I’m not going to deny it… I love a good drive. Sometimes the drive is the goal, and sometimes, it just so happens that our route to somewhere takes us somewhere amazing. Beautiful scenery, beautiful location… sometimes the company, or the music, or the way the tree limbs hang over the road are what makes for a good drive. Whatever the reasons, a good drive can be ethereal and transcendent… almost an out-of-body experience (though, make sure the “body” behind the wheel doesn’t get so caught up in the experience that they put safety in jeopardy).
So, I’m going to start a post (or many posts?) to share some of the best drives I’ve been on. The links will take you to a Google Map overview I’ve tried to tie in some good pubs and breweries where I could, but this is all about the journey.
1. Monterey, CA to Big Sur, CA on The 1
- My sister and her family lived in Monterey for a while, so when I was out visiting and she suggested we spend an afternoon driving down The 1 (California Coastal Highway), I jumped at the chance. It’s the most beautiful drive I’ve even been on. Thankfully, she did all the driving because I was too busy staring at the coast go by. On the way south, we stopped at Point Lobos State Park, as well. Very beautiful. We took a quick hike along the north shore of the point, then saw some otters and sea lions out amongst the rocks on the south shore. We continued the drive and pulled over on lots of pull-offs, especially the ones at the ends of Bixby Bridge. Very beautiful. We kept heading south until the road kind of cuts inland and starts following the Big Sur River (which is really just a big stream). It’s absolutely stunning, It smells like pine and cedar and fresh water. Redwoods and pines jutting up out of the gorge carved by the river. Stop at Big Sur Inn and have a bit and grab a beer in an adirondack chair set in the river. Amazing. Big Sur Bakery is great, as well, good sandwiches. Drive down to Pfeffier Beach to see some rock arches carved out by ocean waves.
2. Up-and-Down Squaw Mountain, near Denver, CO
- Drive west out of Denver on I-70 to Tommyknocker Brewery & Pub in Idaho Springs, CO. They have (or “had”… if it’s not on tap) a great black IPA. Grab lunch or just a couple beers and head out of town going south on Rt. 103. You basically follow Squaw Pass Road up and over Squaw Mountain… it’s a 11,000ft+ mountain in Arapaho National Forest on the eastern front range of the Rockies. There’s beautiful views from up there, so any chance you have to pull over and snap a few pics, don’t pass it up… you’ll get a few good views down to Denver once you get past Squaw Pass and begin the descent down the eastern side of the mountain. We did the drive in early Spring, so the road up to Mt. Evans (the highest paved road in the US, supposedly) was still closed for the winter, but from what I’ve read, it’s supposed to be an amazing trip up to the summit, as well. Also, you can hike to a fire lookout at the summit of Squaw Mountain, but, again, there was still a ton of snow up there so we didn’t make any side adventures… so Google that if it’s something you’re interested in.
3. I-40 over the TN/NC border
- This route my wife and me by surprise on a trip from St. Louis to the Outer Banks, NC. I Knew it would be pretty, but I had no idea it would be this awesome. Slaloming through the Smokey Mountain, following the Pigeon River… amazing… lots of rapids. It’s tight driving, as there are lots of trucks and the road seems pretty narrow. But, if you time it with sun-up, you could probably get ahead of most other vehicles and be treated to a magnificent view. You can stop at exit 451 on the Tennessee side and see (and take a couple steps) where the Appalachian Trail crosses under I-40, then over the Pigeon River. Finish up in Asheville, NC… the craft beer mecca of the east. Thirsty Monk was my favorite… they have a huge tap list and bottle selection, you won’t be disappointed.
4. Hatteras National Seashore to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
- This is a wonderful drive at sea-level between dune berms and dune grass… my wife and I experienced the drive on our honeymoon a few years ago. It can get *crazy* busy during tourist season, so if you want a peaceful drive, go during the late-fall or early spring. I highly recommend stopping at Coquina Beach… there’s a relocated shipwreck up in the dunes there. The Laura Barnes ran aground in fog in 1921 and the wreck was relocated to the public beach. The wooden hull of the ship is up in the dunes to the right of where the boardwalk from the parking lot meets the beach. It may not be visible (or only partially visible), though, depending on how the dunes shifted. If you have a wife, she’ll probably recognize the names of the towns you’re driving through from all those Nicholas Sparks books. But, the drive is awesome, and you can end up at one of the coolest lighthouses you’ll ever see.