Your Guide to an Atlantic Coast Road Trip

Fill up the tank and get ready to roll from Maine to Florida along America's longest interstate with plenty to see, do, and eat along the way.

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Animated map of road tripEmma Kumer/rd.com

Driving the more than 1,900 miles of I-95 along the Atlantic Coast is an epic journey that touches down in some of the most historic, scenic, and iconic spots in America. Although you may not have heard of it in songs or books—Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway get all the love in that department—an Atlantic Coast road trip following this grand highway from Maine to Florida is one of the most fascinating journeys in the country. As you drive you’ll come to quaint coastal towns, beautiful beaches, historic attractions, and some of America’s most iconic cities.

Fast facts

  • Running from the northern border of Maine all the way to Miami, Florida, Interstate 95 is 1,920 miles long.
  • I-95’s Atlantic Coast route is the nation’s longest north-south interstate, traversing 15 states plus the District of Columbia, the most of any interstate in the country.

Route history

  • The route was originally established as an alternative Route 1.
  • Although pieces of the route already existed in several states, the extension to an Atlantic Coast interstate came about after President Dwight Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System was authorized in 1956.
  • The very last piece of road, connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania, was just completed in 2018.
  • According to NPR, this Atlantic Coast road trip follows the same route that revolutionaries used during the Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783.

Roadside attractions

Boston Exteriors And LandmarksPaul Marotta/Getty Images

What’s a road trip without roadside attractions, the sometimes quirky, sometimes crazy, sometimes just odd sights that make a driving trip memorable? And the Atlantic Coast has these highlights in droves, here are a few of our favorites. Roadside attractions aren’t limited to the east coast, of course. Find out the strangest roadside attraction in your state.

  • Hood Milk Bottle, Boston. We guarantee this 40-foot-tall snack stand in the shape of a glass milk bottle will make you crave a cookie to dunk. (Shown above.)
  • Lucy The Elephant, Margate, New Jersey. This is a massive, six-story pachyderm dating back to 1881. You can actually climb in, too!
  • The Mutter Museum, Philadelphia. This museum of medical oddities isn’t for the faint of heart, but worth a stop if the macabre is your thing.
  • South of the Border, Dillon, South Carolina. You’ll start seeing signs for this wonderland of kitsch on the border, exactly half-way between New York and Florida on the border of North and South Carolina, for miles before you arrive at the bizarrely festive faux-Mexican shopping and dining complex.

Maine

Monument Cove Acadia National ParkStan Dzugan/Getty Images

Route distance: 303 miles

Suggested length of stay: 2 days

Start your Atlantic Coast road trip on the border of the United States and Canada at the farthest reaches of Maine (of course you can flip this tour over and start south in Miami, too). Maine offers spectacular natural settings, including the mountains of Acadia National Park, which is, itself, one of the 15 best national park road trips to take.

Where to eat and stay: For classic Maine summer fun, head to Kennebunkport, where a lobster roll at the Clam Shack eaten in the fresh air is a must. Spend a night at The Boathouse Waterfront Hotel conveniently located in the heart of town with stunning views overlooking the harbor side of the Kennebunk River from panoramic windows, private balconies, and an expansive outdoor deck. Kennebunkport is also one of our favorite summer vacations.

New Hampshire

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USASean Pavone/Getty Images

Route distance: 16 miles

Suggested length of stay: 1 day

Interstate 95 touches down in the Granite State for just 16 miles, but it’s a picturesque trip following the New England coastline and crossing through Portsmouth, one of the gorgeous coastal towns that will leave you breathless.

You’ll want to get out of the car and explore this walkable city full of boutique shops and delicious spots to grab a bite. Take a harbor tour by boat, or stop in at the Strawbery Banke, a living history museum exploring the 17th and 18th centuries.

Where to eat and stay: Check out Row 34 for oysters and seafood dishes in a sleek space with a hip vibe, or head to “The Decks,” a row of restaurants and bars on the Piscataqua River. Although you can visit the city in a day, consider spending the night at the Wentworth by the Sea in New Castle or the Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel, a modern perch right on the harbor.

