6 Secret American Road Trips to Add to Your Bucket List
The United States is renowned for its plethora of jaw-droppingly beautiful stretches of highway. In fact, for many travelers, the very word "America" conjures images not of bustling cities or world-class museums (though the US offers no shortage of them) but of iconic roads such as California’s Highway 1, the Southeast’s Blue Ridge Parkway, and Montana’s Going-to-the-Sun Road.
But what about the lesser-known American drives? The ones that aren’t necessarily jam-packed with road trip enthusiasts but nevertheless offer gorgeous scenery, family-friendly fun, education, and even cultural enlightenment? Here, six outstanding “secret” drives that travelers will love to boast about “discovering.”
Big Bend, Texas
Big Bend National Park, along the Texas border with Mexico, is often overshadowed by its more famous fellow parks like Yosemite and Grand Canyon. But a road trip through this gorgeous environment, with its limestone cliffs, scenic overlooks, and Rio Grande River, is a unique way to experience the American landscape. As with many US national parks, Big Bend includes small “villages” that can serve as handy milestones in planning a drive. One option is the Panther Junction-to-Rio Grande Village drive, about 21 miles (34km) passing ancient limestone, scenic overlooks, and opportunities for stopping for a short hike at Boquillas Canyon or the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail.
Cherokee Hills, Oklahoma
This is a lesser-known road trip that provides a healthy dose of cultural education as well. The Cherokee Hills Scenic Byway, in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in eastern Oklahoma, runs about 84 miles (135km), so set aside at least two hours for the drive. But the best approach is to make many stops along the way. You’ll see some of the oldest buildings west of the Mississippi River, many predating the state of Oklahoma itself; five small towns; the Cherokee Heritage Center, where visitors learn about the painful history of the Trail of Tears but also about the modern-day initiatives of the Cherokee Nation; and natural wonders including Lake Tenkiller and Natural Falls State Park.
Door County, Wisconsin
The Door County peninsula, sometimes called the “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” is a narrow, beautiful stretch of land between Lake Michigan and Green Bay. Its Coastal Byway (Highway 42/57) is a Wisconsin Scenic Byway, covering more than 60 miles (97km) passing through the towns of Sturgeon Bay and Northport. Here, visitors discover the natural beauty and relaxing pace of this prized corner of Wisconsin – including farms known for their fresh cherries, a summer theater festival, and charming communities that hug the lakeshore, offering great food (including house-made ice cream), unique shopping, and forests perfect for easy hikes.
Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway
Sure, Delaware is one of the smallest states in the US, but it packs plenty of history and natural beauty. The Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway, in northern Delaware, takes visitors past sights as diverse as the city of Wilmington and the beautiful countryside. Officially only 12 miles (19km) along the Kennett Pike and Montchanin Road, the byway focuses on the 300-year history of the Brandywine Valley and its role in the industrial revolution and the growth of transportation across the early United States. Consider the byway as your introduction to the larger Brandywine Valley region, which stretches into Pennsylvania and includes an array of important historical homes with great art collections, such as the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library; the Nemours Mansion and Garden; the Brandywine River Museum; and the Delaware Museum of Art.
Beartooth Highway, Wyoming & Montana
Warning: once you’ve driven the Beartooth Highway, which adjoins Yellowstone National Park and is surrounded by national forests and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, you may be spoiled forever. The highway, a National Scenic Byways All-American Road, is a winding route up into the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains – achieving an elevation over 10,000ft (3,000 meters) at its zenith, it’s the highest highway in the northern Rocky Mountains – with peerless scenic overlooks, glacial lakes, waterfalls, and, before you ascend back down, a high alpine plateau above the treeline. Set aside a few hours to truly enjoy the 67 miles (108km) of highway, and get to know one of the gateway communities such as Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana, or Cody, Wyoming.
