The dilemma: You want to travel and eat your heart out Guy Fieri style, but you’re on a budget. And you’re trying to stay healthy. How do you make it work? How do you say yes to your taste buds, your abs, and your wallet?
The answer: a healthyish food-themed road trip. Road trips are one of the best ways to travel—they don’t have to be expensive; you can customize them based on your tastes, interests, and time; and you get to see the world as you drive. Plus, there’s nothing better than jumping in your beloved car, throwing on your favorite playlist, and hitting the wide open road.
That’s why we teamed up with Chase Auto to track down the best routes that won’t break the bank—or put you in a food coma. Each of these scenic drives ends in one of the healthiest cities in the United States, so you can enjoy every bite of the journey without the guilt.
1. The Road Trip That Has It All
The Route: Aspen, CO –> Estes Park, CO –> Denver, CO
Distance: 278 miles
Food Budget: $$
Take in breathtaking mountain views with a side of incredible food on this road trip from snow-capped Aspen to mile-high Denver. Nosh on Thai coconut soup and roasted cauliflower with garlic chutney at Meat & Cheese in Aspen before making the four-hour drive to Estes Park—a mecca for American bistros serving up locally sourced, organic fare. Since you’re probably ready to eat again, order the bison enchiladas at Ed’s Cantina & Grill.
After a pit stop in Boulder (stretch your legs on the famed climb to the top of Bear Peak—bonus, it’s free!), move on to Denver. Consistently ranked as one of America’s healthiest cities, it’s known for its hiking trails, bike-sharing programs, and good eats. Try Santiago’s for cheap breakfast burritos, Mercantile Dining & Provision for seasonal sandwiches, or Comal for Latin and Syrian food. End your trip with a frosty beer from one of Denver’s myriad of breweries (Star Bar is a great dive with an impressive tap list, karaoke, and games).
2. A Drive for the Dumpling-Obsessed
The Route: Los Angeles, CA –> San Francisco, CA
Distance: 381 miles
Food Budget: $
San Francisco might be known for Ghirardelli chocolate and Los Angeles for green juice, but one of the biggest reasons to visit these West Coast hot spots is the dim sum. First stop: Lunasia in Alhambra, just outside of L.A. proper. The dumplings here are huge (and cheap—starting at $6.99 for six pieces), so grab a friend and balance out a plate of pork siu-mai with a round of shrimp-and-spinach.
If you have an extra day or three, take the Pacific Coast Highway up the coast (more on that road trip here) and drive through the Muir Woods before swinging down to SF. Or put on a podcast and cruise up Interstate 5. Either way, make your next stop Dumpling Time in SoMa. Try the $5 pickled lotus and the boiled, vegetarian Xi’an dumplings, which are packed with local greens. Then hit up Dragon Beaux in Outer Richmond for stuffed eggplant and the pea shoot dumpling, both excellent for meatless munchers.
3. Tacos Every Day of the Week
The Route: Albuquerque, NM –> Tucson, AZ –> Phoenix, AZ
Distance: 562 miles
Food Budget: $
We love nachos, but they’re not exactly your-body-is-a-temple food. If you need a little spice in your life without inflaming your body, check out New Mexico and Arizona. Often overshadowed by the booming Tex-Mex scene, New Mexico’s spicy dishes get their heat from the state’s signature ingredient, green chiles, while Tucson and Phoenix are home to some of the best Mexican restaurants in the country.
This is a long one, so fuel up on breakfast burritos in Albuquerque (locals swear by Frontier Restaurant) before you head out. If you aren’t in a rush for your next taco, detour to the White Sands National Monument for Dunes Drive, an eight-mile stretch through pure-white sand dunes.
Taco time again! In Tucson, visit Guadalajara for a table-side salsa that’ll make you weep. Just outside of town is Saguaro National Park, where you can see the largest cacti in the U.S. End your trip at Tacos Chiwas in Phoenix for made-to-order Chihuahua-style tacos ($2.50 each) and frijoles charros (bean soup).
