The best coastal US scenic drives deliver epic water views and beach access on popular and lesser known US road trips.
On these US coastal scenic drives find the world’s softest sugar sand beaches but also stark rugged cliffs, majestic bridges, and winding roads. Bask under tropical palm trees and massive oaks on beach road trips, be awed by giant redwoods on scenic drives on the west coast, and even shiver in arctic tundra.
This resource of the best scenic American road trips lists eight favorite classic US Coast scenic drives, followed by coastal scenic drives organized by state—both sections include popular and lesser known coastal road trips—and eventually will comprehensively cover all US coastal scenic drives.
Are you frustrated and less than impressed when devoting time, money, and energy to a coastal drive only to discover there are no water views? I have taken road trips in all 50 states and have experienced the frustration of coastal drives that are not actually along the coast. Our scenic US coastal drive guide focuses on water views and close proximity to the ocean or gulf.
While you may be familiar with many of these classic US road trips, I have some surprises for you. And because I have not yet been everywhere (darn it), I want and encourage your suggestions. Please leave comments with or email me information and pictures of your favorite scenic US coastal road trips.
8 Great US Coastal Scenic Drives
Our 8 great coastal US scenic drives represent different coastal terrains and experiences but all feature prominent water views and road trip funness.
Click the scenic drive name to see a photo and description of it below. I included a return link so you can easily come back and see this list.
Scenic Drives Along the US Coasts
Now, let us go explore US road trips along the three coasts—Atlantic coast, Pacific coast, and US Gulf coast (aka Third coast).
These US coast road trips are listed clockwise from Maine and then down the Atlantic coast, across the Gulf coast to the Mexico border, and then picks up again along the Pacific coast from Southern California up to Washington followed by Alaska and Hawaii.
Of the 150 federally designated America’s Byways (by FHWA), 30 are honored with All-American Road status and only seven of those All-American Roads are coastal—eight if we include the Alaska Marine Highway. Those seven coastal All-American Road are included below, along with dozens of other coastal road trips and scenic drives. Enjoy!
USA Atlantic Coast Scenic Drives
Even though the following Atlantic US coastal scenic drives are listed from north to south, we recommend driving them from south to north in order to be closer to the coastline. Better yet, drive them in both directions and decide for yourself which is better.
Maine Coastal Scenic Drives
US Route 1 exhibits gorgeous Maine scenic drive views in parts and is a fun slow travel alternate to I-95. Many tempting smaller roads hug the Maine coastline:
- US Route 1A between York and Ogunquit
- Maine State Route 9 north to Blue Point
- Maine State Route 77 around Cape Elizabeth
The popular Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park follows a bit of the rugged coastline of Mount Desert Island. It is part of the Acadia All-American Road.
New Hampshire Coastal Scenic Drives
The best New Hampshire coastal drive is Ocean Blvd / NH Route 1A between Odiorne Point State Park and the Massachusetts state line. It is only 15 miles and winds through Seabrook Beach, Rye Beach, and Hampton Beach. We suggest driving north from Seabrook so that the water is on your right side.
Massachusetts Coastal Scenic Drives
Refuge Road on Plum Island State Park is a wonderful nature coastal drive, about six miles through Parker River National Wildlife Refuge—from Newbury Beach to Sandy Point State Reservation (a wildlife refuge).
Massachusetts Route 127 around Cape Ann offers peeks of the coast with the bonus of plenty of places to stop for fresh lobster and clams.
Near Boston Airport, starting at Winthrop Head, a nice five mile shoreline coastal scenic drive is Winthrop Shore Drive to Winthrop Parkway (along Short Beach) onto Revere Beach Blvd. Then continue on 1A onto Nahant Road. The water views will end when you hit the island but drive to the end and walk onto East Point for super views. When you return back on Nahant Drive, turn onto Lynnshore Drive for a short coastal stretch with open views.
Rhode Island Coastal Scenic Drives
In Newport, Ocean Avenue from Ragged Point and Collins Beach to Bailey Beach is the best chance to see shoreline. But the Cliff Walk coast trail is the star of the show here. Try public parking near the 40 Steps entrance on Narragansett Avenue and try to devote a few hours for this magnificent walking path.
