Highway 40 Road Trip Across USA

Highway 40 doesn't start at the coast, but in Barstow. But you can start this road trip on the coast around the same latitude, in Santa Barbara. End in Wilmington, North Carolina, at an east coast beach! This trip takes about eleven days, if you drive four hours or more a day. This road trip has less tropical scenery and more mountainous scenery, than Highway 10. The amount of trucks on the road is quite dangerous on Highway 40- the only downside. Plan to go from May to October, otherwise it is too cold to do the fun things on the list.

Map View Back To Road Trips

Stearns Wharf, The Pier

Start your road trip at the main pier in Santa Barbara, which offers spectacular views and a festive atmosphere!

Funk Zone

Have a meal at the newest hip area in Santa Barbara with wine bars, cafes, and bakeries, where you can sit on a patio surrounded by ivy-covered walls.

Santa Barbara Courthouse

Make sure you enjoy the exceptionally beautiful courthouse, sunken garden, and tower with 360 degree views of Santa Barbara.

Calabasas Commons

If you need a stop for a meal on your way to LA, this is a pretty spot!

Huntington Gardens and Library

Stay the night in Pasadena if you'd like so that you have lots of time to check out these world-class gardens. They are expensive but worth it. 

Claremont town

If you need a stop for a coffee or meal, choose this cute college town with nice restaurants. You have over six hours of driving ahead of you so be prepared.

Thorpe Playground, Flagstaff

That was a lot of driving, so stop for a run around! There are tons of play structures and equipment in this pretty park with lots of trees.

Oak Creek Canyon Drive, Sedona

One of the most beautiful drives you will do in your life! This is the drive you will take on the detour off Highway 40 to Sedona!

Sedona town

One of my favorite places on earth! Red rocks soar above you. This is definitely worth the half hour detour off Highway 40. It will be your best stop! Plan to spend two nights here. Make sure you eat on the balcony at Wildflower Bread Company while here- it's stunning.

Sugar Loaf (Teacup) Trail, Sedona

A wonderful hike to do during your stay! This is a hiking path that is below the amazing red rocks, right from the beginning of the trailhead.

Slide Rock, Sedona

A paradise where you can slide down natural rock slides, in exquisite Oak Creek Canyon. You will want to spend a lot of time in this amazing place. You can come here on your way back to Flagstaff, or anytime while you're in Sedona. 

Aspen Place at the Sawmill, Flagstaff

If you need a place to eat in Flagstaff on your way through, this is a modern development with another branch of the awesome bakery called Wildflower Bread Company, and shops to stroll past. I recommend bringing an extra meal with you from this cafe, so that you won't have to eat at a roadside gas station on the way across the desert.

Meteor Crater Natural Landmark

Today is a fun day because you get to stop at Meteor Crater, an incredible sight! This meteor crater is HUGE! Presented nicely by a discovery center, movie, and three lookout points around the crater.

Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park

This is another one of the most memorable stops. A beautiful place of pastel colors. Don't miss out on this easy stop along Highway 40. After, we ate at Pei Wei Asian Kitchen ina modern development in Albuquerque, and then headed on to spend the night in Santa Fe.

Santa Fe town

Santa Fe adds two hours to the drive, since it's one hour from Highway 40. It is a town with very plain geographical features (dry, dry, dry) but nice adobe structures, basilica, and museums. It's a decent place to spend one night.

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe

It's fun to visit this Interesting museum with art from different periods of Georgia O'Keeffe's life. 

Museum Hill, Santa Fe

You can also check out the other museums, on Museum Hill, a lovely spot up high with sculptures, open spaces, and a cafe.

Cathedral Basilica St. Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe

Check out this beautiful cathedral near the main square in Santa Fe.

Blue Hole, Santa Rosa

On your way through New Mexico, stop at this deep blue swimming hole with rock to jump from, in a plain little spot in a plain little town. After this, we stayed the night in Amarillo, TX.

