By Monica Poling
There’s nothing that personifies the American dream quite like the summer road trip. Ever since cars were invented, there’s been a lure to hitting the open road and enjoying a first-person view of the country’s awe-inspiring scenery, stopping where you want, when you want. It’s travel on your own schedule, minus the pressure of flying.
And when it comes to celebrating the American dream, there are few road trips that can rival a tour of the Northeast. The setting for much of the country’s most significant historical events, the region offers a diverse variety of scenic byways, beaches, forests, national parks, landmarks and charming places to eat.
A Patriotic Start
Start your road trip of the Northeast in the nation’s capital. Here, Loews Madison Hotel, inside Washington, D.C.’s famed Beltway, is conveniently located near the district’s top sites. Families can easily get to nearby educational attractions (the Smithsonian Institution hosts a zoo and nearly 20 museums and galleries), couples can take romantic strolls to scenic landmarks and monuments, and groups of friends will find plenty of neighboring eateries, bars, shopping and outdoor activities.
When you’re ready for the road, George Washington Memorial Parkway will be waiting. Designed with recreational driving in mind, the 25-mile roadway stretches along the Potomac River, connecting Langley, Va., to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. A part of the National Park Service, it winds past forested areas and scenic overlooks, and connects more than 25 historic and scenic points of interest, including Arlington House, the Clara Barton National Historic Site, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove and Theodore Roosevelt Island.
Along the way, Great Falls Park, at the northernmost portion of the parkway, is definitely worth a stop for outdoor enthusiasts. The park overlooks the Mather Gorge section of the Potomac River, where the river’s water speeds up and creates gorgeous cascading falls. Several overlooks are located a short walking distance from the park’s visitor center, making them an easy trek for kids or older road trippers.
Heading east, you’ll come across Glen Echo Park. Children can hitch a ride on the still-operating Dentzel Carousel, originally built in 1921 and restored in 2003. The colorful attraction is one of the best-preserved historic carousels in the country and the only one protected by the National Park Service. Older travelers might prefer to visit the Spanish Ballroom, a restored, Mediterranean-style Art Deco building from 1933. The ballroom hosts regular social dance events, including classes in waltz, swing and salsa. While every dance event is open to the general public, of all ages, special family programs are also held during the summer months.
Driving by the Bay
After exploring the nation’s capital, travelers can make the hourlong journey along historic Route 50 before checking in at Loews Annapolis Hotel.
Located along the Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis is home to the U.S. Naval Academy, and is sure to pique the interests of boating and water enthusiasts. To capture the essence of the area, be sure to drive the Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway, Maryland’s first nationally designated scenic byway. The road will lead you past waterfronts, through historic neighborhoods and past postcard-perfect natural scenery.
A unique experience for couples or families, Chesapeake Country is situated along the Atlantic Flyway migratory path—a bird-watcher’s nirvana. Numerous birding sites are found here, including the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. More than 250 species of birds make their home in the nearly 2,300-acre space, and in summer, lucky visitors might catch sight of a young bald eagle learning to fly. The refuge is also popular with songbirds, which can be heard singing along trails. To get an authentic sense of Maryland, the refuge even has sites where travelers can try catching crabs.
If your car is full of fun-loving friends, consider a low-key day in the sun at Betterton Beach, one of the largest stretches of sandy coast in the area. The rush of fresh water from the nearby Sassafras River keeps the beach free of jellyfish, perfect for swimmers of all ages. The beach is relatively uncommercial, so be sure to bring a picnic basket of snacks and soft drinks.
Many of the nation’s earliest churches are also located in Maryland along this byway, adding some highlights for history buffs. A few churches of note include Christ Church in Stevensville, the earliest Anglican settlement in the colony; Dudley’s Chapel in Sudlersville, the first Methodist meeting house in the county; and St. Francis Xavier in Warwick, which was one of the earliest permanent Catholic establishments in the English Colonies.
From Chesapeake City, Md., the northernmost point of the Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway, an hourlong drive takes travelers to Philadelphia. Here, the historic 33-story Loews Philadelphia Hotel, once a bank building, has the distinction of being the nation’s first skyscraper. All of the city’s popular attractions, such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, are just a short distance from the hotel.
Plenty of scenic drives surround Philly, but one excursion you don’t want to miss is the drive to Lancaster County, with its rolling hills and lush farmland. Travelers will slowly meander back in time, sharing the road with horse-and-buggies, as they delve deeper into the land of the Pennsylvania Dutch. America’s oldest Amish settlement still resides in Lancaster County where they continue to observe the “plain” lifestyle. Here, families will enjoy a drive through the charming countryside, which is home to more than 25 covered bridges. Couples might opt to take a horse-and-buggy tour of one of the local farms.
