Angelenos call it “the 10,” Texans call it “I-10,” but whatever the nomenclature, the southernmost transcontinental highway demands a cross-country road trip. Starting at the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica, Calif., crossing eight states and 2,460 miles, and ending in Jacksonville, Fla., it is the only freeway that allows one to drive sand-to-sand across the United States.
It’s never too early to start planning that summer road trip. Here are 10 amazing must-eats, must-sees, and places to sleep, from West to East, off the 10 freeway.
1. Lake Arrowhead, Calif.
An idyllic lake high above a valley with a great spa hotel and a fantastic restaurant. (Photo: Lake Arrowhead Resort)
Refuel: “Diamond in the rough” doesn’t begin to describe this find, not far from the banks of beautiful Lake Arrowhead. The family-owned and operated Stone Creek Bistro is an upscale full-service restaurant with seasonal produce and locally sourced dairy and meats. Chef Sam Perry trained under New Orleans legend John Besh at Restaurant August. That translates into unpretentious but out-of-this-world delicious food. Think American diner meets French bistro in a “rustic industrial” setting with a superb wine list. French tomato soup with grilled cheese crouton is the epitome of this marriage. The pork belly BLT with Wonder Bread emulsion must be tasted to be believed. Insider tip: Put down the wine list. Just tell them what is desired, and the perfect glass will magically appear.
Recharge: Rent a bike at Wake and Wheel, and bike around serene Lake Arrowhead. The employees at Wake and Wheel will map out an easy route or a more difficult climb, depending on cycling abilities.
Put it in neutral: Stay at the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa. The majestic lobby welcomes weary travelers, and the spa is highly recommended, with free access for guests.
2. Phoenix region, Ariz.
The Phoenix region is vast and varied; visiting these gems makes the stay a delight. (Photo: Getty Images)
Refuel: More like a classic Pacific Northwest brewpub than a desert oasis, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company, in Gilbert, has award-winning craft beer unavailable anywhere else, and the chicken wings confit melt off the bone. The Refuge IPA is an intricately balanced West Coast IPA with four different kinds of hops, offset by a satisfyingly malty base. For more beer adventures in the region, try Arizona Brewery Tours. Get ye to a brewery!
Put it in neutral: After a dusty hike, the Phoenician, in Scottsdale, beckons with the Thirsty Camel Lounge. On the patio at sunset, the “Flight of the Phoenix” show is a mind-bending avian spectacle worth checking out, especially after a few cocktails.
Related: 5 Must-Do American Road Trips
3. Tucson, Ariz.
This college town near the Mexican border is chock full of great tacos and margaritas. (Photo: TripAdvisor)
Refuel: Interstate 10 dips so close to the Mexican border that a stop in Tucson for Mexican food is a requirement. Cafe Poca Cosa is one of the finest examples of Mexican cuisine on either side of the border. The menu rotates twice daily, printed on a portable chalkboard in both English and Spanish. For a more casual vibe, try Little Cafe Poca Cosa for fresh Mexican food and festive music. For an après-meal cocktail, sip on a masterpiece concocted by miracle mixologist Ciaran Wiese at Augustin Kitchen.
Recharge: The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a top-ranked geo-tourism spot that blends a zoo, a botanical garden, an art gallery, a natural history museum, and an aquarium into a mostly outdoor experience.
Put it in neutral: The Hotel Congress is a lively urban hotel with a decorous lobby and plenty of charm. Request a cactus courtyard room for a quieter night’s sleep, as music often wafts through the hotel on happening evenings.
4. Las Cruces, N.M.
Venture into the heart of Hatch chile culture. (Photo: Hotel Encanto)
Refuel: Las Cruces is also famous for its pecan farms, with the world’s largest located just outside the city. De La Vega’s Pecan Grill and Brewery uses these local pecans as well as local Young Guns Hatch green chiles to infuse their dishes with local flavor. The food is reason enough to tie up a horse to this hitching post, but De La Vega’s entertainment lineup, with DJs, open-mic nights, and happy hour plus reverse happy hour, encourages camping out all night.
Recharge: Be a cowboy or cowgirl for the day. Head to Corralitos Ranch for a horse ride through the tranquil terrain of hills and canyons, Indian rock art and old mines. Where once the Apache roamed, visitors can experience the same with this Southwestern equestrian adventure.
Put it in neutral: Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces is a Spanish Colonial-style landmark hotel with open outdoor spaces, inviting pool areas, and carved wooden Southwestern furniture in each room.
