Pubs and bars with neon lights in French Quarter
TGIF couldn’t ring true enough. | f11photo/Shutterstock
TGIF couldn’t ring true enough. | f11photo/Shutterstock

The Best U.S. Cities for a Weekend Trip

If you’re working for the weekend, better make it count!

We can blame a lot on the pandemic, but one thing that’s definitely changed for—dare we say it—the better is how we travel. Sure, you can cling to those precious vacation days to finally take that far-flung trip multiple time zones away, but there’s plenty to explore right here at home—and all you need is a weekend (and maybe a rental car).

Gone are the days when our idea of “travel” meant jetting off for a detox in Bali or long weekend in London. What we all need right now is a solid combo of novelty, fun, convenience, and spontaneity: weekend trips that require just a quick drive, flight, or train, but still scratch the all-too-familiar itch to experience new faces, sights, sounds, and foods that you just can’t get at home.

Dear reader, we feel you. And, dear reader, we got you. From long-time classics like New Orleans and Las Vegas to low-key favorites like Boise and Bozeman, our writers and editors across the country whittled down 300-plus American cities to find the best places in the U.S. for a three-day weekend trip. These energetic locales have all the things one could hope to experience in a mere 36 hours: a distinct sense of place, strong local cultures, great food and drinks, vibrant neighborhoods, bang for your buck, and, most importantly, near endless to-do lists. Pack your carry-on bag—it’s time to scratch that itch.

town tucked into mountains during sunset
Natural beauty, a thriving art scene, and top-notch Tex-Mex are just the start in Santa Fe. | Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe

In recent years, Santa Fe has emerged from the desert as an oasis for incredible food, art, culture, and natural beauty in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Nicknamed “The City Different,” New Mexico’s capital serves as a thriving creative hub; for proof, look to the trippy installations at Meow Wolf, the Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and the classic Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. (One might argue that a day trip to Bandelier National Monument or a turquoise-filled retail therapy session at Native American jewelry shop Wind River could be equally inspiring.)

Santa Fe is also home to many tasty snacks. We’re not just talking Hatch chiles—though those should be enjoyed, too (specifically in a cheeseburger at Shake Foundation and atop world-class Tex-Mex fare at classic joints like Tia Sophia’s, Palacio Café, and The Pink Adobe). And don't skimp on the booze—this is allegedly the birthplace of the margarita, after all. Hit up Maria's New Mexican Kitchen, which boasts a 60-year legacy and more than 200 varieties on its binder-like menu. —Matt Kirouac

people at a colorful hotel pool surrounded by palm trees
Escape to this midcentury-modern paradise. | The Saguaro Palm Springs

Surely, this one doesn’t require much convincing. Along with the weather—which stays in the 70s and 80s year-round—and the gorgeous desert vistas, you can basically get any kind of weekend you want in Palm Springs. Spa getaway? Check. Hiking adventure? Check. Artsy escape? Check. Festival chaos? Super-check. Yes, Coachella and its related activities are technically Palm Springs-adjacent, but every weekend there’s a rager either in the Valley or somewhere nearby, from EDM-centric Splash House to country hootenanny Stagecoach to the twice-yearly, visual art-filled Joshua Tree Music Fest.

If you’re staying in Palm Springs proper, there’s no need to leave Highway 111, which has tons of bars and restaurants within walking (or free trolley!) distance of your hotel and its party-hearty pool. If you’re in one of the neighboring cities, you’re probably there for relaxation, but if you do decide to hit the town, ride shares are abundant and cheap. If you have a car on hand, make the quick jaunt out to the trippy paradise that is Joshua Tree National Park and the equally weird town of Joshua Tree proper. Stylish Airbnbs, ghost towns-turned-music venues, and weird desert art all wait out in the expanses. —Jeff Miller

hot air balloons over city
You definitely won’t be bored in Boise. | Visit Boise

Boise, Idaho

Boise defines itself as part rugged, part refined, “a city you want to have a beer with.” And this doesn’t take much convincing. You’ve pretty much got the best of all worlds here: mountains, a river, hundreds of trails; 20 wineries in the city alone (and more than 65 in the area); taprooms and breweries within walking distance of one another downtown; and more than 200 days of sunshine, meaning everything from summer paddle boarding to winter skiing is more than pleasant.

