Road Trip USA (25th Anniversary Edition)

Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways


By Jamie Jensen

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Criss-cross the country on America's two-lane highways with the 25th anniversary edition of the ultimate guide to the classic road trip. InsideRoad Trip USA you'll find:
  • 11 routes through the heart of America, color-coded and extensively cross-referenced to allow for hundreds of possible itineraries
  • Mile-by-mile highlights celebrating the best of Americana, including roadside curiosities, parks, diners, and the local history and personality that makes each small town and big city unique
  • Over 125 streamlined maps covering more than 35,000 miles of two-lane American blacktop
  • Full-color photos and illustrations of America both then and now
  • Expert advice from road-warrior Jamie Jensen, who sped along nearly 400,000 miles of highway in search of the perfect stretches of pavement
  • Insight into the great American road trip, as well as resources, history, and fun facts along the way
Hit the road, roll down the windows, and discover the soul of the country with Road Trip USA.

About Moon Travel Guides: Moon was founded in 1973 to empower independent, active, and conscious travel. We prioritize local businesses, outdoor recreation, and traveling strategically and sustainably. Moon Travel Guides are written by local, expert authors with great stories to tell—and they can't wait to share their favorite places with you.

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Hit the Road!

The journeys in this book are as wild and varied as the landscapes they traverse. All celebrate the notion that freedom and discovery await us on the open road. American poets and artists from Walt Whitman to Muddy Waters have long sung the praises of rolling down the highway, and no matter how times have changed, we still believe there’s nothing more essentially American than hitting the road and seeing the country.

America has always been a nation on the move. From colonial times onward, each generation pushed relentlessly westward until the outward frontier finally closed around the turn of the twentieth century. Taking advantage of the internal combustion engine, and inspired by the slogan “See America First,” Americans began to explore a new frontier, the system of highways that developed between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The first transcontinental route, the Lincoln Highway from New York to San Francisco, was completed in 1915, and motor courts, diners, and other new businesses soon sprang up along the roadside to serve the passing trade.

The half-century from the 1920s until the arrival of the interstate highway system was the golden age of American motor travel, and while we love shiny diners and neon signs as much as anyone, this book is not especially motivated by nostalgia. Almost all of the places described in Road Trip USA—soda fountains and town squares, mom ’n’ pop motels and minor league baseball teams—are happily thriving in the modern world, and better yet, they are close at hand. The simple act of avoiding the soulless interstates, with their soggy franchises and identikit chains, opens up a vast, and much friendlier, two-lane world. You’ll chance upon monuments marking the actual sites of things you last heard about in high school history classes, or kitschy little souvenir stands flaunting giant dinosaurs outside their doors, and inside still selling the same postcards as they have for decades.

After traveling nearly 500,000 miles in search of the perfect stretches of two-lane blacktop, this is the book I wish I’d had with me all along. So whether you’re a biker, an RVer, a road warrior, or a Sunday driver, hop on board, turn the key—and hit the highway.


Olympic National Park

Cape Perpetua

Avenue of the Giants

San Francisco

Hearst Castle

San Diego

Between Olympic National Park and San Diego, California

For some reason, when people elsewhere in the country refer to the Pacific Coast, particularly California, it’s apparent that they think it’s a land of kooks and crazies, an overbuilt suburban desert supporting only shopping malls, freeways, and body-obsessed airheads. All this may be true in small pockets, but the amazing thing about the Pacific Coast—from the dense green forests of western Washington to the gorgeous beaches of Southern California—is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.

Starting at the northwest tip of the United States at Olympic National Park, and remaining within sight of the ocean almost all the way south to the Mexican border, this 1,650-mile, mostly two-lane route takes in everything from temperate rainforest to near-desert. Most of the Pacific Coast is in the public domain, accessible, and protected from development within national, state, and local parks, which provide habitat for such rare creatures as mountain lions, condors, and gray whales.

Heading south, after the rough-and-tumble logging and fishing communities of Washington State, you cross the mouth of the Columbia River and follow the comparatively peaceful and quiet Oregon coastline, where recreation has by and large replaced industry, and where dozens of quaint and not-so-quaint communities line the ever-changing shoreline. At the midway point, you pass through the great redwood forests of Northern California, where the tallest and most majestic living things on earth line the Avenue of the Giants, home also to some of the best (meaning gloriously kitsch) remnants of the golden age of car-borne tourism: drive-through trees, drive-on trees, houses carved out of trees, and much more. The phenomenally beautiful coastline of Northern California is rivaled only by the incredible coast of Big Sur farther south, beyond which stretch the beachfronts of Southern California. The land of palm trees, beach boys, and surfer girls of popular lore really does exist, though only in the southernmost quarter of the state.

