When the journey is paved with good food and drink, the destination is almost an afterthought. Over the years, states have plotted out themed trails that spotlight local specialties such as hamburgers, oysters and wine. You can follow a methodical course or bounce around like a pinball. Visit all the sites or a smattering. Nibble or binge. Designate yourself the driver or the drinker. Whichever tack you take, remember to drive slowly, and stop to sample often. Here’s a selection of six trails in four mid-Atlantic states.
WHAT Lawrence County Craft Burger Trail (8 stops)
TRAIL MIX Eight restaurants in the county north of Pittsburgh (take the Beaver Valley Expressway south from I-80) tempt carnivores with their signature burgers. Hazel’s Restaurant pays tribute to its owners’ Greek roots by smothering a half-pounder with mushrooms, onions, peppers and feta. The Hells Hollow Burger at Ben Franklin’s Taproom, Grille & Bottle Shop is named for a hiking trail, and you could easily break a sweat eating the burger topped with pepper Jack cheese, grilled jalapeño peppers, bacon and Sriracha sauce. The Grill on the Hill singles out its Cliffhanger burger, a trio of American cheese-covered patties with nine pieces of bacon. Dine at all eight establishments and earn a Burger Trail T-shirt sized for your post-burger body.
WILL BRAKE FOR Zambelli Park in New Castle, named after the company that helped the county claim the title of Fireworks Capital of America; a film screening at the Historic Warner Cascade Theater Museum in New Castle, the Warner Bros.’ first movie theater; and New Castle chili dogs, a culinary tradition cooked up by Greek immigrants who moved to town in the early 1900s.
WHAT Delaware on Tap (32 stops)
TRAIL MIX The trail was launched nine years ago as the Delaware Wine and Ale Trail but its name was updated, when meaderies, cideries and distilleries joined the cocktail party. The most of the stops are breweries, however, and include such whales as Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Iron Hill as well as such minnows as 38°-75° Brewing, which serves its beers only at Gary’s Dewey Beach Grill, and Volunteer Brewing Company, the state’s smallest brewery. In 2017, the organizers released a free app that lists all the drinking establishments with their addresses, hours, featured beverages and travel tips. Visit 10 places to score a commemorative beer mug.
WILL BRAKE FOR Flights of mead served on a Viking ship model at the Brimming Horn Meadery in Milton; the hammocks and cornhole at Crooked Hammock Brewery in Lewes; and Food Truck Fridays at Dew Point Brewery in Yorklyn.
WHAT Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail (9 stops)
TRAIL MIX Raise a triple-scoop cone to Maryland, the first state in the country to serve the frozen dessert (Gov. Thomas Bladen treated his guests to strawberry ice cream in 1744) and to have the nation’s first ice cream factory (by a Baltimore milkman in 1853). All roads lead to creameries, where you can watch farmers milk dairy cows or help feed the next generation of vanilla half-gallons. South Mountain Creamery holds daily feedings at 4 p.m. With the trail’s passport program, receive a stamp at each destination and provide the answer to such questions as “How many dairy farms are in Maryland?” and you could win a $50 gift certificate at the creamery of your choice.
WILL BRAKE FOR Rosé-flavored ice cream at Kilby Cream in Rising Sun and “milking” the robotic recirculating cow at Chesapeake Bay Farms in Pocomoke.
WHAT Maryland Crab & Oyster Trail (more than 350 stops)
TRAIL MIX Grab your plastic bib and wooden mallet for the miles-long and -wide sealife buffet. Several museums and marine centers, such as the Rock Hall Waterman’s Museum and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, teach visitors about the crabbing and oystering industries that have shaped the state’s culture, economy and palate since the 1600s. History goes down easier with a shake of Old Bay seasoning or a splash of mignonette sauce; hit a raw bar or crab shack and learn the art of crab-picking and oyster-slurping.
WILL BRAKE FOR A ride in an oyster buy-boat at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons; crabcakes at the original Stoney’s Seafood House on Broomes Island; pulling up crab pots and oyster tonging on the Waterman’s Heritage Cruise with Fish the Bay Charters in Dameron.
WHAT Monticello Wine Trail (34 stops)
TRAIL MIX Consider it your patriotic duty to visit the birthplace of American wine, where Thomas Jefferson dabbled in viticulture, founding two vineyards at Monticello. Today, nearly three dozen wineries fall within the Monticello American Viticulture Area, the grape-growing region that has about 40 percent of Virginia’s 3,800 acres of vineyards. If you base yourself in Charlottesville, you won’t have to venture more than 25 miles and could even walk between wineries. First Colony Winery and Michael Shaps Wineworks, for example, are only a half-mile apart. When you need a respite from the reds and whites, seek out the purples and grays in the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.
WILL BRAKE FOR The handmade chocolates, including a red-wine-buttercream-center sweet, at Glass House Winery in Free Union; the historical accommodations at Jefferson Vineyards, which grows its grapes on the same site as Jefferson did; and a self-guided tour of the Jefferson-designed mansion, Landmark Ruins, at Barboursville Vineyards in Barboursville.
WHAT Salty Southern Route (more than 50 stops)
TRAIL MIX You won’t find the recommended daily sodium allowance posted on this new trail, which celebrates regional foods that predate the downfall of salt. Settlers feasted on Virginia ham in the 1600s, and the first known commercial peanut crop broke ground in Suffolk in 1842. The multicounty route swings through towns synonymous with salty foods, such as Smithfield with Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, and Suffolk and Planters Peanuts, headed by that nut in the top hat. Build your own backyard salt lick with supplies purchased at such stores as Gurganus Peanut Outlet, the Planters Peanut Center and Taste of Smithfield, the flagship store that sells hams, bacon and 240 flavors of peanuts.
WILL BRAKE FOR A salty selfie with the Mister Peanut statue in Suffolk; the folk art and peanut lore at the Miles B. Carpenter Museum in Waverly; and the maple-frosted doughnuts with bacon sprinkles at Ringo’s Donuts in Smithfield.