As gas prices soar this summer, everyone is feeling pain at the pump. Instead of forgoing the family summer vacation or sacrificing your much-needed time-out, savvy travelers are compromising by spending their vacations closer to home.
This summer, the premium on fuel may be sky-high, but the significance of refueling your spirit is invaluable.
Local 1-tank wonders, round-trip adventures from major cities that can be reached on a tank of gas or less, cut down on fuel costs, eliminate outrageous airfares, yet still afford cost-conscious trekkers the opportunity to get far enough away from home to relax and recharge. Whether you've saved enough pennies for a day-trip, an overnight excursion or an extended getaway, here are several 1-tank summer escapes from 10 U.S. cities that will help stretch your vacation dollars.
One of the most picturesque spots on Boston's North Shore is just 30 miles north of the city. The backdrop for "The Perfect Storm," the charming fishing community of Gloucester is flush with historical folklore and a thriving arts scene -- the Rocky Neck Art Colony is one of the oldest working artist's colonies in the nation. Stage Fort Park reigns supreme for outdoor recreation, while always-popular whale-watching tours take off from nearby Gloucester harbor. Atlantic Yankee Whale Watching is frequently awarded for being a "Best Bet." To mingle with the locals, cozy up for a cocktail at Captain Carlo's Fish Market (Harbor Loop). The seafood is fresh, simply prepared and delicious, and on late nights and weekends, this is the place to be seen.
An easy two-hour drive into western Massachusetts, a stay in the Southern Berkshires town of Great Barrington spells romance and relaxation. Hole up at the antique-filled, historic Wainwright Inn, where ethereal breakfasts include egg souffles and fluffy French toast. Meander along the Great Barrington Housatonic River Walk or step it up a notch with a hike along the Appalachian Trail. Nearby, the small, yet no less stunning Berkshire Botanical Garden showcases more than 3,000 plant species. Frequent jazz performances keep the mood tranquil at the decidedly hip Castle Street Cafe, while 3-course prix fixe menus please cost-conscious gourmands.
New Buffalo, Michigan
On Lake Michigan's Gold Coast, New Buffalo has been called the Hamptons of the Midwest and jokingly dubbed the Irish Riviera, as a lot of Chicago's South Side Irish community vacation here. It's an easy day trip from the city, but the amazing beaches, sand dunes and prime fishing conditions -- New Buffalo has some of the best salmon, trout and perch fishing on the Great Lakes -- make it a popular weekend getaway. The Ship & Shore Art & Music Festival takes place in early August and includes food vendors, live music, family activities, fine art, a beer garden, volleyball tournament and a lighted boat parade at dusk followed by fireworks. Local accommodations range from the affordable Comfort Inn to waterfront The Harbor Grand. New Buffalo is also the site for southwestern Michigan's first gambling casino, the Four Winds Casino Resort.
Sure, everyone knows Wisconsin stakes claim to glorious cheese and beer, but what's less well-known is that Madison is the perfect family or gay-friendly weekend getaway. Earning countless accolades for its eco-friendliness, this picturesque university town is progressive and offers a burgeoning dining and culture scene. L'Etoile Restaurant is worth the splurge, while tasty barbecue joint Famous Dave's is a casual alternative. Cultural activities abound, including the new Cesar Pelli-designed Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. In mid-July, celebrate the Art Fair on the Square, or mix and mingle with locals at the twice-weekly open-air Dane County Farmers' Market (a scaled-back version is also held on Wednesdays just off the Capitol Square), a long-standing local tradition.
Southwest of Dallas, the quaint town of Glen Rose is home to Dinosaur Valley State Park. Its claim to fame is its visible, well-preserved dinosaur footprints. The park also offers hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, as well as campsites, playgrounds and access to the Paluxy River. The historic downtown area offers a bustling courthouse square with restaurants, one-of-a-kind shops, and art galleries. During the summer, expect bluegrass festivals, and an emphasis on water sports such as tubing, canoeing and kayaking. Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is a family favorite. Drive your car along the 10-mile road as you take in over 1,000 exotic animals. Stay onsite in either a tent cabin, at the original ranch house, or at the rustic Wolf Ridge Camp bunkhouse.
Well-heeled Texans mosey on over to Beaumont Ranch for a weekend spent in small-town, pastoral splendor. Swank, but unpretentious, this 16-room working cattle ranch is the place to go for cattle drives, roping or shooting lessons and relaxing trail rides. Soothe your tired body after an activity-filled day with a hot-rock massage at Beau-Monde Spa. Every Friday, there's live music and an all-you-can-eat Fish Fry, but it's the Chuck Wagon Breakfasts that make guests of all ages swoon. Although it's entirely unnecessary to leave the comforts and cosseting of the Ranch, Grandview Cemetery is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Texas and worth a look-see.
