Starbucks Summer Road Trip to the Best U.S. Parks and Beaches
More than half of Americans are planning to go on a road trip this year, and with the summer season officially underway Starbucks has asked Stefanie Michaels, “Adventure Girl®,” to share road trip suggestions and travel tips all summer long.
Michaels, a travel expert who has appeared on Travel + Escape, Discovery Channel, and E!, among others, will share a series of themed road trips for summer vacationers. Whether it’s a trip to the beach, a national park, monuments or a family getaway, she'll make it easier than ever to plan road trip adventures.
There are as many road trip destinations for the summer as there are sunny days. But we’re fortunate to have a plethora of amazing beaches and parks around this beautiful country. We know that’s where a lot of you are planning to go – in a recent survey, 54 percent of people said they like heading to the beach on their road trips, and 44 percent like to check out national or state parks. It’s difficult to choose a favorite, but I’ve curated a list of some of my top choices as you prep to hit the road.
National and State Park Road Trip Destinations
Mendocino County, California
If you’re looking to mix a little outdoor adventure with a scenic drive, don’t miss California’s “Pacific Coast Highway” (known to the locals as “PCH” or State Route 1), which hugs the coastline all the way from the north of the state near San Francisco to almost San Diego county line in the southern part of the state. With beautiful views all along the way, the highway is a destination in itself and is a great option for road trippers who are looking forward to seeing some fabulous scenery during the drive.
There are several places to visit along this coastline, but possibly the most picturesque is a piece of Route 1 on the Mendocino Coast in Mendocino County, approximately 3-hours north of San Francisco. With 13 coastal state parks, road trippers can easily add outdoor adventure to their itinerary. A handful of inland parks also offer some wonderful sightseeing for those looking to veer off the beaten path. Here are a few of my favorites:
Point Cabrillo: Enjoy the historic Lighthouse, visit the Lightkeepers Museum, and view a beautiful tide pool aquarium.
Jug Handle State Reserve: Check out a 2.5-mile self-guided nature trail called The Ecological Staircase. Bring your camera to capture photos of the stunning scenery.
Greenwood State Beach: Great for picnicking and an overnight stop. Above Greenwood Beach is the town of Elk, with a visitor center, shops, and inns.
Hendy Woods: Known for old-growth coast redwoods, with camping facilities near the wineries of the Anderson Valley.
Mallard (day use) and Navarro (overnight): Protected Redwood forests and wildlife habitat along the Garcia River are perfect for exploring. Camp Navarro offers a family campground with festivals and events.
As you travel the PCH, make sure to stop and enjoy delicious Oysters at Tomales Bay, visit Bodega Bay where Alfred Hitchcock filmed the movie “The Birds,” or grab lunch and do some shopping in the quaint town of Jenner.
Travel Tip: The cliffs above the Pacific Ocean south of Mendocino offer the perfect view points and photo opps. A series of hairpin turns wind across the bluff-tops, providing amazing, Instagram-worthy shots from the strategically positioned turnouts.
- Did You Know? Make the most of your pit stop. While you’re filling up with gas or grabbing supplies, you can also stock up on some of your favorite Starbucks beverages which are available in grab-and-go options at local grocery and convenience stores. Pick up a Starbucks® Bottled Frappuccino® Coffee Drink, Iced Coffee or can of Refreshers™ to enjoy while travelling the PCH, or any other long stretches of road.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
Named after Lieutenant Colonel George Custer, Custer State Park in the Black Hills is the first and largest state park in South Dakota. It’s easy to get to and completely picturesque – several highways lead in and out of the park, and park campgrounds offer a variety of scenic sites along flowing streams, in pine forests or near mountain lakes.
Nature lovers will enjoy the numerous opportunities for wildlife sightings throughout the park’s 71,000 acres. Visitors can spy elk, mountain goats, pronghorns, and herds of thousands of buffalo. There’s also an 18-mile wildlife loop road at the southern end of the park, so even if the animals seem to be playing hide-and-seek farther in the park, this loop almost guarantees some animal spotting.