Throw in the Basque Block—where you’ll find the Basque Museum & Cultural Center and Spanish-style pintxos and wine at The Basque Market—and the Boise Fry Company, where the state’s iconic potatoes are served up fry-form with housemade seasonings and dipping sauces, and you’ll see why Boise is something of an unexpected (albeit, bizarre) food city. You’ve also got the northwest’s largest open-air, multi-artist mural gallery, Freak Alley Gallery, plus hiking and mountain biking trails not far from downtown—and, if you’re craving nature even closer, the Boise River, which runs through the city center, is a haven for kayakers, tubers, and rafters. —Lane Nieset

seven story Hotel Baxter building
The gateway to Yellowstone has a small—but happening—downtown. | Cheri Alguire/Shutterstock

If you’d like to tip the scale in favor of quality time with Mother Nature—a trip where the early bird catches the worm, and where your energy will come not from skyscrapers but from idyllic natural vistas—look no further than Bozeman. The gateway to Yellowstone and a quick road trip from Glacier National Park, you’ve got a whole smorgasbord of Great Outdoor sights to enjoy out here. You can ease your worries with a soak in various natural hot springs. You can hike through the same hills as Louis, Clark, and Sacagawea (and the dinosaurs!). You can refuse to part with nature for even a minute, considering the whole state of Montana is basically a giant campsite.

Although downtown is small—you could probably walk the whole thing in under 30 minutes—it’s absolutely jam-packed with delicious restaurant upon delicious restaurant. Get over to Jam!, Plonk, Montana Ale Works, and Roost Fried Chicken. By the time you’re done, you’ll be stuffed like a bear right before hibernation. —Tiana Attride

people in front of Washington Memorial
See another side of the nation's capital. | Photo courtesy of

Washington, DC

Believe it or not, a lot has changed in the District since your middle school field trip days. Not only have the Capitals, Nationals, Mystic, DC United, and Spirit brought home national championships (no big), but the city itself has transformed into an even more fascinating weekend hang thanks to a proliferation of world-class bars and restaurants, hotels, neighborhoods, green spaces, and, of course, cultural institutions. It’s also supremely walkable, and the fall—when the hazy humidity finally eases up, the droves of tourists dissipate, and winter’s chill is yet to set in—is the perfect time to take advantage of DC’s splendors.

Park yourself at politically savvy Hong Kong transplant the Eaton Workshop, centrally located on K Street, a stone’s throw from the National Mall and its many attractions—that is, if you end up leaving its sleek grounds (the lobby level speakeasy, Allegory, can be quite the delicious time-suck). Once you’ve had your fill of boozy inspiration, hit the town in search of more stimulation in the form of new and/or improved museums like the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of the American Indian (don’t miss the stellar onsite cafe), the National Air and Space Museum, and the immersive International Spy Museum.

Hungry? Eat your way through vibrant neighborhoods like the H Street Corridor, where you’ll find Asian-influenced game-changers like Copycat Co., Toki Underground, and Maketto. Or, book it over to nearby Union Market and feast on everything from Michelin-Starred Colombian fine dining to trusted Southern comforts. Finish your day in the Navy Yard, a riverfront network of parks, breezy breweries (Bluejacket, Atlas Brew Works, and Solace hold it down), and state-of-the-art stadiums by way of Audi Field, home to both DC United and NWSL Champs Washington Spirit, and the Nat’s modern baseball mecca.
—Meredith Heil

Sun shining over Lake Eola
Yep, you’ve got a lake right in the center of downtown. | Gabriele Maltinti/Shutterstock

The theme park capital gets a lot of attention for internationally acclaimed attractions like Walt Disney World. And while that’s certainly reason enough to visit Orlando for a long weekend (this is every kid’s dream, isn’t it?), Central Florida is much more than thrill rides. Downtown Orlando may have gotten its start in the 19th century thanks to cattle and citrus, but now you’ll find award-winning chefs, a buzzing music scene, and world-class culture at acoustically perfect spaces like the Dr. Phillips Center, where performances include Broadway hits like Hamilton.

Eat your way around locally owned spots like Peruvian-fusion eatery and natural wine bar Papa Llama (order the “shroom,” a wild mushroom stir-fry); Japanese-Korean Sushi Lola’s, where you can nibble on “lava dips,”deep-fried, panko-crusted krab salad; and Italian restaurant Prato in the well-heeled city of Winter Park (home to Rollins College), where you’ll have some of the most unexpected cacio e pepe—doused with pepper Dijon mustard—of your life.

