For this leg of the NASCAR road trip, you could head back up I-75. But, if you’re willing to tack on an extra five minutes, you can swing by quite a few new stops heading back North. More good news: Even if you decide to add the five extra minutes to your route, you won’t be travelling as many hours as last week. Because of the shorter drive time, some travelers may want to make a beeline for Kentucky and drive straight through. But you’d be missing out on so many more sights. Here’s what you should definitely take the time to check out:
Last race: June 30 at the Daytona International Speedway
Next race: July 7 at the Kentucky Speedway
Time on the road: About 13 Hours
Best route: I-95 North
Start Your Engines
Jacksonville, FL – Jacksonville is only about an hour and a half away from Daytona International Speedway, but is still worth the stop. The food scene in Jacksonville is where it’s at! Metro Diner, once featured on Food Network’s Diner, Drive-Ins, and Dives, is the place for a hearty breakfast. Then there’s Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen, which features upscale dishes with a Deep South flare (think alligator ribs and shrimp and grits). Olio is yet another restaurant offering gourmet fare. You can’t go wrong at Olio, but their signature sandwich, the duck grilled cheese, really hits it out of the ballpark. Finally, take the time to grab a small souvenir at the Pineapple Post, a quaint local shop offering chic and unique items.
Savannah, GA – Savannah is often said to be one of the most haunted places in America. Think you’re brave enough to find out for yourself? Check out the historic Bonaventure Cemetery, the Mercer Williams House, and the Olde Pink House restaurant at Planters Inn. These places may or may not be haunted, but one thing is for sure – they’re full of fascinating history. Even though you’ve only been driving a few hours, we can’t help but recommend the Mansion on Forsyth Park for a night’s rest. It’s a beautiful hotel in the midst of Savannah’s most famous landscape of Forsyth Park. We guarantee you’ll be swept away by the sheer elegance of the place.
Columbia, SC – Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo & Garden offers family-friendly fun and a great place to stretch your legs. This zoo goes all out with interactive experiences – you can feed the giraffes or hang out with the kangaroos, participate in a dino dig, and even zipline through the park! Then, take a bite out of the local cuisine at Terra, which even sources its ingredients locally. Or you could get really messy at 2 Fat 2 Fly, which offers mouthwatering stuffed chicken wings that are….well…too fat to fly!
All that adventure is sure to make you tired, so here are some places to keep in mind for lodging. For all you campers or RV’ers out there, the Sesquicentennial State Park is a fantastic place to make base. They have water and electric hookups for RVs, kayak and canoe rental, walking and biking trails, and plenty of fishing opportunities. You seriously won’t want to leave! If you don’t want to camp or RV, rent a cabin at Lake Murray Resort for a one-of-a-kind experience, or get a room at the Chestnut Cottage Bed & Breakfast for true Southern hospitality.
Asheville, NC – The number one hot spot in Asheville is the Biltmore Estate. People flock from all over the country – even the world – to visit the estate of George Vanderbilt. While the admission price is a little steep, the tour is more than worth the price. For a free activity, get a full view of the city on the 1.7 mile long Asheville Urban Trail, which highlights the city’s landmarks (including a giant iron in front of the Flat Iron Building). When you get hungry, swing by the Tupelo Honey Café for some scrumptious treats. Then, before you hit the road again, head on over to Sliding Rock. It’s just outside of Asheville, but so worth the extra effort. It’s a natural geological feature that just so happens to make one of the best water slides in existence. Perfect for kids and adults alike!
Knoxville, TN – After all that excitement in Asheville, it’s time to turn it down a notch, and there’s no better place to do it than Knoxville. Nestled into the Smoky Mountains, this city has the perfect mix of urban and wilderness. Knoxville is filled with places to explore nature, most notably the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a great place to camp out and watch the stars. But even if you prefer to sleep with a roof over your head, you’re still in for a treat. It might only be early July, you’ll be able to catch some Christmas in July festivities at The Inn at Christmas Place, which is celebrating ten years in business this year! Before you go, check out a piece of history at World’s Fair Park, the site of the 1982 World’s Fair. You’ll get a bird’s eye view of Knoxville and the surrounding area from the Sunsphere, a giant 360° observation deck high above the larger-than-life fair cite. It’s a view you simply won’t want to miss.
Lexington, KY – You’re in the home stretch now! Less than an hour and a half to the Kentucky Speedway. Here, you’ll get a taste of a much different type of racing – horse racing! The Kentucky Horse Park is a family-friendly place to learn all about famous horses in history, the sport of horse racing, and much more. This area is also known for its alcohol (Kentucky bourbon anyone?), so the 21 and over crowd will have fun touring the many wineries, breweries, and distilleries. Be sure to check out Country Boy Brewing and Bluegrass Distillers. Once you get hungry, make your way to one of the three Saul Good locations in Lexington. If you ask what’s good on the menu, be prepared to hear, “Saul Good!” (And it really is!) Le Deauville is another fantastic restaurant, featuring decadent French cuisine.
Last Stop: Sparta, KY – That week just flew by, didn’t it?! You could make a beeline for the Kentucky Speedway once you get to Sparta, or you can take your good old time exploring the town and surrounding areas. Check out last year’s post, “Top 8 Hot Spots around the Kentucky Speedway” for some great places to put on your itinerary!
Before we wrap this up, a quick reminder: Somewhere between traveling to these six cities, don’t forget to celebrate the 4th of July! You’re bound to find fireworks shows, festivals, and BBQs galore, so be sure to share your experiences in the comments section below! Then, check back next week for our next installment of the ultimate track-to-track summer road trip.