Along with the overwhelming scale of its natural beauty, the West Coast is remarkable for the abundance of well-preserved historic sites—most of which haven’t been torn down, built on, or even built around—that stand as vivid evocations of life on what was once the most distant frontier of the New World. While rarely as old as places on the East Coast, or as impressive as those in Europe, West Coast sites are quite diverse and include the Spanish colonial missions of California, Russian and English fur-trading outposts, and the place where Lewis and Clark first sighted the Pacific after their long slog across the continent.

Last but certainly not least are the energizing cities—Seattle and Portland in the north, San Francisco in the middle, and Los Angeles and San Diego to the south—that serve as gateways to (or civilized respites from) the landscapes between them. Add to these the dozens of small and not-so-small towns along the coast, with alternating blue-collar ports and upscale vacation retreats, and you have a great range of food, drink, and accommodations options. Local cafés, seafood grills, and bijou restaurants abound, as do places to stay—from youth hostels in old lighthouses to roadside motels (including the world’s first, which still stands in lovely San Luis Obispo, California) to homespun B&Bs in old farmhouses.


The coast of Washington is a virtual microcosm of the Pacific Northwest, containing everything from extensive wilderness areas to Native American fishing villages and heavily industrialized lumber towns. Starting at splendid Port Townsend, US-101 loops west around the rugged Olympic Peninsula, passing near the northwesternmost point of the continental United States while allowing access to the unforgettable natural attractions—sandy, driftwood-strewn beaches; primeval old-growth forests; and pristine mountain lakes and glaciated alpine peaks, to name just a few—of Olympic National Park. The roadside landscape varies from dense woods to clear-cut tracts of recently harvested timber. Innumerable rivers and streams are perhaps the most obvious signs of the immense amount of rainfall (about 12 feet) the region receives every year. Scattered towns, from Port Angeles in the north to the twin cities of Grays Harbor on the coast, are staunchly blue-collar communities almost wholly dependent on natural resources—not only trees but also salmon, oysters, and other seafood. Though the tourism trade has been increasing steadily, visitor services are still few and far between, so plan ahead.

Although it’s not on the ocean, the Puget Sound port city of Seattle makes a good starting or finishing point to this Pacific Coast road trip.

Port Townsend

Few places in the world can match the concentration of natural beauty or the wealth of architecture found in tiny Port Townsend (pop. 9,113). One of the oldest towns in Washington, Port Townsend was laid out in 1852 and reached a peak of activity in the 1880s. But after the railroads focused on Seattle and Puget Sound as their western terminus, the town sat quietly for most of the next century until the 1960s, when an influx of arts-oriented refugees took over the waterfront warehouses and cliff-top mansions, converting them to galleries, restaurants, and comfy B&Bs while preserving the town’s turn-of-the-20th-century character.

Port Townsend is neatly divided into two halves: Multistory brick warehouses and commercial buildings line Water Street and the wharves along the bay, while lovely old Victorian houses cover the bluffs above. It’s basically a great place to wander, but there are a couple of sights worth seeing, particularly the landmark City Hall (250 Madison St.) along the west end of Water Street. Half of this eclectic Gothic pile now houses a local historical museum with two floors of odds and ends tracing Port Townsend history, including the old city jail where Jack London spent a night on his way to the Klondike goldfields in 1897.

On the north side of Port Townsend, Fort Worden is a retired military base that served as a location for the Richard Gere movie An Officer and a Gentleman. Now home to a wonderful marine science center and natural history museum, the old fort also hosts an excellent series of annual music and arts festivals, ending with October’s lively Kinetic Sculpture Race over land and sea and foam. Contact local arts organization Centrum (360/385-3102) for schedules and more information.