Midway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, Ventura is home to an up-and-coming Main Street, mom-and-pop antique stores, wine bars and the historic San Buenaventura Mission. The town tends to attract a hip, sophisticated crowd. Grab tasty small plates and killer happy-hour deals at J's Tapas. For live, alfresco entertainment, the twilight music series presented in the historic Olivas Adobe Courtyard every Saturday from July to September is a summertime social must. Ventura's only beachfront property, the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach offers a special "Tanks for the Memories" rate.
Drive in to Laguna Niguel along Laguna Canyon Road from the I--405 freeway, winding though a canyon until you reach the ocean. This gay-friendly coastal community strongly supports the arts -- The Laguna Art Museum displays American art from the 19th century to present day, with an emphasis on Californian artists. The Sawdust Arts Festival held from late June to late August always features an eclectic lineup of musicians and entertainers. Dozens of fine-arts and crafts galleries, clothing boutiques, and jewelry shops dot downtown. Stay 1 mile south of downtown at the recently updated, Surf & Sand Resort. It's not exactly a budget property, but its beachfront location offers a boutique hotel experience, a small, yet full-service spa and one of the best bars and restaurants in town. For a worthwhile splurge, grab sunset cocktails at the upscale Montage Resort & Spa.
All signs will point towards spending lots and lots of vacation dollars at this popular tourist destination, but you don't have to blow your budget in Orlando (or do Disney) to have a good time. Instead, escape the sweltering Miami heat and head for Orlando's water parks. Most of the area's water parks are concentrated on International Drive, where kid-friendly Wet n' Wild with its grown-up-geared thrill rides is among the most popular and reasonably priced attractions. Pack a cooler with lunch, snacks and beverages to cut food costs. Nearby on route 192, Water Mania is another great all-day destination. The Best Western MovieLand and Clarion Hotel Universal are among the area's more affordable, family-friendly accommodations.
Only 25 miles from downtown Miami via US-41, traveling the route to the Everglades is like taking a step back in time. Take note of the kitschy billboards and signage along the way. Once you arrive, don't miss the opportunity to hop in an airboat and explore the middle of the swamp. Tickets for Gator Park's 40-minute airboat tour and 30-minute wildlife show can be purchased. A shorter version is offered by the Miccosukee Indian Reservation (a 20-minute airboat ride and a 10-minute stop at the Hammock Authentic Indian Camp). If you find yourself hungry en route back to Miami, an early dinner stop at Bonefish Grill is a delicious upscale option.
Montauk, Long Island
It's tough to come by deals in the Hamptons, however, if you've stashed some cash and are looking for a luxe weekend away, Montauk is close by and the way to go. Memorial Day Weekend brought the highly anticipated opening of the Hamptons' latest hot spot, Surf Lodge. Located on the shore of Fort Pond and just a half-mile from the beach, the 32-room boutique hotel was renovated by former Armani protege Robert McKinley and affords panoramic views of the pond. Montauk Downs State Park is best known for its Robert Trent Jones-designed, championship-length, 18-hole golf course, but also boasts 6 championship tennis courts.
Long Island Wine Country/North Fork Region
The complete antithesis to the uber-trendy Hamptons, the North Fork region has retained its rural appeal despite increased interest in the area's winemaking efforts. Think New England charm, breathtaking water views of both the Long Island Sound to the north and the Peconic Bay to the south, with a healthy dose of relaxed wine-country living. Although it's easy to plan a self-guided tour of the region's 35 tasting rooms (provided you have a designated driver), there are several local tour companies that make the adventure safe and easy, including LI Vineyard Tours.
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Families, couples and girl/guy getaways are all headed "down the shore" this summer. Don't miss the Atlantic City Airshow in August. It takes place over the beach and boardwalk, and best of all, it's free to the public.
City-dwellers flee the demands of urban living for the leisurely idyll of Bucks County, home to the much-loved arts-filled town of New Hope. Follow the tree-lined roads to Barley Sheaf Estate & Spa where 16 elegantly appointed suites sit on a sprawling 100-acre pasture. Upscale amenities include whirlpool tubs, fireplaces, private balconies, and in-suite spa treatments making this a favorite, yet surprisingly affordable, destination for folks wanting to unwind. Nearby sights and activities include Delaware River Tubing, performances at The Bucks County Playhouse, and early-American craft demonstrations and classes at the Mercer Museum.
