Sick of the day-to-day grind? Then hit the road — without breaking the bank! We’ve rounded up five weekend getaways that will cost you less than $500 per person. Escape to the great outdoors, track down that perfect antique armoire or hang out in an Old West saloon; just check out the suggested getaway from your metropolitan area!
But first, a few rules of the road: All getaways are $500 or less per person, based on a Friday evening departure and a Sunday evening return. Estimates for gas expenses are based on a price of $4 a gallon and will vary depending on your route and your vehicle’s gas mileage. Dinner prices are based on a two-course meal with alcohol, tax and tip. All prices are per person except for hotel rates, which are per room. And, of course, all prices are subject to change at any time.
From the Los Angeles Area: Catalina Island, CA
What’s There: Sunny Santa Catalina Island (known as Catalina by locals) is a year-round destination, popular with Angelenos for its natural beauty, its boating and diving opportunities, and the charming beachfront town of Avalon.
Getting There: It costs $69.50 per adult for a roundtrip ferry from Long Beach or San Pedro to Catalina on the Catalina Express.
Where to Sleep and Eat: You’ll find the cheapest accommodations at the Hermosa Hotel & Catalina Cottages, where we recommend a charming cottage with a private bath; for two nights you’ll pay $220 – $270 plus taxes, depending on the season. (Less expensive rooms are available from $95 a night if you’re willing to share a bath.) Cheap eats for lunch are plentiful — you’ll spend less than $10 at fun places like Antonio’s Pizzeria and Eric’s on the Pier (famous for buffalo burgers). Save a few bucks for delectable dinners at the Armstrong Fish Market and Steve’s Steakhouse, which will run $50 – $60 per person with wine.
What to Do: On a weekend here you can enjoy the great outdoors for free by lying out on Avalon Bay’s beaches or hiking through the island’s mountains and canyons. Rentals of kayaks ($15 – $22/hour through Wet Spot Rentals) or bicycles ($5/hour or $12/day through Brown’s Bikes) are also available. Rather stay on land? Stroll along the cobblestone walkways of the Metropole Marketplace, where you’ll find boutiques and galleries (and inexpensive lunching spots). Or check out Avalon’s Casino, where luckily you can’t blow your budget; this Art Deco building holds not slots or gaming tables but a ballroom, movie theater and the Catalina Island Museum (admission $5).
The Bottom Line: The ferry ride, two nights’ hotel, two lunches and two dinners come to roughly $285 – $345 per person, leaving you a good chunk of your $500 budget for sightseeing.
From the Chicago Area: Galena, IL
What’s There: This quaint historic town in the northwest corner of Illinois is about a three-hour drive from Chicago. Its well-preserved 19th-century buildings include the former home of President Ulysses S. Grant and the Belvedere, a Victorian mansion furnished with, among other things, the famous green drapes from the movie “Gone With the Wind.” In the winter, it’s a prime spot for skiing and snowshoeing.
Getting There: Depending on your vehicle’s gas mileage, you could spend anywhere from $34 – $90 on gas for your roundtrip car ride from the Chicago area.
Where to Sleep and Eat: There are a number of cozy bed and breakfasts in the Galena area; one of our favorites is the three-bedroom Ann’s Snoop Sisters Inn ($90 – $165 a night including taxes). No space? Try the Stoney Creek Inn ($99 – $165 per weekend night). Lunch is available for less than $15 per person at Procento’s Pizzeria (offering not only pizzas but also sandwiches, pasta dishes and calzones) or at House of China, where the Chinese fare is tasty and cheap. For dinner, you’ll find reasonably priced steaks and Greek wines at Log Cabin, Galena’s oldest restaurant, where dinner will run about $40 – $50 per person. Fried Green Tomatoes serves upscale Italian favorites in a historic building; a two-course dinner averages about $55 – $60 — including a glass from the award-winning wine list.
What to Do: Admission to Galena’s historic sights is quite affordable. The suggested donation at the Ulysses S. Grant Home is $4, and just $2 at the Old Market House. Visit Dowling House, Galena’s oldest home, for $9 (combination admission tickets with the Belvedere Mansion are available). Historic Main Street is lined with unique shops and galleries, offering antiques, collectibles, and locally produced arts and crafts — perfect for a leisurely afternoon of shopping. More active visitors can hike or bike for free along the 3.4-mile Galena River Trail, or go horseback riding at the Shenandoah Riding Center (beginners can enjoy a 15-minute riding lesson for $25; experienced riders can do a two-hour canter for $90). In the winter, there’s skiing at the Chestnut Mountain Resort; lift tickets start at $45 per day or $88 for two days, and ski rentals are also available ($30 for one day, $55 for two days).
The Bottom Line: Transportation, two nights’ hotel, two lunches and two dinners come to $232 – $350 per person, leaving a good portion of your budget for sightseeing.
From the Atlanta Area: Helen, GA
What’s There: This small town in northern Georgia is a re-creation of an Alpine village — complete with Bavarian architecture, scenic mountain views and stores selling cuckoo clocks. The most fun time to visit is during the yearly Oktoberfest, where you can get into the fall spirit with a cold drink in a beautiful setting.
Getting There: Helen is about an hour and 45 minutes from downtown Atlanta by car; allow $19 – $51 in gas for the roundtrip and for incidental driving in Helen.
Where to Sleep and Eat: The Helendorf River Inn offers clean, affordable rooms overlooking the Chattahoochee River ($79 – $99 per weekend night). For a splurge, rent one of the cabins at Creekwood Resort; the three original cabins (which have mountain views, hardwood floors and full kitchens) start at $125 a night. A new, smaller cabin is now available from $80 a night. For dinner, get into the Alpine spirit at The Vines, a few miles outside Helen, where the menu stocks hearty German specialties like schnitzel, bratwurst and sauerbraten ($45 – $50). On your second night, enjoy riverfront dining at the Nacoochee Grill, where steaks, chicken and seafood dishes come straight off a live fire grill to your table (about $40). For lunch, head to Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe for a sandwich and a fresh-baked dessert ($10 – $15).
