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Culture

7 of the Best Culinary Trails Across the U.S.

By Cynthia Barnes
Read time: 5 minutes

Food brings together the history, culture, and geography of a place — from the farmers and others who produce the raw materials to the people who create the delicious finished products. Culinary trails are an excellent way to explore an area, walking or wheeling from one highlight to another, savoring a new favorite food or drink at every tasty spot. Here are seven of the best culinary trails across the U.S. that are sure to whet your appetite.

Bourbon Trail – Kentucky

Sign for Four Roses Distillery along Kentucky's Bourbon Trail
Credit: karenfoleyphotography/ Alamy Stock Photo

The Bluegrass State is the home of bourbon, the distinctly American spirit created when settlers in the late 1700s distilled whiskey from corn and aged it in charred oak barrels. Baptist minister Elijah Craig is often credited with crafting the first batch; although some sources dispute that claim, he did open a distillery in Georgetown, Kentucky, 1789. 

Today, Kentucky bourbon is prized throughout the world. Hire a designated driver and build your own tour of the state’s famous distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, stopping in at iconic outposts like Angel’s Envy and Woodford Reserve. Then, enjoy a day in the capital meandering along Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail, a curated collection of bars and restaurants featuring flights, cocktails, rare pours and bourbon-friendly cuisine. Check in at six participating locations, and you’ll earn an official Urban Bourbon Trailblazer T-shirt — the perfect souvenir from your sipping trip.

Potato Trail – Idaho 

Giant potato statue in front of Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho
Credit: Diane Modafferi/ Alamy Stock Photo

Few foods are as versatile as the humble potato, and Idaho is one of the world’s biggest producers, growing 11 million pounds each year. To honor its spuds, the capital city created the Boise Potato Trail, and a potato-centric passport guides you from one carby culinary experience to the next. Try potato doughnuts, truffle fries, and even potato candy bars. Still haven’t had enough potatoes? Spend the night in the Big Potato Hotel in Boise and stop in Blackfoot to visit the Idaho Potato Museum & Potato Station Cafe.

Buffalo Wing Trail – New York

Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, where Buffalo wings were invented
Credit: James Schwabel/ Alamy Stock Photo

Chicken wing aficionados will want to make a pilgrimage to the home of one of America’s favorite snacks, the Buffalo wing. The Super Bowl staple was invented right here in western New York in 1964. According to legend, a cook at the Anchor Bar tossed a batch into the fryer and served them up with hot sauce, accompanied by celery and carrot sticks and a side of blue cheese dressing. These days, Buffalo proudly directs poultry-hungry visitors (and locals) to the Buffalo Wing Trail, where 13 purveyors serve up the delicacy that’s become synonymous with the city.

Tenderloin Lovers Trail – Indiana

Plate of deep-fried pork cutlet in Indiana along Tenderloin Trail
Credit: The Washington Post via Getty Images

In the pork-producing Hoosier State, the deep-fried pork cutlet is always bigger than the bun — sometimes as big as a plate! What started as a riff on German schnitzel is now a Midwestern favorite, and you can find the belly-buster all across the state by following the Tenderloin Lovers Trail. Nick’s Kitchen near Fort Wayne claims to have invented the sandwich, but it’s particularly popular in Hamilton County, which also has its own tenderloin trail. Want to make your own? Here’s a Hoosier-approved recipe, sure to set your taste buds tingling.

Cheese Trail – California

Cows grazing on rolling hills in California
Credit:  Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle/ Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

From El Centro along the state’s southern border to Crescent City up north near Oregon, California is covered in craft producers making fine artisanal cheeses. If beautiful scenery and delicious cheese are your idea of a good time, look no further than California’s Cheese Trails, which take curd lovers on dairy adventures all across the state. Goat, sheep, cow, even water buffalo — if it’s milk, there’s a California producer converting it into tasty cheese. The trail has nine loops, from seven to 125 miles in length, and includes 77 creameries from across the state. In Marin County north of San Francisco, don’t miss a stop at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, while in Wine Country, you’ll find many vintages perfect for pairing with your cheese.

Gas Station Eats – Louisiana

Trucks parked at rest stop in southern Louisiana
Credit: Gordon Steward/ Alamy Stock Photo

From po’boys to boudin (a rice and pork sausage), Cajuns take their food very seriously. In a narrow strip of southwestern Louisiana known as “No Man’s Land,” some of the best offerings can be found in gas stations, convenience stores, and small grocers. Stretching across 450 miles and seven parishes, the Gas Station Eats Trail highlights all the tastiest places to stop and snack. Foodies are encouraged to feast from carryout containers loaded with local goodies like tamales, catfish, King cake, and meat pies — all regional specialties that will stick to your ribs and keep a smile on your face.

Ale & Spirits Trail – New Mexico

Santa Fe Brewing Company taproom and rooftop bar in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Credit: Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal/ ZUMA Press, Inc./ Alamy Stock Photo

The Land of Enchantment was home to the Pueblo peoples long before conquistador Don Francisco Vasques de Coronado claimed the “Kingdom of New Mexico” for Spain in 1540. Santa Fe County is home to the oldest church, house, and government seat in the continental United States — and exploring all that history can work up a powerful thirst. 

Quench it along the Ale & Spirits Trail, which winds through New Mexico’s historic mining and railroad towns. Lift a pint at Santa Fe Brewing Company (the state’s first and biggest craft beer brewery), which has several taprooms across the state, and at the Legal Tender Saloon and Eating House in Lamy, which has been open since the late 19th century. New Mexico is also the nation’s oldest wine region, dating back to the 1600s. Toast that with a flute of sparkling Methode Champenoise bubbly at Gruet, which has tasting rooms in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

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