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3 Great Places to Take a Maple Syrup Road Trip

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
updated September 29, 2021
Budget-Spring_Montreal_St-Paul_31992488
Mario Beauregard/Dreamstime
Explore the short, sweet "sugarmaking" season in some of the most beautiful regions in North America.

Ready for a unique spring road trip? Explore the short—but sweet—maple sugar season in the great north.

Maple sugar season is short because there are just a few weeks each spring when sugar maple farmers—known as "sugarmakers"—get just the right weather (mid-20s at night, mid-to-high 40s and sunny during the day) for their maple trees to start producing the sweet sap that goes into maple syrup, maple sugar, and other products. Sugarmakers typically celebrate syrup season in mid-to-late March with tours of tapped trees and "sugarhouses" where maple sap is turned into syrup.

Maple sugar season is sweet because, well, you will not believe the taste and aroma of pure maple syrup, sugar, and candies. Whether you're looking for a fun family outing or a romantic snugglefest, there's nothing quite like visiting a forest full of tapped trees and stopping by the "sugarhouse" to see the sap boiled and processed into syrup and sugar the way it's been done for centuries. (To produce one gallon of maple syrup, sugarmakers must boil down about 40 gallons of sap.) You might even get a sleigh ride or steam train ride around the farm, and, of course samples of syrups and candies.

Some of the best places for a maple syrup road trip are:

1. VERMONT

Enjoy fresh maple syrup in the region that Grandma Moses immortalized in her paintings—taking a tour of a sugar maple farm may make you feel like you've stepped inside one of her classic rural scenes. Stay at the historic 1857 Eddington House Inn (eddingtonhouseinn.com) in North Bennington, where the super-helpful staff can direct you to the best farmstands and "sugarmakers." While you're in the Bennington area, don't miss the magnificent collection of Grandma Moses paintings at the Bennington Museum, and the Robert Frost House, devoted to that great American poet's inspiring words. For a look at a local sugarmaker in action, contact Dutton's Farm Stand (duttonberryfarm.com), in nearby Manchester.

2. MONTREAL

The Quebec province of Canada is where 80 percent of the world's maple syrup is produced. An hour's drive outside Montreal you'll find a wonderland of "sugar shacks," each offering tours of tapped trees and sugar-making activities. Families with kids will especially love the shacks that include a steam train or pony ride. Stay at Le Square Phillips Hotel & Suites (squarephillips.com), a 15-minute walk from the landmark Notre-Dame Basilica, with spacious guest rooms with kitchenettes from well under $200/night. To see a Canadian sugarmaker at work—and to take a steam train ride around the farm, visit Cabane a Sucre Bouvrette (bouvrette.ca), about an hour's drive outside Montreal.

3. WISCONSIN

Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Big Woods" are a maple wonderland! Make downtown Milwaukee your home base for this trip, at the lovely art-deco style Ambassador Hotel from well under $200/night (ambassadormilwaukee.com) and explore hight art at the Milwaukee Art Museum (stunning Picassos and Kandinskys, among other classical and modern works) and beer & pretzels at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game. Head out into the country for tours of sugarmakers and farmstands during their busy April season. For tours and samples, contact Inthewoods Sugar Bush (inthewoodssugarbush.com), about an hour and 20 minutes' drive north of Milwaukee.

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Road Trips

4 Easy & Gorgeous Fall Foliage Trips From NYC

Sure, the fall colors in New York City’s Central Park, Prospect Park, and New York Botanical Garden can be absolutely beautiful. But for a taste of country-style leaf peeping and autumn festivities, city dwellers have an array of options that are within reach. Here, four of our favorite foliage getaways. 1. Harriman State Park, Rockland & Orange Counties, NY We love Harriman State Park, which stretches across Rockland and Orange counties, making it convenient for New Yorkers and New Jersey residents alike. This time of year it is hands-down one of the most gorgeous places to drink in those autumn colors, with 31 lakes and reservoirs, 200 miles of hiking trails, two beaches, two campgrounds, and a laid-back vibe that makes you feel that you have truly escaped from the city. 2. Lake Minnewaska State Park, New Paltz, NY A little farther upstate, about 90 minutes from the city, Lake Minnewaska actually makes you feel that you have taken a trip out west, with granite peaks, and stunning vistas you may not associate with upstate New York. You can take an easy hike around Lake Minnewaska, or spend most of the day hiking deeper into the park and enjoying the fall colors. But do save time for dinner in New Paltz, with its barbecue, vegan specialties, and a wide array of comfort food. 3. Adirondack State Park, NY You will have to set aside a weekend or longer to visit Adirondack State Park, a few hours’ drive upstate, but you will be rewarded with mountain peaks, pristine lakes, and endless miles of rivers and streams for paddling canoes and kayaks. It is not only New York's biggest state park (bigger than most national parks!), but it's also one of the only state parks that is home to actual communities, including the welcoming villages of Saranac lake, Lake Placid, and other cool towns with amazing food, museums, galleries, and friendly locals. 4. Western Connecticut You don’t have to travel all the way to Vermont or New Hampshire to see classic New England fall foliage. Western Connecticut is home to Litchfield Hills and charming communities such as West Cornwall with its covered bridges, gorgeous Kent Falls State Park, and small towns where traditional New England architecture rubs elbows with gorgeous autumn colors and great restaurants. Visit nearby Mohawk Mountain for stunning views and outdoor activities.