Mississippi Blues Trail, Mississippi
For an immersion in one of America’s original art forms, the blues, head to Clarksdale, Mississippi, gateway to the Mississippi Blues Trail. Although you’ll see the beautiful sights of the legendary Mississippi Delta along the way, the Blues Trail is not primarily a scenic drive but rather a set of interpretive markers and cultural institutions that visitors can navigate to create their own personalized road trip devoted to Mississippi’s incredible musical legacy. The trip’s mileage and time frame are entirely up to you. Highlights include Clarksdale’s Delta Blues Museum (where you’ll learn about local luminaries Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson) and Ground Zero Blues Cafe; Indianola’s B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center and Club Ebony (for blues music and soul food); and Greenwood’s Blues Heritage Gallery and excellent restaurants in the historic downtown district.
6 U.S. Scenic Byways You Must Discover
Daydreaming of a road trip? The Federal Highway Administration has done all your homework for you. Though anyone who’s ever crept along in 5 miles-per-hour traffic may have a hard time admitting it, the United States has magnificent highway infrastructure, and when it comes to road trips, no element of that blacktop web is greater than the America’s Byways collection. To earn a place on this treasure map of 150 routes, the road must show "outstanding archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic value," according to the FHA, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. When taken as a whole, the Byways are truly the beating pulse of our country's artery system. You could spend years exploring them, but if you’ve only got a couple weeks, here are six unforgettable routes. 1. ROUTE 66: THE MOTHER ROAD The most famous of the Scenic Byways also is one of the longest, and depending where you grew up, you’ll instantly think of certain stops as “the main stretch of Route 66.” For West Coasters, it’s the Santa Monica endpoint and dust-red Arizona towns, but over in the Midwest, Illinois has its own Route 66 Heritage Project to preserve the beginning of this iconic American road. After departing Chicago's metropolitan area, it’s all cornfields, small towns, and roadside attractions until you get to Springfield, the Land of Lincoln and gateway to serious Americana antiquing. SEE: It’s said that ghosts haunt Joliet, a city 30 miles southwest of Chicago. If you’re hoping to spot ghosts, check out Rialto Square Theater and Joliet Prison. Pontiac-Oakland Museum is a haven of American car memorabilia. And since you’ll be passing through Springfield, make time for the Lincoln Home historic site. EAT: Not much has changed on the menu at Springfield's Chili Parlor (thechiliparloronline.com) since it opened in 1945. You can even get a glass of buttermilk to drink at this Food Network favorite. 2. TURQUOISE TRAIL, NEW MEXICO Many of the Scenic Byways have wonderfully expressive names. Case in point: this stretch of highway connecting Santa Fe with Albuquerque. The Turquoise Trail (turquoisetrail.org) is largely surrounded by golden and red earth, although on a normal sunny, arid day, the sky will indeed be turquoise as you pass by ranches, former mining towns, and historic sites. SEE: Quirky roadside attraction Tinkertown Museum (tinkertown.com) in Sandia Park, about 50 miles south of Santa Fe, is a treasure trove of antique toys. The canyon-set mining town-turned-art-colony Madrid, about 20 miles further north en route to Santa Fe, offers galleries and restaurants, and at Casa Grande Trading Post you can stock up on souvenir turquoise. EAT: Jezebel Soda Fountain in Madrid is known for bakery pies, chocolate-dipped ice cream cones, American diner food, and kitsch décor with a 1920s wink. 3. LARIAT LOOP, COLORADO (Jordan Blakesley) Colorado has 11 America’s Byways, and it’s hard to say that one is better than the rest, but for a truly broad range of culture touchstones in a relatively short stretch of roadway, Lariat Loop (lariatloop.org), a 40-mile circle that starts and ends in Golden, stands out. It’s been a Denver-area day drive since the 1920s, when one can only imagine people taking their Ford Model A's up Lookout Mountain. A generation before that, trains were the main mode of transportation, and Buffalo Bill Cody was a household name. And several millennia before, dinosaurs proliferated and left their indelible tracks throughout the mountain passages. SEE: Before—or after—the drive, take advantage of the riches Golden offers, like a historic walking tour, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and the many beer gardens. Speaking of beer, the town is home to Coors Brewing (serving the malt-brewed golden taste of America since 1873!), where free tours are offered Thursdays through Monday. Other stops along the loop include Dinosaur Ridge, the Colorado Railroad Museum, and Buffalo Bill Museum and Gravesite. EAT: The Fort (thefort.com) in Red Rocks territory is known for its game meats and “New Foods of the Old West” 19th-century recipes updates. 