Planning an east coast road trip can be overwhelming. There are so many choices and options when visiting this part of the United States: the countrysides and cities are packed with adventure, stunning views, and historical locations, spoiling you! We’re here to help so you can focus on finding, stopping, and viewing these locations without the stress of planning a route.
Our suggested East coast road trip will begin in Maine and take you through New York, down the coast of the Carolinas, and down to Florida, where you will finish this wild ride and fly out of Key West.
With all that it has to offer, you could spend a lifetime exploring the east coast and still not experience everything. This road trip itinerary only briefly touches on the surface of this spectacular region of the United States, but we have chosen stops that will hopefully leave you ready to travel the east coast USA again.
So get ready! Pack your bags, grab some road trip snacks, make a playlist, and hop in the car: you’re about to embark on the best road trip on the east coast!
The Ultimate East Coast Road Trip Itinerary
Where to Begin Your East Coast Road Trip
To begin your best road trip on the east coast, we recommend starting in Maine. Because we suggest starting at the iconic Acadia National Park, it will be best for you to fly into Hancock-County-Bar Airport, which features flights from Cape Air, Silver Airways, JetBlue and United Airlines. This airport is just ten short minutes from the national park.
However, there are also a variety of other options of where to fly into including Bangor International Airport or Portland International Airport. Just be aware of when booking your flights that many of these two airports are further away from Acadia– an hour to three hours further away!
We think starting close to the national park is best, considering you will be driving a whole lot! Flying into Hancock-County Bar Airport is probably the easiest overall, although you may want to take note that most direct flights don’t fill into Hancock-County. So, be prepared for those connecting flights that might have to start your east coast road trip!
Don’t forget to check out our Detailed Road Trip Packing List so you don’t forget any essentials for your trip!
Getting Around During Your East Coast Road Trip
In order to complete a road trip, it’s important to have a car! Once you fly into Hancock-County Bar Airport you’ll have plenty of car rental options, including Enterprise, Hertz, Budget, and more. Because you’ll be spending a lot of time in the car, and time on scenic coastal routes, it may not be the best idea to rent out fancy sports cars!
We recommend going for a rental that is spacious and has good gas milage: you won’t be hugging many cliffside curves on this east coast road trip, but we still want you to be safe and comfortable during your drive!
Stop 1: Begin Your East Coast Road Trip at Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor
The Acadia National Park will be your first stop on your east coast road trip. Despite most national parks residing on the west coast of the US, Acadia is a national park on the east coast that you CANNOT miss. Many people suggest getting up before sunrise to watch the world awaken off the peak of Cadillac Mountain here, but if you don’t want to wake up too early, know that the park is super close to the center of town!
We highly recommend driving along Park Loop Road, which is a road that gives all vehicles access to the major attractions of the park. The first stop is Sand Beach, a beach that is well known for it’s wide stretches of sand and clear water and south-side rocks for avid hikers!
Other areas of the Loop include stops such as Echo Lake, and South Ridge Trail. We highly recommend checking out the trail to get up to Cadillac Mountain (whether at dawn or not!) to look at the stunning summit views, as this is the highest point on the North Atlantic Seaboard. It offer’s fantastic views of the harbor, and the hike back down presents gorgeous landscapes including forests, volcanic rock, and meadows!
Thankfully, both Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor are on Mount Desert Island, so it’s close proximity allows for you to enjoy both the nature aspect of Maine, as well as the harbor town of Maine as well. We highly recommend checking out Main Street in this amazing harbor, as there are plenty of fantastic restaurants, fountains, parks, and more. A park we recommend checking out include The Village Green, which is charming with it’s benches and quiet nature.
Make sure to also check out the Shore Path while visiting the harbor– this manicured walk-way is prefect for an evening stroll that offers views of rocks, shorelines, the islands, and water. It is a relaxing place to unwind and stretch your legs when you start feeling cramped in your car from all the east coast driving!
Where to stay in Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor:
Stop 2: New Hampshire has Some of the Best Historical Sites AND Nature Views in Any State for Your East Coast Road Trip.