Road Trips

You Will Love These Fall Road Trips Across Tennessee

From Memphis to Nashville, from Chattanooga to the Great Smoky Mountains - and so much more - Tennessee's highways offer gorgeous vistas, welcoming cities and towns, and an array of activities for every member of the family. Here, three Tennessee road trips every traveler should take. Experience Unique Music and Culture: Memphis to Nashville In Memphis, jump-start your autumn excursion with a cup of java and a pumpkin duffin - a cake-donut-muffin hybrid - at Bluff City Coffee, before heading to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. The site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination now chronicles the Civil Rights Movement  through films, artifacts, oral histories, and interactive media. The world-renowned museum is connected to the Lorraine Motel where a powerful exhibit shares Dr. King’s last hours, his iconic speech “Mountaintop” and Room 306 where he was staying April 4, 1968. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is also one of 10 Tennessee sites located on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. For audiophiles, the stretch of the Americana Music Triangle’s Gold Record Road that runs from Memphis to Nashville (aka “Beale to Broadway”) is especially fertile. Start at Sun Studio, where Elvis recorded his first song; then follow in the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s footsteps to his home, Graceland, where you can see the famous “Jungle Room,” the Racquetball Building and the pool room. Visit Elvis’ Memphis where you’ll encounter Elvis’ extensive car collection, hundreds of artifacts including jumpsuits in Elvis The Entertainer Career Museum and even his airplanes. Stroll down Beale Street, the epicenter of African-American jazz and blues culture in the early 1900s, where the music and dancing never stop from the clubs and venues lining the strip. Visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the world’s only museum dedicated to the genre. The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, created by the Smithsonian Institution, dives into Memphis’ global influence on music from the 1930s to today. Wrap up with a guided tour of the Gibson Guitar factory where skilled luthiers make some of the best guitars in the world right in front of your eyes. Jump on Highway 40 and head east until you reach the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville, where a mecca of Tina Turner memorabilia is housed in the one-room schoolhouse she attended as a child; the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll grew up in Nutbush, not far away. Back on the road, it’s just under 30 miles to Jackson, home to both the International Rock-a-billy Hall of Fame and The Carnegie Featuring The Tennessee Legends of Music Museum which has exhibits on Sonny Boy Williamson, WS Holland and Carl Perkins. Outdoor lovers can visit Chickasaw State Park for a swim in Lake Placid or visit the stables for a guided horseback ride along a tranquil trail. From there, it’s an hour to Nashville, and Music City is not only the epicenter of country music in America but also a hotbed of world-class classical, jazz, and film music as well. Attend a show at one of the many music venues across the city where you’ll find not only country music but rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop, jazz, blues and more. For a full history on country music visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. Take a backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry and take in a show during the live recorded show that “made country music famous.” See rising stars and music legends at the historic Ryman Auditorium or an up-and-comer at the Bluebird Café. See if you can stand the heat of Nashville’s hot chicken, prepared with secret spicy recipes from the grandfather of hot chicken, Prince’s or the more modern take, Hattie B’s and Party Fowl. Stay in a historic hotel like the Hermitage Hotel which has hosted presidents and famous musicians alike or rest your head in a museum hotel like Noelle or 21c Museum Hotel.  Sixty-five miles east on I-40 is Edgar Evins State Park, a sprawling 6,000 acres on the banks of Center Hill Lake with fishing, kayaking, canoeing, 11 miles of hiking trails, and 57 species of butterflies. Drive half an hour further to Burgess Falls State Park, a natural area on the Eastern Highland Rim with sheer bluffs, narrow ridges, and four waterfalls. Snap some shots for Instagram and then head for Sparta, where you can visit the Coal Miner Railroad Section House Museum, take in views of four different counties from Sunset Rock. Enjoy a glass of wine at Tennessee’s oldest winery, Highland Manor Winery in Jamestown. From there, it’s a straight shot down I-40 to Knoxville. The Scenic Route: Nashville to Chattanooga Just 45 minutes south of Nashville is Franklin, a small town filled with music, history and boutique shopping. Keep an eye out for the likes of Justin Timberlake and Winona Judd at Puckett’s Grocery’s famed open-mic night; peruse the country-chic offerings at White’s Mercantile, a general store owned by Holly Williams, granddaughter of Hank Williams and a musician in her own right; learn the extensive Civil War history through carefully preserved battlefields and homes that were on the frontlines; and pick up sweet treats for the road from Meridee’s Breadbasket. Motoring south down US-41A, you’ll pass Tullahoma, the site of both the world’s largest wind tunnel and a former World War II POW camp. (Reserve at least two weeks in advance for tours of Arnold Air Force Base.) While you’re in town, have a meal at One22West, a former department store now slinging American classics with a local twist, and have a lovely night’s stay at the Grand Lux Inn, a refurbished 1905 home in the town’s historic district—both favorites of Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jeff Arnett. Aviation buffs should consider an October trip for the Beechcraft Heritage Museum's annual Beech Party, a celebration of all things antique aircraft. From Tullahoma, it’s 13 miles to Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniel’s since 1866. Whiskey fans can tour the distillery and partake in a five-pour tasting, then hit Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House for a great Southern meal. Afterwards, pick up provisions and memorabilia at the Lynchburg Hardware General Store, then take Rt. 50 to 41A south until you hit the neighboring Cumberland Plateau towns of Sewanee and Monteagle. Stop for lunch and admire the mountain vistas over sandwiches at Mountain Goat Market or pulled pork at the 135 Cafe, a diner gem tucked away behind a gas station and a truck stop. From Sewanee, take I-24 through the mountains to Chattanooga, East Tennessee’s Scenic City. For great leaf-peeping, bike the Tennessee Riverpark Greenway, then spend some time in the Bluff View Art District, a vibrant one-and-a-half-block neighborhood overlooking the Tennessee River where you’ll find regional, local and nationally-known artists’ works at the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Houston Museum and the River Gallery. Treat yourself to a meal at the Back Inn Café, where dishes like smoked-duck flatbread and shrimp and grits impress as much as the water views. After dinner, swing by the Chattanooga Whiskey Co. for a tour, a tasting, or a drink in the lounge, then hit the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, an historic terminal station that now houses the Songbirds Guitar Museum, for a nightcap. Food and Fall Colors: Chattanooga to Knoxville to Great Smoky Mountains National Park From Chattanooga, it’s 36 miles northeast to Booker T. Washington State Park, a 353-acre water-lover’s paradise on the shores of Chickamauga Lake. Wander the walking trail, challenge yourself with a mountain bike ride, take a boat out on the lake and go fishing, or picnic by the waterfront. The outdoor activity is bound to make you thirsty, and the family-owned Morris Vineyard & Tennessee Mountainview Winery in Charleston is just under an hour away. Sip a glass of muscadine blush or blueberry wine, made with fruit grown on the property’s more than 50 acres, in front of a stunning mountainous backdrop. From there, take Rt. 11 to Athens, and cap off a tour of Mayfield Dairy Farms with a scoop of homemade ice cream in the old-fashioned parlor. Next, it’s on to Madisonville for a stop at Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Ham, where the renowned country ham and hickory-smoked bacon gets made for some of the top restaurants in the nation. Take a pound or two to go for the ultimate edible souvenir, and continue on to Knoxville, the football-mad home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. In October, join the rowdy crowd for a game, then stick around to watch an array of adorable pups compete for best costume in the UT Gardens’ Howl-O-Ween Pooch Parade. Head up to the 4th-floor observation deck of the Sunsphere, a 266-foot tower built for the 1982 World’s Fair, for 360-degree views of the city, then slip over to the nearby Knoxville Museum of Art. Explore the lively dining scene at Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, run by James Beard Award-nominated chef Tim Love and Oliver Royale, breweries like Balter Beerworks and Alliance Brewing Company; donut shops like Status Dough, and pet-friendly patios like Stock & Barrel and Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern , before bouncing back to your boutique treehouse at Treetop Hideaways, just outside of town. Known as the Gateway to the Smokies, Gatlinburg is just over an hour away, at an access point to the nation’s most-visited and biodiverse national park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take the winding Great Smoky Mountains Byway, but drive slowly to capture the many fall-foliage photo ops, especially in Cades Cove. (Don’t forget to check the park’s Weekly Fall Colors Update to catch the vivid autumn palette at its prime.) Get your fill of hiking, zip-lining, and rafting, but be sure to allow time for Gatlinburg proper, too. Take a tour and sample the spirits at Sugarlands Distilling Company, pick up some pottery or take a class at Fowler’s Clay Works, and don’t miss Anakeesta, Gatlinburg’s newest attraction, with its own mountain, dueling ziplining, canopy walk, shops, bakeries, barbecue, and stunning mountain views. Stop by Tennessee’s only ski park, Ober Gatlinburg, for the Oktoberfest celebration, and wash it all down with a shot of pumpkin pie moonshine from Ole Smoky Moonshine. For epic views on the way out of town, take the Gatlinburg Bypass and stop at the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook before continuing on to Pigeon Forge, where the main attraction is Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s amusement park. Make a day of it there, but don’t skip the area’s assortment of specialty museums. Located in Dollywood, the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum celebrates the pioneers of the genre; nearby, stop by the Titanic Museum to see relics and recreations from the legendary luxury liner, snap selfies with stars like Lucille Ball and Michael Jackson at the Hollywood Wax Museum, and learn about the criminal underworld at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum, where infamous artifacts like O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco and Ted Bundy’s VW Beetle are on display. In neighboring Sevierville, motorheads will love the collection of high-performance vehicles at the Floyd Garrett Muscle Car Museum, while warbird enthusiasts will find plenty to enjoy at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation. Spend an afternoon running the obstacle course at the Sevier Air Trampoline & Ninja Warrior Park, take a scenic helicopter ride or go up in a 1927 biplane, and browse the merchandise at Smoky Mountain Knifeworks, the world’s largest knife showplace, where everything from collectible and antique knives to fantasy and superhero blades is on offer.  Don’t miss gorgeous nearby Foxfire Mountain, and be sure to treat yourself at Tanger Outlets, the sprawling mall with something for everyone. 

