Tourist trails are an easy way to share the best a place offers; they lead to a region’s best foods, best spirits and best sites. Some trails feature signature products, like Wisconsin cheese, while others distill the best stops for Kentucky bourbon into an easy-to-navigate collection. On the California Missions Trail, visitors can trace the path of settlers in the 1700s, and Boston’s Freedom Trail allows guests to walk in the footsteps of our nation’s founders.
California Missions Trail
California’s first Catholic mission was founded in July 1769 in present-day San Diego, and its last was established in 1823 in what is now Sonoma. All 21 of the state’s missions are roughly located along U.S. Highway 101 between San Diego and San Francisco.
Of the 21 missions on the California Missions Trail, only three are managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation; the rest are still under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church, which means many still hold Mass or other religious celebrations, for example, Christmastime Las Posadas processions at the 1787 La Purisima Mission in Lompoc.
La Purisima is “about as close as you’ll get to what it was like in the 1700s,” said Dennis Weber, a spokesman for the state parks department. La Purisima, which was rebuilt by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, is surrounded by open space, and visitors can explore its 37 furnished rooms. Groups can also watch living-history demonstrations on candle making and weaving, visit the animals in the barnyard and explore the gardens.
Each mission has its “own little thing going on,” Weber said. Some missions are little more than ruins; others are mostly intact or fully restored; but all are accessible by car or bus. At San Juan Bautista State Historic Park, visitors will find the 1797 San Juan Bautista mission, as well as several preserved 1800s buildings, around the town square.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail
To the uninitiated, bourbon culture may seem a bit staid. After all, some of Kentucky’s biggest bourbon names have been distilling for a couple of centuries. Woodford Reserve started distilling on its site outside Versailles in 1780, Jim Beam started producing whiskey bourbon in 1795, and Four Roses has been around since the late 1800s.
But there are a lot of new things happening in Kentucky’s bourbon scene, and that’s reflected on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which has grown to feature 10 member distilleries in areas between and around Louisville and Lexington. That growth can also be seen — and sipped — on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, which started with seven stops and now has 13, “and will probably be at 18 next year,” said Adam Johnson, senior director of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Experiences.
“New brands are trying to get out there, and older brands are creating new experiences,” he said.
Angel’s Envy Distillery and the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery are recent additions in Louisville. All the large distilleries offer tours, although it’s best for groups to contact the facilities in advance or plan to visit on a weekday. Some of the craft distilleries may be too small for very large groups, but the “craft guys may be able to spend more time with a group,” he said. Planners can always call Kentucky Bourbon Trail Experiences to get help narrowing their options.
Great Wisconsin Cheese Trail
In Wisconsin, cheese “is our history,” said Kristina LeVan, public relations coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. Immigrants from around the world settled in the state and brought their cultures — pun intended — with them.
“It’s not just enjoying cheese; it’s part of who we are,” LeVan said.
The Great Wisconsin Cheese Trail features more than two dozen stops, and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board offers a free map that highlights 169 dairies, creameries and cheese factories around the state. Options range from large, long-standing cheese producers to smaller, newer craft creameries.
Alp and Dell Cheese Store in Monroe made the 2016 World’s Best Cheese: the Roth Grand Cru. The factory typically introduces up to five new cheeses a year but specializes in Gruyere, Fontina, Havarti, Gouda and Butter Kase. Visitors can watch cheese being made in the viewing hall as part of a self-guided tour or arrange for a guided tour.
Carr Valley Cheese has eight locations in the state, including two factories with stores and stand-alone retail locations. The factory in La Valle offers visitors the best show, and the store in Sauk City includes a cooking school with a test kitchen.
About 45 minutes west of Madison, visitors can watch cheesemakers at work at Arena Cheese and arrange for a narrative of the process. Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery in Ellsworth offers more than 280 cheeses at the store, although the co-op is best known for its curds.
Boston’s famous Freedom Trail is only 2.5 miles long, but it covers 250 years. The trail highlights 16 sites where the foundation and future of America were shaped, among them the Old South Meeting House, the Old State House, Boston Common, Faneuil Hall and the Paul Revere House.
The most popular option is the 90-minute Walk Into History tour, which features 11 of the trail’s 16 sites. A three-hour group tour covers all 16 sites, although visitors don’t go inside all of them. Both tours are led by costumed Freedom Trail Players, who talk about the history and significance of each stop.
At Old North Church, travelers can explore two recently added living-history areas in the Clough House. Guests can taste how Colonial-era people enjoyed chocolate, including sipping the same cocoa concoction John and Abigail Adams drank, at Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop. Visitors can also watch a master printer operate a 1700s printing press at the Printing Office of Edes and Gill. Groups can request a variety of themed tours, such as the Pirates and Patriots tour, the African-American Patriots tour, the Revolutionary Women tour and lantern tours. The Historic Pub Crawl includes beer tastings at four historic pubs on the Blackstone Block, and through this fall, groups can see the USS Constitution, aka Old Ironsides, in dry dock as it is being restored.
Mississippi Blues Highway
Clarksdale is, arguably, the heart of the Mississippi Blues Highway. After all, it was at the crossroads of U.S. highways 61 and 49 that legend says Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical genius — a legend that has helped Clarksdale become the de facto hub along the Blues Highway.
After paying homage at the famous crossroads marker, visitors can visit Cat Head to find out about upcoming shows and browse folk art. At the Delta Blues Museum, groups can learn about other blues legends, such as Son House and Muddy Waters; the museum even has the remains of a log cabin where Muddy Waters lived when he was a sharecropper and a tractor driver for Stovall Plantation. Groups can drive by Stovall, a few miles outside of town.
The Ground Zero Blues Club and the Hopson Plantation Commissary are standbys for live blues. The Hopson is next to the Shack Up Inn, a collection of historic sharecropper shacks turned into a funky hotel. Clarksdale is also home to the annual Juke Joint Festival in April and the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in August.
The Gateway to the Blues Museum opened in early 2015 in Tunica. Housed in an old train depot, the museum has a recording studio where guests can write and record their own blues songs. In Greenwood, visitors can stop at Johnson’s gravesite at Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church.