Up next on your east coast road trip is New Hampshire! New Hampshire was the first colony to become independent from the UK all those years ago, and thus, today, you can see this history in many sites while also taking advantage of the gorgeous landscape.
One of the places you must check out, especially since you are driving by car, is the Mount Washington Auto Road. This road is one of the steepest and unguarded roads in all of the USA, racing 6,145 feet at it’s peek height. Stretching over 7.6 miles across and above lush New Hampshire scenery, this road offers sweeping views. And if you’re unsure if you want to wind up and down this path, check out some guided tours!
If you are looking for more adventure as well, Mount Monadnock is also a great experience for those who are interested in hiking. With over 40 miles of trails and a rock summit that offers fantastic views of the Southwestern region, this is something you may want to check out!
Most importantly, however, if you are traveling with family, you may want to ensure that you’re gaining some family experience time at places such as the Polar Caves Park or Hampton Beach. The Polar Caves park features a variety of animals, as well as a petting zoo, where they can get personal with feeding biscuits to animals right from the palms of their hands. This park also features nature trails, caves, and a museum about maple sugar (appropriately named the Maple Sugar House and Museum).
If you’re looking for something a little less educational, and a little more relaxing, feel free to check out Hampton Beach with your family or traveling party. Hampton beach is well known for being a beautiful vacation site, due to it’s iconic blue waves and rolling hulls of sands.
This beach always offers a variety of things to do as well, such as sand castle competitions, music shows, sports competition– beach volleyball is always one to look out for– and more! The city close by is always bustling as well, so we recommend to explore the beauty and relaxation of New Hampshire here!
Where to stay near Hampton Beach:
Stop 3: Visit the Most Popular, and One of the Most Historical Cities, on the East Coast: Boston!
Boston is not only the capital of Massachusetts, but the most populous city in Massachusetts, filled with rich history, a great sense of culture, and more. While Massachusetts itself has plenty of places to visit, we highly recommend spending most of your time in this city, as there is a variety of options for you to fill your day(s) with!
To start off your time to visit Boston, we recommend visiting Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, as it is one of the largest museums’s in America, home to over 450,000 pieces of artwork.
After visiting the “cultured” part of Boston, you may want to check out the Tea Party Ships and Museum to educate yourself on what is one of America’s most defining parts of history– the Boston Tea Party! This floating museum is super interactive, and after stepping back in time, you can then explore the Boston Public Garden and relish it their 80 species of plants or enjoy a trip on a swan boat!
If you’re in town during the Qunicy Market as well, we recommend swinging by this historical area and exploring the lively market, where you can purchase mementos of this historical city, eat some local food, and enjoy the colorful knickknacks from local vendors. This is one of the best activities for kids in Boston!
Warning, however, this is a bit of a bustling place, so you may want to plan accordingly or save some seats when you find an empty table: and make sure to check out the replica of the “Cheers!” Bar when you are there! The New England Aquarium is also close by if you want an up close and personal experience with some adorable otters and seals!
Before you being making your way down to Boston, you may also check out Salem, where you can take a few hours to explore the Salem Witch Museum, or even the House of Seven Gables that feature famous mansions, gardens, staged exhibits from the 1692 witch trials and more! And visiting Boston, and continuing down the coast, you might even want to swing by and see Plymouth Rock! The rock itself is very small, however, so make sure you don’t miss it during your east coast road trip!
Where to stay in Boston:
Stop 4: You Must Stop and See the Lights of NYC During Your East Coast Road Trip
An east coast road trip would not be complete without visiting the iconic city of New York! New York City is one of the most lively places in the United States, let alone on the east coast, so we highly recommend swinging by the city to view the bright lights, broadway shows, parks, monuments and more.
When starting off your day(s) in New York city, you’ll want to begin with exploring Times Square, where you can bask in the bright lights and talk to vendors about purchasing tickets for Broadway Shows if it’s in your budget!
You’re also going to want to visit the Central Park as a way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city: this park is 843 acres and has a captivating landscape with countless fountains, trees, playgrounds, public art and more. There are SO many things to do here, including outdoor theatre, a zoo, boating, and horse-drawn carriage tours!
