America's Best Cities For Easy 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.

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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 + Leisure comes 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.

For gastronomy-gone-wild, let us introduce a chef with molecular juju in New Orleans, a smorgasbord of Asian cuisines in a suburb of Vancouver, and all-you-can-eat itineraries in emerging foodie locales such as Baltimore’s Hampden neighbourhood and the vineyard-covered Willamette Valley. Just south of Portland and, seemingly, a world away from posh Napa, it’s the place to tell your wine-loving friends back home about over a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir from the Bethel Heights Vineyard.

If the workweek has you feeling adventurous, the 5.4-mile-long Angels Landing Trail in Zion Canyon, UT, or sea kayaking around Washington’s San Juan Island will get your adrenaline pumping. Or by all means, just let yourself chill out, because maybe the best weekend of all is a day or two at the beach, especially if you stay at a Patricia Urquiola–designed hotel on the red-hot Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

Whatever you do, take a tip from legendary smarty-pants magazine columnist Marilyn vos Savant: “Be in the habit of getting up bright and early on the weekends. Why waste such precious time in bed?”

Good advice. After all, the next great weekend trip may just be next weekend. Start planning yours by taking a tour of our slideshow.

See the easy weekend getaways >
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This story was originally published by Travel + Leisure

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 centre; 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

Springdale, Utah

It's just a 2 1/2-hour drive from Las Vegas to this small town on the Virgin River, but the desert gets empty and wild surprisingly fast.

Springdale is the anti-Vegas: serious canyoneers mingle with fine-art photographers at weekly gallery openings, the Springdale Fruit Company sells organic fruit smoothies, and plein-air painters head to workshops at the Zion Canyon Field Institute.

The biggest draw, however, is nearby Zion Canyon, a narrow funnel of 2,000-foot-high sandstone walls glossy with a crimson patina and top-heavy buttes that appear to shoot straight up from earth to sky.

By far the best place to stay is the understated Desert Pearl Inn ($). Like the rest of Springdale, it's authentic without trying too hard: reclaimed old-growth Douglas fir floors and a tawny palette of neutrals provide a soothing retreat from the blazing red rock outside.

During late spring and summer, crowds are a fact of life here, but the guides at Zion Adventure Company can steer you through the lesser-known hikes. If you absolutely must trek the popular, precipitous, and occasionally terrifying 5.4-mile-long Angels Landing Trail, do as the locals do and set out at dawn when it's cooler and quieter.

You'll be back in time for slow-cooked-pork burritos at Oscar's Café ($$), a swim in the hotel pool, and a well-earned siesta on your private terrace. Springdale comes alive in the evenings when residents gather for sweet-potato tamales and fresh tilapia at the Bit & Spur ($$) and Saturday-night music festivals at the O. C. Tanner Amphitheater.

Before heading back to Vegas, swing by the Red Mountain Resort (treatments from $60) adventure spa--there's no better way to end the trip than with a regionally inspired hot-stone massage. --Katie Arnold

Santa Barbara, California

Long a getaway for Hollywood royalty, this untamed yet civilized landscape is dotted with Mediterranean mansions, sprawling orange groves, and chaparral-covered mountains that plunge into the ocean.

High in the hills, you'll find the recently renovated El Encanto ($$$$), an iconic idyll with Craftsman- and Spanish-colonial-style bungalows--but if you'd rather be by the sand, there's the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore ($$$).

Start your morning at the clock tower of the Santa Barbara Courthouse, where the view stretches from the Channel Islands to the Santa Barbara Mission. It's a six-block walk from there to the Saturday Farmers Market, the perfect place to watch grey-haired hippies, dreadlocked surfers, and well-heeled natives hunting for Central Coast olive oils and zingy lemon-flavored pistachios.

While you could spend hours on nearby Butterfly Beach spotting dolphins, save time for the Funk Zone, an artsy industrial district opposite Stearns Wharf. Here, pick up the Urban Wine Trail (a network of 17 tasting rooms) at Municipal Winemakers, whose varietals have offbeat names such as Bright Red and Fizz.

For lunch, the open-air trolley on State Street leads to Scarlett Begonia ($$); snag a table in the hidden courtyard and order the salmon carpaccio from the all-organic menu. Or head to the Shop ($) for a sandwich inspired by Ugandan street food: scrambled eggs, bacon, and smoked tomato on house-made flatbread. --Mark Morrison

Charleston, South Carolina

Mobile, Alabama

Phoenicia, New York

Tucked away in the Catskills, Phoenicia is a quintessential slice of small-town Americana with an Andrew Wyeth--worthy landscape full of secret swimming holes and rolling hills.

Just off Main Street is newcomer Graham & Co ($), a retro hotel with reclaimed-wood furniture and hanging Edison lightbulbs, designed by a group of creative New Yorkers.

Ask the front desk to help arrange a tubing trip down Esopus Creek or take a hike around the seven-mile Slide Mountain Loop; then reward yourself with an aromatherapy massage at the Emerson (treatments from $30). --Clara O. Sedlak

San Juan Island, Washington

It's impossible to pack all the adventure found in this Northwestern island chain into a weekend, but the town of Friday Harbor is the ideal starting point for any attempt.

The contemporary wood-and-glass Island Inn at 123 West ($$) is the latest place to sneak in a rest between guided sea-kayaking trips and wildlife treks through nearby English Camp park to spot black-tailed deer and bald eagles.

On Saturday mornings, locals amble through the San Juan Island Farmers Market at the Brickworks plaza; swing by Duck Soup Inn ($$), where the fried cauliflower with spicy Vietnamese lime sauce is only a prelude to the innovative dishes to come. --Heidi Mitchell

South Fork of the Snake River, Idaho

Cottonwood forests and basalt spires make Idaho's Swan Valley a backcountry playground for hiking, biking, and rafting enthusiasts.

The Natural Retreats South Fork Lodge ($$), on the edge of the Snake River, is the ultimate base camp (private balconies; sweeping river views). Sign up for the hotel's safari; you'll travel by boat and horseback in search of grizzlies, elk, and grey wolves, with stays at luxury tented camps. --Nina Fedrizzi

Islamorada, Florida

There's not much to do in this low-key island village in the Upper Keys--and that's precisely the point. Settle in to your oceanfront suite at Cheeca Lodge & Spa ($$) before a dip in the pool and fruity rum runners at Holiday Isle Tiki Bar.

If you're craving seafood for dinner, the hogfish meunière and broccolini at Pierre's Restaurant ($$$) is an island favourite. By day, snorkel the NOAA National Marine Sanctuary, tour the art galleries at Morada Way Arts & Cultural District, or simply go for a swim in the hotel's saltwater lagoon. --Tom Austin

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