Road Trips

Ultimate Road Trip: Missouri Cities to “Fall” for This Autumn

It's road trip season, and we've rounded up three of the most scenic, delicious, and entertaining ways to explore Missouri this autumn - or any time.JAZZ, BBQ & A FALL FESTIVALGo to Kansas City for the jazz history, stay for pretty much everything else. After you’ve visited the American Jazz Museum, which houses a functioning music club, and any of the other cultural institutions, get a sense of the city’s vibrant creative energy by wandering through a neighborhood like Old Westport, where inventive restaurants and funky boutiques abound. Just don’t leave Kansas City without trying the legendary barbecue. From no-frills spots like B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ and L.C.’s Bar-B-Q, where lines form hours before they open, to the century-old Arthur Bryant’s, there are plenty of places to dig in.Once you’ve fortified yourself, it’s a 55 mile drive to St. Joseph. The town’s slogan offers a glimpse into its history: Where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended. Rooted firmly in Americana, the city offers a mix of buildings, many of them landmarks, that honor its Civil War era history, as well as more eccentric sites like the Glore Psychiatric Museum and the Patee House Museum, which houses a locomotive and a carousel. Stroll through the Museum Historic District to see well preserved homes in a variety of architectural styles, and then hit the Walter Cronkite Memorial, a tribute to St. Joseph’s native son.Speaking of native sons, Samuel Clemens, who would later be known as Mark Twain, was born in Hannibal, and the town is something of a shrine to him. It’s a straight shot 200 miles east along Highway 36, so make a day of the journey. Today it’s known as “The Way of American Genius.” Stops along the way honor Walt Disney, the inventor of sliced bread, J.C. Penney, and other personalities with ties to the Show-Me State. The highway is also referred to as the VFW Memorial Highway in honor of those who have fought for our country, and tributes to military leaders dating back to the Civil War dot the route. When you get to Hannibal, check out the Mark Twain Boyhood Home, then indulge in homemade root beer and by-the-foot onion rings at Mark Twain Dinette. If you’re traveling this fall, plan to stop here October 20 and 21 for the 42nd Autumn Historic Folklife Festival.NATURAL BEAUTY, BIG-CITY CULTURE & SMALL-TOWN CHARMHistory and contemporary creativity blend easily in Cape Girardeau. The Conservation Nature Center showcases the area as it was hundreds of years ago, and a number of significant 19th-century houses, national landmarks and historic districts pay tribute to the town’s role in the Civil War. But that past almost serves as a backdrop to the modern day artistic energy. An outdoor sculpture exhibit stretches for nine blocks downtown, and First Friday with the Arts puts the city’s vibrant arts scene on display. It makes an excellent prelude to St. Louis, which is about 120 miles north up Interstate 55. About halfway through your journey, pull over in Perryville and check out St. Mary’s of the Barrens Historic District, a sprawling site established in 1818 that includes a church constructed in 1827 and a gorgeous shrine built in 1929.Next stop: St. Louis. You’ll know you’re approaching because the 600-foot-tall iconic Gateway Arch, the country’s tallest man-made monument, greets you from the distance. Not even the most dramatic photos compare to seeing it in