Charlestown Beach Road and East Beach Road parallel the waterfront, and East Beach is a great beach to drive on.
Perhaps half of the four mile drive between Scarborough State Beach and Coast Guard House in Narragansett Beach is right on the water.
Connecticut Coastal Scenic Drives
The Connecticut shoreline is tucked into Long Island Sound and not fronting the Atlantic Ocean. And then most of the shoreline is privately or commercially owned, so there are scant chances to see coast views while driving in Connecticut.
Two Connecticut coastal scenic drive possibilities are Shore Road around Groton Long Point and Soundview Drive to Barnum Blvd in Bridgeport South End.
New York Coastal Scenic Drives
Ocean Parkway offers about nine miles of continuous water view on Jones Beach Island from Jones Beach to Cedar Beach.
Just for the pure feeling of being at the end of the world, I like driving to the eastern edge of Long Island and to the Montauk Lighthouse.
New Jersey Coastal Scenic Drives
More of a very slow cruising road (especially during the summer), Ocean Avenue between Sea Girt and Ocean Grove offers mostly unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean, beach, and the pedestrian boardwalk. It is a fun coastal drive though.
Shore Road on Island Beach State Park is 8 miles of nature with one in park commercial area. Otherwise nothing between the road and the water except dunes.
Brigatine Beach 4WD beach, must have permit. No AWD, only 4WD.
Delaware Coastal Scenic Drives
Whether or not you arrive by the above ferry from Cape May, Delaware State Route 1 is the road along the Atlantic Ocean. A nice seven mile stretch of the Coastal Highway, between the Indian River Inlet and Dewey Beach, has only sand dunes and ocean on the right (except for one Delaware Seashore State Park area).
Maryland Coastal Scenic Drives
Delaware SR 1 (above) transitions into Maryland State Route 528 and is continuous oceanfront commercial buildings into Ocean City (sorry). For the best Maryland coastal scenic drive, go around the Ocean City mayhem to Assateague State Park, about 10 miles south. There are a few small coastal island roads and at the southern end is the short Life of the Dunes Trail.
Virginia Coastal Scenic Drives
McCool Travel 8 Great Pick: Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel
At the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay, US Highway 13 travels across (and under) the water for 17.6 miles and connects the Delmarva peninsula / Virginia’s Eastern Shore with Virginia Beach. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is an architectural marvel—the world’s longest bridge-tunnel combo—and one of our 8 favorite US coast scenic drives.
There is a wonderful half-mile beach drive/parking lot parallel to the Atlantic Ocean at the end of the road in Assateague Island National Seashore.
At the southern end of Virginia Beach (and the state of Virginia), Sandpiper Road through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge runs a couple of hundred feet from the Atlantic Ocean. So open the windows and smell the salt air to accompany your views of sand dunes and coastline.
North Carolina Coastal Scenic Drives
McCool Travel 8 Great Pick: Cape Hatteras National Seashore
One of our top 8 US coastal scenic drives is the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. For 53 glorious miles—from Bodie Island lighthouse to Hatteras Landing—NC Route 12 offers sand dunes, lighthouses, wild horses, shipwrecks, and history (European colony in 1580s, first manned airplane flight, Blackbeard and other pirates). This Outer Banks road trip crosses Oregon Inlet, Pea Island, and then Cape Hatteras Island. Visit the Bodie Island Lighthouse and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, drive on the sand in Oregon Inlet and Cape Hatteras, and hike in Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. As an add-on adventure, take the Ocracoke Ferry and drive another 13 blissful miles on Ocracoke Island.
At the north end of Outer Banks (OBX), paved NC Route 12 ends and four wheel drive vehicles take over on 11 miles of beach sand road—from Corolla, through Carova Beach, all the way to the Virginia state line. This section of OBX has many housing developments with hundreds of rental homes (4WD access only). Guided tours to see the wild horses are available from Corolla.
Plan your next OBX trip with our guide: Outer Banks Things to Do: NC Coast Adventures and Fun
South Carolina Coastal Scenic Drives
Coastal South Carolina areas have housing developments or wetlands along the coast and drives are not scenic. Let me know your favorite South Carolina coast scenic drive.
