While traveling in a country as big as the USA can be daunting, you have to start somewhere. Why not a weekend getaway?
Among the country’s extraordinary array of climates, regions and cultures, it’s not hard to find tempting options for a big-city exploration, small-town adventure and epic road trip. The hardest part? Deciding where to go. Which is why we’ve asked four expert writers based in different parts of the USA to share their favorite weekend getaways.
Wherever you are or want to go, there’s an ideal trip for you.
Best weekend getaways in the South
Writer DeAnna Taylor has visited all seven continents. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, she has also spent plenty of time exploring her local stomping grounds.
Hocking Hills, Ohio
Best for families
Perched on the edge of Appalachia, Hocking Hills features waterfalls, caves, forests and hemlock-covered gorges that are great for family excursions. Small-town hospitality makes everything accessible, including cozy inns and old-school diners. Try tube-floating on the Hocking River, zip-lining through the forest or gazing at the night sky at the John Glenn Astronomy Park.
Best for couples
Cozy up with your significant other for a romantic carriage ride under Savannah’s famous oaks draped with Spanish moss. Make a pit stop at scenic Forsyth Park to snap a few photos by the famous fountain. Or stroll hand-in-hand as you peruse the vendors and artisans in Savannah City Market. Consider dropping into The Grey for dinner – the restaurant of famed chef Mashama Bailey and John Morisano – and don’t forget to order the oxtail pot roast and Dutch Fork pumpkin soup.
Southend, Charlotte, North Carolina
Best for foodies
Southend is easily one of Charlotte’s most bustling neighborhoods, with dozens of locally owned eateries and breweries competing for hungry visitors. For Asian fare, order a feast of crispy pork belly, bao buns, soy-pickled deviled eggs, and sweet and mild wings at Seoul Food Meat Company. If you prefer Mexican-inspired flavors, visit Tacos Rick-O on the patio of Hoppin’ CLT for some of the area’s best birria preparations. At Resident Culture Brewing, El Toro Bruto serves up killer breakfast tacos and pan dulce (sweet pastries). Just don’t forget to grab a chocolate chai or gingerbread matcha from the coffee counter.
Asheville, North Carolina
Best for art and culture lovers
Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, charming and eclectic Asheville is a great getaway for those who truly appreciate the beauty of street art. Spend some time in the River Arts District to get your fill of ever-changing murals, art galleries and even interactive glassblowing at the North Carolina Glass Center. While there, swing by White Duck Taco for a unique menu that includes tacos made with Thai peanut chicken, jerk chicken and lamb gyro.
Best for outdoorsy families
Whether you’re traveling as a family or solo, this mountainous Tennessee town is the perfect nature escape. Take the SkyLift for a 2.1-mile ride offering aerial views of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Or simply spend a day hiking the surrounding trails, leaving time for a serene picnic surrounded by nature (you may even spot wild elk). In the winter, grab your skis or snowboard for a day of thrills at Ober Mountain.
Best for nightlife
For fun into the wee hours, Downtown Austin is where you’ll want to go – Rainey St in particular. After famed 6th St, this bustling district is the city’s second-largest entertainment hub, with plenty of bars, live-music venues and eateries. If you’re longing for a Caribbean getaway without having to leave the country, Idle Hands serves up a range of tropics-inspired cocktails.
Best weekend getaways on the West Coast
Originally from Colorado, Tyler Wildeck is a writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has spent most of his adult life roaming the Western USA.
San Juan Islands, Washington
Best for rustic vibes and romance
For adventurous weekenders, the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State showcase some of the Pacific Northwest’s rarest wildlife. Orcas, the San Juans’ most notable island, is home to three resident pods of killer whales, who are commonly spotted just offshore as they hunt for salmon. The islands also boast the largest concentration of bald eagles in the contiguous United States.
In addition to copious wildlife viewing, hiking and kayaking, the most-populous islands offer a variety of engaging historic sites, restaurants and rustic lodges for a weekend’s stay. Just don’t forget to book your ferry boat (or floatplane) ahead of time.
San Francisco, California
Best for urbanites at heart
San Francisco is synonymous with West Coast culture for a reason. Where else can you find stunning ocean views, top-tier eats and a wealth of shopping, arts and nightlife? The city truly has it all – and while a weekend isn’t enough to see the whole city, it’s enough to make you want to come back many times over. Whether you’re romping around the Mission in search of the perfect cocktail, taking in a Giants game at Oracle Park (two words: garlic fries) or going on a spending spree at the shops around Union Square, there is hardly a better place to spend a weekend away than the City by the Bay.
