Zilker Park, Austin, Texas
Zilker Park, Austin, Texas. | Thomas Allison/Thrillist
Zilker Park, Austin, Texas. | Thomas Allison/Thrillist

The 25 Best U.S. Cities to Spend a Weekend

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

We’ve all been there, sitting at work as Thursday afternoon rolls around and that inevitable itch creeps up: the impulse to just sod off and leave all responsibilities behind. To take a break from “the real world” and try on a different city for a few days, with new faces, new sights, sounds, and foods you can’t get at home.

Reader, we’ve got you covered. There are cities all over the country brimming with energy just a short flight, road trip, or train ride away. Pack your carry-on and in a few hours, you’ll be surrounded by distinct American cultures, iconic dishes, and live tunes. We know what it takes to have a damn good time in a new place, which is why we tapped our crack staff of writers and editors across the country to whittle down 300-plus American cities (with populations over 90k) to the absolute 25 best for a three day weekend trip. Plus, Thrillist has fully-loaded travel guides to the best of ‘em, like NOLA, San Diego, Miami, Austin, and Vegas (spoiler: all on this list).

Of course, reasonable people can (and should!) disagree on what makes a good weekend trip. What we look for is a unique sense of place, great food and drink, distinct walkable neighborhoods, bang for your buck, and a welcoming, hassle-free immersion to the best of what a town has to offer. A great weekend city is like jumping into a pool where the water is just right.

So what are you waiting for? Scratch that itch. Scroll the full list of cities below, or use the menu to jump ahead and discover the best things to do in a short jaunt or a three-day jag.

25. Scottsdale24.Buffalo23.Boise22.Pittsburgh21.Boston

20.Philly19.DC18.Minneapolis17.New York City16.Denver

15.Asheville14.Detroit13.Austin12.Kansas City11.Seattle

10.Oakland9.Las Vegas8.San Diego7.Brooklyn6.Chicago

5.Charleston4. Nashville3. Miami2.Portland1.New Orleans

Scottsdale lies near the northern edge of the Sonoran Desert.
Scottsdale lies near the northern edge of the Sonoran Desert. | Kate Nelle Photography

25. Scottsdale, Arizona

Dubbed the spa capital of the country, this sprawling desert city embraces R&R to the max. It’s got 200-plus golf courses, 400 miles of desert trails, a burgeoning arts scene, and a slew of acclaimed restaurants. Lay poolside to catch some rays, stretch your legs on the McDowell Sonoran Preserve’s well-maintained trails, or check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed Taliesin West -- wherever you go, expect an abundance of vitamin D.

Here, natural beauty and modern trappings (like big-name luxury shopping and Major League Baseball’s spring training) strike a perfect balance. Walkability in general is lacking; that said, getting around isn't too bad: hitch a ride on a the super-chill golf cart taxis, and they’ll take you from bar-to-bar for tips. While a trolley system serves four different routes, you can also snag a dockless scooter or bike to get around. There’s plenty of ‘em.

Neighborhood to check out: It’s about a 20-minute ride from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to Old Town Scottsdale, where a bungalow at Andaz or guest suite at Mountain Shadows or The Scott Resort offer a nice home base. These hip hotels are a short distance from Old Town’s many art galleries, museums, and restaurants. Not far from this buzzy hub of activity is funky artist compound Cattle Track, an organization dedicated to nurturing Scottsdale’s arts community with events and other projects.

Must eat & drink: Make a reservation at FnB where you can try James Beard-nominated Chef Charleen Badman's locally-sourced, veggie-forward dishes -- despite being located in the Sonoran Desert, which is notably the wettest desert in the world, Scottsdale is considered an agricultural zone, with regional farmers growing produce year-round. And while the restaurant’s wine list spans the globe, organized by varietal, it also proudly features Arizona wine. Didn’t know this state made wine, did you? You can also familiarize yourself with the urban wine scene along the Scottsdale Wine Trail, which stops at tasting rooms from LDV, Aridus, Carlson Creek, and Salvatore wineries.

Don’t leave without: Get a new perspective on the city -- from the air -- by taking in the cotton candy sky of a Sonoran sunset with Float Balloon Tours. You may or may not get over your fear of heights, but at least you’ll end the experience with a Champagne toast. -- Lauren Topor Reichert

Elevator Alley Kayak
Buffalo’s industrial past becomes a strength once again in Elevator Alley. | Elevator Alley Kayak

24. Buffalo, New York

If you want to make new friends, drink until dawn, and hit the rowdiest tailgates in the NFL, Buffalo is your perfect, no-bullshit town. You’ll find more corner taverns than Starbucks, and Buffalo does wings, pizza, and other generally-unhealthy food as well as any place in America.

Getting from neighborhood to neighborhood in Buffalo is going to require a car, but once you’re in those neighborhoods everything is pretty walkable. Elmwood Village, Delaware Park, and North Buffalo all offer the kind of gilded age and art deco architecture that made Buffalo a design hub a century ago. The number 20 Elmwood bus makes a great ride through the spine of the city and costs just $5 for all-day pass.

Neighborhoods to check out: Start with Elmwood Village. Make Hotel Henry your home base, a repurposed mental hospital that’s now the city’s coolest boutique hotel. It’s a short walk to a concentration of restaurants and bars along Elmwood Avenue, and nearby to the Albright-Knox Gallery, one of the best modern art museums in the country. You can also take a walk across Delaware Park, home to beautiful gardens and The Buffalo Zoo, to get to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex, six interconnected buildings that represent some of Wright’s finest work.

For a night out hit up Allentown, where a combination of young energy and a welcoming Buffalo vibe make it one of the best barhopping neighborhoods in the country. Finish the night at the always-good-for-a-bad-decision Old Pink, where you’re almost guaranteed to make plenty of new friends.

Must eat & drink: You’ve gotta hit the Anchor Bar, where the Buffalo Wing was invented -- though most locals will tell you Duff’s has the best wings in town. Once you’ve had enough wings, grab a burger at Allen Burger Venture in Allentown, or stroll around the West Side Bazaar, where you’ll find a diverse lineup of shops and food booths, opened and run by immigrants and refugees from the world over.

Get drinks atop the Curtiss Hotel downtown for panoramic views of the city and cozy fire pits at night. Or head to Riverworks Brewing where you can sample their local beers then zipline between old grain silos or climb their concrete sides. Chill out in the city’s neighborhood tavern scene at Gene McCarthy’s in the Old First Ward.

Don’t leave without: Spending an afternoon in Elevator Alley. Buffalo has repurposed its old industrial relics better than anywhere in America, most obviously in its collection of grain silos along the river. On sunny days, paddle a kayak through caverns of historic grain elevators in Silo City, and stop in for a concert, poetry reading or live theater in one of the coolest redeveloped industrial spaces you’ll ever see. -- Curt Hollingsworth

Anna Gorin/Moment/Getty Images
A bustling Downtown Boise rests at the base of snowy foothills. | Anna Gorin/Moment/Getty Images

23. Boise, Idaho

Idaho’s quirky creative capital offers all the craft beer and outdoorsy goodness of cities like Portland, Seattle, and Denver, but at a ridiculous discount. Seriously, this is the cheapest skiing you’ll find out west -- a lift ticket to ski or snowboard goes for as little as $39.99 per day at Bogus Basin, a hair east of the city. There’s plenty of in-town activities too, like hiking, kayaking, rafting, tubing, even surfing. It’s one of the most walkable, bike-friendly cities in the nation -- the Boise River Greenbelt is a lovely 25-mile bike trail that connects most neighborhoods, and it’s a cinch to partake thanks to the city’s bikeshare program. As if this little nature escape could get any easier, the airport, one of America’s best at being on-time, is just a 15-minute cab ride from downtown.