Massachusetts

Acorn Street BostonSean Pavone/Getty Images

Route distance: 92 miles

Suggested length of stay: 2 days

Roll down into Massachusetts and you’ll find you have about an hour before you hit one of the most popular cities on the route, Boston, the only state capital in America with an ocean shoreline. Big cities and quaintness don’t usually go hand in hand, but the narrow, cobblestone streets give the city an aura that reminds you that you’re walking in historic footsteps wherever you are in the city. For something new, base yourself in the Boston Seaport, the city’s iconic waterfront neighborhood that’s quickly being recognized as a hub for culture, innovation, and fashion. Naturally, Boston is one of the 16 best cities for history buffs.

Where to eat and stay: Savor a variety of outdoor dining options at local favorites like the new Il Giardino by Tuscan Kitchen, Cisco Beer Garden, or Paris Creperie Seaport. Spend the night at the Seaport’s waterfront Envoy Hotel waterfront hotel which offers a mix of urban style and casual New England traditions, with bright and spacious rooms that all come with harbor views.

Rhode Island

The Ocean House Hotel in Westerly Rhode Island USAAllard1/Getty Images

Route distance: 43 miles

Suggested length of stay: 1 day

You’ll be in the Ocean State for less than an hour on this Atlantic Coast road trip, but the scenery will be all stunning water and shoreline, some of the most memorable along the route.

Where to stay: If you can’t bear to tear yourself away, check into the Ocean House perched high on the bluffs of Watch Hill, overlooking a private stretch of beach with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, Montauk, and Block Island. Learn 14 more east coast getaways locals want to keep secret.

Connecticut

Yale university buildingsf11photo/Getty Images

Route distance: 112 miles

Suggested length of stay: 1 day

You’ll follow the Atlantic Coastline until you hit New Haven, home of the Ivy League campus of Yale University (shown above). Make a pit stop for Pepe’s Pizzeria, coal oven, thin-crust pies that are legendary on the east coast. Don’t miss the white clam pie, a local delicacy for nearly a century. Yes, there will be a line, yes, you should wait anyway. Speaking of pizza, keep going south and you’ll hit the seaport town of Mystic, probably best known as the setting for the movie Mystic Pizza. There’s much more here though, including a fabulous aquarium and a vibrant, pizza-less dining scene.

Where to eat and stay: The newest restaurant to open in Mystic is The Shipwright’s Daughter, a modern spot serving sea-to-fork cuisine located in the historic Whaler’s Inn, an elegant collection of restored buildings with sleek modern rooms. These are the 10 epic road trips every foodie should take.

New York

Cloister archjgorzynik/Getty Images

Route distance: 24 miles

Suggested length of stay: 2 days

As luck would have it, even though this section of I-95 is just 24 miles, it zips straight across the top of New York City, making it the perfect next stop on an Atlantic Coast road trip itinerary. The road skitters across the Bronx, where some of the city’s best outdoor highlights are located. Spend some time exploring the New York Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo. Then go south into Manhattan for a stop at the stunning medieval architecture of The Cloisters (shown above), part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and one of the 15 NYC hidden gems even most locals don’t know about, before heading about 120 blocks down to see the main museum and its superlative collections.

Where to eat and stay: New York is filled with so much delicious food it’s hard to decide what to eat, so head down to Grand Central Terminal’s Food Hall for access to some of the best tastes of the city all in one place. Stay uptown and tuck into the exclusive Lowell Hotel for the night, located south of the Met and just a few blocks from Central Park. If you’re visiting in the winter, take advantage of having your own wood-burning fireplace in the city, a rarity to say the least.

