Interstate 80 connects two major US cities—San Francisco and Teaneck, New Jersey, right outside New York City—making it a popular and well-traveled route. Though its endpoints are two of the country's coolest destinations, you should not zoom through the middle.
Along the way, you'll pass through Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Omaha, Des Moines, and more. You'll travel across states like Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which are all loaded with offbeat and interesting attractions. Here are some of the coolest things to see and do along I-80.
The interstate starts in San Francisco. The City by the Bay is packed with beauty and culture. Visit hippie capital Haight-Ashbury, the city's legendary Chinatown, or traditional favorites, like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
Not too far away from San Francisco, you'll reach California's capital city, Sacramento. As the capital, it has many cultural attractions, including the Crocker Art Museum, the California Automobile Museum, the Sacramento Zoo, and more. You'll also find interesting historic sites, such as Old Sacramento, Sutter's Fort and the Capitol Building.
10791 E Empire St, Grass Valley, CA, US
Once you leave Sacramento, I-80 takes you toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Here, you'll find the Empire Mine State Historic Park, home to one of the largest and richest mines in California. With over 300 miles of passageway, this mine produced 5.8 million ounces of gold in its 100 years of operation. The park offers tours of historic buildings, hiking trails, and the chance to go down into the shaft of the mine. The coolest feature is the Secret Room, which contains a scale model of the whole mine's underground system.
Virginia St, Reno, NV, US
You'll pass near Reno on I-80, so pull off and, at least, take a picture at the iconic Reno Arch, bearing the city's slogan: "The Biggest Little City In The World." If you want to stay longer, there are plenty of attractions, including the National Automobile Museum, the Fleischmann Planetarium and Science Center, and Wingfield Park. You can also try to strike it rich in the countless casinos.
The Whitney Peak Hotel and the Peppermill Resort Spa and Casino are two stellar options for hotels in Reno, although there are nice casino/resorts all throughout the city.
800 Highway Dr, Imlay, NV, US
On a shoulder of I-80, you'll pass by Thunder Mountain Monument, an outsider art installation. Built by a WWII veteran and self-identified Creek Indian, the structure was meant to serve as a spiritual haven for the hippies of the era. Partially destroyed in 1983, only three of the seven buildings remain, with walls and sculptures made from concrete and found objects. You can take a self-guided tour.
501 Railroad St, Elko, NV, US
For more interesting history along the highway, stop at the Western Folklife Center, which works to preserve the aspects that make the American West so unique. It contains a gallery, museum, and gift shop. If you're lucky, you'll be passing by here during the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which includes a week of performances, workshops, and celebrations.
1045 Wendover Blvd, West Wendover, NV, US
Since you're in Nevada, indulge yourself at the Rainbow Hotel Casino, just off I-80. Luxurious rooms, free WiFi, several onsite restaurants, two pools, a spa, and, of course, a casino, make this a nice place to take a break from driving.
The next city you'll reach if you stay on the interstate is Salt Lake City, Utah. The mountains, forests and namesake lake make for a beautiful natural setting. Science-lovers will appreciate the Clark Planetarium and The Leonardo, a museum that explores the intersection of art, technology, creativity, and science. Cultural offerings include the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and the Utah Museum of Natural History. As the headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City has many sites important to the Mormon faith, including the Gilgal Sculpture Garden, Temple Square, and the Museum of Church History and Art.
If you're looking for a quaint hotel in Salt Lake City, you're in luck, because there are more than a few options here. The Peery Hotel and the Ellerbeck Bed and Breakfast are two excellent choices.
601 Bear River Dr., Evanston, WY, US
Next, I-80 takes you into Wyoming. Just because the state is known for its wide open spaces doesn't mean there aren't plenty of things to see in Wyoming. Get a deep appreciation for the state's landscape at Bear River State Park. With views of the surroundings, a few miles of trails, and a chance to see some Wyoming wildlife (including elk and bison), it's a great place to experience the Wild West.
