One-Tank Escapes From 8 American Cities
Summer vacation doesn't have to mean a long, expensive trek. These getaways are a short drive from eight major urban areas. All you need is a weekend and a tank of gas!
DRIVING TIP The most direct route from San Francisco is I-80 East, over the Bay Bridge, to Highway 37 West and then Highway 29 through Napa Valley.
New Braunfels, Tex.
175 miles from Houston
If you visit New Braunfels and don't (a) eat German food or (b) get wet, you're doing something wrong. The town is well known for the innovative 65-acre Schlitterbahn Water Park, but its German history, food, and freshwater activities are equally compelling.
Floating down the spring-fed Comal River on giant inflatable "toobs" is essential in New Braunfels. Rent one for the day or take a guided group trip at Rockin 'R' River Rides (830/629-9999, rockinr.com, call for a group trip quote). Quell your post-river appetite with one of 10 types of schnitzel, pan-fried bouletten (meatballs), or classic brats at Friesenhaus, one of the area's specialty German restaurants (830/625-1040, friesenhausnb.com, schnitzel from $15). No German meal is complete without a hearty dessert, so pop into Naegelin's Bakery, "the oldest bakery in Texas, since 1868," for a big hunk of apple streudel—a whole one is more than two feet long (830/625-5722, naegelins.com).
WHERE TO STAY The 30-unit Greune Mansion Inn, right on the Guadalupe River, has a quiet, Victorian feel, with multiple historical buildings broken up into residences that guarantee each guest his or her own entrance and porch. Many of the units have river views (830/629-2641, gruenemansioninn.com, from $190).
DRIVING TIP Take I-10 to I-46, making sure to avoid Houston rush hour if you can help it.
Hood River, Ore.
62 miles from Portland
Orchards, wineries, and outdoor recreation are all hallmarks of this Columbia River Gorge destination.
Taking a drive on the whimsically named Fruit Loop steers you through 35 miles of orchards, vineyards, forests, and farmland (541/386-7697, hoodriverfruitloop.com). Sampling the area's up-and-coming viticulture is another must: Columbia Wine Tours shuttles from two to 24 people to four wineries in four hours and provides bottled waters and snacks along the way (541/380-1410, hoodrivertours.com, two-person tour $140). Or if you prefer hops to grapes, swing by the Full Sail Brewing Company Tasting Room & Pub for a sip (or three) of Full Sail Amber (541/386-2247, fullsailbrewing.com). Dubbed the "windsurfing capital of the world" by some, Hood River is an ideal place to test your mettle on the water: Hood River Waterplay offers five different levels of windsurfing classes, plus equipment rental if you need it (541/386-9463, hoodriverwaterplay.com, from $69).
WHERE TO STAY Seven Oaks Bed and Breakfast describes itself as a "garden oasis," surrounded by two acres of flowering plant life and fenced in by Douglas firs. The four-unit house (plus separate cottage) provides storage for recreational equipment and serves organic eggs, jams, and pastries (541/386-7622, sevenoaksbb.com, $160).
DRIVING TIP I-84—a.k.a. the Columbia River Highway—is a straight, gorgeous shot from Portland. Look for both mountains: Mount Hood and Mount Adams.
Harbor Country, Mich.
26 miles from Chicago
Hitting the beach in the heart of the Midwest is possible at Harbor Country, a group of eight towns on the white-sand beaches of Lake Michigan. The southern beaches of New Buffalo and Warren Dunes State Park are biggest, but individual townships have access too (harborcountry.org).
Charter a fishing boat in the New Buffalo Harbor with Cap'n D Charters to hunt down salmon, trout, bass, and blue gill (574/232-0436, capndcharters.com, $500 for up to four people for six hours) or try surfing or stand-up paddleboarding in New Buffalo or St. Joseph, assisted by Third Coast Surf Shop (269/932-4575, thirdcoastsurfshop.com, $75 for a 90-minute private lesson). Afterward, head to Three Oaks to the brand-new organic Journeyman Distillery, nestled in a former corset-making factory, and kick back in the tasting room for a sample of Featherbone Bourbon, a nod to the turkey feathers that the corsets were fashioned out of (269/820-2050, journeymandistillery.com). Soak up the booze at Skip's in New Buffalo, famous for its ultra-tender prime rib (269/469-3330, skipsrestaurantandcatering.info, from $22).