Where I sit, in New York, the weather has finally turned warm. Sitting still in the office has, in turn, become unbearable.
So I’m dreaming about the best summer road trips I’ve ever taken, or that were recommended to me by fellow avid drivers. Even if I can’t head out for one right this minute, I hope one of you can. (Those who have followed us at Bloomberg Pursuits for a few years know how serious I am about road trips in nice cars.)
Some of these 10 epic drives require an overnight stay. Others will take just an hour, not counting pit stops for photos, creating epic memories. From Australia to China, from America’s Pacific Northwest to Monaco, there’s a road—and a car—for every sensibility.
The U.S. Pacific Northwest Coast
Start: San Francisco
End: Portland, Ore.
Fantasy car: Audi A3 Sportback
Mileage: 718 miles
We all know Highway 1 from Los Angeles to Big Sur is a must-do, bucket-list drive. Venture farther north for a truly unique drive. Head north from San Francisco along CA-1 and Highway 101 on the Northern California coast toward Redwood National State Park, where you’ll see ancient, protected forests, beaches, and grasslands; you can even drive your car through a famously fallen, giant redwood. Continue along the Pacific toward Crescent City, Calif., then cross into Oregon to Gold Beach, where you can spend the night in a cozy, shabby chic beach motel at one of many inlets. (Think “Big Little Lies,” farther north.) The next morning, head to Bandon Dunes, Ore., where you can rent buggies and cars to drive over seemingly endless mountains of sand. After passing through Coos Bay—home of Steve Prefontaine, the Steve McQueen of running and an inspiration to Nike Inc.’s first generation—turn inland in verdant forest toward Cottage Grove and on to Springfield, Eugene, and , Portland.
Australia’s 75 Mile Beach Road, Fraser Island
Start: Brisbane, Australia
End: Fraser Coast, Queensland, Australia
Fantasy car: Land Rover Range Rover
Mileage: 75 miles
Australia’s Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, is surrounded by crystal-clear reefs and wide, white beaches you can actually drive along—as long as you keep to the strict 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour) speed limit. Depart from Brisbane, three hours south, and head up along Australia’s famous Sunshine Coast. Once you reach Fraser Island, you’ll want to slow down. This drive is technically more challenging than most: The surface of the road is smooth sand, but there are plenty of hidden bumps and dips; if the sand gets too soft, it can be treacherous to cross without getting stuck. There’s plenty of wildlife to see, including native birds, dingoes, sharks, and kangaroos. You can stay on Fraser Island—the hotels are basic and inexpensive—or return to Brisbane and stay in one of the trendier neighborhoods such as Tenerife and New Farm.
The Scottish Highlands
Start: Aberdeen, Scotland
End: Loch Eriboll
Fantasy car: McLaren 570GT
Mileage: 229 miles, including a quick detour to Loch Ness
You’ll start on the A96, the entryway to some of Europe’s best roads. They’re smoothly surfaced, wide, two-lane canals that funnel drivers ever-deeper into the heart of northern Scotland. Stop halfway to see the infamous Loch Ness—maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of the monster—before continuing north through what is likely to be the most verdant, foggy, moody topography you’ve ever seen. It’s all rural driving as you pass through small villages and towns; there’s even a castle or two along the way. Once you get to Loch Eriboll, at the very top of Scotland’s land mass, you’ll feel you’ve passed into another world altogether.
The French Riviera
Start: Nice, France
End: Monte Carlo, Monaco
Fantasy car: A vintage Alfa Romeo
Mileage: 20 kilometers
One of the world’s most iconic coastlines leads to one of its most glamorous destinations. The tiny, two-lane highway that snakes along the water is slow and narrow, with French, Italian, and Monegasque drivers taking corners at speeds that seem devilish to outsiders. But that’s part of the charm. The weather is guaranteed to be golden, surpassed only by the quality of the wine and the ocean views. Stay at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo; located across from the famous casino, it’s perfect for watching as six- and seven-figure cars pull around the entrance loop.
