Trip Ideas

Our 16 Favorite Day Trips in the USofA

You don’t have to spend a whole paycheck (or, more) on a transformative getaway. Sometimes the best vacas are just a couple hours from home, with no hotel costs or hour-long waits in security lines. Behold, the best day trips from America’s top cities.

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New York City: The Hamptons

There are two huge perks of making your Hamptons visit a day trip: if you leave Saturday morning and return that night, you’ll avoid the traffic that clogs the highways Fridays and Sundays. Secondly, you’ll save on hotel costs—especially in summer, when prices skyrocket. Enjoy the free beach at Southhampton’s Road D; feast on lobster rolls overlooking the main drag of Sag Harbor in the storied 1846 American Hotel; and see works by Chuck Close and Elizabeth Payton at the Parish Art Museum.

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Los Angeles: Catalina Island

You know what you won’t hear on Catalina Island, just an hour ferry ride from Long Beach? Honking horns. What you will: Birds chirping, spraying surf, and the occasional buffalo tromping through grass (the animals were brought here in 1924 for a Hollywood film, and never left). Laze on the manicured sand at private Descanso Beach Club, stop by the nearly 40 acre Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden, or hike the four mile Hermit Gulch Trail Loop for a birds-eye view of the harbor.

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Chicago: Holland, Michigan

We recommend you wear clogs when you flee Chicagoland for Holland, Michigan (population: 33,000). That’s because the town is the closest thing around to the real Holland, replete with a tulip festival. The Holland Harbor Light, an idyllic fire-engine-red lighthouse first built in 1872, and the manicured Windmill Island Gardens are not to be missed; ditto the sticky rolls at Deboer's bakery, founded by a Netherlands expat in 1956 and still run by the same family today.

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Photo courtesy of Round Top Texas Antiques Fair

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Houston: Round Top, Texas

Antique collectors (and, okay, hoarders) drive west of Houston to shop this vintage mecca of a town, especially during the much-hyped biannual Round Top Antiques Week. On your must-do list any week of the year: shopping at The Prairie by Rachel Ashwell,owned by the British Shabby Chic designer, and The Vintage Round Top, stocked with French treasures. Time your visit to catch a classical music performance at Round Top Festival Institute; this town of 90 knows its Bach from their Beethoven.

RELATED: 50 States of Awesome: Southwest

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Philadelphia: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

The former capital of the United States (for one day! in 1777) may be surrounded by Amish farmland, but it’s as diverse as any town on the Eastern Seaboard; nearly thirty percent of its citizens are Puerto Rican. Eat the best sofrito of your life at the Catering by Christina booth at Lancaster Central Market, first established in 1730 and reportedly the oldest farmer's market in America. It's perfect fuel for an afternoon of gin tasting at Thistle Finch Distillery and art viewing at the home of Charles Demuth, painter and friend of Stieglitz and O'Keeffe.

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Phoenix: Sedona, Arizona

Otherworldly red sandstone towers jut out from the desert floor in Sedona, just a couple hours north of Phoenix. Spa-obsessives flock to Enchantment Resort’s Mii Amo Spa, but you can bask in similar healing vibes (for much less) at Sedona's New Day Spa, where a desert stone and local sage massage is the best way to unwind after hiking the canyon on Brins Mesa Trail.

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San Francisco: Point Reyes, California

One of the most picturesque locales on the California coast also happens to be home to some of the best cheese you’ll ever eat, courtesy of Cowgirl Creamery (you'll want to try the creamy Red Hawk, which can only be made here). Work off the calories with a hike alongside harbor seals at Point Reyes National Seashore and the cliffside Point Reyes Lighthouse, built in 1870.

RELATED: 52 Things to Do for Free in San Francisco

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Austin: Lockhart, Texas

Don’t mess with Texas…barbecue. Especially in Lockhart, where four restaurants vie for top rank. You don’t want to miss the original, Smitty’s Market, run by the same family since 1948 (the brisket, shoulder clod, and prime rib are local delicacies). Post feast, head to Lockhart State Park and view local wildlife including bobcats and armadillos.

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Boston: Rockport, Massachusetts

Skip the bumper to bumper traffic en route to Cape Cod for this equally charming (and salty-aired) waterside hamlet. Start with a lobster lunch on the outdoor picnic tables at Roy Moore Lobster Co, before exploring some of the town's quirkier offerings, including a house built entirely of paper by the inventor of a machine that makes paper clips. Don't leave the area without seeing the tide-pools – and plucking a few wild blueberries – at Halibut Point State Park.

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Seattle: Bainbridge Island, Washington

Our dream day trip from Seattle? Bainbridge Island, just a one hour ferry ride from the city. Stop by Bainbridge Island Museum of Art to see the spectacular roof garden, with its boulders, lavender, and pheasant grass; brunch on Pacific Northwest salmon and herbed cream cheese omelettes at Streamliner Diner; and go wine tasting at Island Vintners, within stumbling distance of the ferry terminal.

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Denver: Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado

Why visit Rocky Mountain Arsenal, in a city surrounded by eye-popping nature? Because its 15,000 acres, all within view of the city skyline, are essentially an all-American safari experience. You'll likely spot mule deer, coyote, bison, black-tailed prairie dogs, and even bald eagles, who've been nesting there since 2002.

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Washington, D.C.: Annapolis, Maryland

Get the charming, small-town coastal vibe within an hour of D.C. in Annapolis. Home to the U.S. Naval Academy (open for tours!), it's got some of the best kayaking around, and topnotch seafood. Locals tie their boats at the marina across the street from Boatyard Bar & Grill then order plates of local oysters, blue crab, artichoke dip, and Maryland jumbo crab cakes.

RELATED: 36 Things to Do for Free in D.C.

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Portland: Willamette Valley, Oregon

Some of the best pinot noirs in the world are produced on vineyards just half an hour outside of Portland—one small perk of the rainy winters. Make a day of exploring the area, starting at Ponzi Vineyards, where you can play bocce ball between sips overlooking surrounding mountains or at Sokol Blosser, where you're encouraged to picnic by the vines. Beer-drinkers will love the just-opened Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery, located on an old family farm.

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Atlanta: Athens, Georgia

The ne plus ultra of college towns is also home to some decidedly chichi fun—no beer bong in sight. Wander the lush grounds of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, full of southern blooms like azalea, magnolia, and dogwoods, and eye the intricate outdoor sculptures of Alice Aycock at the Georgia Museum. Then grab a late lunch of honeyed goat cheese and cucumber gazpacho with shrimp at The National.

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Omaha: Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, Nebraska

What’s the point of being on the great plains if you never really experience why they’re so great? At the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, the 850 acres of tall, sweeping sweet grasses are home to only-in-Nebraska birds, including red-headed woodpeckers, turkey vultures, and bobolinks, which look like they're dressed in tuxedos at all times.

RELATED: 50 States of Awesome: Midwest

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Miami: Everglades National Park, Florida

When the buzz of South Beach gets too hectic, Miamians escape to the Everglades National Park, just an hour south. There's nothing more calming than kayaking the Ten Thousand Islands mangrove trails, alongside manatees and dolphins....and alligators. If you spot the latter (and it's likely) just stay chill, and let them have the right of way.