Fort Worden

Port Townsend Practicalities

Not surprisingly, considering the extensive tourist trade, Port Townsend has a number of good restaurants and bars. You’ll find many of the best places at the east end of town near the corner of Water and Quincy Streets. For breakfast, try the waterfront Point Hudson Café (130 Hudson St., 360/379-0592), at the far west end of downtown “PT.” For lunch or dinner, one of the best seafood places is the Silverwater Café (237 Taylor St., 360/385-6448), still going strong after 28 years near the Quincy Street dock. The old waterfront neighborhood also holds a pair of hotels in restored 1880s buildings: The Waterstreet Hotel (635 Water St., 360/385-5467 or 800/735-9810, $50 and up) and the quieter The Palace Hotel (1004 Water St., 360/385-0773 or 800/962-0741, $89 and up), where the room names play up the building’s past use as a brothel.

The Waterstreet Hotel

The most comfortable accommodations in Port Townsend are the many 1880s-era B&Bs dotting the bluffs above the port area, including the ever-popular The Old Consulate Inn (313 Walker St., 360/385-6753 or 800/300-6753, $125 and up), where some of the plush rooms come with views of the ocean or the Olympic Mountains. All come with a hearty multicourse breakfast.

The natural cut of the Hood Canal on the east side of the Olympic Peninsula is one of the West Coast’s prime oyster-growing estuaries, source of the gourmet Quilcenes, Hama Hamas, and other varieties available at roadside stands, shops, and restaurants throughout the region.

Fort Worden (360/344-4400, ext. 304), a mile north of downtown, also offers a wide variety of memorable accommodations in historic officers quarters, a boutique castle, and converted barracks.

Sequim and Dungeness

Forty minutes southwest of Port Townsend via Hwy-20 and US-101, Sequim (pop. 6,606; pronounced “SKWIM”) sits in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains and so tends to be much drier and sunnier than spots even a few miles west. Though it retains its rural feel, Sequim’s historic farming-and-fishing economy is quickly switching over to tourism, with tracts of new homes filling up the rolling waterfront landscape and a new freeway bypassing the center of town. It’s ideal cycling country, for the moment at least, with acres and acres of lavender farms lining quiet country roads.

Sequim lavender fields

The Native American-owned 7 Cedars Casino stands above US-101 at the foot of Sequim Bay, fronted by totem poles.

Coming in from the east on two-lane US-101, the first thing you pass is the large modern John Wayne Marina, built on land donated by The Duke’s family. The US-101 frontage through town is lined by the usual franchised fast-food outlets and some unique variations, like the 1950s-themed HIWAY 101 Diner (392 W. Washington St., 360/683-3388), in the heart of town.

Sequim’s annual Irrigation Festival, held every May, is Washington’s oldest continuing community celebration. The Lavender Festival, in July, is also popular.

Just north of US-101, the Sequim Museum & Arts Center (175 W. Cedar St., 360/683-8110, Wed.-Sat. 11am-3pm, donation) houses everything from 12,000-year-old mastodon bones discovered on a nearby farm to exhibits of Native American cultures and pioneer farm implements. From the museum, a well-marked road winds north for 7 miles before reaching the waterfront again at Dungeness Spit, where a 5.5-mile-long sand spit, the country’s longest, protects a shellfish-rich wildlife refuge.

Cyclists and kayakers in particular like to stay near Sequim at the waterfront Juan de Fuca Cottages (182 Marine Dr., 360/683-4433, $120 and up), across from Dungeness Bay on a peaceful road about seven miles northwest of town.

Port Angeles

A busy industrial city at the center of the northern Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles (pop. 19,038) makes a handy base for visiting the nearby wilderness of Olympic National Park. The town is slowly but surely evolving from its traditional dependence on logging, and the waterfront, which once hummed to the sound of lumber and pulp mills, is now bustling with tourists wandering along a 6.5-mile walking trail and enjoying the sealife (sea slugs, starfish, and octopuses) on display at the small but enjoyable Feiro Marine Life Center (daily 10am-5pm summer, daily noon-5pm off-season, $5 adults), on the centrally located Port Angeles City Pier.

Malls, gas stations, and fast-food franchises line the US-101 frontage through town, but life in Port Angeles, for locals and visitors alike, centers on the attractive downtown area, two blocks inland from the waterfront around Lincoln Street and 1st Street. Here cafés like First Street Haven (107 E. 1st St., 360/457-0352) offer great breakfasts and good yet inexpensive soup-and-salad lunches, while amiable bars and pubs draw bikers, hikers, and loggers with their pub grub. If you’re waiting for a boat, or are fresh off one, more places to eat and drink surround the ferry terminal.

