The bonds of friendship are tested each and every day as our busy lives push and pull us in a million directions. It’s hard to make time for those catch-up phone calls, Saturday afternoon shopping adventures and leisurely Sunday brunches. Resolve to give your friendships the attention they deserve this year and get all your girlfriends together for a weekend getaway.
Instead of focusing on a big city adventure or expensive bucket list trip, head to a small city and you’ll find plenty of diversions—from art museums to shopping centers to spas—without the crowds or paying an arm and a leg for a hotel. Read on for five fantastic destinations for girlfriend getaways great for bonding, relaxation, and just plain fun.
1. Lancaster, Pennsylvania
While Pennsylvania Dutch Country might not seem obvious as a girls getaway, as the home of the oldest Amish settlement in America, you can peek into a less complicated world. Take a walking tour of the historic downtown ($10 for adults, $8 for seniors 60+, $1 for children age 5-18) or explore the backroads via horse-drawn buggy ($18+ for adults and $12+ for children up to age 12).
Once you’ve learned about the Amish, there’s still plenty to do in Lancaster, including shopping and dining. Visit downtown’s 300 block of North Queen Street for an array of antique shops and gift boutiques. Alternatively, drive 10 minutes to the Rockvale Outlets and Tanger Outlets for brand name bargains.
Photo courtesy of Discover Lancaster
You can also fill the afternoon with culinary exploration. The city is home to the Miesse Chocolate Factory, where chocolate has been hand crafted since 1875. It’s imperative to schedule a lunchtime visit to Central Market, one of the country’s oldest farmers market. Open since 1730, the historic brick building houses more than 60 food and craft stalls. Or experience an Amish family-style restaurant such as Shady Maple Smorgasbord ($) or the Plain & Fancy Farm ($), where platters of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and Shoofly pie (made of molasses) are passed around the table.
NEA member travel benefits: Fly into Philadelphia International Airport (PHI), about an hours’ drive away, by searching for airline tickets through NEA Travel: Airfare. Then, look for hotel deals like rooms at the charming Country Inn of Lancaster for an average of $138/night. There is an indoor and outdoor pool, plus breakfast and WiFi are included in the price. For a boutique hotel, check out Lancaster Arts Hotel, which for an average of $148/night features a unique design highlighting work by local artists, and there is complimentary breakfast and WiFi, plus a fitness center.
2. Saratoga Springs, New York
Natural mineral springs put Saratoga Springs on the map. Horse racing made it even more popular. And now the culinary scene is exploding. Downtown is where you want to base your getaway as it’s close to dining, shopping and nightlife. During the day, explore boutiques, bookstores and cafes. At night, restaurants and theaters bring life to Lake Avenue, Broadway and surrounding streets.
Arts and culture abound, with the National Museum of Racing ($20), the Saratoga Springs History Museum ($10) and the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery ($5 suggested donation)—all within a few minutes’ drive.
To partake in the healing mineral waters, book a treatment at the historic Roosevelt Baths & Spa, inside the famous Saratoga Spa State Park. There, you and your crew can indulge in a private soak in Saratoga's naturally effervescent mineral water and enjoy various massage treatments ($40+).
The horse-racing season is only 40-days long, and falls during summer. Since 1863, the Saratoga Race Course (ticket prices vary) has welcomed spectators to the Whitney Stakes and Travers Stakes. There’s also harness racing at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, where there is a four-star hotel and spa with a casino and dance club if you and your pals want some nightlife action.
NEA member travel benefits: The nearest major airport is Albany International Airport (ALB) and it’s about a 30-minute drive away. You’ll find great prices on flights through NEA Travel: Airfare. Click on the hotels page to see deals like an average of $170 per night at the entertainment filled Saratoga Casino Hotel, which has a casino, nightclub, and indoor pool. For something quieter, try the Inn at Saratoga, which is inside an 1843 Victorian house complete with a large front porch, working fireplaces and a lovely parlor room. It averages $148 per night.
3. Calistoga, California
Photo courtesy of VisitCalistoga.com
Calistoga is known for its wineries, but there are many more reasons to visit this walkable city in northern Napa Valley. There are fantastic restaurants, spas and natural wonders—all in a quieter, more laid-back destination than Napa or St. Helena. You don’t even have to dress up for dinner.
