Best Budget-Friendly Vacations
This outdoorsy getaway along the Virginia Creeper Trail bisects some truly gorgeous scenery in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Pedal mostly downhill from Whitetop to Damascus, or cross the longest trestle on the trail by following the Abingdon-Damascus route. Named for the Virginia Creeper train that once ran here—the last one made its journey in 1977—the trail is mixed-use for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Make your home base in Abingdon; its picturesque Main Street is filled with indie shops and farm-to-table restaurants. You can stay at one of the Cottages on the Creeper—we like the Craftsman-Style Cottage (rates from $175 per night)—or opt for an area bed-and-breakfast or chain, if cottages just aren’t your speed. When you’re ready to take a ride, head to the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop for affordable rentals and shuttle service packages—they start at $27 for adults and $24 for kids. You might get hungry while pedaling the Creeper, so don’t forget to stock up on trail snacks and cold-pressed juice at White Birch Juice. After your ride, relax and congratulate yourself on a job well done with a craft beer and live band at Wolf Hills Brewing Co., and then have dinner at the cozy 128 Pecan. You’ll find more to explore in town, including affordable matinees at the Barter Theatre, the state theater of Virginia; free admission and contemporary art exhibits at the William King Museum of Art; and resident studio artists working at the Arts Depot.
Alpine/Fort Davis, Texas
Forget bright. The stars in West Texas are electrifying and downright majestic. One of the most awe-inspiring Lone Star weekends you could possibly enjoy this season begins with a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory. Through powerful telescopes, you can experience tours of constellations and get an up-close view of the big sky above (reservations are almost always required). Tuck into the Davis Mountains with a room at the Indian Lodge near Fort Davis, one of the most interesting and comfortable state park lodges in Texas. The adobe-walled, Depression-era structures have handmade furniture (rates from $95). Head to Alpine for the afternoon, and check out works by West Texas artists at the Kiowa Gallery. Sample the Terlingua Gold Ale or Big Bend Hefeweizen at Big Bend Brewing Company. And for one of the best dining experiences in the area—refined “cowboy cuisine”—grab a table at the original Reata Restaurant.
Anchored by Berea College— a small school with a sharp focus on the arts—this little mountain town, about 40 miles south of Lexington, celebrates local artisans and makers. Start with the Log House Craft Gallery, which sells furniture and other goods made by Berea College students. Don’t miss the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, home to works by more than 1,000 artists from the state, and Honeysuckle Vine (859/986-2411), which features the work of four local standouts, including glass-bead maker Jimmy Lou Jackson of Hot Flash Beads Gallery. Relax at the historic Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant. Built in 1909, it has interesting modern touches and was Kentucky’s first LEED Gold- Certified hotel (rates from $112).
Bryson City, North Carolina
Western North Carolina puts on quite a fall show, and many travelers will beeline to Asheville, Boone, and some of the other popular North Carolina towns along the Blue Ridge Parkway. But to experience the scenery without the crowds, head farther west to the charming small town of Bryson City. Stay at The Everett Hotel, built in an old bank, which was recently renovated. Granted, it’s a little pricier than some other options in town, but it’s worth it. The rooms have the right blend of rustic and modern decor, and you’ll love looking out over the mountains as you sit by a toasty fire pit on the hotel’s rooftop terrace (rates from $259). Plan an excursion to the nearby Nantahala Outdoor Center for rafting, zip-lining, and hiking all along the Nantahala River. Back in town, unwind with a sampling of brews and live music at the Nantahala Brewing Company. Be sure to reserve your table at The Everett Hotel’s Cork & Bean Bistro for a dinner of local trout and venison dishes.
The North Georgia wine scene continues to step up its game, not only in terms of the vintage quality but also in the overall experience that more wineries have in store for guests. A getaway in and around Dahlonega means tastings set against some of the prettiest vistas in the state. Discover immediate serenity at Dahlonega Spa Resort (rates from $160). Besides comfortable rooms and cozy cabins, this health-conscious resort also offers wellness amenities. (Yoga classes, anyone?) Begin your getaway with a leisurely lunch at Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery, which has a spectacular view of the rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, as well as terrific Southern and European cuisine paired with Wolf Mountain wines. Make a stop at Frogtown Cellars, spread over 57 beautiful acres, and sample wines that have gained national recognition. Round out your wine tour with a tasting and dinner reservation at Montaluce Winery & Restaurant, a 25,000-square-foot modern winery reminiscent of a grand Tuscan villa. Its menu features regionally sourced, seasonally inspired dishes paired with the estate-made wines.
Deep Creek Lake, Maryland
In winter, snow transforms western Maryland’s Wisp Resort into a popular skiing and snowboarding destination. And in fall, not only is it more colorful, but also it’s less crowded. Make it your home base for lodging and activities, including hiking, fishing, biking, and the adrenaline-spiking Mountain Coaster—think bobsled meets roller coaster. It sends passengers zooming down a 3,500-foot track at speeds of up to 28 mph (rates from $119). For more mellow outdoor excursions, Deep Creek Lake State Park is a magical place for hiking through beautiful fall scenery. Stop by the FireFly Farms Creamery & Market, which sells local goat, cow, and sheep cheeses as well as wines, charcuterie, and other delicious snacks.