real life. St. Louis is a city of very distinct and inspiring neighborhoods, so after you’ve visited one of the local institutions, like the Saint Louis Art Museum or the National Blues Museum, spend an afternoon just wandering. And go hungry: Maplewood offers gastropubs, craft breweries, and an artisanal chocolate shop; South Grand delivers a global feast with Iranian, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Filipino restaurants; the Hill, a historic Italian neighborhood, maintains that culture in its Italian markets and restaurants.Once you’re fueled up, hit the road and head 60 miles west to Hermann, a small town settled by Germans in the late 1830s. That history is evident in the brick buildings that line the main streets, and it’s celebrated every year in October during Oktoberfest. The city was designated one of the first federally recognized American Viticultural Areas in the country. A winery visit or, better yet, a spin through the seven family-owned vineyards along the scenic 20-mile Hermann Wine Trail will give you a thorough understanding—and taste of—one of the city’s defining aspects.After a good night’s rest, continue your western route for 60 miles to Missouri’s capital, Jefferson City. The striking government buildings, from the State Capitol to the old state penitentiary, set the tone for this stunning city, which balances grand architecture and captivating natural sites, like the Katy Trail State Park and Carnahan Memorial Garden. Cafés, diners, brewpubs, and even the historic eateries, like ECCO Lounge, a landmark established in 1945, are among just a few of the dining options.HISTORY, MUSIC & THRILL RIDESJoplin is home to an Official Missouri Welcome Center, so pop in and get oriented. It’s also home to the state’s largest continuously flowing waterfall. (Pro tip: Go there to watch the sunset.) Outdoor sites are plentiful here, not least among them: Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center, situated next to one of the few remaining chert glades, a unique habitat. Dive deeper into the region’s natural resources at the Joplin History and Mineral Museum, or see what local artists are up to at the Spiva Center for the Arts.Prepare for a thorough history lesson in Springfield, the birthplace of Route 66. You can easily spend days exploring the various sites along the stretch of that famous thoroughfare. Start at the Route 66 Springfield Visitor Center to stock up on information, then zoom along to the Route 66 Car Museum, Relics Antique Mall, and Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium. There are restaurants and breweries for pit stops along the way.Schedule plenty of time to explore Branson, about 45 miles south. After all that driving, taking in a show is a fine way to unwind. The city is home to more than 50 theaters that offer everything from family-friendly variety shows to gospel concerts and musicals, to comedy performances. But nobody who comes to Branson stays seated for very long. Tour Marvel Cave, a National Natural Landmark at Silver Dollar City. With 600 steps, it’s certainly a challenge, but you’ll be rewarded by the wonders 300 feet below the surface. For those who prefer their adventures above ground, Branson boasts thrill rides and endless fun. Mountain coasters, ziplines and outdoor recreation are just a few of the ways to take advantage of the natural beauty.With new direct flights in and out of Branson announced in June and more coming in August, now is the perfect time to plan your visit.

