They move us through the world, but automobiles play an even more significant role in our daily lives and culture.
More than simply a mode of transportation, a car can be a form of self-expression, a marker of social and economic status, and a reflection of the times. Dating back to the 15th century when Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci was creating designs and models for the world's first self-propelled vehicle, the automobile has a rich history that can't be traced to a single inventor or point in time. From steam, electric, and gasoline vehicles, as well as countless styles, makes, and models—the world has seen many iterations of the car.
They've played a pivotal role in shaping American culture and have particularly been used as forms of self-expression and a way to build camaraderie and belonging in communities of color.
A quick drive through predominantly Latino, Black, or Japanese American communities in Los Angeles will open your eyes to a world of elaborate paint jobs and the over-the-top hydraulics of the lowrider car clubs that have served as a cultural touchstone for these folks.
Smithsonian Magazine tracks lowriding in L.A. to the 1940s when car culture began developing in the U.S., particularly in Southern California where people were adapting to a "postwar urban landscape," in which cars were more necessary to get around broadening cities.
But the Latino community and their lowriders—typically consisting of Chevrolet Impalas, old school Fords, and vintage Cadillacs, among other types of cars—isn't the only prominent car subculture around. Japanese American auto enthusiasts have also played pivotal roles within the car scene since the 20th century, especially in Southern California.
In Los Angeles around the 1970s, Japanese American cruisers would roll out their freshly detailed vehicles and descend on the annual Nisei Week Festival, according to the Japanese American National Museum.
Cars have not only helped us go from point A to point B, but they have been cultural touchstones in society, which is why car-centric destinations may also provide unique insight into the history and making of the United States of America.
To help aid car enthusiasts, CoPilot scoured news articles, tourism sites, social media platforms, and the web to compile this list of travel destinations for people who love cars. Admission prices are subject to change, so please check their websites for the latest information.
Head over to Reno to peruse through a collection of more than 200 cars at the National Automobile Museum, displayed amid lifelike facades and artifacts from their respective time periods. Recognized as one of the 10 best automobile museums in the U.S. by Galerie magazine, the Reno car museum opened up in 1989 from the seed of gaming mogul Bill Harrah's car collection.
Split into four galleries, the museum features cars built in the 1890s and onward. Car lovers will get a glimpse of different exhibits, including celebrity automobiles owned by Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and John F. Kennedy. Exhibits include the 1907 Thomas Flyer car, which won a race from New York to Paris in 1908, and a medley of speedy cars that have raced competitively on places like the roads of Mexico and the manicured tracks of Indianapolis.
Admission costs $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $10 for youth.
The Zimmerman Automobile Driving Museum is a hidden gem you won't want to miss. The museum, which boasts over 130 antique, vintage, and hot rods, is a one-of-a-kind experience as you can actually sit inside some of the classic beauties on display.
If that's not enough, the museum hosts weekly Sunday Rides where they are able to ride alongside the museum's drivers around town. Car lovers can also rent a vintage automobile from the museum for film shoots, photo shoots, weddings, or private events.
Admission or suggested donations to the museum are also fairly affordable at $5 for children over 10, seniors for $10, and adults for $15.
Savoy Automobile Museum in Cartersville, Georgia, opened in December 2021 and has since drawn flocks of car lovers from around the world to ogle at the four-wheeled beauties housed in here.
Located on a nearly 40-acre property, the Savoy Automobile Museum features four galleries for temporary exhibitions and a fifth gallery for its permanent holdings. Called the Savoy Collection, the permanent collection houses a 1932 Buick Model 67, a 1939 Lincoln Zephyr, a 1955 Willys Bermuda, and a 1967 AMC Marlin, among others.
Other rotating exhibitions through 2024 include the evolution of Bigfoot, an automobile that started life as a 1974 Ford F-250 pickup and eventually morphed into other large-size creations; an exhibit on Tatra, a Czech vehicle manufacturer founded in 1850, produced in collaboration with the Lane Motor Museum in Tennessee; and a showcase of TV producer Bryan Fuller's unique custom car and motorcycle builds over 20 years.
The one-story Savoy Automobile Museum, which easily accommodates wheelchairs, costs $15 for general admission and $5 for youth.
Over the beautiful coast of Monterey County in California, automobile fans gather each year for the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Since 1950, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance has been a highlight. It was first a social event associated with the Pebble Beach Road Races, which ended in 1956.