Fayetteville in the fall can be a bustling college town with loyal football fans buzzing about the home team at the University of Arkansas. Here’s the thing, though: When the Razorbacks are on the road, the craze subsides, and you can enjoy the spirit and energy of the place without the crowds. Stay less than 10 miles north of downtown at the Inn at the Mill, a boutique-size architectural marvel that’s adjacent to a historic mill and features James at the Mill, a gourmet dining experience (rates from $119). The Fayetteville Farmers Market comes alive on Saturdays, when local musicians and street performers set up around the historic Fayetteville Downtown Square. As you might expect from a college town, Fayetteville is full of great indie shops, including Lola, one of our favorite boutiques for contemporary clothing and accessories . You’ll also enjoy wandering around Dickson Street, the town’s central thoroughfare and home to lots of shops and restaurants.
Georgetown, South Carolina
Georgetown sits on U.S. 17, almost halfway between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. With a downtown full of unique shops and boutiques, this charming coastal town makes a fantastic destination for a budget getaway. Settle into one of the guesthouses at Mansfield Plantation Bed & Breakfast (rates from $160). Expect one-of-a-kind finds near the water, from antiques and home furnishings to apparel and accessories. Don’t miss Bienvenue Home Gifts & Home Decor for stylish furniture and accents; Sully & Bay for women’s fashion by Karlie, Everly, Blu Boutique, and Flying Tomato; and The Sly Fox boutique for women’s clothes, handbags, jewelry, and home gifts. Grab lunch at the nearby Townhouse Restaurant, which is best known for such tempting local staples as Lowcountry Creole Shrimp and Clam Chowder and the Lowcountry Boil Sandwich with grilled shrimp, kielbasa, new potatoes, corn, and Gruyère on a hoagie.
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Bayou to prairie, Louisiana is home to some of the most distinctive cultural and culinary pockets in the world. The foods define the places—and that’s true even beyond the city limits of New Orleans, where the purpose of a leisurely lunch is to map out dinner plans. The far southwestern corner of the state, starting in Lake Charles and rippling out to Sulphur and the tiny community of Lacassine, offers what you might call an immersion experience, with a diversity of well-crafted regional favorites. In Lake Charles, balance the traditional shrimp po’boys at Darrell’s with Louisiana twists on everybody’s favorite ballpark food at Botsky’s Premium Hotdogs. Choose from the likes of Kobe beef franks, smoked sausage, and alligator sausage to make your own creation, or go with house-made favorites like the ChiliMacDaddy or the Slawdog Millionaire. Nearby in Sulphur, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better boudin than the version the cooks are turning out at B&O Kitchen and Grocery. For three generations, B&O has specialized in boudin—sausage casings stuffed with rice, spices, and pork or other meat—and pork cracklings. In tiny Lacassine, east of Lake Charles, sip on silver, spiced, and satsuma orange-infused rum made from local sugarcane at Bayou Rum Distillery. While you’re in the area, recover from all the boudin and slaw dogs with a trip down the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, also known as Louisiana’s Outback. One of the oldest scenic byways in America, it meanders through more than 180 miles of bayous, marshes, and shoreline along the Gulf. Use the cash you’ll save on down-home food and budget entertainment to splurge just a little with a stay at L’Auberge Lake Charles Casino Resort. You can make a splash in its heated pool, float the lazy river, and swim up to the pool bar for a cocktail (rates from $229). L’Auberge also has a regular roster of shows and events.
Lawton/Medicine Park, Oklahoma
Drive about 90 miles southwest of Oklahoma City and flatlands begin giving way to the Wichita Mountains, where you’ll find the state’s highest peak and get one of your best chances to catch beautiful fall color. Reserve your spot on one of the guided fall foliage walks through the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge to see blackjack and post oaks, red cedars, sugar maples, and free-roaming bison and elk. Those hikes will earn you a Meersburger made from longhorn beef at the Meers Store & Restaurant, which is housed in a building dating back to the early 1900s. Drive through the small and quirky village of Medicine Park to explore little galleries and kitschy souvenir shops, including Happy Hollow, with its display of live snakes. After a full day, settle into your room at the Stardust Inn Bed & Breakfast, with decor reflecting the spirit of the American West (rates from $165).
North Alabama’s Lookout Mountain has long been a favorite getaway for the Huntsville and Birmingham sets (and even some of the Georgia and Tennessee crowds). Surrounding the little village of Mentone, weekenders find respite in the winding, rural two-lane roads that are canopied by trees, flanked by farmland, and gifted with glorious views of Little River Canyon. Snag one of the cabins scattered throughout the area; you’ll find a wide selection at Mentone Cabins (rates from $119). Peaceful Mentone has just enough shops and eateries to keep you satisfied. Have lunch at Wildflower Cafe, where tomato pie and homemade desserts have earned the restaurant a following. Head to Mentone Market for burgers, barbecue, and sundries. Day trip to DeSoto State Park for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing amid gorgeous scenery. Need more excitement? You’re only 45 minutes from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where you can park near the Tennessee Riverwalk and spend a day at the Tennessee Aquarium, Imax theater, and Bluff View Art District.
