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Best Cities for Weekend Vacations

Larry Olmsted
October 19, 2011
The Singapore Helix Bridge, Singapore
The Singapore Helix Bridge, Singapore

Charleston, SC

Courtesy of iStockphoto

As far as tourist destinations go, few cities can rival the likes of New York, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Orlando and Los Angeles. But if you haven’t been before, each of these places can overwhelm and easily fill an entire week. The solution? Cities well designed to be visited in a weekend–or better yet, a long weekend. The best weekend cities offer at least one or two marquee attractions like world-class museums or monuments, a unique cultural atmosphere and enough great food to let visitors know they are somewhere special–all for less money and easier navigability.


So if your schedule and budget is better suited for a quick weekend than a longer trip, and you still want to experience the best North America has to offer, put one of these Five Great Weekend Cities on your to-do list.


In Pictures: 10 Best Cities for Weekend Escapes


Charleston, SC


Consistently ranked the friendliest city in the US, this year Charleston also won best city period from the annual Conde Nast Traveler Magazine reader poll. It’s historic district features cobblestone streets that can be explored on foot to or by horse drawn carriage tours, and it is chock full of great restaurants featuring the uniquely regional “low country” cuisine. King Street is one of the last great local shopping streets in the country, not taken by chain stores. Nearby islands including Ft. Sumter, Kiawah, Folly’s, and Isle of Palms are all worth visiting. Charleston Musts: Try local specialty shrimp and grits; attend an oyster roast; take a tour of historic downtown; take a plantation tour; Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum.


New Orleans, LA
New Orleans, LA

New Orleans, LA

Courtesy of Getty Images

New Orleans, LA


The most European city in the United States, the main attractions include eating and strolling the streets of the high-octane French Quarter and low-octane Garden District, as well as the myriad museums and galleries of the fast rising Warehouse District. New Orleans Musts: Live jazz (Preservation Hall or Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse); a classic restaurant (Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s, Emeril’s); a Po Boy or Muffuletta sandwich; beignets and coffee at 24-hour Café du Monde; the National WWII Museum.


Boston, MA
Boston, MA

Boston, MA

Courtesy of Russ Bishop / Alamy

Boston, MA


Jammed full of US history, Boston offers a tremendous amount to see in a concise area. The Freedom Trail is a 2 ½ mile red brick walking path that takes visitors past 16 historic Revolutionary War era sites, and passes America’s first public park, Boston Commons. Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, waterfront and downtown can all be explored on foot from almost any hotel, and the North End remains one of the best preserved Italian enclaves in the country. Boston is also home to the nation’s oldest running restaurant, oldest running bar, and is the quintessential place to try New England seafood like oysters, lobster, lobster rolls, clams, and of course, New England Clam Chowder.Boston Musts: Faneuil Hall; strolling Newbury street in Back Bay; strolling Hanover street in North End; a meal at the Union Oyster House, America’s oldest eatery; Freedom Trail; Boston’s amphibious Duck Tours.


San Diego, CA
San Diego, CA

San Diego, CA

Courtesy of AP

San Diego, CA


The yin to LA’s yang, San Diego is a big city with small town flair, and a visit is all about relaxing and enjoying some of the best weather and beaches in the nation. Its biggest attractions are the city’s famous zoo and sibling safari park, Legoland, and the Sea World theme park, but for many renting a bike and exploring the shore and the quaint shops and eateries of the Gaslamp district and Coronado Beach is enough entertainment. Surfing is also hugely popular, for both people and dogs.This photo taken Oct. 6, 2009 shows Patrick Ivison, 15, and Ricochet, a golden retriever, during a surfing session at the Cardiff State Beach in San Diego.San Diego Musts: Go to the beach; Legoland; San Diego Zoo; scenic harbor cruise; tour USS Midway Aircraft Carrier.


Denver, CO
Denver, CO

Denver, CO

Courtesy of Getty Images

Denver, CO


Once a stepping stone to the mountains, ski resorts and National Parks of Colorado, the Mile High City has enjoyed a dramatic renaissance in the past few years, and its downtown has exploded with hotels, restaurants and attractions. Since baseball’s Coors Field opened in the warehouse section of downtown in 1995, three other major stadiums have opened, and the population downtown has grown twelve-fold. Anchored by a massively revamped Union Station and 16th Street pedestrian mall, the downtown Theater District got a new convention center, new Riverfront Park, the nation’s fourth largest public library designed by Michael Graves, a new wing on the Denver Art Museum, an entirely new Denver Contemporary Arts Museum, and a $120 million History Museum under construction, as is a light rail system. Denver Musts: One of only two public US Mint tours in the nation; Rockies, Nuggets, or Broncos game; bike rental for 850-miles of urban trails; visit old or new art museums.


In Pictures: 10 Best Cities for Weekend Escapes