A perfect day includes strolling historic Lincoln Avenue to find casual eateries, boutiques, art galleries and bookstores, not to mention dozens of spas and salons thanks to the mineral-rich waters in the area. Must-try treatments: a mud bath and a dip in a hot spring that bubbles up from an underground geothermal aquifer.
The weather is nearly always as lovely as the landscape, so there are plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors. Visit the Old Faithful Geyser of California ($15) or the Petrified Forest ($12). Other popular options are canoeing the Russian River and playing golf. (Prices for those diversions vary depending on the time of year you visit and which vendor you select.)
NEA members travel benefits: Book your flight to Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport (STS), Oakland International Airport (OAK) or San Francisco International Airport (SFO) via NEA Travel: Airfare. Next, check for hotel deals to stay at accommodations with prices like an average of $237/night at UpValley Inn & Hot Springs, Ascend Hotel Collection, which has its own geothermal mineral water swimming pool, whirlpool, sauna and steam room. For a larger pool, mud baths and separate spa, the cute Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort also has its own restaurant and design-forward rooms with fun touches like a beauty product mini bar. It averages $344/night.
Madison is a diverse hub of culture that’s known as the home of the University of Wisconsin. Visitors spend time exploring parks and trails, lakes and all the shops and restaurants that have popped up to serve this capital city. In fact, its capitol building was modeled after the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and it’s open daily for free tours. That’s a good place to begin your day. After learning about the seat of government, walk to nearby State Street’s pedestrian mall, with shops specializing in everything from stationery to soap.
Photo courtesy of TravelWisconsin.com
The other anchor of Capitol Square is the University of Wisconsin-Madison Campus. You’ll also find the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (free) and the Overture Center for the Arts, with its free art gallery and busy schedule of shows and concerts.
Foodies flock to Madison for all things dairy, especially cheese and ice cream. Food tours—on foot or by bike—are a popular way to spend an afternoon. The renowned Dane County Farmers’ Market is a seasonal treat. Spas and live music round out a weekend well-spent.
NEA member travel benefits: Through the NEA Travel Program, you can search for deals on flights to Dane County Regional Airport (MSN) or Milwaukee International Airport (MKE), which is about 1.5 hours away. Look for affordable lodging options such as Hyatt Place Madison Verona for an average of $157 a night. It has a modern design, a fitness center and indoor pool and a courtyard with firepits, plus breakfast and WiFi are free. For an average of $92 a night, Tru by Hilton Madison West, WI, has a brightly colored lobby offering free breakfast and minimalist rooms. To be more central, check out Comfort Inn Madison – Downtown, which is an average of $91 a night for basic rooms, plus a gym and indoor pool.
Fredericksburg has a lot of character packed into a small Texas Hill Country town. Its German heritage is embraced by the shops and restaurants you’ll discover on Main Street, as well as annual events such as Oktoberfest ($10). You’ll also learn that part of the city’s history is at President Lyndon Johnson’s former country home—now an historic site open to the public (admission is free).
Photo courtesy of Blake Mistich/Fredericksburg CVB
It’s also a favorite destination for serious shoppers. Best bets include strolling part of the historic 3.5 miles of Main Street, lined with specialty shops (cowboy hats and boots make for great souvenirs), antiques and thrift stores, and art galleries. Spend time relaxing at a day spa with a facial or reflexology treatment and then treat yourself to a dinner of Tex-Mex, barbecue or bratwurst. There are also plenty of wineries and wine tasting rooms to check out because Fredericksburg is the heart of Texas wine country.
The way to stay is in a guest house, inn or B&B where your group can take over. There are hundreds, both in town and out in the country, and your choices vary: Bavarian inn, Texas roadhouse, cabin, cottage or carriage house.
NEA members travel benefits: Book your flight into either San Antonio International Airport (SAT) or Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) via NEA Travel: Airfare, and then it’s about an hour drive to Fredericksburg from either airport. For lodging, book through NEA Travel: Hotels for prices like an average of $133/night for a room at the cozy Fredericksburg Inn & Suites, which is just a block from Main Street and features modern décor punctuated by local art, plus a heated pool with a rock hot tub outside. To pay even less, check out Wine Country Inn, which averages just $65/night for basic accommodations 4 miles from downtown.