Georgia Coastal Scenic Drives
Coastal Georgia areas have housing developments or wetlands along the coast and drives are not scenic. There is a short (less than one mile) section of Beachview Drive on Jekyll Island with unobstructed ocean views. Wish I can find hundreds more miles like that. Let me know your favorite Georgia coast scenic drive.
Our favorite Georgia coast destination is definitely Savannah: 17+ Memorable and Romantic Things to Do in Savannah
Florida Coastal Scenic Drives
Note that the following are Florida scenic drives on the east coast. The following section covers Florida Gulf coast scenic drives.
You can find short stretches of unimpeded water views along Ocean Avenue and Fletcher Avenue in Fernandina Beach. An Amelia Island highlight is driving on the beach sand. Driving on beaches is also permitted in St Augustine, Daytona Beach, and New Smyrna Beach.
Find nice Atlantic coast views when driving A1A across the Nassau Sound from Amelia Island to Big Talbot Island. At Amelia Island State Park is a great place to drive on the beach sand.
Highway A1A between Mickler’s Landing and Villano Beach has a nice scenic stretch of water views.
Daytona Beach calls itself the world’s most famous beach, is the birthplace of NASCAR, and may be the classic place to drive on the beach. Imagine you are a racer from the earliest days (when they raced on the beach). Then again, the beach driving speed limit is 10 MPH so minimize your acceleration and drifting.
Another very tranquil and remote coastal scenic drive section is A1A south of Bethune Beach onto Cape Canaveral National Seashore. Turtlemound Road 6 miles south to end of road at Klondike Beach Trail. From the parking area walk to miles of secluded beaches.
One of the best US urban coastal scenic drive experiences is what I call the Miami Waterfront Scenic Drive. Drive Rickenbacker Causeway to Crandon Park, across Macarthur Causeway, cruise world-famous Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, and return to Miami on Venetian Causeway.
McCool Travel 8 Great Pick: Overseas Highway / Florida Keys Scenic Highway
The only road for most of the drive between Miami and Key West, the Overseas Highway is one of the world’s best road trips. With over 100 miles (most with water views) and 42 bridges (including Seven Mile Bridge), the Florida Keys highway has countless Florida nature photo spots, waterfront restaurants and activities, and places waiting to be discovered and enjoyed. This southernmost section of highway A1A and US 1 is one of only seven coastal All-American Roads (30 total US All-American Roads).
US Gulf Coast Scenic Drives
Our scenic drives on the US Gulf coast are listed below starting from southwest Florida, up the Florida Gulf coast, across Alabama beaches, Coastal Mississippi, and Louisiana, and then down the Texas Gulf coast.
Florida Gulf Coast Scenic Drives
In general, the Florida Gulf Coast does not offer scenic coastal drives as nice or long as the Atlantic side—although Florida Gulf beaches are nicer (shhhh!). Here are some of our favorite US coastal scenic drives along the Florida Gulf Coast.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park has just one mile of undeveloped coastal road but it is a rare such spot in Naples. Just north, across the Cocohatchee River and Wiggins Pass, drive to the end of Barefoot Beach Blvd in Bonita Springs. The last 3/4 mile is undeveloped, except for a county park facility.
On Captiva Island, a short but remarkable one-mile stretch of Captiva Drive juts along the Gulf. It is a perfect place for sunset views, if you cannot find a room at the nearby and magnificent South Seas Island Resort.
Perhaps it was impeccable timing on my part but I have never seen such vivid water colors as on the Florida Boca Grande Causeway between Placida and Boca Grande. The best water views on this fun Florida Gulf coast scenic drive from Punta Gorda, Sarasota, or Fort Myers are on the causeway. But also make sure to drive Gulf Blvd to the end for amazing views from around Port Boca Lighthouse in Gasparilla Island State Park.
In addition to along Rickenbacker Causeway (Miami Florida) and Coastal Mississippi Gulf Coast Scenic Byway, one of my favorite places for convenient access to amazing beaches is between Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.