Neighborhood to check out: Bet you didn’t know, Idaho happens to have a thriving population of Basques, with a cultural identity rooted in northern Spain. Basque heritage comes with its own language (Euskera), sports (jai alai and pelota), food (pintxos instead of tapas), and drinks (Basque ciders and txakoli wine). All of this is on display in Boise, especially on a single downtown strip known as the “Basque Block.” You’ll find about a half-dozen Basque-style restaurants and bars, plus a museum and cultural center that explains how this pre-Indo-European culture made its way to Idaho.

Must eat & drink: Whether it’s morning, noon, or night, Donut Daze serves a gluttonous menu of donuts, fried chicken, waffles, and beer. On weekends, it’s also a great late-night option after one too many cocktails at its nearby sister bar, the Mode Lounge.

Don't leave without: Taking a ride on Boise’s Ale Trail, a route that links 20 craft breweries and can be easily navigated using a free app. -- Tim Ebner

Randy Gilson brought color to Pittsburgh’s Northside with his eye-catching art exhibit.
Randy Gilson brought color to Pittsburgh’s Northside with his eye-catching art exhibit. | Randyland

22. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh is slowly but surely becoming the crown jewel of the Rust Belt. We could go on to detail its consistently impressive dining scene -- Superior Motors, Butcher and the Rye, and Fish nor Fowl being just a few standouts -- or the shocking visual grandeur of its bridges and skyline. But the true hidden gold of Yinzerville lies in the 'Burgh's accessible and burgeoning art scene. There's an entire museum focused on native son Andy Warhol, and eclectic modern art mecca known as the Mattress Factory, and a litany of small galleries scattered throughout the city. Consider Pittsburgh a middle-American oasis for emerging artists… and also people who just like to look at emerging artists.

Booming Pittsburgh is still not a "big city." You'll have the luxury of snagging cheap drinks and meals all over town, but also the luxury of fancy new restaurants, if you want 'em. You're probably best off renting a car. Public transportation is limited, and you owe it to yourself to make the serpentine, white-knuckle drive up Mt. Washington.

Neighborhoods to check out: On any given weekday, take a stroll around the eternally hip hood of Squirrel Hill, or head to the Strip District for shopping, eating (Wholey's Fish Market, Pamela's) and more eating (Deluca's, S&D Polish Deli). On gameday, you'll want to head "dahntahn" for tailgating and Steeler-centric revelry. And if you are 22 years old, or just want to act like a 22-year-old for an evening, the debauchery of the Southside on a Friday night should suit you fine. Just make sure to dodge the vom on the sidewalk. Yes, we're serious.

Must eat & drink: Once you've eaten your way through the trendy tasting menus of 'hoods like Lawrenceville and East Liberty (and hopefully snag a pierogi along the way), you owe it to yourself to try out a Pittsburgher at one of the many, many Primanti Brothers’ scattered around the three rivers. But for a true taste of authenticity (and an IC Lite to pair with), visit the OG Primanti's in the Strip District.

Don't leave without: Visiting Randyland! No, it's not some hillbilly theme park behind a trailer out in Enlow -- it's "Pittsburgh's Most Colorful Art Exhibit." Artist and mad genius Randy Gilson bought a few rundown buildings on the Northside in the mid-90s, and proceeded to turn it into a highly Instagrammable, kaleidoscopic explosion of public art. You can't miss it. But seriously, you won't be able to miss it. -- Wil Fulton

Joseph Sohm/shutterstock
Catch a game at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. | Joseph Sohm/shutterstock

21. Boston, Massachusetts

You may be visiting friends from college or nerding out over Boston’s national landmarks and museums, but you can fit a lot into a weekend in compact, charming Boston.

Whether you’re walking the idyllic cobblestone streets of the touristy North End or the entire length of the historic Freedom Trail, Bean Town is a fantastic city for a stroll -- indeed, it’s one of its strongest assets. But if you want to venture further out to areas like Cambridge, take the subway, also known as the T. This sports-and-beer town is also home to 50-something colleges, which means a crowded bar and a pint are never far from reach, while the food scene has recently taken off in a big way.

Neighborhood to check out: After 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.” You may have heard about it from the Departed or Good Will Hunting, but this working-class neighborhood has seen an uptick in trendy eateries and an influx of young people. Make a reservation at Lincoln Tavern and Restaurant for a Bloody Mary and Fruity Pebble pancakes, recently voted Boston’s best brunch. Then, take a walk past the rowhouses to one of Southie’s many beaches -- an escape from the hustle without ever leaving the city limits.

Must eat & drink: Area oysters, lobster rolls, and a bowl of clam chowdah from Neptune Oyster. It’s worth the wait in line.

Don't leave without: Watching a baseball game at the country’s oldest and most iconic stadium where the atmosphere is always electric, Fenway Park. Tour the home of the 2018 World Series champs, the Red Sox, and take the world-famous Green Monster or walk in the footsteps of some of the sports’ legends. -- Katie Lockhart

Steve’s Prince of Steaks has some of Philly’s best.
Steve’s Prince of Steaks has some of Philly’s best. | Trevor Raab/Thrillist

20. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philly is more than Rocky nostalgia and gooey cheesesteaks; it's a friendly, unpretentious, blue-collar town with world-class museums (the Barnes Foundation is a must-see), rowdy sports fans, and damn fine restaurants (including this BYOB spot we named one of the best new restaurants in the country last year). For a three-day jaunt, Philly’s a blast -- most of the bars are concentrated in walkable ‘hoods like Center City, Old City, or Fishtown. It’s worth the Uber or Lyft ride down to East Passyunk, where some truly great new restaurants are popping up; most notably, Bing Bing Dim Sum, serving “Chinese plates with a Jewish twist.” Nothing better than a cheesesteak bao bun with a side of soup dumplings.

Neighborhood to check out: On your quest for Airbnbs, the quintessentially hipster Fishtown neighborhood is fun, affordable, and packed with places to chill. Among them is the buzzed-about Suraya, a brand new Lebanese cafe and market with a bar and outdoor garden. The best place to watch a game? Garage, a bar that used to be… yes, a garage! Head to Frankford Hall for some outside German beer garden festivities complete with picnic tables, fire pits, ping pong tables, and shuffleboard. Oh, and did we mention it’s owned by Stephen Starr? So you know it’s good.

Must eat & drink: Cheesesteak, duh. Get one at Pat’s, Geno’s, Jim’s, Tony Luke’s, Dalessandro's, or any one of these places. Ask a local and they’ll probably send you to Steve’s Prince of Steaks.

Don't leave without: Strolling through America's oldest farmers' market, Reading Terminal Market. Open for over a century, this place has become a foodie hotspot to try all different types of local cuisine. If you only stop for one thing, make sure it’s one of DiNic’s hot roast pork sandwiches. -- Jackie Freiberg

The District’s new waterfront is a must-visit destination.
The District’s new waterfront is a must-visit destination. | Wharf DC

19. Washington, DC

The nation’s capital may be swampy as ever, but DC is experiencing a rebirth on its waterways. The Potomac and Anacostia Rivers are the cleanest they’ve been in decades; in-the-know tourists rent kayaks or canoes to see the national monuments by water. As you paddle, be on the lookout for Nauti Foods, the city’s first floating food truck. But the main attraction this year is a new waterfront neighborhood called The Wharf. This $2.5 billion development brings big-name chefs and entertainment acts to a once-overlooked part of the city. Getting around by foot or Metro is easy enough for visitors, and now a popular Water Taxi system connects The Wharf, Nationals Park, National Harbor, and Alexandria, Virginia, allowing visitors to cruise past rush-hour traffic.

