Cruisin’ — Top 14 Road Drives in the USA

By Paperbacklou

Not Road Trips — Road Drives.

Places to take a cruise in your car in the USA. Scenic routes. Historic routes. Famous main drags like the one in the film American Graffiti, which is actually 10th Street in Modesto, California (see below).

Here are the top Road Drives in the USA (add to the comments if we’ve missed one):

1. Route 1 to Stinson Beach, Near San Francisco

My favorite drive, which gets you to my favorite beach, in one of my favorite parts of the world. Take the Golden Gate Bridge out of San Francisco then Route 1 to Stinson Beach. You go through the Muir Woods and then wind and wind and wind and wind along the ocean until you come over that hill and see Stinson Beach below you.

Here’s a view from my rental car’s window of the trip back (beach to the right). I’ve previously written a full article on this drive on The Ignorant Traveler.

2. Manhattan

I was born in Brooklyn and have lived in NYC my whole life — either in Brooklyn or Staten Island. Driving in NYC is in my blood and I love driving aggressively in Manhattan. Toro toro taxi.

Driving in Manhattan is one of my favorite places to drive — it’s like a video game. Even finding a parking spot is part of the game’s challenge — especially these days with such a reduced number of spots due to the bike lanes and all the restaurants putting post-Covid hut extensions to their restaurants on the street.

Here’s a drive thru Manhattan one Saturday night with the radio on:

3. California 1 Between LA & San Francisco

THE romantic, scenic drive in the United States driving along the amazing California beaches.

It has a wikipedia page.

From San Fran, drive south through Monterey, with its amazing views and famous golf course (Pebble Beach), and then on to Big Sur — the famed California Beach area that novelist Jack Kerouak put on the map. Then drive on past San Simeon and the Hearst Castle, and then on to LA.

This is the one drive I long to take and haven’t taken yet (although I’ve driven Route 101 by Stinson Beach (see above) and Route 1 from San Francisco to Monterey, and Route 1 from LA up to Santa Monica).

Big Sur and Highway 1 conjures up the writing of Jack Kerouac, hitch hiking in his book “Big Sur” published in 1962:

“You can see what the Spaniards must’ve thought when they came around the bend in their magnificent sloopies and saw all that dreaming fatland beyond the seashore whitecap doormat — Like the land of gold — The old Monterey and Big Sur and Santa Cruz magic — so I confidently adjust my pack straps and start trudging down the road looking back over my shoulder to thumb.

This is the first time I’ve hitch hiked in years and I soon begin to see that things have changed in America, you cant get a ride any more (but of course especially on a strictly tourist road like this coast highway with no trucks or business) — Sleek long station wagon after wagon comes sleering by smoothly, all colors of the rainbow and pastel at that, pink, blue, white, the husband is in the driver’s seat with a long ridiculous vacationist hat with a long baseball visor making him look witless and idiot — Beside him sits wifey, the boss of America, wearing dark glasses and sneering, even if he wanted to pick me up or anybody up she wouldn’t let him — But in the two deep backseats are children, children, millions of children, all ages, they’re fighting and screaming over ice cream, they’re spilling vanilla all over the Tartan seatcovers — There’s no room anymore anyway for a hitch hiker, tho conceivably the poor bastard might be allowed to ride like a meek gunman or silent murderer in the very back platform of the wagon, but here no, alas! here is ten thousand racks of drycleaned and perfectly pressed suits and dresses of all sizes for the family to look like millionaires every time they stop at a roadside dive for bacon and eggs.”

4. Route 97 NY State

Often makes Top 10 lists of most scenic drives in the US — Route 97 that hugs the Delaware River on the New York side between Callicoon, NY down to Port Jervis, NY, with Pennsylvania on the other side.

Pass through Skinners Falls, Narrowsburg, and Barryville. The area sports river rafting, camp grounds, restaurants overlooking the river like the Crow’s Nest (just south of Barryville), hawks and Bald Eagles, rattlesnakes (my uncle was a NY State Trooper who was often called upon to shoot them back in the 60’s), and the old Erie Lackawanna railroad tracks that parallel it all the way down.

The area is an hour and a half’s drive north of NYC. I spent my summers growing up in a place nearby (Smallwood, NY) and my aunt and uncle lived in Narrowsburg so this area is like a second home to me. Here is a drive along Route 97:


5. FDR Drive At Night

There is no drive more spectacular than the FDR Drive at night — in Manhattan along the East River. The bright lights of the big city, and the river, with Brooklyn and Queens on the other side of the river.

