This summer, identify the historical adventure that’s right for you and your group, and get there with the All-New Land Rover Discovery.
A road trip may be one of the most American rites of passage. You and your travel companions are joining the ranks of millions who have rolled down their windows and taken to the highway. But while taking a road trip, in and of itself, can feel like an historic endeavor, some road trips are more historic than others.
So, if history is your goal, this guide is for you. Whether you and your group are serious Alexander Hamilton buffs (you’ve read the biography, seen the musical, and know all the songs by heart) or you’re hoping to give some life to those textbook lessons your kids are learning in school, we have itinerary ideas and reading suggestions, plus a great resource for historic hotels.
If you’re looking to take a drive through history, there’s probably no better route than Route 66, which stretches 2,400 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica. You can drive all of it (allow at least two weeks) or part of it if you’re shorter on time; either way, you’re guaranteed to encounter mom-and-pop diners, neon-lit motels, and kitschy-cool tributes to America (like the Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo, Texas).
But Route 66 isn’t the only option for history buffs. Here are two additional itineraries to fuel your passion for Americana.
Start in Memphis, Tennessee, and follow Route 61, a.k.a. The Blues Highway, down to New Orleans. Everybody who’s anybody has stayed at The Peabody, but for a more intimate experience, try the James Lee House, an immaculate B&B with five suites. Brush up on your music history at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Memphis Rock & Soul Museum, and be sure to eat some ribs at Rendez-Vous or fried chicken at Payne’s before you skip town.
You’ll want to stop in Clarksdale, where you can shack up at the Shack Up Inn and hear live music at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club, and your trip ends in New Orleans. There, you should book a room at the Soniat House, where you’ll sleep on antique beds and a white-tuxedoed butler will deliver biscuits, preserves, and café au lait to your room. The hotel also puts you within walking distance of Frenchman Street, where you can hear some of the best music in town.
What to Read: The Blues Highway: New Orleans to Chicago, A Travel & Music Guide is your go-to resource, with history, maps, events, and exclusive interviews.
Detour: If you time your trip right, you can detour to the Jackson Rhythm & Blues Festival (August 18-19), in downtown Jackson, Mississippi.
If presidential estates and battlefield grounds are more your speed, point your wheels in the direction of Charlottesville, Virginia, home to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s stately mansion. Nearby are the homes of two other presidents: Ash-Lawn Highland (James Monroe) and Montpelier (James Madison), as well as Jefferson’s summer home, Poplar Forest, outside of Lynchburg. If you want to pretend you also live in a larger-than-life home, consider reserving a room at Keswick Hall.
Route 15 will take you all the way up to Gettysburg, PA; at around the halfway point is Manassas National Battlefield Park, site of the first battle between Union and Confederate armies in 1861 (and a second battle in 1862). Stop by the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland, then end in Gettysburg, where you can (and should) hire a guide to fully understand this pivotal turning point in American history.
What to Read: There is no shortage of Civil War literature, but we recommend Shelby Foote’s Civil War three-volume set (also available as an audio CD).
Wine Not: Virginia has good wine (it’s for wine lovers, so they say.) Take a break from history and make a pit stop.
If you’re planning to start or end your all-American road trip in our nation’s capital, consider the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., as your historic headquarters. The property, which opened in 1925 with more gold leaf than any other building in the United States except for the Library of Congress, has hosted every inaugural ball since Calvin Coolidge’s. It’s now a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, with up-to-date rooms and amenities.
Tip: For more historic properties throughout the United States, visit Historic Hotels of America.