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Taking an urban vacation is often a nice change of pace from the typical beach or resort backdrop of tourism.  An inner-city setting allows for countless activities, and gives you a chance to live like the locals.  From your urban vacation home, you’ll find a wide range of restaurants within walking distance, and live theaters, bars, and parks that can all be easily accessed and enjoyed.  The question remains, however, which big cities have the best vacation rentals?  Here’s a list of the top world’s 10 urban rental areas to help you decide where to visit!

10.) San Francisco Bay

San Francisco is a great place not only to enjoy some valued vacation time, but also to take part in the local culture.  Head to the famous Golden Gate Bridge, check out the local entertainment, or sample the freshest catch from the fish market at the pier.  You’re sure to have an urban retreat to remember in this lively corner of California.

9.) Berlin

The center of Germany’s culture since the fall of the Berlin Wall, this former Soviet stronghold offers no shortage of historical landmarks, activities, and tourist attractions.  For those who aren’t history buffs, there is plenty of German culture to take in as well.  Try a local bakery’s fresh baked breads, cakes, and other unique concoctions and confections for a taste you won’t soon forget.

8.) Rio de Janerio

As Brazil’s country’s second-largest city, you’ll find yourself in the heart of the country’s culture, with a skyline that offers countless picturesque photo opportunities.  The city is composed of five separate districts, all of which can be explored on your exciting urban getaway.

7.) Los Angeles

Only in the city of stars can you experience the glitz and glam that Hollywood has to offer. Whether you’re stolling down the Walk of Fame, taking a guided tour, or snapping photos of the notable landmarks (and celebrities), L.A. will provide a destination experience like no other urban spot can.

6.) Las Vegas

When it comes to urban cityscapes, Sin City has virtually every skyline beat.  Casinos, hotels, and all types of businesses spread out as far as your camera lens can see.  And with activities from gambling and shopping to hanging out by the pool and relaxing, every visitor is sure to find their pastime of choice in America’s playground.

5.) Washington, D.C.

Who says the nation’s capital is just for politics?  Washington, D.C. has plenty of museums, monuments, and educational stops that all add up to create a distinctly unique urban vacation experience.  Not to mention, many of these historical monuments and activities are offered free of charge.

4.) Rome

Take a tour of the Coliseum and other Roman ruins in this historic ancient city, or visit the Vatican City and the famous Sistine Chapel to see historical landmarks in action. Once you’ve finished touring the sites, take in the flavors of Roma.  No matter your cup of tea (or plate of pasta), the Italian Capital provides its guests with an incredible selections of food and wine, not to mention seemingly endless gelato flavors.

3.) Barcelona

Expand your urban horizons by traveling to Barcelona, Spain’s center of art and culture. The locals speak Catalan, a romance language that is a mixture between Spanish and French.  Decipher a local map and visit Gaudi’s famous “Sagrada Familia” cathedral and take a stroll by the Nou Camp – the largest soccer stadium in the world.

2.) Paris

No urban vacation list would be complete without one of the world’s most beloved cities: Paris.  This heavily-populated town is home to some of the most famous markets in the world, ranging from high-end couture to mom-and-pop shops.  Take advantage of the city of lights by living like a local and enjoying more off-the-beaten-path parts of town. You may find a hidden gem among the city’s many jewels.

1.) New York City

Finally, we reach our number one urban rental destination: NYC.  Not only is New York the biggest city in the U.S., but the Big Apple is also home to five separate boroughs … meaning five distinct downtown cultures.  Catch an acclaimed Broadway play and walk to Central Park when you visit Manhattan, or explore the city’s subway to head out to Queens or Brooklyn. You can spend a lifetime of vacations in New York without seeing it all. Next time, try renting a vacation home in a new boroughs and exploring your surroundings. You’ll be surprised at how much there is to discover!

Of all of the vacation prospects available, for many dedicated consumers, none seem quite as thrilling as an entire trip devoted to shopping. People from all across the globe enjoy purchasing goods with their hard earned dollars, and what better way to join them by taking a shopping vacation? Although the idea of this kind of trip may sound pricey, remember that you’re saving on activities, and you only have to spend as much as you choose. Plus, spending the day window shopping or people watching can be an entirely free day of entertainment. But for those who are all about the merchandise, try on this list of excellent shopping vacations before planning your big spree.

Shopping in Paris

Mall of America

Known as the biggest mall in the USA (and the second in the continent; Canada holds the top honors), the Mall of America is home to more than 520 stores, more than enough to keep you busy for several days. The Mall’s main attractions also include dining and amusement park rides. With all of these options you’re sure to be kept busy even after you’re all shopped out.

New York City

The Big Apple holds several notable shopping districts within the city limits. Head down to Madison Avenue, do some upscale shopping on Fifth Avenue, and then take the train down to SoHo for an array of shopping possibilities. With such a large city to browse, you’re sure to have plenty of stores to choose from throughout your spending spree of a vacation.

Paris

The world capital of haute couture has more clothing stores than you’ll have time to even consider shopping at. Home to thousands of designers and boutiques with a unique style of their own, Paris has the style for you. And who says shopping is strictly for clothes? Take advantage of Paris’s reputation for delicious cuisine: stroll the streets in search of bistro fare, cheeses, breads, and wines and don’t head home until you’re full.