4. A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME SCENIC BYWAY, UTAH Where other designated byways take you back a few centuries, the epically named 286-mile Utah stretch takes you back to when mammoths roamed the earth. If that sounds dramatic, just wait until you’re at nearly 9000 feet, the red rocks and sub-alpine fir forests arrayed far below. National parks Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon, state parks including Kodachrome Basin, and four-wheel destinations like Hole-in-the-Rock are all detours along this all-American road that can take five hours, four days, or a lifetime to traverse. SEE: Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is a must-see for geology enthusiasts. Anasazi State Park Museum is a history lesson in Native American lore. Long-distance hikers should make stops at Hell’s Backbone and The Box, but you only need to be human to appreciate Dixie National Forest and the arches of Red Canyon. Also, if you love cowboy culture, try to meet up with the Bryce Canyon Rodeo. EAT: The seasonal Sweetwater Kitchen (sweetwaterkitchen.com) in Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch features about 95% organic ingredients on its tightly edited locavore menu. The mouthwatering dishes are a great way to refuel after a day hiking around Hell’s Backbone. 5. BEACH BOULEVARD SCENIC BYWAY, MISSISSIPPI (Ken Murphy) With a name like Beach Boulevard (gulfcoast.org), you’d think this route maps a West Coast drive, but in a plot twist, we’re actually heading to the Gulf Coast. Yes, the Southeast has its own beach Byway that traverses several states—and yes, Mississippi lays claim to the most beautiful part. Start out in Waveland, visit historic coastal towns, wend your way along 26 miles of beachfront, check out stately homes, and eat fresh seafood galore. If you want a bustling city, check out the casinos in Biloxi. SEE: Mississippi Sound views from Pass Christian (aka “the Pass”) cannot be beat. Gulf Islands Water Park is a top pick for families, and be sure to check out the classic Main Street of artist enclave Ocean Springs—named one of our 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2018. EAT: There’s a lot of good gumbo, fresh fish, and more along this route. Start the AM drive at PJ’s Coffee in Pearlington located on the “The Pearlington Scenic Byway to Space,” just west of where Highway 90 becomes Beach Boulevard. Work up an appetite as you drive east and dive into lunch at Claw Daddy’s, White Cap Seafood, or Half Shell Oyster House in Gulfport. 6. OLD CANADA ROAD If you’ve never driven through rugged, forested, river-crisscrossed upper New England, this journey will be a wonderful deep-dive. Bucolic photo ops abound: a clapboard cabin, a glimmering lake, a large woodland creature. And in fall, this route offers the caliber of fall foliage that turns people into lifetime leaf-peepers. The endpoint of this 78-mile historic byway is, as promised, a border crossing to our northern neighbor and Acadian delights. SEE: If it's summertime, before you follow the south-to-north route, check Lakewood Theater's schedule of musicals. The venue, situated at the southernmost point of the road, is an outdoor culture paradise. It's even worth overnighting here. In the morning, as you head north, pull over for a panorama photo moment at Robbins Hill Scenic Overlook, just below Wyman Lake. The lake is a delightful site for a picnic if the weather allows. Up the road past Caratunk, veer off the byway at The Forks to the stunning drop of Moxie Fall. Retrace a few grueling steps of the historic Kennebec River to the Dead River route that the infamous Benedict Arnold took during his brief moment as a war hero. And as you motor along, note that this route overlaps with the Appalachian Trail, so be on the lookout for people hiking the perilous pilgrimage of a lifetime just off the highway. EAT: If the weather’s warm enough to enjoy the scenery, opt for a lakeside picnic over a restaurant. Buy picnic supplies at Williams’ General Store. When the Northeast's chill hits, join the rowdy crowd at the Marshall Inn, about 80 miles north of Augusta, for food, drinks, and live entertainment.