Neighborhood to check out: You could spend an entire weekend at The Wharf and never get bored. Check-in to Hilton’s new Canopy Hotel or the Intercontinental -- both offer extra amenities, a rooftop pool, waterfront views, and swanky hotel restaurants and bars. Whiskey Charlie is the place for happy hour with a sunset view. And while you’re there, plan for a dinner at Kith & Kin, where former Top Chef contestant Kwame Onwuachi serves a menu inspired by his family’s Afro-Caribbean roots. Of course, you must eat some Chesapeake Bay seafood too. Try the crab cakes at Hank’s Oyster Bar, local oysters at Rappahannock Oyster Bar, or blue crab curry at Kaliwa. To cap off your night, check what big-name act is playing across the street at The Anthem, or drop by Pearl Street Warehouse to catch a casual acoustic set. If you do decide to venture away from the water, you’re just a stones throw to the National Mall and its memorials and monuments.

Must eat & drink: DC Michelin-starred Chef Nicholas Stefanelli recently opened his latest Italian-themed restaurant at The Wharf. Officina is a sprawling three-tiered restaurant and includes an amaro bar, an Italian market, and a trattoria with an outdoor terrace and house-made pastas.

Don't leave without: Rolling the dice at the MGM National Harbor casino. It’s down river and can be reached by water taxi. You’ll find plenty of table games, slot machines, and a galleria filled with high-end restaurants and retailers. -- Tim Ebner

Minneapolis is home to one of the largest urban sculpture gardens in the USA. | photo.ua/Shutterstock

18. Minneapolis, Minnesota

You don’t have to head to suburban traps like Mall of America and Valleyfair to have a good time in the Twin Cities. The restaurant scene in Minneapolis has been exploding in recent years -- check out Hi-Lo Diner, or Hai Hai (one of 2018's best new restaurants), a vibrant space serving bright, flavorful dishes from southeast Asia. And there’s more great local beer than you can shake a loon at. Head to Northeast and crawl between breweries like Indeed, Able, Bauhaus, and 612 Brew. Or hoof between Modist, Fulton, Inbound, and Clockwerks in the North Loop just off Downtown Minneapolis.

If the outdoors are more your speed, kayak in the Mississippi or take advantage of the many trails along the river. You may have heard the state's motto: Minnesota Got Lakes. Hit a beach to swim, sail, or, in the winter, play shinny hockey without leaving the city. Those Minnesota winters are brutal and long, but it shouldn’t surprise you that Minneapolis has more fun winter activities than you’ll find anywhere. Plus, Downtown has a skyway system so you can still walk the city protected from mother nature’s fury.

Neighborhood to check out: Uptown and Downtown Minneapolis are popular haunts, but don’t sleep on Eat Street in Whittier. It’s not just a clever name. Grab a banh mi or bowl of noodles to-go at Jasmine Deli, or get a high-five worthy meal at Pimento Jamaican Kitchen. Swing by the Minneapolis Institute of Art, then play pinball at Tilt Pinball Bar, while choosing from its solid lineup of local brews. Just like anywhere in the city, there are local coffee shops on every corner, so stop by Spyhouse to caffeine-up, grab a gourmet donut at Glam Doll Donuts, go record-shopping at Cheapo (record stores still exist!), and finish with late-night eats at Little Tijuana’s.

Must eat & drink:The juicy lucy is undeniably great. Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club both claim to be the original, and either is worth a visit. Matt’s does away with frills like, ahem, plates, but give yourself some time. There are lines on the weekends and molten cheese that needs time to cool.

Don’t leave without: Spending an afternoon at Surly Destination Brewery, a complete multi-level beer destination with a large beer hall, beer garden, great food, and an upstairs space serving New Haven style pizza. The tap list is big and constantly rotating, so get a pour of a classic like Todd the Axe Man, or one of the taproom exclusives. -- Dustin Nelson

Cole Saladino/Thrillist
'Grammable drinks and dining at NYC's Gramercy Tavern. | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

17. New York City, New York

Every cinematic, musical, and literary love letter to New York City is true. Most even fall short of the real thing. Big and small screen depictions of our skyline pale in comparison to the true view. When people think of “The City” they conjure images of Manhattan: steam rising from a subway grate, caravans of yellow cabs careening up and down the avenues, carriage horses clack-clacking through Central Park. It’s a hell of a town.

Three days hardly seems long enough to see, hear, taste, and feel it all. And it isn’t. But neither is a lifetime. So 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? Whatever your preferred pastime, you’ll find a way to maximize it in NYC. If you don’t know where to start, our NYC destination guide will give you some ideas.

The only thing more famous than NYC’s restaurants, bars, cultural institutions, music scene, and sports dynasties, is its expense. Even an average weekend here could easily equal the cost of a proper vacation in other parts of the country. Save your Benjamins for a tasting menu and start your day with a cheap bacon, egg, and cheese from any bodega. Forget about taxis and their pricy app-based kin -- wear comfy shoes and walk everywhere you can.

Neighborhood to check out:Little Italy gets smaller all the time, but there’s still so much to see on the photogenic strip. Walk down to Mulberry and Grand, or take the J, Z, N, Q, 4 or 6 trains to Canal Street, and you’ll find shops run by folks whose families have been in the neighborhood for more than a century, a little mob lore, and the best cannoli cream, olive oil, and Sunday sauce this side of Rome.

Must eat & drink: A Manhattan at Gramercy Tavern and a piping hot slice of pizza.

Don't leave without: Taking the subway, It will leave you with a deeper understanding of New York City and it’s denizens. It’s the one place where you can catch a glimpse of how people from every echelon of society live, stumble on free live music, see art that you’ll want to go out of your way for, and maybe even meet one of NYC’smascots.  -- Amber Sutherland-Namako

Denver and beer go hand in hand.
Denver and beer go hand in hand. | Matt Nager/Thrillist

16. Denver, Colorado

Visiting Denver solely for the weed is like buying a ticket to Disneyland and only going on Space Mountain. Sure, it’s a great ride, but there’s so much more to it! Time your visit right (at the beginning or end of winter) and in three days’ time you’ll be able hike, bike on the city’s plentiful paths, and go skiing. Locals frequent ski resorts like Eldora and Loveland, both an hour’s drive from downtown (protip: one of America’s top small town bars is a short detour off the highway to the latter). It’s worth the dough to rent a car to get out to the mountains for the day, but if you’re just hanging around town, you can easily walk, scooter, or Uber from place-to-place. The train to and from the airport is both reliable and affordable. Denver doesn’t have NYC-level pricetags, but it’s not Portland-levels of cheap either. Happy hour is your friend.

Neighborhoods to check out: Your first stop should be the Highlands: hop onto the rooftop at El Five or the Avanti food hall to enjoy Denver’s famous sunshine with a drink in hand. Little Man Ice Cream’s iconic oversized milk-jug storefront, and its equally iconic line, is worth the wait just for the Salted Oreo flavor. Stick around for dinner too: one single block is home to Old Major’s meat palace, Ash’Kara’s new twist on Middle Eastern fare, and inventive Latin eats at Señor Bear.

A lovely two-mile bike ride from the Highlands takes you past Coors Field and plops you into the heart of RiNo, the arts district where all the cool kids are. Consider eschewing Airbnb for the stunning new Ramble Hotel, which boasts an outpost of NYC’s Death & Co. in the lobby. Hit up Stowaway for Aussie-approved breakfast and pastries, or the good-enough-for-NYC bagels at Rosenberg’s. For those rare in-between meal periods, drop into an art gallery or two.

