The Best U.S. Cities for a Weekend Trip

You only get so many weekends a year—make them all count!

Gone are the days when our idea of “travel” meant taking off on a red-eye to some far-flung destination ten thousand miles away from home. 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 that still scratch the all-too-familiar itch to experience new faces, sights, sounds, and foods you just can’t get at home.

Dear reader, we feel you. And, dear reader, we got you. From classics like New Orleans and Miami to low-key favorites like Hood River and Bozeman, our writers and editors across the country whittled down 300-plus American cities to find the absolute best places in the US for a three-day weekend trip. These energetic locales have all the things one could hope to experience in just a few days: a unique sense of place, distinct cultures, great food and drink, distinct 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.

bird's eye view of an adobe desert town
Let's open up a restaurant in Santa Fe♩♫ | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

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 city 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 Wind River could be equally inspiring.)

Santa Fe is also home to many a tasty snack. 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

a person in a canoe sailing past a mountain
Skip Portland and make a beeline for Hood River, instead. | Bob Pool/Shutterstock

Hey, have you heard of this little place called Portland? Yeah, we thought so. But head about an hour east, and you’ll land yourself in Hood River: a scenic wonderland nestled between the rugged mountains, rushing streams, and massive waterfalls that make up the Columbia River Gorge. Set in the foothills of snow-capped Mt. Hood, you’ll find every kind of outdoors-person imaginable. Kitesurfers and kayakers? They’re sailing down the Columbia River. Hikers? They’re traversing the hills and waterfalls off the Old Gorge Highway. Cyclists? They’re zipping past wild streams and lakes.

If your favorite sport happens to be drinking—an equally-worthy pastime!—Hood River’s breweries (Full Sail, pFriem, and the Gorge Beer Trail) and wine scene (Wy'East, Marchesi, Cathedral Ridge) can hold their own against those found in better-known locales, and their pours are made even better by Hood River's generous open container laws. And everywhere you turn here, you’re sure to find a feast—both for the stomach (see: all these excellent eats) and for the eyes (see: picturesque orchards and views of Mt. Hood on the 35-mile Fruit Loop). —Andy Kryza

people at a colorful hotel pool surrounded by palm trees
Palm Springs is the whole package. | 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 psych-y 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

streetview of an enormous city street
The city so nice they named it twice. | Anna Kristiana Dave/Shutterstock

Every cinematic, musical, and literary love letter to New York City is true. Most even fall short of the real thing. A few days hardly seems long enough to see, hear, taste, and feel it all. And it isn’t. But neither is a lifetime. So hop on the subway—the best way to gain a deeper understanding of the city and its many denizens—and take a small bite out of the Big Apple instead of trying to swallow it whole. Obsessed with hidden bars? Addicted to art exhibits? Born a Broadway baby? Just want to eat as much as possible? Whatever your preferred pastime, you’ll find a way to maximize it.

The only thing more famous than NYC’s restaurants, bars, cultural institutions, music scene, and sports dynasties is its absolute immensity. And while the world-famous neighborhoods of Lower and Midtown Manhattan—Little Italy, Chinatown, Soho, the Village, the list goes on—are arguably the most beginner-friendly, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Peaceful parks and killer (not to mention cheap!) nightlife in Brooklyn; international fare in the globe-spanning cultural melting pot that is Queens; vibrant Black history and culture in Harlem; hidden goodies and a singularly strong sense of community in the Bronx; and, you know, Pete Davidson’s Staten Island await. —Amber Sutherland-Namako

people lounging in a mountainside hot spring
Hot mineral springs and hot, delicious meals await. | Chico Hot Springs

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 goodies 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.

By the way—have you ever wanted to try food so good it kinda makes you want to cry? Well, that’s Bozeman’s specialty. 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 ye to Jam!, to Plonk, to 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

musicians on a colorful, vibrant street
New Orleans is one of America's—nay, Earth's—liveliest cities. | GTS Productions/Shutterstock

New Orleans has everything you could possibly need to have the most fun three days of your whole damn 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, gothic live oaks, and joyous music wherever you go. 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 Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District, drink and shop your way down Magazine Street, and hit any number of quintessential 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—NEVER—talk shit about the Saints. —Keller Powell

a beachfront city lined by palm trees
Beaches, cocktails, and Art Deco decor await | littlenySTOCK/Shutterstock

Perhaps you’re heading to Miami so you can hit South Beach and post “I’m in Miami, bitch,” like it’s 2011. Lounge with a tropical drink in hand. Pretend you’re in a music video. Have an absolute blast. That said, there’s so much more to Miami than chiseled-ab rollerbladers and high-rollers in Bugattis. Spanish is spoken here like French in Montreal, and in the space of a weekend, you can see dozens of different worlds made better by the fact that they're all minutes from white sand and turquoise waves.