Beverly Hills

No list of shopping destinations would be complete without including the famous Rodeo drive, located in the heart of Beverly Hills. The street is known world-wide for its prestigious list of shops and the glamorous people who frequent them. Join the hype of fashion week, or take part in one of the street’s many annual events such as Snow 90210 Rodeo. This destination will offer plenty of shopping opportunities as well as entertainment for all ages.

Bangkok, Thailand

For those who are looking to shy away from your average shopping experience, Bangkok is anything but ordinary. On weekends, the city holds the Chatuchak Weekend Market, a flea market of sorts that covers more than 35 acres with all kinds of goods. The market, which receives approximately 200,000 visitors per day, offers many homemade products and items for sale. The city also hosts a large number of stores from upscale shops, to street stalls, to farmer’s markets.

Taking a shopping vacation can introduce you to new cultures and offer experiences like no other trip can. So keep these destinations in mind for your next one-stop shop-till-you-drop vacation.

Three Dogs in a Cart

New England is known as one of the prettiest vacations spots in the country for its ocean views, multiple lakes, and vast amount of trees.  Not to mention the historical importance of the area that is a big attraction for visitors.  But when traveling, especially far away from where you call home, there is often something missing: your family dog.  Many vacation rentals aren’t pet-friendly, and having to leave Spot or Fido behind can add extra costs and planning arrangements.  The next time you’re thinking about heading to scenic New England, stay at one of these dog-friendly homes and bring along man’s best friend!

 

10. Relax & Listen to the Loons Sing on Toddy Pond $175-$200/night

This lovely waterfront home is located on Toddy Pond and contains five bedrooms and two baths, sleeping up to 12 people.  Totaling  2,800 square feet, “Relax & Listen” offers guests a sandy beach that is perfect for the family to enjoy.  With Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor just minutes away, you’ll have plenty of activities to keep you and the pup busy.

9. The Best Waterfront Location in Boothbay Harbor, ME $275/night

This four-bedroom, two-bathroom house is 2,040 square feet and sits just where its name suggests: on the coast of Boothbay Harbor.  Sleeping up to eight people, this rental offers fantastic views of your very own private waterway.  The house comes fully-equipped with new appliances and is within walking distance of historic downtown, home to many shops and restaurants.  Your dog will love having their run of this home’s private deck and yard.

8. Lake View Chalet $250-$350/night

This newly-constructed luxury chalet is located in Franconia, NH.  Boasting three bedrooms and two baths, this rental can sleep eight guests.  Enjoy a lakefront view while sitting in the Jacuzzi or relax next to the gas stove.  Cook for yourself and guests in the fully-equipped gourmet kitchen, under the 23′ natural pine cathedral ceilings.  With hiking, skiing, snowboarding, and nature watching all within the area, you and your beloved pet will surely have plenty of activities.

7. Riverside Farm House in the White Mountains $125-$300/night

Take a vacation out to the beautiful White Mountains, in Lancaster, NH with this 3,500 square foot farmhouse.  With four bedrooms and two baths, this rental sleeps eight people.  Relax on the classic farmer’s porch and breakfast nook, or entertain in the formal dining room.  With breathtaking views of gardens, and mountains in both Vermont and New Hampshire, you and your pup will have plenty to look at.

6. Beautiful Windekind Farm-Breidablick Cottage $160-$238/night

Taking its name from the Norwegian “broad view,” this two-bed, two-bath cottage will take you and up to three guests to a fabulous view of the Green Mountains.  Also located on the edge of Spruce Forest, this rental offers up an impressive nature scene.  It comes with all modern appliances as well as a wood-burning stove.  With 1,100 square feet of cottage in a rural setting, your dog will have plenty of running and playing space.

5. Exceptional Townhome $232-$639/night

This townhome is adjacent to the Woods Resort and Spa in Killington, Vermont.  This three-bedroom, 4-bathroom getaway is the perfect destination to enjoy all the amenities of a ski resort in a home-like setting.  Guests have access to the resorts’s indoor pool, fitness center, steam room, and spa treatments.  With all of these possibilities, your family dog will have more to do than they can fit into one vacation.

4. Bear Hollow $800-$1,300/night

Bring up to a whopping 18 guests to stay in this massive, 5-bedroom, 4-bath house.  Located in Vermont, this vacation rental comes with plenty of luxuries, including: a professional kitchen, private deck, hot tub, and a billiards table that can be converted for any ping pong or air hockey lovers.  If you’d rather relax, then  enjoy a movie next to the wood-burning fireplace or on one of the house’s three flat screen TVs.  The old boy will love having his roam over this large contemporary rental.

3. 1559 $2,500-$12,500/week

A stay in Edgartown at this 6-bed, 4-bathroom rental will provide you with a beautiful private pool.  Newly renovated, this house offers many indulgences, including; luxurious linens, a video library, and plenty of outdoor living space. It even comes with a separate bungalow for the kids and the dog to hang out.

2. 3606 Main St. $4,500/week

Treat yourself to some of the best views in Massachusetts from this 4-bed, 4-bath home.  Overlooking Sandy Neck Beach, this luxurious house is just a short and private walk from the beach.  This rental also offers a billiards room, dining area, and luxury master suite complete with Jacuzzi tub you can be sure the pet will enjoy!