Half Moon Bay
Tucked between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Half Moon Bay is one of those relatively untouched stretches of California coast that is frequently overlooked. For a posh overnight stay, The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay boasts the best of everything - plush environs perfect for a special celebration or an impromptu weekend of pampering. Less spendy, the Spanish-style Half Moon Bay Lodge is offering a "Stay and Play Golf Package," which includes a 1-night stay, golfing for 2 at Half Moon Bay Golf Links with a choice of two 18-hole championship golf courses and complimentary golf cart usage. On July 12, Half Moon Bay showcases its bounty of fruits and vegetables at the "17th Annual Tour des Fleur," where the general public is given a special, once-a-year opportunity to tour the local nurseries/greenhouses, wineries and farms, many of which are not ordinarily open to the public. For the chowhounds, a tour of nearby Harley Farms is not to be missed, where you can learn how goat cheese is made and taste Harley Farms' delicious gourmet products. Check out the tide pools at Fitzgerald Reserve at Moss Beach or go bird-watching -- Half Moon Bay is home to over 20% of all North American bird species and its 2 refuges, Pescadero Marsh and Pillar Point Marsh, are the perfect place to see thousands of unique birds.
Just one hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, budget-minded travelers can find lots to do this summer in Sonoma County. At the end of June, the Hot Air Balloon Classic takes place in Windsor, offering the chance to see awesome balloons from all over the United States floating over western Sonoma County's vineyards, orchards and redwood-covered mountains. The biggest food-and-wine event around, Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, takes place over Labor Day weekend. Affordable accommodations include Rio Villa Beach Resort, located 10 minutes from the coast on the Russian River, and Flamingo Conference Resort & Spa, a historic Santa Rosa landmark. The latter property also has a huge swimming pool, perfect for escaping the valley heat.
Mt. Rainier National Park
Not far from the hustle and bustle of Emerald City, at 14,411 feet, rises majestic Mt. Rainier. Located about 85 miles from the city, Mt. Rainier National Park offers outdoor enthusiasts endless sights and activities -- miles of hiking trails, camping, lakes, streams, summer wildflowers and incomparable views. Each summer, nearly 9,000 climbers try to reach to the mountain's summit -- only about half of the hopefuls succeed. For mountaineering novices, International Mountain Guides can assist in a safe summit climb. For the less adventurous, a walk through the meadows of Paradise or Sunrise is a must. Look for asters, daisies and yellow glacier lilies. Nearby, the 723-acre Northwest Trek Wildlife Park is a favorite among kids. Don't miss the tram tour, which gives guests the opportunity to see a wide variety of animals.
North of the Long Beach Peninsula, on the outer edge of Grays Harbor is Westport. To get to Westport, exit Highway 101 onto Highway 105. This small fishing community sits beside endless miles of beach and is home to some of Washington's best surfing. The two main surf spots are Half Moon Bay and South Jetty. The Westport Maritime Museum and nearby 109-year old Grays Harbor Lighthouse are also worth checking out. For some goodhome-style cooking, try the Dock Street Diner (320 E. Dock). Nightlife options are limited; try Viking Bowl & Restaurant (309 S. Montesano Street). Families enjoythe cottages, decks and water views at The Harbor Resort. The Mariners Cove Inn also offers clean and modestly-priced accommodations.
Chances are, if you've been to Baltimore, you've covered most of the usual tourist destinations -- the Inner Harbor, National Aquarium, Maryland Science Center, Fort McHenry and Fells Point. In the spirit of saving money, why not explore some of these lesser-known (read: lower-cost) deals? Kids love the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Located just off of Key Highway (between the Inner Harbor and Federal Hill), it's next door to one of the city's best dining deals -- a brunch at Little Havana that includes all-you-can-drink mimosas and Bloody Marys, not to mention fantastic harbor views. Instead of falling prey to high-priced Inner Harbor tourist traps, hit up Phillips Seafood for its happy hour. Held Monday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m., it includes food, beer, wine and cocktails and more of that highly coveted harbor view. Another fun-for-everyone activity is The Original Fell's Point Ghostwalk. Save a few bucks by buying your tickets in advance. Sports buffs may want to catch a Baltimore Orioles game at nearby Camden Yards.
Old Town Alexandria, Virginia
With its art galleries, boutique shopping, historic sites and restaurants, as well as access to miles of scenic trails and bike paths, and just six miles from Washington, DC, Old Town Alexandria was made for impromptu weekend getaways. Pack up the family, or even just your honey, and head to Hotel Monaco Alexandria, where four-star service and amenities are affordable this summer. Every Saturday night, kids and grown-ups can throw on their swimsuits and head to the pool for "Dive-in Movie" night. Of course, lavish lounge chairs and cocktail service are available for maximum parental relaxation. The hotel also offers complimentary bikes for kids and adults to use during their stay.