Whether you yearn for a secluded seaside retreat or crave a big city scene, these 10 quick getaways provide the perfect mini escape. All are in New England, less than a tank of gas away, so none require a lot of time or money. Go ahead, pack your bag—a great weekend awaits.
Photo by Nat Rea
Distance from Providence: 89 miles
Travel time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Hugging the bayside shore of the Lower Cape, Brewster is an old sea captain’s town, known for its mile of low-tide flats, stately captains’ houses, antiques shops and the 1852 general store that’s still a community hub. Thousands of protected acres at Nickerson State Park and Punkhorn Parklands offer a serene counterpoint to the Outer Cape’s majestic national seashore. The town bursts into action for May’s Brewster in Bloom daffodil festival and for summer art fairs and Sunday night band concerts in Drummer Boy Park, but it’s a place suited to quiet types—architecture buffs who favor storied inns, beachcombers who’d rather search the tide pools than catch an ocean wave. Maybe for that reason, Brewster has never clamored for the limelight. Quiet types always know just how to draw you in.
Tasting the “sea pickles” on the spectacular marsh flats at the Museum of Natural History is a Cape Cod rite of passage. Rite number two: rooting for the herring as they leap the ladders by the Stony Brook Grist Mill. If the ﬁsh aren’t running, all the more time to hit the Rail Trail for a bike ride, or play eighteen holes “Port” or “Starboard” at the excellent Captains Golf Course. Just be sure to save some energy for low-tide sunset: A stroll on the rippled Brewster flats, which stretch from Crosby Landing to Paine’s Creek Beach, is better than any foot massage. Later, you can sneak off into the woods for a show at Cape Rep Theatre or catch the famous Cape Cod Baseball League in action at Stony Brook Elementary—your home team for the weekend is the Brewster Whitecaps.
Begin with dessert. Heather Baxter’s homemade mufﬁns at Hopkins House Bakery (2727 Main Street) are as good as the Thanksgiving pies locals wait all year for. Bikers can get lunch right along the Rail Trail: The simple, fresh fare at El Guapo’s Taqueria is a nice break from seafood. (If you’re stubborn, they make a great ﬁsh taco.) There are several good options along Main Street, as well—the Brewster Inn and Chowder House (1993 Main Street) is a longtime favorite; its out-back Woodshed also features live music for late-night drinks. Come dinnertime, sea-foodies can’t get enough of the Brewster Fish House (2208 Main Street) for sampling the day’s haul from local ﬁshermen. Something of a best-kept secret, Peddler’s Bistro serves French cuisine in a homey setting.
Historic Main Street (a.k.a. Old King’s Highway or Route 6A, depending on which stretch you’re on) is the quintessential antiquing spot. Spyglass Antiques (2257 Main Street) features nautical rarities and antique marine instruments, while the eclectic collection of “antique and unusual plant containers” at McLoud House (2095 Main Street) will delight even nongardeners. Craft shops, pottery studios and art galleries entice throughout town. Two you shouldn’t miss are Sydenstricker Glass, home to a Cape-born style of glass-making distinctive for its intricate designs, and the very cool Underground Art Gallery, where artist Karen North Wells showcases her work in an earth-sheltered building designed by her husband, renowned “underground” architect Malcolm Wells. You cannot leave town without a visit to the Brewster Store, a bustling hub of coffee and donuts, souvenirs and gadgets, penny candy and ice cream, housed in a 156-year-old church-turned-general store.
If you dream of four-poster beds, original ﬁreplaces and the scent of freshly baked scones drifting through your wide pine floorboards, you’ll ﬁnd no shortage of ideal accommodations in town. The 1790 Candleberry Inn is one such charmer, with rooms priced from $145 to $199 a night during high season. The popular Brewster by the Seaupdates old-world style with modern luxuries like a heated outdoor swimming pool, starting at $165 in May and early June, $205 from mid-June to October. (Most inns have minimum stay requirements.) Non-B&B types can ﬁnd affordably upscale lodging at Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club, but a time-honored Brewster tradition is no lodging at all: Spread your sleeping bag on a campground at Nickerson State Park. —Nicole Maranhas
Distance from Providence: 128 miles
Travel time: 2 hours, 25 minutes
With its dramatic ocean views and miles of unspoiled beaches, Ogunquit’s natural beauty has been drawing summer visitors for hundreds of years. Back in the early twentieth century, fledgling artists flocked here for inspiration. Today, the port town’s laidback atmosphere (exponentially less stuffy than nearby Kennebunkport) and gay-friendly reputation attracts people from different walks of life who all share an appetite for summer’s simple pleasures.