Planning a road trip this summer? Expect some company on the expressway. Even amid rising gas prices, Americans are packing up their cars for a vacation. According to a recent AAA survey, 64 percent of Americans traveling this summer are planning a road trip, and it's the most popular option for family vacations. But to stretch your travel dollars while you’re on the road, you’ll want to avoid these five common mistakes. 1. Paying Top Dollar for Gas Start by downloading GasBuddy on your smartphone. Using real-time fuel price information reported other users, the mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) can direct you to the cheapest gas stations along your route. Another way to conserve fuel is by packing your car lighter, so unload excess weight before you hit the road. Also, studies show using cruise control on highways can maximize fuel efficiency. Driving a car that gets poor gas mileage? It might make financial sense to rent a fuel-efficient vehicle for your trip. Also, paying with a gas-rewards credit card will put money back in your pocket each time you fill up. The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is a favorite from credit card comparison website NerdWallet; the card lets you earn 3 percent cash back on U.S. gas station purchases year round. 2. Overspending on Lodging Many hotels and Airbnb rentals raise their rates during the summer, but you can save big on lodging by doing a little careful planning. Want to stay at a hotel? Call the concierge to find out what the rate is—sometimes the over-the-phone price is cheaper than the online price. Another option: use a bidding site like Priceline where hotels compete for your business. And make sure you avoid paying hidden hotel fees. (These days some places are even charging a fee to use the in-room coffee maker!) If you’re comfortable waiting until the day of to book a room, use HotelTonight, a mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) that offers same-day bookings of up to 70 percent off at luxury hotels. Shopping for an Airbnb? Try haggling with the owner for a lower rate. You’ll have more leverage if you’re requesting a multi-night stay. Looking to pitch a tent? Find a free campsite near your destination using the iOverlander mobile app (available on Android and iPhone). One caveat: some outdoor parks require a camping permit, but these generally cost only $5 to $20 per night. 3. Missing Out on Free Entertainment Summer is peak season for free outdoor concerts, festivals, art shows, sporting events, and other community gatherings. You can find things to do along your route by visiting Festivals.com, MacaroniKid.com, and your destination city’s tourism website. Nearify, a free mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) that compiles happenings in hundreds of cities, is another tool for discovering cool events near your location. Also, local newspapers, magazines, and alternative weeklies typically have events calendars. A number of cities offer free walking tours. You find these on Google and FreeToursByFoot.com. 4. Eating Out Every Meal Reality check: Dining out costs money. A lot of money. But you don’t have to eat out every meal when you’re on the road. Plan ahead by stashing some food in a cooler, like deli sandwiches for lunches. Non-perishable snacks are also good to have on hand. Pro tip: Pack nuts, potato chips, crackers, and other foods that won’t melt in a hot car. Of course, some meals are worth the splurge, like that four-star restaurant overlooking the ocean. But when you do eat out, always check for deals and coupons on Groupon, LivingSocial, and Yelp Deals. Traveling with kids? Find a restaurant where children eat for free. 5. Road Tripping to Big Cities Put simply, some road-trip destinations are less expensive than others. Big cities tend to have pricier lodging and restaurants; plus, they’re crowded. To trim expenses, travel to towns where your dollar will go further. A road trip can also be an opportunity for you to check out locations in your corner of the country. Staying within your state, as opposed to taking a long road trip, can also help reduce gas costs—and keep the kids from going stir-crazy in the car.