1. Ocean View $6,900/week

Located in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts, this 2,600 square foot, 4-bedroom, 3-bath vacation spot provides you with breathtaking views.  The house hosts a deck that offers panoramic views of the Provincetown Harbor and the Pilgrim Lake dunes.  Enjoy this private getaway with a heated pool, hot tub, and sauna.  And with a chef’s kitchen and two outdoor gas grills, you’ll never have to worry about your best friend going hungry.

Renting a vacation home with kids can be a welcome change from the hotel scene. Not only does it make your home away from home feel more like, well, home, it also provides amenities that might not be possible in a traditional hotel. When planning to reserve your next rental, consider looking for these kid-friendly amenities for kids of all ages.

  1. A pool
    Kids and pools are like peanut butter and jelly — they just go together. Look for a vacation rental with a well-maintained pool, preferably a heated one if you’ll be in a cooler climate or the temperature might not be as tropical as you want.
  2. A full kitchen
    While the kids might not appreciate the full-sized fridge and ample workspace, they will enjoy the resulting meals. Make a trip to the local market and stock the shelves to ensure that the kids (and the adults!) are well fed.
  3. Outdoor grill
    An outdoor grill can provide a quick way to cook up a meal without a big mess or heating up the whole house. What’s more, if it’s located on a patio or deck, the whole family can enjoy time together while the food is cooking.
  4. Pet friendliness
    For vacationers with pets, traveling isn’t the same without their furry friends. Book a pet-friendly vacation rental so all the members of the family can come along.
  5. Cable/satellite TV
    During vacation, a little rain may fall, leaving you with cooped-up kids with nothing to do. Cable or satellite TV can provide a distraction from foul weather, or help the little ones to settle down for quiet time or a nap.
  6. DVD player
    If cable or satellite TV aren’t available, or nothing good is on, pop in a DVD to entertain the family.
  7. High-speed Internet
    Kids of all ages will appreciate a good Internet connection, whether to check email or Tweet, play games, or instant message.
  8. Air conditioning/heating
    No matter what time of year you’re traveling, the weather might take a turn for the worse, leaving you grateful for central heating or air conditioning.
  9. Swing set/play equipment
    A swing set or play equipment on site or nearby can be a great way for young kids to stretch their legs and play. Look for age-appropriate play equipment for your little one.
  10. High chair or booster seat
    It can be difficult or nearly impossible to travel with a high chair or appropriate booster seat; instead, look for a rental that provides them so you don’t have to lug them along yourself.

Rentals provide more than just a place to stay – they can also provide amenities you didn’t know you needed. Look for some of these features the next time your family travels.

Teresa J. Shaw is a Michigan-based writer specializing in travel and family content. Read more of her work at www.teresajshaw.com and follow her on Twitter @TeresaShaw.

Ithaca Farmers Market

While traveling, your best bet at finding authentically local food is to stop by a farmers market. The fruits, vegetables, cheeses, wines, baked goods and other food items for sale will be locally grown or made, then distributed straight from a farm or kitchen to you – a system that eschews the typical waste and pollution caused by long-distance shipping and packaging.

While reducing your ecological footprint and supporting small businesses, you’ll also be able to enjoy fresh snacks (native fruits, homemade cookies, just-blended juices), find unique gifts to bring home (honey, salsa, pies, plants, crafts), or get ingredients to cook in your rental home (recently picked herbs, seasonal vegetables, freshly churned butter). You’ll also have great opportunities for colorful photos.

You may even come across a food you’ve never seen anywhere else. At the University District Farmers Market in Seattle, you can get a potato variety that was cultivated by the Makah Native Americans 200 years ago. At the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, keep an eye out for emu and ostrich eggs. Finally, at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, you can track down jujubes and a red desert fruit common in Asia and the Middle East. Such unique finds will stimulate your taste buds and expand your sense of the local culture.

In addition to raw ingredients, many markets include stands where you can find entire meals made to order. The Ithaca Farmers Market in worldly Ithaca, New York, is a popular lunch destination where market goers have their choice of Cambodian, Cuban, Sri Lankan, Tibetan, and Hungarian cuisines. These types of farmers markets offer a way to sample the regional cuisines, as if you are at a food court, but everything is fresher and made with care.

Farmers markets are not just about the food – it’s not uncommon to find one with lively musical performances. At the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland, California, you might find a diverse crowd dancing wildly to a salsa band’s beats in the middle of the day. The Memphis Farmers Market showcases an array of local artists, rotating each week to give you a taste of roots music, from bluegrass to jazz to Celtic folk. With activities like these, you could really spend all day at the farmers market, soaking up the sounds, tastes, smells, and colors of the area.

Whenever you are planning a trip in the U.S., check LocalHarvest.org for nearby farmers’ markets. If your vacation is not during harvest season, you may not have to miss out on the fun. Even in places with short growing seasons many markets are open year round with offerings like pickled vegetables, sauces, wine, baked goods, dairy and meat, and produce grown in greenhouses.

PhotobucketDespite the necktie being a smash hit for the past 15 years, you probably shouldn’t assume that your Dad wants one more this Father’s Day. Not that he didn’t absolutely appreciate the one shaped like a fish you gave him when you were 7, but he’s a hard working guy who deserves a little something extra this year. Then again, maybe what he really deserves is something extra special. He’s been going big for you your whole life, and Father’s Day is the perfect chance to return the favor by sending him on an adventure in one of these larger than life destinations!

