As the country opens up again and most lingering restrictions from the pandemic are revoked, some folks might remain leery of hopping on increasingly crowded airplanes. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a weekend away, though: Stick with a road trip and you can explore your own backyard for a memorable vacation, either this summer or later in the year.
We took five of the country’s major hubs and found four weekend getaway ideas for each; all easily accessible detours. Read on for the best weekend getaways around the U.S., along with tips for where to stay and what to do while you’re there.
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From Los Angeles
Death Valley, California
Come here to hike land carved out hundreds of thousands of years ago, just a 3.5 hour drive from L.A. It was Bill Clinton who officially rebooted this national monument as a park; President Trump added an additional 35,000 acres to the site, a rare conservation boost under his tenure. It’s a landmark of North American extremes, claiming the hottest spot in America (the mercury topped out at 134 degrees in 1913), the lowest spot (Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level) and arguably one of the kitschiest (the oversized thermometer in Baker claims to be the world’s tallest). You can camp inside the park proper or opt for some indulgence at twin resorts, the just-renovated Oasis and Ranch at Death Valley.
Santa Barbara, California
Take the two-hour drive from L.A. and step back a few decades into California’s golden past. Stearns Wharf is a classic oceanfront pier at the end of State Street, the oldest wooden wharf in the state: There are fortune tellers, a marine center, souvenir shops, and endless scoops of ice cream. Idle here at the end of the day for the best sunset views, or head back to a waterfront suite at the Rosewood Miramar Beach nearby. In the morning, explore Casa del Herrero—an 11-acre homestead built in 1925, now a museum and one of the state’s best Spanish Colonial Revival homes. Take in a movie, too; this is where the Film Manufacturing Company (known as Flying A), California’s first major film studio, was founded in 1910.
Paso Robles, California
Just 20 years ago, there were about 50 wineries in and around this charming small town just over three hours from LA; now there are more than 300, and the area’s becoming more widely known for its fine Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels. The self-guided tour run by the Paso Wine Country Alliance is the quickest way to zip between vineyards, but it’s worth hiring local guide Coy Barnes, aka the Wine Wrangler, to drive you for the day if you’re keen to quaff at every tasting room. Some rooms at the Paso Robles Inn have hot tubs on their balconies (a nod to the town’s origins as a spa center) fed by water piped in from nearby hot springs.
San Diego, California
Beaches and green spaces are the defining assets of San Diego, two hours south of L.A. There’s the 1,750-acre Torrey Pines State Reserve—kayak through the wetlands for an up-close view—and a namesake golf course with two 18-hole championship courses perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific; stay at the Arts & Crafts-style Lodge at Torrey Pines, right by the 18th green. San Diego has 75 miles of coastline, featuring plenty of noteworthy beaches studded with surfers—hit Moonlight State Beach if you want to hit the water, rent fishing gear, or snap a shot with the iconic Hotel Del Coronado as a backdrop from Coronado Beach. And even if it’s beach weather, don’t forget: This is the Christmas Capital of America.
Saugatuck and its surroundings in Southwest Michigan have recently attracted newcomers because of a focus on the state’s extraordinary produce (Michigan is second only to California in agricultural diversity). Drive two hours to eat at the delicious, diner-like Pennyroyal Café from chef Melissa Corey, or taste some of the estate-grown vintages at Modales Wines. Then, take a bracing hike to the top of Mount Baldhead for spectacular views. All that plus the perennial bonus of gleaming beaches, charming all-American coastal towns, and the best sundowner spots in the state overlooking the lush waters of Lake Michigan.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
It might be three hours north of the city, but a trip here is like stepping decades into the past for a miles-long strip of world-class water parks. The Dells emerged as a family-friendly destination in the 1950s and has changed little since then. The best known fun fest is the Kalahari, with its Master Blaster uphill water coasters plus an outdoor lazy river, but purists vouch for nearby Noah’s Ark, with the largest number of water slides in the area. There are outdoorsy options for an adrenaline-powered weekend, too, like the six-acre zip-line-filled Chula Vista Resort park. Just save room for some cheese curds—the best come from Carr Valley.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Just 90 minutes north of Chicago is the Midwest’s answer to the Hamptons or Newport, made famous by the iconic families that helped build the Windy City (think Wrigley and Sears). The waterfront offers public access for more than 20 miles thanks to an early treaty that ring-fenced the Shore Path from any development. Otherwise, expect ritzy Gilded Age mansions and over-the-top hotels like the magnificent Queen Anne-style Black Point Estate and Gardens, now a museum, or the turreted Baker House, ranked one of the town’s best hotels. Don’t assume it’s solely a warm-weather destination, though: Winterfest in January and February is a charming, less-trafficked option than midsummer.