What to Do: Start by exploring the tiny shops and charming plazas of Helen’s downtown area, where you can buy everything from beer steins and cuckoo clocks to antiques and blown glass. If you’re bringing children (or seeking your inner child), take a ride down the Chattahoochee River with Cool River Tubing. A one- or two-hour float down the river will cool you off in Georgia’s summer heat from just $5 per person; an all-day pass is $9, and kids 3 and under tube for free. Visit Charlemagne’s Kingdom to see an enormous Alpine Model Railroad exhibit, with some 400 feet of railroad winding through miniature villages, lakes and mountains. Admission is $5 for adults, with discounts for kids and disabled visitors. Helen’s premier outdoor attraction is nearby Unicoi State Park, with miles of mountainous hiking and biking trails, and places to swim and canoe in the summer. Parking is $5 per vehicle.
The Bottom Line: Transportation, two nights’ hotel, two lunches and two dinners total $194 – $271 per person, leaving the rest of your $500 for sightseeing.
From the Phoenix Area: Prescott, AZ
What’s There: Once the territorial capital of Arizona in the 19th century, Prescott has maintained its quaint small-town ambience, complete with historic saloons and well-preserved Victorian homes. Just out of town, outdoor adventure awaits in the Prescott National Forest.
Getting There: It’s about two hours from downtown Phoenix to Prescott, so expect to pay $27 – $72 in gas for the round trip and incidental driving.
Where to Sleep and Eat: The Prescott Pines Inn is a lovely Victorian bed and breakfast with rates from $100 a night. The Hotel St. Michael is an affordable alternative in downtown Prescott, with rates as low as $59 a night including full breakfast. For lunch, grab a gourmet sandwich at the Wildflower Bread Company for less than $10, or one of the mesquite specialty dishes at Murphy’s Restaurant for less than $15. The Peacock Dining Room at the Hassayampa Inn offers fine dining in a hotel that’s on the National Register of Historic Places (about $50). The next night, get a taste of the Old West at The Palace, which opened as a saloon in 1877 and was once frequented by Wyatt Earp. There’s an affordable and fun dinner theater (a schedule is on the Web site) — or opt for the regular dinner menu for about $45.
What to Do: Start with a walk through downtown Prescott, where you’ll find the historic Yavapai County Courthouse in the central square; nearby is Whiskey Row, where there were once some 20 saloons. You can shop downtown for antiques, Native American artifacts, jewelry and other handcrafted items. Prescott has three major museums: the Sharlot Hall Museum (admission $5, under 18 free), with exhibits on Arizona’s history; the Smoki Museum (admission $5), home to beautiful Native American works; and the Phippen Museum (admission $7), with a highly regarded collection of Western art. Head outdoors to the Prescott National Forest for hiking, biking or even horseback riding. The most popular trail near Prescott is the Thumb Butte Trail, which leads to a unique rocky outcrop and panoramic vistas over the whole region. Usage fees may apply. You’ll also find beautiful views near Watson Lake, along the Prescott Peavine Trail. It’s a bit further afield, but Arcosanti is worth the 34-mile trip; it’s an experimental town that’s been under construction for over three decades and will eventually house some 5,000 people in an earth-friendly setting. Daily tours are given for a suggested donation of $10.
The Bottom Line: Transportation, two nights’ hotel, two lunches and two dinners will run $193 – $256 per person, with plenty left over for sightseeing and shopping.
From the New York Area: Litchfield, CT
What’s There: Litchfield is a base for exploring the surrounding Litchfield Hills, a region of classic New England beauty, with winding roads, charming villages and covered bridges. It’s at its best in October, with fall foliage at its peak.
Getting There: Litchfield is a little more than two hours from New York; allow $24 – $64 for gas, including some driving around the Litchfield area.
Where to Sleep and Eat: The Abel Darling Bed & Breakfast, located in downtown Litchfield, has four lovely rooms that run from $120 – $190 a night. For lunch, Wood’s Pit BBQ & Mexican Cafe, near Bantam Lake, offers down-home barbecue favorites in an unpretentious atmosphere (look for the lunch specials — under $15). In between antique shops in Woodbury, grab some gourmet goodies at natural and organic New Morning (under $10). For dinner, enjoy inventive American cuisine at the Village Restaurant (about $50). The next night, try the sophisticated fare at the cozy West Street Grill, also in Litchfield (about $60).
What to Do: Haight-Brown Vineyard in Litchfield offers tastings from $8.50 (including a signature glass). Wander the retail store and display gardens of White Flower Farm, a great place to get ideas for your own plot of land at home. The $5 admission fee to the Litchfield History Museum allows you to see not only the museum’s collections (furniture, paintings and other historic objects) but also the Tapping Reeve House & Law School, where you can catch a glimpse of what school was like for a 19th-century student. Don’t miss a quick stop at Litchfield’s photogenic Congregational Church (free). Litchfield has many boutiques and quirky shops for browsing, but serious antique lovers should head to Woodbury, a small town about half an hour away that has been called the antiques capital of Connecticut. Outdoorsy types can visit the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, which offers a nature museum (admission $6) as well as boating, picnicking, hiking, biking and cross-country skiing opportunities.
The Bottom Line: Transportation, two nights’ hotel, two lunches and two dinners total $267 – $357 per person, with plenty to spare for sightseeing.
–written by Sarah Schlichter; updated by Christina Livadiotis