Must eat & drink:Beer, duh. Denver has some of the country’s absolute best breweries; start with Colorado-born legends like Odell, Oskar Blues, and New Belgium. To soak up the suds, Denver has two signature dishes you shan’t leave without eating: green chile, and big-ass breakfast burritos. For your convenience, El Taco De Mexico combines the two.

Don't leave without: One of the world’s finest concert venues is about a 20 minute drive outside of the city: Red Rocks. This natural rock formation provides near-perfect sound and is one of the more breathtaking places to watch a sunset. Check the calendar before heading over, and reserve a seat on a shuttle if you’d rather avoid parking. For more pro-tips, check out our comprehensive Denver destination guide. -- Lee Breslouer

Asheville’s farm-to-table dining options aren’t to be missed.
Asheville’s farm-to-table dining options aren’t to be missed. | Tupelo Honey

15. Asheville, North Carolina

The secret is out on sleepy mountain town Asheville. Hippie culture runs deep here, and why not? Boasting endless activities (hiking, kayaking, and general outdoorsy-ness), a buzzing art scene, and incredible local food, “Beer City, USA” is as relaxing a getaway as any you’ll find in the South.

Clocking the most breweries per capita, Asheville attracts beer drinkers from all walks to its 30-and-growing breweries, while the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains ringing the city inspires writers and hikers alike with pristine trails and an expansive canopy of sound-hushing trees. You can also forget about your tiny studio apartment for a couple of days and, instead, pretend to live like an oligarch at the Gilded Age-era Biltmore Estate. Admission is on the pricey end at $60, but it’s glorious. On the other end of the economic spectrum, you can embrace your inner musician and join the city’s drum circle gathering in Pritchard Park, a hallowed local tradition held every Friday for the last 18 years. The marriage of the city’s creative class with a history of progressive politics and local pride make for an easy-to-enjoy weekend any time of year. Hugely walkable, a historic trolley is available for carting you around town, though bike taxis are available, too.

Neighborhoods to check out: Downtown Asheville -- with its Art Deco architecture, free festivals and street performers, self-guided historical tour, and loads of restaurants and craft breweries -- is enough to keep you busy for a weekend. But why stop there? In recent years, artists have flocked to the River Arts District, the city’s former industrial corridor along the French Broad River. You’ll find cafés, breweries, restaurants and most of all, free galleries representing mediums from pottery to textiles. Make shopping local artisans a priority while you’re in town.

Must eat & drink: A seasonal cocktail from Sovereign Remedies, a light- and plant-filled restaurant and bar located in a turn-of-the-century building that was once a barber shop/drug store. This city was doing farm-to-table before it became a cliché; don’t miss local favorites like Tupelo Honey Café or chef Katie Button’s famed Curaté.

Don’t leave without: A drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 469-mile stretch of road weaves through Virginia and North Carolina, with four main entry points in Asheville. If you’re the type who prefers looking at nature without really becoming one with it, rent a convertible, drop the top and enjoy the views of the Appalachian mountains as you cruise — the max speed limit is 45 mph, leadfoots. With nearly 400 overlooks along the Parkway, there are plenty of scenic spots perfect for an Instagram-worthy pit stop and picnic.  -- Liv Lawson

The Heidelberg Street Project is a two-block public art display made up of found objects and unique paint patterns.
The Heidelberg Street Project is a two-block public art display. | James Leynse/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

14. Detroit, Michigan

Detroit is still in transition, but there’s a booming excitement that’s not dying down anytime soon. While it’s impossible to cover all of Detroit in a weekend, there’s certainly enough to keep you occupied. It’s no surprise you’ll need a car or rideshare to get between otherwise walkable neighborhoods, where an influx of creative types are bringing new energy to Motor City. (You’ll often hear about Downtown’s 7.2-square-mile radius, where the bulk of transformation and activity is happening -- this area is easily accessible on foot.) The food and cocktail scene is searing hot these days, offering global and award-winning cuisine -- check out Cass Corridor’s Detroit Shipping Company for a pad Thai roll from Bangkok 96 Street Food, or Trinidadian flavors at Norma G’s in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood. Bangladeshi, Mediterranean, and Polish fare -- it’s all here. You’re also in the home of Motown -- kick back with live jazz at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Northwest.

Check out the Detroit Experience Factory for themed excursions that get you up-close with Detroit’s past and present. Grab a MoGo bikeshare and hit the Dequindre Cut greenway, Belle Isle, or the Riverfront, with picturesque views of Canada, plus electricscooters are available in Downtown, Midtown, and Corktown. Regardless if you bike or rent a car, watch out for the damn potholes.

Neighborhoods to check out: On Saturdays, Eastern Market attracts crowds with its host of local farm and food vendors. (Skip driving so you don’t have to bother with parking.) The bustling area attracts a host of food trucks, while sellers specialize in Michigan-made products like Beau Bien Fine Foods. Depending on the season, sports fanatics can catch a game at nearby Comerica Park, Ford Field, or Little Caesars Arena. For late night entertainment, head to Downtown’s Deluxx Fluxx for music, cocktails on tap and custom arcade games.

Must eat & drink: There’s so much happening in Detroit’s food scene, why limit yourself? Seek out a mix of the old and new. Don’t miss classics like a Coney dog from Lafayette and Detroit-style pizza from Buddy’s, but for new flair, there’s don’t sleep on Korean sticky wings from Flowers of Vietnam.

Don’t leave without: Checking out the cluster of museums in Midtown and the public art scene. There’s a reason Detroit was the first in the U.S. to be named a UNESCO City of Design in 2015. -- Brittany Huston

Mural near UT Austin
Find famous street art and colorful murals near the UT campus. | Thomas Allison/Thrillist

13. Austin, Texas

Jaded old Austinites -- hell, even relatively new and optimistic Austinites -- bemoan the fact that the city has become a revolving door of festival-goers, conference attendees, and bachelor party hooligans. It’s not as cheap as it used to be, and traffic totally sucks, but given the boom of scooters and rideshares, it’s possible to make due without a car… just expect to sweat a little (or a lot, if you come in the summer). Honestly, the reason Austin's tourist economy has flourished in a sometimes-frustrating manner is because it's such a good place to spend the weekend. Its reputation as both the live music and barbecue capital of the world is well-founded: You'll find a dozen barbecue places that out-smoke most other major cities, and the wealth of local musical talent on any given night puts even huge cities like New York or LA to shame.

Neighborhoods to check out: The last decade has seen dramatic gentrification of Austin’s east side neighborhoods like Cherrywood, Rosewood, and East Cesar Chavez. The politics are complicated, but for better or worse, the Eastside has some of the best places to eat, drink, and explore. Grab a cheap beer or surprisingly stellar cocktail at divey Nickel City, two-step with a handsome stranger at White Horse, make a reservation at Suerte on East 6th for innovative Mexican food (yet one of the best new restaurants of 2018!), or venture even further east for a real old-school live music experience at Sahara Lounge.

You’ll also likely find yourself on Rainey Street, a sleepy little neighborhood that transformed into an insane buffet of bars. Half Step is the move for cocktails, and Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden boasts over 100 taps and the city’s only Southern-style whole hog barbecue. If you’d like some culture to go with that all that beer, the Mexican American Culture Center is just a few blocks away, and your doctor would likely prescribe a little exercise in the form of a trot around the Ladybird Lake Trail.

Must eat & drink: Two words: Breakfast. Taco. Followed by brisket at La Barbecue. Or hit Ramen Tatsu-ya for the best bowl outside of NY or LA. Finish the night with one of the all-Texas taps at Craft Pride.

