Whether you’re traveling across the country solo, with a car full of kids, or with your significant other, it’s all too easy to fall into a rhythm of gas station dinners and vending machine breakfasts. Break up the monotony with top-notch restaurant recommendations —that takes you from Colonial Williamsburg to the glimmering Pacific Ocean. And, since you’ll already be near some of the most monumental sights in the United States, you can check out all of our favorite things to do between bites. So, load up the station wagon and let’s hit the road!
Take a journey through time with a tour of Colonial Williamsburg, where you can wander the historic streets and learn all about the early history of the United States from costume-clad reenactors. After absorbing all that knowledge, there’s no better place to satisfy your appetite—and thirst—than at the Amber Ox Public House. The wide-ranging menu features unique interpretations of classics like the kefir-brined fried oysters and pecan-smoked wings. There are also loads of options for the kids, including the one-of-a-kind toasted cashew butter and jelly sandwich as well as smoked-bacon caramel corn. Before leaving for your next destination, quench your thirst with a world-class microbrew from the Precarious Beer Project, which creates some of the most interesting and delicious beer on the East Coast and uses the Amber Ox as a testing ground for their newest inventions.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park & Asheville
Thanks to a grown-up vibe and thriving restaurant scene, Asheville is the perfect basecamp for your exploration of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Fans of Mexican food and tequila can try out Mountain Madre, while those looking for Spanish with a North African twist can find tapas and wine at Zambra. Between your stand-up paddleboard trip and city scavenger hunt, enjoy a taste of the Mediterranean at Pomodoros Café on the south side or at Rezaz Mediterranean Cuisine in the Biltmore Village area. If you’re visiting with the whole family, check out Corner Kitchen and have the young ones try out their delicious—and affordable—children’s menu.
Migty Mississippi & New Orleans
No body of water captures the spirit of the United States quite like the wide and winding Mississippi River. Follow in the footsteps of Mark Twain aboard a steam-powered paddle boat that features another New Orleans classic—jazz. After exploring the Big Easy from the water, try the freshest catch at Peche, a James Beard Award-winning seafood hotspot in the Lower Garden District. Time-worn timbers and comfy booths give the restaurant the inviting feel of a country home, and the fare is sure to satisfy even the most discerning foodie. If you have more time in town and want a classic NOLA experience, try a guided walking tour of the Garden District with a hauntingly informative visit to Lafayette Cemetery.
The Alamo & Austin
Leave the Louisiana Territory behind and make your way to the Republic of Texas for a chance to learn all about the heroism of Davy Crockett and James Bowie at the Battle of the Alamo on a full-day tour of San Antonio. Continue your exploration of Texas history in the state capital of Austin, which has plenty of things to do and places to eat. South Congress Cafe is the perfect spot for brunch aficionados thanks to their killer Bloody Mary and indulgent carrot-cake French toast. For those looking for a rich Texas-style meal, grab a seat on Contigo’s expansive patio and order up something fried with a cold beer or cocktail to wash it down. As one of the nation’s top music cities, Austin has plenty of concerts all summer long, so be sure to check out popular and obscure acts before heading out to your next destination.
Utah’s National Parks & Salt Lake City
As the dusty scrublands of Texas and craggy malpais of New Mexico give way to multi-hued rock formations, you know you’re entering Utah. Boasting 5 national parks, namely Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef, along with endless public lands, you can find an escape from the modern world in Utah. When you want to return to civilization—and find a decent meal—venture over to Salt Lake City and try some traditional comfort food with a fine-dining twist in an Art Deco setting at New Yorker. Lovers of pizza, paninis, and gelato can find their Italian favorites at Cannella’s, while landlocked seafood fans can enjoy crab legs and salmon at Market Street Grill. For those with more time to explore the capital of Utah, there are lots of ways to discover even more about this oasis.
Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam & Las Vegas
No trip through the Southwest is complete without a visit to the Grand Canyon, which provides a perfect opportunity to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and board a helicopter, train, or boat to explore the majesty. As you make your way west to Nevada, be sure to stop by the Hoover Dam to take in the towering concrete structure rising from the desert floor. After seeing the dam, the next stop is the second most impressive manmade wonder in Nevada—Las Vegas. Once you’ve scoured the Strip, head down Flamingo to Lotus of Siam, a relaxed spot with a mellow interior featuring a colorful mural and mahogany accents. The Lotus has been named one of the Best Thai Restaurants in the US by Travel and Leisure thanks in no small part to the inventive Northern Thai cuisine designed by Saipan Chutima, a James Beard Award winner. After fueling up, climb back into the car and ready yourself for the journey to California.
Pacific Ocean & Venice Beach
After emerging from the shifting sands of the Mojave Desert or Death Valley, the wonders of California open before you. Pass through rolling hills and farmland, get stuck in LA traffic like a local, and then make your way over to iconic Venice Beach, where you can find a number of ideal dining locations. Couples are sure to love the romantic atmosphere inside the candlelit Italian restaurant Barrique, and lovers of international cuisine can experience Indonesian-fusion dishes in the dimly lit Wallflower. If you’re looking for an eclectic bistro menu with a relaxed but upscale California vibe, Salt Air is just right. After finishing your meal, enjoy a leisurely walk along the beach and look out over the vast, shimmering waters of the Pacific Ocean. As you take time to contemplate the wonders that you just beheld and think back to all those delectable dinners along the way, remember that there are even more restaurants to try on the way back.