For the Fisherman – Key West, FL

Key West offers some of the most pristine and well-stocked deep sea sport fishing grounds in the world. Serious anglers come here to land the big ones – tuna, grouper, barracuda, and of course, marlin. The wide variety of fishing tour companies in Key West is not only great due to the competitive pricing it creates, but because it also means even the weekend angler can find a tour that can easily be tailored to suit varying levels of experience.

For the Golfer – Pebble Beach, CA

If your Dad is a PGA Tour pipe-dreamer, there’s no place he’d rather hit the links than in Pebble Beach. Located on the beautiful and temperate California coast, it’s home to some of the most famous golf courses in the world. Dad will feel connected to golf history playing Del Monte, the oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi, or battling through the championship tees at Spyglass Hill, from which Robert Louis Stevenson found inspiration for his classic novel, Treasure Island.

For the Baseball Nut – Cooperstown, NY

In Cooperstown (approximately 3 hours north of NYC) Dads can live out their ultimate baseball fantasy during Father’s Day weekend, which by no small coincidence is also the annual Hall of Fame Classic Weekend. Among the activities are the Hall of Fame Classic, an exhibition game featuring numerous Hall of Famers; Family Catch at Doubleday Field; a parade and the Cooperstown Golf Classic. And just like the other 51 weekends of the year, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be open for Dad to stroll in awe through baseball history.

For the Player – Las Vegas, NV

Gambling, music, nightlife, extreme sports, and entertainment galore… doesn’t sound like your Dad? Think again. While it’s true that the siren song of Vegas beckons all men, it doesn’t do so for the sole purpose of leaving a trail of debauchery in his wake, like most movies would suggest. Vegas has plenty of class left, and is still more The Rat Pack than it is The Hangover. Sending Dad to Vegas is perfect because it gives him a chance to pack a lot of fun in a short amount of time, be it golf, cards, fine dining, or a critically-acclaimed show.

For the Romantic – Honolulu, HI

What better place for Dad to abscond with Mom on a romantic getaway than the tropical island paradise of Hawaii? Even if they somehow manage to tire of blissfully lounging on the sand and playing in the piercing blue water, Honolulu has a multitude of affordable relaxing spas, forests to explore, and has become a veritable foodie heaven of inexpensive noodle joints and artful Pacific Rim cuisine.

For the Wine Lover – Napa Valley, CA

The Napa and Sonoma Valley regions of Northern California make up the heart of what is simply known as “wine country” throughout the state, as well as across most of the U.S. While the entire area is predominantly agricultural, it’s rather easy to stumble into (or meticulously book) countless opportunities to explore the picturesque countryside and sample the delicately-crafted wares of the vintners who cultivate it. Given the area’s close proximity to San Francisco’s high-end culinary scene, you won’t run short of delectable pairing options for your favorite bottle any time soon.

For the Sightseer – New York, NY

This is a really great idea for the Dad who has never been to New York City, or wasn’t able to stop and appreciate it while there on business. The perfect addition to this trip is the New York CityPASS, which gives the holder (line-free) admission into six of New York’s most famous attractions:

  • Empire State Building
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • The Museum of Modern Art
  • Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty
  • Guggenheim Museum

For the Speed Demon – Los Angeles, CA

Have Dad put his driving chops to the ultimate test at one of the stunt driving clinics offered through the Extreme Stunt and Driving Team. If your Dad doesn’t limit his adrenaline intake to things on four wheels, you might want consider adding another day or two onto the trip to give him the chance to check out their many stunt clinics, including the high fall and fire gag (read: you could “safely” set your dad on fire).

For the Brewmaster Hopeful – Portland, OR

Portland leads the nation in concentration of microbreweries per capita, an asset that can be wonderfully advantageous to the beer aficionado hoping to tour as many different breweries and sample as many different styles as possible in a short period of time. With a little bit of advanced planning, or even via prepackaged “BrewBus” tours, Dad can learn about the brewing process and get a hands-on understanding of the inner workings of some of highest rated breweries in the country.

For the Outdoorsman – Big Sky, MT

The rugged, explorer side of your Dad will come alive in the heart of Big Sky Country. The expansive beauty on the banks of the Gallatin River, along with the surrounding Gallatin and Paradise Valleys, could keep a man occupied for years. The lower region is perfect for camping, fly fishing, viewing wildlife, or simply slipping into the sweet silence that comes from being the only person for miles around.

Jay Ferris is a Seattle-based writer, husband, and father of three, whose penchant for outdoors-based travel is rivaled only by his dependence on a steady internet connection and spider-free existence. Follow him on Twitter at @jayferris.

New York Walk Light

One of the best ways to de-stress, get exercise, save money, and really enjoy your surroundings while on vacation is to simply ditch your car for the week. Here are some of the most pedestrian-friendly destinations in the U.S. – consider it our guide to skipping the gas stations in favor of a walking vacation!

1. New York, NY

Fast-walking pedestrians and jaywalkers rule this city, and most residents don’t even want to own cars – it’s not worth the hassle. When you visit Manhattan, you can join the crowds surging through Times Square, Wall Street, and other world-famous locales. Or, for more peaceful walks, try the Hudson River Greenway (which runs almost the entire length of Manhattan), Central Park (over 800 acres of carefully planned park land), or the High Line (an elevated train trestle that was recently converted into a public park).