Natchez grew up around one of the oldest settlements on the Mississippi River. A classic river town, it has been shaped by three centuries of people passing through, leaving interesting traces of their own cultures as they went along their way. It’s home to some of the South’s finest historic architecture—places like Longwood, a 30,000-square-foot octagonal mansion that was built around 1861. Visit Natchez during the middle of October and you’ll find the sky flooded with hot-air balloons for the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race. For incredible views, stay at the Natchez Grand Hotel and Suites, which sits right on the bluff and overlooks the mighty river rushing by (rates from $149). Dunleith Historic Inn is pricier and often booked in fall (rates from $225), but at least have lunch at The Castle Restaurant & Pub on its 40-acre grounds. The Castle is best known for its rotating daily specials and for The Godchaux salad with jumbo lump crabmeat and boiled shrimp. Also try the Kings Tavern, which offers delicious wood-fired flatbreads and handcrafted cocktails. For $35, you can attend mixology classes, where you’ll make and taste cocktails and sample foods paired to go with them. Speaking of drinks, don’t leave Natchez without grabbing a beverage at the Under the Hill Saloon, one of the most storied institutions in the city. It’s a magnet for local color and characters.
The Palm Beaches, Florida
Thanks to their affluent communities, most consignment boutiques in Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, and Boca Raton have taken their offerings to the next level, which explains why the area has grown extremely popular among fashionistas who are minding their pocketbooks. First, establish a weekend base camp at Hotel Biba, a chic boutique property in West Palm Beach’s El Cid historic district (rates from $169). Then begin the hunt in Palm Beach, where Classic Collections of Palm Beach offers luxury designer women’s apparel, handbags, and shoes, along with costume and fine jewelry that is either brand-new or “momentarily worn”. In West Palm Beach, try Dina C’s Fab & Funky Consignment Boutique for a curated collection of clothing and accessories dating from the 1940s to the present. It includes such designers as Azzedine Alaïa, Christian Dior, Chanel, Oscar de la Renta, Gucci, Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, Emilio Pucci, James Galanos, Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene, and Pierre Cardin. While in West Palm Beach, grab a bite at one of the restaurants in the Antique Row Art & Design District (south of downtown along the Dixie Highway), including Belle and Maxwell’s cafe for flatbreads and pastas; City Diner for fancified diner fare; or dinner at Maison Carlos, known for its French- and Italian-inspired cuisine. Moving south to Delray Beach, browse Frugal Fashionista for clothing and shoes by Lilly Pulitzer, Armani, Carolina Herrera, Elie Tahari, and Stuart Weitzman, and stop into Kismet Vintage for Gucci tank tops, St. John skirts, and more. Incidentally, Kismet Vintage sometimes hosts concerts and other performances, so check the events calendar on its website. Wrap up your weekend by perusing a couple of shops in Boca Raton. First, visit Allison’s Vintage Clothing for fashions by Schiaparelli, Missoni, Halston, Hermès, Chanel, Adolfo, and Lilly Pulitzer, plus a selection of menswear. And then find couture clothing and accessories at Serendipity High Fashion Consignment Boutique.
St. Louis, Missouri
Slip away to the elegantly styled St. Louis Union Station DoubleTree by Hilton in what was once the busiest passenger rail terminal in the world. The rooms have all recently been renovated and are part of a multimillion-dollar face-lift on the popular entertainment complex (rates from $179). Union Station is a few blocks west of historic Route 66, where you’ll find many icons of “The Mother Road,” including Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. Make a pilgrimage to The Hill, the historic Italian neighborhood that’s home to about 20 restaurants and markets. Here, you’ll find many variations on a St. Louis specialty, toasted ravioli. Don’t miss the dark and cozy Charlie Gitto’s On the Hill for just about every authentic Italian dish you can name. For entertainment, head to Soulard, the oldest neighborhood in the city, where structures built by early brewery workers have been turned into music venues, shops, and restaurants. Because you’re in St. Louis, you can’t miss two iconic downtown landmarks: the Gateway Arch and Forest Park, home of the 1904 World’s Fair. St. Louis is a huge sports town, with the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball and the St. Louis Blues in hockey.
Townsend/Wears Valley/Madisonville, Tennessee
There’s a reason why fall tourists flock to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (and the towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge). The vistas are some of the most spectacular in the South—really in the whole country. But there’s a calmer side to the Smokies, and once you’ve experienced it, you’ll wonder why these areas are still something of a secret. Groups, especially, can save money by booking one of the cabins at Black Bear Ridge Resort, a log cabin rental community near Pigeon Forge. The resort features a day spa and community pool (rates from $112 for a one-bedroom cabin; three-night minimum in October). Drive along Rich Mountain Road and Parson Branch Road, which offer incredible, less traveled views of crowd-favorite Cades Cove. Pack a cooler and make a pilgrimage to Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville. Allan Benton is a master at his craft—and remarkably humble, given that his smoked meats are served in some of the world’s most celebrated restaurants.