Road Trips

Spectacular Florida Road Trips Every Traveler Should Take

Driving across Florida, taking in all the varied vacation opportunities along the way, is one of the best ways to discover this exceptional state. Here, the essential road trips we hope you'll take soon.ROAD TRIP #1: GULF COAST SEAFOOD Tarpon Springs to Pine Island Begin your morning in Tarpon Springs, a fishing village that boasts America’s largest percentage of Greek-Americans and was once called the sponge-diving capital of the world. You can still head out on a vintage vessel to watch a diver in a traditional suit harvest sponges from the seabed, but an even better option is grabbing a baklava and strong coffee from Hellas Restaurant and Bakery (785 Dodecanese Blvd., hellasbakery.com), as Greek fishermen have done for decades. Apropos of this trip, Tarpon Springs takes its name from a popular local game fish, though it’s unfortunately too bony to make good eats. Drive south along Route 19 and stop into the gulfside village of Dunedin. First opened in the 1930s, the Olde Bay Café & Dunedin Fish Market (51 Main St., oldebaycafe.com), located right on the marina, sells locally caught fish like cobia and mangrove snapper, available for lunch in tacos and sandwiches. Keep an eye out for grouper cheeks, the most tender part of the Gulf’s massive (and massively popular) fish. In bustling Clearwater, visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (249 Windward Passage, seewinter.com), a rescue, rehab, and research center that’s home to Winter, the bottlenose dolphin outfitted with a prosthetic tail who inspired—and starred in—the blockbuster film Dolphin Tale. Next, stroll along Clearwater’s Pier 60 (pier60fishing.com), a great place to watch sport fishermen in action or to rent a rod and cast yourself.  For dinner, follow your nose to South Pasadena’s Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish (1350 Pasadena Ave. S., tedpetersfish.com), which opened in 1951 and has become a bit of a foodie holy grail in these parts. Here, mullet, salmon, mahimahi, and mackerel are hotsmoked over red oak in a cabin out back, resulting in a flaky and intensely smoky fish, which tastes much more like good barbecue than like the cold-smoked salmon you’d eat on a bagel. Order the fish in a platter with German potato salad and coleslaw or in the famous smoked fish spread. Full and freshly perfumed with smoke, make your way to the hippest stay in St. Pete Beach, Postcard Inn on the Beach (6300 Gulf Blvd., postcardinn.com), a modish boutique hotel in a converted 1950s motel that calls to mind the surfer haunts of Montauk, NY. After a quick breakfast at the inn, head out for a day of more sun, sand, and seafood. Driving south along Route 19, you’ll cross Tampa Bay over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, with its iconic double-triangular cables, reminiscent of a sailboat. Running parallel are portions of an older bridge, which now stands as the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park (floridastateparks.org/skyway), the world’s longest fishing pier and a great spot to commune with endearingly awkward pelicans. Just west of the city of Bradenton, overlooking Sarasota Bay, you’ll find the charming fishing village of Cortez, which was settled in the 1880s by North Carolina families escaping the hurricanes that frequently targeted their Outer Banks homes. Be sure to stop into the Florida Maritime Museum (4415 119th St. West, floridamaritimemuseum.org) for exhibits on ship models and seashells, and then visit The Sea Hagg (12304 Cortez Rd. West, theseahagg.wordpress.com) for nautical antiques. For lunch, order the Florida stone crab claws at the dockside Star Fish Company Market & Restaurant (12306 46th Ave. West, starfishcompany.com, crab market price), which has been a wholesale fish market since the 1920s. Harvested from live crabs, they’re a major delicacy in these parts—most swear their firm, sweet meat is even better than lobster. Continue south along Longboat Key, and stop into the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium (1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, mote.org) to view rescued manatees and sea turtles. Off-site, Mote researchers are working on aquaculture and farm-raised caviar programs that could reshape the future of sustainable Florida seafood. As night falls, drive into Sarasota, which has turned in recent years into a hub of artsy sophistication on the otherwise lovably scruffy Gulf Coast. Owen’s Fish Camp (516 Burns Lane, owensfishcamp.com), which occupies a 1923 cottage under a giant banyan tree given to the town developer by Thomas Edison, is a reminder of the Old South, with a menu of comfort classics like shrimp and grits. Equally homey is Sarasota’s elegant bed and breakfast The Cypress (621 Gulfstream Ave. South, cypressbb.com). Start the next day with a stroll on Siesta Key’s sugary white beaches, which have often been called the finest sand in the world. Made up of 99 percent pure quartz, it’s powdery and