Going on a coastal drive is a fantastic means to uncover the contrasts and splendors of our globe. With routes running the gamut from California’s Pacific Coast Highway and its unyielding cliffs, to the time-etched castles peppering Scotland’s North Coast 500, each journey guarantees a wealth of unforgettable moments and vistas that leave an indelible imprint on your memory. If you’re drawn to the fiery hues of fall on New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway or the spellbinding terrain of Iceland’s Ring Road, rest assured there’s a coastal path that’s got your name on it.
In this piece, we’re going to transport you on a digital tour through an assortment of the world’s most captivating road trips, spotlighting the extraordinary locations, natural phenomena, and cultural gems you’ll find along the way.
1. Pacific Coast Highway, California, USA
Let’s start with a true classic among road trips: a journey along the Pacific Coast Highway, or Highway 1. The journey begins in the buzzing city of San Francisco, making its way to the glitzy metropolis of Los Angeles. Traversing the Pacific Coast Highway, you’re rewarded with an unbroken visual feast of the expansive Pacific Ocean, formidable cliffs, and untouched beaches. Detours into quaint coastal hamlets like Monterey, Santa Barbara, and Big Sur are highly recommended. You’ll find attractions aplenty to keep you engaged, such as the architectural marvel that is the Bixby Creek Bridge, the grandeur of Hearst Castle, and the naturally resplendent Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. This road trip blends the splendors of nature, cultural points of interest, and the signature chill vibe of the California coast.
2. Great Ocean Road, Australia
Victoria, Australia, plays host to the Great Ocean Road, an unmissable treat for nature buffs and beach connoisseurs. Your journey commences in Torquay, following the coastline and offering up panoramic views of striking coastal scenery. The road leads you to the iconic Twelve Apostles, awe-inspiring limestone structures that jut out from the Southern Ocean. There’s plenty of seaside charm to explore in towns like Lorne and Apollo Bay, where the local seafood is a gastronomic delight, and the coastal vibes invite you to sit back and relax. And if you have a hankering for hiking, the lush rainforests of the Great Otway National Park, where the green canopy brushes the sea, is an opportunity not to be missed.
3. Amalfi Coast, Italy
Take your senses on an Italian vacation with a road trip along the Amalfi Coast in the country’s south. The road twists and turns, serving up panoramic vistas of the Mediterranean Sea, while quaint towns find their homes perched precariously on the cliffs. Your drive begins in the bustling city of Sorrento, navigating the remarkable coastline through places like Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello. Each town is a splash of colors, with narrow lanes and bougainvillea spilling over balconies and walls. Take time to wander aimlessly, relish local Italian cuisine, and unwind on the idyllic beaches. Take advantage of the magical Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo in Ravello, promising enchanting views and a touch of history.
Related: Italy Is Dangerous—A Cinque Terre Love Affair
4. Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
The Wild Atlantic Way, hugging Ireland’s raw, rugged west coast, promises an engaging road trip experience. Commencing in County Donegal and finishing in County Cork, this route presents a miscellany of landscapes, from intimidating cliffs to tranquil beaches and picturesque villages. Stand in awe of the formidable cliffs of Slieve League, soak in the lively atmosphere of Galway city, and step back in time at ancient landmarks like the Cliffs of Moher and Dun Aonghasa on the Aran Islands. Bask in the heartwarming Irish culture, treat your ears to traditional music, tickle your taste buds with authentic cuisine, and immerse yourself in the wild, untouched beauty of the Atlantic coastline.
Related: Ireland Travel Guide—Land of the People That Sorrow
5. Garden Route, South Africa
Embark on a mesmerizing coastal journey through South Africa’s Garden Route, stretching from the peaceful Mossel Bay to the bustling Storms River. This picturesque passage sweeps you across various ecosystems, featuring dense, enchanting forests, immaculate beaches, and stunning lagoons. The Tsitsikamma National Park calls for exploration, with hiking trails winding through ancient forests and offering arresting coastal vistas. Take a detour to the quaint town of Knysna, enjoy a thrilling safari at the malaria-free Addo Elephant National Park, and indulge in exciting activities like whale watching and bungee jumping. The Garden Route is a utopia for nature enthusiasts and adventure-seekers.
6. Big Sur, California, USA
Based on the central coast of California, Big Sur delivers a road trip experience of spectacular grandeur. Cruising the stretch from Carmel to San Simeon unveils towering cliffs, a rugged coastline, and panoramic views of the mighty ocean. The route meanders through the Santa Lucia Mountains, affording stunning perspectives of the Pacific Ocean beneath. Unmissable landmarks include the iconic McWay Falls, a picturesque waterfall that plummets straight onto the beach. Discover the wonders of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, traverse the Ventana Wilderness, and bask in the serene beauty of Pfeiffer Beach. Big Sur is an idyllic retreat for nature lovers, offering a harmonious blend of coastal scenery and wilderness majesty.
7. Ring of Kerry, Ireland
Ireland’s Ring of Kerry paints a scenic road trip around the Iveragh Peninsula in the southwest. This 179-kilometer journey navigates a landscape rich in majestic mountains, tranquil lakes, and stunning coastal vistas. The narrow, winding roads will lead you to charming hamlets like Killarney, Kenmare, and Sneem, each promising a taste of genuine Irish warmth and delicious local cuisine. Noteworthy sights include the awe-inspiring Gap of Dunloe, sweeping views from Ladies View, and the mystical stone circle at Staigue Fort. Extend your journey with the Skellig Ring—a detour to the famous Skellig Islands, home to ancient monastic settlements and dramatic cliffs.
8. Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia, Canada
Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail is a picturesque highway curving around Cape Breton Island, boasting breathtaking ocean views, mountains, and charming fishing hamlets. This 298-kilometer journey ventures through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, revealing rugged cliffs, lush forests, and stunning coastal landscapes. Along the route, make a stop in the village of Baddeck, housing the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, a tribute to the great inventor’s achievements. From the Skyline Trail, take in panoramic views, keep an eye out for wildlife like whales and bald eagles, and immerse yourself in the vibrant Celtic culture in communities such as Chéticamp and Ingonish. The Cabot Trail beautifully encapsulates the allure of Atlantic Canada, with opportunities for hiking, wildlife spotting, and cultural immersion.
9. Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland
Embark on an enchanting drive across Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route, which unravels from the bustling Belfast to Derry-Londonderry. This scenic drive meanders alongside the impressive coastline of County Antrim, revealing natural marvels such as the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its hexagonal basalt columns. Traverse the adrenaline-inducing Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, high above the tempestuous waves, and drink in the scenic allure of the Glens of Antrim. Wander through idyllic villages like Cushendun and Ballintoy, and visit the haunting ruins of Dunluce Castle, dramatically perched atop a cliff. The Causeway Coastal Route also opens doors to Northern Ireland’s rich history and vibrant culture, with must-visit stops at the Old Bushmills Distillery and the historic Derry Walls.
10. Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire, USA
Known as Route 112, the Kancamagus Highway provides an extravagant fall spectacle in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. As you drive through this scenic highway, find yourself amidst a riot of colors as the foliage transforms into red, orange, and gold hues. The road winds through the heart of the forest, unfolding breathtaking vistas of towering mountains, thick forests, and picturesque rivers. Use the opportunity to pause at various lookout points and hiking trails, genuinely appreciating the region’s natural beauty. Don’t miss the scenic Sabbaday Falls, and explore the quaint town of Lincoln. The Kancamagus Highway, particularly during fall, is a paradise for nature enthusiasts.
Related: 10 Best USA Fall Road Trip Ideas for Couples
11. The Ring Road, Iceland
Iceland’s Ring Road, also called Route 1, offers an extraordinary adventure encircling the island. This 1,332-kilometer journey traverses a captivating landscape of glaciers, black sand beaches, dramatic waterfalls, and striking fjords. As you journey along the Ring Road, witness iconic attractions such as the Golden Circle, housing the mighty Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir’s geothermal marvels. Wander through the alien landscapes of the Vatnajökull National Park, home to Europe’s largest glacier, and discover the magical Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, the volcanic wonders around Lake Mývatn, and the secluded beauty of the Eastfjords. Relax in natural hot springs, spot puffins, and immerse yourself in Icelandic culture and hospitality.
Related: Hiking the Laugavegur Trail: Planning and Itinerary
12. The North Coast 500, Scotland
The North Coast 500 unveils a 500-mile journey through Scotland’s northern Highlands’ rugged splendor. Starting and ending in Inverness, this circuitous route showcases majestic mountains, historic castles, and picturesque coastal hamlets. Navigate winding roads and behold dramatic landscapes, including the iconic peaks of Torridon and the rugged cliffs of Cape Wrath. Explore quaint fishing villages such as Ullapool and Dornoch, and discover the ancient ruins of Ardvreck Castle and the historic Dunrobin Castle. Outdoor activities like hiking, wildlife watching, and dolphin spotting in Moray Firth are sure to delight. The North Coast 500 perfectly blends natural beauty, historical richness, and Scottish charm.
Related: Explore the World’s 12 Most Iconic Hiking Trails
13. Dalmatian Coast, Croatia
Travel along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, from Dubrovnik to Split, for a journey brimming with crystal-clear waters, historic cities, and charming island towns. Begin in Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its well-preserved medieval walls and stunning Old Town. Heading north, encounter picturesque villages like Ston, renowned for its ancient city walls, and the delightful island of Korčula, the alleged birthplace of Marco Polo. Explore the breathtaking waterfalls and emerald lakes of Krka National Park and visit the historic city of Šibenik. The journey continues to Zadar, home to the unique Sea Organ and Sun Salutation installations, before reaching the lively town of Split with its impressive Diocletian’s Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage site. The Dalmatian Coast invites you to swim in secluded coves, visit pristine beaches, and indulge in delicious Mediterranean cuisine.
Ready for an Adventure?
From the majestic vistas of California’s Big Sur, the unspoiled beauty of Scotland’s North Coast 500, to the diverse landscapes of South Africa’s Garden Route—each journey offers a unique tapestry of natural wonders, cultural heritage, and breathtaking vistas.
Whether you’re pursuing the vibrant hues of autumn foliage or marveling at age-old castles perched on cliffs, these road trips create memories to be cherished forever. Pack your bags, hit the road, and embark on adventure along these captivating drives!
Featured image by Ben George on Unsplash
About the Author
As the managing director of Frayed Passport, my goal is to help you build a lifestyle that lets you travel the world whenever you want and however long you want, and not worry about where your next paycheck will come from. I've been to 20+ countries and five continents, lived for years as a full-time digital nomad, and have worked completely remotely since 2015. If you would like to share your story with our community, or partner with Frayed Passport, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org!