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10 easiest road trip weekend escapes

Summer is almost here, so it’s time to start planning your weekend escapes.  Here are 10 easy road trips to take this year, developed by Lonely Planet travel editor Robert Reid and bestselling author Julie Morgenstern.

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The Hudson River Valley

For a great summer weekend getaway from the Big Apple, head to the north. Driving through The Hudson River Valley on leafy two-laners feels like a slice of rural Americana. Stop for good farm-to-table options, antiques shops and great art (Dia Art Foundation’s Beacon location.  Stay at castle-like Mohonk Mountain House near New Paltz, or cheaper and funkier B-52s’ Kate Pierson’s Lazy Meadow cabin complex near Woodstock.

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California's Gold Country 

The NorCal weekender mantra usually runs something like ‘Napa for wine, Tahoe for mountains.’ Well, how about California’s Gold Country for both?  Set in the gorgeous Sierra Nevada foothills and full of rich Gold Rush history, California’s Gold Country is a great wine tasting and foodie scene. Sutter Creek is a gem of a town with raised sidewalks and Old West architecture and it is only two and a half hour drive from San Francisco

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Michigan’s Gold Coast

The best break from Chicago is along Michigan’s west coast – aka Gold Coast – where scenic drives hug the 300-mile shoreline with dozens of beach spots, coastal parks, orchards and lake towns with incredible sunsets. Saugatuck – known for its arts community, numerous B&Bs and gay-friendly vibe – is one of the most popular resort areas. For a bit more bump, Saugatuck Dune Rides provide half-hour rides up and over sand banks. One of the best places to stop is compact New Buffalo, with one of the area’s most-loved beaches with surfing options, and home to Michigan’s greatest ice cream.

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Austin & Hill Country’s honky-tonks & BBQ

Only three and a half hour drive from Dallas, Austin is known for its music venues like Stubb’s,Continental Club and Antone’s, and world-famous festivals such as SXSW and Austin City Limits. Stretched between Austin and San Antonio, the Hill Country begs for slow drives and a stop for barbecue. Detour down dirt roads in search of fields of wildflowers or see Wildseed Farms.  To the south is Bandera, the state’s “cowboy capital” which offers horseback riding, dude ranches and a handful of real-deal honky-tonks like the 11th St Cowboy Bar with a jet-cooled dance floor out back.

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Port Townsend

The best roadtrip weekend from Seattle begins by boat. Drive aboard a ferry to Port Townsend, one of the best-preserved Victorian-era seaports in the USA. The port is the perfect launching pad into the Olympic Peninsula, a rugged, isolated area characterized by wild coastlines, deep old-growth forests and craggy mountains. If you're planning on staying the night in Port Townsend, opt for the Prussian-style Manresa Castle, decorated in an old-fashioned style that suits the town. Even if you don’t stay here, it’s worth taking the self-guided tour and check out the former chapel, rebuilt into a breakfast room and a banquet hall.

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Virginia’s Eastern Shore

Across the Chesapeake Bay bridge-tunnel, the road along Virginia’s isolated Eastern Shore has the feel of a remote, maritime escape, dotted with fishing villages and serene natural refuges. Tucked behind windswept Assateague Island, the town of Chincoteague (shink-o-teeg) is famous for its oysters and late-July wild pony swim, when the small horses that inhabit Assateague are led across the channel for annual herd-thinning foal auctions. Hike or bike up to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, a lovely wetland repose for migratory waterfowl. Try to time your visit to watch the occasional rocket launch at NASA Wallops Flight Facility.

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Boulder & Rocky Mountain National Park

A 40-minute trip from Denver, the university town of Boulder has a yuppie crunch attitude and a mad crush on the outdoors. Visit the downtown Pearl St Mall, the University of Colorado Hill district, and the Flatirons – an eye-catching rock formation. At night, head up to the Hill to The Bitter Bar (835 Walnut St). Crossed by one of the national park system’s most famous highways, Trail Ridge Rd, Rocky Mountain National Park is a Colorado must-do. Retire, if you dare, into one of the Old West-themed rooms at the Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for Stephen King’s famous cult novel The Shining.

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The Everglades

The route into the Everglades is full of vistas of long sawgrass prairies and cypress domes. Drive south from Miami to Homestead and Florida City, and pull over by the Coral Castle, a maudlin monument to unrequited love. You’ll then be just outside Everglades National Park, where you’ll find a fantastic farmer’s stand and petting zoo. Keep driving west to see some of the most impressive points within the park, including the Royal Palm Visitor Center, where the Pinelands Trail takes you through a grove of skeleton-thin swamp pine and Pa-hay-okee Overlook.  Spend the night in the fantastic Everglades Hostel.

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Portland, Maine

Everyone wants to know what the next Portland (Oregon) will be. Turns out, it’s Portland (Maine). Only two hours from Boston, it sparkles with lively waterfront and burgeoning gallery scene. Foodie or not, you’ll want at least one meal at one of Portland’s cutting-edge cafes and chef-driven restaurants.  Try the Zen-chic, Thai-inspired Green Elephant (608 Congress St) or award-winning Hugo's (88 Middle St).

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Santa Barbara

It only takes 90 minutes to get a break from the busy City of Angels. A beach town with sun-coated valleys and magnificent vineyards, Santa Barbara can easily fill a wine-tasting day or two. Take one of the many Santa Barbara Wine Tours and keep an eye out for Sideways (2004) film locations as you go. A scenic backcountry detour north of Santa Barbara follows Hwy 154, where you can load up on organic picnic fixings at the busy back counter inside New Frontiers Natural Marketplace (Hwy 246 and Old Mission Rd). If you need a night away, stay at the romantic Ballard Inn & Restaurant.

10 easiest road trip weekend escapes

Summer is almost here, so it’s time to start planning your weekend escapes.  Here are 10 easy road trips to take this year, developed by Lonely Planet travel editor Robert Reid and bestselling author Julie Morgenstern.

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