Santa Monica to San Francisco
Any way you cruise it, California’s Pacific Coast Highway (a.k.a. Highway 1) is a modern motorist’s Mecca. A stunning drive that stretches from south of L.A. to north of San Francisco, the legendary route winds past missions, mansions, and beaches galore. And when it’s time to park it for the night, honeymooners won’t have any trouble finding a soft bed to sink into. The region has almost as many dreamy inns and swank resorts as it has jaw-dropping vistas. Start out at Santa Monica’s Viceroy hotel, where you can chart your course in one of the natty striped cabanas by the pool, then catch some Zs in your sleek, high-design room. Doubles from $259, year-round; 800-622-8711, viceroysantamonica.com.
Next, head north—keep the ocean on your left—for about two hours and you’ll come to Santa Barbara, famous for its Spanish architecture. Soak in the ambience while you shop on State Street for Talavera ceramics and antiques and dine on battered cod and Paul Prudhomme–inspired sweet-potato fries at Go Fish & Chips. Walk it off with a stroll down Cabrillo Boulevard, fronting the harbor and Stearns Wharf. When you’re ready for some alone time, follow in the footsteps of camera-shy celebs and check into the Four Seasons Resort Santa Barbara. Tucked away in an enclave seemingly all its own, the resort lavishes every guest with attention—and privacy. Doubles from $500, May through September; 800-332-3442, fourseasons.com.
Celebs also appreciate the kitsch appeal of your next destination: the Madonna Inn, not far from the Mission in San Luis Obispo. Besides a rococo dance floor and a steak house that the Sugar Plum Fairy could have created, theme rooms with names like "Caveman," "Bridal Falls," and "Old-Fashioned Honeymoon" are the draw here. Next up: Hearst Castle, in the town of San Simeon (a few miles north), where princely publisher William Randolph wined and dined Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable. Doubles from $147, year-round; 800-543-9666, madonnainn.com.
Driving north from San Simeon, you enter the surreally beautiful territory of Big Sur, where ancient redwood trees tower over art galleries and restaurants. The Monterey Peninsula, a few miles up the coast, also boasts the same brand of Pacific splendor—but with a well-heeled twist. (The region is home to quaint Carmel and the world-class hotels of Pebble Beach.) Most couples will want to unpack and stay a while, so book a suite at the area’s most famous retreat, the Lodge at Pebble Beach, where views of the golf greens is surpassed only by that of the crashing surf beyond. Doubles from $555, year-round; 800-654-9300, pebblebeach.com.
When you’re ready to tear yourselves away from the pounding waves and dramatic bluffs, ease your separation anxiety with a stop in San Francisco. Take trolley rides along the gingerbread-house-trimmed streets, satisfy your inner foodie at the city’s renowned restaurants, and immerse yourselves in its rich literary tradition. The lobby at Hotel Rex, for instance, is lined with books and the rooms are outfitted with writing desks, making it the ideal spot to mark a happy ending. Doubles from $129, June through October; 800-433-4434, thehotelrex.com.
Greater Phoenix to the Grand Canyon
Arizona may not be as rowdy as it was in Wyatt Earp’s era, but wide-open spaces still abound. No matter how urbane the Phoenix-Scottsdale metroplex (a.k.a. the Valley of the Sun) becomes, the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert awaits just outside. So before heading down the highway, take a day to immerse yourselves in the region’s culture. You could join a Jeep or horseback tour and learn about the Valley’s early inhabitants—rather resourceful folks who turned the area’s prickly plants into everything from snacks to shoes. Or you could spend an afternoon at the Heard Museum, home to one of the country’s premiere collections of indigenous art. And you can channel your inner cowboy with a dinner at Roaring Fork restaurant, where the chef puts a gourmet spin on everything from pork shank with apple chutney to seared scallops with jalapeño vinaigrette. Afterward, unfurl your bedrolls at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, a posh, Asian-flavored resort where honeymooners who’ve picked a spa suite can follow their in-room Japanese tea ceremony with a tub soak on their private terrace. Doubles from $395, January through May; 800-245-2051, sanctuaryaz.com.
