The United States is a big country and planning a USA road trip can seem a bit overwhelming, even for people like us who once lived in the states. However, rather than one giant road trip USA, we have broken our tour of America into small segments. Whether it’s big cities or small towns, road trips or single destinations, on each visit to the states we explore somewhere new.
Our road trip USA highlights
Table of contents
- 1 Our road trip USA highlights
- 2 USA adventure: highlights of the west
- 3 USA adventure: midwest
- 4 USA adventure: south
- 5 USA adventure: northeast
- 6 Road Trip USA Driving Tips
- 7 More USA Adventure Tips
- 8 Please Share
- 9 Will we see you during our next USA Adventure?
This page is segmented via the US Census Bureau statistical regions. With each of the regions, we highlight our favourite destinations and road trips. Between us, we have lived in all four regions at one time in our lives.
USA adventure: highlights of the west
Both the Pacific (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington) and Mountain (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) regions are classified in the west by the US Census Bureau.
Wilderness, nature, stunning landscapes, and a more relaxed lifestyle characterise the areas we most like to visit in the west. We tend to visit the west more than anywhere else, as Los Angeles is our port of entry coming from our home in New Zealand. Plus, we lived in San Francisco for over 15 years.
Located on Puget Sound, Seattle is a big city with a small town feel. If you visit from mid-May to mid-October you will likely spot orca whales in the sound, although many people travel to San Juan Island. ⇒ Click here for a map of the best spots for whale watching.
Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and Chihuly Garden and Glass are amongst the must-sees in Seattle. And, if you are an aviation fan, you will want to visit the Museum of Flight or take a tour of the Boeing factory.
Seattle is listed first on this page as it was the starting point of a west coast USA road trip that took us to San Francisco, mostly driving along the coastal highway.
Our Oregon road trip is one of my best USA adventure memories. You can read the full itinerary here. This is the segment on the map just above that runs from Astoria to Brookings.
Nature treated us to blowholes, wild waves, coastal forest, birdlife, and sea lions. If you enjoy endless sea views alternating from the clifftop to beachside, this is probably the best USA road trip to pick. It is the most spectacular drive we have done in the USA.
San Francisco, California
As we continued down the coast from Oregon, our California road trip took us through the redwood forests. Looking up at some of the world’s tallest trees is an almost overwhelming experience. Then, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and entered a city close to my heart.
The iconic steep streets, cable cars, and sea lions are ingrained in the city’s culture. Add the aroma of freshly baked sourdough bread, fresh catch fish on the menu, and a world-renowned Irish coffee and San Francisco can’t be beat. It’s my number one destination pick for any USA adventure.
Los Angeles, California
If you haven’t visited the USA in a few years, you may feel that your time in LAX was enough of a California adventure. After our last visit, we feel different. Our airport experience was efficient and easy, as was getting our rental car. As Los Angeles is our primary port of entry into the United States, we have taken several different road trips from LA over the years to San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and San Diego.
We have also spent time enjoying the city. Being embarrassingly star-struck, we took a studio tour, visited Madame Tussauds Hollywood, and explored Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Phoenix is a lush, green desert city that wastes water like nowhere I have seen before. Fountains flow, and sprinklers keep the grass green, but the cactus-covered desert on the outskirts of town is where I prefer to spend my time. That is, unless I am headed to the Musical Instrument Museum. Home to the largest collection of musical instruments in the world, it is well worth a visit.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Our road trip from Phoenix took us to Los Angeles, stopping first in Joshua Tree Park National Park just in time to watch the sunset over the unusual trees. Had our Arizona road trip headed north, we would have visited Sedona and the Grand Canyon.
Utah’s National Parks
Home of the “Big Five” US national parks (Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands), Utah is the place for stunning great American adventures. So many of our travel blogging friends have been to Utah; however, it remains on our travel wish list.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Bright lights and big city, Las Vegas is quite different from many of the nature-based travels we typically enjoy. A city that never sleeps, its strip is filled with one massive casino after the next. Each is more of a resort than just offering a place to rest your head. In addition to the casino, there are themed restaurants, first-class entertainment, swimming pools, spas, and extensive shopping.
Las Vegas is not the place to go for a relaxing trip in the USA. However, Vegas adventures aren’t usually filled with the drama seen in the movies, but it has the potential for it. Popular road trips from Vegas include Hoover Dam or an opportunity to shoot a machine gun just over the Arizona border.
Alaska (Denali, Anchorage, and cruising the interior passage)
Quite a bit off the beaten path, Alaska is a destination on its own. It’s like nowhere else we have been. Lush and green in the summer, but too cold for my taste in the winter, it’s an outdoor paradise. We took the train to Denali, the national park that is home to Mt. McKinley, the tallest peak in North America.
One of the easiest ways to enjoy Alaska is to cruise the interior passage. We sailed out of Anchorage (Whittier) with ports in Hoonah, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Vancouver Canada. See our itinerary and best tips for cruising Alaska.
