For many of us, road trips are the stuff of college breaks—rambling potato chip and Gatorade-packed journeys set to classic rock soundtracks.
To some extent, I have that association too. And there’s a special place in my heart for that freewheeling experience. I can close my eyes and almost transport myself to the passenger seat of my best friend’s convertible, as we drove from LA to San Francisco with the top down—heedless of sunburn and honking truckers.
But, as an adult, I still crave that sensation of gazing out at changing scenery with a breeze whipping through the window. I love the music, I love the discoveries from sweet general stores to farm stands. I love traveling without a tight schedule or baggage fees.
Several years ago, when I still lived on the West Coast, my husband and I took one of my all time favorite trips: It was a winter drive from LA, up through Northern California and wine country, over Mt. Shasta into Ashland, Oregon (which twinkled as we arrived on Christmas Eve) and all the way to Portland and then back down the coast. It was heaven: beautiful landscapes, incredible food, lovely people.
That’s when I realized that road trips don’t need to involve spontaneous pitstops at seedy motels and fast food drive-thrus. I could stay at amazing hotels, stop at vineyards, visit museums and artisanal gourmet bakeries. And, that way, I seemed to get a truer sense of the local flavor.
We have taken many road trips since then. Most recently, this summer, we took an annual drive from New York City to the Isle of Palms, South Carolina (which is a lesser known beach haven just outside of Charleston). And—because wellness has been on our minds lately—the trip took on a more holistic intention. I quickly realized that a road trip could be not only luxurious, but, as we soaked up nature and the local offerings, also nourishing for the mind, body and soul.
In each place we stopped, on the way up and down, we made incredible discoveries: In Alexandria, Virginia, we wandered historic cobblestone streets before being directed to Society Fair, a restaurant and boutique which was as contemporary as it could get. The epicurean wonderland—which feels a bit like a grown up version of Willy Wonka’s factory with cake trays of brightly colored treats under chandeliers—stocks artisanal items from local purveyors of all sorts, as well as serving meals. Their slogan, “Devoted to Food,” kind of says it all.
In Richmond, Virginia, a place we have grown to love over the years thanks to our pitstops en route south, we ate at The Daily Kitchen, a local, sustainable and organic restaurant with all sorts of healthful, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and even Paleo options. It was delicious! I may have had one of the best roast chicken dinners of my life.
The next morning, we made up for our low-calorie dinner, grabbing unbelievable baked goods—including a vegan blueberry muffin for me—from WPA Bakery in emerging culinary neighborhood, Church Hill. (I also heard amazing things about Sub Rosa bakery’s heirloom bread, which I need to taste next time.) Afterward, we headed over to Maymont to wander this 100-acre estate with gardens and even goats for our daughter to feed.
Our next stop was The Umstead Hotel & Spa in Cary, North Carolina. Once we arrived, we basically wished we could move in. The room was immaculate, the toiletry amenities include lip balm (so thoughtful!) and the grounds are beautiful. But the real highlight is the newly renovated spa, which is inspired by the idea of bringing nature (12 acres of wooded land actually) inside. The scents involved in my Flower Hammam Ritual would have been enough to lull me into a relaxed state (Orange Quince Mist!), but also the spa has thoughtfully included an indoor/outdoor meditation space to which guests can retreat for quiet contemplation and nature views. I’d like to hang there every day.
Isle of Palms was amazing as always. And, after a week on the beach with friends, we headed back up towards Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, where we would meet family. Our first notable stop was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where we had two more amazing meals after a long walk in the quaint Old Town: For dinner, we ate at a truly farm-to-table Tuscan restaurant called Poppy Hill, where they make everything from scratch daily. (In fact, they were still baking the bread when we arrived and it was worth the wait: warm and chewy and delicious.) Then, for breakfast, we headed to Mercantile, a new delicious seasonal and local spot co-owned by Top Chef alumna, Joy Crump. The insane avocado toast was worth the trip alone, but, perhaps most notable, are their unusual fresh juices with everything from coconut to kale.
Ultimately, when we landed at our final destination, we felt full, mind, body and soul. And I couldn’t wait to hit the road again.