Excerpted from Trip.com by Becky Mahan
Americans, we suck at travel. It’s a fact: studies show that American employees only use 51% of their eligible paid vacation, and about 40% of Americans don’t use it at all! While we feel you should use that time off (it’s yours, after all), we also get that Americans have a raw deal when it comes to how much vacation time we get. Two weeks per year is hardly enough to go gallivanting around the world. But that’s okay. If you can be smart about it, you can knock off a ton of globe pins in a year: particularly, by book-ending weekends and taking advantage of holidays.
Think about it: Saturdays and Sundays are built-in “vacation” days. If you use just one of your precious PTO days, you can take Friday (or Monday) off and hit the airport on Thursday night (or Friday night.) If you use, gasp!, two PTO days, you can head out Thursday night, spend Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and most of Monday in your destination, and head home Monday night. (Just make extra coffee Tuesday morning when you’re back in the office.)
But where can you go for only 3.5 days, you ask? Luckily, with only a 6-hour average flight from coast to shining coast, our beautiful country offers plenty to do on a long weekend. Here are some of the best places to go, whether you only have Saturday and Sunday or longer:
First time in Chicago? Don’t worry, your selfies with the Bean and that monster deep-dish are acceptable. And the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago. Museum of Contemporary Photography, and Millennium Park are all must-dos, as well. But check off other obligatory (and far less-known to visitors) boxes, too: spend some time in Wrigleyville if you’re sports-inclined, or head west and walk along the 606, a discontinued train track that has been re-purposed into an art-filled link between four Chicago neighborhoods, if you’re not.
Photo by Cynthia Dial
Who hasn’t spent a wild weekend in Vegas? Perfect for weekend turnarounds because, well, it’s Vegas, Sin City is so packed with things to do that you might want to take an extra day off just to sleep. Don’t spend all your vacation money in the casinos, though: if nightlife is your thing, hit the clubs, like OMNIA at Caesars Palace (not where the real Caesar lived, by the way) to enjoy top DJs and bottle service that costs a mortgage payment. Or head downtown to Old Vegas and Fremont, where there’s a new restaurant and bar scene, and the slots and tables are cheaper, too. But no matter what, don’t leave without hitting up at least one buffet or fine dining establishment: Vegas has some of the top cuisines in the whole freaking world, and you’d be sorely remiss if you didn’t indulge in the ridiculous world cuisines of the Rio’s Carnival World buffet, or the monster double-deckers of beef at Gordon Ramsay’s BurGr.
As most visitors are wont to do, your weekend will best be spent in the famous colonial-era French Quarter, where you’ll find the equally famous Bourbon Street and its infamous bars, nightclubs, and other nighttime hangs. Of course, you can’t miss the fabled beignets at Cafe du Monde, or the various other Nawlins’ food favorites, like muffuletta, jambalaya, and gumbo, at the many eateries nearby. And while good hotels are available everywhere, only stay in the French Quarter if you have a good pair of earplugs (or want to embrace the action.)’
You’ll want to rent a car here; Los Angeles is huge and diverse, and you’ll be able to see much more in a weekend if you have your own wheels. Spend some time at the beaches and their easygoing, chill communities, including Santa Monica and Venice Beach (and the eclectic Venice Boardwalk.) If clubbing is your scene, you’ll want to settle yourself in Hollywood for the night, or check out the music on Sunset Strip and the hipster indie clubs in Silverlake. Art lovers will want to pilgrimage to the Getty Center and Getty Villa, or climb to the Griffith Observatory for spectacular nighttime cityscapes. And, of course, Beverly Hills and ritzy Malibu are worth even just a drive through the neighborhoods and their jaw-dropping mansions.
You’ll also want a car to get around the sprawling metropolis of San Diego, where you can hit the beach, snowy mountains, sparse desert, and country highlands all in one day. The “city” is really a massive complex of individual towns and communities, so whatever you crave, you’ll find it. Stroll around Seaport Village and the downtown districts (including the historic bar and restaurant-laden Gaslmap, and art-centric East Village), or catch a ferry across the bay to the “island” of Coronado with its cute wharf and bay-front boardwalk. Little Italy is chock-full of trendy eateries, taprooms, and rooftops with amazing views (and one of the biggest farmer’s markets in the country), while eclectic North Park is like a mini Portland, and Hillcrest is the self-described “gay-borhood” of the city. Del Mar is luxe and high-end (if you go in the summer, hit the fair, and in the fall, the horse races), while the chill hippie beach town vibes of Encinitas and Carlsbad just beg you to stop and sip a cold-brewed coffee. Pacific Beach. or “PB” as the locals call it, is also a “chill beach town,” but with much more of that nitty-gritty, dumpy clubs and dive bars-feel that is somehow still cool. And did we mention the plethora of microbreweries (or the king of them all: Stone Brewing), beaches, and San Diego's food of choice, fish tacos?