In spite of having some of the best beaches in the world, impressive Florida Gulf Coast scenic drives are scant. Some other pockets of coastal funness with quick water views from the car include Gulf Way in Pass-a-Grille, Old Dixie Highway in Hudson, Oceanview Blvd in Aripeka, Pine Island Drive in Bayport, Fort DeSoto, and Honeymoon Island.
Heading further up the Florida Gulf Coast, some roads head out to the water but not only it. Until perhaps Bald Island and Alligator Point. West of there, US 98 and 30A are shoreline roads, with occasional stretches of water views.
Main Park Road in Grayton Beach State Park runs parallel to the coastline and (bonus) vehicles are allowed on the beach here.
Between the vacation rental houses in Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach, highway 399 is a wonderful Florida Panhandle scenic drive. Savor ten miles of pristine Gulf Islands National Seashore protected area, with only sugar sand dunes between you and the Gulf of Mexico (and a handful of park operated beach access areas).
Explore two miles of pristine Gulf Islands National Seashore at Johnson’s Beach. Turn right on Johnson Beach Road off Perdido Beach Road, about 5.5 miles east of Flora-Bama.
Alabama Gulf Coast Scenic Drives
Heading into Alabama from Flora-Bama, the gulf views from Perdido Beach Blvd and the Perdido Pass Bridge are nice but then waterfront buildings along the rest of highway 182 prevent any sustained views.
Ponce de Leon Court and Beach Blvd in Gulf Shores toward Fort Morgan are coastal roads parallel to the gulf but houses prevent any sustained water views. Still, they are nice streets to drive if in the area.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Scenic Drives
McCool Travel 8 Great Pick: Gulf Coast Scenic Byway
One of my favorite secret, lesser known, unique American road trips is the drive along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Coastal Mississippi Gulf Coast Scenic Byway has dozens of miles of unobstructed Gulf of Mexico and sugar sand views with plentiful beachfront parking. My favorite stretch is from Henderson Point (just after the Bay St Louis bridge) through Pass Christian (pictured below) and into Long Beach.
One local coastal drive I enjoy is in Ocean Springs. Start at the Ocean Springs Yacht Club next to the bridge and take Front Beach Drive along the water, then along Shearwater Drive (which reminds me of Boothbay Harbor Maine) onto East Beach Drive. Best sunset views are along Front Beach and depending on which month you are there, the sun may line up with the bridge.
Another wonderful Mississippi Gulf Coast scenic drive is the stretch of Beach Blvd. between Waveland and Bay St Louis, a nice eight mile stretch with no stop lights and 99% uninterrupted water views.
Louisiana Gulf Coast Scenic Drives
With all of the the bayous and wetlands along the Louisiana coast, here might be tougher than any other US state for scenic coastal drives.
One nice Louisiana Gulf Coast scenic drive is Gulf Beach Highway 82 along Holly Beach. It is adjacent to the waterfront for about seven miles. In fact, this drive is a portion of the Creole Nature Trail, one of those seven coastal All-American Road awardees.
Texas Gulf Coast Scenic Drives
Sea Rim State Park in Port Arthur is a lovely gem in the southeast corner of Texas. Although the area, highway 87 along the Texas gulf, and even driving on the beach are nice here, be warned that you have to meander through a Mad Max scene is oil refinery alley to get here.
Texas state highway 87 picks up further down coast for a nice Texas gulf coast scenic drive. Starting near the intersection with 124 and heading west, it is about five miles before a house interrupts your water view.
Seawall Blvd in Galveston is fantastic. About six miles with continuous water views interrupted only by a couple of beach buildings and piers. Oh, and plentiful parking along the road is wonderful.
McCool Travel 8 Great Pick: Padre Island National Seashore (sand road)
Of the 8 great US coastal scenic drives listed, Padre Island National Seashore is the only one I have not driven or visited. It has been on “my list” for too many years and I hope to drive it later this year. The treacherous 60 miles of beach sand along the Texas Gulf Coast requires a four wheel drive vehicle. Local expert guidance is strongly recommended as vehicles can get stuck from many hazards. Padre Island is the “Longest Stretch of Undeveloped Barrier Island in the World.”