If you’re looking to see the more historical side of NYC, we recommend checking out the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum and the Statue of Liberty. The 9/11 memorial is sombre, but also important, as it pays tribute to the 2,977 individuals who lost their lives when the twin towers collapsed in 2001. The Statue of Liberty can give a bit more hope, but trips up to the top of the 93-meter tall statue book far out in advance, so make sure to book ahead!
Grand Central Terminal and the New York Public Library are also fantastic spots to relish in the sheer size of NYC buildings and marvel at their architecture. Here you can check out world-renowned collection in the humanities as well as people watch and observe some fantastic art in both buildings.
And if you’re looking for more art, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is also a great spot to kill a few hours at!
Where to stay in New York City:
Stop 5: Newport Gives You That Coastal Feel For your East Coast Road Trip!
Rhode Island is your next stop on your easy coast road trip! As you drive down the coast, we recommend really spending some time in Newport, as this ocean-side city is usually packed with great events, fantastic tours, and beautiful views.
We highly recommend walking along the Newport Cliffs. This is a famous path along the eastern shore of the city that offers great views of the seaside and is just over 3 moles in length! Many of the famous mansions and other landmarks are visible from this walk, making it a great start to your adventures in Rhode Island!
After visiting the cliffs, make sure to swing by the beaches! These Atlantic views and warmth of the sand have coined Newport Beaches as the classic coast, and there are plenty of beaches to explore, including Barrington Town Beach, Easton’s Beach, and King Park Beach.
When you’re done basking in the sun and nature of Newport, you can always go check out the Redwood Library and Anthenauem, which is the oldest lending library in America. It’s building is the oldest library that is still in use! You can also then go visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the Newport Art Museum.
Better yet, whether you are visiting off-season or not, Newport has begun blossom with local restaurants, wineries and breweries opening near the main city hub, so you might want to check out the Newport Craft Brewing and Distilling Company or The Grill at Forty 1 Degree North to support locals!
Where to stay in Newport:
Stop 6: Don’t Forget to Stop in Philly to View Some Historical Sites and Also Enjoy Their Famous Cheesesteaks!
After visiting Rhode Island, you won’t want to miss Philadelphia, or Pennsylvania in general! Philly is home to historic symbols of America and there are so many essential things you can do on your east coast road trip int his fantastic city.
We recommend first and foremost stopping in front of the Liberty Bell of course! It is one of the most well known Philadelphia Historical Sites!
Although it doesn’t actually ring, this cracked but symbolic bell represents freedom to Americans, and no tickets are required to sneak in and see it!
After visiting the bell though, it is a must to go spend some time in Independence Hall, also known as the birthplace of the United States. This is where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and this location’s monumental significance brings in guided tickets that are a must for this town’s tour!
Would it really be a stop in Philly if you didn’t stop and devour a cheesecake? Arguably one of the city’s most famous food’s, there are some well known spots to eat a cheesecake, such as Geno’s Steaks or even Pat’s King of Steaks. Try both and be the judge of which Philly cheesesteak is better!
After devouring steak, cheese, and onions on a hoagie roll, you may then want to swing by the Rocky Statue and run up the Rocky Steps to get your legs moving again! Visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art to retreat Rocky’s iconic run, and then maybe even swing by the museum itself to enjoy a nice day indoors!
Where to stay in Philly:
Low-range: Days Inn by Wyndham Philadelphia Convention Center. Check Rates: Booking.com
Mid-range: Best Western Plus Philadelphia Convention Center Hotel. Check Rates: Booking.com
Stop 7: Visit the Place that Inspired Monopoly During Your East Coast Road Trip in New Jersey!
With so many distinct places and things to experience, New Jersey is the next stop on your east coast road trip, as this garden state is well wroth exploring! You should really visit Atlantic City and the Boardwalk.
This coastal resort town is famous for it’s Boardwalk and casinos. With it’s Steel Pier and carnival amusement park and entrance to the stars, Atlantic City also has historical attractions such as the Boardwalk Hall (which hosts Miss America!) and the Absecon Lighthouse.