Think of Marginal Way, a walking trail along the edge of the rugged Maine coastline, as the Maine equivalent of Newport’s Cliff Walk. The one-and-a-quarter-mile path starts at Perkins Cove, a scenic harbor ﬁlled with restaurants and shops, and ends at Ogunquit Beach. Once you arrive at the beach, take a long hiatus (walking here will also save you from the pricy fees associated with parking at the beach) before heading back in the opposite direction. You could easily ditch your other plans and spend the rest of the day here. The expanse of powdery white sand is the center of activity during the summer.
After basking in the beauty of the southern Maine coast, visit the Ogunquit Museum of American Art to see how it has served as a muse for artists. Open July through October, the—yes, waterfront—museum lays claim to about 1,600 works of ﬁne art. You’ll ﬁnd paintings by artists associated with the town’s famed artist colony (Charles Woodbury and Edward Betts), plus pieces from American heavyweights such as Edward Hopper, Childe Hassam and Roy Lichtenstein. The Ogunquit Playhouse is another favorite among culture seekers. Around since 1933, the summer stock theater stages at least ﬁve musicals each year. Look for A Chorus Line and Guys and Dolls this summer.
You can’t—and wouldn’t want to—make it out of Maine without stufﬁng yourself with ungodly amounts of lobster and blueberries. Venture downtown to try the latter in a square or mufﬁn at the popular Bread & Roses Bakery. Come lunch, head to one of the laidback seafood joints that dot Perkins Cove. A local favorite, The Lobster Shack (110 Perkins Cove Rd.) serves the venerated crustacean in countless ways, including whole and in stews and salads. Flo’s Hot Dogs in nearby Cape Neddick is another great no-frills lunch option. It’s open only a few hours a day (and owner Gail Stacy refuses to let you in if you’re a second late), but it’s worth battling the long lines to get a taste of her legendary dogs, served in steamed buns and topped with a hot sauce made using a closely guarded secret recipe. If you’re in the mood—and have the cash—for a special dining experience, try Arrows Restaurant, located in a romantic old farmhouse. Chef-owners Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier have garnered heaps of accolades for the restaurant’s top-notch service and creative, seasonally based menu. The duo take the DIY approach to the nth degree, foraging in the nearby woods for mushrooms, making their own cheese and charcuterie, and growing almost all of the restaurant’s produce in a garden located right on the property.
Touristy but fun, Perkins Cove is choc-a-block with gift shops and art galleries. Hit up The Christmas Dove, to get a head start on holiday shopping, then stop by Chris and Alex Davis’ Perkins Cove Pottery Shop. It stocks a great selection of handcrafted pots and other home accessories. Serious shoppers also won’t want to miss the Kittery Outlets, less than a half hour due south.
Sitting high atop Bald Head Cliff, The Cliff House Resort & Spa’s 194 rooms all boast decks and picture windows overlooking the rocky Atlantic. The luxury property’s other highlights include a ﬁtness center, spa (try the blueberry body wrap) and an ocean terrace dining area. For a more intimate feel, check out the Nellie Littlefield House, an 1889 Victorian located on central Shore Road. Each of the bed and breakfast’s ﬁve well-kept rooms have private baths, air conditioning and queen-size beds. —Jenna Pelletier
North Conway, New Hampshire
Distance from Providence: 193 miles
Travel time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
North Conway is the shining star in the constellation of villages that make up the eastern New Hampshire region known as Mount Washington Valley. Nestled amongst the peaks an hour and a half off of I-95—past deep woods lined with moose-crossing signs—the ski destination continues to draw nature-lovers even after the lifts shut down for the season. People come from all over New England to enjoy the playground-like atmosphere that only endless stretches of untouched nature can provide, but also to spend time wandering the stores, coffee shops and restaurants that line the main drag. Outside town the scenes are equally postcard-perfect: rickety covered bridges and mile-long stretches of nothingness interrupted only by state park turn-offs and the occasional bed and breakfast.
Winter activities here are endless, with some of New England’s best ski resorts just a short drive away. But when the snow melts, a new recreational season begins, giving visitors reason to return. Pack a picnic and head to Echo Lake State Park. While you’re there, drive or hike up to the top of Cathedral Ledge. Look down and count the climbers scaling the vertical rock face. If you’re feeling inspired, book a one-day intro class with the International Mountain Climbing School and learn the ropes—literally—of this harrowing sport. Go indoors at the Mount Washington Observatory Weather Discovery Center and discover why New England’s highest peak holds the title for the world’s worst weather—which includes a record-smashing 231-mile-per-hour wind gust recorded at the summit in 1934. To experience it yourself, hop on the Mount Washington Cog Railway. It’s a bumpy ninety-minute ride up the thin wooden tracks with panoramic views and equally breathtaking inclines.