New Jersey

View of NYC Skyline at DuskMadisonGarden/Getty Images

Route distance: 78 miles

Suggested length of stay: Passing through

From New York City, you’ll cross into the Garden State and start heading south. Although the state has miles of golden beaches, this route takes you through some of Jersey’s fun and funky city areas such as artsy Jersey City and Hoboken across the Hudson River from New York, and the college town of New Brunswick, where Rutgers University is located.

Pennsylvania

Love sculpture in the Love Park in Philadelphia PARoman Babakin/Getty Images

Route distance: 51 miles

Suggested length of stay: 1 day

In Pennsylvania, I-95 follows the Delaware River through Bucks County, passing through numerous Revolutionary War sites, and eventually coming to Philadelphia where you can immerse in the footsteps of America’s founding fathers at Independence Hall and see the Liberty Bell, an iconic symbol of American independence. Nearby is Reading Terminal Market, one of America’s largest and oldest public markets with over 80 vendors selling tasty regional delights ranging from cheesesteaks to fresh farm veggies. A few blocks away is Philadelphia City Hall and Love Park (shown above) where the oversized sculptures are perfect for a Philly-inspired photo shoot. Follow Market Street to the Schuylkill River, crossing over with the best views of the sunset. You’ll then reach University City, where you can stroll through the Ivy League campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

Where to stay: Stay the night at The Study at University City—located steps away from UPenn and Drexel, it embraces the unique energy of Philadelphia with modern accommodations and comfy furnishings perfect for relaxing after exploring one of the country’s most historic cities. Discover the best weekend getaway in your state.

Delaware

Route distance: 23 miles

Suggested length of stay: Passing through

You’ll spend less than half an hour traversing the First State, but while you’re here keep an eye out for the impressive estates of the Dupont family which have been transformed into museums and botanical gardens in and around Wilmington. Don’t leave home without your road trips essentials checklist.

Maryland

Baltimore Maryland SkylineSeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

Route distance: 110 miles

Suggested length of stay: 1 day

Baltimore, Charm City, is the next spot on the I-95 corridor you’ll want to spend some time exploring for its mix of great food, fun neighborhoods, and historical monuments. Get your history fill at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, the site of one of the key battles in the War of 1812 and the birthplace of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” penned just off its shores by Francis Scott Key. Then head to the Fell’s Point Neighborhood. One of the oldest neighborhoods in Baltimore, this area was once a bustling shipbuilding port and its picturesque stone streets, waterfront restaurants, and cozy boutiques have all been perfectly preserved. Travel back in time with a stop at the oldest-standing residence in Baltimore City, the Robert Long House, which is open for tours by reservation.

Where to eat and stay: Stop for a drink at the city’s oldest bar, The Horse You Came In On Saloon (rumored to be Edgar Allan Poe’s last stop before his mysterious death). Stay at Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, located in a storied 1914 property on Baltimore’s historic Recreation Pier; the new property combines an idyllic harbor setting with impeccable service, incredible period detailing, and modern amenities including a large outdoor pool with views over the marina.

Washington, D.C.

Lincoln Memorial at sunrise in Washington, D.C.lucky-photographer/Getty Images

Suggested length of stay: 1 day

Interstate 95 doesn’t actually go through D.C. but instead encircles it as part of the Beltway that loops around the city. (that’s why we can’t share route distance here since the road is never actually in the city!) However, you can easily slide into the nation’s capital as you explore the Atlantic Coast. Stretch your legs by walking around the highlights of the city, starting with the Lincoln Memorial where you can marvel in the former President’s poised presence. From there, walk along the Reflecting Pool until you reach the World War II Memorial and then the Vietnam Memorial. Pay your respects, then stroll by to the Washington Monument on your way to some of the fabulous and free Smithsonian Museums that line the National Mall. Find out 21 things you never knew about Washington, D.C.

Where to stay: You can’t stay in the White House, but you can get excellent views of the People’s House from the terrace of the AKA White House where you can stay in elegant, fully-furnished one- and two-bedroom suites with king-size beds and marble bathrooms for the full presidential experience.

