A HOLIDAY FROM A HOLIDAY
With a bitter presidential race dividing friends and families, celebrating Thanksgiving with loved ones may not be the fun-filled occasion of years past. Or perhaps it's never been a favorite holiday, given all the cooking, cleanup, and family dysfunction. Whatever the motivation, there are plenty of weekend getaway options for those in search of alternatives over the coming holiday.
Aristocrat Laurance Rockefeller helped shape one of New England's most charming towns by buying and protecting open space and paying to have utility wires routed underground. "That's how Woodstock got on the map, thanks to Mr. Rockefeller," says Rebecca Widness, a public relations executive who grew up in the area. "And when his friends started coming to Woodstock, they also fell in love with it and started building these fantastic homes." Those mansions are the main attractions, but Woodstock also has charming shops (Gillingham's General Store is a local favorite), museums, art galleries, and diverse restaurants and craft breweries -- plenty to fill a weekend visit.
BUCKS COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
In addition to a stunning display of foliage and outdoor activities, Bucks County offers history buffs Washington Crossing Historic Park, where George Washington and the Continental Army crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776. There's lots for the antiques-and-coffee crowd in the quaint town of New Hope. The Bucks County Playhouse has hosted such talents as Liza Minelli and John Lithgow (tickets start at $35). Or hop over to Peddler's Village to check out a gingerbread house competition and display (free; closed Thanksgiving Day).
TRI-CITIES REGION, WASHINGTON
Washington state is the nation's second-largest wine producer, and visiting the Tri-Cities region in the southeast puts you in driving distance of more than 200 wineries. "Thanksgiving weekend is particularly special time of year to visit. The wineries welcome visitors with special tastings, pricing, and food pairings," says Karisa Saywers, marketing manager for Visit Tri-Cities. There's also plenty of outdoor recreation in the area, including hiking and biking along the Columbia, Snake, and Yakima rivers. The area is known for 300 days of sunshine, moderate temperatures, and low annual rainfall.
SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA
Between the picturesque boardwalk, art scene, eclectic restaurants, and surfing community (including a free Surfing Museum), Santa Cruz is a postcard of California life. And during the winter months, the crowds of visitors all but disappear. "The tourist population really dies off after Labor Day, so you have the place to yourself," says Clem Bason, a San Franciscan and CEO of the discount hotel site GoSeek. "What's more, you'll have your pick of restaurant reservations, and when you're at the restaurants it will be really chill." That's Californian for "You'll have a nice, relaxing time."
NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
Newport's mansions put their most charming face forward this time of year. "The properties get all gussied up for holidays," says Andrea McHugh, Discover Newport's marketing and communications manager. "They really bring it for the holidays, with thousands of poinsettias and Christmas trees, and they have special programming, special evening concerts, and choral groups." Mansion tours start at $16 for adults and $7 for youth, but that's just one reason to visit. Other attractions and events include live jazz at Greenvale Vineyards ($3).
Austin offers up a range of live music options -- especially in the downtown and South Congress areas, says Bason, of GoSeek. Some classic venues include Antone's Nightclub, the Continental Club, and Saxon Pub, as well as the jazzy Elephant Room, and most clubs have free or cheap shows. Another popular pastime: eating barbecue and Tex-Mex, which some call the best in the country. Museum-inclined visitors may want to head to the Bullock Texas State History Museum ($13 for adults, $9 for children) or the Blanton Museum of Art ($9 for adults, $5 for youth, free for children 12 and under). There's always a slew of festivals taking place, as well. Over Thanksgiving weekend, look for the Renegade Craft Fair.
Yuma is recognized as the sunniest place on Earth and offers much in the way of outdoor adventure and historic sightseeing. Popular options include a 19th-century frontier ghost town at Castle Dome Mine Museum ($10 for adults, $5 for children) and one of North America's largest masses of inland sand dunes, the Imperial Sand Dunes National Recreation Area. For film buffs there's the Yuma Territorial Prison, which appeared in the movie "3:10 to Yuma" ($6 for adults, $3 for youth). Rent a bike at Mr. B's for $25 a day and ride the riverfront, or hike West Wetlands Park for free.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
Vistiors to Charleston can peek at 18th-century gated mansions in the historic district, walk through gaslit alleys in the French Quarter, and take carriage rides along cobblestone streets (starting at $16 for adults, $12 for children). Touring Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is another popular option ($15 for adults, $10 for kids, including a hedge maze and petting zoo) as is strolling through the vibrant and historic Charleston City Market, which is open 365 days a year. "Charleston has an old-world charm," says Cheryl Rosner, CEO of hotel site Stayful. "It's so easy to fill a weekend here, between the plantations, markets, and home tours."
HIGHLANDS, NORTH CAROLINA
A popular and picturesque mountain retreat, Highlands is a peaceful paradise for lovers of the outdoors. The Nantahala National Forest is known for deep mountain gorges, valleys, and waterfalls. Hiking, fishing, walking tours, gem mining, and mountain biking are just some of the ways visitors enjoy the environment. Highlands is also known for its charming hotels, shopping, culture, and restaurants, five of which have received Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence.
Stretch a weekend getaway budget a little further by heading to Canada, where the U.S. dollar is currently worth $1.34 and the country is celebrating its 150th anniversary next year. Toronto "is exploding with new restaurants, chefs, hotels, and entire neighborhoods that have emerged as hotspots," says Vanessa Somarriba, media relations manager for Tourism Toronto. She recommends the Junction neighborhood's restaurant and bar scenes. West Queen West, with unique restaurants, boutiques, cafes, and the city's largest concentration of art galleries, is also not to be missed. (Vogue named it one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world for street style.)