Unexpectedly Cool Places for a Summer Weekend Getaway

Little Rock, Arkansas

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Little Rock, Arkansas
Sean Pavone/istockphoto

Let’s Get Away

Feeling pent up? You’re not alone. After the disaster that was the summer of 2020, Americans are again making plans to travel. Whether or not this is your first trip since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, now is a good time to grab those remaining bargains that airlines, hotels, and restaurants are offering to lure back visitors, and a long weekend getaway is the ideal way to do it. But instead of visiting one of the usual vacation destinations (that everyone else will be flocking to), try one of these cities instead and enjoy fewer crowds, but plenty to do for the whole family.

Related: The Best Hidden Gem in Every State

Galveston, Texas
Eric V Overton/shutterstock

Galveston, Texas

This barrier island city is enjoying a bit of a revival of late, if the DIY Network’s “Restoring Galveston” is any indication. With its famed seawall that stretches for miles along the Gulf coast, oodles of historic buildings, a charming downtown with shops and restaurants, a pleasure pier, and just under an hour’s drive to Houston, Galveston Island is a great weekend getaway for Texans and non-Texans alike.

Don’t miss: The Hotel Galvez was the first luxury hotel built on the island after it was devastated by the great hurricane and flood of 1900. At 110 years old, it’s Galveston’s oldest hotel.

Related: 14 Warm Weather Destinations for Reconnecting With Nature

Historic Downtown Corning New York
Robin Zeigler/istockphoto

Corning, New York

Located in south-central New York state, Corning is best known as the longtime headquarters of Corning Inc., which invented Pyrex, optical fibers, and Gorilla Glass, among other innovations. But the real attraction is the adjacent (and amazing) Corning Museum of Glass, which traces the history of this material from the dawn of time to the latest scientific developments. Downtown Corning is charmingly walkable, with plenty of diversions for an afternoon, and the Finger Lakes are an easy drive to the north. Buffalo and Rochester are both three hours or less by car.

Don’t miss: Watkins Glen State Park with its cliff-hugging walkways that lead 2 miles into the gorge, passing 19 waterfalls along the way.

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Bloomington Indiana
Susan Vineyard/istockphoto

Bloomington, Indiana

Bloomington is home to Indiana University and is regularly named a top place to visit and to live. Plan your visit to coincide with a Hoosier home game, explore science and technology at the WonderLab Museum, or raise a glass at one of the numerous small breweries, wineries, and distilleries in the region. Indianapolis is just an hour’s drive north if you need some big-city excitement.

Don’t miss: Columbus, Indiana, is an hour’s drive to the east, and home to one of the best collections of mid-20th century residential and commercial architecture in the nation.

Related: 12 Small Towns Known for Being LGBTQ-Friendly

Fairhope, Alabama
George Dodd/istockphoto

Fairhope, Alabama

Fairhope has just over 20,000 people, but its bustling boutiques and restaurants are more than enough to keep visitors busy. Fairhope also boasts sweeping views of Mobile Bay and a quarter-mile pier perfect for a scenic stroll day or night. The Eastern Shore Arts Center sponsors an art walk the first Friday of every month. And if Fairhope gets boring, bustling Mobile is just across the bay.

Don't miss: Bookworms will want to browse the shelves of Page & Palette, Fairhope's go-to bookstore since 1968. Grab a book and a coffee at Latte Da, their coffee shop, or catch a reading and grab a drink downstairs at the Book Cellar.

Related: 20 of the Coolest Bookstores in America

Holland, Michigan

Holland, Michigan

The name gives this one away, but Holland is one of the best places in the U.S. to get a dose of all things Dutch. Highlights include Nelis' Dutch Village theme park and the Holland Museum. But Holland and vicinity offer more than just springtime blooms. Lakes Macatawa and Michigan are nearby for swimming, fishing, and boating, while the region's many breweries attract beer lovers from across the country.

Don't miss: Visit the photogenic (and bright red) Holland Harbor Lighthouse.

