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.
Head to a small city and you’ll find plenty of diversions—from art museums to shopping centers to spas—but you won’t have to fight crowds or pay an arm and a leg for a hotel. Read on for five fantastic destinations for girlfriend getaways.
1. Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Make a plan to visit Lancaster in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Home of the oldest Amish settlement in America, you can peek into a less complicated world that focuses on the community’s religious beliefs and agrarian lifestyle. Take a walking tour of the historic downtown ($8 for adults, $7 for seniors 60+, $6 for students 18–21) or explore the backroads via horse-drawn buggy ($10+).
Once you’ve learned more about the Amish, there’s still plenty to do in Lancaster, including shopping. Visit downtown’s 300 block of North Queen Street for array of antique shops and gift boutiques. Alternatively, drive 10 minutes to the Rockvale Outlets and Tanger Outlets.
Photo courtesy of Discover Lancaster
You can also fill the afternoon with culinary exploration. The city is home to the Miesse Chocolate Factory, where chocolate has been hand crafted since 1875. It’s imperative to schedule a lunchtime visit to Central Market, one of the country’s oldest farmers market. Open since 1730, the historic brick building houses more than 60 food and craft stalls. Or experience an Amish family-style restaurant such as Good ‘N Plenty ($) or the Plain & Fancy Farm ($), where platters of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and Shoofly pie (made of molasses) are passed around the table.
Driving distances: 1 hour 35 minutes from Baltimore, Maryland | 1 hour 45 minutes from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 2 hours 15 minutes from Washington, D.C. | 2 hours 50 minutes from New York City, New York
2. Saratoga Springs, New York
Natural mineral springs put Saratoga Springs on the map. Horse racing made it even more popular. 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 Dance ($6.50), the National Museum of Racing ($10), the Saratoga History Museum ($7) and the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery ($5)—all within a few minutes’ drive.
The horse-racing season is only 40-days long, but luckily 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 a four-star hotel and spa recently opened with a casino and dance club.
For a special evening, catch a concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (ticket prices vary), or book a sunset cruise ($25) on Saratoga Lake.
Driving distances: 40 minutes from Albany, New York | 2 hours 20 minutes from Hartford, Connecticut | 3 hours 15 minutes from New York City, New York | 3 hours 15 minutes from Boston, Massachusetts
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. 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 horseback riding, 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.)
Driving distances: 1 hour 35 minutes from San Francisco, California | 1 hour 45 minutes from Sacramento, California | 2 hours from San Jose, California | 3 hours 40 minutes from Reno, Nevada
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.
Driving distances: 1 hour 20 minutes from Milwaukee, Wisconsin | 2 hours 25 minutes from Green Bay, Wisconsin | 2 hours 40 minutes from Chicago, Illinois | 4 hours from Minneapolis, Minnesota
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 ($8). 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.
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.
Driving distances: 1 hour 30 minutes from Austin, Texas | 3 hours from Waco, Texas | 4 hours from Houston, Texas | 4 hours 15 minutes from Dallas, Texas