Taking a vacation is all about escaping everyday life and diving straight into places of wonder. Some may think the perfect vacation is lying on the sand on a beach somewhere far away. Others may think it’s exploring a giant city one bar and restaurant at a time. And then there are those–like yourself–who enjoy firing up the engine of a car and hitting the open road without a care in the world and a map as the only companion.
Here at CarRentals.com, we scoured the entire continent of North America for the most beautiful places to drive through. Some are known for their historic neighborhoods, others for their proximity to incredible national parks, and others for their stunning coastal highway drives, but all have earned a rightful spot on our list of the 33 most scenic towns in North America.
1. Sitka, AK
Maybe it’s the snow-capped mountains surrounding the town or the pristine waters of the Gulf of Alaska, or maybe it’s a combination of both that make Sitka, Alaska, one of the most scenic towns on the continent. Set off on a Sitka Tribal Tour and then hop aboard a whale watching boat for a chance to get up close and personal with a pod of orcas. When you’re ready for a meal with a view, grab a table at the Dock Shack Café and enjoy a couple of fish tacos during your vacation.
Park your ride along Beach Street and stroll down the beach boardwalk of picturesque Santa Cruz, California. Trust us, the furthest thing from your mind will be what’s happening back at the office—especially when you go for a spin on the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster that sits just steps from the sand. After the butterflies in your stomach have disappeared, make your way to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum and learn about the significance the ancient Hawaiian sport holds in this city. If you want to take part in this amazing water activity, sign up for surf lessons at Santa Cruz Surf School located in town.
3. Squamish, BC
Located along the scenic Pacific Great Eastern Railway, Squamish, British Columbia, is well worth the drive in. Lace up your best pair of hiking boots, grab a set of binoculars, and go bald eagle spotting in Eagle Run Park. If you really want a thrill, rent a mountain bike and fly down Goat Ridge. After you’ve regained your senses from zipping down the side of an alpine mountain, enjoy a cold beer and hot food at Howe Sound Brewing.
4. Bristol, RI
If you fancy yourself a history buff, the sleepy town of Bristol, Rhode Island, will be your very own slice of paradise. Plan your visit around the Fourth of July and you’ll be able to attend the oldest continuously celebrated Independence Day festival in the country. There also happens to be over a dozen places about town that have earned spots in the National Registrar of Historic Places—including Blithewold Mansion and the Old Customs House, to name a few. Whoever said you couldn’t go back in time during your vacation?
If going for a cruise along the shoreline of one of the most beautiful lakes in Idaho sounds like your idea of a great vacation, look no further than Coeur d’Alene. See if you can hit the floating green on hole 14 at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course. And if you want to play cowboy for the day, head over to Red Horse Mountain Ranch and learn how to throw a lasso from the back of a thoroughbred.
6. Boise, ID
You deserve a vacation and we think one to the capital of Idaho should do the trick. Go for a float down the Boise River from Barber Park to Ann Morrison Park and then enjoy a nice steak dinner at Chandlers Steakhouse. If you’re somewhat of a ski bum, visit during the winter months and hit the slopes at Bogus Basin. Remember to keep those tips up.
7. Taos, NM
Dust off the old skis and break out your warmest parka because you’re hitting the slopes of Taos, New Mexico. Who would’ve thought that one of America’s foremost ski resorts sits in the mountains of northern New Mexico? When you come down from the slopes, take a drive to the Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where ancient Tiwa-speaking Native Americans used to reside. Head back to town for red and green chili enchiladas at La Cueva Café. They may be life-changing.
8. Minnehaha, MN
It may not be a town, but you bet it’s earned a spot on our list. The area of Minnehaha is perfect for anybody who likes long walks to waterfalls, spending time along river bends, and friendly locals. Go for a soothing stroll in Minnehaha Regional Park until you come upon the powerful 53-foot waterfall. Taking in all those spectacular views will probably have your appetite raging by now, so make your way to Parkway Pizza and shovel down some slices of hot pepperoni pie.
You know a town is special when a part of it is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Well, that happens to be the case with Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. This colorful port town—literally, many of the buildings are painted all sorts of pinks, reds, blues, and yellows—is one of the most welcoming towns in North America. Make your way to the waterfront and take a guided tour of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. There’s even a working boat building shop on-site that’s worth taking a peek at.
10. Lake George, NY
There’s just something about spending warm summer days on the shores of a lake. Especially if it happens to be Lake George in Upstate New York at the base of the Adirondack Mountains. When you’re ready for a real adventure, go for a whitewater rafting excursion down the Hudson River Gorge and then hop aboard a steamboat operated by the Lake George Steamboat Company and pretend you’re Mark Twain for a bit. And when it’s all said and done, there’s no better way to close out the day than by grabbing a table at the Lake George Shoreline Restaurant. Enjoy a New York strip steak and a cold beer while the sun sets behind the water.
