Driven to distraction!
The windows are rolled down, the wind is in your hair, the sun is shining, and the music is cranked up. Nothing is better than the feeling of freedom on the open road, especially if that road is winding its way along the coast. These are the world’s most beautiful ocean drives from Australia to North Carolina.
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Great Ocean Road, Australia
The 150-mile-long Great Ocean Road, a circuitous drive southwest of Melbourne, traces the spectacular edge of Australia’s Southern Ocean coast. Hewn out of sheer rock, the Great Ocean Road crests the tops of windy cliff faces, leads to a dozen golden swimming beaches, and winds through eucalyptus forests, including Wildlife Wonders, a conservation park where you can spot wild kangaroos, wallabies, emus, and koalas.
The drive’s highlight lies within Port Campbell National Park: the Twelve Apostles, a cluster of magnificent limestone pinnacles sculpted by the crashing surf. Arrive at sunset to see the Twelve Apostles’ resident penguins waddling beneath the dramatic rock towers to rest on the shore after a day of fishing.
The Ring Road, Iceland
Iceland’s most famous road, Route Number One, circles the country for an 820-mile scenic drive of ocean vistas, exploding geysers, roaring waterfalls, and glaciers. Begin in Iceland’s vibrant capital city, Reykjavik, for dinners of fresh fish, lamb, langoustines, and Icelandic schnapps. The next morning (after you’ve slept off that schnapps), follow the Ring Road along the country’s wind-whipped fjords with their grazing wild horses, past powerful waterfalls like Dettifoss and Svartifoss; beneath the towering peak of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull; and near the glowing blue icebergs that bob in the Jökulsárlón lagoon. At the end of your drive, enjoy a soak in the milky blue thermal waters of the iconic Blue Lagoon.
Sylt Island, Germany
Call it Wenningstedter Weg, Lister Strasse, or Listlandstrasse—whatever name it goes by, this stunning road offers scenery that is universally stunning. The road travels north to south along the spine of Sylt Island, just a stone’s throw from Denmark and about as far away from Germany’s fairytale castles and alpine vistas as you can get. Instead, expect views of ancient wind-blown sand dunes, towering lighthouses, and the broad tidal flats of the Wadden Sea National Park. Detour along K-121 near Sylt’s northernmost point to enter the Ellenbogen, or the Elbow, a sandy curl of land with free-range sheep, a red-and-white-striped lighthouse, and a bay popular with windsurfers.
Pacific Coast Highway, California
No list of scenic coastal drives would be complete without the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most scenic drives on the Pacific Ocean. Also known as Highway 1, this California dream trip stretches 650 miles from Dana Point (south of Los Angeles) to Leggett (90 miles south of Eureka).
Follow the Pacific Coast Highway beneath fragrant redwoods. Crank open the windows as you cruise past the crashing surf and magnificent rugged outcroppings at Big Sur. Look for elephant seals and sea otters near San Luis Obispo. And drive across Highway 1’s elegant bridges, chief among them the Bixby and Golden Gate Bridges.
Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia
Considered one of Canada’s most scenic routes and one of the most spectacular drives on North America’s East Coast, the Cabot Trail makes a 185-mile loop around the northern tip of Cape Breton Island, offering amazing views of the North Atlantic. Besides the spectacular cliff faces at Meat Cove, Pleasant Bay, and Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the Cabot Trail tempts road trippers with beachside lobster restaurants, humpback whale and dolphin sightings, and live performances of Acadian, Scottish, and First Nations Mi’kmiq music.
US-12, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Rolling sand dunes, soaring lighthouses, seaside cottages, golden beaches, and even a herd of wild horses are just some of the highlights waiting on US-12, which winds through 100 miles of wide-open Atlantic coast in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Enjoy the broad ocean views, then pull over and soak up the culture and history of this slice of America. Photograph the herd of Spanish mustangs, descendants of colonial explorers of 500 years ago, near Corolla. Trace the path of the Wright Brothers’ famous inaugural flight in the sand dunes near Kill Devil Hills. Or climb the black-and-white-striped Cape Hatteras or Bodie Island Lighthouses for bird’s-eye views of this spectacular coastline.
Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland’s answer to California’s Pacific Coast Highway is the Causeway Coastal Route, a clifftop road that hugs the rocky shoreline overlooking the Sea of Moyle. Follow the route’s curves past tiny tea shops and scenic overlooks (on a clear day, you can see Scotland) and stop for a fresh seafood dinner overlooking the water. There’s even a ruined medieval fortress, Dunluce Castle, perched along the route. The 80-mile journey leads from Belfast to the iconic Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its 40,000 towering basalt columns. Afterward, enjoy a glass of Bushmills, distilled in the nearby town of the same name.
Tai Tam Road, Hong Kong
Hong Kong may not be high on your list of places to rent a car, but once you leave the city’s crowded Victoria Harbor, you’ll discover breathtaking scenery overlooking the metropolis and the Pacific Ocean. Depart Stanley on the southern shore of Hong Kong Island to follow the edge of glassy Tai Tam Bay to Tai Lam Country Park. Cross over the narrow Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir Dam, catch views of Thousand Island Lake, and end at Shek O Beach. If you have time, add a hike along the Dragon’s Back, one of Hong Kong’s most popular trails, which traces the ridge of the Shek O Headland and overlooks the islands and sparkling waters of Tai Tam Bay.
Overseas Highway, Florida Keys
Roll down your window and fill your lungs with the fresh smell of the ocean! The Overseas Highway departs Key Largo on a 113-mile journey across 42 bridges and the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico on its way through the Florida Keys to Key West. Out your window, enjoy views of turquoise water that washes across tiny islands of coral and limestone. Graceful sailboats, soaring shorebirds, and brilliant sunshine make this route one of the most spectacular in the world. And all along the way, you’ll find sugar-sand beaches and seafood restaurants perfect for roadside breaks.
Belt Road, Hawaii
Hawaii’s Big Island unveils its beauty mile after mile on the spectacular 250-mile Belt Road. Lush, tropical valleys, eucalyptus forests, wave-splashed inlets, and coffee plantations compete for your attention against a backdrop of the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean, making this one of the world’s most beautiful coastal drives. The route even passes through the stark landscape of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, with lookouts at Kilauea and views of towering Mauna Loa before the Belt Road returns to Hilo, with its beautiful snorkeling and swimming beaches.
Route 1132, Jeju, South Korea
Every bend reveals an incredible view of Jeju, the volcanic island paradise known as “Honeymoon Island” for its romantic views of the sparkling East China Sea. Route 1332 circles the beloved South Korean getaway, passing mom-and-pop seafood shacks and roadside fruit stands selling local tangerines. This scenic drive wends past the sheer rock Jusangjeollidae Cliffs on the southern shore, the Jeongbang Waterfall, which plummets 75 feet directly into the sea, and Ilchulbong, or Sunrise Peak, on Jeju Island’s extreme eastern tip, a volcanic peak that offers sweeping views of Korea’s islets from its summit.