The United States has spawned countless music genres, artists, classic songs and thriving music scenes across the country. Explore our vibrant musical past and present using these itineraries through the Southeast, Pacific Northwest and California.
Nashville to New Orleans
212 miles from Nashville to Memphis, then 395 miles to New Orleans
Start in Nashville, which has too many country-music landmarks to name. Even if your time is limited, make sure you hit the Johnny Cash Museum, Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry. When hunger strikes, get in line at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack (expect a wait), or get back in the car and drive 20 minutes out of town to the Loveless Cafe, a Southern dining staple dating back to the 1950s. Before leaving town, swing by Historic RCA Studio B, where Elvis recorded more than 260 tracks.
Can’t get enough Elvis? Memphis awaits! Head down Interstate 40 to Graceland and set aside a few hours to properly explore Elvis’ sprawling mansion, which was turned into a museum in 1982. Then drive back into the heart of downtown, where the blues music scene thrives along famous Beale Street. Grab a bite at Central BBQ a few blocks away on Butler Street—because there’s nothing like some down-home ribs paired with down-home music.
Get up early—it’s almost 400 miles down Interstate 55 to New Orleans. Bourbon Street is the hottest spot in town, with no shortage of live jazz, strong coffee and warm beignets. A cemetery tour makes for a nice quiet break—St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 is the oldest in the city, filled with macabre, voodoo-inspired vaults. Then wend your way back to Congo Square, dedicated to native son Louis Armstrong and considered the true epicenter of jazz. Set aside time for gumbo and jambalaya—locals swear by Langlois on Pauger, right in the heart of the French Quarter. Bon appétit!
Seattle to Portland
174 miles from Seattle to Portland
The drive from Seattle to Portland is short, but you’ll want to set aside plenty of time for exploring, since these 2 cities are both pivotal in recent music history. Starting in Seattle, head to the EMP (Experience Music Project), a museum that focuses on the indie pop-culture scene. Exhibits include in-depth studies of music icons such as Jimi Hendrix, who was born here (and is honored with a statue on Broadway and Pine streets). Hit the famed Crocodile Cafe for a bite and a show; it’s home to excellent wood-fired pizza, and it has played host to bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and Mudhoney.
Get up early, procure some of Seattle’s world-famous coffee (try Victrola on Pike Street, known for keeping locals properly caffeinated), and then hop onto Interstate 5 for a 3-hour jaunt to Portland. Head to Tasty n Sons for brunch, then explore the vinyl scene. Music Millennium isn’t just the oldest music store in Portland—it’s the oldest in the entire Pacific Northwest, dating back to 1969. Meanwhile, Crossroads Music offers up a truly eclectic catalog, and Mississippi Records has one of the best inventories of old-time gospel, blues and folk.
After perusing the records, you’re probably up for some live music again. First, grab dinner—try St. Jack for rustic French cuisine, or Lardo for sandwich fare. Then head to the Aladdin for a sit-down theater experience. Another only-in-Portland option is Mississippi Studios, where you can catch live shows in a converted church—a truly spiritual experience, acoustically speaking. And the wine and scotch menu at BarBar next door? That’s a spiritual experience of an entirely different kind!
Los Angeles to San Francisco
70 miles from Los Angeles to Ventura, another 34 miles to Santa Barbara, 259 miles to Santa Cruz, and 75 miles to San Francisco
Start the weekend with a Friday-night show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. This nightclub is best known as a mainstay of the 1960s folk scene, but it has remained a popular venue through decades of shifting musical trends.
Buckle up and head north for an hour on Highway 101 to Ventura. Stroll through the lively downtown, which is home to coffee shops, restaurants, antique stores and, of course, live music venues. Then hit the road for half an hour longer to Santa Barbara, home to another vibrant downtown and a gorgeous beachside bike and pedestrian path. From there, wend your way to the heart of downtown along State Street and stop at the SoHo Restaurant and Music Club for dinner and a show.
Travel up Highway 101 for about 4 hours to Santa Cruz, one of the hippest cities in the state. Swing by Linda’s Seabreeze Cafe for brunch, then hit the record stores Metavinyl and Streetlight Records. But don’t linger, because you’re headed an hour and a half farther north to San Francisco, the mother ship of the mid-20th-century counterculture. Many music lovers worship at The Chapel, a converted mortuary that hosts a truly eclectic roster of artists and bands. If the Chapel’s evening act isn’t your thing, head to the Bottom of the Hill, where new acts often get their big breaks. Or let the city be your amphitheater: The buskers along Fisherman’s Wharf keep pedestrians’ toes tapping as the sun sets beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, making for a melodic end to the day.
Need a rental for your road trip? Save money when you reserve a vehicle using one of SEIU Member Benefits’ car rental discounts.