Virginia

Traffic at downtown historic Occoquanaimintang/Getty Images

Route distance: 179 miles

Suggested length of stay: 1 day

Virginia is dotted with Founding Father history, and history fills the roads around this stretch of the road trip. On your way out of D.C., you’ll pass the sweet 18th-century mill town of Occoquan situated along the Occoquan River, a Potomac River tributary. The historic buildings here house more than 100 art galleries and boutiques, and great dining. Your first stop into town should be at Mom’s Apple Pie, a country general store with freshly baked treats. They’re so good, you just might need to stop again on the way out of town to pair with one of those healthy road trip snacks. Continuing on you’ll come to Triangle, home of the National Museum of the Marine Corps and the 12,000-acre Prince William Forest National Park, a one-time World War II covert ops training ground that’s now a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital with 37 miles of hiking trails. Next, you’ll come to the home to four major Civil War battlefields, Fredericksburg, also the location of The James Monroe Museum that honors the fifth president of the United States.

Where to eat and stay: Take a cue from the locals and try Mason-Dixon Cafe for fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and chicken and waffles and follow it up with Carl’s Frozen Custard, a Fredericksburg institution dating to the 1950s. Spend the night at Hyatt Place Fredericksburg at Mary Washington (University). The sprightly chain property is centrally located, has free breakfast, and is right on the campus of the university with access to a grocery right next door, so you can load up on car snacks before you hit the road again.

North Carolina

The Hay Street United Methodist Church in downtown Fayetteville, North Carolinatraveler1116/Getty Images

Route distance: 182 miles

Suggested length of stay: 1 day

Interstate 95 cuts a diagonal line across inland North Carolina, traversing small towns, big cities, and plenty of rolling hill country. It also dissects the great military city of Fayetteville, making it a perfect stop on your Atlantic Coast road trip. Highlights include the Airborne and Special Operations Museum which puts the best and brightest of Fayetteville’s military history front and center including the lauded U.S. Army Airborne soldiers and Green Berets, many of whom train and live on Fort Bragg just a few minutes from the center of town. To make it all the more special, many of the volunteer docents are Airborne and SpecOps veterans. Nearby is the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens, 80 acres perched on bluffs above the Cape Fear River with miles of walking paths framed with flowers and greenery, perfect for stretching your legs after a long car ride. Make your ride comfier by renting one of these 15 best cars for a road trip.

Where to eat and stay: Just a few minutes from downtown, Dirtbag Ales is a go-to watering hole in Fayetteville, with more than a dozen brews on draft; another great restaurant is Napkins, serving smashburgers and heaps of tots; plus live music. You’ll also find a Saturday farmers market in a family-friendly setting. Hit the hay at Tru by Hilton close to all the major attractions in the area and offering keyless entry to fresh and crisp rooms, plus complimentary breakfast and free parking.

South Carolina

Enjoy the view of the ocean from a chair while on vacationaceshot/Getty Images

Route distance: 207

Suggested length of stay: 2 days

With more than 200 miles of road in the Palmetto State, I-95 is one of the busiest routes, offering plenty of places along the way to stop and get a taste or a glimpse of all South Carolina has to offer. As you meander into the state, stop at Exit 164 for the Pee Dee State Farmers Market. The market sits on 55 acres of former farmland and is open year-round, offering some of the freshest produce from state farmers. Take Exit 141 to visit Woods State Park, home to one of the most unique features of the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain, a Carolina Bay. A nature trail circles a millpond and a 1,150-foot boardwalk offer close up views of the shrub bog, cypress-tupelo swamp, and the alligators who call it home. Then just off Exit 98 is a unique shopping and dining experience called Lone Star Barbeque & Mercantile. This all-you-can-eat barbecue restaurant is spread across four old buildings that served as country store, post office, and supplier to local farmers as late as 1997. The buffet here includes barbecue, fried fish, ribs, and shrimp and grits. Just 30 minutes off I-95 is Hilton Head Island, part of the Lowcountry region known for beaches and golf courses, as well as the Harbour Town Lighthouse and Museum which marks the southwest tip. Between the island and mainland, the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge salt marsh is home to deer, alligators, and myriad birds, a trip to South Carolina is not complete without visiting this hidden gem.