remains cool to the touch even on blazing-hot Florida days. Drive south along the Gulf, and grab an early lunch in Venice at the Crow’s Nest Restaurant (1968 Tarpon Center Dr., crowsnest-venice.com), which overlooks the marina. Be sure to order raw Gulf of Mexico oysters and a grouper sandwich, which is to coastal Florida as lobster rolls are to Maine or po’boys are to New Orleans. Continue south and stop into historic Placida, a quirky little fishing village filled with Caribbean-hued cottages housing boutiques and galleries. Take a detour around the wildlife-rich estuary known as Charlotte Harbor and keep an eye out for wading birds. Just before Fort Myers, turn right onto Pine Island Road and head through the time-capsule village of Matlacha (pronounced mat-la-shay), which boasts what many lovingly refer to as “the world’s most fishingest bridge.” In fact, this tiny town is little more than a collection of old fishing cottages on either side of the drawbridge out to Pine Island. Be sure to stop at Bert’s Bar & Grill (4271 Pine Island Road, bertsbar.us) for live music out on the dock, from where you’ll often be able to spot ospreys on the hunt—these birds of prey are just as keen on the catch of the day as we humans are! Covered with mango orchards, mangrove forests, and vast swaths of palm trees, the largest island off of Southwestern Florida’s coast feels a bit out of place—and wonderfully so—in a part of the state that is increasingly being turned over to luxury condo developments and resorts. End the night at the 1926 Tarpon Lodge (13771 Waterfront Dr., tarponlodge.com), a favorite among nearly a century of sport fishermen. And, because this trip wouldn’t be complete without a seafood-filled meal to cap off a seaside journey well done, be sure to hit the lodge’s on-site restaurant for a bowl of blue crab and roasted corn chowder and local littleneck clams. ROAD TRIP #2: THE SPACE COAST Orlando to Melbourne The Space Coast, a scenic, 72-mile stretch roughly between Titusville and Melbourne, is in transition. Back in the 1960s, it was at the white-hot center of an ambitious national space program—the area is so rocket-crazy that the locals even had the area code changed to 321. The beachside towns along the Atlantic coast became a powerful draw for big-domed rocket scientists and future-minded tourists who lined up to gawk at the frequent liftoffs. Visitors today are discovering the area's terrestrial pleasures: hiking, surfing, scuba diving, and swimming. On your way from Orlando to the coast, explore Titusville's historic downtown—a few sleepy blocks of late-19th-century brick buildings along the Indian River. Then head to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/merrittisland). The 140,000-acre preserve consists of brackish estuaries and marshes, home to egrets, herons, manatees, feral hogs, tortoises, and American alligators. Sample a few hiking trails, from a quarter-mile to five miles, that are perfect for family members, especially the ones with short legs. Less physical, but no less rewarding, is the Black Point Wildlife Drive, a seven-mile road that allows you to steer straight into the habitats of bald eagles, osprey, and cartoonish-looking roseate spoonbills. Spend the rest of the afternoon at pristine Playalinda Beach, part of Canaveral National Seashore, across the water from the Space Center (where you must spend several hours seeing the impressive array of spacecraft, equipment, space suits, and a family-friendly hands-on presentation of America’s exploration of space, kennedyspacecenter.com). The beach is a great place to observe—but not disturb!—nests of giant loggerhead turtles. At sunset, head to the five-room Casa Coquina Bed and Breakfast (4010 Coquina Ave., Titusville, casacoquina.com) for the evening. A tall suit of armor greets you in the lobby, and local legend has it that Al Capone, who wintered in Titusville in the 1930s, rested his head and his guns here. You've got to love Cocoa Beach, a place that's home to the Mai Tiki Bar (401 Meade Ave., Cocoa Beach, cocoabeachpier.com), the Mai Tiki art gallery (251 Minuteman Causeway, Cocoa Beach, maitiki.com), and a "Welcome to Cocoa Beach" sign flanked by—what else?—a tiki torch. What all that tiki really means is that the beach is never far away. Even the cheapest hotels have, if not a view of the ocean, then at least the sound of lapping waves floating through your open window. Cocoa Beach's six-mile stretch of white sand plays host to world-famous surf competitions and was the stomping ground for surf legend Kelly Slater. It's also home port to the two retail monoliths that have grown up in his shadow: Ron Jon Surf Shop (4151 N. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach, ronjonsurfshop.com) and Cocoa Beach Surf Company (4001 N. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach, cocoabeachsurf.com). Both stores sell plenty of tchotchkes—fake plastic leis, bamboo back-scratchers—as well as more serious surfer garb like rash guards and board shorts. Both also rent gear and offer surf lessons. Bonus: Cocoa Beach Surf Company has a massive, 5,600-gallon tank with blacktip sharks and exotic fish, which kids love. Down the street, check into the oceanfront South Beach Inn (1701 S. