There’s nothing quite as liberating as getting out on the open road. You can swap the chaos of the city for the charm of a small town and view wide-open skies along a scenic highway. The great American road trip is like a national rite of passage; whether it’s the path to self-discovery you seek or just the thrill of adventure, there’s a freeway to take you there.
The best part is that you don’t necessarily have to take time off work to hit the trail either: Local towns beckon this weekend. No matter where you call home, there's a nearby destination just waiting to be explored. Ready to pack your weekender bag and hit the road? Here are 10 of the best mini road trip ideas to inspire your next weekend getaway.
Big Sur, from San Francisco
Driving along California’s Pacific Coast Highway up to Big Sur is probably the most iconic American road trip. Few trips are just as scenic in the car as out of it. Crossing the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge is a definite highlight; make sure you have your camera ready to snap the rugged cliffside and breathtaking ocean views. Once you reach your destination, there are plenty of state parks to explore, with great hiking, camping, and beachcombing opportunities.
For a cute bed-and-breakfast option, stay at Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, or if glamping is more your style, check into the Glen Oaks Big Sur Cabin. Campers can check out the Tree Bones Resort, which even has yurts and a sushi bar. When your stomach calls, drop into the Big Sur Bakery for coffee and pastries. But if it’s food with a view you’re after, you simply can’t miss Nepenthe. The restaurant even has a bar running along the side of the cliff so you can overlook the ocean.
Hudson Valley, from New York City
For New Yorkers looking for a spectacular road trip this fall, head north. Trade the grit and grime of the five boroughs for the spectacular autumnal colors of the Hudson Valley region. Extending 150 miles above the tip of Manhattan, you can trace your way down along the Hudson River and enjoy the natural beauty of this magnificent region. There are plenty of reasons to plan a mini road trip here, from hiking to apple picking, or to visit one of the many vineyards. Stay at the Mohonk Mountain House, which is more like a Victorian castle, with vine-covered walls and loads of old-world charm. You’ll feel like you’re in Europe.
Paso Robles, from Los Angeles
We can’t think of a better way to spend the weekend than sipping on a crisp glass of vino in California’s wine country. Located between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles is renowned for producing award-winning wines thanks to its unique climate of warm days and cool nights. There are 32,000 acres of vineyards to explore and more than 40 grape varieties, including Spanish, Italian, Bordeaux, and Rhône styles, as well as Paso Robles heritage variety zinfandel. Complete your stay at the iconic Hotel Cheval located in the heart of Paso Robles; then wake up early to explore the historic Hearst Castle, complete with gothic study, breathtaking indoor Roman pool with mosaic tiled patterns, and statues of Roman gods, goddesses, and heroes.
Pinetop, from Tempe
Pinetop is the perfect escape from the intense heat of the valley. Not only is it cooler, but it’s also an incredibly beautiful, quiet, scenic region that’s worth the three-hour drive. Located in Arizona’s Navajo County, Pinetop was founded in 1984, so it’s still relatively new, which makes it all the more charming.
Take a boat out on one of the many lakes for a spot of fishing, take a trail ride on horseback, dine at the scores of local restaurants, or hit up one of the local cowboy bars. The Lion’s Den always has a great live band on the weekends, and you can even play life-size Jenga out back. Take your trip to the next level and stay in one of the gorgeous log cabins.
Carlsbad Caverns, from Dallas
If a trip back in time is what you’re after, the Carlsbad Caverns are sure to quench your thirst. The world-famous limestone caverns are truly a sight to behold. There are even prehistoric ocean plants and animals fossilized in the rock from before the dinosaurs, when the southeastern corner of New Mexico looked like the Florida Keys. Once you’ve toured the caves, head out into the Carlsbad Caverns National Park with over 46,000 wild acres of incredible desert to explore. When your feet eventually give up, retire to the Trinity Hotel. Built in 1892, the hotel was restored to its former beauty in 2007 and features first-class dining and lodging.
Jekyll Island, from Jacksonville
This stunning enclave is part of the beautiful Golden Isles in Georgia that include St. Simons Island, Sea Island, and Cumberland Island, where wild horses roam. This beautiful region is just 40 minutes from Jacksonville, Florida, and it’s worth every minute of the drive. Dig your feet into the sand at the famous Driftwood Beach, which resembles a tree graveyard with large driftwood trees sprawled across the coastline. It’s become a popular destination for weddings. Don’t miss the Horton House ruins, which was once the house of Major William Horton. Constructed in 1743, the beautiful structure has been meticulously preserved and now stands as one of the oldest surviving buildings in the state.
Jackson, from New Orleans
This short drive inland is probably one of the most scenic you’ll ever take, making it one of the best mini road trip ideas. The spectacular views from your car window of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming will take your breath away, but try keeping your finger off the camera trigger during this trip. This has all the Wild West character you could want, complete with rustic wooden barns set against a backdrop of magnificent mountains. For the complete experience, drop into the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, if not for a drink, then for the largest collection of Western memorabilia, architecture, cowboy murals, animal mounts, and saddle barstools.
Taos, from Santa Fe
No matter what time of year, the sky in Taos, New Mexico, is always blue. The interesting architecture sets this destination apart, including the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church, made famous from the Georgia O’Keefe paintings. A mile north, you’ll find the 1000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site, Taos Pueblo. This significant landmark is still home to the Tiwa tribe of the Pueblos. Then take a break at the famous Taos Mesa Brewing, famous for its specialty craft beers, live music, and the best sunsets.
Key West, from Miami
If you had a place as cute as Key West around the corner, why wouldn’t you go for the weekend? This is one of the best Florida road trips, with the Atlantic Ocean to the left, the Gulf of Mexico to the right, and the awesome Seven Mile Bridge, which has to be driven across at least once in your lifetime. When you’ve had enough swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, and shopping, head over to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. This beautiful landmark is situated on a Civil War–era fort built to defend the nation’s southeastern coast. You can take a guided tour or just stroll through the ancient walls enjoying the patina of the fort walls.
Watch Hill, from Boston
If you’re looking for uninterrupted stretches of coastline, beautiful beaches, and history, look no further than Watch Hill, Rhode Island. (Sidenote: The affluent coastal village is also home to Taylor Swift.) If you do go, then you simply must stay at the Ocean House. The 1868 Victorian oceanfront hotel underwent a $146 million rebuild that doubled the windows and the light. Those looking for the ultimate indulgence should book Room 301, complete with ocean views, a soaking tub, and a blue-tiled fireplace.
This post was originally published on September 16, 2015, and has since been updated.