Places to stay in Port Angeles vary. You’ll find highway motels, including the Quality Inn Uptown (101 E. 2nd St., 360/457-9434, $89 and up), and the Red Lion Hotel Port Angeles (360/452-9215, $129 and up), on the water at the foot of Lincoln Street. There are also many characterful B&Bs.

The peaks and coastal valleys of Olympic National Park receive as much as 200 inches of rainfall each year, while the nearby town of Sequim garners an average of just 15-17 inches annually.

After 20 years of legal wrangling, the Elwah Dam and Lake Aldwell, west of Port Angeles along US-101, were removed in 2011 to enable the river’s natural ecosystem and salmon fishery to return.

Hurricane Ridge

High above Port Angeles, Hurricane Ridge provides the most popular access to Olympic National Park. A paved road twists and turns 17 miles up a steep 7 percent grade to the mile-high summit, where, on a clear day, you can gape at the breathtaking 360-degree views of mountain, valley, and sea. A lodge at the crest provides food and drink, and a concession offers ski and snowshoe rentals on winter weekends. Trails lead down into the backcountry, where you’re likely to spot marmots, deer, and bald eagles—and if you’re lucky, maybe an elk or a mountain lion. From Hurricane Ridge, thrill-seeking drivers and mountain bikers may get a kick out of Obstruction Point Road, a twisting gravel road that continues (without guardrails!) for another eight miles along the crest from the parking lot. In winter, the snowed-in road becomes a popular cross-country skiing trail.

Apart from the area right around Hurricane Ridge, most of the Olympic National Park backcountry is fairly wet and rugged. If you plan to camp overnight, be prepared, and be sure to get a permit from the Olympic National Park Visitor Center (360/565-3130) in Port Angeles, just south of US-101 on the road up to Hurricane Ridge. This is also the best place to pick up general information on the rest of the park, which extends all the way west to the rainforest areas along the coastal valleys.

Lake Crescent

One of the most idyllic spots in the entire Pacific Northwest, the fjord-like Lake Crescent, over 8 miles long and some 624 feet deep, lies right alongside two-lane US-101, just 18 miles west of Port Angeles. The placid surface reflects the clouds and surrounding peaks, including 4,537-foot Mt. Storm King. To appreciate the tranquil beauty, rent a rowboat from the Lake Crescent Lodge and float around under your own steam. Starting from the lodge, a popular mile-long hike follows a well-maintained nature trail up to the delicate cascade of 90-foot Marymere Falls, while along the north shore an abandoned railroad grade is open to hikers and mountain bikers.

Incomparably situated along US-101 on the lake’s southeast shore, Lake Crescent Lodge (360/928-3211 or 888/896-3818, open May-Jan. only, except for the Roosevelt Fireplace Cabins, open on the weekends, $156 and up) was originally built in 1915 and has been hosting visitors ever since. Fairly rustic rooms are available in the old lodge, which also has a cozy dining room. Other accommodations are available in the adjacent cabins and motel, though the whole place is booked solid on summer weekends, so reserve as early as you can.

In the forested hills above US-101, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort (866/476-5382, $1 and up) has family-friendly cabins and a restaurant set around a swimming pool and natural hot spring (around $15 for nonguests).

Hwy-112: Strait of Juan de Fuca

The Strait of Juan de Fuca, the narrow inlet that links the open Pacific with Puget Sound and divides the United States from Canada, was named for the Greek sailor (real name: Apóstolos Valerianos) who first mapped it while working for the Spanish crown in 1592. On a clear day, you can get some great views across the strait from Hwy-112, which runs along the shore from US-101 all the way to the tip of the Olympic Peninsula at Neah Bay. Though it looks like a great drive on the map, Hwy-112 is a narrow and winding road with some surprisingly steep hills and thick woods that block much of the view, all of which, in addition to the plentiful logging trucks, can make it less than ideal for bicycling or even a scenic drive.

Along Hwy-112, you may pass a pair of fish-headed, human-legged, sneaker-wearing statues. Don’t be alarmed.

