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10 top coastal drives in North America

Scenic coastal drives are a challenge. You have to keep one eye on the road and the other on the vast ocean to your right or left so you don’t careen off a cliff when you’re trying to take in the sights of Big Sur or drink in the deep blue hue of the water off of Cape Cod. North America is home to some devastatingly beautiful scenery. Get thee on the road!

Highway 1, Big Sur, Calif.

This is the Big Kahuna of American coastal scenic drives. Pick an adjective, any adjective, all will apply: stunning, jaw-dropping, unbelievable, gorgeous, fantastical, heart-stopping, magical, beautiful. The core of the drive is between San Luis Obispo and Monterey — about 137 miles and almost three hours long. However, we will bet you will want to take it slowly and make it last. At Point Lobos State Reserve, just outside of Monterey, you might catch a glimpse of whales, elephant seals, sea otters and sea lions. Further down the stretch is the Big Sur area proper, where you can get out at Soberanes Point and gaze at the unbelievable views. During this portion, the highway can ascend as high as 1,000 feet above sea level, and it will be hard to keep your eyes on the curving road as you zigzag around the huge cliffs. End the trip at the majestic Hearst Castle.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina

Cruise the Atlantic Ocean and get an eyeful of a quintessential American landscape, a place where the iconic Cape Hatteras lighthouse still serves as a signal for passing ships during blustery weather and the empty, white-sand beaches of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge are home to snow geese in the winter. Take the two-hour, 44-minute route detailed by My Scenic Drives, which advocates leaving from Points Harbor and ending at Ocracoke; the drive will take you over Pamlico Sound. This is the land of the Wright Brothers, where you will find a museum to the aviation pioneers. You’ll also find  marshes, sand dunes and two other famous lighthouses, including the striking, black-and-white-striped Bodie Lighthouse. End the trip with a ferry ride to your destination.

Central Coastal Drive, Prince Edward Island

Located just north of Nova Scotia, this Canadian slice of bliss is dubbed the “Garden of Canada” because it is so darn beautiful. It is a pastoral heaven with sand dunes, white sand beaches, rolling hills and red soil -- one of the most unusual landscapes in the world. You can drive the entire island -- Points East Coast Drive, the Central Coast Drive and the North Cape Coastal Drive -- or break up the trip. The Central Coast is the shortest, at around 151 miles, and is perhaps the most distinctive. It has two main sections: The northern portion, the Green Gables Shore Region, is more touristy and traverses Cavendish and Prince Edward Island National Park. The other portion is the Red Sands Shore, which gets its name for its striking red-sand beaches. Also of note: the stunning Confederation Bridge and the quaint village of Victoria-by-the-Sea.

The Hana Highway, Hawaii

Is there any road in Hawaii that is not scenic? With a state as gorgeous as Hawaii, you could close your eyes and point randomly to a map and pick a road, but it has been decreed that the historic Hana Highway is one of the best ways to cruise the island. Starting in Kahului, the 68-mile stretch can take as little as three hours and passes black-sand beaches, bamboo jungles and jaw-dropping waterfalls. When you’re not navigating the winding paths that curve around the cliffsides, you’ll drive over 59 bridges, most of which are single-lane, eventually reaching the majestic Haleakala National Park. There you can visit the Ohe’o Gulch, also known as the Seven Sacred Pools, and take in the glorious lush, green views of Wailua Falls.

Daytona Beach, Fla.

Forget scenic drives near the beach. In Daytona, you can drive on the beach. The times and areas are limited, and you need to get a $5 pass to drive and park on the beach. If you feel like taking a sun break, just jump out of your car, plop down a towel in front of it and catch some rays. While driving, though, don’t think you’ll be trying out for the Daytona 500; the speed limit on the sand is 10 mph.

17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, Calif.

Truth be told, if it were up to us, this list would be the entirety of the California coastline. All of Highway 1 -- or the Pacific Coast Highway, as it is also known -- is terrific. But this is one of the best sections. Be prepared to pay a toll; while you will part with $9.75 per car, you will get a driving guide to assist you in your journey. What’s so special? The seals at the Fanshell Overlook, the rocky shores of Point Joe and the Lone Cypress, a 250-year-old tree that stands tall on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. While you can also rubberneck at some of the most expensive and lavish homes in the nation, the nature portion of drive is stunning; you are seemingly careening right at the edge of the sand, with the ocean just a fingertip away.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Virginia

The 23-mile bridge crosses Chesapeake Bay and connects to the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. Though it shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes to go from end to end, what a sprint it is. You will feel like you are flying over the ocean, as you drift high over the cool blue water. Stop at the three-mile point where the ocean and the bay meet, have a bite at the Sea Gull Pier restaurant, ogle the sea birds or check out one of the man-made islands. If you’re feeling ambitious, add the 90-mile ride through Delmarva Peninsula.

U.S. Highway 101, Cannon Beach, Ore.

Though you could hang ten on this scenic byway for the full 363 miles, narrow down your trip to the part of the coast that is the most emblematic of the Pacific Northwest’s rugged terrain. Many cite Cannon Beach, about 80 miles west of Portland, as a favorite destination. Considered one of the best art towns in America, it also has unique natural landmarks such as Haystack Rock, one of the largest sea stacks in the U.S. The 235-foot monolith hovering over the beach attracts seabirds and tourists alike. Explore old-growth rain forest on the north end of Cannon Beach, then drive south to Tillamook, where the famous cheese of the same name is made.

The Michoacan Coast, Mexico

Bill and Dorothy Bell of the website On the Road in Mexico recommend starting this drive in the touristy city of Manzanillo and ending it in Playa Azul. This is a 201-mile drive that could take all day or several days, depending on how slowly you want to go. In parts, it’s rocky and the terrain is wild. Dorothy Bell notes that Highway 200 switches from a toll freeway to a two-lane road with no shoulder. Pay attention — every curve introduces you to a new sight of breathtaking jungle, palm trees, azure water and white-sand beaches. Tread carefully or you’re likely to feel the crunch of land crabs. This area isn’t heavily populated, so make sure you pull over and fill up your gas tank when you see a station. Brave this remote area and you’ll be rewarded with pristine, barely touched beaches.

Route 6A, Cape Cod, Mass.

And now for something different. When you say “beach drives,” images of California’s sandy dunes inevitably spring to mind, but Cape Cod is the scenic beach destination for the East Coast. The sights along this 63-mile-long route, nicknamed “Old King’s Highway,” are pure Norman Rockwell Americana. Start in Bourne and wind through the northern bay side of the Cape, passing towns such as Sandwich -- one of the oldest settlements in the country -- and ending in Provincetown. You’ll pass historic sites such as the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History and the Edward Gorey House, as well as beautiful natural highlights, including Sandy Neck beach, the salt marshes of Sandwich Harbor, the vineyards of Truro and lighthouses galore. It’s almost like taking a leap back in time.

Noble County Council On Aging & Noble Transit

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Kendallville, Indiana 46755