When my now-husband and I were 16, our favorite date was to hop in his GTO and hit the road, setting out to see what there was to see. While listening to Bowie on the 8-track, we explored our hometown's back roads. One night, we happened upon a quirky diner that served up sundaes-for-two in giant fishbowls. When my spoon trespassed onto the ice cream's north face - the driver's side - he simply smiled. Our fate was sealed: Ever since, we've been a car-traveling couple - a pair with a penchant for road trips.
Going out for drives sparked our romance and now, decades later, road trips help revive it when kids, finances and work detour us. In the event of boredom, we might head clear across the county; for angry impasses, perhaps halfway across the country.
Mind you: Not all road trips are catalysts and/or cure-alls for romance, but here is a handful that are.
California Route 1
The Pacific Coast Highway, also known as California State Route 1, is a drive through jaw-dropping drama; that holds doubly true during the 123-mile stretch from Monterey to Morro Bay. If you drive from north to south, your views of the coast - characterized by jagged mountains plunging into a wild surf as well as wind-sculpted trees on rocky outcrops washed by jade-colored waves - will be unobstructed. Plus, just south of Monterey, you can set a dreamy California tone right from the get-go with a meal at Casanova, known as Carmel's "most romantic restaurant.
Point Lobos State Reserve is a perfect place to wander hand in hand, especially during the months of December through April, when gray whales migrate past.
The orange-red-purple-pink-ness of a Big Sur sunset will take your breath away as surely as any first kiss. But do make an effort to breathe here as deeply and often as possible, as a heady sage-redwood-salt air-scent perfumes the canyons of this jewel in the crown that is the central California coast.
For an overnight stay, the FogCatcher Inn is an aptly named romantic getaway located just steps from the town of Cambria's Moonstone Beach.
Morro Bay is at the terminus of this journey, and it is here that serendipity strikes, California-style: Just when your road-refreshed relationship has attained peak strength - I mean, at the very moment when the passenger-driver connection goes positively granite - you'll encounter Morro Rock, also known as the "Gibraltar of the Pacific."
Vermont Route 100
Here, under the cover of yellow leaves and red bridges, are picture-perfect trysting places. Vermont's Route 100 skirts quintessential Yankee towns whose claims to fame involve copious covered bridges: the handsome Big Eddy Bridge in Waitsfield and the Lincoln Gap Bridge over the Mad River in Warren, to name a couple. In Moretown, after driving through the Upper Coxbrook Bridge, you'll reach the only spot in Vermont where you can still see one covered bridge from another: the view through the Newell Bridge to the Station Bridge.
The journey along Route 100 runs for 200 miles from tip to tail through the state. Roughly midway down this bumpy backbone, Romance Mountain rises from ancient groves of northern hardwoods along a remote section of the Long Trail that winds its way along the ridgeline of the Green Mountains. Here, you'll want to park the car and stretch your legs a bit to bag the peak of Romance in time to watch the stars come out.
Love never tasted so good as it does along Vermont's Route 100; don't miss a lick of the erotically charged Karamel Sutra ice cream, at the Ben and Jerry's factory, of course.
Georgia's Golden Isles
Although an amphibious vehicle might come in handy here, it's not necessary for negotiating the barrier islands or marshes, rivers and estuaries that define the Low Country coastal region of Georgia between Jekyll Island and Savannah. The intoxicatingly slow and scenic routes 520, 99 and 17 drape around the Golden Isles like Spanish moss on an old oak: St. Simons and Jekyll islands are bridged to the mainland at Brunswick, and Sea Island is bridged to St. Simons Island. The only thing that flows more abundantly than water in this region is romance. The Sea Island's Cloister Hotel alone has hosted nearly 37,000 newlywed couples since 1940. (Each couple receives a card indicating what number they are: for instance, honeymoon couple No. 1,768 was George and Barbara Bush, who visited in January 1945 and again in 1995 to celebrate their 50th anniversary.) The Cloister is, hands down, the most highfalutin place around, but it's hardly the only high point of this Low Country tour.
In the quiet village of Shellman Bluff, all the dirt roads lead to an overlook of the Broro and Julienton rivers; winding along the edge of the bluff is a sandy road that offers an unsurpassed sunrise view of the marsh from behind Harris Neck. Speed's Kitchen aptly describes the locale for out-of-towners on its menu: "SHELLMAN BLUFF. Not a place for Fast Lane folks. Ain't got no red lights. No 4-lanes. We move slow here. Try it - good for your health."
Beartooth Highway, Wyoming/Montana
US Highway 212
Love is not for the fainthearted. Neither are the zigzagging switchbacks of the Beartooth Highway. Since 1882, the courageous, the adventurous and the strong have recorded travel across the Beartooth Pass. One of the most rugged and pristine terrains in the lower 48, the Beartooth area is punctuated by 20 glaciated peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation.
Here, it blizzards in the winter. And spring. And fall.
Despite - or perhaps, because of - its white-knuckled rigors, this 64-mile road trip from Red Lodge to Cooke City, Mont., is all the sweeter as it winds through lush forests and alpine tundras. Traffic on and around the Beartooth comes (when and if it comes) in the form of mountain goats, moose, elk, marmots, mule deer, black bears, grizzly bears and wolves.
The historic Pollard Hotel in Red Lodge offers two intriguing packages to intrepid couples: one, aptly called Adventure, Danger, Romance features a trail ride, a whitewater float trip and a candlelit dinner for two; another, named The Big Hook-Up, has something to do with trout, I'm guessing.
Heart Mountain is an 8,123-foot peak just north of Cody, WY; composed of limestone and dolomite that dates back 500 million years, this ancient Heart holds mysteries of the geologic variety.
The Beartooth Highway ends at the eastern gateway of Yellowstone National Park, site of one of the most romantic of natural wonders in all the world: Old Faithful.
North Shore Drive
Minnesota Route 61
It bodes well for a road trip when even the map puts you in a romantic mood, if only poetically speaking. This drive, which hugs the north shore of the world's largest freshwater lake, skirts places whose names tease the tongue: Tettegouche.Gitchigume. Nanijoubou.
Gitchigume is Lake Superior in local American Indian dialect. Route 61 is an as-the-crow-flies byway from Duluth to the Canadian border that allows road-tripping landlubbers to stay safe and dry on terra firma (surely you recall the sinking of the "Big Fitz"?) while getting up close and personal with this greatest of all the Great Lakes. (Split Rock Lighthouse annually marks the anniversary of the loss of the "Edmund Fitzgerald" with a reading of the names of the 29 men who lost their lives on Nov. 10, 1975, and a lighting of the beacon at dusk.)
Not that you want to stay stowed away in your car for the whole trip: the Superior Hiking Trail is a spectacular, well-marked 205-mile-long footpath that follows the rocky ridgeline above Lake Superior from Two Harbors to the Canadian border. There are trailheads with parking lots every 5 to 10 miles, making it ideal for both day hikes and backpacking.
While boating causes some to lose their appetites (for food, for love, etc.), walking, as well as driving, for any distance usually has the opposite effect. That's why Betty's Pies in Two Harbors sells countless world-famous handmade pies, and also (get this!) something called a pie shake. No wordplay involved here; a pie shake is exactly what it says: Betty slices a hunk of your favorite pie and drops it into a blender full of ice cream and milk.
You know you're in love if you can bear to share (no matter how grudgingly) a sip of your cherry pie shake, or a bite of Betty's signature 5-layer pie: a flaky crust is layered with dark chocolate, cinnamon meringue, whipped cream and chocolate whipped cream..