Properly sated and spa’d, you’re ready for the 244-mile scenic drive to the ultimate road-trip destination: the Grand Canyon. Zip north along I-17 for 99 miles, until you reach the turnoff for AZ 179; there, we suggest that lovers take a 15-mile detour to spend a night in the earthy, arty town of Sedona. The deck of Javelina Cantina is a great place to ogle the spiritually charged red rocks while partaking in tacos, fajitas, and some truly awesome margaritas. As your eyes begin to droop, head to Enchantment Resort, where earth-hued casitas blend so artfully with the canyon walls, you won’t notice the main clubhouse until you’re practically at check-in. (Tip: If your shoulders are knotted from logging too many hours in the car, book a Table Thai massage at the famed Mii amo spa for the next morning.) Doubles from $295, February through June, September through December; 800-826-4180, enchantmentresort.com.
Back on the highway, the leafy, vertical stretch through Oak Creek Canyon is known as one of the state’s most gorgeous drives. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the vista awaiting you at the end of the road: the Grand Canyon. Here, Mother Nature takes center stage—and what a show it is. This spectacle has drama, depth, and subtlety, most notable as the light shifts over the vast abyss at different times of day. The best seats in the house? You’ll find them in the rustic dining room of El Tovar Hotel, where you can sup on roasted duck with sun-dried cranberry ancho glaze as a curtain of stars falls on the day’s final show. Doubles from $123, year-round; 888-297-2757, grandcanyonlodges.com.
Maui’s Road to Hana
With 54 one-lane bridges, 600 curves, and jungle-like foliage all around, the Road to Hana isn’t your average drive—though the two-hour trip (sans detours) is a divine way to pass an afternoon. Set your odometer to 0 in Kahului and make for the surfing town of Paia, a great place to pick up homemade muffins and fish tacos. It’s also the last gas station before Hana, so stock the cooler, take a bathroom break, and fill ’er up. Heading out of Paia, take time to check out the windsurfers at Hookipa Beach. Then say bye-bye to the waves and head deep into Maui’s rain forest on the Hana Highway. As the landscape changes, you’ll spot the first of many milepost signs—Hana is just 32 luscious miles away.
Islanders might suggest a week’s worth of mini-stops along the way for swimming, noshing, and photo snapping. Our favorites: Near the 17-mile marker, pause at the Keanae Peninsula and gaze down on valleys of taro fields; take an easy hike into Keanae Arboretum’s natural gardens; and cool off in local swimming hole Ching’s Pond. Farther ahead, pull off and pick up fresh banana bread and home-grown Roselani ice cream at the aptly named Halfway to Hana Fruit Stand. If it’s cappuccino you crave, venture into Nahiku, the village’s only coffee shop, which whips up one frothy winner. If you think you’re stimulated now, wait till you get a load of Hana—so gloriously removed from the rest of Maui that it was once ruled by Big Island chiefs. Enjoy its deep green pastures, foam-licked beaches, and otherworldly beauty from your digs at the Hotel Hana-Maui, preferably a Sea Ranch Cottage with a hot tub and thrilling views. Doubles from $375, including activities, year-round; 800-321-4262, hotelhanamaui.com.
Germany’s Romantic Road
Dubbing a place "The Romantic Road" is like tattooing your lover’s name on your arm—talk about tempting fate. But that’s exactly what Germany did about 50 years ago, and, astonishingly, instead of transforming the frozen-in-time castles and walled villages into a strip of chain motels and souvenir shops, the name seems to have stuck, and, in fact, has lent the place even more honeymoon credibility.
Begin your trip by veering off the Autobahn and heading to Würzburg, a town blessed with the rococo splendor of the Residence of the Prince Bishop and an overwhelming richness of wine taverns. Next, head to Burgerspital, a watering hole dating back to 1319, and order two flasks of Franconia, but sip slowly—you still have some driving to do.
Follow the road until you run into Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber. Seemingly untouched by the modern world—the walled city is still dominated by 12th-century houses—it’s the perfect place to play damsel and knight. Along with medieval homes, you’ll also find a Medieval Criminal Museum. (After hearing about the era’s interrogation methods, you’ll understand why historians call it the Dark Ages.) You’ll also discover the Eisenhut (Iron Hut), a relatively contemporary 16th-century inn with a beer garden and an enchanting terrace. Doubles from $246, year-round; 011-49-0-9861-70-50, eisenhut.com.
