Few things celebrate the end of winter like a great drive and enjoying the beach. Whether you can put the top down or not, members and editors of travel website VirtualTourist.com are sure you’ll enjoy any of our “Top 10 Coastal Drives.”
1. Pacific Coast Highway—Monterey, California
At around 454 miles (730 km), California’s Pacific Coast Highway is probably the most well-known coastal drive in the United States. From Los Angeles to San Francisco, the distance is about 455 miles (732 km), though VirtualTourist members specifically recommend the 135-mile (217 km) stretch from San Luis Obispo to Monterey. This drive includes Point Lobos State Reserve, Point Sur State Historic Park, and the highly-recognizable, oft photographed Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. One thing to keep in mind: When you pay admission to one California state park, your receipt will cover your admission to any other state park for the day—so it’s great to hit this sector of the road on the same day.
2. Kuhio Highway—Kauai, Hawaii
Although many choose Maui’s Hana Highway as Hawaii’s primary coastal drive, the drive from Kauai’s South Shore to the “end of the road” at Haena State Park is truly exceptional. By starting at Poipu Beach, your 52-mile (84 km) drive along Highway 56 has gorgeous views in either direction. With lookouts along the road, you’ll see scenery that is vaguely recognizable—this is the land where dinosaurs once roamed in “Jurassic Park.” The drive ends at Haena State Park, also the start of the Kalalau Trail, a rugged difficult climb along the NaPali Coast, which is inaccessible to cars. If you’ve got time, turn off the road and follow signs to the Kilauea Lighthouse as well as the St. Regis Princeville Resort—both spots have exceptional views.
3. Overseas Highway (Hwy 1)—Florida Keys
The Overseas Highway is the portion of US Route 1 that extends from the end of mainland Florida through the Florida Keys to southernmost Key West. The route runs 160 miles (257 km) from Miami to Key West, with large portions of the highway built on bridges left over from the long-forgotten Overseas Railroad. While the primary view seen along this drive are the bright blue waters of the Florida Straits, the waters between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, the Keys are actually exposed ancient coral reefs leading to varied wildlife and much ecotourism. The Keys have an interesting spirit of their own and it’s definitely worth pulling off the route to explore some of the individual island’s personalities.
4. Cabot Trail—Nova Scotia, Canada
Multiple VirtualTourist members suggested the shores of Nova Scotia, particularly the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island, as an ideal coastal drive for Canada-bound travelers. The Cabot Trail, which spurs off the Trans-Canada Highway 105, extends north and passes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park before looping back to the 105 only 16 miles (27 km) further up the road. Cape Breton Highlands National Park has 26 hiking trails and 24 stunning viewpoints along the Cabot Trail, so it is definitely worth the small price of entry ($7.80 per adult, $3.90 per youth) to get out of your vehicle and explore. The entire route is approximately 170 miles (274 km) in length.
5. Great Ocean Road—Victoria, Australia
Only 60 miles (93 km) from Victoria’s capital of Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road winds alongside the Southern Ocean from Torquay to Portland. Created by soldiers returning from the First World War, the route is more than 180 miles (290 km) and includes a variety of sites such as world-renowned beaches, national parks and shipwrecks. The most famous spectacle along B100v is the Twelve Apostles, a natural formation of limestone stacks which seem to magically rise from the Southern Ocean. There are two walkways alongside the Twelve Apostles so park your car and get a great photo.
6. The Garden Route—Western Cape Province, South Africa
The shores of South Africa provide as many great drives as they do gorgeous views. Members suggested the “Garden Route,” which lies between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town connecting the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces. The route (known as N2 within South Africa) is nicknamed for its abundance of wild flowers and is also dotted with secluded bays and quaint villages. For those who don’t want to leave Cape Town proper, VirtualTourist members also suggested Chapman’s Peak drive as fun driving, as it has over 114 curves and spectacular cliffside views.
7. Ring Road—Iceland
Most visitors to Iceland do the “Golden Circle Tour,” embarking from Reykjavik and traveling inland to see Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and the island’s geothermal geysers. However, Iceland’s “Ring Road,” or Route 1, forms an 830-mile (1335 km) circle around the country with incredible coastal views and even more landmarks to behold. Traveling east on Route 1 from Reykjavik includes sites such as Skaftafell National Park and Jokulsarlon, the largest glacier lagoon in Iceland. If you only want to travel a section of the road, the trip from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon is just 233 miles (376 km).
8. The Atlantic Road—Norway
Located in the fjord area of Norway, the Atlantic Road connects a series of islands along the western coast. Even though talk of connecting the islands began as early as 1909, the Atlantic Road didn’t open for another 80 years, in July 1989. Although the road, known as Route 64, is relatively short compared to our other chosen drives at just over 5 miles long (8,274 meters), you may recognize it as it’s been the site of numerous car commercials. Many locals use the bridges for cycling and fishing. Surprisingly, an area along the route, Hustadvika, is incredibly popular for scuba diving due to the number of wrecks along the route before the bridges were built.
9. Northeast Loop—Phuket, Thailand
While the majority of the resorts on Phuket are centered on the south and western shores, a few VirtualTourist members suggested driving along the Northeast loop to get a “behind the scenes” view of island life. By turning off Route 402 at the Heroines Monument circle, drivers head on a 6.8-mile (11 km) loop on the far Northeast tip of the island. The loop provides the opportunity to see excellent bay views and small fishing villages, a nice change of pace from the busy beach resorts on the opposite side of the Thai island.
10. Kotor to Sveti Stephan—Montenegro
An unexpectedly popular suggestion by many VirtualTourist members was Montenegro, specifically the drive from Kotor to Sveti Stephan. This route, which starts through Montenegro countryside, eventually travels south along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea past the popular resort town of Budva to Sveti Stephan. From the shoreline, the islet of Sveti Stephan juts out resembling Ischia’s Ponte Aragonese and making it a fantastic stop for photographs. If you’d rather not make the trek south, members also suggested following E65 along the Bay of Kotor—it’s only a 24-mile (37 km) round trip along this scenic route from Kotor to Risan.