A road trip down the Atlantic Coast will take you from very early historic towns, like Plymouth in Massachusetts and Newport in Rhode Island, through the hustle and bustle of New York City, down Maryland's Chesapeake Bay to Virginia Beach and North Carolina's Outer Banks. From there, you'll pass through the gorgeous, sleepy hamlet of Savannah, Georgia and down to America's oldest city, St. Augustine Florida. Then it's an oceanside cruise along the Space Coast to vibrant Miami Beach, and you can finish off your trip in colorful Key West. It could be the trip of a lifetime, if you know where to find the can't-miss spots along the route. Sure, you could take I-95 all the way from Boston to Miami, but there are loads of detours and scenic byways that will take you on and off the highway. From Boston to Key West, you're looking at 2,400 miles of beaches, woodlands, two-lane country roads, vintage diners, charming small towns and urban adventures.
Beginning in Massachusetts, walk through history along the Revolutionary Freedom Trail in Boston. You'll want to plan at least half a day to accomplish the trail. It's 2 and a half miles long and takes about 2-3 hours to walk. Plus, you're definitely going to want to stop at a lot of the historic sites. While in Boston, there's also loads of great places to grab a bite to eat, but the best place is historic Faneuil Hall, where dozens of local merchants have food stands, so you can take your pick of the best that Boston has to offer. If you have time, and you're traveling with kids, the New England Aquarium and the Science Museum are two must-visits in the city.
From Boston, head south to historic Plymouth and experience the harsh reality of 17th century life at Plimoth Plantation. It's a great way to learn about the life and times of America's earliest European settlers. The plantation is "a living history museum," showcasing the original 1627 English settlement. All the colonists you see walking around are actors who will answer your questions authentically in character.
The entire East Coast is dotted with beautiful lighthouses, and one of the best is the Montauk Lighthouse Museum in East Hampton. There's also the nearby beach town of Cape May in New Jersey, which is home to another stunning historic lighthouse, the Cape May Lighthouse, built in 1859. But, the charming seaside hamlet of Cape May alone is worth a detour.
Once you reach Maryland, visit the 41,000+ acre Assateague Island National Seashore, where you can go for a long walk on the beach and see wild horses playing in the ocean. The seashore is also a wildlife refuge for wild ponies, and you can camp on the beach with them!
A short drive south of DC is the historic Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, where many military historians argue was the site of the Civil War's bloodiest climax. Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania are known collectively as "America's Battleground." The park itself is impeccably maintained and incredibly rich with information on the pivotal battles that occurred there.
When you want to stretch your legs, pull over at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. This is a must-stop along Cape Hatteras National Seashore, most especially for bird-lovers! There's 13 miles of seashore land to explore and tons to do, besides bird watching. It's a very peaceful and relaxing wildlife refuge, and a great stop along an Atlantic Coast road trip.
While stopping at Rodanthe, check out the Inn at Rodanthe, a whimsical and beautiful inn that almost fell into the ocean. When the beach house, which was nicknamed "Serendipity," was first built, there were more than 400-feet between it and the ocean. Those 400 feet kept the Serendipity safe from the crashing waves, rocks, erosion, and anything else that could possibly threaten to topple it into the ocean. Now it's moved to a safer location, but still makes for an impressive photo op, or you can rent it out for a holiday.
Since this is a road trip focused on features of the Atlantic Coast, one last lighthouse that's absolutely worth a visit is the striking black and white-striped Bodie Island Lighthouse, in Nags Head, in North Carolina's Outer Banks, which offers tours and climbs (but, be warned, it's also rumored to be haunted).
As you head deeper south, and if you're on I-95, you're going to start seeing some peculiar and kitschy billboards advertising a place called "South Of The Border" in South Carolina. This place is every bit as quirky and cheesy as the billboards suggest. But, kids seem to enjoy it, and it's right off the highway so it's pretty easy to hop off and check it out.
For a quieter stop, there's Savannah, Georgia, just down the road. This gorgeous historic town features an absolutely breathtaking public park, Forsyth Park, loads of restaurants and cute places to spend the night, a town further south with a similar feel is St. Augustine, the oldest town in America, and one of the most charming places in the country.
Just seventeen miles from Savannah's vibrant downtown is Tybee Island. A great place to stay on the island is Tybee Island Inn, which is just a four minute walk to the beach. There's also a gorgeous garden to walk through onsite. There are only seven rooms, but each is decorated with a nautical theme, and there's free wifi. TIP: Request an upgrade to a room with a private deck and whirlpool tub. Breakfast is free and so is parking.
Once you reach Florida, you're in the home stretch of your Atlantic Coast road trip. Definitely, plan on stopping at St. Augustine, and if you're hungry, The Gourmet Hut is the perfect spot, right in the historic downtown, off Cuna Street. Plan to hang out in the garden with a fantastic cup of coffee, a great mimosa, and a perfect eggs Benedict.
As you drive down Florida's Space Coast, check out the Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour in Titusville, it will seriously make you wish you became an astronaut. Only an hour outside Orlando, it's easily accessible and is a wonderful hands-on educational experience for everyone in the family.
When you want to soak up some of the Florida sun, head to John U. Lloyd Beach State Park in Dania Beach, FL. This is an underrated beach, but a great stop for your Atlantic Coast road trip. Here you can picnic, canoe, swim, fish or boat through Port Everglades, between mangroves and palm trees. There's an admission fee of $6 per car. If you boat, jet ski, or kayak, you can pull your boat right up to Whiskey Creek. There's some small reefs that you can snorkel to. Overall it's a great park for families. And there's very conveniently-located bathrooms.
Next up is Miami! In Miami's South Beach Art Deco District you'll find the world's largest concentration of 1920s and 1930s historic architecture. It's an absolute pleasure to just walk around and gawk at the gorgeous buildings, which have been loving restored and preserved. Plus, the beach is just across the street, and there's tons of places to eat along this stretch. Be prepared if you're driving that it's very busy in this area and you'll mostly be driving 10-20 mph through, which is cool if you're traveling with someone who can take photos of everything, since you're driving slow enough through.
Best Time to Travel the Atlantic Coast: During winter the road conditions can vary, but in the Northern part of your trip be prepared for weather delays from December through mid-March. Spring is off-season, so you should be able to score some good rates at hotels along the route. Summer is high tourist season all up and down the Atlantic coast, which means hotel rates will be high and crowds at stops along your route will also be a factor. Fall however, is an ideal time to travel up and down the coast. Not only is the fall foliage particularly gorgeous from end of September through early November in New England, but once you get down to Georgia and Florida the temperature up north will be chilly, so you'll welcome the warmth of the south.