10 Great Cities For Weekend Getaways

Thank God for Friday — the gateway to a new adventure. Celebrated in movies and songs, the weekend looms large in the imagination.

It seduces us with the heady possibilities of recreation, relaxation, and romance.

It’s our eagerly anticipated escape valve, a release from the daily grind.

For some city dwellers, the siren call of a nearby beach or a house in the country is irresistible. Yet over time, even that can become routine. Every so often, we need to get away from the usual, without making it seem like work.

That’s where Travel + Leisurecomes in. We sent intrepid reporters across North America to scout out easy weekend getaways, and their discoveries range from an affordable nine-room New England inn in tiny North Haven, ME, to renovated bungalows in the hills of Santa Barbara, CA.

Vancouver

Snowcapped mountains and expansive bays form the backdrop for the Northwest's greatest boomtown -- a city of diverse neighborhoods that embraces both outdoorsy culture and innovation.

The 2010 Olympics sparked a major development frenzy, and along with new restaurants and boutiques came renovations of several landmark hotels. Make your base downtown's 1927 Rosewood Hotel Georgia ($$$), with revamped Art Deco -- inspired rooms and a slick, dark-wood-and-gold paneled restaurant run by star chef David Hawksworth.

From there, it's a leisurely stroll to Stanley Park, where you can hike along the 14-mile Seawall Trail. Or head to the Victorian Gastown neighbourhood to see Native American art galleries such as the three-story Hill's Native Art, which showcases ceremonial masks and totem poles, limited-edition prints, and bentwood boxes.

The Skytrain at nearby Water Station will take you to suburban Richmond, home to Vancouver's Asian culinary scene: dim sum temples; noodle huts; Korean barbecue joints -- you'll find them all here. Don't miss the standout mushroom dumplings and clay-pot chicken at local favourite Jade Seafood ($$).

For the city's best shopping, the indie district around King Edward Avenue is full of one-off gems. Look for vintage leather clutches and bags at Front & Company and contemporary crafts at Walrus. -- David A. Keeps

North Haven, Maine

Sometimes a single hotel can put a relatively unknown destination on the map -- and so it was with the cheerful Nebo Lodge ($) and the three-mile-wide Penobscot Bay island of North Haven, an hour's ferry ride from Rockland.

The nine-room property has all the trappings you'd expect from a classic New England island escape -- grey wainscoting, shady porches, cast-iron beds, and claw-foot tubs -- but the imaginative food of chef Amanda Hallowell is reason in itself to visit.

Summertime North Haven regulars such as novelist Susan Minot and artist Eric Hopkins have come to sample her hyper-local dishes -- a peppered-mackerel Caesar salad and a pickle plate of sweet beets, celery, and fennel, to name two. What to do when you're not eating?

Live the pine-shaded, salty Maine fantasy, of course: bike the island's 30 miles of roads, climb to the top of Ames Knob, laze on the beaches of Mullen's Head Park, and explore pint-size Main Street. Find Ping-Pong and evening concerts at Waterman's Community Center; made-in-Maine ceramics at North Haven Gift Shop (207/867-4444); and farther south, the new Fox I Printworks, which stocks quirky T-shirts silk-screened with lighthouses and tractors.

Don't leave town without a stop at the North Island Museum, where you'll learn about the area's evolution from a Native American territory to the lobster-fishing hamlet it is today. -- Kate Sekules

Charleston, South Carolina

It's easy to love antebellum Charleston, with its scented gardens and live oaks, starched demeanor and polite exchanges of the day.

Although you can still meet a traditional sweetgrass basket weaver such as 78-year-old Sue Middleton at the City Market or thumb through vintage Southern recipe collections at Heirloom Book Company, off lower King Street (a.k.a. the Antiques District), the slide rule of charm has recently shifted farther north, to upper King.

This red-hot frontier of urban renewal is occupied by a new generation of tattooed hipsters who irreverently refer to home as 'Chucktown.' Browse the asymmetrical leather jackets by designer Rick Owens and Isabel Marant's embroidered skirts at Worthwhile before slipping into the speakeasy-inspired Cocktail Club for an impeccably crafted pre-dinner drink. (Look for the door with a 'C.')

Just up the road, chef Mike Lata of downtown's much-loved F.I.G. has opened the Ordinary, a casual seafood joint known for its clam cakes and triggerfish schnitzel. Live music is never far from any street corner -- and the Charleston Music Hall is the go-to spot for everything from Argentinean tango to homegrown country-rock duo Shovels & Rope.

In the adjacent Ansonborough district, the 18-suite Zero George ($$), set in five restored town houses clustered around a central courtyard, has started welcoming guests with expert-guided antiquing trips, afternoon cocktails in the salon, and Lowcountry cooking classes. -- Shane Mitchell

Mobile, Alabama

Mardi Gras may have started in Mobile, where streets are lined with 19th-century mansions and live oaks draped in Spanish moss, but the city stays blissfully under the radar compared with its Big Easy neighbour.

Get your Gulf Coast bearings at Wintzell's Oyster House ($$), which promises its mollusks 'fried, stewed, or nude.' At the just-opened Fort Conde Inn ($), set in an 1836 Victorian house, thoughtful Southern touches are on display: rooms are done up with elegant mirrors from the 1800's and antique armoires. It's only a short drive to Midtown, home to the Ashland Gallery (251/479-3548), whose stoneware bowls make great souvenirs. -- Stirling Kelso

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