Where to stay: Stay at the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort, a part of the prestigious Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort community. The resort offers access to an 11-mile lagoon system with bike trails, tennis courts, and three championship golf courses. Paired with sparkling pools and delicious dining, it’s hard to beat for a true vacation-feeling retreat.

Georgia

Forsyth Park in Savannah, GeorgiaSeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

Route distance: 112 miles

Suggested length of stay: 1 day

Interstate 95 rolls along Georgia’s pristine coastline traversing marshes and streams, and then rolling right into the charming southern belle town of Savannah famous for cobblestoned streets and Spanish moss-covered trees. You’ll want to stay put for a while to explore the “city of squares” which boasts 22 friendly public squares to visit as you stroll through the friendly walking city. Other highlights include perfectly preserved 18th and 19th-century architecture, including the Telfair Museums, famed Forsyth Park, and the Savannah River waterfront.

Where to eat and stay: You’ll no doubt work up an appetite exploring the city, which is excellent since the southern specialties here aren’t what we’d call light cuisine; head to The Olde Pink House for old-school fried chicken and mac and cheese and new-fangled shrimp and grits Southern Sushi served up in a gorgeous 18th-century mansion. The Perry Lane Hotel has stylish rooms, a rooftop pool, library, lounge, and three restaurants, all tucked into a secluded square in the heart of Savannah’s Historic District. Don’t miss the coolest secret location in your state.

Florida

lifeguard hut Miami beachno_limit_pictures/Getty Images

Route distance: 382 miles

Suggested length of stay: 2 days

You’ve hit the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of the Atlantic Coast road trip, the sunny eastern beach coast of Florida, but settle in, you’re going to be in the sunshine state for a while with nearly 400 miles of road to go. Starting in northern Florida, you’ll find the quiet island beaches of Amelia Island, the raucous spring break locale of Daytona, the amazing Space Coast and the Kennedy Space Center, before rolling through ritzy Palm Beach, perennially popular Ft. Lauderdale, and finally, the salsa beats of South Beach and Miami. Whew! You can stop at any of these worthwhile beach destinations on your way, several of which hide some of the best Florida beaches locals want to keep secret, but Miami is always a surefire way to end a trip with a bang. There are cultural highlights galore in the Downtown area, from the Frost Museum of Science, a new planetarium, aquarium, and science museum, to The Pérez Art Museum Miami, to the opening of the first U.S. outlet of London’s coveted Novikok Restaurant and Bar. And of course, South Beach is where to find nightlife galore, from bars to restaurants, to clubs, to beaches filled with a party atmosphere next to the waves. Stay at the Kimpton Surfcomber, a boutique property located in a beachfront, historic Art Deco building on Miami’s South Beach that offers backyard bliss with a palm-tree-lined pool and silky sand.

Next, read on to discover the 50 best road trips.

Some sites listed here may not be open or may have limited hours or other restrictions due to COVID-19. Please check with them before you go.

For more on where to go and what to see around the country, check out our Ultimate American Road Trip Guide.

Sources:

  • NPR: “Things You Didn’t Know About I-95”

Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is a freelance travel writer and editor with more than 27 years experience who reports on travel trends around the planet for Reader's Digest. Winner of a Lowell Thomas Gold Award for excellence in travel writing, she started her career as an editor at both Frommer’s and Fodor’s travel guides, then went on to write about travel for many publications including Family Traveller, Parents, and Working Mother magazines. More recently she has been a contributing editor at Saveur, Islands, and Caribbean Travel and Life and a senior contributor at Travelocity. A New Jersey native, ice cream addict, and a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, Klurman lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband, son, and rescue dog.