Ready for a vacation that doesn’t require a big investment of time, money, or planning ahead? As the warm-weather months arrive, Americans will be hitting the road for easy, affordable weekends that are just a tank of gas away from major urban areas. Weekend trips are a great way to get away with family or friends, discover parks, beaches, and historical sites, and have a blast. Here, a dozen of our favorite great American weekends.
1. NEW ENGLAND COAST
Cape Neddick, Maine, with its iconic "Nubble" lighthouse, is an easy escape from Boston. Along the way, soak up the sun in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, grab a great lobster roll in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and know that you're spending a bit less than all those folks crowding New England's more famous cape.
2. CALIFORNIA CENTRAL COAST
Sure, people who live in San Francisco have it pretty good. But they still like to escape, and when they do, it's often down the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur. Here, the winding highway, oceanside cliffs, colorful beach, and enchanting forests have been casting a spell for generations, and the region has largely recovered from the 2017 mudslides that closed portions of the highway. Big Sur is a short drive from Monterey's bustling wharf and world-class aquarium, and if your road-trip appetite is whetted by Big Sur, keep going down to San Simeon to see the amazing Hearst Castle.
3. WISCONSIN’S SECRET CAPE
Shh. Most Americans have never even heard of the "Cape Cod of the Midwest," but Door County, Wisconsin, is a relaxed peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan that has been luring visitors for years. Also known as Cherryland USA for its tasty annual crop, this is a place to skip rocks, chow down at a traditional fish boil, and pile your ice cream cone high. And, yep, watch the sunset. Stay at Lodgings at Pioneer Lane, Ephraim.
4. MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, is a short escape from New Orleans, and just a few hours here will show you why the place was voted one of America's Coolest Small Towns 2013 by Budget Travel readers. Before you hit the sugary beach, take in the vibrant art scene in the historic old town, visit distinctive Creole cottages, and get yourself a big ol' Mockingburger at the Mockingbird Cafe. Stay at Bay Town Inn.
5. SOUTH DAKOTA BADLANDS
One of our favorite road trips is across the Badlands of South Dakota, where you can get your cowboy (or cowgirl) on, drink in stunning western terrain, and, of course, say hello to four U.S. presidents at Mount Rushmore. Stay at State Game Lodge in Custer State Park.
6. HISTORIC HUDSON VALLEY
We New Yorkers enjoy a good getaway now and then, and Historic Hudson Valley, a collection of restored homes and historical sites along the river, is just the ticket. In fact, you can actually get here with a train ticket on the Metro North commuter rail line. Homes such as Washington Irving's Sunnyside and the Rockefeller estate are inspiring and educational, and the village of Sleepy Hollow (yes, for real) offers seasonal graveyard tours for the truly daring.
7. BLUE RIDGE HIGHWAY
Denizens of the DC area like to hit the Blue Ridge Highway for an escape into the Shenandoah Valley. It has all the makings of a relaxing weekend, or it can be the gateway to an extended exploration farther south into the historic battlefields, forests, and mountains that beckon. Stay at Mimslyn Inn, Luray, Virginia.
8. COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE
Hood River and the Columbia River Gorge, outside Portland, Oregon, offer a wild getaway not far from the city center. Here, orchards, wineries, and a truly forward-thinking food scene reward the weekend road tripper. Stay at Seven Oaks Bed and Breakfast.
9. MICHIGAN'S GOLD COAST
Saugatuck, Michigan, on the "Gold Coast," is a favorite getaway of Chicagoans. Ride the chain ferry across the Kalamazoo River to Oval Beach, where you can swim or watch the little-known Midwestern surfing scene. Stretch your road trip up the lakeshore and you'll see classic lighthouses, enjoy secluded beaches and dunes, and savor superb seafood. Stay at Best Western Plaza Hotel Saugatuck.
10. BIG BEND
Big Bend National Park is a stunningly beautiful place right on the border between Texas and Mexico. It's a relatively little-known national park, and doesn't get too crowded (temperatures are moderate in winter, but it does get hot in summer). The views of the mountains and Rio Grande are sublime, and knowing you're in on one of America's great secrets is a reward of its own. Stay at Gage Hotel, Marathon.
11. MARYLAND'S EASTERN SHORE
Take a bite out of Maryland's Eastern Shore, including a stop in Ocean City, one of our favorite boardwalks and an easy escape from DC, Baltimore, and other mid-Atlantic metro areas. Stay at Sun ‘N Fun Motel, Ocean City.
12. VIRGINIA BEACH
Virginia Beach offers several spectacular stretches of sand along the Atlantic, and the chance to truly let go and get the most out of your weekend. Our favorite memory of this fun coastal city is the porpoises frolicking in the water. We can't promise you'll see them, but we sure hope you do. A wide variety of affordable lodgings are available in Virginia Beach.