Road Trip: Start at the Beginning on U.S. Route 1

By: Bridget Clerkin July 13, 2018
Traveling down the Eastern seaboard on U.S. Route 1 will take you through New York City and past some of America's most iconic landmarks.
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January traditionally marks the time for making—and keeping—personal promises, so why not resolve to check a fabled road trip off your bucket list in the burgeoning year?

Spanning nearly 2,400 miles from the country’s northern- to southernmost eastern tips, U.S. Route 1 offers plenty of chances to do and see new things and fulfill any number of resolutions.

The coast-hugging route not only traverses the country’s megalopolis—the broad belt of urbanization spanning from Boston to Washington, D.C.—it spans a surprisingly diverse terrain outside of the city centers, covering topography from forests to swamps to beaches.

And much like January itself, the road represents beginnings: it was one of the first thoroughfares officially inducted into the federal highway system. Accordingly, the route is historic in its own right, but it also passes through areas thick with memories of great American events, spanning all the way back to the first colonial settlements and the Revolutionary War.

With so much to see, it’s best to take the whole trip slow, but there are a few stand-out destinations worth some extra time.

But be careful: January may be a good time to plan the trip but not necessarily the best time to take it. The Eastern seaboard is prone to adverse winter weather events like snowstorms and hurricanes, so check the forecast before hitting the road.

Boston, Massachusetts

Passing through Boston on Tobin Bridge, U.S. Route 1 provides views of the Beantown skyline.

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Route 1 technically starts at the Canadian border, in Fort Kent, Maine, and offers access to a number of gorgeous New England vistas before arriving in Boston—especially if you’re making the trip in the fall. But, located 419 miles south of the roadway’s official beginning, Beantown represents the first major destination along the route.

The Massachusetts capital—and largest New England metropolis—absolutely bursts with things to do, for visitors with tastes running from scholarly to sporty. Within city limits, there are a nearly endless number of museums, historic routes, and art displays of all types—not to mention the town’s Ivy League campuses and famous athletic fields.

The North Shore area neighboring the city offers a slower pace, but just as much charm and history as Boston proper, and Foxborough, found further south along the road, is a must-see stop for football fans.

As Route 1 continues through New England, it winds past beautiful beach communities like Providence, Rhode Island and even more hallowed grounds of academia, including New Haven, Connecticut, home of Yale University. But the next big destination along the route is arguably the world’s biggest.

New York City, New York

Take in New York City's famous sites as U.S. 1 cuts through the Big Apple.

The stretch of Route 1 running through New York isn’t particularly beautiful, but the dazzling city lights more than make up for the eyesore.

Specifically, the road traverses through the boroughs of the Bronx and Manhattan, but it offers easy access to all the other neighborhoods that make New York so special—and famous city sites like Central Park, the Empire State Building, and Times Square, along with the wide array of world-class museums, art galleries, theaters, restaurants, and boutiques New York is known for.

Soak in all the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of the city that never sleeps, but make sure to stay awake for the rest of the route.

After passing through New York City, Route 1 leads to towns that may not have marquee names but have immense historic significance, including Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey, where the Revolutionary War turned in favor of the budding colonies and where present-day visitors can still walk across preserved battlefields.

Such rich historic experiences—and any patriotism inspired by them—will be especially beneficial to keep around for the next major stop along the highway: the nation’s capital.

Washington, D.C.

U.S. Route 1 passes Congress on its way through Washington, D.C.

Route 1 may not cut the most beautiful—or friendly—figure as it continues down the mid-Atlantic corridor, but the cities in its path remain welcoming for any driver interested in checking big destinations off their bucket list.

The capital city is impressive to say the least, studded with marble monuments which can be spotted rising up from the distance along the highway. Nearly every square inch inside the District has been touched by history and significance, and the unique architecture and city planning of D.C. makes even walking the streets an exciting event.

On top of its beautiful concrete paths, Washington, D.C. also famously boasts the National Mall, a stretch of grassy expanse bookended by the Capitol and the Washington Monument, and flanked by world-famous museums.

The city may be the largest star along the Route 1 corridor, but it’s also the last major metropolis for many hundreds of miles along the highway. After leaving through the burgeoning towns of Arlington and Alexandria, the road opens up to the expanse of forested hillsides that paint the American southeast in beautiful natural tones. As the relatively urban-free drive continues south, pine trees are replaced with palm trees and the warm, humid air starts carrying a distinctly salty smell, signaling that the route has nearly wound its way down—and what better place to take an extended rest than southern Florida?

Miami, Florida

End your journey down U.S. Route 1 in sunny Miami.

While Route 1’s original terminus was in the festive city of Florida’s southern shores, today it continues as the Overseas Highway, crossing beautiful Gulf waters until it reaches Key West, the southernmost point of the continental United States.

Still, for those short on time, Miami marks a great place to end a historic trip. Muscles sore from logging long hours behind the wheel can relax on one of the city’s breathtaking sun-soaked beaches, or with a little help from the world-class cocktails, food, and nightlife Miami is known for.

The city also offers recreational activities for any taste, from lively water sports to leisurely strolls through vibrant neighborhoods.

So sit back, unwind, and soak in your resolution-worthy achievement.

Bonus Stops

Route 1 is the longest north-south route in the country, and truly doing the road justice takes an enormous amount of time. For those with such a luxury—or just looking for a slightly different itinerary—there are nearly countless additional stops to be made along the way, but a few stand out as particularly noteworthy.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ben Franklin called the city home, and the man was known for his astuteness.

Just under 100 miles southeast of New York City, this proud colonial town boasts plenty of its own historic luster—plus locations made famous by more contemporary figures of culture, like the steps favored by Rocky Balboa in his training montage.

Philly is a budding location for foodies as well, but if your New Year’s resolution involves losing weight, you may want to skip out on the cheesesteak.

Baltimore, Maryland

Less than 40 miles north of Washington, D.C., this city has its own long list of must-see attractions, including an envy-worthy National Aquarium and one of baseball’s most beautiful fields, Camden Yards.

Of course, that’s to say nothing of the city’s Inner Harbor, which offers beautiful waterfront views—and lots of fresh crabs for seafood aficionados to dig into.

Richmond, Virginia

Virginia’s state capital is one of the few major cities along Route 1 between D.C. and Miami, sitting 108 miles south of Washington, D.C.

But with a number of museums, highlighting subjects ranging from the Civil War to Edgar Allen Poe, plus a smattering of historical sites, parks, gardens, and interesting architecture to take in, the city is much more than just another pit stop.

Key West, Florida

The obvious attraction in the quaint Caribbean town for any traveler of Route 1 is the highway’s official terminus, located at mile marker 0, at the southernmost tip of the continental United States.

But there’s no end of possibilities for having fun on the bohemian island, regardless of which way your tastes run. From water sports to fine dining to the simple pleasure of people watching, Key West lends a bit of its magic to any activity.

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