Three days spent cooing over otters and elephant seals in Morro Bay on California’s Central Coast; riding horses and exploring Yellowstone National Park from the Wild West epicenter of Cody, Wyoming; and dancing the night away and eating award-winning cuisine in Nashville: These are just three of the many weekend escapes I’ve taken over the past few years as an outdoors-oriented, music-loving road-tripper with itchy feet.
But whether your preferred getaway involves putting your feet up poolside or putting them to use on a mountain slope, there’s a getaway guaranteed to restore your sanity and recharge your batteries.
Here are 15 cameraworthy destinations, ideal for chilling, adventuring or both.
Immerse yourself in authentic cowboy culture at this epicenter of America’s Wild West. Spend the morning at the Smithsonian-affiliated Buffalo Bill Center of the West, the afternoon exploring the authentic pioneer-era buildings of Old Trail Town, and finish it off with the Cody Nite Rodeo. A plus: Cody offers prime access to Yellowstone National Park, with the park’s less-crowded eastern entrance just 52 miles from town via the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway.
For the fullest possible experience, stay at one of Cody’s numerous dude ranches or take a trail ride at the Bill Cody Ranch.
Morro Bay, California
The quest for the perfect California beach town can’t land you in a better spot than Morro Bay, tucked into a sheltered harbor where sea otters provide constant entertainment with their playful antics.
A working fishing fleet still heads out every morning to bring in crab, salmon and cod, while oyster beds line up just offshore, ensuring that the town’s many seafood restaurants are well stocked with fresh catch year-round.
Just up Highway 1, the Piedras Blancas reserve is home to an ever-growing rookery of elephant seals. A boardwalk provides up-close viewing of the ungainly creatures as they mate, fight, give birth and nurse their young. The unassuming bayside hamlet is also supremely dog-friendly, with an off-leash beach and pups welcome in many restaurants, cafes and restaurants.
A trip to Nashville feels like a journey through American cultural history, from concerts at the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry to museums such as the Country Music Hall of Fame, the National Museum of African American Music and RCA Studio B.
But there’s much more to do and see, from paddle boarding and kayaking on the Cumberland River and nearby Old Hickory Lake to taking advantage of the city’s expansive bike-share network to ride through town or on the rail trails known collectively as the Greenway.
Then there’s the city’s legendary food scene, where restaurants and chefs earn Michelin stars, James Beard awards and other accolades almost as often as musicians earn Grammys.
Clinging to the steep slopes of the Mule Mountains at seemingly impossible angles, the mining cabins, narrow alleys and 19th-century storefronts (and former brothels) of Bisbee make a memorable maze to explore.
Take a tour of the Queen Mine to learn about Bisbee’s history as a fount of gold and silver ore and check out the numerous galleries and boutiques that have turned the town into a popular haunt for artists and makers.
There’s no hike quite like the Bisbee 1000 The Great Stair Climb, which scales a 4 1/2-mile maze of stairs and alleys. Pick up a map from the Bisbee Visitor Center for a self-guided hike, or join the thousands who crowd Bisbee’s narrow streets every year in mid-October for the riotous event.
If Ashland’s world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival doesn’t lure you to southern Oregon, the Britt Music & Art Festival in nearby Jacksonville might be the ticket. You’ll also want to meander through the Applegate Valley, visiting farm stands and tasting pinots and chardonnays. Visit the former logging town of Grants Pass, where Victorian storefronts in the long-neglected historic downtown now house an up-and-coming arts district of cafes, brewpubs and bohemian boutiques.
New River Gorge, West Virginia
America’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, is the biggest draw to this verdant swath of the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountains, which has long lured adventurers to scale its sheer sandstone cliffs, cross 876-foot-high New River Gorge Bridge and raft the Class IV and Class V rapids of the New and Gauley rivers.
Long on vintage country charm and Southern comfort food, the gateway towns of Fayetteville and Hinton have become popular destinations for mountain biking and hiking as well.
The Lost Sierra, California
This little-known swath of the northern Sierra, bypassed by the hordes swarming Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, is an outdoor recreational paradise, particularly beloved by the hikers hitting the trails of the Lakes Basin and mountain bikers challenging themselves on rugged terrain made famous by the Downieville Classic championship bike race and festival.
Base yourself in the authentic gold rush town of Downieville, where the Yuba River plunges through the canyon just steps from the tiny town’s wooden sidewalks, Western saloons and cluster of well-restored hotels.
