The United States is a huge country, which means that it offers plenty of travel opportunities for both residents and visitors. Within easy weekend-trip distance of major cities, you’ll find beaches, resort towns, vineyards, national parks — and even other large cities. Here are some of our favorite destinations to visit from five of the best-known cities in the U.S.
Boston → Cape Cod
Although Boston is a lovely city with historic sites, prestigious universities, and large parks to explore, what could be better than a weekend at the beach? New England’s classic seaside destination is only an hour and a half from the Massachusetts capital.
Each town on Cape Cod has its own personality. Barnstable is large enough that it’s divided into seven smaller villages — including Hyannis, where the Kennedy family has a large vacation home. Other towns like Dennis cater to younger families, while Provincetown is a hub for LGBT travelers, art lovers, and whale-watching enthusiasts.
On Cape Cod, there are practically limitless opportunities for hiking, biking, jogging, and even rollerblading. The Cape Cod Rail Trail is a popular paved option that extends for 22 miles and cuts through six towns. Meanwhile, at Cape Cod National Seashore, swimmers splash in the Atlantic and sunbathers relax on the beach. Be sure to check out a few of the resident lighthouses, windmills, and museums before you depart!
Cape Cod becomes extremely busy during the summer months, so it’s best to visit during the spring or fall. Hotels are less expensive and beaches less crowded in April through May and October through November, and temperatures are mild. Regardless, remember to pack a jacket, no matter what time of year you choose to visit.
Philadelphia → New York City
Or vice versa! Take a city break without venturing too far from home. With only an hour-long train ride or a two-hour drive between the two cities, Philadelphians can head up to the Big Apple, while New Yorkers can easily venture south to one of America’s most historic cities. Don’t forget to chow down on a New York hot dog or a Philly cheesesteak!
Philadelphia is a prime destination for U.S history buffs, and it also has enough attractions to interest a young crowd. Home to important sites like Independence Hall, Declaration House, and the African-American Museum, visitors can check out several American history hotspots in just one weekend.
Other Philly locations of interest include Reading Terminal Market (one of the largest farmers’ markets in the world, which welcomes about seven million shoppers every year), Longwood Gardens (nearly 1,100 acres of themed gardens about an hour outside the city), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (where visitors will also spot the famous “Rocky Steps”). The city is also home to several professional sports teams, including the Eagles (NFL), 76ers (NBA), Phillies (MLB), and Flyers (NHL), so check the team schedules to see if you can squeeze in a game!
New York, on the other hand, is one of the most dynamic cities in the world, needing little introduction. The city’s major attractions include Times Square, Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge, although all five of the city’s boroughs offer different atmospheres and attractions. Other worthwhile activities include shopping, people-watching, catching a Broadway show, or visiting a world-famous museum.
The best time to visit Philadelphia is from March to May, when the temperatures begin to warm up, but before the huge crowds arrive; if visiting on a budget, plan your excursion for the fall or winter, when hotel fares drop. New York City is best visited from April to June or September to early November, when the temperatures are mild and the crowds are sparse.
Chicago → Lake Geneva
No, not that Lake Geneva. This small lake in Wisconsin, bordered by a town of the same name, is just beyond the Illinois border. It’s only an hour and a half outside Chicago, and it’s been a popular vacation destination for Chicagoans for generations. Although it’s typically viewed as a resort town for the wealthy, it is possible to take a weekend trip there without breaking the bank.
Big Foot Beach is open year-round, with rental options for motorboats and other water equipment; other beaches include Williams Bay Beach and Lake Geneva Riviera Beach. If you’d rather not get wet, you can also enjoy the 26-mile Lake Geneva Shore Path, which takes pedestrians and bikers past bobbing sailboats and sumptuous mansions built more than 100 years ago. You could also embark on a lake cruise, although these are fairly expensive.
If you’d like to visit in the winter, check the dates for Winterfest, a nine-day festival that includes a dog sled race, a snow sculpting competition, magic shows, and helicopter rides. The festival is one of the most popular events that takes place in Lake Geneva.
Luckily, Lake Geneva is easily accessible from Chicago. The weather is fairly similar to what you’d experience in the Windy City (although considerably less breezy), so you can visit during any month of the year.
San Diego → Guadalupe
Everyone knows that San Diegans love crossing the border into Tijuana. But, if you’d like to see a different side of Mexico, try Valle de Guadalupe instead. And if visiting Baja California’s wine country sounds idyllic but expensive, a trip to Valle de Guadalupe costs just a fraction of what you’d pay for a similar weekend in Napa Valley or Temecula.
Valle de Guadalupe is located about two hours south of San Diego and 30 minutes north of Ensenada. This valley is responsible for 90 percent of Mexico’s wine production and is almost entirely devoid of chain hotels and restaurants. Rather, you’ll find plenty of family-owned businesses, including wineries and vineyards.
Nearly 30 years ago, Hugo D’Acosta introduced European winemaking techniques to the Valle, and the industry has boomed in the area since then. Today, there are more than 150 wineries in Valle de Guadalupe, but the area remains laid back and relaxing nonetheless. Growers are happy to experiment with new techniques and taste the results, and guests can sample the fruit of their labors too! Some vineyards, like Adobe Guadalupe, offer everything from wine tastings to horseback rides, massages, garden strolls, and overnight accommodations.
Valle de Guadalupe is gorgeous throughout the entire year, but the best time to visit is in late summer, when you can experience the Fiesta de la Vendimia (Harvest Festival). Book your accommodations early to avoid missing out!
San Francisco → Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
San Francisco is a pretty exciting place, so it can be hard for residents and visitors to leave behind the City by the Bay, but sometimes it just feels good to get outside and escape into nature. When that’s the case, San Franciscans should head to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.
This national park is located almost four and a half hours outside of San Francisco, but it’s worth the drive. Although there are other federal lands located closer to the city (including Yosemite National Park and Mendocino National Forest), Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park hits the sweet spot between natural beauty and scarce crowds. And with more than 95 percent of the national park designated as wilderness, you’d be hard pressed to find more rugged or beautiful land in the U.S. Try to maximize your time by planning your visit over a long weekend.
The park is divided into five areas — Foothills, Mineral King, Giant Forest and Lodgepole, Grant Grove, and Cedar Grove. To see the largest living tree in the world, head to Giant Forest and Lodgepole; to see the second largest tree, check out Grant Grove. These two areas also offer hiking trails, picnic areas, campgrounds, visitor centers, markets, showers, and other services. Cedar Grove and Mineral King are located at high elevations, so you’ll find excellent hiking and camping in these areas in particular. Finally, the Foothills area is located near the park entrance; you’ll find the best hiking here during winter and spring, when rainfall brings the vegetation to life.
There’s no bad time to visit this national park! The Cedar Grove and Mineral King areas shut down during the winter months, but visitors can make up for that by snowshoeing and cross-country skiing elsewhere in the park. Temperatures are moderate from spring to fall, and the park remains relatively uncrowded during the summer.
With so much to do and see in the U.S., it’s time to start exploring!