The Empire State building all lit up, as is the Chrysler Building, and so many other amazing skyscrapers lit up in blues and other colors; the Brooklyn Bridge; the Manhattan Bridge; the Williamsburg Bridge; the Queensboro Bridge; the Roosevelt Island Tram — amazing views.

It also has a Wikipedia page.

At night traffic clears and you can cruise the FDR drive at full speed — but don’t go too fast or you’ll miss the spectacular views of the city and its river.

6. Route 66

The most famous route in the USA. Just hearing the name evokes desires to take a road trip.

It was THE route to take across the USA when people just started having cars in the 1930s through the 1950s, before the interstate highway system was built. There was a famous song (“Get Your Kicks on Route 66” in 1946). There was a famous TV series: “Route 66”. The towns that became neglected when the interstate highway system opened is the theme of the “Cars” animated movie series.

The Painted Desert as seen from Route 66 in Indian Wells, Arizona — just East of Flagstaff.

Route 66 of course has a Wikipedia page.

If you’ve driven Route 66 in Virginia from DC to West Virginia you have NOT driven the famous Route 66. That’s a different Route 66.

On the other hand — you may have driven on the famous Route 66 without knowing it — if you’ve rented a car in Chicago, or St Louis, or Oklahoma City, or Los Angeles. The famous Route 66 actually starts in Chicago and goes southwesterly to LA — going through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

Following Route 66 can be daunting, even on a map, as the road changes its name several times along its way — superseded by names like Purple Heart Trail and I-40 in Arizona. This map does a good job of tracking it.

Here is a great article on best places to travel along Route 66:

  1. Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas
  2. The Painted Desert in Indian Wells, Arizona
  3. The Milk Bottle Grocery in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  4. St Louis and the Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri
  5. Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum in Pontiac, Illinois

7. The Lincoln Highway

The first transcontinental road in the USA — taking one from NYC to San Francisco, California — the money to build it originally raised by Henry Bourne Joy, the CEO of Packard automobile company in 1913.

The Ignorant Traveler has a full article on the Lincoln Highway.

Also — here is a great piece of video on the inception of the Lincoln Highway — fast forwarded to the 8 minute, 30 second mark:

Packard CEO Henry Joy “realized that the United States, if it were to grow, needed a reliable highway system. This would also stimulate the auto business. The Lincoln Highway transformed the country: no longer would people be born, raised, and die within a 25 mile radius — the span of a horse and buggy ride. The world shrank as people ‘hit the road’.”

Driving the Lincoln Highway In It’s Day

Across the Continent by the Lincoln Highway” is a book written by Effie Price Gladding in 1914, detailing a trip she and her husband took across the United States on the Lincoln Highway from California to NYC. You can buy it online but DON’T — it is now free in the public domain and the one I purchased on Amazon did NOT come with Effie’s photographs, while the Free-for-Public-Domain version has the photos!

Driving the Lincoln Highway Today

There are many places to drive the Lincoln Highway today; I covered one in a writeup of The Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Pennsylvania — point #8 in this article.

Lincoln Highway today in Salt Lake City (also called Route 15 here).

There is of course a Wikipedia page for The Lincoln Highway, and many websites, including a Lincoln Highway Association.

In some areas out west, Route 66 and Lincoln Highway go right past each other — example see the picture below for Salt Lake City — where Route 66 is denoted by the red location marker, and Lincoln Highway is Route 15:

I Love Lucy — How Did they Get to California?

Fans of the I Love Lucy show will remember when Ricky and Lucy bought a new car and they and Fred and Ethel drove to California. The trip was covered in 4 episodes of the show.

The car was a brand new 1955 Pontiac Star Chief Convertible. According to fans on line who have tracked it:

  • The 1st day they drove from NYC to somewhere just outside Cincinnati. This no doubt means they took the Lincoln Highway (see map above).
  • The 2nd day they got lost and ended up in Bent Fork, Tennessee — a fictitious town. They would’ve had to have veered off the Lincoln Highway, and driven south through Kentucky to Tennessee — not properly getting to Route 66. Today Route 65 and Route 75 get you from Cincinnati to Tennessee.
  • The 3rd day (and episode) they reached Albuquerque, Ethel’s home town. To do this, they would have driven west from Tennessee and picked up Route 66 in Oklahoma.
  • The 4th day it was on to LA — again it had to be Route 66.

For diecast metal car collectors — there are two versions of the I Love Lucy 1955 Pontiac Star Chief Convertible made by Sun Star in 2015 — the first one includes Fred and Ethel in the backseat, and the second version which doesn’t! The second, later version represents a different road trip on the show and is labeled “Another Road Trip.” The first was put out in limited numbers and is near impossible to find. The later version is currently selling on eBay for $255, up from it’s initial $125 MSRP.


8. Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina & Tennessee

The legendary U.S. 129 whips up 318 tight curves in just 11 miles through the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s been the subject of several movies and TV shows, and lays claim to be the #1 one race car and motorcycle ride in the country for sheer exhilaration.

I have not driven this road yet but my friend Sami has with his family on vacation, at the suggestion of his racecar-enthusiast son. Sami says they loved the drive.

9. American Graffiti Strip in Modesto Calif

If you have never seen “American Graffiti” the movie — you are missing one of the great movies of all time. It centers on teenagers in the 1950’s riding a strip in the small town of Modesto, California. The characters in the movie were derived from people director George Lucas grew up with in Modesto.

According to a

“the ‘cruising’ showcased in the film was originally called ‘dragging’ and took place on 10th Street. A back-and-forth run from O Street to G Street took place every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. Later, 10th Street became a one-way and a loop was formed at 10th Street, G Street, 11th Street and finally to O Street, where Burge’s Drive-In anchored the turn-around. Burge’s was the inspiration for Mel’s Drive-In in ‘American Graffiti.’ Even though Burge’s and Al’s Drive-Ins are no longer around, the A&W Drive-In on G Street still features roller-skate wearing carhops and the sounds of the ‘50s ring through the speakers.”

“American Graffiti” route in Modesto, California — from the website

10. 86th Street Brooklyn

NYC’s version of the cruisin’ route of “American Graffiti” would be 86th Street in Brooklyn — the Bensonhurst area that was the background to the film “Saturday Night Fever” with John Travolta.

86th Street in Bensonhurst is under the elevated subway line (of the N line). In the 1960s thru the 1980’s this was a heavily Italian neighborhood and 86th Street under the El was the place where Guido’s and Guidette’s would cruise.

Today this is a massively Chinese area but it’s still fun to cruise 86th Street.

86th Street under the El was also made famous in the chase scene of The French Connection movie, with Gene Hackman chasing a bad guy on a train. The chase in the movie goes for a long time — a lot longer than 86th Street does under the El even if they filmed it from Coney Island to Bensonhurst. Some of it looks like it was filmed on McDonalds’ Avenue in Brooklyn under the El from Coney Island to Kensington (the F line).

11. The Road to Key West in Florida

Route 1 across the Florida Keys to Key West has to make any list of great drives in the world. Stop off at Key Largo, or any of the keys a long the way.

Drive casually. Enjoy the phenomenal Florida weather and beaches — final destination: Key West.

Key West

12. I-81: Life Blood of America

A very different route is driving I-81 amongst the truckers who are the life blood of America — from Pennsylvania thru Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia to Tennessee. Toro toro taxi 18-wheeler — through the Shenandoah Valley with the Blue Ridge Mountains on one side and the Alleghanies on the other. An amazing drive by day or by night.

We’ve detailed this drive in another article.

13. Brockway Mountain Drive, Michigan

Brockway Mountain Drive in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula offers incredible views of Lake Superior and Isle Royale National Park. The road is closed in winter but reopens in the Spring. We covered this drive in another article — “The 31 Best Places to Travel to in the US in the Spring.”

The drive features an amazing view of the stars at night and you can see the Northern Lights here.

“There are few places darker anywhere in the Midwest”, says an article on

14. Driving the Strip in Detroit

This article was inspired by a story I read about a Dream Cruise on Woodward Avenue in Detroit — not a ship cruise but an automobile ‘cruisin’ cruise. Detroit of course is Motor City, and Woodward Avenue is a legendary street.

The Woodward Dream Cruise has a Wikipedia page. And a website.

According to the above sources, Woodward Avenue’s fame started in 1848, when young carriage drivers started racing each other on the avenue after the roadway was converted from logs to planks. By 1958, the avenue was used by youth for unofficial street racing. The street’s wide width and median made it perfect for racing. In the 1950’s many drive-ins were built along the street, which attracted even more teenagers. Then came auto shops in the 1960’s catering to the age of the muscle car.

The Dream Cruise is an event held the 3rd Saturday of August every year and is billed as the world’s largest 1-day automotive event, drawing about 1.5 million people and 40,000 cars, trucks, motorcycles, and supercars — both vintage and modern — from all over the world.

More Great Drives — Please Add Below

I’m sure there are other great drives in the USA that I’ve missed. If you would like to suggest one, please comment below.

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