If you are looking for something more nature-based, we highly recommend checking out the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area! This area covers more than 70,000 acres and is between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, so this may be the perfect segue between the two states! The Water Gap offers activities such as canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and camping, as well as the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center!
Close to the Delaware river and the water gap is the Adventure Aquarium as well, and if you’re headed toward Cape May, you may want to swing by Morey’s Pier’s for some concessions or even the Cape May County Park and Zoo.
Better yet, one of the most unique places in Jersey includes the Grounds for Sculpture, which is a 42-acre museum and sculpture park, fit for nature and art lovers alike!
Where to stay near Atlantic City:
Stop 8: Swing by Wilmington, Delaware for a variety of Attractions, Sights and Landmarks!
If you’ve already stopped by the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Park, you might as well add Delaware to your east coast road trip itinerary to get the full experience of this state. In particular, we recommend stopping by Wilmington, as there are SO many options of nature parks, museums, landmarks, and historic sites.
While visiting, make sure to check out the Wilmington Riverwalk, as this relaxing stretch of land lets you stroll alongside the river and is packed with parks, boutiques, and restaurants, really allowing for you to get a feel for the city.
After enjoying some time at the Riverwalk, you may want to swing by and visit Brandywine Creek and Brandywine Park. These nature preserves stretch over 20 miles in length and are perfect for getaway and scenic views! After enjoying nature here, you should go check out the Brandywine Zoo that is nearby as well and interact with the monkeys, otters and tigers!
For those of you who want to enjoy more indoor places, you can also make sure to visit the Delaware Art Museum that features pre-raphaelite pieces and sculptures, or even the Delaware Contemporary, which is always changing it’s featured artists! And most importnatly, if you’re traveling with kids, the Delaware Children’s Museum is FANTASTIC for interactive play.
But also make sure to visit Nemour’s Estate and the Hagley Museum to take a step into our past and check out the DuPont family history through viewing their gardens, hose, and gunpowder mills!
Where to stay in Wilmington:
Low-range: Sure Stay Plus Hotel by Best Western Brandywine Valley. Check Rates: Booking.com
Stop 9: Remember We are Home of the Free While Visiting Virginia During Your East Coast Road Trip
You cannot drive through Virginia without stopping in Washington DC. Because DC is the capital of our country, it only seems fit to swing by and visit iconic, historic, and important parts of this city during your east coast road trip.
Make sure you give yourself lots of time to explore all of the landmarks and sites of DC, though! We recommend ensuring that you hit all of the traditional DC attractions, such as the Smithsonian Museums, and all other museums and monuments the U.S. Capital has to offer.
We recommend first starting with the Smithsonian National Museums: from the Museum of African History to the National History section, these museums have over 126 million artifacts on display, IMAX films, replicates and more. Make sure to give yourself time here though, as the museums are very time consuming because there is so much to see!
When visiting DC, you also have to check out the most iconic locations, such as Arlington National Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Veteran’s and Korean War Veterans Memorials. Many of these memorials are within walking distance of one another, but you can also purchase a hop-on-hop-off bus tour if you’re interested in viewing the best locations in one day!
Don’t forget to swing by the White House, The Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitoal and Library of Congress if you can as well for some great tours. And if you’re interested in some more museums, we recommend going to the National Archives Museum and the Holocaust Museum as well.
Where to stay in Washington DC:
Stop 10: The Outer Banks is as off the East Coast as You Can Get– Take Some Time to Relax at These Islands!
North Carolina has so much to offer your east coast road trip because it is a great state that offers opportunities for indoor and outdoor enthusiasts: you can appreciate the state’s beauty at the beaches and coastlines, or visit fantastic view points of gorges, rivers and more.
Now, we know Asheville is a bit far from the coast, so we don’t want to send you too far on a derail, but you may want to check out Asheville for another trip! To stay on the east coast though, we recommend checking out the Outer Banks. The Outer Banks are a series of barrier islands off the coast that offer open-sea beaches, shipwreck diving sites, and sate parks.
While in the outer banks, you must check out Jockey’s Ridge, which is the East Coast’s highest sand dune. This park also features multiple trails and nature programs, and you can even schedule hang-gliding adventures! And after, you can climb the tallest brick lighthouse at Cape Hatteras.