11. Woodstock, VT
Maple syrup, covered bridges, sprawling meadows filled with galloping horses, trees that turn every shade of red, yellow, and orange during the fall months…and that’s not even scratching the surface of the New England town of Woodstock, Vermont. Start your day off with a fat stack of pancakes at the Mountain Creamery and then search for the perfect piece of pottery at Farmhouse Pottery. Let’s get back to the maple syrup. Take the drive out to Sugarbush Farm and you’ll be able to make your own.
Not all vacations need to be taken during the summer, especially if you like to ski. Pack up your warmest winter clothing and head for the hills. Well, not the hills, necessarily. Head to the Rocky Mountains, where the snow-capped slopes of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, will dazzle you for days. When it gets a little too chilly on the hill, strip down to your skivvies and slide into the Strawberry Park Hot Springs. And when you’re in the Rockies, you’ve got to have a slow roasted prime rib of beef with a fancy bourbon to wash it down with. An evening at E3 Chophouse should be the only thing on your mind.
13. Yellowknife, NT
Everyone knows about the remoteness of the Northwest Territories—which only adds to the beauty of the place. Keep your eyes open for Yellowknife to emerge from the landscape as you’re driving into the area. You can explore the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center and the Northern Arts and Cultural Center, but the main show in town is the aurora borealis. You might know them as the northern lights.
14. Lexington, KY
If you thought the idea of “Southern Hospitality” was a myth, you haven’t been to “Athens of the West.” Lexington, Kentucky, is an ideal blend of big city streets and open country where the local folks say hello, shake your hand, and offer you a bourbon. Speaking of bourbon, start off at the Barrel House Distilling Company and go for a ride along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, visiting such esteemed establishments like Woodford Reserve, Four Roses Bourbon, and Barrel House Distillery.
15. Holland, MI
Does your idea of scenic include prancing through multi-colored tulip fields in Holland? Holland, a small town on the west coast of Michigan, shares more than the same name as that lovely Dutch country. This town has acres upon acres of beautiful tulip fields to tiptoe through at the Windmill Island Gardens. And don’t leave town without browsing through the incredible boutique shops lining 8th Street in downtown. Who knows what you’ll discover while driving down this scenic avenue.
16. Port Hope, ON
Located on the shores of Lake Ontario, this sweet town north of the border is the perfect escape from big-city life. First thing you should do once you arrive to Port Hope is Float Your Fanny Down the Ganny. The Ganaraska River cuts right through the middle of town and is one of the most popular spots in the area for fun—especially if you’re floating down it in an inner tube. If you happen to be in town during early September, be sure to get tickets for the All Canadian Jazz Festival. What’s better than cold beers and saxophones?
17. Quebec City, QC
If you took French in high school, dust off your old text book and brush up on the language of love. If you didn’t, no worries, you can still get around Quebec City, Quebec. Book a room at the Chateau Frontenac and spend a night in the most photographed hotel in North America. And since you fancy yourself an art aficionado, drive over to the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec. If you happen to be in town with that special someone, take a romantic carriage ride through Old Quebec until you get to the front door of Aux Anciens Canadiens. This will be one of the best French meals you have outside of Paris.
18. Banff, AB
A town surrounded by one of the most exquisite national parks on the planet seems like something out of a fairy tale, but when you drive into Banff, Alberta, that fairy tale becomes a reality. There are three ski resorts nearby in case you’re a downhill speed demon. But if winter vacations aren’t in the deck, no sweat; the summers here are unrivaled. Hike to the top of Tunnel Mountain in the center of town and then make your way to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. But wait, your day isn’t complete without dinner and wine pairing at The Maple Leaf.
19. Fredericton, NB
The Saint John River snaking through the center of town, fall foliage, and incredible selection of craft breweries make Fredericton, New Brunswick, an eastern Canada dreamscape. Steer your four-wheeled steed through the original colonial settlement in the Historic Garrison District and get a glimpse of some amazing historical reenactments. When you’re ready for a cold one, leave your wheels at your hotel and duck into one of the local breweries in town for a freshly brewed libation. A local favorite is a Pugnacious Porter from Grimross. Dark, malty, and delicious.
20. Lethbridge, AB
Vacations to southern Alberta, including Lethbridge, involve driving across rolling yellow grasslands as far as the eye can see. Look out for grazing elk, whether you’re driving on the highways or hiking through Alexander Wilderness Park. Pack up a picnic basket and enjoy lunch while overlooking Oldman River. After taking care of your appetite, drive back to town and see how well you can interpret art at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery. It’s always nice to pretend you know what’s going on in a painting.
21. Kelowna, BC
When it comes to epic wine regions, California has Napa, Western Australia has Margaret River, and British Columbia has Kelowna. As you’re cruising through the vines of Mission Hill Winery and Quails’ Gate, you’ll be able to take in unobstructed views of Okanagan Lake. But this town isn’t just jammed with some of the best wineries in Canada; there are two fabulous ski resorts nearby—Big White Ski Resort and SilverStar Resort—in case you decide to take a vacay during the winter months. Please send us a postcard.