2. Boston, MA

You might get lost trying to drive the curved and cobblestone streets of this historic city, but walking is a cinch. Pedestrians have easy access to the waterfront, shopping districts, green space, and residential neighborhoods. If you’re interested in our nation’s history, follow the Freedom Trail, a red line on the sidewalk that leads you to 17 historically significant spots. Nature lovers will appreciate the Emerald Necklace, a series of connected parks and waterways that provide ample opportunities for walking and feeding the ducks.

3. San Francisco, CA

Dense, scenic and culturally diverse, San Francisco earned the highest ranking in Walk Score’s 2008 list of the most pedestrian-friendly cities. It’s easy to find everything you need within walking distance, and there are always people out and about on the sidewalks. But the hills here are no joke, so be sure to get in shape before your trip, and wear comfortable, supportive sneakers; that way, you’ll be able to appreciate the stunning angles at sites like Coit Tower and Lombard Street. When your legs just can’t take it anymore, you can always hang onto a cable car and let it pull you up the steepest blocks.

4. Philadelphia, PA

Philly feels relatively small, friendly, and easy to get around on foot. You can wander residential neighborhoods to admire the quaint cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, and patriotic décor, or join a walking tour to soak up some history. Another fun way to see the city is by following the colorful route of the Mural Mile, which offers a self-guided tour of some of Philly’s most creative and socially significant spots.

When it comes to indulging in a last-minute getaway, one of my favorite things to do is hop a red-eye flight to Fiji for a week of fjord hopping and relaxing on white sand beaches. At least I assume that would be one of my favorite things to do, seeing as I’ve never actually done it.

When it comes to a real last-minute getaway, nothing beats the great American road trip. Unlike a trip to Fiji, all it takes is hopping in your car and choosing a direction. At least that’s the theory… One thing I’ve learned in the past decade of road tripping is that it helps to have an awesome destination to look forward to—and the perfect FlipKey rental to relax at. So whether you’re a permanent resident of the Emerald City, like myself, or only visiting for a short while, I think you’ll find that a visit to the following list of destinations Is worth the price of gas.

Click on the destinations and images below to see all available FlipKey rentals in that location. Staying in a rental means extra living space, a full kitchen, and amenities like laundry or outdoor barbecue area.

Rearview shot of a couple reading a map while sitting in a car

Day Trips

Tacoma, WA (35mi, <1hr)

One of the top reasons to make the drive to Tacoma is to admire its world-renowned glass art. The Museum of Glass showcases hand-blown glass pieces from around the world and includes a glassblowing studio. The Museum District is connected by the Bridge of Glass and pays homage to the craft with more art, glass, and history, including installations by the native Dale Chihuly. Other cultural attractions worth stopping for are the Tacoma Art Museum, the Le May-America’s Car Museum and the Washington State History Museum. Although, Tacoma is rooted in the arts, it is ideally situated on the banks of Puget Sound and offers a vibrant, urban pit stop for road trippers. Shop in the historic Proctor and Stadium districts or stroll through the city’s parks and gardens. Explore the shores by kayak or boat to see the abundance of wildlife that inhabit Tacoma. If you’re looking for a nature wonderland where hiking boots aren’t required, then Tacoma is the destination for you.

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Fall City, WA (30mi, <1hr)

Fall City is situated within the scenic Snoqualmie Valley, an area just east of Seattle, criss-crossed with quiet back roads that carve paths through forests, mountains, and a network of streams feeding into the Snoqualmie River. On your drive in to town, you’ll notice totem poles scattered about Fall City, evidence that the town was originally home to the Snoqualmie Indian tribe, as well as the 130-year old Hop Shed where farmers brought hops to be transported to the Puget Sound. The massive Snoqualmie Falls is arguably one of the biggest attractions for visitors to Fall City. The 270-foot falls boasts magnificent views from the top and bottom and is an impressive site to see. Snoqualmie Falls isn’t the only attraction, though. Odds are you’ll find yourself sticking around to tour the wineries, hike the trails, and maybe even do some antique shopping.

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The majestic Snoqualmie Falls in Washington plunges into the water below.

The majestic Snoqualmie Falls in Washington plunges into the water below.

Ashford, WA (80mi, <2hrs)

Hidden amongst towering fir and cedar trees at the foothills of Mt. Rainier National Park, Ashford is a popular “base camp” location for those venturing deep into the Cascade Mountain Region of Central Washington. However, this enchanting area has plenty of natural wonders to offer the day tripper as well, including the nearby Alder and Mineral Lakes, over 300 miles of hiking trails, plus snowshoeing and sledding in the winter. Adjacent to Ashford you’ll find the small town of Elbe, where you can board the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad, which is by far one of most relaxed ways to take in the secluded back country of Mt. Rainier National Park.

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Leavenworth, WA (120 mi, 2hrs)

Leavenworth is unique in that the town offers visitors an authentic German experience, right in the heart of Washington State. Boasting a Bavarian village main street, replete with Tudor revival architecture, this mountain town plays host to monthly festivals, one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States, and an annual month-long Christmas extravaganza that has to be seen to be believed. While you might expect the hiking, biking, and skiing adventures waiting to be had in the surrounding Cascade Mountains, what you might not expect from this Pacific Northwest landmark is the 300 days of sunshine they receive every year!

