The 10 Best Weekend Trips You Need to Take This Year
These U.S. destinations are easy to reach from several major cities and have plenty to see, eat, and do.
Embarking on the perfectly-planned summer vacation is always a highlight of each year, but for the past two, it's been harder than ever to get away. Even though COVID-19 travel restrictions have loosened, gas and fuel prices have skyrocketed, making a lengthy road trip or an international flight simply out of the question for many people.
Instead, stay nearby and take a shorter trip to a weekend-friendly destination within the U.S. There are plenty of smaller towns and cities located near big cities throughout the country that are bursting with fun-filled activities and sights. From masterpiece-filled museums to low-key beaches, there are plenty of things to see and do that aren't too far away.
Here are some of the best weekend trips you need to take this year. And next, don't miss The 10 Best National Parks That Need to Be on Your Bucket List.
Cooperstown, New York
Although it's a relatively small city, every baseball fan in the country knows about Cooperstown, New York. Located a few hours from New York City, Boston, and Philly, it's home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is enough to make a fanatic of any team eager to make the journey.
"Cooperstown is nestled in the Catskills, so your drive is very scenic and serene," says Mallory Furry, of Mindy Bianca Public Relations, which focuses on travel. "As you get closer to your destination, you'll be treated to rolling hills, green pastures, and breathtaking mountain views."
Even if you're not a baseball fan, there are plenty of things to do in Cooperstown that aren't centered around America's pastime. In fact, the city has been ranked as one of the best places to visit in the entire state by U.S. News & World Report because of its connections to baseball, of course, but also for its other attractions.
"The area is culturally rich with several renowned museums, like the Fenimore Art Museum and Farmers' Museum," Furry says. "The Glimmerglass Festival, a summer opera and musical theater festival, is the most anticipated event of the season. People come from all over the country to see the performances."
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Panama City, Florida
Located on Florida's panhandle, Panama City is just a few hours away from cities like Atlanta, Birmingham, Jacksonville, and New Orleans. The city, with a population of more than 32,000 residents, is known for its art deco architecture and gigantic oysters.
"Panama City's historic neighborhoods are best explored by foot and are full of locally-owned shops and restaurants–you won't find chains or franchises here," says Jennifer Vigil, the President and CEO of Destination Panama City.
It's also a stop on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail since it serves as the home of the courthouse of Gideon v. Wainwright, a famous case in which the Supreme Court ruled that states were required to provide attorneys to criminal defendants who could not afford their own.
"Panama City is located in the geographic center of the Florida Panhandle, so it's the perfect launching point for unforgettable day trips to some of Florida's most breathtaking beaches, parks, and natural springs," Vigil says. "Panama City Beach and Mexico Beach are easily accessible, too."
Half Moon Bay, California
If you love the Bay Area but hate the crowds, take a short drive down the coast to Half Moon Bay, a small city home to several beaches. The drive to get to Half Moon Bay is an experience itself, as the journey from San Francisco follows the famed California State Route 1, which hugs the coastline and gives stunning views of the ocean as drivers cruise near the rocky cliffs.
"It's a beautiful stretch of California coastline and truly the perfect place to spend some time away from the big city," says Marc Bromhall, the founder of Surf's Up Magazine.
Half Moon Bay is an ideal weekend destination, because, for a small city with a population that hovers around 12,000, there's an abundance of activities to do even if you don't feel like sitting at the beach.
"You can horseback ride along a scenic beach, play golf on a spectacular course overlooking the ocean, or browse through the numerous artisanal shops and art galleries in the historic section," Bromhall says, adding that there are numerous quaint bed-and-breakfasts to make a reservation in and enjoy time in the oceanside location.
You don't have to be a top-class skier to find Breckenridge, Colorado, just 80 miles from Denver, a top-notch weekend destination, but of course, that doesn't hurt as the town is one of the best places in the country to go skiing, according to U.S. News & World Report.
"In the heart of the Colorado Rockies, surrounded by spectacular scenery, the Victorian mining town of Breckenridge sets the stage for the perfect weekend getaway," says Kirstin Koszorus of Handlebar Public Relations.
"Visitors flying into Denver International Airport have a choice between several airport mountain shuttles in the summer to get to Breckenridge," Koszorus says. "Once in Breckenridge, no car is needed with access to bikes or e-bikes, the Breck Free Ride bus route, and walking. There's no reason to deal with the hassle of a rental car (or gas prices) on a trip to Breckenridge."
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Atlantic City, New Jersey
Atlantic City is mostly known for its gambling and casinos, but there's so much more to this spot. Located in the southern part of the Jersey Shore, the city is a quick weekend getaway for Philadelphia residents and is ranked as one of the best day trips from nearby New York City by U.S. News & World Report.