Another excellent side trip from Philadelphia, especially for couples, is the hourlong drive to Longwood Gardens. Created by Pierre S. du Pont of the famed du Pont family, the gardens are considered to be among the best in the nation.
From there, it’s just a short drive to connect with the 12-mile-long Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway, which takes cars through the rolling hills of the Brandywine Valley until they end up in Wilmington, Del.
Along the way, travelers will see the legacy left behind by the du Pont family, who first came to America in 1800 and eventually built one of the leading consumer product companies in the world. Be sure to stop at the Hagley Museum and Library, the first du Pont family home in the U.S., and also the site of their first commercial venture, a gunpowder mill. More lush gardens can be found at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, once a du Pont family estate, and today the premier institution dedicated to American decorative arts.
Towers to Tombs
From Philadelphia, connecting to New York is an easy three-hour journey via Interstate 95. Around Philadelphia and its suburbs, the freeway runs adjacent to the Delaware River before crossing New Jersey and entering New York.
There’s no limit on what to see and do when you arrive—history, museums, shopping, culture and excellent dining are available, almost around the clock. A few of the top sites include Central Park, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. With its Park Avenue location, Loews Regency New York Hotel is conveniently located in the middle of it all.
Although it’s probably best to leave the car with the valet while exploring the city, there are plenty of ways to see the region from the road on the continuing drive to Boston.
After hopping back into the car, the Bronx River Parkway, the nation’s first public parkway, is a must. It was the first roadway built to acknowledge that driving might be a recreational pursuit rather than just a mode of transportation connecting two points. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Bronx River Parkway holds a number of other firsts: It was the first highway constructed through a park, the Bronx River Reservation; it was the first highway to use a median strip to separate opposing traffic; and it was the first highway where intersecting streets crossed over bridges.
From the northernmost point of the Bronx River Parkway, it’s a short 20-minute side trip to Sleepy Hollow, the home of the famed Headless Horseman. If your group heads that way, be sure to stop at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which holds the remains of the legend’s creator, Washington Irving, among such notables as Elizabeth Arden, Andrew Carnegie, Walter Chrysler and William Rockefeller. If you’re feeling brave, walking tours will take you through the burial grounds by lantern. (Daytime tours are also available for travelers of a less courageous variety.)
Getting to Boston from the Bronx River Parkway should take about three hours, with numerous routes available. Once there, Loews Boston Hotel is the perfect jumping off point to see Faneuil Hall, Fenway Park, the New England Aquarium or any of the city’s other noted attractions. The hotel is just 15 minutes from the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile route that includes 16 historically significant sites, including Boston Common, America’s first public park; the Old Corner Bookstore, the longest-standing commercial building in Boston; the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship still afloat; and the Paul Revere House.
For road-hungry travelers who’d like just a little more time with their foot on the pedal, a short drive north will land them in Salem, the famed “Witch City.” Deriving its name from “shalom,” the Hebrew word for peace, the city’s claim to fame dates back to the 1692 witch trials. The Salem Witch Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum and the Witch History Museum all provide a detailed look back at the scandal-filled historical period.
All that time on the road will have any group thirsting for a little waterside fun. The seaport town of Salem also lured pirates, including the notorious Captain Kidd and Blackbeard, and it was also the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who penned “The Scarlet Letter.” Local attractions pay homage to both. Also worth visiting is the Peabody Essex Museum, one of the oldest museums in the country, home to an array of art and culture exhibitions.
After investigating the former haunts of accused witches and infamous pirates, take to the road again, heading further northeast along Route 127. The route will take travelers to Cape Ann, and along the way, fishing villages, antique shops and numerous eateries serving up Massachusetts’ finest seafood will keep wanderers satisfied. A bowl of New England clam chowder is never far away.
When reaching the fishing village of Gloucester, Mass., America’s original seaport, be sure to snap a photo with “the Man at the Wheel,” a statue memorializing sailors lost at sea. There are also four lighthouses in the area; take a lighthouse cruise for the best view.
Art lovers will want to make a stop at the Rocky Neck Art Colony, one of the oldest working art colonies in the country. Or visit Motif No. 1, an iconic red fishing shack in nearby Rockport, Mass., which is considered the most-painted building in America.
Whether you traverse the entire coast, take a quick weekend jaunt along part of it, or just want to experience freedom on four wheels for a day, the road is calling—reminding us that life is sometimes about the journey, sometimes about the destination, and sometimes a little of both.