Nearby, you can pick blueberries at family owned Southern Hill Farms or go kayaking in King’s Landing on the crystal-clear, scenic Rock Springs Run. Even in the heart of downtown, you can take a swan-shaped paddle boat (corny, but sort of cute) on Lake Eola, which is also home to actual swans, as well as concerts and movies at the Walt Disney Amphitheater. The only thing that maybe tops—or adds to—the art and culture here is the craft beer scene, with dozens of microbreweries that have popped up over the past decade (Ivanhoe Park Brewing Co. and Park Pizza & Brewing Co. being two great picks). —Lane Nieset

musicians on a colorful, vibrant street
There’s much more to New Orleans than Mardi Gras. | GTS Productions/Shutterstock

New Orleans has everything you could possibly need to have the most fun three days of your life. It’s the best city in America for a stroll, whether drink-in-hand through the lamp-lit cobblestones of the French Quarter or past the stately manors of the Garden District. You’ll encounter historic architecture, canopies of live oaks, and musicians playing on nearly every corner. When it comes to atmosphere, Crescent City is king.

No judgment if you go all-in with the frozen daiquiris on Bourbon Street or jazz club-hopping on Frenchmen, but it’s well worth going beyond the tourist haunts. Get lost in the spooky labyrinthine of Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District, drink and shop your way down Magazine Street, and hit any number of world-class watering holes for food that’ll leave you in a happy, deep-fried daze. Hospitable residents are passionate about showing their city to worthy visitors: Be respectful and open-minded, opt for a hotel or B&B over an Airbnb, and never, ever talk shit about the Saints. —Keller Powell

traffic on a crowded street in a glitzy, palm-lined city
When you’re in need of a sensory overload. | JeanLucIchard/Shutterstock

All the chaotic energy in the universe is concentrated in Vegas, which is exactly what makes the place so glorious. For whatever reason you’re in town—to party, to eat your way around celeb chef-driven restaurants, to get outside—Sin City will deliver in spades. Stroll The LINQ Promenade and The Park Vegas, walkable outdoor spaces with dining and entertainment options unmoored from the confines of casinos. Visit The Neon Museum, a singular Las Vegas experience, or head to East Fremont for some genuine local flavor (yeah, people live here!). Don’t leave without checking out local institution Atomic Liquors, the oldest free-standing bar in town (est. 1945), where people gathered in the 1950s to watch nuclear tests while drinking on the rooftop.

And, of course, at some point, you’ve got to lose track of time inside the city’s many hotels and casinos. If you have to pick one, let it be The Cosmopolitan. There, you can catch OPIUM, a sexy, raunchy, space-themed, adults-only show; sip cocktails inside the “hidden” Ghost Donkey cocktail bar; and check out The Barbershop, a salon, Prohibition-style cocktail bar, live music venue, and exclusive lounge all in one. Vegas, baby! —Nicole Rupersburg

People riding bikes on paved trail in Houston Park
Houston has plenty of claims to fame, from a serious barbecue scene to great stargazing. | Nate Hovee/Shutterstock

Listen, Beyoncé was born in Houston. As were Solange, Megan Thee Stallion, Kenny Rogers, Wes Anderson, Patrick Swayze, Hilary Duff, and, lest we forget, The Undertaker. Clearly, there’s something magical in the air. And if H-Town’s laundry list of hometown heroes doesn’t prove that, look no further than the stacked weekend trip itinerary it’s got to offer.

It’s Texas, so it’s likely you’re coming here for the food. You’ll be eating steaks and burgers the size of your head, barbecue that’ll leave your fingers sticky for days, the best Mexican food this side of the border, and pretty much any other kind of cuisine imaginable. (And, thankfully, the plant-based crowd is also catered to.) If all that doesn’t send you spiraling into a food coma, there are plenty of other activities to keep you entertained. After dark, catch a film with the Rooftop Cinema Club or go for cocktails; if you’d prefer an intimate evening beneath the stars instead of beneath the city lights, the George Observatory and the James Turrell Twilight Epiphany Skyspace are where it’s at. Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the skies. —Tiana Attride

an amphitheater built into the side of a mountain
Weed isn’t the only reason to visit the Mile High City. | Unsplash/Benjamin Rascoe

Visiting Denver solely for the weed is like going to Disneyland and only riding Space Mountain. Sure, it’s great, but there’s so much more to the place. Time your visit right (at the beginning or end of winter) and in a few days’ time, you’ll be hiking, biking, skiing, and sipping craft beer like a local.