Don't leave without: Swimming in Barton Springs, Austin's antidote to triple-digit summer heat, or one of our many other blissful swimming holes. And if you’re heading to ATX, make sure you consult our Austin destination guide. -- Dan Gentile

Gates Bar-B-Q
You can’t do Kansas City without barbecue. | Gates Bar-B-Q

12. 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, flights cost nothing. Public transit is improving with a free street car between River Market and Downtown, but it isn’t there for the rest of the city. Luckily, ride shares are dirt cheap, and the city is contained enough that you can knock out a month’s worth of experiences in a single weekend. Which means everything you saw on the latest season of Netflix’s Queer Eye, plus a hell of a lot more.

Neighborhoods to check out: 100% The Crossroads. It is one of the most concentrated gallery districts in the nation, home to 400 local artists and more than 100 independent studios. Every First Friday, thousands of residents flood the area for street music, aerial performances, live theater, and food trucks. Beverage-wise, head to the famous underground speakeasy Manifesto (get the Zombie Apocalypse) or Boulevard Brewing Company (get the award-winning Tank 7 ale). The Up-Down is this area's bomb-ass barcade.

There's also the notable Power & Light District near the Sprint Center, featuring blocks of classy bars, upscale nightclubs, and a few great dives. Or the River Market area, which boasts the largest farmers market in the Midwest. Or 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. Martini Corner on 31st is just as a sounds -- a collection of great places to drink a martini on the same corner.

Must eat & drink: We’ve written an entire guide to KC BBQ that should serve as your Bible for this. Then, do a bar crawl through the Westport area, starting at whiskey library Julep (while you still have a flavor palette) and ending under the stars at Char Bar’s outdoor patio area.

Don't leave without: Snapping a picture in front of the gigantic shuttlecock at the Nelson-Atkins Museum. Our shuttlecock is huge. You’ll want to show your friends. -- Brock Wilbur

The Pike Place Market is a hotspot for Seattle weekenders.
Seattle's Pike Place Market is a must-visit for weekenders. | cdrin/Shutterstock

11. Seattle, Washington

Even after years of locals explaining that it's not always raining, visitors are still surprised to learn the best thing to do in Seattle is to get outside. Go hiking, biking, or boating -- rain or shine. A little drizzle never stops Seattleites from running along the shore, paddle-boarding around lakes, and slurping seafood. So come to town, forget the weather, and join us in enjoying the 14-16 hours of daylight every summer day along with the salt air, evergreen forests, and snow-capped mountain views.

Note that Seattle’s traffic -- both the vehicles on the road and the people packed into the Pike Place Market -- is terrible. There’s no good answer for the latter (it’s still worth a visit, but go early in the morning to avoid crowds), but you can avoid the former by getting around on public transportation. There’s only one light rail line, but it serves the airport, the Downtown core where most hotels are, and Capitol Hill’s restaurant and nightlife scene. Be sure to check out the Trailhead Direct, a shuttle that takes you straight to hiking trails.

Neighborhoods to check out: You can also take the light rail to the University of Washington Station, where the Waterfront Activities Center rents out canoes, kayaks, and rowboats. A short ride-share, dockless e-bike, or bus up the hill brings you to the heart of the University District, where the Saturday morning farmers market is one of the best in the country, along with affordable restaurants like Koa, Xi’an Noodles, and Arepa Venezuelan Kitchen. In the other direction, the train heads to the Rainier Valley, where the Othello stop will let you out in the heart of one of the country’s most diverse neighborhoods. Pause for dim sum at Foo Lam or bún bò huế at Hoang Lan before taking a long walk or short bikeshare ride down to Lake Washington and Seward Park -- a 300-acre waterfront forest park.

Must eat & drink: Seattle is rightfully famous for its seafood. There are few more appropriate places to slurp oysters than the Adirondack chairs around the oyster-shell firepit at Westward located on the shores of Lake Union. You’ll also want to pick up a container of the magical, unlike-any-yogurt-you’ve-had-before Ellenos Greek Yogurt from either the U-District Farmers Market or the Pike Place Market. Come evening, hit the buzzy new Lucinda Grain Bar from award-winning Junebaby chef Edouardo Jordan.

Don’t leave without: Getting out on the water -- rent a kayak, reserve a hot tub boat (yes, they are as amazing as that sounds), or hop on the ferry -- but it’s not a visit to Seattle if you kept both feet on land. -- Naomi Tomky

Drink up at a beloved outdoor beer garden.
Drink up at beloved outdoor beer garden, Drake's Dealership. | Drake’s Dealership

10. Oakland, California

When Karl the Fog has his gloomy summer residency in San Francisco, the place to be is just across the Bay Bridge in Oakland, where it’s often sunnier and 5–10º warmer. But better weather isn't the only reason to visit “The Town” as it's nicknamed (SF being “The City”). With its relaxed energy, Oakland is sometimes called “Brooklyn by the Bay” for its working class roots, ethnically-diverse communities, music and art cultures, and, alas, the inevitable gentrification that comes with all that. However, save for a few tech companies like Pandora making headquarters there, it's not completely tech'd out (yet).

While not totally shielded from the rising costs of the Bay Area’s tech boom, Oakland remains a reasonable place to spend your money. It’s laid out like a sprawling metropolis -- ranging from a downtown district of tall buildings, to suburbia, to a hilltop redwood forest -- but scaled down and confined enough that still feels like a town. Without much traffic, it’s very easy to get around, be it on foot or via bike share, scooter share (they are everywhere), or the occasional rideshare.

Neighborhoods to check out: The heart of Oakland is Lake Merritt, The Town’s urban oasis with boating, lakeside picnics, and brunch spots in the nearby Grand Lake and Lakeshore districts. Head to KoNo (Koreatown/Northgate) to check out the kids popping and locking on a First Friday, Oakland’s monthly community block party. Many weekend fairs, as well as a Sunday Farmers’ Market, are held in Jack London Square, the revitalized waterfront district and site of author Jack London’s former cabin. Those with a penchant for browsing bars and boutiques should also check out the Uptown and Temescal neighborhoods.

Must eat & drink: If you’ve never had Burmese cuisine, the fermented Tea Leaf Salad at Burma Superstar is a must. Oakland’s diverse culinary scene also includes essential offerings in Laotian, Ethiopian, and American soul. To drink? At Hello Stranger some drinks are infused with locally-sourced cannabis. There are also many great locally-produced, California-grown wines on each stop of the Oakland Urban Wine Trail.

Don't leave without: Spending time outside. Oakland may have a reputation of being “urban,” but as the “Sunny Side of the Bay,” there’s a wide range of opportunities to spend time in the sun-drenched outdoors. Nature lovers will appreciate the forest hiking and biking trails of Redwood Regional Park, atop the city’s eastern hills. Those who don’t care to be that active will definitely enjoy sitting out at Drake’s Dealership, a former car dealership-turned-brewery, restaurant, and outdoor beer garden, where entire lazy afternoons can be spent drinking local brews at their bleachers or firepits. -- Erik Trinidad

Atomic Liquors
Atomic Liquors in downtown Vegas. | Mona Shield Payne/Thrillist

9. Las Vegas, Nevada

There’s no place like Vegas. You can do almost anything here -- within the parameters of local laws, of course. For whatever reason you might find yourself on a weekend trip to Vegas, Vegas will deliver in spades: A bachelor party (strip clubs!), a conference (baller dinners on the company dime!), a sinful escape from your painfully normal life (swingers and sex shows!) There’s even world-class climbing, bouldering, and hiking a mere 20 minutes from the Strip.