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A couple drives down the road on a road trip in their red convertible.

Weekend Trips

Vancouver, BC (140mi, 2.5 hours)

Canada’s third-largest city, and one routinely featured on lists of the world’s greatest places to live, has been thrust into the global spotlight thanks in part to its young metropolis vibe, overall quirky appeal, and role as the host city for the 2010 winter Olympics. A melting pot of cultures nestled between city beaches and lush waterfront forests, this British Commonwealth is still very much forming its identity: something reflected in its eclectic art scene, diverse shopping districts, and laid-back hipster hangouts, all topped off with the myriad of outdoor activities right outside their door. Make Vancouver your destination if you want to experience both bustling city life with attractions like the Vancouver Aquarium and the Orpheum Theatre as well as a quiet, oceanfront setting that is home to a variety of wildlife, including fish, birds, and whales.

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Portland, OR (175mi, 3 hrs)

If you’ve never been there, you might be inclined to assume that Portland and Seattle are interchangeable from a destination standpoint, especially given the similarities in their cultural and natural landscape. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Where Seattle offers more of an urban flavor, Portland has a quaint, almost small town feel relative to its size. Although replete with museums, fine dining, and a vibrant night life, Portland provides a level of hospitality and accessibility to these attractions unparalleled anyplace else in the Northwest. While in the area, popular things to do in Portland include touring the Portland Japanese Garden, exploring the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and browsing at one of the many Portland farmers markets. With so much to do and its laid-back, friendly atmosphere, Portland is a must-visit place along the Pacific Northwest.

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Sunrise view overlooking the city of Portland, Oregon

Sunrise view overlooking the city of Portland, Oregon

Friday Harbor, WA (100mi, 3hrs including ferry travel)

One of the main hot spots in the San Juan Islands, Friday Harbor has long been recognized as a top travel destination in Washington. Although relatively small, the island offers a dynamic landscape ranging from pebble-lined beaches, to lush valleys and mountain meadows. Since it rests in Seattle’s rain shadow and is often sunny when nowhere else in the Puget Sound region is, it is routinely referred to as “nature’s playground.” One of the top attractions here is orca whale watching in autumn, although many animals such as harbor seals, porpoises, and sea otters are year-round residents. To really get into the casual spirit of island living, enjoy an art tour, or of course, find your own little corner of paradise on one of the many pristine local beaches.

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Seaside, OR (195mi, 3.5hrs)

The North Oregon Coast is a place of great history, entertainment, and natural beauty. While scenic vistas and amazing day hikes can be found throughout the region, Seaside has really become the place to go for a wide variety of traditional “coastal” activities, such as bike tours, festivals, and fresh, local cuisine. Wander along the Tillamook Head Traverse Hike for impeccable views of the landscape and dine by the ocean to start your day. When you’re ready to hang on the beach, you’ll be delighted with how wide they are here, leaving plenty of room for sand castle building, cookouts, or even a round of beach volleyball. Make sure you also swing by Funland Arcade, the largest on the Oregon Coast, to take a ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl and feel like a kid again! Whether you’re on a romantic road trip or embarking on some family fun, Seaside has something for everyone in your car.

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Victoria, BC (185mi, 4.5hrs including ferry travel)

Green and beautiful year-round, Victoria offers an enchanting place for visitors to escape every day life. It is the oldest city in the Pacific Northwest, and here, new world experiences complement old world charm. Snap photos of the spectacular parliament building  and tour the opulent rooms inside. Nearby churches and castles showcase impressive architectural designs and interesting historical significance. Take a walk through the historic James Bay neighborhood or head to the boutiques on Johnson Street and Trounce Alley to purchase wares from local designers. The island has a mild climate throughout the year making it an ideal place for outdoor exploration. Whether you drive through the city, cycle one of the many trails or swim in the ocean, Victoria’s lush landscape can be enjoyed by all. Before getting back on the road, enjoy the time-honored tradition of high tea at the Empress Hotel National Historic Site of Canada.

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A young man sits down with coffee to plan his US road trip on a map.

Week Trips

West Glacier, MT (550mi, 9.5 hrs)

West Glacier is really more of a gateway destination, as it anchors the western entrance to Glacier National Park, offering an ideal location for lodging while exploring the surrounding area. A trip to Glacier National Park is without a doubt more rooted in natural beauty than it is commercial obligations. The views as seen from the historic Going-to-the-Sun Road are breathtaking as you cross the Continental Divide at 6,646-foot-high Logan Pass, and will undoubtedly stay with you forever. The town of West Glacier and the surrounding National Park play host to a huge assortment of activities for the outdoor enthusiast, including whitewater rafting, golfing, hiking, and horseback riding.

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San Francisco, CA (800mi, 13hrs)

If I was going to recommend travel to any major city in California, or the entire West Coast for that matter, it would have to be San Francisco. Most endearing about this city is that even when you partake in one of the more cliched tourist activities like exploring Pier 39 or climbing one of the 40+ hills, you still never know what to expect. Take a drive down the city’s well-known Lombard Street, one of America’s crookedest streets, before ditching your car to cling to the side of a vintage cable car. Explore the neighborhoods like the Upper Haight or the Mission to see the different parts of the city that make it so unique. From the Marina district, enjoy picture-perfect views of the majestic Golden Gate Bridge before people watching at one of the hip bistros nearby. San Francisco is a city teeming with outlandish free thinkers and lovable weirdos, yet it manages to quickly find a place in the heart of your average Joe.