USA adventure: midwest
The US census divides the midwest into the east north central (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin) and the west north central (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) divisions.
Characterized by farmland and industry, the midwest is an accumulation of small towns, each with its own personality. It’s also home to Chicago, America’s third largest city.
Born and raised in Chicago, I have a deep affection for the city, although it has changed quite a bit since I last lived there. Each visit to Chicago is like seeing it new. It’s exciting, colourful, active, and familiar. Highlights of Chicago include several world-class art and science museums, two former ‘world’s tallest’ skyscrapers, and Chicago-style pizza.
As most of our other favourite places to visit are on the coasts, we generally fly to Chicago. Although, our most recent visit was a massive road trip from Southern Florida. We took six days to allow us time to enjoy St. Augustine Florida, Atlanta Georgia, Nashville Tennessee, and Louisville Kentucky before arriving in Chicago.
USA adventure: south
The US census divides the south into three divisions: the South Atlantic (Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia, and West Virginia); east south central (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee); and, west south central (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas).
Charming and colonial are the words that come to mind when I think of the south. Road trips here involve an old world charm and southern hospitality at its best. It’s also home to Washington DC, the nation’s capital city.
Delray Beach, Florida
Situated along the Atlantic coast between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Delray Beach isn’t often on the tourist path. In fact, if we didn’t have family here we may never have discovered it amongst so many interesting Atlantic Coast towns. With its modern and redeveloped downtown area filled with boutiques shops and quirky cafes just off the beach, there is plenty of ways to relax.
Additionally, it’s the wildlife that keeps me interested in Delray Beach. It is home to two free refuge areas offering boardwalks that keep visitors safe from the alligators while enjoying the abundant birdlife. Be sure to include a stop at Wakodahatchee Wetlands if you are doing an east coast Florida road trip.
St. Augustine, Florida
America’s Oldest City is filled with mystery. Stories of hauntings, hangings, and battles, it is also where I drank from Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth. A very touristy city, there are entrance fees for just about everything we did. However, it’s good fun at every turn.
Our visit to the country music capital is one of my favourite unplanned road trips in America. After our plans to drive up the eastern seaboard were disrupted by a cyclone, we switched directions and headed from Flordia to Chicago (see map above). Nashville provided two days of non-stop musical fun.
USA adventure: northeast
The US census divides the northeast into New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) and the Mid-Atlantic (New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) divisions.
The founding regions in the United States, the northeast has an elegance and excitement about it. I think of a faster-paced lifestyle, but it really depends on where you are.
New England Fall Foliage
The fresh aroma of autumn coupled with the nature’s rainbow of coloured leaves is unmistakable. There are only a few weeks a year to capture the true magic, but if you can get to New England during that time you will be rewarded.
New York City
Driving from Washington DC to Manhattan was an interesting road trip. New York city traffic caught us by surprise after travelling at the limit on the approach. We returned the car and like our previous trips to New York explored via foot or public transit.
The largest city in the United States, New York has so much to offer and we hit all the major highlights: the Statue of Liberty, the Met, Central Park, Empire State Building, Stock Exchange, the Memorial at Ground Zero and, of course, Times Square at night.
Road Trip USA Driving Tips
- Traffic laws fluctuate between the states. As a result, the rules can be confusing.
- International visitors must have a valid driver’s license from their own country to drive in the states. In addition, some states also require an International Driving Permit (IDP). Contact the motor vehicle department of each state you will drive in for its requirements.
- American’s drive on the right side of the road, the steering wheel is on the left.
- The USA is a litigious society. I wouldn’t drive a car in the states without carrying liability insurance. If you don’t already have auto insurance, you can get it when you rent your vehicle.
- We have been super happy getting cars from Rentalcars.com. As an aggregator, they present prices from and ratings of local car rental companies. It makes it easy to compare and choose the right car for your American road trip.
- One thing is certain, on a USA road trip there are plenty of restaurants and cafes along the way. However, we always seem to be hungry during those rare hours when there are none. Therefore, we always carry some road trip food.
More USA Adventure Tips
- Non-USA citizens often require a visa obtained in advance. Check here to see entry visa requirements.
- Just about any visit involving the US medical system is outrageously expensive. We don’t set foot into the USA with travel insurance that includes medical coverage. You never know what is going to happen when you travel. As a family, we have had to visit emergency rooms in Argentina, Bonaire, Germany, Samoa, and the USA. ⇒ Click here to get a travel insurance quote from World Nomads ⇐
- If you love pets or plants and are planning to stay in any destination for more than a couple of days, check out the options of becoming a house sitter.
- Travel light. You won’t regret it. If you need help figuring out what to bring, we will send you a copy of our packing light checklist when you sign up for our mailing list.
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Will we see you during our next USA Adventure?
Disclaimer: We worked with several of the local tourism boards, as well as many individual venues and hotels on much of our USA adventures featured on this page. We are frequently provided with complimentary or media rates on entrances, meals, transportation, and/or accommodations. However, we do not let this influence our writings. The opinions here are strictly our own.