From Santa Fe’s margarita trail to an Ohio county’s decadent donuts, these mapped routes are a way to explore a destination with your palate.
For travelers with a competitive streak (paired with relentless thirst and a bottomless stomach), many U.S. cities and regions now offer an ambitious means for exploring the local food and drink scene. Some trails offer “passports” you can get stamped at different stops—with a prize for filling up the book. And if you’re worried about how the heck you’ll stomach the journey, have no fear: Pint-sized or snack-sized options are in abundance at some stops.
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Pittsburgh Brewery Trail
WHERE: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Launched this past summer, as a shout-out to all the new microbreweries in this Rust Belt town, and to also help beer-sippers navigate them, is the Pittsburgh Brewery Guide, published by the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild. This pocket-sized guide to the Pittsburgh Brewery Trail—from the holier-than-thou Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville to Brew Gentlemen’s designer-chic digs in Braddock—is thoughtfully water-resistant, just in case you spill an IPA on it. If you manage to hit up all 30 stops, your prize is a commemorative glass.
INSIDER TIPCheck out the guide’s interactive map, which reveals the breweries that, for example, feature food trucks (like at Brew Gentlemen) or are on a bus line.
Connecticut Pizza Trail
WHERE: Hartford, New Haven, New London, and Old Saybrook
True pizza lovers know about Connecticut’s unique takes on ‘za, including New Haven’s thin-crust Neapolitan style. As of 2015, the best 14 spots have been mapped out on the Connecticut Pizza Trail, from Sally’s Apizza in New Haven where pizza is baked in a coal oven (in business since 1938) to Rossini’s Pizza’s Sicilian twist in Cheshire.
INSIDER TIPRemember that 1988 Julia Roberts’ flick “Mystic Pizza?” You can visit the original Mystic Pizza seen in the movie, in downtown Mystic.
Santa Fe Margarita Trail
WHERE: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Who doesn’t go to Santa Fe and not sip a ‘rita? From Terra Bar at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe to The Shed, there are all sorts of riffs in the local mixology scene, now strung together on the Santa Fe Margarita Trail. To play, plunk down $3 for a Margarita Trail Passport (sold at three TOURISM Santa Fe Visitor Centers or any of the 45 participating bars and restaurants, which slash a buck off each signature margarita you order) or purchase the app for $2.99. Five stamps will earn you a Margarita Trail T-shirt and 30 means you get a margarita bartender kit but you’ve gotta pace yourself: The max is two stamps daily.
Cajun Bayou Food Trail
WHERE: Lafourche Parish, Louisiana
This community in South Louisiana, 45 minutes south of New Orleans, is proud of its Cajun culinary prowess. The best of the best are linked together on the Cajun Bayou Food Trail, new this year. Download the passport via this link and, with seven stamps, you earn the right to wear an official food-trail T-shirt with pride. Among the participants are Spahr’s at the Station, tucked into a truck plaza since 1968; and locals’ favorite Bourgeois Meat Market.
INSIDER TIPFor a deeper dive into the food scene, drop by either the French Food Festival in late October or the Lockport Food Festival in late April.
WHERE: Butler County, Ohio
Three years ago, somebody in Butler County—just north of Cincinnati and home to Miami University—got the bright idea to let more than locals know how yummy the local doughnut shops are. The Donut Trail celebrates its third anniversary in 2018. A dozen shops participate, including Central Pastry Shop in Middletown (open since 1949) and newer arrival Jupiter Coffee and Donuts in Fairfield, and if you hit them all up via your trust passport (download one here) you win a T-shirt.
INSIDER TIPIf your travel dates are flexible, know that some of the donut purveyors are closed on Sundays and Mondays, which are not ideal dates to do the trail.
Alabama BBQ Trail
Head to ‘Bama for some BBQ? Why not? Download this free app developed by the Alabama Tourism Department and don’t forget to pack napkins because ‘cue can be messy. If you’re wondering why Alabama when so many other Southern states are known for the same sort of cuisine in the BBQ belt, it’s because this state boasts more BBQ joints per capita than any other state.
INSIDER TIPBBQ is not the same throughout the state. Alabama White Sauce is popular near Decatur, for example.
Buffalo Wing Trail
WHERE: Buffalo, New York
No, it’s not just a play on words: Buffalo’s chicken wings really are amazing. This year’s new Buffalo Wing Trail links together 12 places where you can score them, including at Anchor Bar where, in 1964, Buffalo-style chicken wings were first revealed. What does this mean? Blue cheese, for one. If you love historical haunts, then this is your trail: Glen Park Tavern, one of the stops, is within a tavern dating back to 1887.
INSIDER TIPThink you know your palate’s preference for chicken wings? Take this Wing Personality Test, developed by local tourism, to make sure.
Urban Bourbon Trail
WHERE: Louisville, Kentucky
Everybody knows Kentucky has a hold on the bourbon scene. But what’s interesting about the Urban Bourbon Trail—created in 2008—is that you don’t have to trek into the countryside, if time is limited. Forty-four Louisville bars and restaurants are in the passport (pick one up at the Louisville Visitor Center) and once you collect six stamps, you get a commemorative T-shirt (its design changes each year). The trail is also a fun way to get a quick snapshot of the city’s dining scene as some of the stops are hipsterish (like Butchertown Grocery) and others are historic (such as the Brown Hotel’s Lobby Bar).
Italian Food Trail
WHERE: Trumbull County, Ohio
You probably don’t think about Northeast Ohio as being a primo spot for Italian food. But it turns out eateries here know their wedding soup and Brier Hill pizza (inspired by Basilicata, Italy, with “Sunday sauce,” romano—not mozzarella—cheese and bell peppers), thanks to Italian-immigrant roots that date back a century. Earlier this year, the county that’s home to towns like Warren and Vienna launched the Italian Food Trail, featuring 40-some stops on this interactive map.
INSIDER TIPTry the hot-pepper meatball pizza at Nikiz Pub in Niles. You won’t be sorry!