Best for history buffs
Situated at the mouth of the Columbia River on Oregon’s coast, Astoria is just a 90-minute drive from nearby Portland. Great for history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts looking for a weekend at the end of the Oregon Trail, Astoria offers the chance to learn about the earliest days of the fur trade in North America and to visit the famous Fort Clatsop, where the Lewis and Clark expedition spent the winter of 1805. (The current fort has been reconstructed to match the original design, and is part of the larger Lewis & Clark National Historical Park.) Spend your weekend getting lost in the stories of river fording and salmon fishing – and, if you’re brave enough, cast a line for your own gigantic sturgeon, one of the coastal site’s most famous undersea creatures.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Best for a family camping trip
For casual outdoorsy types looking for a easy weekend getaway, Joshua Tree National Park offers a wonderful blend of scenery and outdoor activities, with a notably thinner crowd than popular Yosemite to the north. Just two hours from the Los Angeles area, Joshua Tree offers convenience and a unique desert ecosystem that make it a premium location for a weekend camping trip, and its hiking, world-class rock climbing and stargazing rival anywhere in the US. Bonus points for staying up late enough to snag a picture of the otherworldly Joshua trees underneath a canopy of stars.
Best weekend getaways in the Northeast
Marcia DeSanctis is a writer based in rural Connecticut, whose travels have taken her to Uzbekistan, Rwanda, Egypt – and all over the northeastern United States.
Best for New England seaside atmosphere
Sometimes it’s the classics that awaken a sense of discovery, and Ogunquit is quintessential Maine. To visit is to experience the wonderfully familiar – like sensory comfort food – since the air here is tinged with the smells of ocean spray and seafood shacks. Drift through Perkins Cove, the weathered downtown fishing village, and stop for salt-water taffy at Perkins Cove Candies. Try a perfect lobster roll at Barnacle Billy’s between May and November, and all year long at Nubb’s Lobster Shack.
Ogunquit has a dreamy, white-sand public beach, and beyond it lies the Marginal Way, a dramatic, wind-whipped coastal trail along which you can contemplate the Atlantic Ocean to the sounds of waves smashing the granite cliffs.
Providence, Rhode Island
Best for a foodie and cocktail break
Like a lot of American cities that were once down on their luck, the Rhode Island capital has come roaring back. Once the overlooked little brother of mighty Boston, Providence now draws plenty of visitors thanks to its fabulous architectural treasures, plus such intimate, historic neighborhoods as Federal Hill, the city’s vibrant Little Italy. Here, amid the old brick and wooden buildings, you’ll find one of the neighborhood’s (and the city’s) most distinctive dishes: French fries with meatballs at Angelo’s, an institution since 1924.
Urban revivals often center around a food and bar scene – and in this arena, Providence seems to be constantly, brilliantly innovating. For modern takes on classic bars downtown, Eddy is a modern speakeasy, while Clementine, owned by the city’s former mayor, offers small plates and innovative drinks. In the Fox Point neighborhood, Glou has a minimal, almost Scandinavian vibe. Try the crudo – raw, sustainably caught fish – at Oberlin; its chef and owner Benjamin Sukle is one of the most celebrated chefs in America. And don’t miss the ice-cream sandwiches at Tricycle.
Best for art – and R&R
Located in northwest Connecticut, the town of Washington is an ideal base for a spin around the scenic Litchfield Hills. Full of working farms, broad New England vistas and a pervading sense of tranquility, the town has lured artists, writers and all manner of creators (think Alexander Calder, Frank McCourt and Christine Baranski) looking to escape the din of New York City, just two hours away.
It is fitting, then, that you can visit world-class art galleries right in town: photography at KMR Arts and painting, sculpture and ceramics (and an unmatched April-to-October farmers market) at the Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens. Browse the shelves at cozy independent bookstore Hickory Stick (and find signed copies from authors who call the area home, including Dani Shapiro, Lisa Taddeo, Courtney Maum and Sarah Albee); bring proper shoes for any of the 18 miles of lush trails at Steep Rock Preserve; and put on something a little fancier – but not too fancy! – for craft cocktails and a sublime, locally sourced dinner at Community Table.
