Staying home on the weekends is nice and all, but car enthusiasts know how great it is to get out on the open road every once in a while. Some car people even plan entire vacations around driving a certain mountain road, scenic valley highway or winding coastal byway.
Whether you are an enthusiast or not, driving your car on this country's great roads can be an awesome experience, right?
For some road trip inspiration, how about taking a fantasy road trip around the endless hairpin curves on California's Highway 1 with miles of hair-raising cliffs and mind-boggling crashing waves below?
Highway 1, California's Central Coast
Ever want to give the ultimate SUV the ultimate driving test? We did.
On a family road trip, we took a glossy black Mercedes-Benz GL 450 along Highway 1 of California's Central Coast. With hairpin turns wrapped around craggy cliffs and crashing waves meeting more sheer cliffs, this drive is terrifying and thrilling at the same time.
Thankfully, the perfect handling and luxury appointments of the Mercedes GL 450 were a soothing antidote to the alarm we felt each time we looked over the edge on the hundreds of curves in this more than 20 miles of treacherous highway.
Starting at the genteel Monterey Plaza Hotel, I leisurely glided along on a straight stretch of Highway 1 through Carmel Valley. For such a large SUV, the GL 450 felt almost like it was driving itself with its superior suspension, tight handling, sensitive braking and lightning-fast acceleration.
Between Carmel and Big Sur, this slice of ocean-view road narrows to two lanes with rolling hills and tiny two-lane bridges hovering precariously over rocky gorges with the churning ocean and sandy shores below. I knew this was the time to straighten up, grip the steering wheel with both hands and really get into a rhythm with the car and the road.
But first, we stopped just before the more mountainous road stretches seemingly forever at Rocky Point Restaurant for some rest and grub. Some park in the restaurant's lower lot, walking out to a narrow and rocky point to photograph the scene: Imagine a wide-angle shot of the sparkling blue Pacific, crashing white waves against rocky shores and a mountain peak in the background and green hills in the foreground.
Make sure you hike up to the restaurant and sit your group down to strong cocktails and some rather good eclectic American fare on the restaurant's charming outdoor patio. Remember, the designated driver needs all of his or her wits, so no drinking and driving. But, the driver will definitely need a drink or two after this nerve-racking trip!
After two hours of driving the GL 450 along one of this country's most exhilarating and scenic highways, I came to appreciate how the GL 450's engineering combines both a genteel driving style and genuine sports car mechanics ... all in a full-size SUV.
Just when I thought I couldn't white knuckle my last hairpin curve, we descended out of the mountains and into a much-needed straightaway just north of Hearst Castle in the tiny town of San Simeon. It felt like we were flying down in this seven-passenger SUV all the way to Dolphin Bay Hotel & Residences in peaceful Pismo Beach.
Before closing my eyes that night in my lavish oceanview suite with gourmet kitchen, I promised myself it would be at least another decade before my nerves could handle driving on this road again. In my dreams that night, I swear I could still feel the gentle and soothing sway of the GL 450 rocking me to sleep.
Central Coast Journey: Thinking about a trip to California's Central Coast, but don't have the budget? Think again. For $199 ($249 Fridays), Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort offers one night in a luxury suite (with fireplace and private balcony hot tub), a $30 gift certificate to the resort's award-winning restaurant, and complimentary access to a host of healing arts activities available on property such as hiking, yoga and Pilates, as well as soaks in the hillside hot tubs and a secluded pool. Located south of famed Highway 1 near San Luis Obispo, Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort is just a short walk from scenic Avila Beach.
US 68, Lexington to Bardstown, Kentucky
What would you pick for your dream car on a road trip on Kentucky's US 68 from urban Lexington through Bourbon country and into historic Bardstown? For me, it's a racing green Jaguar XK with a caramel-colored soft top.
I can just imagine punching down the accelerator in this four-seat, two-door convertible and the Jaguar XK growling in response to my every move as I put Lexington quickly behind me.
Unlike most beefy roadsters, the XK's smooth personality and pleasingly relaxing ride in lower speeds also makes it perfect for touring slowly through the blue grass hills with the Kentucky River hugging the sides of US 68.
From experience driving the Jag XK on a couple of road tests, I know this car's curvaceous haunches and classic race car good looks would turn lots of heads as we swooshed past farms surrounded by stone-laid fences through the historic towns of Harrodsburg, Perryville and Lebanon.
Heading toward KY 49, I see the well-mannered Jaguar XK pulling up into Maker's Mark Distillery. After a tour and some tasting, I again test out the XK's growling engine, perfect handling, super quick acceleration, stop-on-a-dime brakes and way cool technology through Kentucky's hills to historic Bardstown.
Stay at The Federal House: Want to experience some of Kentucky's classic architecture and famed hospitality? The Federal House is a restored 1800s plantation home with two bedrooms, private deck, kitchen and living room. Located near Bardstown along KY 49, The Federal House is a central place to stay for distillery and winery tours, museums, antique shopping and outdoor activities. The whole house is available for $459 (three consecutive nights) or $549 (four consecutive nights) and includes breakfast at the nearby main mansion.
The High Road to Taos Scenic Byway, New Mexico
I recently took a rather long four-day road trip north to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then far south to La Cruces, and back up to Albuquerque all on Highway 25. I promised myself, as we schlepped the barren highway in a 10-passenger van, that my next trip to the Land of Enchantment would involve a luxuriously comfortable and sporty vehicle.
My pick? Porsche Cayenne.
On a recent road test, I found the nimble and super sporty drive of the Porsche Cayenne was only outdone by its off-road mechanics, unusually satisfying exterior and luxurious all-leather interior.
I can just imagine my drive up The High Road to Taos Scenic Byway, which they say takes the traveler through an authentic remnant of Old Spain. The drive starts in the artsy mountain town of Santa Fe along US 285/84 north and follows the cultural heritage of the Spanish and Native American cultures here through Juniper-laden badlands, deep canyons and national forestland.
The curving mountain roads here are just the sort of road for the Porsche Cayenne. This isn't your typical SUV. The five-seat Porsche Cayenne delivers a race car-like ride with its roaring engine, tight handling and super fast acceleration.
And while I can't imagine taking this $70,000 beauty for some off-road driving, the Porsche Cayenne definitely has the capabilities, including an advanced suspension system, which could power over rocks and hills and river canyons of these New Mexico mountains.
This dream ends with this glossy black Porsche Cayenne glinting as I finally cruise into Saint Francis Plaza at Rancho de Taos, especially on a snowy day in winter for skiing adventures at the city's nearby ski runs.
Eco Trip: Santa Fe and Taos are both known as environmentally-friendly towns. For the ultimate "green" trip, stay at the Sunrise Springs Resort and Spa. Located in the Rio Grande basin at the southern entrance to Santa Fe, Sunrise Springs Resort offers great packages for weekend getaways like the "Spring Pamper Package" or an overnight Spa package. The resorts sits on 70 acres amidst spring-fed ponds and an organic garden, from which seasonal ingredients are picked fresh daily for the resort's award-winning Blue Heron Restaurant.
Scenic Byway 128, Moab, Utah
So far in my road tests, I've been lucky to take a sporty BMW 530i on a 300-mile trip to Carmel. But like any true driving enthusiast, I have my sights set on getting behind the wheel of a BMW 750.
The tight handling and shockingly fast acceleration of the BMW 750 would be a thrilling drive along the 17 miles of Scenic Byway 128 in Moab, Utah.
The reason? I can just envision this classic sleek sedan set against the otherworldly scenery here: odd-looking towering peaks, sheer cliffs and craggy rocks jutting out in red, pink, orange and yellow colors next to lush rivers, blue sky and green sage vegetation.
Driving over the striking hills and valleys of this most memorable highway, I can imagine feeling powerful and in total control of the BMW 750.
No doubt I can also imagine driving up in this luxurious sedan to Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa, a AAA Four-Diamond resort in the middle of this naturally-rugged terrain. Home to both the Land Rover's Off-Road Driving Adventure and VW's Touareg Adventure, the resort sits on the red mountain's sweeping with verdant golf greens and sparkling white buildings.
Isn't the driving life dreamy?