Heading north from South Padre, Ocean Blvd is seven miles of nearly pristine sand dune landscape. The last mile is often covered with shifting sand and is a favorite spot for 4WD vehicles.
US Pacific Coast Scenic Drives
San Diego Coast Scenic Drives
Coast Blvd provides phenomenal coastal scenery from atop the La Jolla cliffs. Take advantage of any parking spot you can find and walk the breath-taking Coast Walk Trail or just people-watch the surfers, swimmers, beachgoers, walkers, and drivers. This is a classic coastal California location.
Much of the Southern California coastline is built up and coastal roads will not offer water views. Some quick teases are found in Del Mar (Coast Blvd and Camino del Mar), Torrey Pines Road, highway 101 between Encinitas and Solana Beach, and Neptune Ave in Leucadia. Carlsbad Blvd has water views for most of the seven miles between Carlsbad State Beach South Ponto Beach.
One of the few US interstate highway sections along the coast is between San Onefre Beach and Oceanside. The Coast Highway offers glimpses of the Pacific Ocean along Capistrano Beach, Aliso Beach, and downtown Laguna Beach. Also in Laguna Beach, allow time to meander along Cliff Drive.
A five-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway north of Laguna Beach is fantastic. The parallel Crystal Cove Trail is a convenient place to stretch your legs and bask in the sweet coastal scenery. As with most US Pacific Coast scenic drives, it is better to do the drive from north to south so that you are on the ocean side of the road.
Southern California Coast Scenic Drives
The eight-mile portion of scenic PCH along Huntington Beach is a classic California drive. A one-mile stretch of Ocean Blvd is an oasis of water views for Long Beach drivers.
I do wish coastal drives along the nearby Los Angeles county beaches (Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Manhattan Beach) were more scenic but high-priced properties take precedent over driving enjoyment. In this area, “scenic” PCH is quite a bit inland and overwhelmed with commercial and residential buildings. Take time to stroll The Strand or enjoy the bike trail (which goes all the way to Santa Monica).
A couple of sneaky beach spots for coastal views from your car include George Freth Way (near Redondo Beach pier) and the long parking area beyond the The Strand between 45th and 38th Streets in Manhattan Beach. The 3.5 mile section of Vista Del Mar between El Segundo and Playa Del Rey provides ocean views but on the other side of the road are massive wastewater treatment facilities and LAX airport.
PCH / Highway 1 comes back to the coastline in Santa Monica and stays there for 40 glorious miles through Malibu and Point Mugu, where it heads inland to merge with US 101 near Ventura. My favorite Southern California coastal scenic drive sections here include Topanga Canyon to Santa Monica, Trancas to Zuma, and Point Mugu to Yerba Buena. The 12 mile stretch north of Yerba Buena is particularly fun at night. No stoplights, cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other.
Central California Coast Scenic Drives
McCool Travel 8 Great Pick: Big Sur / Pacific Coast Highway / California Route 1
Highway 1 Pacific Coast Highway along the Big Sur coastline is one of the the world’s most famous road trips and one of the seven coastal All-American Road honorees. In fact, it is TWO of the seven All-American Roads.
One All-American Road is the 72-mile northern section of Big Sur—called Route 1 – Big Sur Coast Highway and between Carmel and Ragged Point Vista (all within Monterey County). The other is the southern Big Sur portion—called San Luis Obisbo North Coast Byway and from Ragged Point Vista to Morro Bay—within San Luis Obispo County. THAT is how amazing the Big Sur coastal drive is, my friends, it warrants two of the seven best US coastal scenic drives recognition from the official US government highways agency.
The 17 Mile Scenic Drive around Pebble Beach has been called the greatest meeting of land and water on Earth. That phrase can apply to the entire Pacific coast but this drive is pretty special. There is an admission fee to 17 Mile Drive ($10.50 when this was published/June 2020).
Plan your next trip with our 8 Great Monterey California Activities (and Eats)
A phenomenal California coast scenic drive is across the Golden Gate Bridge onto the Great Highway and rejoin highway 1 down the coast to Santa Cruz. The Pacifica to Santa Cruz portion of Cabrillo Highway is a particularly scenic 60 mile stretch along the Pacific Ocean.