Hudson, New York
Best for shopping and charm
Just two hours north of Manhattan, Hudson draws both tastemakers and weekend wanderers. The whaling industry – thanks to which Hudson became a 19th-century boomtown– eventually faltered, yet the city retains the era’s elegant Queen Anne and Victorian bones, and much of it has been lovingly and stylishly restored. The main thoroughfare, Warren St, is lined with handsome mini-mansions, coffee bars, Scandinavian antique stores and low-key-chic clothing boutiques like Unracked. On the to-do list: brunch at Tavern in the movie theater-turned-hotel Rivertown Lodge; real French crêpes at Le Gamin; a visit to Olana, painter Frederic Church’s stunning residence above the Hudson River, which also has several miles of trails; and made-in-the-USA basics at Hudson Clothier.
Kancamagus Hwy, New Hampshire
Best for a scenic drive and the great outdoors
To born-and-bred Yankees, Rte 112, the scenic New Hampshire highway known locally as “the Kanc,” is the prettiest drive in the northeast. For raw, sheer, bold beauty, it is textbook New England, blazing red and orange come fall-foliage season. It is also ideal the rest of the year, with less traffic along the 35-mile mountain gap (and its many connected trails) through New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest – home to Mt Washington and Franconia Notch State Park, both nearby.
Begin in the ski town of Conway and head west. The route is jam-packed with natural beauty and plenty of hiking trails, so by all means pull over and veer off to stretch your legs, take in the views and chase the seven waterfalls cascading over granite rock faces along the way. Among the loveliest sights: picturesque Albany Covered Bridge, built in 1858; the cascade, lake and footbridge at Rocky Gorge; roaring Sabbaday Falls; the Pemigewassett Overlook, with its panoramic vistas of the Osceola Mountains; and Franconia Falls, with naturally carved chutes and slides for a cool dip in summer. At the end of your drive, you’ll be in the fanciful town of Lincoln.
Best weekend getaways in the Midwest
Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a Chicago-born-and-bred writer with deep expertise in all things related to the Windy City (she’s written two books on her hometown) as well as the wider Midwest.
Door County, Wisconsin
Best for outdoor escapades
Five state parks, forests, orchards, sand dunes, sea caves and 300 miles of dazzling shoreline make Door County, Wisconsin, the ultimate natural paradise. This all-season outdoor getaway boasts near-endless recreation options along dozens of scenic trails. The peninsula encompasses a cluster of charming small towns, and travelers can explore the landscapes of each one. After hiking, boating or climbing lighthouses, the signature Door County experience is a fish boil. This centuries-old Scandinavian tradition involves a master boiler who oversees a big cauldron of whitefish – as they toss kerosene on an open fire.
Kansas City, Missouri
Best for a (mid-sized) city break
Over 200 fountains cascade water all over Kansas City, giving this Midwest powerhouse the designation of the city with the most working fountains in the world. KC is filled with surprises like this, making it the perfect mid-sized-city getaway. Munching through mounds of sweet and spicy barbecue and checking out the city’s notable jazz heritage at clubs and at the American Jazz Museum are definite musts. But there are also unexpected gems like the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the 22-acre sculpture park at the world-class Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art – not to mention delightful independent shops.
Best for culture lovers
Chi-town supplies everything from food and art to music and architecture in big, memorable doses. The Midwest’s largest city, Chicago pulses with history and excitement, whether you opt for a famous excursion like an architecture tour along the lakefront, or a visit to one of its 77 diverse neighborhoods. Come hungry, too – to sample signature dishes like deep-dish pizza, Italian beef and jibarito sandwiches, and then to hit up one of 23 Michelin-starred restaurants. World-class museums including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History explore human achievement, while glorious live music at dozens of blues, jazz and indie clubs is always on offer. The cultural riches shine all year round but the summer brings extra sparkle thanks to dynamic music and art festivals.
Best for historic charm
Cozy up with your partner amid the 19th-century elegance of this former mining town framed by the Galena River, with Victorian houses lining the streets and rolling hills as a backdrop. Stroll through a vineyard and wine-tasting tour, hop on an electric bike or opt for a romantic balloon ride. A stop by the Italianate home of 18th US President Ulysses S Grant is a Galena must-do.