Today, it is a flagship event of Pebble Beach Automotive Week. During the event, car collectors gather on the 18th hole of the Pebble Beach Golf Links and vie for the title of Best of Show. Judges critique their vehicles based on elegance, technical merit, and history.
Other events and showcases on the grounds include the Pebble Beach Motoring Classic and the Pebble Beach Retroauto. The Pebble Beach Motoring Classic is an annual road trip of about 1,500 miles as proud car owners drive down the Pacific coast to finish at the Concours d'Elegance. Meanwhile, the Pebble Beach Retroauto is a show of collectibles and memorabilia for past auto eras, as well as art and luxury items.
Tickets for the event are available months in advance and will be released in November 2023, but prices are typically close to $500 and increase the closer one gets to the event date.
The Martin Auto Museum in Glendale, Arizona, was founded in 2005 by owner Mel Martin, an expert mechanic who can also fix the cars in the collection.
The museum features over 160 vehicles and hosts a large collection of auto memorabilia, antique gas pumps, and signage. Its building also has three rooms for special events. Events booked will have access to the museum's carousel, game room, and outdoor patio.
Considered a nonprofit organization, the museum asks guests for a $10 donation.
Located in Los Angeles along Miracle Mile, the Petersen Automotive Museum is just as stunning and grand outside as it is inside, where it displays over 400 vehicles. One of the world's largest automotive museums, it features over 100,000 square feet of space. It chronicles the evolution of automotive engineering achievements and its impact on American culture over the past 120 years.
Whether you're into vintage and old school cars, are more of an Ecto-1 aficionado, or prefer the big bucks cars like Ferrari and Bugatti, there's something at this museum for everyone.
Museumgoers can view different iterations of Teslas to date, famous cars from film and television like the 1989 Batmobile, and Porsche cars from the 1950s onwards.
Admission costs $19.95 for adults and $12.95 for youth.
More experience-oriented travelers who prefer being behind the wheel may consider the Bonneville Salt Flats International Raceway in Tooele County, Utah. The flats formed thousands of years ago when Lake Bonneville covered most of Utah. As the large lake drained, it left the Great Salt Lake by Salt Lake City and the Bonneville Salt Flats behind.
The Salt Flats were a hard surface that went on for miles, perfect for racing, according to Autoweek. Vehicles on the flats could reach up to 600 miles per hour.
In recent years, however, the salt on the flats has been reduced to a fraction of the thickness it was at its peak. Consequently, the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association has canceled its World of Speed event two consecutive years since 2022. However, if you're in the area, people can still scope out the area and imagine the cars racing on the Salt Flats.
Ready for an adventure that'll last more than a few hours at a museum? Buckle up for Land Rover's Rock Crawl in Utah. Expert Land Rover instructors will guide you through an incredible Moab desert landscape as you partake in desert off-roading from behind the wheel of Land Rover vehicles.
The four-day excursion begins with a stay at the Red Cliffs Lodge, where you'll meet others who have signed up for the same adventure. Over the next two days, explorers will see breathtaking rock formations and sloping rock layers that will test their driving skills. The final day is for rest. Explorers can trade wheels for horseback—or a bit of TLC.
Over 300 award-winning and historic vehicles dating back from 1909 are on view at Klairmont Kollections Automotive Museum in Chicago. The museum was founded by World War II veteran and entrepreneur Larry Klairmont, whose passion for cars started as early as 5 years old. Some vehicles on view are a 1906 American Motors Tourist and a 1924 Pierce-Arrow Series 33.
Nestled halfway between Chicago O'Hare Airport and downtown, the car museum is ideal for travelers visiting out of town and locals looking to explore their backyard.
Adult entry costs $21.95, senior admission $19.75, and youth tickets $15. But if you're coming with the whole family, the museum also offers a discount admission package for $49.95.
Much like many car museums, LeMay - America's Car Museum began as Harold and Nancy LeMay's personal collection, which eventually grew to 2,400 vehicles. Harold LeMay, founder of Washington state's largest trash removal companies, generously opened his collection to the public once a year, drawing as many as 10,000 people even without advertising.
After his passing in 2000, plans were made for the 165,000-square-foot museum, which opened in 2011. MSN named the attraction one of the world's 10 best automotive museums.
The museum includes exhibitions on NASCAR history, custom coaches from the 1930s, and British cars that came to the United States from World War II through the 1960s. Adults pay $22 for admission, seniors $20, and youth $16.
Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn.
This story originally appeared on CoPilot and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.