Fire up your GPS and start your engines! Every corner of the U.S. delivers amazing road trip opportunities, from parkland to scenic byways to vibrant towns and cities along the way. Here, we’ve rounded up five of our favorite epic drives from sea to shining sea. Your only remaining challenge is to pick your favorite trip and hit the road. BEST OF THE WEST: CALIFORNIA’S HIGHWAY 1 (Jonas Weinitschke/Dreamstime) Pick any stretch of Highway 1 along the California coast and you’ll be treated to epic views and great stops along the way. But perhaps the most iconic portion of the route is the drive between the San Francisco Bay Area and San Simeon. While the drive can be accomplished in just a few hours, we recommend you plan affordable stops along the way: A motel stay in Santa Cruz, at the top of Monterey puts you walking distance to the beautiful beach and fun-for-the-entire-family boardwalk. A day or two in the city of Monterey gives you time to explore the coastal walking trail with its jaw-dropping views of the gorgeous blue waters of the bay and playful sea otters, a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and several world-class meals of fresh crab, sourdough bread, and other California favorites. Continue down Highway 1 for the star attraction, the winding drive along the cliffs of Big Sur, towering over the Pacific, and stop at Pfeiffer State Beach or a walk in the mountains just to the east of the highway. Your Highway 1 road trip can end at San Simeon, home to the incredible estate built by William Randolph Hearst with its truly amazing art collection and grounds. Or keep driving south for the delights of coastal communities such as San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, and the renowned beaches and cities of Southern California! ROAD TRIP TIP: Before leaving home, make sure you have the appropriate auto insurance policy for your vehicle and needs. A visit to Geico.com can help you understand your options and potential savings. SOUTHERN CHARM: BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY You don’t have to choose between a big-city culture and the natural beauty of a national park. The Blue Ridge Parkway allows road trippers to enjoy Washington, D.C., with its free museums, historical sites, and cultural offerings, then head to Virginia’s Skyline Drive along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which turns into the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of FDR’s New Deal projects, linking Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in North Carolina and Tennessee. The parkway’s hairpin turns and epic tunnels will delight every family member, and a manageable, affordable national park experience is unforgettable, with ranger-led walks and talks, serene hiking trails, and the opportunity to spot an array of wildlife, including black bears, from a safe distance. More adventurous travelers may want to try rock climbing and whitewater rafting (with guidance from a local outfitter). Cool towns such as Asheville, NC, deliver tasty Southern cuisine, and you can balance the great outdoors experience of Great Smoky Mountains National Park with fun family-friendly activities in Gatlinburg, TN. While camping is always the most affordable way to visit a national park, reasonable lodging is available a short drive from both Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains. ROAD TRIP TIP: Get your car inspected before embarking on your drive. Proper tire pressure and engine tune-up can save you money on gas mileage, and having up-to-date safety and security devices may even reduce your auto insurance rates. MIDWEST SPLENDOR: DOOR COUNTY, WISCONSIN Can you keep a secret? Door County’s Coastal Byway, a Wisconsin Scenic Byway, delivers an amazing, lesser-known Midwestern vacation experience that keeps families coming back year after year. Stretching over 66 miles around the Door Peninsula (nicknamed the “Cape Cod of the Midwest”), this scenic byway and the stops along the way add up to a relaxing and delicious getaway. Situated between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, the Door Peninsula can be explored in a weekend, or you can stretch out your experience (which we heartily