Yesterday I discussed the many reasons why I prefer to avoid traveling by air when traveling for leisure. I also shared five destinations that are within eight hours or so of at least one major city. Today, I continue the list with five more locales that, while not necessarily famous tourist draws, are all well worth the drive.
6. Whitefish, Mont. Picture everything you want in a Rocky Mountain summer resort town. That’s Whitefish. Its own Whitefish Lake is a fun-size body of water; downstream, Flathead Lake is a small inland sea, the largest freshwater lake in the states west of the Mississippi. Just east of town is Glacier National Park, and just south of that is the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, a unique 1.5-million-acre roadless tract that straddles the Continental Divide and is the domain of the wolf, the mountain lion and the grizzly bear. You can go south from Whitefish, past Flathead Lake, to the National Bison Range and its dramatic views of the Mission Mountains. Or you can go north across the Canadian border (bring your passport!) and up the Kootenay Valley, crossing the Rockies near Lake Louise to reach Alberta’s Jasper National Park. It is the next-best thing to a short road trip to Alaska. Once, driving through this corner of British Columbia at dawn, I happened upon a herd of woodland caribou that were in no hurry to get off the highway. Drive time: eight hours from Seattle to Whitefish, if you step on it once you get over Snoqualmie Pass.
7. Port Angeles, Wash. You thought Pacific Northwest climate was simple, right? Dry to the east of the Cascade Mountains; rainy to the west. But in reality, there is nothing simple about the interplay of onshore winds, towering mountains and salt-water inlets in this area. Seattle and Olympia both sit west of the Cascades, only 60 miles apart, but Olympia gets nearly twice as much rainfall because Seattle is partly in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. The small border city of Port Angeles sits still farther west, on the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula at the foot of those same Olympic Mountains - and Port Angeles gets only half the annual rainfall of Seattle, and scarcely more than the eastern Washington city of Spokane. Yet just a short journey from Port Angeles lies America’s only temperate rain forest, and just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca is Vancouver Island and British Columbia’s capital, Victoria. Port Angeles is not so much a destination as a jumping-off point for everything that can be found on the waters of Puget Sound, in the mountains of Olympic National Park, in the tea shops of Victoria and in the rugged wilderness on the rest of Vancouver Island. Drive time: two hours from Seattle, four hours from Portland, Ore.
8. Bodega Bay, Calif. What struck me about the drive on the Coast Highway, California Route 1, from Muir Woods National Monument (stop to look at the grove of giant redwoods) northward to Bodega Bay - where Alfred Hitchcock filmed “The Birds” - was all the dairy farms. There were more farms, and larger farms, than I have ever seen, and I have spent a lot of time in states better-known for their dairies, like New York and Vermont. But the dairies were long gone by the time I reached Bodega Bay. There is actually not too much to see in the town, though I did get a Bodega Bay baseball cap with an emblem of flying birds. The attractions here are beautiful coastline, an offshore marine sanctuary, and many lovely inns, which line the shore. This area can be viewed as the coastal extension of the Napa-Sonoma wine country. Not that there are many vineyards in the chilly, foggy coastal area, but because the emphasis is on dining and wine drinking done right. It’s all less than two hours from the Golden Gate Bridge, but the urban world seems much farther away. Bring your sweater and jacket no matter when you visit. It is almost certain to be cold. Drive time: 90 minutes from San Francisco, seven hours from Los Angeles.
9. Big Sur, Calif. There are many beautiful highways and spectacular drives in this country. I am not going out on a limb very far by saying that none can match California Highway 1 on the stretch running from Carmel to San Simeon, 90 miles south. It takes at least two hours to safely drive this rugged piece of road; this is not a route you take if you are in a hurry. The roadway barely clings to the western flank of the Santa Lucia Mountains as they plunge nearly straight down into the Pacific. There are only a few lodging or dining venues on this stretch of highway, but there are many scenic turnouts. Landslides occasionally block the highway during the winter rains, and patches of fog often drift on and off the roadway in summer. The southbound route, which is the side directly above the sea, is the more exciting ride in my opinion; I have driven the road in both directions. Enjoy Monterey Bay and the Monterey Aquarium, just past Big Sur’s northern terminus, and don’t miss the Hearst Castle at San Simeon to the south. Drive time: two hours (to the northern end of the drive) from San Francisco, three to four hours to the drive’s southern end from Los Angeles.
10. Solvang, Calif. If you come to California, you have to expect the unexpected. But you probably still expect the unexpected to appear in English or Spanish, or maybe Vietnamese or Korean. Probably not in Danish. But then you probably have not passed through Solvang, a community founded by Danish immigrants in the Santa Ynez Valley in the early 20th century. Assimilation was too easy for these good folks; they decided to build, and maintain, a Danish town right in the heart of Southern California surf country. If you come through in September, you may catch the town’s Danish Days celebration, whose Danish Maid honoree this year is 17-year-old Emma Andersen, a fifth-generation Solvanger. This is a town that is deeply into history, and also into sweets - everything from chocolates to traditional Danish pastry. My family isn’t Danish, but after an hour in this village, we sure wanted to be. Drive time: not far out of Santa Barbara, Solvang is reachable in two hours or so from the San Fernando Valley as long as traffic cooperates.
I hope these 10 suggestions get you started in considering the corner of the country within reach, no matter where you begin. Enjoy your road trip, and happy vacationing!