And Vegas, she is always changing. The last five years have seen some major overhauls on the Strip, most notably the Linq Promenade and the Park Las Vegas, transforming what were once alleys into walkable outdoor spaces with dining and entertainment options unmoored from the confines of casinos. BTW, residencies in Vegas are cool now, something we can probably chalk up to Brit-Brit's monumentally successful run. A "Vegas show" no longer means Cirque -- it means a big-name like Lady Gaga, and soon, Ms. Jackson if you're nasty.

But a weekend in Vegas can leave you broke and broken. Everything is expensive. The Strip might look walkable, but trust us, this is a mirage. (Just take a Lyft everywhere. It’s relatively cheap, and each casino has designated rideshare pick-up spots.) For more expert tips on making it out alive, see our Vegas destination guide.

Neighborhoods to check out: If you want some genuine local flavor (yeah, people live here!), head downtown. Have brunch at the hipster-friendly PublicUs, where all the phenomenal breads and pastries are made in-house. Hit up East Fremont institution Atomic Liquors, the oldest freestanding bar in town (est. 1945) with Vegas’s best selection of craft beers. It’s also where people gathered in the ‘50s to watch nuclear tests while drinking on the rooftop.

The Arts District is Vegas’ hip, gentrifying neighborhood where Hop Nuts Brewing is making some of the best beer in the city, Vesta Coffee Roasters is brewing coffee that would make Seattleites jealous, and Esther’s Kitchen is positioning itself as one of the best restaurants in Las Vegas, on or off the Strip. Visit the Neon Museum, a singular Las Vegas experience. And, though the sea of strip malls may not be much to look at, Chinatown has become one of the most interesting and best food neighborhoods not just in Vegas, but the whole country.

Must eat & drink: Nearly every celebrity chef has a restaurant in Vegas and most of them are overhyped and overpriced -- EXCEPT Roy Choi’s Best Friend, which just opened in the revamped Park MGM. Everything about this place is spectacular, from the lobby made to look like an L.A. bodega full of booze slushie machines, to the neon yellow menu interspersed with photocopied pictures of Chef Roy from the ‘90s, to the staff uniforms… you just have to experience it. This is, hands-down, the most exciting restaurant on the Strip.

Don't leave without: Visiting the Cosmopolitan. There’s a reason it’s still the hottest property in Las Vegas more than a decade later. See Opium, the sexy-raunchy space-themed must-see Vegas show. Have a cocktail inside the “hidden” Ghost Donkey cocktail bar (located through an “exit” door at the back of the new Block 16 Urban Food Hall -- look for the donkey on the door). Also check out the new Barbershop, which is apparently a salon and cocktail bar and live music venue and maybe also exclusive lounge all in one? Vegas, baby! -- Nicole Rupersburg

San Diego’s shorelines have unparalleled views.
Unparalleled sun and surf in San Diego. | Sebastien Burel/Shutterstock

8. San Diego, California

With 72 miles of coastline and the best weather in the nation (seriously though, skies are perpetually blue), San Diego sells itself. Beautiful beaches, beautiful people, and a surprisingly robust food and drink scene make SD an obvious choice for a quick seaside escape, without the exorbitant price-tags and pretense of some other major Cali cities which do not appear on this list. True, this place sprawls like a beach towel -- it’s more like a collection of unique towns than one concentrated city. If you want to see the most of San Diego without renting a car, Downtown makes a great home base. In three days or less, you’ll have time to hit the highlights: Zip around Balboa Park on a scooter, watch the sunset at Embarcadero Park, or hike the Maple Canyon Trail in Bankers Hill, one of downtown’s hidden gems. Dedicate a full day to hanging at the beach, or seeking out the best surf spots.

Neighborhood to check out: Spend an afternoon in Ocean Beach. Stock up on baked treats at Azcuar, then wander down Newport Ave in search of beer, sushi, cheeseburgers, smoothies, and souvenirs. Breathe the ocean air and watch surfers navigate the waves near the OB Pier. If your budget allows, book a vacation rental near Sunset Cliffs.

Must eat & drink:Tacos are non-negotiable. Downtown, Lola 55 offers nine tasty options, ranging from rainbow cauliflower to a smoked fish taco that is so RIDICULOUSLY SPICY the menu uses upper case letters to provide ample warning. In Pacific Beach, Sandbar’s TKO-style tacos -- featuring meat or fish in a cotija-crusted tortilla with chipotle aioli, lime crema, spicy guac, and a bunch of other tasty things -- are a necessity. And craft beer is still very much a big deal here; navigate to North Park and pop into a brewery tasting room, like Fall Brewing, Mike Hess, or the Modern Times Flavordome; or visit Panama 66 in Balboa Park.

Don't leave without: Exploring Barrio Logan. Get one last taco at Salud or fuel up on chilaquiles at El Carrito before checking out the art galleries, shops, and awe-inspiring murals at Chicano Park. Want even more tips? We have a full San Diego destination guide. -- Erin Jackson

Catch a great glimpse of the NYC skyline at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Catch a great glimpse of the NYC skyline at Brooklyn Bridge Park. | Cultura Exclusive/Henglein and Steets/Getty Images

7. Brooklyn, New York

Ask any New Yorker and they’ll tell you, New York is the greatest city in the world. But ask countless tourists who trap themselves in Midtown Manhattan, and you hear another story: The City is dirty, crowded, unaffordable, and overwhelming. Truth is, you can have an “authentic” New York weekend without ever setting foot in Manhattan. Just go to Brooklyn. Even loyal Manhattanites regularly make the trek to try the most buzzed-about bars and restaurants in the five boroughs.

Two major airports service the borough (three if you count Newark which -- if you can shave $100 off a flight -- is honestly not a bad option). While modern development has done its part to flatten Manhattan’s weirder angles, Brooklyn still has distinct neighborhoods with things like charm and character. Population wise, it’s like if you plopped a Chicago (with real pizza) in the midst of another, larger city. Buses and Citi Bikes are an easy way to get around, and no matter where you’re staying, there will be excellent bars and restaurants within walking distance.

Neighborhoods to check out: There are so many right answers here, depending on the experience you’re looking to have. Williamsburg still boasts the highest concentration of all things trendy; head to Bedford Ave if you have money to burn and want to join the circus. These days, the vanguard of youth culture in Brooklyn is Bushwick. It’s not for every traveler, but for those seeking affordable bars and restaurants, this neighborhood has a vibrancy and energy that sinks its teeth into any young person. And Bushwick’s wonderful Mexican community serves the best tacos around.

One of Brooklyn’s greatest assets is its view of the City. And you won’t find better views than the walk from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade to DUMBO, which is stupidly short for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” Not only do you get the skyline in view, but also the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and how they fit into the landscape. For architecture and stunting on the ‘gram, there’s no place more Brooklyn than here.

Finally, you could easily spend the weekend in the Crown Heights/Prospect Heights area. You’ve got the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Library, and Brooklyn Botanic Gardens all a stone’s throw from each other, plus the sprawling Prospect Park (designed by the very same guys who did Central Park). Along Franklin and Nostrand Avenues, you’ll find some of the best Caribbean food in New York.

Must eat & drink:The simple and direct answer is pizza. Eat all the pizza you can. Specifically, get a square slice from L&B Spumoni Gardens, a plain slice from Di Fara (they may have lost a step, but it’s still an institution), or sit down to a fancy pizza dinner at Lucali or Paulie Gee’s or Emily. However you slice it, eat pizza.