Door County, Wisconsin
Much like Cape Cod curls into the Atlantic, this 75-mile peninsula juts into Lake Michigan like a raised finger, and it shares much with its New England counterpart. First emerging as an artsy summer colony, it has sandy, family-friendly beaches—more than 50 public ones—and 300 miles of shore line. Come to County to amble around its galleries, or hike around the 14 miles of trails quilting its eastern tip in Whitefish Dunes. Make this a long weekend, as it’s almost a four-hour drive from Chicago, and don’t leave without making a pilgrimage to the Swedish restaurant Al Johnson’s, famous for the herd of goats grazing on its grassy roof.
From Washington, D.C.
An hour and a quarter northwest from D.C., Boonsboro combines natural wonders with a sobering role in American history. Explore the stalactite-crusted Crystal Grottoes here—the Fairyland cave’s red tinge is thanks to iron oxide—or go whitewater rafting and tubing in the waters near Harpers Ferry. Then squeeze in a trip to the site of Antietam, the bloodiest battle on U.S. soil where 23,000 Civil War soldiers were killed or wounded in just 12 hours’ fighting in 1862; go sooner rather than later though, as the visitor’s center will shutter midsummer for refurbishment. Planning a romantic weekend? Nowhere better to overnight than Inn Boonsboro, owned by novelist Nora Roberts, where each of the eight rooms is named after a fictional couple, like The Princess Bride’s Westley and Buttercup.
It might only be a 20-minute drive—or just a hop on the metro—but this historic town still feels like a getaway and consistently ranks among the top five small cities in the country in Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards. It’s easy to see why: Historic architecture and cobbled streets are a glimpse back past the American Revolution to European settlers’ earliest days. Board the replica 18th-century, 110-foot sloop Providence, a Pirates of the Caribbean prop now moored here as a museum, or head to the Del Ray neighborhood for an assortment of street art that shows the city isn’t simply resting on the past. Stay at the Alexandrian, an Autograph Collection hotel right in the center of Old Town that overlooks the river from National Harbor.
Discover the secret to perfect shoofly pie–a molasses-powered dessert is one of the staples of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking–in Lancaster. The community was first settled in the early 1700s, and you can still pick up root beer, pickles, and pies at roadside stalls dotting the region, or at the town’s Central Market. This area also played a pivotal role in the Underground Railroad—book a tour with historian Randolph Harris to learn more about its abolitionist past. The best perches to sleep are undoubtedly either this gorgeous, A-frame house a short drive out of town, or this countrified cottage on Mill Creek.
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
It’s a long drive—around six hours—but the payoff is more than worth it thanks to the astonishing views and bracing air of the Outer Banks. The 70-mile-long National Seashore here was the first in the country, and is anchored by the landmark Bodie Island lighthouse; the tallest in the US with more than 200 stairs, it should reopen for climbing later this summer, after renovations on its interior. Head to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum for a glimpse as to why these waters earned that nickname—more than 600 shipwrecks caused by treacherous, shifting shoals. Then again, with the right captain, you can brave those waters yourself on a fishing charter that can easily reach the Gulf Stream. The choice hotel is the charming Inn on Pamlico Sound; wake up with its seaside view, and you’ll understand how worthwhile it is to splurge on a sound-front room.
Allow two hours to cut across the tip of Florida to its west coast for the hushed, moneyed enclave of Naples. This is a glimpse of the state a century or so ago, full of wealthy snowbirds living in luxurious Mediterranean-Revival mansions on large estates downtown. Channel your inner multimillionaire in a suite at the Naples Grande, with its huge rooms, oversized balconies, and a lovely, hidden beach nearby. This is still a working port, despite the designer boutiques around town, so the seafood and fish are superb: Try the oysters and crab at the waterside Dock at Crayton Cove.