recommend) over several days with stays in the region’s beautiful towns. Ephraim, on the shores of Eagle Harbor, boasts beaches and harbor views you may associate only with New England, and a stop at Wilson’s for ice cream is a must. Peninsula State Park is one of those “hidden gems” just waiting to be discovered, with acres of forest, shoreline, and camping facilities. You’ll find great food in the town of Sister Bay, and some pleasant opportunities for quiet family time on the eastern side of the peninsula in Bailey’s Harbor and Jacksonsport. ROAD TRIP TIP: Pack a cooler with fruits and veggies, whole grains, grab-and-go protein like cheese sticks, and plenty of water (when visiting a wilder space such as a national park, a gallon of water per passenger per day is recommended). SOUTHWESTERN PARKS: UTAH’S ‘MIGHTY FIVE’ (Ralf Broskvar/Dreamstime) Did you know that Utah packs five incredible national parks into one state? Whether you hit two, three, four, or all of the “Mighty Five” (Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, and Canyonlands), a scenic drive into Utah’s wild spaces is perhaps the ultimate road trip experience. While your GPS may recommend major highways along the way, give yourself permission to explore Scenic Byways such as State Route 12, the 120-mile drive from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon, and return home with brag-worthy photographs you can’t snap on the Interstate. Once you enter one of Utah’s national parks, hiking will likely be the “main event,” and each park deserves at least a day or two, whether you take ranger-led walks or strike out on your own. Consider trying something new, like a guided horseback tour in Bryce Canyon, and remember that Bryce and Zion both offer exceptional public transportation to get you from site to site. Camping is an affordable way to bunk down in Utah’s parks, but be sure to reserve your spot several months in advance, especially if you’ll be visiting during the summer high season. ROAD TRIP TIP: Don’t count on GPS as your only source of driving directions, especially if you’re visiting a national park or other wild space. Pick up printed maps that cover your road trip and plan out each day’s driving in advance using both GPS and your map - you’ll thank us when your smartphone suddenly says, “No Service.” ULTIMATE NEW ENGLAND: VERMONT & WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS The Green Mountains of Vermont and the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts deliver one of the Northeast’s finest driving experiences, easily reachable from New York, Boston, and other cities. Start in Bennington, VT, where you’ll soon discover that a New England road trip can combine world-class art and culture with natural beauty right outside your car window. The Bennington Museum offers a permanent art collection plus exhibits devoted to contemporary work, and the Grandma Moses gallery lets visitors not only enjoy the work of the iconic American folk artist but also to recognize the nearby Green Mountains as the backdrop of many of her most iconic paintings. Outside Bennington there are ample opportunities for canoeing, hiking, and chowing down on comfort food (and, yes, they serve classic New England clam chowder even as far inland as Vermont). Head to Williamstown, MA, for another incredible art collection, the Clark, and a truly charming small town experience with a vibrant downtown, great shopping, and more. Then it’s off to North Adams, MA, for the Norman Rockwell Museum and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the endless opportunities for exploring the nearby Berkshire Mountains. You can keep busy in western Massachusetts for days, and it’s also a relatively short drive to the beaches of Gloucester, the New Hampshire seacoast, and even the stretch of Maine near the New Hampshire border, but that’s a road trip for another day! ROAD TRIP TIP: No matter what time of year you’re taking your road trip, there are a few packing essentials: Sunscreen (yes, even in winter), sun-protective clothing, plenty of drinking water, layers of clothing (T-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets), and comfortable walking or hiking shoes.