The sightseeing doesn’t begin and end at the park, either. The nearby Needles Highway (SD Highway 87) is a favorite for road trippers with sights that include the “Needles” slim rock formations that jut into the sky, winding roads through granite tunnels, and a beautiful lake region. Take time to explore with a hike or spend a day on the crystal clear lake waters kayaking. Another scenic drive into the park is the 17-mile Iron Mountain Road (Highway 16 A), which leads visitors to Mount Rushmore National Memorial – a can’t miss if you’re in the area.
Travel Tip: Safe driving is important anywhere, but it’s especially crucial to watch your speed once you’ve entered the wildlife loop – for your safety and the safety of the animals in the park. Plus, since a lot of the animals blend into the scenery, if you speed by you’re bound to miss some of them!
- Did You Know? There’s no need to forego your morning coffee routine just because you’re “roughing it” in the wilderness. Get the same delicious experience in an instant with Starbucks VIA®. Available in brewed, latte and mocha in small, single serve portions making it easy to pack with you anywhere – all you need to add is hot water.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
The Great Smoky Mountains (also known as “The Smokies”) are wedged between North Carolina and Tennessee. With some of the most beautiful and lush country in the U.S., the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an ideal destination for watching wildlife and being surrounded by beautiful mountains. Plus, history buffs can explore some of the park’s more than 90 historic buildings, including log cabins, barns, churches and schools.
While in the area, head to the Bryson City Train depot and enjoy a ride around the mountains by hopping aboard The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, or visit the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina to watch an authentic Powwow. Another great spot is Cataloochee Valley, one of the original pioneer settlements in the area with many of the original buildings to visit. With the reintroduction of Elk in 2001, you’re almost certain to spy some in Cataloochee Valley as well.
Travel Tip: The National Park Service offers a schedule of free events for the whole family. Plan a guided walk with a park ranger, explore on a guided open-air hayride, and learn about the wilderness with nature bingo.
- Did You Know? Bars are easy to pack and are a quick snack to keep your energy up – whether you’re on a big hike, or just exploring town. Available at Starbucks stores nationwide, Evolution Harvest Bars deliver great taste and natural nutrition, and two flavors are Certified Gluten-Free.
Colt State Park, Rhode Island
The township of Bristol, Rhode Island may be small in size but it’s rich in historical flavor. The 325 year old town offers some of the most appealing waterfront in the U.S., with views of Mount Hope and Narragensett Bays. Visitors can also enjoy wandering around quaint neighborhoods with historical homes, museums and a variety of boutique shops.
Colt State Park in Bristol offers a variety of activities including hiking, biking and watersports, making it an excellent destination for adventure-minded road trippers. The park’s 464 acres sit on Poppasquash Neck, which is part of the Poppasquash Farms Historic District, noted on the National Registrar of Historic Places.
Travel Tip: Check out the Providence Ghost Tour ($15.00 US) for an evening walking tour put on by local guides, sharing Bristol’s colorful history with tales of murder, mystery and mayhem.
- Did You Know? When you’re driving through an unfamiliar area, it can be challenging to find a spot to stop and rest, use the restroom and grab a snack. The Starbucks for iPhone and Starbucks for Android apps let you easily find directions to the nearest store. You can even see store hours and amenities.
Beach Road Trip Destinations
California might seem like an obvious choice for great beaches, as well it should. With more than 1,000 miles of beaches (WOW!!!!) the biggest problem is finding the best ones. Well, look no further than Malibu for that quintessential California beach experience: bright sun, soft sand, beautiful people, and lots of surfers! Some of my favorite spots include:
Pointe Dume: For endless beach walks along pristine waters.
Dan Blocker Beach: A rugged mile-long beach with a hike down to the surf (no parking/no restrooms), but worth finding it for the privacy.
Zuma Beach: Wide sands for sunbathing and an excellent surf spot.
Surfrider Beach: near the Malibu pier, Surfrider is known to locals as “third point.” It offers ample street parking and plenty of nearby restaurants and coffee shops.
Travel Tip: Take a beach break and visit the Adamson House, a beautiful Spanish-style beach house that was built in 1930 for a wealthy California couple. Located next to Malibu Pier, the house was purchased by the State of California in 1968 and is open to the public with scheduled tours available.
- Did You Know? The Starbucks on West Malibu Road, right off the PCH, offers a lot of outdoor seating, perfect for people watching and soaking up that great California weather. And, since this is Malibu, you may even have a celeb sighting!
