No American road trip is complete without visiting these five quintessential city thoroughfares. How many of them have you driven?
By Heather Spohr
Sometimes the best destination for a road trip is the road itself. Among the 4 million miles of road in America are a handful of streets that truly are unlike any other. Whether the street is historically significant, more fun than a New Year’s Eve party or just plain bizarre, each of these amazing streets is an unforgettable place to visit.
Lombard Street in San Francisco, California
Known as the “crookedest street in the world” because of its eight hairpin turns in just a quarter of a mile, Lombard Street attracts hordes of visitors each year who want to experience driving down this famously winding road (but no faster than the speed limit of just 5 miles per hour). Lombard’s unusual design was born of necessity; the hill it rests on is so steep that, if not for the curves, cars would tumble to the bottom. It’s more than just a curvy road, though. Lombard Street also has breathtaking views of the city, beautiful landscaping and is lined with picturesque Victorian Mansions (including one that was home to the cast of MTV’s “The Real World: San Francisco”).
Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee
Officially declared the “Home of the Blues” by an act of Congress, Beale Street is a three-block stretch of night clubs, restaurants and shops that has been the living and breathing embodiment of the blues for more than a hundred years. Legendary artists including W.C. Handy, Louis Armstrong, B.B. King and Muddy Waters have played on the streets of Memphis and in its clubs, and Elvis Presley used to scour its shops for his now iconic clothes. Today, Beale Street is every bit as exciting as it ever was, with incredible live music, great food and drink, and the Beale Street Music Festival, which attracts hundreds of thousands of music lovers each spring to watch performances from some of music’s biggest names.
Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan
America’s auto industry was born on Woodward Avenue; it’s where most of the major car brands first opened for business. Cruising Woodward surrounds you with automotive history: The world’s first electric stop light was installed at Woodward and Michigan, and General Motors helped create the modern transmission by test-driving cars up and down the avenue. This Mecca for car lovers celebrates its rich history every August with The Woodward Dream Cruise, a one-day event that attracts more than a million spectators and 50,000 classic cars from all over the world.
Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Pennsylvania Avenue is often called “America’s Main Street,” because it features some of the nation’s most important government buildings including the Capitol Building, the Department of Justice and, of course, the White House. In 1977, Jimmy Carter walked down Pennsylvania Avenue en route to the White House after being sworn in, and every president since then has walked the avenue as well. More somberly, the state funerals of seven sitting presidents —including Lincoln and Kennedy—featured processions down Pennsylvania Avenue. Walking tours are very popular with visitors, and the best, according to Washingtonian Magazine, is offered by DC by Foot at no charge!
Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana
In the heart of the French Quarter, Bourbon Street is a nonstop party featuring bars serving Hurricanes (a drink invented on Bourbon Street), restaurants making delicious Creole food, and bands playing live jazz and zydeco music. The year’s biggest party, of course, is the Mardi Gras celebration, which brings hundreds of thousands of people to watch parades, wear costumes (many risqué) and dance in the street. It’s not all a party, though, as Bourbon Street also offers a fascinating peek into New Orleans’ history. It has charming architecture that reflects the influence of the French (who founded the city), and is a stone’s throw away from the oldest structure in New Orleans, the Old Ursuline Convent, which was built in 1733.
The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.
Heather Spohr blogs at the award-winning The Spohrs Are Multiplying.