Neah Bay and Cape Flattery

From the crossroads at Sappho on US-101, Hwy-113 leads north, linking up with Hwy-112 on a long and winding 44-mile detour through Clallam Bay to Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost tip of the continental United States. The highway is paved as far as the town of Neah Bay (pop. 865), a tiny and somewhat bedraggled community that’s the center of the Makah Indian Reservation. Salmon and halibut fishing, both by Makah and by visitors, is about the only activity here, although the community does have the impressive and modern Makah Museum (360/645-2711, daily, $6), one of the best anthropological museums in the state. Most of the displays are of artifacts uncovered in 1970, when a winter storm exposed the pristine remains of a 500-year-old coastal village that had been buried in a mudslide—the Pompeii of the Pacific Northwest. Other galleries display finely crafted baskets, a full-scale longhouse complete with recorded chants, and a whaling canoe from which fearless Makah harpooners would jump into the surf and sew up the jaws of dying whales to keep them from sinking. The museum gift shop displays and sells a variety of high-quality arts and crafts made by Makah people. For fascinating insights into Makah worldviews, check out Robert Sullivan’s thought-provoking book A Whale Hunt: How a Native-American Village Did What No One Thought It Could.

Cape Flattery

The Hwy-112/113 route twists along the rocky and wooded shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but reaching the actual cape itself isn’t difficult. From Neah Bay, the well-maintained western half of the Cape Loop Road winds along the Pacific to a parking area that gives access to a trail that brings you to the top of a cliff overlooking the crashing surf and offshore Tatoosh Island. On a sunny day it’s a gorgeous vista, but if the weather is less than perfect (which it often is), your time would be much better spent inside the Makah Museum.


Bending southwest along the banks of the Sol Duc River, US-101 passes through miles of green forests under ever-gray skies to reach Forks (pop. 3,532), the commercial center of the northwestern Olympic Peninsula. Named for its location astride the Sol Duc and Bogachiel Rivers, Forks is a die-hard lumber town grappling with the inevitable change to more ecologically sustainable alternatives, mainly tourism. Visitors come to fish for steelhead during the late-summer runs, to beachcomb along the rugged coast, or to visit the remarkable rainforests of Olympic National Park. Today, the main attractions are related to the wildly popular teenage vampire novels and films of The Twilight Saga, which were set here in Forks (the movies were filmed elsewhere). You can also visit the quirky Forks Timber Museum (360/374-9663, daily, $3), on US-101 on the south edge of town, packed with handsaws, chainsaws, and other logging gear as well as antique cooking stoves and displays telling the town’s history. There’s also a forest-fire lookout tower perched outside the upper floor gallery.

The old-growth forests of Olympic National Park provide prime habitat for the northern spotted owl, an endangered species whose preservation has sparked heated debate throughout the Pacific Northwest.

With three gas stations and five motels, Forks is not a metropolis by any stretch of the imagination, but it does offer the best range of services between Port Angeles and Aberdeen. Sully’s Drive-In (220 N. Forks Ave.) is a good burger stand on US-101 at the north end of town. There are also a couple of Chinese and Mexican places, plus pretty good pies at Pacific Pizza (870 S. Forks Ave.). Stay at The Forks Motel


On Sale
Jun 8, 2021
Page Count
916 pages
Moon Travel

Jamie Jensen

About the Author

Growing up along Route 66 in Southern California, Jamie Jensen was immersed in road trip culture at an early age. Back then, freeways were new, cheeseburgers cost a quarter, and every beach had a waterfront amusement park. Family road trips to national parks and historic sites nurtured an appreciation of the USA's distinctive natural landscapes, one-of-a-kind attractions, and unexpected local traditions.

A summer break from studying architecture in college turned into a two-year odyssey driving, hiking, biking, and hitch-hiking all over the continent. Odd jobs became unforgettable experiences. He made hay in the summer heat of the Midwest, crewed sailboats from Cape Cod to Chesapeake Bay, and tuned guitars in a Manhattan recording studio.

A fondness for old road maps and a chance encounter with the 1930s WPA Guides led to an obsessive exploration of the two-lane highways that preceded today's interstate freeways. To spread the word about small-town businesses surviving in the face of anonymous "big box" chain stores and sprawling suburbs, Jamie set to work on Road Trip USA, which first appeared in 1996. Since that prehistoric era of paper maps and pay phones, technology has brought once-distant places ever closer. New generations have been busy reviving old gas stations as microbreweries and turning historic warehouses into farmers markets. Meanwhile, parenting his twin sons Tom and Alex provided Jamie with a good excuse for enjoying minor league baseball games, studying historic plaques, and taking silly photos of roadside dinosaurs and supersized Paul Bunyans.

After a half-million miles spent in search of the perfect stretch of two-lane blacktop, the joy of discovery remains strong. Jamie still feels that sense of adventure every time he gets behind the wheel and heads out on the road.

Learn more about this author