Summer Lake Towns 2008

Hang on to summer by retreating to an easygoing, affordable lake town, where you can embrace simple pleasures—fishing, huckleberry picking, go-karting, and old-fashioned sweets. We've picked seven to jog your memory; chances are, there's a similar one near you.

When Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey Decimal System, settled in this area of south central Florida to open a hotel, he found it so similar to his hometown of Lake Placid, N.Y., that he convinced residents to change the name. Shops now sell crafts, clothes, and antiques in the small town, which has an outsize reputation for its caladiums: leafy red, pink, and white plants that peak in late summer. The Freedom Marine Center offers Jet Ski and boat rentals for guests who are itching to find the best fishing spots (863/699-9300, half-day Jet Ski rental from $150, half-day boat rental from $175). The lake is also a convenient jumping-off point for exploring wildlife preserves and state parks. Twenty miles to the north, Highlands Hammock is a dense, subtropical jungle of cabbage palms, ferns, hardwood trees, orchids, and other air plants (park admission $4 per car). You may spot river otters, barred owls, white-tailed deer, and, if you're lucky, a panther or a bobcat. The elevated wooden Cypress Swamp Catwalk allows visitors to make their way through the swamp floodplain crowded with alligators, turtles, and wading birds.
Where to refuel Jaxson's Restaurant takes pride in its farm-to-table approach: fresh herbs from its own garden, ground beef from Hartzell's Meat Market, and even local Florida gator tail, fried or grilled. There's an outdoor patio and a laid-back bar; Thursday is karaoke night.
Where to stay Tully's Silver Sands Cottages' two-bedroom lakeside cottages sleep six to eight people. After making dinner on the charcoal grills, guests can unwind on private docks as the sun sets over the water (two-night stay $300).
Easy escape from Orlando, Fla. (100 miles), or Miami, Fla. (160 miles).
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A ride on The Lake Arrowhead Queen, a charming paddlewheel boat, delivers panoramic views of upscale waterfront homes and the dense San Bernardino National Forest. You also get a quick history lesson about the privately owned lake created to provide irrigation to San Bernardino Valley. Buy the $16 boat tickets at Leroy's Board Shop (909/336-6992) in Lake Arrowhead Village, a collection of shops, galleries, and cafés set on a peninsula jutting out on the clear cobalt-blue lake. The Village Fun Park is a treat. Kids can play mini-golf, go-kart, and ride on a restored 1950s carousel. Log cabins are common in the sleepy town of Lake Arrowhead—less developed than nearby Big Bear Lake—and its prominent arts association hosts classical and cabaret performances. L.A. residents, celebrities included, come here to unplug and soak up the fresh air. Focus your stargazing on the expansive smog-free night skies; the Mountain Skies Astronomical Society's educational programs can help you better appreciate all that twinkling.
Where to refuel The Cedar Glen Malt Shop, well worth the 10-minute drive along winding roads, is a quick fix for homemade burgers and old-fashioned shakes and malts (909/337-6640).
Where to stay The Lodge at Lake Arrowhead was built as a hunting lodge in 1928 and has the hand-carved beam ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and huge stone fireplaces (one below a bighorn sheep's head) to prove it. Eight guest rooms are named after famous writers; the Ralph Waldo Emerson is decorated with an antique French oak bed and art deco bathroom tiles (rooms start at $119).
Easy escape from Palm Springs, Calif. (76 miles), or Los Angeles, Calif. (80 miles).
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