FAIRFIELD, Conn. (CNN/Money) -
One of my favorite autumn drives is U.S. Highway 1 through New England, where it hugs the southern coasts of Connecticut and Rhode Island, then swings up through Providence and Boston, and then follows the coastlines of northern Massachusetts, southeastern New Hampshire, and eastern Maine.
It's a great drive -- the water is always nearby, and the New England countryside makes for excellent foliage sightseeing. U.S. 1 also offers a near-endless parade of classic old-school commercial architecture. As is the case with many of the old U.S. highways, U.S. 1 was once lined with businesses that catered to travelers, but the travelers are now more likely to take the Interstates, so the businesses and attractions that have survived tend to be special places with strong community roots.
Here are some of the better ones, running from south to north, along with another good stop or two along the way:
Super Duper Weenie
306 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield, Connecticut
Gary Zemola is a rarity: A classically trained chef who spends his time making hot dogs. But not just any hot dogs -- Zemola uses premium franks and buns, makes his own relish, and hand-cuts his own fries to order. It's as close to gourmet as this type of food gets, and it reminds you just how good a hot dog can be. Just don't try to order a diet soda -- Zemola doesn't have any on his menu. "You want diet? Go to Joe's Salad Bar," he sneers. "There's no diet here!"
Route 1 Miniature Golf
1575 Broadway, Saugus, Massachusetts
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As one book puts it, "there are scores of miniature golf courses along U.S. 1, but there's only one U.S. 1 Miniature Golf." With a spectacular neon sign out front and a giant orange dinosaur (named Nick, after the original owner) visible from nearby streets, it's one of those great retro places where time seems to have stood still since the 1950s. Nostalgia aside, it's also a fine mini golf course, with every hole featuring a hill, a moving obstacle, a blind turn, or some similarly challenging obstruction.
969 Portland Road, Saco, Maine
Drive-in movie theaters have become an endangered species across America. This one, which opened in 1939, is the second-oldest operating drive-in theater in America. No car speakers -- you get the audio on your car radio -- but in most other respects this is a classic drive-in, and the owners ratchet up the fun by playing a bunch of old, hilariously cheesy movie trailers in between the features. If you've forgotten how much fun it can be to watch a drive-in movie, here's a great place to get reacquainted.
The Big Chicken Barn
U.S. 1, Ellsworth, Maine
If you're looking for something to read while passing time in the passenger seat, head to the Big Chicken Barn. One of America's finest antiquarian bookstores, the shop covers over 21,000 square feet and features over 100,000 books and 10,000 magazines. The Barn also has a large collection of antiques and collectibles, so you can find a treasure to commemorate your trip.
Acadia National Park
Route 3, Bar Harbor, Maine
Is all that roadside kitsch is starting to take its toll on you? If so, Acadia National Park will provide you with a much-needed dose of real, live nature. Located just off the coast of Maine on Mount Desert Island and several smaller islands clustered nearby, Acadia's 46,000 acres feature 325 species of birds, nearly half of which nest in the park, making it one of New England's prime bird-watching spots. Birds of prey and migratory songbirds are particularly common in the fall. The beautifully unspoiled grounds are among America's most gorgeous wilderness areas, and 57 miles of unpaved trails make for great hiking. Other highlights include the Jordan Pond House (an excellent restaurant on the park grounds), the Thunder Hole (a magnificent tidal cavern), and Cadillac Mountain (a hilltop scenic lookout that offers an unbeatable view of the park and the Maine coastline). Don't miss it!