Bricktown, OKC (4 hrs from Amarillo)

This is a fantastic place to stop for the night. Stay in downtown if you can and stroll along the canal, check out the flowers and pretty trees, see the Land Run sculpture, and enjoy live music at dinner. I recommend Jazmo’z Bourbon Street Cafe- we still talk about it!

American Banjo Museum, OKC (4hrs from Amarillo)

Make sure you visit this museum while in Bricktown. It made us so happy! It's a two-storey museum with well-told history of banjo on lit-up porch, beautiful banjos displayed, and front room where you can play a banjo!

Old State House Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas

Now you are in Arkansas! It feels wonderful to be in the South, where people call you affectionate names and stop to talk to you in the street. Visit this museum that is beautiful and full of southern charm, with lots of information about the Clintons. Stay the night in downtown if you can, so that you can walk to interesting things. 

Clinton Presidential Center, Little Rock, Arkansas

Spend some time enjoying the riverfront modern two-storey building with exhibits on President Clinton's life and important changes he made during his presidency. You can have lunch in their restaurant.

Beale Street, Memphis!

Memphis is one of the most memorable places to visit in the South! Plan on spending two nights here. Be careful because some hotels say they are in town but they are way far out, adding hours of driving to your stay. Catch live music each night at Beale Street, a happening, neon-lit spot for live music.

Sun Studio, Memphis

Visit Sun Studio, where Elvis recorded! It's a fantastic experience for music lovers. Have a chocolate malt shake there. 

Graceland, Memphis

Of course you have to visit Graceland! It is interesting to be in the actual house that Elvis bought at a young age early in his fame.

Memphis Botanical Garden

Kids will adore the fairy houses here. This is a large botanical garden with a super area for kids.

Beale Street Landing, Memphis Riverfront

Plan to come here one of the afternoons for sunset. It is an incredible park and development on the river that is great for strolling along at sunset, and kids love the playground.

Bass Pro Pyramid, Memphis

This is a store full of atmosphere, like Disneyland! Take the glass elevator to the top of the pyramid!

Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, Nashville

Visit the house of President Andrew Jackson, with an awesome audio tour just for kids! There are many other things to check out in Nashville, like one of the music museums. We didn't stay the night so we didn't have long enough to check them out.

Broadway, Nashville

Eat at this live country music spot.

Ruby Falls, Chattanooga

Now you are in one of the loveliest mountain towns in the South, Chattanooga! We returned again a year later because we loved it so much. Start out by visiting this145 ft high waterfall inside a chilly underground cavern, run by a touristy company.

Rock City Gardens, Chattanooga

Another touristy spot, but sweet! Garden walk through rock slots, under stone bridges, past gnomes, and to gorgeous views.

Chattanooga town

Stay two nights in Chattanooga town and walk across the blue bridge. It's a cute town with gorgeous high bluffs over the Tennessee River.

Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga

Make sure you visit this exquisite modern building on bluffs over the Tennessee River. Gorgeous views of the blue Walnut Street Bridge and good artwork too! Walk across the glass pedestrian bridge and around the museum area. 

Bluff View Art District, Chattanooga

Sculptures on a steep cliff over the Tennessee River, and a cute neighborhood for walks. Near the Museum of Art.

Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga

Huge two-building aquarium with gorgeous tanks!

Coolidge Park, Chattanooga

Carousel and splash pad in a park on the river with views of the blue bridge.

Tennessee Riverwalk, Chattanooga

If you're tired of eating in the main town, you can also eat at the Tennessee Riverwalk, and then stroll along the river. on the eight mile paved walking path.

Gatlinburg town

Now you are headed for the Great Smoky Mountains. You will pass through a very touristy mountain town, Gatlinburg.

Grotto Falls, Great Smoky Mountains

Do not miss the hike to Grotto Falls. It is one of our best memories in this area. A lovely walk past flowers galore to a waterfall you can stand behind.

Newfound Gap Overlook, Great Smoky Mtns

Take this drive past misty mountain views and gorgeous trees.