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach, southbeachinn.com), where the basic room boasts a pull-out couch and is comfortably big enough for a family of four, before heading to dinner. On the north edge of town, chow down at Roberto's Little Havana (26 N. Orlando Ave., Cocoa Beach, robertoslittlehavana.com), a cozy, family-run spot specializing in seafood and Cuban fare like the savory Cuban sandwich, served with an ample side of black beans topped with freshly cut onion. From Cocoa Beach, Highway A1A winds south past a series of appealing, well-maintained public beaches. At the beach across the street from Patrick Air Force Base, you’ll find gentle waves and a foot-friendly, sandy bottom. You can always see pelicans bobbing on breaks, and if you arrive early enough you can spot what the natives boast about, too—regular visits from families of dolphins. Next door, locals also favor family-run Sun on the Beach (1753 Highway A1A, Satellite Beach, sunonthebeach.co), where the owners import their own brand of Lowcountry cooking to Florida. At lunch, fried chicken dipped in buffalo spices is served on top of buttermilk waffles. But, with the beach and scuba-diving outfits like Hatts Diving Shop in Melbourne (2006 Front St., Melbourne, hattsdiving.com), even food this good won’t keep you indoors for long. ROAD TRIP #3: THE FLORIDA KEYS Key West to Key Largo Lined with Victorian mansions and late-19th-century commercial buildings, Key West's main road, Duval Street, is a picturesque thoroughfare pocked with rocking-loud bars. A quieter side of Key West is immediately apparent when you turn onto Petronia Street, heading into the Bahama Village neighborhood. At Blue Heaven restaurant (305/296-8666), in a courtyard that was the scene of boxing matches during the Depression, tables sit under a canopy of trees, a balmy breeze stirring their leaves, and at least a half dozen of Key West's free-roaming chickens scratch around for crumbs. The special is a lobster melt—like a fancy tuna melt—and it's as good as it sounds. Catch the tour at the Little White House (305/294-9911), an 1890 house on Key West's former naval base. Harry Truman vacationed there 11 times during his presidency. Don't miss Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, a daily event since the sixties. Grab a margarita from a stand and wander among the crowds and street performers before turning in at the Chelsea House (chelseahousekw.com), in a converted Victorian house surrounded by a garden that makes it feel private and tranquil, though it's just a stone's throw from Duval Street. Before hitting the road the next day, stop by the Hemingway Home and Museum (hemingwayhome.com), where Ernest Hemingway lived with his second wife, Pauline, and their two sons from 1931 to 1940. It's said that Hemingway was given a six-toed cat—often called "mitten cats"—by a friend who was a ship captain; many cats, most of which are its descendants, live on the grounds today. As the writer quipped, "One cat just leads to another." And speaking of animals, don't miss the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory (keywestbutterfly.com), where you'll be amazed at the sight of so many elusive, fluttering beauties. When it's time to head north, Route 1, the Overseas Highway, is a sight in itself. In the 1880s, Henry Flagler, an original partner in Standard Oil, began developing resorts along Florida's east coast. He also started buying up and connecting the state's railroad lines. St. Augustine, Palm Beach, and Miami all owe their development to Flagler's efforts. Between 1905 and 1912, Flagler constructed the Over-Sea Railroad, 156 miles of track—much of it on trestles over open water—that linked Miami and Key West. When the first train rolled into town in 1912, it was greeted by 15,000 townspeople. Unfortunately, a fierce hurricane ripped through the Keys in 1935; an 18-foot tidal wave and 200-mile-per-hour winds washed out the embankment and mangled tracks, but the bridges and trestles stood. In 1938, the federal government took over the route and built the Overseas Highway. Route 1 is the main (and often only) road on the narrow strips of land that are the various keys. Mile-marker signs, which start from zero in Key West, are used as locators for addresses along the highway. The marvelous Seven Mile Bridge runs between mile markers 40 and 47. Until 1982, the bridge ran on the piers originally built for Flagler; those remains stand alongside the new bridge. In Marathon, the White Sands Inn (whitesandsinn.com) has rooms decorated with sunny primary colors and Caribbean-inspired fabrics. An hour's drive north brings you to Key Largo, where a bungalow at the Coconut Bay Resort (coconutbaykeylargo.com) and a slice of, yes, key lime pie, more than live up to the hype.