Northern California Coast Scenic Drives
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County, please note that highway 1 and highway 101 split. Highway 101 remains inland while highway 1 is the coastal route. Take highway 1!
Shoreline Highway, highway 1, starts its northern journey at Muir Beach. The 60 mile portion up to Bodega Bay is really an appetizer. The Bodega Bay to Hardy stretch (130 miles) is a spectacular US coastal road trip. As with all Pacific coast scenic drives, driving from north to south (Hardy to Bodega Bay) puts the vehicle closest to the water.
Oregon Coast Scenic Drives
McCool Travel 8 Great Pick: Pacific Coast Scenic Byway
At 363 miles—from Astoria to Brookings—Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is one of the seven coastal All-American Roads and covers the entire Oregon coastline. Every Oregon coast road trip reminds me of Big Sur and Maine, if that is possible. Fishing villages, lighthouses, cliffs, and magnificent coastline await exploration and discovery.
Washington Coast Scenic Drives
Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway runs along the top northwest portion of Washington state’s Olympic peninsula. Across the water is Victoria Canada, about 18 miles away. The portion of this road (SR 112) closest to the coastline is from Hoko River State Park to Neah Bay (about 23 miles).
The 25 mile section of highway 109 between Taholah and Sampson hugs the remote coast of western Washington state.
At the southern end of the Washington coast, intrepid drivers can drive on the Long Beach sand. 15 miles are available for year round beach driving and another eight miles are open portions of the year.
Hawaii Coast Scenic Drives
Although Hawaii is the second smallest state, it has more coastline than all but three states (Alaska, California, Florida).
McCool Travel 8 Great Pick: Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway
The black lava rock landscape along Queen Kaahumanu Highway north of Kona is stark and unique and unlike any other US coastal scenic drive. I love seeing the messages “written” with white rocks urging Ironman triathletes—or just random graffiti by visitors and residents. While I treasure my fun Kona coast drives, I really do not have any great pictures (safety first). Next trip!
Also on the Big Island, I enjoy driving north from Hilo to North Kohala on Mamalahoa Highway (highway 19). Take time to see and hike to waterfalls, take smaller coastal scenic byways, and stop of roadside produce and malasada stands. A nice route is to continue to 250 then onto 270 back to 19 to Kona. At the bottom of the Big Island is South Point (Ka Lae), the southernmost point in the United States, with high cliffs, strong winds, and wonderful remote scenery.
No doubt that the Hana Highway scenic drive on Maui is one of the world’s best road trips but (correct me if I am wrong) I recall not seeing much coastal views. Then again, perhaps I was white knuckling it because of the 7 trillion hairpin turns.
On Oahu, Farrington Highway runs along a lot of the coast and highway 83 from Haliewa and around the top provides excellent tropical coastal scenery.
On Kauai, I love driving Kuhio Highway 560 to Ke’e Beach and the Napali Coast entrance. The best views are around Kealia Beach and from Hanalei to the end.
Alaska Coast Scenic Drives
Close to Anchorage, Highway 1, runs along Turnagain Arm for about 35 miles. Along the way there are overlooks and turnouts to watch Beluga whales, birds, etc. And the mountain views are amazing. At the town of Portage, Alaska Highway 1 continues inland about 40 miles and then splits into Sterling Highway (highway 1) and Seward Highway (highway 9). Sterling Highway ends at Homer before traversing the Cook Inlet coast for many miles. Seward Highway continues to Resurrection Bay. The Seward Highway is one of the 30 All-American Roads and it includes the highway 1 portion between Anchorage and Portage. Thus, I include it as one of the seven highly prized coastal All-American Road designees.
Thank you so much for visiting this ultimate guide to US coastal scenic drives.
Help us make it the definitive resource of coastal scenic drives in US by providing suggestions, updates, photos, additions, corrections, and any other information. For now, our US Coastal drives are confined to the three big bodies of water (Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf) but perhaps updated versions will include lakes—such as Lake Tahoe, Crater Lake, and the Great Lakes—and rivers.
For more road trip inspiration, please see: 16 Fabulous Road Trips Around the World
Have you been on any of these American road trips? Do you have a different favorite road trip in the USA?