4. Pit Stop-Worthy Barbecue Loop
The Route: Austin, TX –> Taylor, TX –> Lockhart, TX –> Luling, TX –> Austin, TX
Distance: 156 miles
Food Budget: $$
Almost out of vacation days? This one’s for you. Each of the stops is less than an hour from Austin, so if you’re feeling ambitious (and really, really hungry), you can do it all in a day. Or pace yourself and take one or two as day trips. Sure, you could argue barbecue isn’t the healthiest cuisine, but we say everything in moderation—just order an extra side of veggies and hike the Greenbelt.
Austin has enough good joints to be its own barbecue trail. Franklin Barbecue is perhaps the most well known, but Micklethwait Craft Meats, Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew, and Kerlin BBQ are good options as well. Get in your car and drive 40 minutes northeast to Taylor, where Louie Mueller Barbecue is your best bet. But be sure to save room for your next stop—the Barbecue Capital of Texas (a.k.a. Lockhart).
Cue up “On the Road Again” and fly down Highway 130 (speed limit: 85 mph). Once in Lockhart, you’ll have to decide between Kreuz Market (where the meat’s so good they don’t serve sauce) and Black’s Barbecue (run by third-generation pit masters). Full yet? Keep heading south to Luling, where you’ll eat mustard-sauce ribs with your hands (no forks allowed) at City Market.
5. Sea-riously Good Seafood
Destination: Portsmouth, NH –> Salem, MA –> Boston, MA
Distance: 70 miles
Food Budget: $$
Start this New England day trip at one of Portsmouth’s delicious buck-a-shuck oyster bars (that’s dollar oysters, people!) before driving south to historic Salem for crab cakes. We suggest skipping the highway and driving the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway for at least part of the trek—after all, the beauty of a road trip is being able to take the long, scenic route.
End the day at the Yankee Lobster Company in the Seaport District. The lobster roll isn’t cheap cheap, but it’s relatively inexpensive ($24)—and isn’t drowning in mayo. Or you can grab a small cup of clam chowder (you know, balance) and grilled swordfish for about the same price.
6. A Healthy Dose of Southern Comfort
Destination: Jacksonville, FL –> Savannah, GA –> Charleston, SC
Distance: 246 miles
Food Budget: $$
It’s hard to say no to a big bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese, but the South does have its share of lighter (but no less flavorful) options. Make your stomach and your Insta happy with an açaí bowl, rainbow toast, or salmon eggs Benedict from First Watch in Jacksonville. Then cruise up to Savannah for surf lessons and a vegetarian feast at Kayak Kafé.
Highway 17 will take you near the eerily beautiful ruins of Old Sheldon Church, by Carolina Cider Company, and through Low Country landscapes. In Charleston, ditch the hot spots in the center of town and check out the Westside’s Gnome Café, where you can order classic Southern favorites turned vegan. The fried “chicken” sandwich (made with seitan) and the Southern grit bowl packed with tofu and portobello “bacon” will satisfy all your comfort-food cravings.
7. I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Vegan Must-Visits
The Route:Eugene, OR –> Hood River, OR –> Portland, OR
Distance: 235 miles
Food Budget: $$
Oregon might be known for its cheese artisans and wine bars, but the vegan scene is one even meat eaters will be happy to explore. The Cornbread Cafe in Eugene turns tofu and veggies into creative burgers and barbecue. After you’ve eaten your fill, explore the city’s many natural wonders—from hot springs and waterfalls to scenic byways that make the drive a destination in itself.
Next, make your way to Farm Stand in the Gorge, a local roadside stop with organic, vegan takeout. And while you can’t really go wrong with any vegan restaurant in Portland, Jam on Hawthorne is a classic for brunch. Sweet tooth? Grab a scoop of Salt & Straw’s roasted strawberry coconut sorbet.