From a historical standpoint, you can also check out the Roanoke Island Festival Park to step back in time and explore what life was like at sea 400 years ago. This educational history can also be continued at the North Carolina Maritime Museum!
Lastly, make sure to check out the Elizabethan Gardens and the Lost Colony’s Waterside Theatre to explore ten aces of beautiful botanical and art views!
Where to stay in the Outer Banks:
Stop 11: Charleston is a Unique and Funky Town to Explore During Your East Coast Road Trip
Charleston is a fantastic stop during your east coast road trip, as it is well known for it’s cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, old-time houses, and waterfront. It is like stepping back into the past, especially when you visit the Historic Charleston Market, which is a city market that stretches for 4 blocks and has fantastic architectural design.
Before you get to Charleston, however, during your trip you may want to stop at the South of the Border. This attraction on Interstate 95 is world-famous attraction that offers reptile lagoons, foods, and shops to take a break and explore this “highway oasis” with your travel companions!
The quaint city and fun area of Charleston also features fantastic Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, that feature lush grounds (with or without tours) and a fun and family friendly zoo!
The waterfront park is also a popular location close to the heart of the city where many people sit and relax and enjoy the shops, fountains, and local restaurants.
Lastly you can check out the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum where you can explore retired Navy ships and learn more about the history of the navy as it is specified to this location!
Where to stay in Charleston:
Stop 12: From Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia has SO Many Cool Things to See!
Although going to Atlanta, Georgia takes you on a bit of an insider perspective to your east coast road trip because it is more central to the state, you must stop in Atlanta as there is so much to do!
You HAVE to check out the Georgia Aquarium here, which is a marine world home to over 120,000 animals.
We also recommend the World of Coca-Cola which is a fun showcase of the soda, and the Centennial Olympic park and Atlanta Botanical Gardens if you’re looking for some unique things to experience in this city. The CNN Tours and Zoo Atlanta are also cool places to check out!
After visiting Atlanta, head back to the coast and stop by Savannah, Georgia! Savannah is known for its cobblestone streets and spooky vibes, so you HAVE to take some themed tours while here, such as the Bonaventure Cemetery Tours.
This old time city also has fantastic views off of East River Street and in Forsyth Park, and the Savannah Historic District itself is home to great architecture, structures, shops, and adventures that make you feel like you are in the olden days!
Where to stay in Savannah and Atlanta:
Stop 13: Florida is a LONG State, So Stop and Enjoy Some Sun Along the Way in Both St. Augustine and Key West!
To finish up and round off your east coast road trip, we will be ending in Florida! There are two mini stops we want to mention in Florida, the first being St. Augustine!
St. Augustine is the oldest city in the U.S. and is known for it’s colonial architecture and Atlantic Ocean beaches: some famous places here include the Castillo de San Marcos and the St. Augustine Lighthouse.
This history-riddled city has many highlights such as The Oldest Schoolhouse and Flagler College and many of their horse-drawn carriage tours or walking tours can take you through attractions that you may miss if you’re just stopping by!
To finish up your east coast road trip, we will end in Key West. While this may be the longest portion of your drive, Key West is a must see since it is the southernmost point in the U.S.. Duval Street is a fantastic strip of bars, shops and cafes, and you can visit Ernest Hemingyway’s House here!
Walking tours of Key West feature fantastic places such as the Key West City Cemetery and give you the great opportunity to see the islands unique homes and gardens. It’s beaches and famous seafood is also a great source of relaxation for most visitors, and arguable one of the best ways to end the best east coast road trip!
Where to stay in Key West:
We are so excited that you’ve chosen to embark an a east coast road trip. While the west coast is known more for it’s stunning scenery, this does not discount the fact that the east coast has it’s own spectacular sights, history-ridden stops, and adventures of it’s own.
There are so many places you an stop during your east coast road trip, but we think these 13 stops are certainly a great place to start! From Maine to the Carolina’s and Florida make sure to enjoy every mile! Have fun on your east coast USA road trip!