Affordable Summer Road Trips: One-Tank Escapes From 9 Cities
Road trip season is here, and there's no better way to kick off summer than hopping in the car and exploring destinations that are an easy, fun drive away. Here are nine destinations that will pay off big dividends on the less-than-two-hour investment—and one tank of gas—it takes to get there. 1. FROM CHICAGO: INDIANA DUNES, IN The Indiana Dunes sit along a 15 mile stretch of Lake Michigan’s southern shore. It’s only about 35 miles down I-90 from Chicago International Airport, but you’d be forgiven if you thought you were whisked away to the Sahara. Even the pine forests around the dunes sit on sand. Then, of course, the sprawling, shimmering lake will remind you that you are absolutely not in the desert. This destination draws birders in the spring, kayakers and other water sport enthusiasts in the summer, and anglers in the fall. There’s plenty for everyone else to enjoy throughout the 15,000-acre site as well, like tranquil forests, scenic prairies and marshes, a visitor center with a bookstore and junior ranger guides for kids, and 50 miles of trails—many of them quite rugged. And no need to rush back to Chicago at the end of the day. The surrounding area has eateries ranging from a sushi stop to laid-back pubs to a steakhouse, not to mention restaurants focused on seasonal farm-to-table menus. 2. FROM BOSTON: CONCORD, NH About 75 miles north of Boston, a straight shot up I-93, New Hampshire’s state capital offers more than just a hearty helping of outdoor options, like the wooded hiking trails at Audubon McLane Center, and New England history (see: the Pierce Manse, a museum in what was once the home of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, and the majestic gold-domed state house, which was built in 1819). Fueled in part by urban types relocating here in search of a slower-paced life, a burgeoning dining scene has been taking shape alongside the longstanding institutions. Newell Post, for instance, is a popular breakfast/lunch stop that's been serving familiar dishes with a regional accent since it opened in 2012, and Revival, a locally minded eatery that opened in 2017, has been drawing crowds with its updates on classic New England fare. Concord also has a bigger music scene than most towns its size, with cafes and small venues hosting local indie performances while the Capitol Center for the Arts sees bigger acts. 3. FROM NEW YORK CITY: TARRYTOWN, NY For most travelers, New York City is the final destination, not a pass-through point, but whether you’re visiting the east coast or have lived in one of the five boroughs your whole life, it’s worth packing your bags for a trip to Tarrytown. This veritable country escape is a 30-minute drive from Midtown, just off the New York State Thruway (I-87) at the eastern landing of the Tappan Zee Bridge, or a 38-minute ride on MTA’s Metro-North Railroad, which leaves frequently from Grand Central. Quaint but lively, Tarrytown is a throwback to village life. There are pretty green spaces, a charming Main Street, and picturesque brick buildings that play host to restaurants, ice cream shops, antique stores, and cute boutiques, not to mention the grand, historic Tarrytown Music Hall where you can catch a broad range of local and national acts. If history piques your interest, take note that the town was a thruway on the Underground Railway, a hometown of Washington Irving, and a retreat for the Rockefellers, who built a family estate here in 1913. It’s a terrific place to catch your breath after a few days in the city. 4. FROM TORONTO: PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY (Alisonh29/Dreamstime) Prince Edward County is to Toronto what the Hudson Valley is to New York City, which is to say a super-hip urban escape with a growing number of gorgeous boutique hotels and dynamite creative restaurants, food trucks, and farmers’ markets. That should come as no surprise, given the regions abundant organic farms. With its rural landscape and natural attraction, PEC, about two and a half hours from both Ottawa and Toronto, is a refuge for creative types who expanded the area’s artistic footprint with their shops and galleries. And about those natural attractions: Sandbanks, one of the largest beaches in Ontario, offers swimming, fishing, hiking, sailing, and camping, while the pilgrimage-worth Lake on the Mountain, a provincial park (the Canadian equivalent of a state park), delivers a mind-bending sight, with the freshwater lake stretching out onto a cliff over a bay. And what’s more, it’s a terrific wine region, and the sheer number of vineyards make it a destination in its own right. 