Mingus Mill, Great Smoky Mtns

Have a little walk at this picturesque spot where a historic turbine mill sits on a rushing stream.

Asheville town

Asheville has edgy hippies and many homeless people. It has good restaurants. If you want to skip it and the Biltmore Estate (expensive but grand), you could stay the night in Lake Lure instead. I wish I had gone there because it looks like Switzerland!

Biltmore Estate, Asheville

The next day, take a self-guided tour of this grand estate with beautiful furnishings, countryside views, indoor pool, and gardens. It's very expensive.
Another option is to spend the night at Lake Lure instead. I wish I had gone there.

Downtown Chapel Hill

If the weather is good, spend two nights in the college town of Chapel Hill, a leafy, charming place. It has a cute downtown area with big trees, sidewalk cafes, and brick buildings.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Walk around the campus of UNC while you're on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill. You will see historic buildings, sunny quad where students hang out, flowers and old trees, and fun student center area.

Coker Arboretum, UNC Chapel Hill

A quiet spot to take a minute in nature. If it's spring, summer, or fall, check out Coker Arboretum while on the UNC campus.

Duke University and Chapel, Durham

Make sure you see the gorgeous Gothic architecture, impressive chapel, and cute patios under leafy trees at Duke University. Have lunch or dinner at the international food court called Brodhead Center. Inside, on the left, is a little room that looks like it's straight out of Harry Potter.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham

Do not miss this world-class garden with lakeside allees, flower terraces, and small Japanese garden. It is amazing any time of year. 

Guglhupf Bakery and Cafe, Durham

You must eat at Guglhupf while in Durham! Magical patio with plants and fountains, plus nice interior as well! Mad Hatter Cafe + Bakeshop is another place you don't want to miss.

Museum of Life and Science, Durham

Your kids will adore the amazing grounds of this museum! Huge forts to climb, giant dinosaurs in the woods, little hills with mist sprayers in the summer, mini sailboats to control, archaeological dig, and more! If the weather is warm, you can spend many hours here. 

North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

On your way out of the research triangle, check out the spacious grounds of this museum, which are fun for kids to run around, with sculptures and boulders to climb. Airy modern architecture and many paintings. The best part, eat at Guasaca Arepas, a cafe nearby.

WRAL Azalea Garden, Raleigh

If it's spring, don't miss this garden, on your way out of the research triangle. It's beautiful in spring, especially April! Lovely artistically laid out medium-sized garden.

NC Museum of History, Raleigh

If it's rainy or cold and you need an indoor activity, check out this free state-of-the-art history museum with exhibits on pirates, the civil war, and World War II in North Carolina.

Riverwalk restaurants, Wilmington

Drive three hours from the research triangle, and you are in Wilmington! Eat at this gorgeous boardwalk along the river with outdoor cafes, a juggler, and a strong cool breeze.

Wilmington mansions and churches

Walk Market Street and its side streets to see gorgeous historic mansions and churches.

Downtown Wilmington

All of this is in wonderful downtown Wilmington, on the river.

Children's Museum of Wilmington

Kids enjoy this large children's museum with ship with cannons, play houses, market and pretend diner.

Airlie Gardens, Wilmington

On the way to the beach, visit this garden with huge old trees strung with Spanish moss, and cool breezes off the water. I always remember it!

Wrightsville Beach and pier

You are now at the ocean on the other side of the USA! Here, enjoy nice swimming at a popular beach with a pier.

Kure Beach and Pier

I like this beach a little south of Wrightsville Beach even more. It's in a cute town with pastel-colored beach houses and turquoise horizon. 

Carolina Beach and town

You can have an ice cream at this fun town.

Fort Fisher State Historic Site, Kure Beach

Don't miss this site! I adored it! Gorgeous grounds to walk around. Climb stairs to the cannon and see views over the Cape Fear River and fields of wildflowers.

NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher

End your awesome road trip at this top notch aquarium!

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