SUMMER VACATION IDEAS: ROAD TRIP

5 Classic American Drives

The open road is as much a part of American heritage as the silver screen, which is why we let the cinema—from Thelma & Louise to Sideways—guide us to our country's most inspiring drives.

Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska.

(Courtesy Nic McPhee/Wikimedia Commons)

Nothing triggers wanderlust quite like a classic American road-trip movie. The best of these films evoke the feeling of a place in such a way that the scenery becomes a character in its own right. With that in mind, we started our search for great American drives at the movies, where we watched reel after reel until we found five films that feature U.S. highways and landscapes as prominently as the protagonists. From the vast soundstage of the Southwest to the Technicolor magic of the Alaskan wilderness, each of these drives captures the spirit of the film that inspired the route.

See the Drives for Yourself

California's Other Wine Country (Sideways)

Experience one of our nation's cinematic wine regions.

Film Synopsis: This bromantic comedy by director Alexander Payne follows friends Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a tour through one of the less-trafficked areas of California wine country, the Santa Ynez Valley. The film is one of the first to celebrate American wine.

Destination Highlights:The six communities of Santa Ynez Valley, Calif., are mainly located along or near U.S. Route 101. Plan your trip: Santa Maria to Buellton to Santa Ynez; 41 miles.

Stick to the Script: To trace the duo's ramble through the region, start at Foxen Winery & Vineyard in Santa Maria, where Miles and Jack sneakily refill their glasses to the brim when the pourer's not looking. Drive south to Buellton so you can dig into Miles's favorite smoked-then-grilled duck breast with apricot-ginger sauce ($25.95) at the Hitching Post II restaurant. After dinner, stroll to the Days Inn Buellton and bunk like the boys did—breakfast is always free (from $90). Finally, scoot over to Santa Ynez, a gateway village for Los Padres National Forest, where you can preempt a Giamatti-style wine belly by hiking the famous trails.

How to Go Deeper: Santa Barbara Backroads can help you discover the best Sideways highlights with their Deluxe Backroads Wine Tour that visits four vineyards and wineries, including those featured in the film (tours from $149). And when it's time to stretch your legs, make like Lance Armstrong (who used to train in these hills) and hit the road on two wheels. Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours offers a number of itineraries (from $70 for a half-day tour).

The Great Alaskan Wilderness (Into the Wild)

Embrace the pioneering spirit that has led Americans to explore new frontiers for centuries.

Film Synopsis: Emory University grad Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) donates all of his possessions and life savings and sets off on a two-year journey that ends in a remote part of Alaska's wilderness.

Destination Highlights: After traveling through western U.S., McCandless's last great adventure took shape on Alaska's Stampede Trail, near Denali National Park & Preserve. Plan your trip: Fairbanks, Alaska, to Denali's Wonder Lake; 204 miles.

Stick to the Script: "I now walk into the wild,"wrote Chris McCandless in a final postcard from Fairbanks. To explore the Alaskan wilderness yourself, make the scenic, two-hour drive down the George Parks Highway to Denali National Park & Preserve—6-million-plus acres that are home to grizzlies, caribou, Dall sheep, and Mt. McKinley. After orienting yourself at the park's main visitor center, hop a bus to the Wonder Lake area ($43 per adult). There, you can hike in the midst of North America's most awe-striking views.

CHECK OUT THE DRIVES

Get your motor runnin' with these cinematic road trips.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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