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View of the Golden Gate Bridge giving drivers access to San Francisco

View of the Golden Gate Bridge giving drivers access to San Francisco

Lake Tahoe, CA (750mi, 12hrs)

Lake Tahoe is a haven for outdoor adventures year-round. In the summer, visitors can enjoy swimming, windsurfing, and boating on the picturesque lake, while the surrounding parks and trails beckon to hikers. Mt. Tallac Trail and Emerald Bay State Park offer magnificent views of the lake area while the Gondola at Heavenly provides a peaceful ride with incredible panoramic views. During the winter, strap yours skis or snowboard onto your car and enjoy the epic amounts of snowfall that transform Lake Tahoe into a winter wonderland. Hit the slopes at Northstar or Squaw Valley for a fun day in the snow. Other things to do in Lake Tahoe include making a visit to the Lake Tahoe Historical Society Museum or placing some bets at one of the 24-hour casinos in the area. Because Lake Tahoe straddles the border between California and Nevada, the area does also has a flashy nightlife scene and vibrant atmosphere. The area is perfect for a girls’ week away or a family getaway – it’s up to you!

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Las Vegas, NV (1,150mi, 19hrs)

Ah, Las Vegas. Some would say that no matter where you reside in this country, a rubber-meets-road sojourn to Sin City constitutes the ultimate road trip – a statement I’m very much inclined to agree with. Even if you’re not into the well-lit, nonstop party element Vegas is so famous for, you’ll find yourself easily charmed by its rugged beauty and frontier-inspired sightseeing opportunities. One thing is for sure though: going from Seattle to Las Vegas by car is a must-have experience. Cutting through the southern half of Central Washington, skirting the northeast corner of Oregon and the northwest corner of Idaho, then dropping straight down the eastern half of Nevada is an amazing journey that is nearly impossible to match. The ever-changing landscapes and classic roadside attractions encountered along the way make this trip completely worthwhile, even if all you do in Las Vegas is fill up your gas tank and turn right back around.

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Original post was written by Jay Ferris, a Seattle-based writer, husband, and father of three, whose penchant for outdoors-based travel is rivaled only by his dependence on a steady internet connection and spider-free existence. Follow him on Twitter at @jayferris.

Road Tripping

Steeped in history and filled with impressive attractions that have inspired awe in millions of visitors, Washington, DC is one of America’s most visited major cities. Yet, as someone from the MD/DC area, I had visited every historic site and every museum that you could think of by age 12. Road tripping became my solution to escaping the “same-olds” of the tri-state area. Here is a list of the top 10 road trip destinations that I have taken in the area. Some of these destinations make excellent day trips for visitors to the Capital, while others make great weekend destinations for locals looking to escape the city.

1. Annapolis, MD (40 mi, <1 hr)

Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, is only a short drive away and has a beautiful old town aesthetic. You can enjoy historic sites such as the Maryland State House or get into the thriving community theatre scene by catching a show performed by the Colonial Players. At night, check out the Annapolis Harbor and have dinner on the waterfront by candlelight!

2. Baltimore, MD (47 mi, 1hr)

An architectural masterpiece, Baltimore is filled with everything from 18th century structures to I.M. Pei’s modern masterpieces. My favorite area is the Harbor: home to the incredible Baltimore Aquarium and tons of fun places to grab a meal or a drink by the water. When it’s warm out, you should definitely go for a paddleboat ride for a sea-level experience!

3. Richmond, VA (100 mi, 2 hrs)

Discover history and adventure in nearby Richmond, VA. Here, more than 400 years of American history live on through magnificent architecture, monument-lined cobblestone streets, and world-class museums. Brave the gorgeous yet intense James River: the only urban setting with Class IV rapids. Rafting is just one of many outdoor activities close by. For more urban adventurers, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is constantly expanding its world-class offerings, and more than 900 restaurants make Richmond a foodie paradise.

4. Shenandoah Valley, VA (112 mi, 2.5 hrs)

Blanketed in shades of amber, gold, and green in the fall, Shenandoah is a mandatory road-trip destination for anyone looking for a slice of nature in the tri-state area. The Valley has many areas that are open for camping, as well as plenty of cabins for rent. Plan a visit to one of the pristine limestone caverns for sights that will truly take your breath away. The most famous underground adventures are the Luray Caverns, which also boast a mind-boggling hedge maze right outside the caves!

5. Bethany Beach & Rehoboth Beach, DE (134 mi, 3hrs)

South Bethany Beach is one of the best-kept secrets along the east coast. The friendly inhabitants of this tucked-away city will be happy to show you its picturesque boardwalk, miles of crystal clear waters along the beaches, great shopping and more. Most of the trendy boutiques and restaurants serving up fresh local seafood can be found along South Garfield Parkway, but there’s plenty to do across town as well.

A word to the wise: If you want to enjoy a relaxing beach vacation free of hordes of local teenagers, then steer clear of these destinations, as well as Ocean City, during the first half of June. When school lets out for the summer, High school students from the surrounding areas overrun the typically peaceful spot during “beach week.”