Don’t leave without: Riding the Cyclone in Coney Island, an enduring symbol of a bygone era of excitement and leisure in America. I can promise you will be smiling when you get off. -- Erik Helin

Mlenny/E+/Getty Images
The Chicago River cuts right through the city. | Mlenny/E+/Getty Images

6. Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is known by some as the Second City and others as the Third Coast, but by our count, this metropolis of awe-inspiring architecture, renowned chefs, and incredible culture should be first on anyone’s list when planning a weekend trip. Sure, sure, us natives have heard the gripes about the pizza and the winter, but this gleaming jewel of the Midwest -- which partly inspired Frank Oz’s own shimmering Emerald City -- offers much more below the surface.

First of all, get out of the Loop; Chicago truly shines when you get out and explore its 77 neighborhoods. Served by two major airports with direct access via train, Chicago’s public transit system will whisk you to places like artsy Wicker Park, hip Logan Square, studious Hyde Park, and multi-cultural Pilsen. Looking for more? Check out the thriving comedy scene via Second City, see Broadway performances and award-winning theater (Steppenwolf, The Goodman), and experience a vibrant LGBT scene (Andersonville, Boystown). If you can find it in New York, you can find it here, too -- there’s even an old elevated train track-turned-public park and outdoor art gallery, known as the 606.

Neighborhood to check out: Certain neighborhoods get all the hype -- West Loop, River North -- so head to Pilsen, a fast-gentrifying area that's a 20-minute elevated train ride from downtown. While music venue Thalia Hall and its component bar/restaurants Dusek’s and Punch House draw folks with big name performers and high-profile events, the neighborhood’s excellent family-owned Mexican restaurants like Carnitas Uruapan, Carnitas Don Pedro, and Birrieria Reyes De Ocotlan compete with newer fine dining spots like S.K.Y., and HaiSous. Pilsen also hosts myriad street fairs once temps begin to climb, like the ever-delicious Mole de Mayo, a fest dedicated to Mexico’s signature sauce and a bit of lucha libre for kicks (literally), or a Cantina Crawl, which is exactly what it sounds like. Meanwhile, cultural institutions like the National Museum of Mexican Art anchor the area even as indie pop-ups and guerilla art galleries take over storefronts, offering new voices a chance to shine.

Must eat & drink: As the current home to the James Beard Award Gala, it should be no surprise that this city knows food. (Try Korean-meets-Italian fare at one of Thrillist’s Best New Restaurants of 2018, Passerotto, in sleepy-yet-quaint Andersonville.) But to riff on a certain former First Lady and native daughter of the city, you can absolutely go high, but don’t forget to go low. Get pizza or a hot dog if you must, but don’t sleep on the Gym (or Jim) Shoe. This gut-busting sub is stacked with an ungodly blend of corned and roasted beef, gyro meat with requisite white sauce. Griddled onions and cheese, shredded lettuce, and finally, tomato complete the whole thing. A specialty of the South and West side sandwich shops like Southtown Subs, it’ll put you down for a nap before you know what hit you.

Don’t leave without: Taking an architectural river tour. Chicagoans may be divided via North and South Side, Cubs versus White Sox, and whether or not ketchup is a suitable hot dog topping, but they broker no descent on this. Whether cruising with the volunteer docents of the Chicago Architectural Foundation or taking the 75-minute river tour with Shoreline Sightseeing, you’re in for a relaxing, time-traveling cruise through Chicago’s past into its present.  -- Joseph Hernandez

Charleston’s neighborhoods are perfect for roaming.
Charleston’s neighborhoods are perfect for roaming. | Education Images/UIG/Getty Images

5. Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is a nonstop hop from around 30 major airports, and the food and beverage industry regularly (and rightly) earns national acclaim. But beyond its fine fare and reasonably easy access, the Holy City also boasts a strong music scene, top-shelf shopping, and a fairytale Southern cityscape full of impossibly stately antebellum mansions. So like, check some of that stuff out between meals, at least.

Most of the action is concentrated in about 5 square miles, so you’ll be able to see a lot of it in a weekend. Between the walkability, the cheap rideshares, and a decent bikeshare program, you don’t need to rent a car. (Also, there are pedicabs!) Charleston isn’t comically cheap, but visitors from extortionate cities like San Francisco and New York City will be pleasantly surprised. Also, it’s hot and humid in the summer. Like, very, very hot and humid. So if that sounds sticky, try to plan a trip in the spring or fall.

Neighborhoods to check out: Chucktown’s most iconic blocks are sprawled out over two of its southernmost neighborhoods: South of Broad, and the French Quarter. The latter is where you’ll find the famous Rainbow Row (and the attendant hordes ripping Instagrams of it) but both ‘hoods are full of leafy streets, shaded alleys, and palatial old homes. It’s a cool area to see, but expensive to stay. Instead, rest your head at one of the swanky new hotels near Marion Square or the market, or in a rental in Cannonborough/Elliotborough, a lively neighborhood midway up the peninsula dense with restaurants and bars. (Bonus: Charleston’s brewery district, a few miles north of the Battery, is home to half a dozen terrific beermakers, and well worth a Saturday afternoon.)

Must eat & drink: Shrimp and grits for breakfast at Hominy Grill, garlic crabs or whatever’s on special for lunch at Nana’s Seafood and Soul, and the tavern burger and a martini from Little Jack’s for dinner (rated one of the country’s finest by a website you may have heard of).

Don't leave without: Strolling along Waterfront Park until you find the Pineapple Fountain. You can’t miss it. -- Dave Infante

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

4. Nashville, Tennessee

If you haven’t been to Music City lately, odds are a friend has and they won’t stop badgering you about how much fun they had. Give in to the will of the people and get thee to NashVegas. Everything's coming up roses in Tennessee’s capital city, thanks to a rapidly expanding airport and a booming economy attracting companies to move their headquarters here. The state bird may as well be the crane, as hotels, apartment buildings, and office spaces spring out of the ground. Of course, the music scene is still second to none, while artists, tech geniuses, and master chefs flock to Nashville to be a part of the latest “It City” buzz and bask in the collective creative vibrancy.

Neighborhoods to check out: Over in Lower Broad, country music stars-turned-real estate developers have opened multi-story entertainment complexes, featuring cold long neck beers, trays of Fireball shots, and a continuous offering of live bands from lunchtime until the wee hours. Notable new additions include Florida Georgia Line’s FGL House, Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, Blake Shelton’s Ole Red, Luke Bryan’s Luke’s 32 Bridge Food + Drink, and Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock N' Roll Steakhouse. All of these party spots feature rooftop bars, a relatively new development in Nashville. If you want to party like a local, visit the much more humble Robert’s Western World, where cream-of-the-crop Nashville musicians take the small stage. Don’t skip bargains like the “Recession Special:" a fried bologna sandwich, cold PBR, and a bag of chips for just six bucks.

Less well-trodden Pietown is a wedge-shaped area bordered by 8th Avenue, Lafayette St. (pronounced “luh-FAY-it” by locals), and Interstate 40, but indeed resembles a slice of pie from Arnold’s Country Kitchen. The iconic “meat-and-three” is the best restaurant in Pietown. The neighborhood is also home to three breweries within staggering distance from one another: Yazoo Brewing Co., Jackalope Brewing, and Tennessee Brew Works.

Must eat & drink: For your fix of Nashville Hot Chicken, check out the OGs at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack or Bolton’s Hot Chicken & Fish. Party Fowl also serves up a pretty legit version of the fiery bird, with many iterations ranging from a half bird to Hot Chicken nachos, tacos, poutine and po’ boys.