22. San Juan, PRI
San Juan, Puerto Rico, is to East Coasters as Cabo San Lucas is to West Coasters. It’s close, it’s cheap, and it’s boatloads of fun. Cruise the streets of Old San Juan, where rainbow-colored houses line the sidewalks. Continue onto El Catedral de San Juan Bautista, where the tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon is located. Finally, when that appetite becomes too loud to ignore, take a Flavors of San Juan Food Tour. We can smell the fried bananas and chorizo from here.
23. St. John’s, NL
If you guessed that the oldest city in North America was St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, give yourself a big ol’ pat on the back. Feel the freeze on an Iceberg Quest Ocean Tour or rent a kayak and paddle yourself up to the frozen giants. Once back on land, take a scenic drive up to historic Signal Hill that looks over the entire city. Snap a few pictures up here for Instagram and you’ll get 10, 20, maybe even 50 new followers. Close out your day with a luxury meal at Blue on the Water.
24. New Glasgow, PEI
Need relaxation? Book your getaway in scenic New Glasgow, Prince Edward Island. Relieve some stress on the golf course at Glasgow Hills and then pay a visit to the Island Preserve Company, where you can sample some of the finest jams in the province. But if you thought the jam was good, wait until you sink your teeth into a lobster at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers.
25. Regina, SK
Sometimes it’s hard to beat big-city life. Which brings us to Regina, the capital city of Saskatchewan. This magnificent metropolis has everything you need for a joyous vacay. Take for instance the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, where the T. Rex Discovery Centre is located. And if you’re lucky enough to be visiting during early August, be sure to secure your tickets for the Regina Folk Festival. Banjos, fiddles, and mandolins galore.
The San Juan Islands are full of hidden treasures, including roaming pods of orcas, several postcard-landscaped islands both inhabited and uninhabited, and more cute towns than you can count. Take Friday Harbor, Washington, for example. With its stunning landscape of tall pine trees and a gorgeous waterfront district, this needs to be your next vacation destination. Between kayaking with wild killer whales, enjoying fresh produce at the farmer’s market, and slurping down oysters at Coho Restaurant, you won’t soon regret your time driving through the Pacific Northwest.
27. Whitehorse, YT
The Yukon is known for two things: gold and being surrounded by the Canadian wilderness. But there is a capital city and it’s called Whitehorse and it’s up next on your vacation getaway check list. Take a ride on the Whitehorse Waterfront Trolley along the Yukon River and then drive a few miles outside the city and go for a dip in the Takhini Hot Springs. If only the rest of us could dip into a natural jacuzzi….
28. Ouray, CO
The mountain towns of the Colorado Rockies are about as famous as the mountains itself: Vail, Telluride, and Aspen reign supreme, but Ouray, Colorado, deserves your attention. Why? Because “The Switzerland of America” is an outdoor lover’s mecca. The trails of Box Canyon Falls Park are great for hiking and the natural hot springs are perfect for washing away any leftover worries. And if you’re wondering about where to grab grub, the elk steaks at the Outlaw Restaurant are must-eats.
29. Santiago, CUB
Hey! The travel restrictions have been thrown out the window so don’t wait any longer to visit this amazing nation and its second largest city of Santiago. Check another UNESCO World Heritage Site off your list after you explore the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca. From there, you won’t be far from Parque Cespedes, where you can mingle with the locals and try to beat the old gentlemen at dominos. Good luck.
30. Willemstad, CW
The Caribbean is dotted with tiny islands and on those tiny islands are tiny towns that look like they belong on a postcard. The one we think should be next on your vacay list is Willemstad, Curacao. The beaches here are phenomenal, but you can only take so much sun. Go spelunking in the Hato Caves and then enjoy an authentic French meal at Bistro Le Clochard.
31. San Miguel de Allende, MEX
Cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, friendly locals, and towering cathedrals await you in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The main site in town is the pink granite parish of Parroquia de San Miguel, but don’t just limit yourself to driving around city center. Climb on the back of a thoroughbred and go for a horseback ride through Coyote Canyon. And since you’re on vacation, treat yourself to a crafty meal at Café Roma.
32. Paia, HI
Warm ocean breezes, pearly white-sand beaches, green coconut palms, and the island lifestyle are waiting for you when you take a much-needed vacation to Paia, Hawaii, on Maui’s North Shore. Find Nemo when you go snorkeling in the waters off Baldwin Beach Park and then enjoy some of the freshest seafood around at Mama’s Fish House Restaurant. And be sure to go for a drive along the iconic, the scenic, the most famous road in the state: Hana Highway. You won’t regret it.
Doesn’t relaxing on a small island in the middle of the Caribbean sound like a great vacation idea? We think it does, and that’s why Castries, St. Lucia, is perfect for you. Spend your hard-earned money shopping your brains out on Jeremie Street and then take a ferry over to Pigeon Island National Park. The beaches at Pigeon Island are great for soaking in some alone time while getting a tan.
Well, we’ve told you where the most scenic towns in North America are located and what to do when you get there. So what are you waiting for? Pack a bag, book a trip, throw the top back on your convertible and be on your way to the 33 most scenic towns in North America.
Header image via Gary Ives/Shutterstock.com
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