Po Box 112 37000 Business Loop I 80, Fort Bridger, WY, US
One cool attraction in Wyoming is Fort Bridger. Established in 1843 as a supply stop on the Oregon Trail, Fort Bridger has seen many roadtrippers passing through its gates. Today, the Fort Bridger Historical Association has recreations of the trading post and fort buildings, an archaeological site preserving the remains of the original structures, and a museum.
3 N Main St,, Superior, WY, US
Natural Corrals Archaeological Site is a home to a rugged landscape formed from ancient lava flows. It is dotted with caves, some of which have ice all year round. It's also historically important, as there's evidence that Native Americans used this area for buffalo kills.
I-80, Exit 228, Rawlins, WY, US
Stop by Fort Fred Steele to stretch your legs by walking among the remains of an old military post, built to protect the railroad. Several buildings and interpretive signs and exhibits make this a quick educational stop. You'll also enjoy the beautiful setting in the Wyoming landscape.
975 Snowy Range Rd., Laramie, WY, US
Another interesting historic stop along I-80 is the Wyoming Territorial Prison Museum. Built in 1872, it saw many famous outlaws—including Butch Cassidy—pass through its doors. Walk into the cells, see pictures of old convicts, and learn what life was like for outlaws who weren't able to escape arrest.
Champagne Dr, Warren AFB, WY, US
Located on Wyoming's F.E. Warren Air Force Base, the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and Heritage Museum is a fascinating look into the science and history of ICBMs and the 90th Missile Wing, which operates Minuteman-III missiles across the west. It's all housed in a turn-of-the-century building at the oldest continuously active military installation within the Air Force.
U.S. 26, Lewellen, NE, US
I-80 makes its way into Nebraska next, where you'll find even more natural beauty and interesting history. From Apache Indians to the Oregon Trail, Ash Hollow State Historical site is loaded with fascinating stories from the past. It's not hard to see why Native Americans chose to settle here, as it has caves for shelter and abundant wildlife. The park's Windlass Hill was notoriously difficult for emigrants on the Oregon/California Trail.
1249 North Homestead Rd, NE, North Platte, NE, US
Union Pacific Railroad's Bailey Yard manages 10,000 rail road cars every single day on its 2,850 acre spread. The Golden Spike Tower's observation decks provide the best views of the world's largest train yard. Tour the visitor center to learn about the crucial role railroads played in American history.
606 Heartland Rd, Lexington, NE, US
The Heartland Military Museum has a huge collection of military vehicles that is incredibly impressive, with helicopters, jeeps, tanks, and more—some of which you can climb inside.. You'll also find displays of weapons, uniforms, and equipment.
3600 E Hwy 30, Kearney, NE, US
Kearney's Classic Car Collection is an ever-growing display of vintage cars from across history. Even if you don't know much about automobiles, you can appreciate the details and aesthetic of these retro beauties.
358 Bluff Rd, Seward, NE, US
Seward is home to the World's Largest Time Capsule. It's a 20-foot by 8-foot by 6-foot concrete vault filled with 5,000 objects from the town's history, all donated by its citizens. Rumor has it that there's even a car inside. It was dedicated in 1975 and is set to be open in 2025, but in the meantime, you can check out the memorial and ponder what might be within.
Omaha is the next big city you'll pass through while on I-80. Explore the Heartland Park of America or the Lewis and Clark Landing, check out the Durham Museum, housed in a 1931 train station, or visit the renowned Henry Doorly Zoo. And, while you're in cattle country, be sure to grab a steak. The Drover Restaurant and Lounge has been an Omaha institution for over 30 years.
There are plenty of great hotels in Omaha. The Magnolia and Hotel Deco are luxurious options.
There's no bad time of year to road trip along I-80. Snow might make traveling a little tougher in the winter, closing some attractions and slowing down your drive, but there are enough big cities along the way and other travelers on the highway, ensuring something will always be open.