All that fresh air gets the appetite up, and in North Conway you’ll have your pick of good meals. Head up one flight to the Stairway Café (2649 White Mountain Highway) and choose from savory offerings like homemade wild game sausage, huevos rancheros or the apple and cheddar omelet for a sustaining start. Just north of the village, Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewing Company is a favorite of locals—they’re the ones with the coveted white Moat beer club pints in hand—who gather round the bar to compare wilderness war stories. The restaurant’s seven ales and lagers are brewed on-site, the barbecue is smoked in back, and dinner for two costs less than a lift ticket. At The 1785 Inn choose from a Wine Enthusiast- awarded list of vintages and a menu that straddles the line between traditional and innovative with dishes like venison carpaccio and seared scallops with fennel and tarragon orange sauce.
The retail pool in North Conway is ﬁlled with gift and craft stores, many of them hawking similar goods. Luckily, for those for whom nature takes a backseat, there are still many reasons to pull out the plastic. Zeb’s General Store is an old-fashioned-style country store complete with wooden porch, penny candy and barreled pickles. Four Your Paws Only has a full range of pet supplies and food, but what really gets dogs begging are the homemade treats. Across the street, The Handcrafter’s Barn is an eighteenth-century red barn with a juried selection of wearable and decorative art by local designers. South of the village, you’ll ﬁnd Settlers’ Green Outlet Village, which draws shoppers looking to score deals at its sixty-plus chain stores including Banana Republic, Harry and David and Yankee Candle.
The Farm by the River Bed and Breakfast is one of many old-house-turned-lodging-style accommodations in and around the village. The inn shares its property with horse stables that offer sleigh rides and horseback riding. Rates range from $95 to $200. Centrally located in town, the Eastern Slope Inn resembles the majestic old New England resorts of decades past, and has a number of room options, and a Flatbread Company pizza restaurant and a coffee shop in its lobby. Rates range from $99 to $379. —Courtney Anderson
Distance from Providence: 50 miles
Travel time: 1 hour
Cambridge, Boston’s brainy brother across the Charles, is home to two of the nation’s top universities, Harvard and MIT. A decidedly academic air pervades, and with students come all the trappings—museums, theaters, shops, restaurants and, of course, bars—that make a city chic. For a small city (population just south of 100,000) it’s got an infectious international vibe (tweed blazers are no longer standard) and an undeniable independent spirit. Given the fact that some of the world’s top thinkers are gathered here, there’s always an underlying feeling that something big is about to happen; whether that’s a biotech startup, a new economic theory or an avant-garde art exhibit is anyone’s guess.
Reach out and touch the ivy on an Unofficial Tour of Harvard; the seventy-minute walkthroughs aren’t about wooing prospectives, so the student-guides can spill all the dirt and interesting trivia (who knew JFK edited the Harvard Crimson?). Brattle Street is like Beneﬁt Street on steroids. Nicknamed “Tory Row,” this stretch boasts dozens of gorgeous houses once occupied by wealthy families loyal to the crown. The Henry Wadsworth Longfellow House, which claims a past life as George Washington’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston, sits on Brattle.
Culture mavens won’t want to miss the three-in-one show “Re-View,” featuring works from Harvard’s three art museums, the Fogg, the Busch-Reisinger and the Arthur M. Sackler (held at the Sackler; artmuseums.harvard.edu). But do leave time for a matinee at the critically acclaimed American Repertory Theatre; in May David Mamet’s courtroom comedy Romance takes the stage. Got kids? They’ll love “The Glass Flowers” exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History; they (and you) won’t believe that the painstakingly intricate, to-scale flowers—some 3,000 in all, representing more than 800 species—aren’t real.
When it comes to food, Cambridge gets just as much ink as Boston in the national mags. Case in point: Craigie on Main, the new space opened by Food & Wine Best New Chef, and nose-to-tail cooking diehard Tony Maws. The bar menu alone—roasted organic bone marrow, or red wine-braised pigs’ tails—will push your palate. Diagonally across the street, Salts, run coincidentally by another Best New Chef, features a technically advanced, seasonally driven menu; sign up for the ