Sampling a region’s cuisine can be one of the best parts of any trip. And we’re not just talking about eating your way through Italy. There are plenty diverse local food scenes to explore right here in the U.S., and traveling by RV is the best way to do it. Not only can you hit the best healthy neighborhood spots, you can pick up the freshest home-grown ingredients to prepare on your own. Here we bring you five classic road trips — notable for both good views and good eats.
California’s Central Coast: Ventura to Carmel Valley
282 miles (5 hours, 7 minutes)
The iconic Highway 1 may be temporarily closed for a 60-mile stretch from Ragged Point to Big Sur, but you can still enjoy plenty of California coastline (and cuisine), plus a beachside barbecue and overnight. Added bonus: The detour takes you along a winding country road, where sprawling ranches give way to picturesque vineyards.
Breakfast here: At Harvest Café in the low-key surf town of Ventura, California, eggs fresh from the owner’s farm make an appearance alongside creative vegan fare. For a dish that’s light yet satisfyingly delicious, look to the Pitaya Bowl, a mix of avocado, pineapple, dates, granola and, of course, pitaya (aka dragon fruit). The drought-tolerant fruit — grown on cactus plants — is fast becoming a go-to favorite in the rain-deprived region.
Grocery shop here: Stop by New Frontiers Natural Marketplace in Solvang, California, to pick up the store’s hormone- and antibiotic-free tri-tip (a lean cut of beef that’s a staple in the Central Coast) along with the region’s signature Santa Maria seasoning (a combo of salt, pepper, garlic and parsley). While you’re there, you can also snag some locally grown snacks, such as Ojai Pixie tangerines and organic Santa Barbara Pistachio Company nuts.
Cook, eat and sleep here: Experience beach camping at its best at Morro Strand State Beach in Morro Bay, California, where on-the-sand sites meet full hookups along a three-mile stretch of coast with sunset views. Barbecue grills are available near the campground entrance, perfect for cooking up that tri-tip. (If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can also find red oak chips — to go along with your seasoning — for authentic Santa Maria-inspired barbecue.)
Early lunch here: After making a light breakfast in the RV (you can’t go wrong with leftover tri-tip and scrambled eggs), head north to get a taste of the Carmel Valley at Lucia Restaurant & Bar, part of the luxe yet tranquil Bernardus Lodge & Spa. Split the summer salad and Bernardus garden pizza to enjoy plenty of fresh ingredients from the estate’s gardens and fruit trees. Reservations are necessary for the main dining room, but seating is first-come, first-served for the bar-lounge area.
Southern: Asheville to Nashville
Distance: 301 miles (5 hours, 15 minutes)
If made-from-scratch Southern fare doesn’t scream (or, heck, even whisper) healthy to you, this route will change your thinking. As you make your way through the Great Smoky Mountains to Music City, you’ll find hearty, veggie-heavy meals along with scenes of bustling, small-city life and beautifully rugged nature.
Dinner here: Asheville, North Carolina’s Green Sage Café works sustainability into almost every aspect of its business, from running the restaurant on solar power to using compostable takeout containers. Stop in for an early meal (they close at 6 p.m.) and order the vegan Green Beetle — a beet and chickpea burger topped with alfalfa sprouts, applewood-smoked dulse and more, all wrapped in organic collard greens.
Sleep here: Stop for the night in Smoky Mountain Premiere RV Resort, an RV campground just to the north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Named for the ever-present mist that hovers between peaks and encompassing more than 500,000 acres, this park protects the area surrounding some of the oldest mountains in the world.
Breakfast here: About 85 percent of the produce served at The Plaid Apron in Knoxville, Tennessee, is grown within 25 miles. When you stop in, order the simply named Veggies and Grain. Hearty but not heavy, the gluten-free, sorghum-based dish comes with nutrient-rich beet greens, mushrooms, onions and squash and is topped with a duck egg — similar to a chicken egg, but bigger and often richer and creamier. For those with dietary restrictions, the restaurant will happily modify almost anything on the menu on the fly.
Lunch here: The staff at The Wild Cow in Nashville, Tennessee, boasts of being able to name every ingredient in every meal they cook up, and there’s no freezer on site, which means your food is as fresh as it comes. The flavorful and filling Buffalo Beans & Greens Bowl is the most popular dish, serving up a well-rounded mix of protein, whole grains and veggies.
See Google Map here.
Northeast Coast: Cape Cod to Maine
Distance: 316 miles (5 hours, 55 minutes)
Make your way through New England, from the tip of Cape Cod to the midcoast of Maine, with a route that steers you past historical settings (Plymouth Bay, anyone?), small coastal towns that double as fishing ports and perfect stops for mouthwatering seafood served in the most casual of atmospheres.
Snack here: Avoid resorting to rest-stop snacks by stocking up first at 141 Market in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Popular items include the vegan and gluten-free baked goods (made on the premises daily) and the extensive juice bar. Try the refreshing Raw Cacao Bliss smoothie with almond milk, banana and raw cacao, and grab some goodies to replenish the RV’s stores.
Dinner here: The dinner menu at Applecrest Farm Bistro in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, changes depending on what’s been harvested from the more than 200 acres of surrounding land. The farm, in operation for more than 100 years, provides 95 percent of menu offerings — including meat — during peak summer season and grows 56 different varieties of apples. One consistent crowd pleaser: the Bistro Burger, made with organic, grass-fed Maine beef, caramelized onions, pickles and Vermont cheddar.
Sleep here: The unique location of Libby’s Oceanside Camping in York, Maine, offers three types of campsites, each with a distinctly different view: a lighthouse and busy beach; a quieter, sheltered cove; and a stretch of wide-open ocean. Summer spots fill up fast, so call ahead to check availability, and make sure you know your RV type and length — from bumper to hitch.
Lunch here: Luke’s at Tenants Harbor in St. George, Maine, may be part of a chain, but don’t let that fool you. The wharf-side location (right at the spot where Luke’s sources its lobsters) has all the charm of a traditional lobster shack, plus a menu featuring only sustainable, traceable seafood. Order the 300-calorie lobster roll as is (with a swipe of mayo and hint of lemon butter), or customize it however you like. There’s even the option of a gluten-free bun.
Southwest: Santa Fe to Grand Canyon
Distance: 387 miles (5 hours, 47 minutes)
Some of the most unique landscapes in the country are found in the American Southwest, home to deserts, volcanic zones and canyons. Also found along the route: a creative and growing food scene that, for the moment, is flourishing under the radar.
Lunch here: Globally inspired Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen in Santa Fe, New Mexico, offers gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian-friendly and even Paleo dishes with flavors reminiscent of far-flung places. Choose between local favorites salmon donburi, featuring Atlantic salmon with rice, spring veggies and a ginger-tamari sauce, and the Buddha bowl, made with rice, sprouted tofu, watermelon and radish.
Shop here: With its farm-to-store shelf ethos, Keller’s Farm Stores in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is known for offering the largest selection of humanely raised fresh, roasted and smoked meats in the state. Pick up the market’s fresh cuts of buffalo for a leaner and easier-to-prepare alternative to traditional steak — the bison cooks up about a third faster.
Cook, eat and sleep here: Spend the night RV camping in the high desert at Homolovi State Park in Winslow, Arizona. Established to preserve sites and artifacts sacred to the Homolovi people from as early as A.D. 620, the park features a visitor center and museum, offering a history lesson as well as starkly beautiful terrain.
Breakfast here: The totally plant-based Whyld Ass restaurant in Flagstaff, Arizona, will have you fooled with its breakfast burrito. The top-rated dish features sausage made of lentils, liquid smoke and spices and comes topped with sunflower-seed cheese and turmeric-cashew sour cream. The orange-rosemary biscuits with cracked black pepper-chipotle gravy is a close second.
About the Author
Jacqueline Nochisaki is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Time Out New York and Forbes Travel Guide and on Vogue.com. She has visited more than 40 countries and camped all over the U.S., including an RV tour of Alaska. She is currently in based in New York City. For pics of her travels and more, follow her on Instagram at @jacquisaki.