Start: Zurich, Switzerland
End: Stelvio Pass, Italy
Fantasy car: Mercedes AMG GT R
Mileage: 297 kilometers, including the first-day detour to Park Hotel Vitznau
Fly into Zurich and head out along Switzerland’s A4, winding through high mountains and quaint country towns with sheep, cows, and goats placidly chewing cud as you speed past. You’ll be at Park Hotel Vitznau in an hour; spend the night at this Swiss spa, which boasts dual Michelin-starred restaurants and the best health and beauty treatments the world can offer—for a very steep price. In the morning, head out on the A3 right below Liechtenstein, destination Stelvio Pass. You’ve seen photos of this one: The blacktop road canvases the mountainside like a zipper. The unobstructed views will take your breath away. Just don’t get too distracted at the wheel. There’s no roadside safety barrier.
The Car Lover’s Dream
Start: Stuttgart, Germany
End: The Nürburgring
Fantasy car: Porsche GT3
Mileage: 358 kilometers
This is a pilgrimage of religious proportions for any true car lover. Start in Stuttgart, the home of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. Visit both brand museums, which are open to the public and worth a half-day each for drooling over old and new cars. In the morning, head north on Germany’s autobahn A61 toward the world’s most renowned racetrack. The Nürburgring dates back to 1925, with additional tracks and loops added through the 1940s, ’70s ’80s. It has hosted Formula 1 races, 24-hour endurance races, and anyone who wants to drive provided that’s not on a race day. Just be sure to check times and availability here before you go. And be wary of the Green Hell, an especially difficult and dangerous portion of the track that’s often steeped in fog, thick trees, and rain. Many accidents and multiple fatalities occur each year during public sessions. But if you conquer the ‘Ring, you’ll be able to brag about it for life.
Hunan Province, China
Start: Wulingyuan, Wulingyuan Qu, Zhangjiajie Shi
End: Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon
Fantasy car: BMW M3
The Wulingyuan Scenic Area is as astonishing as it is vast. The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park it contains has towering sandstone pillars on the way to the descriptively named “99 Hairpins Road” that will force a lesson in patience as you make your way up it. Take the 306 north toward the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon and the glass bridge that spans it. It’ll be a slow, harrowing day, but you’ll forget the struggle as you move through the natural side of one of the world’s most ancient cultures. Even better, two four-star hotels exist within the scenic area: a Pullman and a Crowne Plaza, so you can rough it and return to something rather more comforting.
The Canadian Rockies
Start: Banff, Alberta
End: Whistler, British Columbia
Fantasy car: Volvo XC90
Mileage: 792 kilometers
Use the epic Trans-Canada Highway/BC-1 W as your way through the heart of the stony Canadian Rockies; where Colorado has some nice hills, these are titanic mountains with expansive wilderness. Banff is a picturesque small town in which Western style meets a sort of European Swiss/Bavarian feel. Head west toward Lake Louise, an emerald lake that boasts the famous and striking Fairmont Chateau. Hike up to the tea house there and then spend the night in one of the cozy staterooms. The next morning, complete the drive into British Columbia through pine forests and mountain wonders.
The California Desert
Start: Los Angeles
End: Pioneertown, Calif.
Fantasy car: Ford Bronco
Mileage: 124 miles
Joshua Tree National Park is only one of the mystical wonders that lie in the great expanse beyond L.A.’s Hollywood life. Yucca Valley is chock-full of weird trees, scavenger birds, dirt, dust, sand, and sunsets made of colors that look as if they’re from another planet. Desert hot springs, hidden local diners, and dives abound—at infrequent intervals. You can hit them all just by driving east along Interstate 10. Hipster hangout Pappy and Harriets Pioneertown Palace perfect for local flavor and a cold beer. Stay at the Pioneertown Motel.
Old New World Mexico
Start: Veracruz, Mexico
End: Mexico City
Fantasy car: Jaguar F-Type SVR
Mileage: 364 kilometers
Situated at the Gulf of Mexico near a major national port, the old town of Veracruz is a little like old Havana: lots of crumbling buildings, patina walls, – and earlier-era cars, and folks sitting on patios drinking strong coffee with family and friends. Start there and then take Highway 140D west, driving slightly north through greenery intermixed with long stretches of wide-open rangeland. Halfway, turn onto Highway 136 toward Huamantla and Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl National Park, which boasts two volcanoes and hiking and camping galore. As you near Mexico City, you’ll begin a winding uphill climb that’s dense with foliage at first and eventually, with tall residential towers and buildings. Head for the Roma Norte section of town: It’s walkable, quiet, and suggestive of the Old World—as if New Orleans were to meet Barcelona, in Mexico.