Along with being the gateway to mountainside bliss and award-winning brews, Denver has a few other experiences you shouldn’t leave without having. The first is devouring green chiles and size-of-your-head breakfast burritos, which can be eaten in mouthwatering tandem at El Taco De Mexico. The next is gallery-hopping through RiNo, Denver’s arts district. And the last is, of course, catching a show with near-flawless acoustics at Red Rocks, one of the world’s coolest concert venues. —Lee Breslouer

people walking through park
Move over Austin. | Photo courtesy of Visit Dallas

Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas

No longer playing second fiddle to Austin’s cooler-than-cool veneer, the DFW has fully come into its own in recent years. The sprawling, cosmopolitan city blends a red-hot dining scene with laid-back, artsy vibes, top-notch entertainment, adventurous outdoor escapes, and one of the absolute best gayborhoods in the country.

One day, you’ll be strolling through the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, soaking up the state’s finest blooms. The next, you’re soaring through the air at Six Flags Over Texas, checking out dazzling Art Deco relics at Fair Park, or taking in the sights at the awe-inducing Nasher Sculpture Center. And through it all, you’ll be guzzling incredible craft brews courtesy of Celestial Beerworks, Texas Ale Project, Four Corners Brewing, and Manhattan Project, and indulging in legendary barbecue from the likes of Loro Asian, Goldee’s, Dayne’s, Brix, and Ten50. And if none of that tickles your fancy, hell, you can always snag a ticket to see America’s Team strut their stuff at AT&T Stadium. Giddyup.
—Meredith Heil

people kayaking through city
You’ve got 77 neighborhoods to explore. | Choose Chicago

Chicago is known by some as the Second City and others as the Third Coast, but by our count, this metropolis of incredible architecture, food, and culture comes first in our hearts—regardless of your opinions on pizza or gripes about the winter. If it was all good enough to partly inspire Frank Oz’s own shimmering Emerald City, you can eat a little deep dish and put on a coat.

Outside of the touristy Loop sit 77 neighborhoods, each and every one worth exploring, especially artsy Wicker Park, hip Logan Square, studious Hyde Park, and multicultural Pilsen. Find killer comedy at The Second City, see award-winning theater (Steppenwolf, the Goodman), and experience a vibrant LGBT scene in Andersonville and Boystown. It should also be of no surprise that this city knows foodbeyond the usual pies, hot dogs, and gut-busting Gym Shoe sandwiches.

To really get to know Chicago, though, you've got to get out on the water, whether with the volunteer docents of the Chicago Architectural Foundation or on a 75-minute river tour a la Shoreline Sightseeing. Either way, you’re in for a relaxing, time-traveling cruise through the city’s past and into its present. —Joseph Hernandez

people playing musical instruments in park
Music City rightfully earned its nickname. | Visit Music City

If you haven’t been to Nashville lately, odds are a friend has and now they won’t stop badgering you about how much fun they had. Along with a music scene that’s still second to none—look no further than the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Musicians Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the National Museum of African American Music for proof—the creative cup runneth over here. Artists, tech geniuses, and master chefs keep flocking to Nashville to be a part of the latest “it” city. So pack your bags and prepare to honky-tonk.

Country stars-turned-entrepreneurs like Blake Shelton offer enormous entertainment complexes where music and drinks are a-go all day long, while locals party at more humble spots like Robert’s Western World, where cream-of-the-crop Nashville acts take the small stage. Breweries (Yazoo Brewing Co., Jackalope Brewing, and Tennessee Brew Works) conveniently all lie within staggering distance of one another, and all adventures here should culminate in a feast of Nashville Hot Chicken from the OGs at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack or Bolton’s. —Chris Chamberlain

Portland lighthouse in the evening
Gotta love that New England charm. | Aeypix/Shutterstock

Portland, Maine

Sorry, but you cannot tire of New England's coastal charm. It just isn’t possible. The historic lighthouses gazing out romantically over the deep blue of the Atlantic. Main streets lined with cafes, quirky gift shops, and seafood restaurants dishing out lobster and clam chowder. Rocky beaches that butt up to pine-lined coasts, sailboats that bob steadily on the horizon, and fall foliage that just don’t quit. Portland’s got all that and then some—specifically, world-class food, island-hopping, and immaculate seaside vibes.

