The summer of 2020 has unquestionably been the summer of the American road trip. Thanks to the coronavirus's impact on plane, train and bus travel — and paired with record-low gas prices — 97% of vacations taken this summer were forecast to be in cars, according to AAA.
Booking sites are also seeing Americans heavily considering domestic road trips, with booking site Skyscanner seeing a 56% monthly increase in the number of U.S. users searching for rental cars. And an August Skyscanner survey on road trips found that more than 30% of respondents want to drive more than 1,000 miles on a road trip.
Where are all those long-haul road trippers headed? An INRIX and AAA analysis of traffic trends across the country this summer shows that while some more-populated states are seeing incredibly reduced traffic numbers, remote areas are seeing normal, pre-pandemic levels of summer traffic flow, even as fewer people are traveling.
With so many areas that are usually traffic-clogged now more accessible, an appealing vacation option has emerged: the humble architecture trip, which allows travelers to explore historic and scenic parts of America from the safety of the car.
"Architecture is definitely a good thing to see from your car or far away," says Sam Lubell, an architecture journalist who's written multiple architecture travel guides to the United States. "A lot of the places in the guidebooks that I've written, oftentimes you don't have to go inside. Or in many cases you can't go in anyway, because they're private."
Lubell has written architecture guides to both the East and West coasts, covering stops from Seattle to San Diego and Maine to Florida. Right now, depending on the locale, many American cultural institutions are beginning to reopen to limited numbers of visitors — making it a great time to visit for a crowd-free experience.
Here are some of Lubell's recommendations for road-trip-worthy gems of American architecture in those unusually traffic-free locales that INRIX highlighted in its findings.
Another reduced-traffic state on INRIX's list, New York has upstate treasures like Albany's Empire State Plaza: "It's incredible, this giant acropolis of modernist buildings," Lubell says. Also in Albany, famed concert hall The Egg is a futuristic road stop now that its events are halted indefinitely.
In Syracuse, the I.M. Pei-designed Everson Museum downtown is open with limited capacity. Lubell also recommends Ithaca's Johnson Museum at Cornell.
One of the most heralded pieces of modernist architecture in the country is in the wilds of southwestern Pennsylvania: Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. Built over a rushing waterfall, the abruptly sleek house and balconies reopened to the public in June under reduced capacity restrictions.
"Everybody knows Fallingwater and it's exceptional," Lubell says. "It's very modern but somehow very of the earth, which Wright was a master of, with these huge balconies over the falls giving an incredible view of the water and the house, which is made of stone. It's so connected to nature."
Some of Lubell's favorite lesser-known spots you can see from your car include Henry Chapman Mercer's Fonthill Castle, Wright's Beth Sholom Congregation outside Philadelphia and the studios of Japanese woodworker George Nakashima in New Hope.
The most populous state of New England, Massachusetts is also seeing greatly reduced traffic of late, with the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University and MIT's Stata Center being must-sees for architecture buffs. Farther outside Boston is the Walter Gropius House in Lincoln, and Lubell asserts that the Phillips Exeter Academy Library in Exeter, New Hampshire, is also a requirement.
Also on the list of reduced-traffic states this year is Florida, which happens to be a modernist and Art Deco architecture mecca for those able to RV or road-trip the areas of Sarasota and Miami.
"Sarasota and Miami are an epicenter of architecture schools," Lubell says. "Even Sarasota High School by Paul Rudolph is worth seeing." The area is also home to the swooping St. Paul Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall by Victor Lundy.
MiMo, or Miami Modern architecture school, as well as the area's famed Art Deco beachfront, are "tropical-modern," which is more colorful and expressive than most modern design. Morris Lapidus's Fontainebleau Hotel is another popular stop for the architecture-minded.
Towering art like Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City Complex is easy to spot in Chicago, whether it's on an architecture boat tour, with a stop at Helmut Jahn's Mansueto Library or at Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studios, Robie House in Oak Park. Lubell recommends the city's many small architecture tour options, as well as White City amusement park from 1905.
Hitting the road in a car or RV in Arizona yields both architecture and natural scenery. INRIX data shows that Phoenix drivers are "probably not going to run into 'normal' traffic congestion" these days, with Arizona on the list of reduced-traffic states. Lubell recommends Arcosanti, a design village 70 miles outside Phoenix that is currently requiring masks and offering small tours daily. Less-remote options include the Biosphere 2 in Tucson and the Chapel of the Holy Cross built into the cliffs of Sedona.
"If you're gonna do Arizona, you have to do Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West," Lubell says of the artist's now-public winter home in Scottsdale. Wright also designed the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix.
It's no secret that California has great architecture stops on Route 1, such as the famed Hearst Castle, (FYI — effective Monday, March 16, California State Parks is temporarily suspending all tours at Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument. While Hearst Castle is not directly affected by COVID-19, State Parks is monitoring the situation carefully and is committed to following the state’s updated policy on social gatherings to help slow the spread of COVID-19/reg) due to visible from the road on a clear day. And California also lands on INRIX's list of reduced-traffic states. The central coast, between the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco, includes the seaside getaways of Monterey and San Luis Obispo.
Lubell recommends Palo Alto's Hanna-Honeycomb House of Stanford University as well as Carmel-by-the-Sea's Hass House and the aptly named Shell House by Mark Mills, an apprentice of Wright. Still more of Wright's work lies in Carmel-by-the-Sea at the Walker House, which juts out over the ocean.