Don't leave without: Nashville is a town of many musical Halls of Fames. See the best of the best at the Country Music Hall of Fame or the Musicians Hall of Fame as well as a small, free display of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in the lobby of the massive Music City Center. And be sure to plan your next visit around the National Museum of African American Music, currently under construction. -- Chris Chamberlain

Watch the sun go down from a waterfront bar.
Watch the sun go down from a waterfront bar. | Zeinab Kristen/Thrillist

3. Miami, Florida

Perhaps you’re heading to Miami so you can lie on a white sand, palm-lined beach with a tropical drink in hand and post “I’m in Miami, bitch,” like it’s 2011. You can, by all means, do the South Beach thing, and take advantage of the swanky cocktail bars and trendy lounges that earn Miami it’s badge of Best Nightlife in America. Pretend you’re in a music video. Have an absolute blast.

That said, there’s so more to Miami than chiseled-ab rollerbladers and high-rollers in Bugattis. Spanish is spoken here like French is in Québec, and the people-watching is second to none. In a weekend, you can see some of the best street art in the world, feel like you're in another country in Little Havana (or, if you're adventurous, Hialeah), and get a big-city experience among the steel-and-glass towers of Brickell. Partake in some of the best food, cocktails, and beaches in the country -- not to mention one of the most vibrant gay scenes -- and absolutely pack your wallet. Next to Manhattan, it's the most expensive place to visit; next to Vegas, it's probably one of the easiest places to get scammed. Know what mistakes to avoid, and read up on our Miami Destination Guide before you go.

Neighborhoods to check out: Little Havana. It’s evolved a lot from its EPCOT Cuba World motif of years past, and while you can still stop in and watch the abuelitos slamming dominos at Maximo Gomez Park, you can also stroll Calle Ocho with a cigar in hand, dance to live music at Ball and Chain, hit a speakeasy hidden behind a candy shop above a taco shop, sample Thai tapas, slurp oysters, and pick eat pastelito ice cream -- all in a single afternoon.

Must eat & drink: For the ultimate in Miami food and only-in-Miami views, hit La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental, with seats right on the water and some of the best ceviche in the world. For affordable local stuff, head to Blue Collar in the MiMo district or Mignonette in Edgewater. If you insist on Cuban food, visit Versailles in Little Havana for cafecitos and ropa vieja; afterwards, stop at Café la Trova, where award-winner Julio Cabrera slings Cuban-themed cocktails while a live band plays in a scene reminiscent of 1950s Havana. If you’re in South Beach, imbibe at the Broken Shaker, set in a courtyard among tropical plants, or venture through the lobby at the Albion hotel to Repour. It’s a service industry hangout set to look like a 1980s suburban basement party, with much better drinks.

Don’t leave without: Walking through Wynwood. The bars and restaurants can mostly be skipped, but the street art is still something to behold. You won’t find a larger concentration of murals in the country, and since they’re constantly changing, it’ll be a different experience every time you go. -- Matt Meltzer

Portland takes pride in its food pods.
A typical food pod in Portland. | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

2. Portland, Oregon

Come to Portland to enjoy the moderately priced spoils of a top-tier food town, with world-class breweries and breathtaking scenery that outclasses cities three times its size. The City of Roses packs a shitton of things to do in a small footprint -- and it’s far more walkable, bikeable, and bus-able than anywhere you’ve ever been, ever. Head to Forest Park, a 5,000-acre city park filled with streams, moss, and massive old-growth trees (we recommend hiking the Lower Macleay Trail up to the Pittock Mansion). If you’re with car, towering waterfalls, lush forests, Mt. Hood, and the rugged beauty of the Pacific are just a few things within two hours of downtown.

Neighborhoods to check out: The inner-eastside neighborhoods of Kerns, Buckman, Sunnyside, and Richmond are about as Portland-y as it gets. The vast grid of Victorian bungalows, bikeable roads, and city parks is dotted with pockets of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops on every corner. An Airbnb anywhere east of the Willamette River, north of Powell Boulevard, south of I-84 and west of 82nd Avenue is where you want to be.

Must eat & drink: Ah, where to begin. The hottest new restaurant in town is Eem. You’ll find the best sandwiches at Lardo. You’d be remiss to skip anything by multiple James Beard-award winner Gabriel Rucker, but if Le Pigeon or Little Bird Bistro are a tad too rich for your tastes, then his brand new casual spot Canard, which specializes in White Castle-inspired sliders and duck fat-gravy pancakes, is an excellent port of entry. No trip to Portland is complete without a wacky, bougie doughnut courtesy of Voodoo or Blue Star. And definitely hit up a food cart. It’s like a food truck, but different, serving some of Portland’s most sought-after meals. Here’s where to find ‘em.

If it’s fancy cocktails you seek, spots like Teardrop, the National-themed quasi-Asian lounge Pink Rabbit, or the legendary tiki bar Halé Pelé never fail to impress. There’s far too many breweries to list (over 70 breweries in the city proper), but Breakside offers the best across-the-board selection of classics and experiments.

Don’t leave without: Visiting some of Portland’s most beloved old landmarks, like Powell’s Books, Mary’s strip club, or that bizarre-ass Paul Bunyan statue. Want even more tips? We have a comprehensive Portland destination guide for your traveling pleasure. -- Pete Cottell

Mardi Gras morning in New Orleans. | EMILY KASK/AFP/Getty Images

1. New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans has everything you could possibly need to have the most fun three days of your whole damn life -- everything, except maybe electric scooters and a notable craft beer scene (though even that is gaining steam). This is partly why we love it so dearly; as cities across the US homogenize into mini-Brooklyns, New Orleans thrives and endures as its own animal, a distinct and delicious hodgepodge of French, Spanish, and Caribbean influences. It’s the best city in America for a stroll -- 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, elaborate ironwork, gothic live oaks, and joyous music wherever you go. When it comes to atmosphere, Crescent City is king.

It’s also the easiest city in which to procure a hangover. No judgement if you go all-in with the frozen daiquiris on Bourbon Street, or jazz club-hopping with locals on Frenchmen, or get the spins at the literally-spinning Carousel Bar -- but do keep your grown-up wits about you. 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 don’t talk shit about the Saints. If you still have questions, our comprehensive New Orleans destination guide has answers.

Neighborhoods to check out: The Quarter can hands-down hold your attention for a full three days. Still, NOLA is flat and bike-friendly, with walkable neighborhoods, a quaint streetcar, and ride shares galore, meaning you have no excuse not to go beyond the tourist haunts. In the Garden District you can get lost in the spooky labyrinthine Lafayette Cemetery, then eat and drink your way down Magazine Street. The area around Tulane boasts venerable institutions like Cooter Brown’s and Camellia Grill; hit Jacques-Imo’s (early, before the line forms) for Creole classics in a super funky setting, go dancing at Maple Leaf, and have a night-cap at Snake & Jakes, one of the city’s quintessential watering holes.

Must eat & drink: Ho’boy. No city in America claims a more distinct cuisine than New Orleans, and a list of NOLA’s proprietary, must-try foods is almost as long as the restaurants that serve them. Even the most ambitious eater couldn’t hit all the highlights in a mere three days. Oysters at Acme (or across the street at Felix’s, if the line is unbearable), a hurricane at Pat O’Briens (catch a show in the piano lounge), a hot crispy po-boy (the firecracker shrimp at Parasol’s is, well, fire), and beignets at Cafe Du Monde (an ideal way to end the night) are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Don’t leave without: Hearing live music. This shouldn’t be difficult. Duck into Preservation Hall or Tipitina’s, or hop along Frenchmen's strip of jazz clubs, and don't be surprised if you run into at least three impromptu dance parties -- the natural reaction to street performers here -- when you round a random corner. Music flows freely through the streets, and it’s one of the best ways to tap into the city’s jubilant spirit, and begin building an understanding and appreciation of New Orleans. -- Keller Powell

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