The Best Summer Road Trips on the East Coast

Living and growing up in the Delaware Valley, it’s been my experience that every family takes at least one long road trip, exploring the highways up and down the east coast. These are family memories, and they can be wonderful or horrendous, depending on road conditions and weather. For instance, it isn’t very much fun to be stuck in a tent at the beach during a tropical storm, but your kids will have amazing memories of dolphins and wild horses on Assateague Island if the weather is perfect. This post will explore the best and worst highways up and down the East Coast in the hopes that your next family road trip will be unforgettable (in a good way!)

There are loads of apps that you can download from iTunes or the Google Play Store for stress-free road trips.  This article points out 5 usefil apps for every road trip, including iExit, an app that shows the distance from the highway to gas stations and bathrooms, Waze (which I recommend for every commute!) a traffic app that shows the fastest route and includes speed traps, Roadtrippers, an app that allows you to see amusement parks, adventure sports, historical markers and hiking along your route, Parkme, an app that helps you find the cheapest available parking, and RepairPal, an app that helps you get in touch with the closest roadside assistance and repair (something we sincerely hope you will not need on any road trip!)

Everyone in the Delaware Valley has a favorite highway for one reason or another, and short cuts to avoid rush hour traffic or periodic construction.  These apps will help non-residents navigate some heavily trafficked, windy back roads around the area.   

Destination: Williamsburg, Virginia


The itinerary for a historical road trip starting from Philadelphia and culminating in Williamsburg is one many families with older children take each summer.  Your itinerary could go something like this:

Day 1-2
Begin with a trip to Philadelphia – Full of Revolutionary history, your visit should include trips to Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was written and signed, a tour of the Constitution Center, see the Liberty Bell, and visit the BenjaminFranklin Museum.  Don’t miss one of the top ten spots to get an authentic Philly Cheese Steak!  On day 2, if you want to stop at Valley Forge, PA you can see Washington’s winter camp and cannons from the Revolutionary war before heading south on I-95 toward the Inner Habor.

Baltimore Inner Harbor – also rich in history, particularly from the war of 1812, your visit should include: a walk up the hill to Fort McHenry National Monument where Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner,” a tour of the USS Constellation, and a visit to the Edgar Allan Poe House. There are lots of kid-friendly things to do in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and great restaurants, too.

Day 3 and 4
Washington DC is really easy to navigate by trolley. Park the car and get a map showing the The Old Town Trolley stops. With a 9am start, you can see Ford's Theatre, the White House Visitors Center, the National Archives, the National Gallery of Art East and West, Union Station, the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court on Day 3.

On Day 4 visit the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (do this early so your kids get a chance to ride the flight simulator first thing!), the Jefferson Memorial, stops for quick walks around the FDR & Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials, the Lincoln, Korean War, World War II and Vietnam Veterans Memorials, and Washington Monument. If you have time you can also visit the National Zoo and National Cathedral.  Remember, it is about a 3 hour drive down I-95 (through traffic) to get to Williamsburg.

Day 5 and 6
Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown – the Historic Triangle

Start at the visitor center in Williamsburg and walk the streets, stopping in at all the shops, taverns, homes, jail, and court house.  There are periodic demonstrations and carriage rides you may also enjoy. You will really get an idea of what life on a pre-revolutionary war plantation or in the town of Williamsburg was like.  Everything and everyone is authentic to that time period.

On day 6 head over to Jamestown to see the real location of the first permanent British settlement in America.  It’s a quick drive or ferry ride over to Yorktown. You can take a tour on a historic sailing ship and reenact the battle. 

Day 7
It’s time for the dreaded drive home. The route: You can take the fast way back up I-95 through all kinds of traffic, or you can head down to Virginia Beach and then up the Eastern Shore. It's a little longer, but it’s also much more relaxing and scenic.  You can even extend the trip and stop at Chincoteague and Assateague Island to hit the beach and see the wild horses.

Destination: Delaware Water Gap, New Jersey


Closer to home, there are some beautiful hikes and a very scenic day trip up to the Delaware Water Gap, which borders Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  There are historic houses and mines to explore, over 100 miles of trails to hike full of waterfalls and scenic vistas, biking trails, kayaking, boating and fishing. Pack a picnic lunch and prepare to enjoy the view.  The trip there is about 2 and a half hours north on  I-476 and the last half of the trip is scenic and mountainous.   

Destination: Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania


This trip should be done over 2 or 3 days just because the drive is around 4.5 hours on the PA Turnpike. Fallingwater is the site where noted artist and architect Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece demonstrates the power of design in harmony with nature.  It is perhaps the most famous house in the United States. You can eat lunch in the town of Ohiopyle and stroll the Great Allegheny Passage trail along the Youghiegheny River. There is some history nearby as well.  The site of George Washington’s first battle at Fort Necessity National Battlefield is about 25 minutes down PA-381.

Destination: Acadia National Park, Maine


This trip is a ten plus hour drive or a 3 hour and 45 minute flight from Philadelphia airport. The really scenic way to do this trip is to drive along the coast up to Maine and then go the quickest route back to Philadelphia by way of New York City. Plan to spend the last day of your trip taking in the sites of NYC before heading home to the Philadelphia area.

On the way to Maine, here are some awesome places you may want to stop and visit:
  • For New England charm and a sample of a 19th-century village on the Mystic river in CT you may want to stop at Mystic Seaport. The museum devoted to the first Europeans and their encounters with the Pequot Indians is worthwhile.
  • Not that long ago, Newport, Rhode Island was the “summer playground” of the wealthiest Americans. You can tour many of the famous mansions and their formal gardens, or visit the town’s quirky shops and great restaurants with great views of the Bay and Ocean. At this point in the trip you are very close to some of the offshore islands that are just a ferry ride away. You can walk around Block Island, RI or Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, MA for a relaxing day at the beach. Be sure to visit the Cape Cod  and Provincetown on your way to Boston to walk the Freedom Trail and visit Boston Harbor. 
  • Portsmouth, NH is a great stopping place while you visit John Paul Jones’s house and the restored seaport district, Strawbery Banke. You can also visit historic lighthouses like the one in York, ME; the Nubble that is truly quintessential of the New England Shore.
At Bar Harbor, ME, where Acadia National Park lives, you can hike Cadillac Mountain, cruise on the windjammer schooner the Margaret Todd, and walk the rocky coast on your way to Acadia National Park.

Destination Cape May, NJ


Our final destination has a song “On the Way to Cape May” written about it, making it our most iconic Philadelphia-based road trip. Cape May is less than 100 miles, or about a two-hour drive from the heart of center city.  The historical charm of Cape May with it’s expansive white beaches, iconic shops and restaurants, and the World War II Lookout tower make it an awesome summer road trip with something for the whole family.
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