10 Best Weekend Getaways
The Great Smoky Mountains
Old-growth forests give these mountains a sense of wonder worthy of Tolkien's stories. Footpaths wind through the lush green folds where waterfalls and creeks rush by bus-size rhododendrons. These are our nation's oldest mountains, and they continue to provide fresh experiences with each visit.
Insider's Tip: Take a car hike. Our favorite drives include the loop road around Cades Cove, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail out of Gatlinburg, and Balsam Mountain Road off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Historic District's cobbled streets feel as hospitable as the drawled accents of the shopkeepers. Craftswomen sell intricate woven sweetgrass baskets at the City Market, and carriages roll past storied restaurants. And, oh, the shopping along King Street!
Insider's Tip: Palmetto Carriage Works offers free downtown parking for customers. Arrive early and explore the Market.
Sugar-white sands, Gulf breezes, and a bustling coastal village. From amusement park rides, water parks, and lazy rivers to championship golf, world-class fishing, and big-name concerts, this spot blends action with a laid-back style.
Insider's Tip: Create your own souvenir at "Make Your Own Glass" classes at The Hot Shop at the Orange Beach Arts Center. orangebeachartcenter.com or 251/981-2787
Shenandoah National Park
Although it's only a little more than an hour's drive from Washington, D.C., this park gets a fraction of the visitors of the other two parks. That means you practically have it to yourself. Stretching for more than 100 miles through Virginia, it features gorgeous mountain vistas, winding trails, and tumbling waterfalls.
Insider's Tip: Of the four campgrounds, we like Loft Mountain best, especially the views from campsites A2-A10 on the west and A34b-g on the east.
Though it's the home of country music, Nashville keeps the welcome mat out for new styles and new artists.
Insider's Tip: Music City might be a bastion of "C&W," but some of the best music in town is Americana, which derives from a wide variety of American roots music. Visit americanamusic.org for more information.
Hidden in plain view, this tropical retreat straddles the Gulf Coast between Naples and Marco Islands. No bridges connect it to the mainland, so you'll need to make like a local and go by boat.
Insider's Tip: The first weekend in May locals from Naples and Marco throw a beach party at Keewaydin, linking their boats around the south end of the island.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
This 469-mile ribbon of asphalt connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Shenandoah National Park while sticking to the ridgelines. Every turn reveals something special—a split rail fence, an awe-inspiring vista, a stacked-stone bridge.
Insider's Tip: From the 360-degree four-state view from Waterrock Knob (milepost 451), you can see the Smokies, the Nantahalas, the Pisgahs, and the Cowee Mountains.
This amazing city is a bundle of contradictions, from the brass of Bourbon Street to the grace of Royal. Once you've been there, you'll never forget it.
Coastal Road Trip
Scenic Highway 17 delivers three picture-postcard destinations across coastal Georgia—iconic Savannah and St. Simons Island, as well as a lovely, lesser-known find, historic Darien.
Insider's Tip: You'll find one of Savannah's most affordable dinners in the basement of one of its finest restaurants. Make a meal of the appetizers at Planters Tavern (912/232-4286), downstairs at The Olde Pink House Restaurant.
San Antonio's distinctively Spanish accent makes it a family getaway like no other. And while River Walk lodging can be pricey, the rest of your trip will be easy on the budget.
Insider's Tip: Buy a $15 water taxi ticket for 24 hours of unlimited on/off privileges at 39 stops running the length of the River Walk, or get a less expensive ticket ($5-10) for limited access. riosanantonio.com