St. Petersburg, Florida
Is there anywhere that captures the essence of Florida more completely than St. Pete; relaxed, rimmed by gorgeous beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, and resolutely determined to let any visitors shuck off their worries within minutes of arriving? If you haven’t decompressed over the four-hour drive, make for Paradise Grille immediately, where you’ll find diner, ice-cold drinks, and acoustic music. Spend the rest of the day at Honeymoon Island or Caldesi Island state parks, two of the area’s best waterfront spots. There’s another side to the city, too: The Dalí museum, a longtime anchor of the culture scene, was just joined by the Imagine Museum, which showcases the studio glass movement of the 1960s.
Middle Keys, Florida
Speed past the Upper Keys, which are unappealingly over-touristed, and instead pause near Marathon. Go spearfishing with one of the local fishing charters, or sunbathe in the surprisingly wild Bahia Honda State Park, where there are sandy beaches—a rarity in the Keys. The historic Adderley House is an astonishing glimpse of what life was like for the Bahamian laborers who built the overseas highway here at the turn of the 20th century. On a good day, you could make it here in under three hours; decompress from the drive in a plush suite at the area’s best hotel, Isla Bella, which sits on 24 acres of land, just before you hit the Keys’ iconic overwater Seven Mile Bridge.
Key West, Florida
An hour or so beyond the Middle Keys, the so-called Conch Republic has made its name as a kooky hideaway for America’s eccentrics—it even declared independence from the USA for a few days in 1982. It retains that offbeat, end-of-world appeal thanks to enduring sights like BO’s Fish Wagon, a bar on the waterfront that could be mistaken for a junkyard, but the last decade has seen a major upgrade in the accommodations on offer here; try The Reach, the adult-aimed sister spot to the Waldorf Astoria located next door, which has its own private beach. Walk over to the Bahamian Village, with its ice-cream-colored cigar makers’ cottages, and spend a lazy brunch (heck, the whole afternoon) al fresco at Blue Heaven, surrounded by its flock of chickens.
Budget two hours of drive time and cross the state line to this outdoorsy mecca in Chickasaw County home to the tallest waterfall in Oklahoma, Turner Falls. The 77-foot falls collect into a huge swimming hole perfect for cooling off in the heat. Camp or rent a cabin in the 1,500-acre namesake park; try spelunking in the caves, or exploring Collings Castle, a folly of stone buildings inspired by English country homes and built by an eccentric professor in the 1930s. Before you head home, finesse your driving skills at the Cross Bar Ranch, an ATV and motorcycle track for rugged off-roading.
Fredericksburg and wine country, Texas
Fredericksburg is the best base for exploring Texas wine country, just over a four-hour drive from Dallas. A 14,000 square-mile stretch with more than 30 wineries, it’s the second-largest wine region in America after Napa. Bending Branch, south of town, is known for its vintages of Tannat, a grape that thrives in the hot, dry climate. Don’t miss the chance to stroll around the charming, historic downtown founded in the 1840s by a Prussian baron, and stay at the Hoffmann Haus, a German-inflected B&B, to feel the history.
Round Top, Texas
If whimsy were a place it would be this offbeat town three hours south of Dallas. Each spring it becomes an antiquing hub, luring 200,000 or more shoppers to browse the bric-a-brac, but there’s also superb shopping year-round at stores like the 1920s-era farmhouse Townsend Provisions. Hotel Rancho Pillow is the mascot for Round Top, and a riot of bohemian color where owner Sheila Youngblood rents an eclectic assortment of accommodations on her 20-acre homestead. Ask about the sheet-rocked teepee, and try riding the mechanical bull if you dare.
Palo Duro, Texas
This, the second largest canyon in America after the Grand, is a suitably epic Panhandle destination about a six-hour drive from Dallas. It’s worth every minute once you’re standing by the 120-mile gash in the earth that plunges almost 1,000 feet. Come to hike, bike, and ride horses; there are almost 90 miles of trails in the state park, and the most popular runs along the floor of the canyon. Offset the exertion by hunkering down at one of the chic cabins at Dove’s Rest, with a superb view out across the canyon proper; each has a propane grill and fire pit so you can BBQ each night under the stars.
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