After a couple of days on the River Tauber, get back on the road, this time making pit stops in Dinkelbühl (home to a famous Children’s Festival) and Nördlingen (which sits in a crater so moonlike, NASA has come to train). Finally, arrive at the highlight of your drive: Neuschwanstein (pronounced Noy-SCHVAN-schtine) Castle, a turreted manse built by Bavaria’s King Ludwig II in the late 1800s. Honeymooners are allowed to tour the princely palace, but be warned: You may experience déjà vu. The castle was Walt Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella’s royal home. Neuschwanstein is but a glance away at Hotel Müller Hohenschwangau, in Füssen, where you can spy the fairy-tale scene from your window. Doubles from $170, including breakfast, April to October; 011-49-836-281-1990, hotel-mueller.de.
Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake
"The prettiest Sunday-afternoon drive in the world": That’s what Sir Winston Churchill once called the journey from Niagara Falls to the very quaint, very English village of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Start your wanderings by tooling across the Peace Bridge, which connects Buffalo, New York, with Canada. You’ve just entered a land where the speed limit is designated in kilometers, currency pops out of the ATMs in rainbow colors, and there’s a good chance that native jazz singer Diana Krall is crooning a love song on the radio. Follow the signs past million-dollar homes and gurgling whirlpool rapids until mist starts coating the windshield and water starts roaring in your ears. That’s your cue to pull over and gaze upon that most extravagant of cascades, Niagara Falls. Over the years, developers have filled the eponymous town with kitschy wax museums, souvenir shops, and sparkling casinos. But it’s that awesome cataract, an ever-moving mountain of blues, greens, and whites that keeps those digital cameras snapping.
Later, slip back behind the wheel to travel the scenic stretch along the Niagara River toward Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s only a 30-minute drive, so pause on the way to coo over the flutterers in the Butterfly Conservatory and pose in front of the Floral Clock (made entirely of seasonal blooms). When you arrive at the village, turn onto the main drag of Queen Street, an Anglophile’s dream of historic inns, natty shops, and mouthwatering bakeries—mmmm, butter tarts. Ready to toss back a couple? Pub and grub it at the Olde Angel Inn, a 200-year-old establishment known for cold brews and ghostly happenings.
Other quaffing options: Visit a vineyard along the Niagara Peninsula wine route, or check in to the Inn on the Twenty in the tiny town of Jordan. Don’t let the antiques and gas fireplaces in the 29 freshly renovated rooms fool you; this find, popular with hip Toronto weekenders, will win you over the moment the grape-seed-extract hits your skin in the spa—or, as soon as you taste the Niagara Valley Chardonnay, straight from the nearby Cave Spring Cellars. Doubles from $258, May through October; 800-701-8074, innonthetwenty.com.
The Poconos’ Highway 209
One of the joys of a Poconos honeymoon is being able to pack a picnic and hit the open road. Drivers are rewarded with dazzling views of forested peaks, roaring cascades, and rolling farmland. But considering the tangle of winding roads that covers the map, you’d be wise to limit your investigations to a manageable chunk of Pennsylvania. Our suggestion: Highway 209.
Your starting line is Jim Thorpe, a burg packed with so many cute boutiques, cafes, and restaurants that folks call it "Little Switzerland." As charming as it is, however, there are plenty of attractions yet to come. Roadside highlights include the scenic vistas of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the eight photo-op-ready cascades of Bushkill Falls, the antiques and galleries of Stroudsburg, and magnificent Milford—gateway to Lake Wallenpaupack. Without pauses, the entire trip takes about two hours, so allow more time if you plan to hike, bike, shop, or swim.
Where to overnight? Caesars Cove Haven, located a half hour from Milford (take US-6 west to Highway 590 west), offers the quintessential Poconos champagne-and-hot-tub experience. Along with those sexy suites, the region’s Caesars resorts are known for great nightlife. (Some of the country’s best comedians and musicians perform here.) So even if you don’t head straight back to your hot tub for dessert, you won’t have to travel far for après-dinner entertainment. Doubles from $215, June through October; Champagne Towers suites from $400, including breakfast, dinner, and activities, year-round; 800-238-2905, caesarspoconoresorts.com.