive three hours north to Portland and book a tiny house for the night with Caravan. For activities, visit an upscale weed dispensary like Nectar, get chocolate- and chile-infused beer at Ex Novo Brewing, or wander through the flagship Powell’s Books. Since Portland is serious about coffee, get your buzz on in the morning at the original Stumptown Coffee Roasters, or have Egyptian coffee and pastries at Tov, a bus-turned-cafe.
That should give you plenty of energy for the three hours-ish drive to Seattle, Washington. If it’s your first time in the city, head straight to Pike Place Fish Market and watch the fishmongers toss fish orders back and forth. Get a bun at Piroshky, Piroshky and a cup of seafood bisque at Pike Place Chowder. For veterans of Seattle, head to Stateside for Vietnamese fusion or Marination Ma Kai for Mexican-Korean fusion instead.
Alternatively, for an Oprah-approved mini-trip, take the ferry to Orcas Island, the biggest of the San Juan Islands. There, you’ll find a mini oasis of parks and farmland. Book a cabin or glamp in Moran State Park, and spend a blissful day or two kayaking, hiking, and sailing. For meals, take advantage of local farms like Buck Bay Shellfish Farm for fresh seafood and produce.
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