Top 10 Weekend Getaways


Standing by Roaring Fork Creek, you can hear the water rushing over the rocks and feel a refreshing mountain breeze. Can't you just feel yourself unwinding already?
Standing by Roaring Fork Creek, you can hear the water rushing over the rocks and feel a refreshing mountain breeze. Can't you just feel yourself unwinding already?
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

If you're overwhelmed from work responsibilities or burnt out from life in general, a weekend getaway is a refreshing break from your daily obligations. The trend is moving away from longer summer vacations and toward shorter, frequent getaways [source: Belson]. The decline of the traditional vacation began in the mid-80s, and the popularity of shorter vacations is on the rise [source: Brown]. A study by the U.S. Travel Association reveals that travelers avoided more than 40 million trips by air between 2008 and 2009 because of a growing frustration with the state of air travel [source: U.S. Travel Association]. Limited time and resources coupled with the hassles of air travel have shifted the focus from the traveling component of the vacation to the destination.

Enter the weekend getaway where fresh adventures await a few hours from your doorstep. To make the most of your getaway, plan a three- or four-day weekend a few hundred miles (or less) from home. Leave on Thursday night or Saturday morning, returning on Monday rather than Sunday, to avoid the heaviest traffic en route and spend more time enjoying your trip.

Explore 10 wonderful weekend getaways from the comfort of your keyboard, and then pick one and make it happen. Just imagine how you'll feel when you unplug from the computer and turn off your Smartphone. When you immerse yourself in the spirit of the getaway, you'll return refreshed and able to tackle the challenges ahead with a renewed vigor and a brightened outlook.

10

Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Known for its racetrack, Saratoga Springs sizzles during the summer. The season at the Saratoga Race Course runs 40 days from mid-July through Labor Day and is open every day except Tuesdays. Different dress codes apply, depending on seating, but you'll find many women donning hats and sundresses. The Travers Stakes, known as the "Mid-Summer Derby," is the highlight of the season. It runs in late August, accompanied by the weeklong Travers Festival.

Beyond the track, arts, shopping, dining and outdoor activities abound. Spend a day strolling through Congress Park and stop for a picnic or a ride on the wooden carousel. While you're there, visit the Saratoga Springs History Museum in the Canfield Casino. This elegant gambling hall has been restored to its earlier splendor. Saratoga afternoons were created with the Adirondack Winery & Tasting Room in mind. The first micro winery in the area, it offers wine ice cream as well as wine tastings. You can spend an evening on Broadway without the hassle of the city. The Adirondack Theatre Festival in Glen Falls brings "New York City Theatre" to the Adirondacks for the summer season.

A top year-round destination, hiking, ice fishing, skiing, bobsledding and winter festivals fill the winter calendar. Early December features Saratoga Week, with selected restaurants offering three-course gourmet dinners for under $20. The Victorian Streetwalk, First Night, Chowderfest, Winterfest and the Dance Flurry Festival round out the winter festival season.

9

Outer Banks, N.C.

The Ocracoke Lighthouse is North Carolina's oldest operating lighthouse.
The Ocracoke Lighthouse is North Carolina's oldest operating lighthouse.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The barrier islands, known as the Outer Banks (OBX), lie between North Carolina and the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by 900 miles of water. Pristine by today's standards, OBX is all about Mother Nature: wildlife refuges, maritime centers, Elizabethan Gardens and sand dunes. It boasts one of the largest estuary systems in the world, several state parks, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, seven intact lighthouses and one that lies in ruins [source: Shelton-Roberts].

What you won't find is a coast littered with commercial hotels, high rises and tourist traps. You'll probably stay in a rental cottage or bed and breakfast on or near the shore. Wherever you stay, you're only a few steps from the sand.