Take in some of the world’s best street art in Wynwood, get a taste of Cuba in Little Havana (check out the abuelitos slamming dominos at Maximo Gomez Park), and enjoy a big-city experience in Brickell. You’ll partake in some of the best food, cocktails, and beaches in the country—not to mention one of the most vibrant gay scenes—dance your heart out at joints like Ball and Chain, and probably make a few mistakes. No matter what you do, the chances of leaving here without a ridiculously good story to tell are slim-to-none. —Matt Meltzer

a horse and rider statue on top of a hill overlooking a city
Kansas City: come for the barbecue, stay for the Blue Room. | Kansas City Power & Lights District

Kansas City, Missouri

KC is Austin without the crowds, Chicago on a smaller scale. This midwestern metropolis is so underrated it’s silly. The folks are welcoming, the barbecue is dank, the history is abundant, and the flights cost next to nothing. Oh, and did we mention that the barbecue is dank? We’ve written an entire guide to KC BBQ that should serve as your Bible for this.

Moving on. Home to 400 local artists and more than 100 independent studios, The Crossroads is one of the most concentrated gallery districts in the nation, and every First Friday, thousands of residents flood the area for street music, aerial performances, live theater, and food trucks. There's also the notable Power & Light District, featuring blocks of classy bars, upscale nightclubs, and a few great dives, and the River Market area, which boasts the largest farmers market in the Midwest. And essential to a weekend visit is 18th and Vine, the city’s jazz district, featuring the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the American Jazz Museum, and ‘til-dawn drinking at The Blue Room, one of America's most famous jazz clubs. —Brock Wilbur

traffic on a crowded street in a glitzy, palm-lined city
What happens in Vegas... | Paul Maguire/Shutterstock

All the chaotic energy in the universe is concentrated in Vegas, which is exactly what makes the place so totally glorious. For whatever reason you’re in town—to party hardy, to eat good, to get outside—Sin City will deliver in spades. Stroll the LINQ Promenade and the Park Las 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!) and institution Atomic Liquors; the oldest free-standing bar in town (est. 1945), people gathered in the ‘50s 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, must-see Vegas show, have a cocktail inside the “hidden” Ghost Donkey cocktail bar, and hit Barbershop, a salon and cocktail bar and live music venue and maybe also exclusive lounge all in one? Vegas, baby! —Nicole Rupersburg

a huge plate of Texas-style barbecue
Houston barbecue: amen. | Visit Houston

Listen, Beyonce 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 to eat. A lot. Namely, 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 all kinds of meals from all over creation. (Believe it or not, the plant-based crowd is also welcome.) If all that doesn’t send you spiraling into a food coma, there are plenty of non-chow-down activities to be done. After dark, you might want to catch a flick with the Rooftop Cinema Club or sip cocktails—but if you’d prefer an intimate evening beneath the stars instead of beneath the city lights, the George Observatory and the 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
Red Rocks is, without a doubt, one of the world's coolest venues. | 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 shan’t leave without having. The first is devouring green chiles and big-ass breakfast burritos, which can be eaten in mouthwatering tandem at El Taco De Mexico. The next is gallery-hopping through RiNo, Denver’s hopping arts district. And the last is, of course, catching a show with near-flawless acoustics at Red Rocks, one of the world’s absolute coolest concert venues. —Lee Breslouer

people on a river cruise through a city
The best way to see Chicago is from the water. | S-F/Shutterstock

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: artsy Wicker Park, hip Logan Square, studious Hyde Park, and multicultural Pilsen, for a taste. Find killer comedy at Second City, see award-winning theater (Steppenwolf, The Goodman), and experience a vibrant LGBT scene (Andersonville, 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 into its present. —Joseph Hernandez

 f11photo/Shutterstock
Honky-tonks abound in Lower Broad. | f11photo/Shutterstock

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.” 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

a lighthouse looking out over the ocean
That New England charm never gets old | haveseen/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. Lo and behold, 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

people strolling beneath Spanish moss-covered trees
Savannah is all Spanish moss, Southern comforts, and sunshine | Benjamin Disinger/Unsplash

Have you ever heard a Savannah native speak? If you haven’t, you’re missing out. The sweet Southern drawl of the city’s denizens should tell you all you need to know about this Spanish-moss draped city. It’s easy-going. It’s classic. And it’s charming as hell.

In many respects, Savannah feels like a mini New Orleans. Mouthwatering seafood (The Olde Pink House, Savannah Seafood Shack, Sorry Charlie’s Oyster Bar, Shabazz Seafood Restaurant, and River House Seafood) awaits all across town, as do all kinds of butter-loaded, piping hot Southern comforts. Along River Street, you’ll find candy shops, art galleries, hopping restaurants, and lively bars.

You’ll also dive into a storied past—both because Savannah’s the oldest city in Georgia and because it’s often considered America’s most haunted city—and enjoy youthful creative energy, thanks to SCAD’s throngs of art students. And contrary to what you might expect, this is a beach vacation: a day trip out to Tybee Island to relax in the sand, hit a dive bar, go “aww” at baby sea turtles, and even celebrate Mardi Gras is absolutely essential. —Tiana Attride

people walking past a statue in a public garden
Boston is one of the oldest major cities in the US | Jay Yuan/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 trendy new 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 the South's premier hipster city | Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Asheville, North Carolina

Hippie culture runs deep in the mountain town of Asheville, and why not? Boasting 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,” boasting the most breweries per capita in the nation.

Pretend to live like an oligarch at the 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

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.