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Paso Robles, California

Paso Robles, California

Michigan is to beer as California is to wine, and Paso Robles is a great weekend base for wine lovers. Equally accessible from Los Angeles and the Bay Area, you could spend a week here and visit just a handful of the more than 200 wineries in and around this Central Coast town. 

Don’t miss: A day trip to the coast along famed Route 1 is worthwhile, with stops at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve overlooking the Pacific Ocean or Hearst San Simeon State Park.

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Little Rock, Arkansas
Sean Pavone/istockphoto

Little Rock, Arkansas

Spend a day downtown in the River Market District, where you can immerse yourself in politics and history at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, explore the environment at the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center, wander the trails and play areas of Julius Breckling Riverfront Park, and glimpse the “little rock” from which Arkansas’ capital city derives its name.

Don’t miss: If they’re in town, baseball fans will want to catch the minor-league Arkansas Travelers. Or take a day trip to the historic spa town of Hot Springs.

Related: 51 Free Walking Tours From Across the U.S.

Now: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico

With its warm, dry climate and copious outdoor adventures, rich cultural history, and vibrant arts and culture scene, it's no wonder Santa Fe — the oldest state capital in the U.S. — is such a gem. Travelers can immerse themselves in the community by visiting the historic plaza, which dates back to the early 1600s and continues to host events from markets to concerts. Centuries of Native American, Spanish, and Mexican influences are reflected in the region's adobe architecture, its cuisine (try posole or a chili relleno), and artists including Georgia O'Keeffe and R.C. Gorman. History buffs will want to visit nearby Los Alamos, where the atomic bomb was developed during World War II. 

Don't Miss: The annual Albuquerque International Balloon Festival, just an hour's drive south. It takes place this year from Oct. 2 to 10.

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Bardstown, Kentucky

Bardstown, Kentucky

Kentucky is famous for producing bourbon, and the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown has been in operation for more than 130 years. The distillery sits on 196 acres in the heart of bourbon country and features 29 barrel-aging warehouses. The city is also famous for its annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival honors that tradition, this year from Sept. 16-19, with an event that includes a bourbon steward class, a mixed drink challenge, a barrel selection, barrel-making demonstrations, and more.

Don't miss: Bardstown is also a center for regional arts. The 40th Annual Bardstown Arts & Craft Festival takes place Oct. 9-10 this year.

Related: 15 Drinking Pilgrimages You Need to Make

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island, Georgia

If a beach weekend is your idea of paradise, then get yourself down to Georgia’s Atlantic coast. The tiny, pristine island outside Savannah is known for its miles of wide-open beaches, golden salt marshes, and ancient maritime forest. Once an exclusive hunting club for some of the nation's wealthiest families, such as the Rockefellers, the island is now part of one of the largest preservation projects in the Southeast.

Don’t miss: The Georgia Sea Turtle Center, the state's only such rehabilitation and education facility

Related: The 20 Best Beaches on the East Coast

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

While jaw-droppingly scenic Sedona is an obvious hotbed for Native American and Southwestern art, it's also hosted artists as diverse as German surrealist Max Ernst and Egyptian sculptor Nassan Gobran. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike, drive scenic tours, take horseback rides, or barrel around on ATVs. Be sure to also check out Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Merry-Go-Round Rock, and the "Vortexes," where some believe spiritual energies swirl. Yoga, meditation, psychic readings, and crystal shops are abundant.

Don't miss: Outdoors enthusiasts will want to visit Red Rock State Park, which alone is worth a trip; many say it's better than the Grand Canyon. 

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Galena, Illinois

Galena, Illinois

Galena is a must for anyone interested in 19th-century American history, and its Main Street has been named one of America's best by Fodor's Travel. You'll find more than 100 stores, galleries, and restaurants along the Helluva Half Mile.

Don't Miss: President Ulysses S. Grant's home, where you can gawk at the period architecture from Grant's era that makes this town so picturesque.

Related: 30 Beautiful Road Trips That Celebrate American History