There’s big news for the future as well, as a 600-mile-long trail network of multiuse trails, the Lost Sierra Route, is under development to link the 15 small towns encircling the wilderness.
Gunnison, Colorado, and the San Juan Mountains
Gunnison is the gateway to some of the most spectacular landscapes and recreational opportunities in the southern Rockies. There’s the vivid slash of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, which lies 60 miles to the east, Curecanti National Recreation Area stretching for 42,000 acres just outside town, and the ski slopes and mountain biking trails of Crested Butte and Breckenridge rising to the north.
Beyond its status as an outdoor recreation hub, though, Gunnison is gaining prominence for its rising food scene as creative young chefs transform the town’s colorful 19th-century saloons and steakhouses into trendy cocktail bars, fusion-themed restaurants, and farm-to-fork cafes.
Rhinebeck, New York
History lovers can tour the historic Wilderstein mansion, hikers can ascend the Ferncliff Forest Fire Tower, and food lovers will want to hit the farmers market and go apple and berry picking in this 300-year-old Hudson Valley village.
Don’t miss the chance to get a sugar high at Samuel’s Sweet Shop, a local institution owned by actors Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hilarie Burton, and have a pint at pre-Revolutionary War Beekman Arms tavern, which once served Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
Bluebonnets may have put Fredericksburg and the surrounding countryside on the getaway map, but lavender, peaches and, increasingly, wine are the bounty that make this Texas Hill Country village an uber-popular escape.
The German immigrants who settled the area in the 19th century still make their influence felt in the lacy Bohemian woodwork bedecking local houses, the flower boxes lining the streets, and the wursts, aged cheeses and schnitzels on many menus.
The visitor appeal verges on the hokey, with streets named so that their first letters spell out A-L-L-W-E-L-C-O-M-E upon entering town and C-O-M-E-B-A-C-K upon leaving, but the welcome is real in the Texas-size hospitality.
With grapes now terracing the surrounding hillsides, you’ll want to follow the Texas Wine Trail’s Hill Country wine-tasting map or visit some of the many tasting rooms in town.
Mendocino County, California
Plunging cliffs, pounding surf, sheltered coves and one of California’s most exciting – and undiscovered – wine countries await in this colorful region just north of San Francisco.
And while the picture-perfect village of artsy Mendocino may be deservingly well known, you’ll have discoverer’s bragging rights to hidden coves, recently opened hiking trails and the up-and-coming wineries of the Anderson Valley.
Go tide pooling at Van Damme State Park, hike the bluffs of Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, watch the sunset from the Mendocino Headlands and drive north to the authentic seaport of Noyo Harbor, where a cluster of seafood restaurants serve up the catch of the day right on the water, often with a live music accompaniment.
Your lodging choices match the eclectic environment, with options including treehouses and off-the-grid cabins in addition to elegant inns and luxurious boutique hotels.
Come to visit the two national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, that bracket this town, and stay for the mountain biking, hiking and hot food and music scenes that have made Moab a buzzy high-desert hub.
Mountain bikers come to ride the iconic Slickrock Trail and the ever-expanding network known as the Moab Brand Trails. The Colorado River appeals to kayakers and boaters who put in at the Big Bend Recreation Area, road trippers who drive the scenic Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, and the campers who pitch their tents in the numerous campgrounds along the river.
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Stay in Boothbay Harbor and attend one of Maine‘s numerous nautical events, including Windjammer Days and the Tall Ships Festival. Drive Route 1, stopping at the string of tiny hamlets along the way, eating lobster at every stop.
The Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse is extraordinarily photogenic on its perch at the end of a causeway, but Maine has 64 more lighthouses to satisfy your camera after that.
North Shore, Kauai
Join a snorkeling cruise along the Na Pali Coast, take a surfing lesson at Hanalei Surf School, hike the Kalalau Trail from its start in Haena State Park, spot rare and endangered native plants at Limahuli National Tropical Garden and watch the sun drop into the Pacific from the bluffs of Princeville, and you’ve only hit a few of the highlights of Kauai’s North Shore. You’ll also dine on fresh-caught ahi, swordfish and mahi-mahi thanks to Kauai’s thriving local fishing industry.
From its perch on the shore of Resurrection Bay, Seward operates as the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, with visitors heading out each morning to take a boat tour along the park’s glacier-studded coastline, go whale watching or kayaking on the bay, and witness climate change at Exit Glacier, one of the park’s highlights.
While there, don’t miss the Alaska SeaLife Center, where the antics of the sea otters can occupy an afternoon, and the chance to go dog-sledding at one of several sled dog training centers.