5. Houston, Texas
Houston is on everyone’s travel hot list this year, mainly for its commitment to art. (Photo: iStock)
Refuel: Bistro Menil opened recently next to the famed Menil Collection, a modern-art museum housing the De Menil family’s personal acquisitions. Bistro Menil’s European-inspired American fare is served amid modern design and complementing art, while the large windows bring the Menil Park inside. The pizzas, grilled quail, and eggplant “fries” are delicious and can be enhanced by cask wine or draft beer.
Recharge: The Menil Collection is the obvious choice for a post-meal stroll. The museum feels similar to the Menil House, with its natural light and understated architecture. The museum houses works by such artists as Max Ernst, René Magritte, and Andy Warhol, who attended salons that the de Menils gave in their home.
Put it in neutral: Hotel ZaZa is located in the museum district, so continuing an art-appreciation tour is easy. Local tip: Ask for the resident Cadillac Escalade with cow horns on the front for a drive around town.
6. Beaumont, Texas
This gateway to the Deep South combines the best of both Texan and Cajun cuisines. (Photo: Floyds Beaumont)
Refuel: Floyd’s Cajun Seafood and Texas Steakhouse prepares road-trippers for the transition from Texas beef culture to Louisiana Cajun seafood. Combining the two cuisines, the restaurant holds to what it says is the Louisiana tradition of lagniappe (a small gift), translating into service and quality that’s a little bit extra.
Recharge: The Beaumont Botanical Gardens transport travelers to a calm and lush environment. Entry is free, and the rock waterfall and well-chosen fragrant flowers are peaceful highlights.
Put it in neutral: Book Nook Inn Bed and Breakfast in nearby Lumberton is as eclectic as the owners. With fishing in its well-stocked pond, a movie room stuffed to the ceiling with pillows and blankets, and a cozy home bar, this is a real Texas local experience.
7. New Orleans, La.
No I-10 road trip is complete without a stop in the Big Easy. (Photo: iStock)
Recharge: Take a brisk walk around the Garden District, where the century-old Greek Revival homes fly flags designating Mardi Gras royalty. Afterward, hop on the famed streetcar to the French Quarter, and follow a Haunted History Tour. The ghosts of New Orleans are around every corner, so it’s better to be guided than alone.
Put it in neutral: The Hotel Monteleone is Southern elegance personified in the heart of the French Quarter. It’s also said to be haunted, which makes it the perfect choice. The on-site Carousel Bar & Lounge is a destination itself for the real merry-go-round inside and its excellent Pimm’s Cup.
8. Biloxi, Miss.
Gulf Coast gambling mecca. (Photo: iStock)
Refuel: Ole Biloxi Schooner has a charming setting and locally sourced seafood that can’t be beat. It isn’t open long hours, so catch it early.
Recharge: Biloxi Beach. Take a stroll on the powdery white sand, and let the warm waters and gentle breezes refresh.
Put it in neutral: Being close to the casinos without being in a casino is a good reason to stay at the White House Hotel. With its beachfront location, extensive wine and beer list, and Cora’s Restaurant onsite, why leave this elegant boutique hotel?
9. Mobile, Ala.
The site of America’s first Mardi Gras, since 1703. (Photo: Ian Dagnall / Alamy)
Refuel: Wintzell’s Oyster House is just a short walk from the Mobile Bay. The West Indies salad is a dish every visitor to Mobile needs to try — it consists simply of huge chunks of crabmeat soaked in oil and vinegar and covered in grated onions. Both the dish and restaurant have been Mobile institutions since 1938.
Recharge: Take a walk around the historic USS Alabama, just off the 10 at Exit 27. Ninety percent of the massive World War II ship, brought to Mobile Bay in 1962, can be visited on foot.
Put it in neutral: Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa was intricately restored, and this Historic Hotel of America sits on the site of a former War of 1812 military headquarters. Woodrow Wilson stayed here in 1913; this is where he uttered his famous statement “The United States will never again seek one additional foot of territory by conquest.”
10. Jacksonville, Fla.
The finish line. (Photo: iStock)
Refuel: Chowder Ted’s serves Manhattan-style clam chowder in a tiny shack by the sea. The quality is high and the prices are low.
Recharge: Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens has one of the finest collections of European art in the Southeast, along with three gorgeous flower gardens.
Put it in neutral: Continue on the 10 as it turns into Atlantic Blvd. Stop when the street hits the sand at One Ocean Resort & Spa. Check in, relax, and enjoy the Atlantic Ocean view with memories of the Pacific far behind.
Note: There are other freeways that are considered to run coast to coast; however, technically they don’t hit both oceans. The I-90 starts in Seattle, but as any Twilight fan can tell you, Seattle isn’t on the coast. The I-80 runs aground in Teaneck, N.J., and I-40 doesn’t qualify as a truly transcontinental highway because it begins in Barstow, Calif.