Tybee Island, Georgia
In southern Georgia’s “Low Country,” the town of Savannah is a hot tourist destination, offering a lot of history and southern pride. What you may not know is that, just a 25-minute trip from Savannah, Tybee Island also offers some incredible beaches.
Dubbed “Savannah’s Beach,” the barrier island of Tybee offers five miles of pristine sand along the Atlantic Ocean. Once in Tybee, there are a number of beaches to choose from. South Beach is located next to Tybee’s main business district. It’s a favorite of locals and is great for people watching, though can tend to be a bit more crowded. North Beach is at the mouth of the Savannah River and is perfect for collecting sea shells and watching the ships travelling to and from the Port of Savannah – you may even be able to spot some dolphins! The Back River Beach offers views of Little Tybee Island across the Savannah River, and has smaller waves, perfect for families with younger kids.
Travel Tip: Tybee Island offers lots of local restaurants, many offering seafood caught that same day – make sure to try the Fresh Caught Wild Georgia Shrimp! If you want to try your hand at hooking your own catch of the day, there are lots of options: fishing piers, off shore and deep sea charters, or you can even fish right in the surf. With lots of galleries and shops featuring local artists and artisans in town, you’ll have lots to see when you need a break from the sunshine and heat of the beach.
- Did You Know? While you’re travelling through the “Peach State,” you may want to cool off with the new Teavana® Iced Peach Green Tea Lemonade, available all summer long at Starbucks stores throughout Georgia and across the country.
Montauk, Long Island, NY
At the very tip of Long Island, sits Montauk, one of the last pieces of land before falling into the Atlantic Ocean. While Montauk is part of the Hamptons, it offers a refreshing respite from the crowded, celebrity-laden scene that the Hamptons has become known for.
Montauk offers a variety of beaches depending on what you’re looking for. Kirk Park Beach, also known as Umbrella Beach, is nearest to Montauk Village and conveniently close to a grocery store. Ditch Plains Beach is a favorite among surfers seeking out waves. However, the waters can be rough! A better option for families is Gin Beach in the Block Island Sound where waters are usually calmer.
Travel Tip: Whether you forgot your beach gear at home, didn’t have room in the car, or just want to pick up some new fun toys, the Montauk Beach Store is the perfect place to kick off your vacation. This kitschy spot has everything from kites to boogie boards to paddle ball and so much more.
- Did You Know? With fabulous beaches and a vibrant night scene, Montauk has a lot going on. To keep your energy up and avoid the afternoon slump, grab a Starbucks Refreshers™ – lightly caffeinated with natural energy from green coffee extract.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Many road trippers think of Florida for their Gulf of Mexico beach destinations. However, the Gulf of Mexico also boasts beautiful coastlines in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama.
Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Orange beach, just an hour’s drive from Mobile, is a haven for sun worshipers, foodies and boaters alike. While you’re there, find your favorite spot along the beach’s 32 miles of sugary sand, enjoy more than a dozen golf courses, or take advantage of boating adventures with world-class fishing and spectacular sunsets on the sea. It wouldn’t be the south without good food, and fresh catches of the day are brought in by local fisherman to local restaurants fitting every budget, from inexpensive beach dives to white linen restaurants.
If you’re looking to escape the crowds during the high season, check out West Beach, where baby powder sands meet bathtub temperature waters. The gentle waves make for a safe place for beginner swimmers.
Travel Tip: Take a walk on the wild side 30 minutes outside Mobile en route to Gulf Shores by turning off highway 10 onto AL-59 S to Route 71 to a gator sanctuary, called Alligator Alley. Come up close and personal to the “people friendly” goliaths on a guided walking tour.
- Did You Know? Alabama is one of the 16 states offering Starbucks new Fizzio™ Handcrafted Soda. Fizzio Sodas are available in Spiced Root Beer, Golden Ginger Ale and Lemon Ale, and, in states offering Fizzio, you can also ask your local barista to “add fizz” to any iced tea or Refreshers for 50 cents.
Follow Stefanie Michaels on Twitter (@adventuregirl) and through the Starbucks Newsroom for road trip suggestions, can’t miss destinations and travel tips throughout July and August.