NAPA AND SONOMA
If you want an escape/retreat sort of weekend, Napa and neighboring Sonoma are a sure bet. As one of the world’s premiere wine-producing regions, Napa Valley boasts over three hundred wineries and wine-centric eateries. And nearby Sonoma is just as beautiful, but without the crowds and overpriced tastings, so it’s a much more mellow alternative. Wherever you make your base, be sure to scout out the smaller vintners, who have just as much class and charm as the mega-wineries, but with arguably more authentic character: like Castello di Amorosa's 12th century castle or Frog's Leap trails and 19th century barn. Looking for a bit of an outdoor adventure? Ditch the car and pop between the wineries on bike, or by private chauffeur — or even the awesome Napa Valley Wine Train. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this region is all wine and only wine; the towns of Napa and Sonoma themselves are charming and vibrant, offering plenty of culture, art galleries, and distinguished restaurants and cafes.
Welcome to the urban traveler’s paradise: with iconic clanging cable cars, Victorian row houses, quirky neighborhoods and stunning waterfront, it’s rare we hear anyone say, “I hated San Francisco.” (We’re also slightly biased.) Make the most of your weekend by living like a local: rent a bike and explore the beautiful trails of Golden Gate Park. Graze on organic oysters, cheese, and sustainably-grown heirloom tomatoes in the Ferry Building, or try to choose from the concentration of the best. burritos. in. the. world. in The Mission District, or sip on Irish coffee at the Buena Vista and bread bowls of chowder in Fisherman's Wharf. Or, hop on a ferry and explore Sausalito, Tiberon, or Alcatraz — just don’t forget a jacket.
Old World charm meets vibrant New World sophistication here, where a thriving restaurant culture and booming theater and art scene are king. Stroll down the beachside boardwalk, The Battery, or take a horse and carriage through the cobbled downtown streets to see centuries-old mansions, Spanish moss-draped trees, and spooky cemeteries. At night, the gaslamp-lit streets make you feel as though you stepped into the 1800s, but pop into one of the innovative restaurants for a trendy dish and you’ll instantly remember what year it is (or, opt for the classic Southern fare of sweet tea and crab soup or fried alligator.) Still, history oozes out of Charleston’s every orifice, and Civil War buffs in particular should not miss Fort Sumter, or the stately homes-turned-museums.
Selfies at the Rocky statue after you run up the steps are obligatory. Go for it. And deciding which cheesesteak is better between Pat's and Geno's is also okay (though we recommend going off the beaten path to try smaller vendors, as well.) You’d be remiss if you didn’t taste American history at the Liberty Bell and Constitution Center, and the abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary is a unique, spooky experience. But just a few blocks away from the noise and crowds of downtown, shady cobbled alleyways await, with red-brick colonial houses, hidden eateries, and pockets of history. Meander through Fairmount Park or while away the afternoon beneath the trees in iconic Love Park, people-watch in Rittenhouse Square, or sip a sundae at Franklin Fountain in Old City for a taste of what makes Philadelphia an actually quaint and unpretentious city.
Everything you’ve heard about this eclectic city is (probably) true: filled with artists and activists, rose gardens and microbrews, vinyl and coffee (all done to perfection), it just oozes “hip.” Get a taste of the thriving restaurant culture, fueled largely by the region’s countless wineries and organic farms. Try porchetta and dirty fries at Lardo, fried rings of lard at Voodoo Doughnuts, nitro cold-brewed coffee at Stumptown Roasters, or sustainable poached eggs at The Screen Door; you won’t be sorry. On the south side of the city, relax in Washington Park and the International Rose Test Garden, or head outside town to the iconic Multnomah Falls. And in between, peruse the many markets for everything from organic dog treats to re-purposed bamboo-framed sunglasses.
Still wondering how you can travel more while working full-time?