"Atlantic City is a great place for a quick escape for anyone who wants a weekend soaking up the sun down the shore," says Hallie Moore, an account coordinator for MMGY NJF. "With panoramic ocean views, a boardwalk filled with iconic food, and top-notch entertainment across the destination's many venues, there truly is something for everyone."
Of course, you can spend the weekend at the casino, but if you're looking for other entertainment, there's also the Steel Pier, an oceanfront amusement park with a 227-foot-tall ferris wheel. Or, spend the weekend biking along the boardwalk or catching some rays at the beach.
Just 90 minutes outside of Nashville lies Lynchburg, an ideal small city to spend a weekend exploring the outdoors and enjoying a drink or two.
"Kick off your visit with a stroll through Tims Ford State Park on some of the 6.5 miles of unpaved hiking trails," says Mary Katelyn Price, a communications specialist at the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. "Seven miles of paved biking trails connect to the major areas of the park. Explore the multi-use mountain biking trail that runs along the shoreline of Tims Ford Reservoir."
One of the things that Tennessee is most known for is its whiskey production.
"Take a tour to see how the world's leading whiskey is made at Jack Daniel's Distillery," suggests Price. "Before you head back to the city, stop in Miss Mary Bobo's for family-style, country dining, or dig into perfectly smoked barbecue at Barrel House BBQ.
It's no surprise that Charlottesville, located just 117 miles away from Washington D.C., is teeming with presidential history.
"Home to three former U.S. presidents—Jefferson, Monroe, and Madison—and nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the area is teeming with history," says Brantley Ussery, the director of marketing and public relations for the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau. Visitors can check out the University of Virginia, founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, and walk along The Lawn, a sprawling, grassy court that's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Charlottesville is also known for its wine production and is teeming with vineyards.
"The Charlottesville area has quickly become known as one of the most acclaimed wine regions on the East Coast," Ussery says. "Home to the Monticello Wine Trail, the area now boasts more wineries, many of which have received national and even international awards."
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It might be hard to imagine for mainlanders, but even when you live in a place as seemingly idyllic as Honolulu, you need to take a weekend break. The capital city is regularly ranked as having some of the worst traffic in the country, so take a weekend break to a more peaceful island. Maui, located approximately 100 miles from Honolulu, is a 45-minute flight or a 90-minute ferry ride away.
"With an average of 20 hours of sunshine per day, Maui is the ideal spot to unwind and revitalize," says Fred Baker, the senior travel editor at Travelness. "It's no surprise that Maui is known as 'paradise' because of its sandy beaches, tropical warmth, and lush greenery."
Sure, Maui has a lot of areas to rest and unwind for a relaxing weekend trip, but if you're up for more adventure, take on the road to Hana—a 64.4-mile-long stretch of highway with pinpoint turns, scenic drop offs, and waterfalls at almost every corner. Or, head out to Maui's national park on Haleakala, the island's dormant volcano.
"Visitors can enjoy amazing views of the surrounding area from the summit of Mt. Haleakala," Baker says. "You can go stargazing in the dark sky above, and the peak can be reached by hiking from the Kipahulu Visitor Center or via helicopter."
"Most people know Gettysburg as a quaint little town made famous by a three-day battle in 1863, so of course, it appeals to history buffs and families, but the town is also full of one-of-kind shops, pubs, and restaurants," says Gettysburg native, author, and travel blogger, Jessica James.
The town is home to Gettysburg National Military Park, which encompasses the battlefield. But for For a more modern taste of history, there's also the Eisenhower National Historic Site, the location of the home and farm of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Gettysburg, which is less than two hours from Philadelphia and approximately 90 minutes from Washington D.C. and Baltimore, has a population of around 7,000 people, but for believers in the supernatural, that number skyrockets when you consider its number of ghosts and eerie, haunted sights.
"There are lots of ghost tours for ghost hunters of all ages," James says. "Gettysburg is said to be one of the most haunted small towns in the country."
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
If you're looking for a creative weekend away from Minneapolis, Milwaukee, or even more far-off Chicago, Eau Claire, located in northwestern Wisconsin.
"Located at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers, Eau Claire has hundreds of miles of bike trails, numerous bridges, countless murals, and is home to the second-largest outdoor sculpture tour in the U.S.," confirms Luke Alex of Visit Eau Claire.
A lot of visitors make their way to Eau Claire because of its burgeoning music scene, which began to boom after the success of hometown hero Justin Vernon. "He's the frontman for Grammy-Awarded Bon Iver. He grew up here and still lives here," Alex says.
Vernon co-founded the Eaux Claire two-day music festival, which has seen headliners like Chance the Rapper, Wilco, and Paul Simon. For more weekend getaway ideas, check out The Best Tourist Attraction in Every State.