5. FROM SEATTLE: VASHON ISLAND, WA When you hear “American island escape,” it’s easy to think of Hawaii or North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The Pacific Northwest, though, is dotted with enchanting little islands—many of which are easy to get to and easy to fall for. The 37-square-miles Vashon Island, the largest in the Puget Sound, is about a 90-minute ferry ride from Fauntleroy Terminal in West Seattle, and the destination (population 10,000) is nothing short of a rural old-world paradise. Thanks to its backwoods roads, stretches of farmland, and protected waters of Quartermaster Harbor, the island is best explored by bike or kayak, both of which you can rent. Many of the small towns along the highway can be loosely described as artist colonies with a hippie vibe. Galleries, cafes, and an array of restaurants proliferate, plus there are seasonal performances, like outdoor concerts and Shakespeare in the Park, and the Vashon Center for the Arts (vashoncenterforthearts.org), a regal performance space and gallery that came with a $20 million price tag when it opened in 2016. Today it’s home to the Vashon Opera, a decade-old company, and host to a variety of local and national acts. With that many options, you’ll likely need more than a weekend. 6. FROM AUSTIN: GEORGETOWN, TX A mere 30 miles north of Austin, Georgetown was once a sleepy bedroom community, but lately it's come into its own, largely because real estate prices and lack of availability have pushed artists, musicians, and other creative types out of what some refer to as the music capital of the world. In the past few years, Georgetown has emerged as a portrait of modern America against a historic backdrop. It was once a stronghold of Western life along the Chisholm Trail, and the town square, a lively gathering place, is also a historic site to behold, with gorgeously preserved Victorian-era buildings. Dining options range from high-end bistros to cheery, creative pizza shops, like 600 Degrees Pizzeria. But what really makes this small town a culinary destination is its wineries, including the Georgetown Winery right in the middle of the town square. For those looking to do extensive vineyard visits, take note: The town is 90 minutes from Hill Country, a thriving wine region that's quite vast, as to be expected in Texas. 7. FROM DENVER: CHEYENNE, WY When it comes to short trips from Denver, we’re casting our vote for crossing state lines and checking out Cheyenne, despite Colorado's many adorable mountain towns. The Wyoming state capital is about 100 miles from Denver International Airport, and to make things easy, there’s a shuttle from the terminal to downtown Cheyenne (greenrideco.com). The city's biggest claim to fame is the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days, a festive pageant-like salute to rodeo and all things Western, but there are plenty of ways to celebrate America's vintage Western spirit here year-round. For starters: check out the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, the Cowgirl Museum of the West, and more. It's an easy city to explore on foot: The Victorian-style downtown includes a delightful mix of country-chic outfitters, hip boutiques, bookstores, and vintage shops, plus a variety of restaurants, many of which offer noteworthy craft beer selections. 8. FROM LOS ANGELES: PASADENA, CA Los Angeles may have the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but its neighbor to the east has some sparkle of its own. A little more than ten miles from downtown L.A. via CA-110, Pasadena boasts world-class arts institutions, an array of delicious places to eat and drink, and a picturesque, walkable old-town area, all against a backdrop that looks like something out of a film set—and that’s because it might very well be one. Pasadena is an unsung hero of the movie-making scene, and it’s such a staple that there’s an entire walking tour devoted to filming locations around town. But it’s not all stardust and sequins. Stroll along Old Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard, where you’ll find big-brand chains and indie boutiques alike; pop into the Norton Simon Museum (nortonsimon.org), where classic works by Picasso and Degas complement modern pieces like massive murals by California native Sam Francis; book a table at one of the city’s 500 restaurants (think green juice and avocado toast at Sage Vegan Bistro and blockbuster northern Italian fare at Union Restaurant); and catch a show or a game at the Rose Bowl before you head back to La-La Land. 9. FROM NASHVILLE: FRANKLIN, TN A 20-mile shot down I-65 from Nashville, Franklin (population 75,000) has serious music-world credentials—enough to hold its own against Music City. This powerhouse town has country and western in its blood: Stars like Wynonna Judd have been known to pop in for the famous open-mic night at Puckett’s Grocery, and country royalty like Alan Jackson and Keith Urban have owned property in the area. With a beautiful 16-block stretch of historically preserved buildings—an array of shops, galleries, and homes—plus a storybook-worthy Main Street, downtown Franklin is Americana incarnate. Main Street is anchored by the landmark Franklin Theatre, a performance and movie venue that's been lovingly restored to its original 1937 glory. Further afield, the quaint hamlet of Leiper’s Fork is a hip one-stop shop for anyone seeking old-school Southern soul. You’ll find it here in antique shops and galleries, eateries dishing out classic regional fare, distilleries producing small-batch whiskies, and local institutions like Finds in the Fork, a paradise for vinyl collectors. Weather permitting, settle in for an alfresco flick at the Leipers Fork Lawnchair Theater. It’s country living at its finest.For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.