6. Ocean City, MD (153 mi, 3hrs)

Ocean City is a fun, family-oriented beach destination with an incredible boardwalk, fun nightlife, delicious seafood and more mini-golf courses than you can shake a putter at! My family frequented this beach for years, and I still have not managed to try every mini-golf course (not from lack of trying!). Ocean City can be a good choice for frugal travelers who don’t need to spend extra to stay in more posh communities like Bethany.

7. Philadelphia, PA (142 mi, 3 hrs)

Famous as the birthplace of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Philadelphia offers much more than just cobblestone streets and historical landmarks. Cultural, culinary, artistic and ethnic treasures abound in this city and its surrounding countryside. What makes Philadelphia so memorable are the unique blend of experiences that you have to discover in person. By day, explore four centuries of history and architecture, beautiful neighborhoods, and remarkable museum collections. After the sun sets, the city heats up with acclaimed performing arts, amazing dining and vibrant nightlife. And don’t forget: it’s worth the trip just for the city’s signature cheese steak!

8. Atlantic City, NJ (197 mi, 3.5hrs)

From New Jersey’s tallest lighthouse to deep-sea fishing, and everything in between, you can always find excitement in Atlantic City. Relax at one of the Atlantic City casino spas, go all in on the excitement of 24/7 gaming, experience the thrill of a full house, feel the sand between your toes or visit one of the many attractions in this historic resort town. Atlantic City also offers an extensive boardwalk, pristine golf courses, and a variety of water sports to enjoy on your road tripping adventure.

9. Pittsburgh, PA (255 mi, 5hrs)

Previously known as a blue-collar city responsible for half of the steel production in the states, Pittsburgh has truly transformed itself into a unique and exciting travel destination.  Whether its catching a game of one of the city’s three professional teams or checking out the top notch museums and fine arts centers funded by the legacy of Andrew Carnegie, the city truly exhibits a unique flavor. Pittsburgh has many public green spaces, parks and riverside trails maintained throughout the city’s hilly landscape. From many of these areas, walkers, joggers and bikers are treated to spectacular views of a skyline that’s scene sleek, towering glass and steel architecture is a dramatic departure from the days when the grey cloud of industry loomed over the ‘Burgh.

10. Raleigh, NC (256 mi, 4.5 hrs)

When you’re looking for the excitement and attractions of a great city, combined with the affordability, approachability and appeal of a classic town with authentic southern hospitality, look no further than Raleigh. Best known for its world-class museums, best-of-Broadway shows, Capital area historic sites, professional sporting events and shopping mecca status (nine major retail areas!), Raleigh truly offers a variety of entertainment all in one park-like, scenic setting.

Stargazing is among the oldest leisure activities. But as our civilization has grown, many of our cities have become too bright to properly admire the night sky. For the stargazing traveler, we’ve identified 5 towns that are far enough away from well-lit downtowns to afford stunning stargazing. Fortunately, taking in the night sky is a year-round opportunity; so pick a spot where you like the weather and just be sure to keep your head up after sunset.

South Lake Tahoe, California
South Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in the United States, is a spectacular stargazing locale. With views of deep blue water and pine-covered mountains, Lake Tahoe is the ideal location for constellation-hunting. Bliss State Park and Emerald Bay State Park are particularly choice settings for amateur astronomy. Don’t miss Northstar-at-Tahoe’s stargazing tours, led by the president of the Nevada Science Coalition.

Lahaina, Hawaii
“Overall, the grounds were meticulously maintained, the pool was lovely, the views were great, and the star gazing at night is not to be missed!” -Laub Family from Fairfax Station, Virginia reviewing Kahana Village #36

The Milky Way and Jupiter’s bands are both visible from this beautiful, remote island town. 2,300 miles from the U.S. Mainland, Hawaii has the darkest skies in America. Before sunset, tour the beautiful countryside on the Sugar Cane Train, Hawaii’s only railroad. At nightfall, enjoy extraordinary stargazing from Maui’s black sand beaches.

Moab, Utah
The American Southwest is famous worldwide for stargazing, and for good reason: the pink Western sunsets melt into big-sky starlight. For exceptional sky views, visit two of America’s most renowned National Parks: Arches and Canyonlands. Moab also features several excellent Jeep-rental outfitters, so grab one and take in the classic John Ford Western backdrop while star-searching. During the day, continue to embrace the great outdoors: Moab is renowned for its mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, and skiing.

Taos, New Mexico
“We enjoyed the use of the hot tub while gazing up at the stars, and the view from the front porch is magnificent.” – Beth from Albuquerque reviewing Casita Perdido

Taos is almost 7,000 feet above sea level and sports fantastically clear skies that are nearly entirely free of pollution. Explore Carson National Forest and keep your gaze upward—you’ll catch superlative views of Venus, Mercury, and several constellations: Orion, Gemini, and Taurus. Hike Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest peak, to bask in exceptional starlight.

Big Sky, Montana
All you need to know about Montana sky gazing is contained in Big Sky’s name. A very small town, Big Sky sports minimal light pollution and vapor-free skies. Check out dramatic Ousel Falls and look for Mars, which is outstanding in the Montana high country. Winter is your best bet; ski Big Sky’s uncrowded slopes by day and relax under the starry sky by night.

No matter where you end up, keep your eyes open while admiring the night’s beauty. You never know when you might get lucky and catch a glimpse of  a shooting star.