Along with James Beard Award-winning Central Provisions and the blessing that is The Holy Donut, Portland is home to Duckfat—possibly one of the tastiest spots on the eastern seaboard—and the sandwiches, Belgian fries, and poutine that establish it as such. Fill up before heading to the waterfront and out to Casco Bay and the Calendar Islands.

Once you’re back on land, hit a festival (ideally, you’re here for a First Friday Art Walk, the Maine Lobster Festival an hour north in Rockland, or any of Portland’s myriad functions) before settling in for an evening of sipping cocktails in town. A summer trip promises days spent by the water, possibly looking like you’ve walked right out of a Nautica ad; a winter trip guarantees piping hot clam chowder and the coziest, quaintest weekend you could possibly hope for. —Tiana Attride

skyline on the river
One of the best parts about Boston (besides the clam chowder) is how compact it is. | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Call people Massholes all you want—there’s nowhere that does classic New England charm quite like Boston. The beauty of a weekend here lies in the city’s compactness. You can hit the touristy North End, the historic Freedom Trail, and the idyllic Common, zip in and out of shops on Newbury and Boylston, and head down to the Harbor with some essential snacks from nearby Faneuil Hall—and do it all on foot with relative ease.

Hop on the T, and you can venture even further afield to wander Harvard’s nearly 400-year-old campus in Cambridge, check out the galleries and cafes in Jamaica Plain, or do laps around Castle Island. Once you’ve seen the postcard-worthy mansions of the Back Bay and the collection at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, make like a local and head to South Boston (aka “Southie”) for buzzy eateries (hello, Lincoln Tavern), beaches, and young people. And, obviously, no trip is complete without catching a game at Fenway Park. —Katie Lockhart

a city tucked into forested mountains
Welcome to Beer City, USA. | Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Asheville, North Carolina

Hippie culture runs deep in the mountain town of Asheville. With endless activities (hiking, kayaking, and general outdoorsy-ness), a buzzing art scene centered around the River Arts District, and incredible local food, this is as relaxing a getaway as any you’ll find in the South despite (or perhaps thanks to?) the fact that it’s earned the name “Beer City, USA,” since it sports the most breweries per capita in the nation.

Step back in time at Gilded Age-era Biltmore Estate; embrace your inner musician and join the city’s weekly drum circle gathering in Pritchard Park; or head downtown for Art Deco architecture, free festivals and street performers, self-guided historical tours, and loads of restaurants and craft breweries. And, when you need a break from the rush, hop in the car and head into the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains; home to pristine trails, stunning lookout points, and an expansive, serene canopy of trees, you’ll quickly see why the region inspires writers and hikers alike. —Liv Lawson

people sitting in park
Snag a scoop from one of ATL’s many locally owned ice cream shops. | Discover Atlanta

Atlanta, Georgia

How hot is Atlanta these days? 86 degrees and sunny—but we’re not talking about the weather. No, we’re talking about a kick-ass music scene (Latto, anyone?), next-level bars and celebrity chef-backed restaurants, sweeping parks with killer views, cut-throat sports teams, and family-friendly attractions galore. A fast-growing city teeming with potential, ATL is a no-brainer weekend destination and, at least for the time being, a surprisingly affordable one, at that.

Get the lay of the land by exploring the area’s many fine cultural institutions, from science-centric spots like the Georgia Aquarium, Delta Flight Museum, and the CDC Museum to Black history sites like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the King Center, and the APEX Museum. Or say “screw it” and get weird at offbeat additions like the Waffle House Museum, World of Coca Cola, Trap Music Museum, Original Selfie Museum, or the ultra-trippy Illuminarium. Elsewhere, load up on choice snacks at the Old Fourth Ward’s Ponce City Market, book a stay at the grungy strip club/mob hangout-turned-boutique gem Hotel Clermont, cruise the Beltline by bike, and cool off at the Ticonderoga Club, Inman Park’s top cocktail slinger. Let’s hope this weekend’s a long one. —Meredith Heil

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