The wilderness may beckon you to kayak, hang glide, parasail and horseback ride on the beach. Much of the terrain is suited to off-road bicycle exploration, and you can rent bikes and other sporting equipment on the islands. If you prefer less adventure, there's fishing or a free 40-minute ferry ride on the Hatteras - Ocracoke Ferry. When the weather refuses to cooperate, you can tour the restored U.S. Weather Bureau Station or take a cooking class sponsored by Outer Banks Epicurean. Save some time for shopping in the many fine antique stores and art galleries.

Dinner at one of the 160+ locally owned eateries tops off the day. There's no need to sacrifice taste for atmosphere in OBX. What better way to work off the extra calories than with an after-dinner stroll under the stars.

8

Santa Fe, N.M.

When visiting Santa Fe, you won't want to miss the beautiful architecture of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
When visiting Santa Fe, you won't want to miss the beautiful architecture of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Santa Fe rests in the foothills of the Rockies at the end of the Santa Fe Trail. Known as "The City Different," it lies at the crossroads of history and technology. The Barrio de Analco neighborhood dates back to the 17th century, home of the San Miguel Mission, possibly the oldest church in the country, and the nearby Los Alamos National Lab, site of The Manhattan Project.

The heart of the city showcases Santa Fe Plaza. Spend an afternoon roaming the Native American and Spanish markets and taking in the European, Spanish and Native American architecture. Walk one block east to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, a splendid example of French Romanesque Revival architecture.

Santa Fe is listed as one of the top three art centers in the world [source: SPC Travel Network]. Georgia O'Keeffe devotees can tour the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Many of her works memorialize the natural beauty of Santa Fe on canvas. Other noteworthy museums include the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum and the New Mexico History Museum, awarded True West Magazine's Top Western Museum Award [source: Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau]. All over Santa Fe, are paintings, pottery, sculptures and crafts by local artisans and artists, perhaps you'll find that special something to fill a niche in your home.

Dining choices range from casual to elegant, many with a distinctive Southwestern flair and all served with a welcoming smile and a side of Santa Fe hospitality.

7

Austin, Texas

If you enjoy the TV show "Austin City Limits," you'll love a getaway to Austin. Once here, you can pull up a chair and watch your favorite local performers up close and personal. You never know which Austin musician will follow in the footsteps of Janis Joplin, Willie Nelson or Stevie Ray Vaughan, fellow musicians who have called Austin home. Start with the Broken Spoke, National Geographic's "favorite night spot" [source: SPC Travel Network]. It's also frequented by TV and movie stars, football heroes, the occasional diplomat and others in search of the best honky tonk in Texas.

View memorabilia from the Johnson administration at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum. Visit the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus where you'll find collections of rare books, manuscripts and other media as well as an art collection including more than 65,000 works of art from the 12th through the 19th centuries [source: Harry Ransom Center]. Horticulture enthusiasts will want to tour the Zilker Botanical Gardens, and some will want to see the Congress Avenue Bridge bats.

For recreation, head over to the three-acre Barton Springs Pool at Zilker Park. Underground natural springs feed this unchlorinated pool, which maintains a constant year-round temperature of approximately 68 degrees F [source: Austin Parks and Recreation Department].

After your dip, it's time to grab some grub and forget your cares with another night of live music in the "Live Music Capital of the World."

6

Savannah, Ga.

Deemed as the "Best Place for a Romantic Getaway" by the "Atlanta Journal Constitution," Savannah brings history to life while infusing it with romance and charm [source: Savannah Economic Development Authority]. Its roots date back to the pre-revolutionary war era. During the Civil War, General Sherman was so impressed by the city's beauty that he spared Savannah on his March to the Sea. Twenty-two of Savannah's 24 original town squares exist today along with a number of restored original structures.

Take in Savannah's history and charm by walking tour or carriage ride, ducking in and out of the many boutiques and antique shops along the way. You'll pass perfectly restored homes and churches, historical cemeteries, monuments, parks and squares. Note the "Haint Blue" trim on many of these sites, which is used to drive away the evil spirits [source: Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau]. Stop at the historical Mercer-Williams House Museum, once the restored home of Jim Williams of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" fame. Themed tours include home, garden and architectural tours, civil war tours and a tour of movie location sets.

Make reservations well in advance for lunch at Paula Deen's The Lady & Sons restaurant (an order of fried green tomatoes, an asparagus sandwich and a glass of sweet tea is sounding pretty tasty right now). Dinner options range from local dives to haute cuisine, all with a focus on coastal delicacies. Treat the kids to dinner at The Pirates' House, once a gathering spot for pirates and sailors --history that the kids will eat up.

5

Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Gatlinburg, Tenn. is known as the "Gateway" to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, America's most popular national park [source: Gatlinburg Visitors and Convention Bureau]. The first stop in the park is Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokies. The walk to the top reveals panoramic views and a palette of seasonal hues. Other nearby options include a stop at Cades Cove and a drive on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. You'll pass cascading waterfalls, miles of streams and year-round flora and fauna. Other park activities include guided nature walks, cycling, horseback riding and fishing.

Tucked away just outside of downtown, you'll discover another hidden treasure: the largest artist colony in North America -- the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community of Gatlinburg. Artists and artisans have been practicing their crafts here since 1937 [source: Gatlinburg Visitors and Convention Bureau]. Here, you can shop for art, unique candles, jewelry, pottery, leather goods and more.

If the kids are in tow, Dollywood is just 20 minutes away in Pigeon Forge. More than an amusement park, Dollywood is known for its live entertainment, festivals and shopping.

Winter features Gatlinburg Winter Magic, a four-month winter festival running from November through February. The entire area is decked with twinkling lights and there's a full calendar of festival events.

Gatlinburg dining favorites include Lineberger's for fresh seafood (it's flown in fresh), Calhoun's for Tennessee barbecue, and Pancake Pantry for its top-secret-recipe pancakes. Many have tried to duplicate these tasty pancakes at home but we're guessing no one's been successful yet.

4

Sedona, Ariz.

Whether you believe in the mystical "power spots" or not, you can't deny the beauty of Sedona's surrounding landscape.
Whether you believe in the mystical "power spots" or not, you can't deny the beauty of Sedona's surrounding landscape.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Today's six million annual visitors to Sedona must be onto something [source: PBS]. Sedona is often called "Red Rock Country" for the majestic red-rock mountains that envelop the city. In addition, Sedona's spiritual aura allures visitors from around the globe. The stark natural beauty, holistic health options and mystical "power spots" feed the body, mind and spirit, all in one getaway.

Sedona's ethereal reputation originates from its multitude of vortexes -- energy centers or "power spots"-- from which many believe inner peace and harmony flow. Tarot card and astrology readings, past-life regressions, aura photography, clairvoyant contact with the spirits and guided spiritual tours, which include hiking, meditation and yoga, augment the natural powers of the vortexes. Sedona is a virtual metaphysical buffet!

If you're not looking for a life-transforming experience, there's still plenty of adventure in Sedona. Explore Montezuma Castle National Monument or Dead Horse Ranch State Park, indulge yourself at a day spa, drive to the Grand Canyon, visit a nearby winery, book a specialty jeep tour, let the kids run wild at the Out of Africa Wildlife Park or spend the day on the Sedona Trolley touring the area. Make time to hop on the RoadRunner shuttle in Uptown Sedona, an area chocked full of galleries and purveyors of local art and jewelry. Unwind with dinner at one of the colorful local restaurants or grab a latte and panini at one of Sedona's plentiful coffeehouses. And the perfect ending to a day in Red Rock Country -- gazing at the stars in the clear Sedona sky.

3

Victoria, BC, Canada

Victoria Harbor sparkles at twilight.
Victoria Harbor sparkles at twilight.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Old-world Victorian elegance mingles easily with the bustle of a thriving international city in Victoria, BC, the "City of Gardens." You'll likely hear many languages spoken, and sampling authentic international cuisine is part and parcel of daily life in Victoria.

Before you plan your trip, though, be sure your passport is up to date -- you'll need it, a passport card or WHTI-compliant travel document to visit Canada [source: U.S. Department of State]. Your getaway starts with the Hydrofoil Clipper Service from Seattle to Victoria. The two-hour trip gives you a chance to relax in the fresh salt air.

Exiting the hydrofoil, the imposing Victorian Parliament Building greets you. Return at night to see the building sparkle against 3,333 twinkling lights [source: SPC Travel Network]. Still on the Inner Harbour, visit the Royal BC Museum, and then enjoy afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. The double-decker red bus #75 from the Inner Harbour takes you to Butchart Gardens, 55 acres of gardens featuring more than a million bedding plants of 700 varieties [source: The Butchart Gardens]. Flowers are in bloom from March through October, but winter awakens a multitude of blooming shrubs, and the heated greenhouse is open year-round. Stop at nearby Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and Victoria Butterfly Gardens.

On your way out of town, stroll through the quaint neighborhoods around the Inner Harbour, where hanging baskets of flowers adorn the lampposts. Along the way, you'll find plenty of shopping and restaurants to pass your final hours in Victoria.

2

Napa Valley, Calif.

Winery tours abound in Napa Valley.
Winery tours abound in Napa Valley.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Wine aficionados, newlyweds, and nature lovers, your Valhalla experience begins an hour north of San Francisco in Napa Valley. Napa offers an escape to romance as well as hundreds of wineries and estates. Bed and breakfast establishments dot the valley, and there's no shortage of deluxe accommodations or award-winning cuisine. Throughout the valley, you'll take in panoramic views, and there's shopping at every turn, with ample opportunity to return home with a touch of the vine.

In addition to the Robert Mondavi Winery, Beringer Vineyards, Domaine Chandon and Mumm Napa, you'll find a number of specialty vineyards worth exploring. The Rubicon Estate, owned by the Francis Ford Coppola family, hosts a museum of memorabilia from "The Godfather." Stop by The Hess Collection for local organic and seasonal dining as well as a visit to its art gallery. View the renowned wine labels at Paraduxx Winery. Each vintage bears a label commissioned by a different artist, depicting a postage stamp sporting a pair of ducks -- Paraduxx! Araujo Estate produces organic grappa, olive oil, olive oil soap and honey in addition to organic wines. If you're not afraid of heights, enjoy the view from the tram ride up to the Sterling Vineyards.

The Napa Valley Wine Train provides a perfect end-of-day wining and dining experience. Choose from several dining options while enjoying a 25-mile ride on a fully restored antique train, which boasts an extensive wine selection.

Back at home, break out a bottle of wine and savor your Napa Valley getaway memories.

1

New Orleans, La.

There aren't enough hours in the day in New Orleans, but the frenzied pace keeps you moving. If you're staying in one of the balconied rooms overlooking the French Quarter, you can fall out of bed into Jackson Square, a good place to start your walking tour and people watching. The St. Louis Cathedral is the centerpiece of the square, around which you'll find museums, galleries, restaurants, shopping and an open-air artist colony.

From there, hop on the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar and head over to the Garden District to take in the opulent Greek Revival, Italianate and Victorian mansions. Stop at Lafayette Cemetery #1, one of the above-ground cemeteries, known as "Cities of the Dead," where remains are interred in the monuments and crypts. Note the street-like layout of the cemeteries. End your tour at the Garden District Book Shop to peruse regional titles and snag an autographed Anne Rice novel.

Back at the French Quarter, it's "happy hour" any time of night or day. Stop by Pat O'Brien's and share their requisite specialty drink -- the hurricane. After dinner, drop by Preservation Hall to hear the real deal -- authentic New Orleans-style jazz. There's no cover, but don't look for a seat, it's strictly SRO. Stop by a few more jazz clubs, and top off your evening with a leisurely nightcap in one of the French Quarter's upscale hotels. Grab a few winks, and start over the next day with beignets and chicory coffee at Café du Monde …

For more getaway ideas, take a tour of the links on the following page.

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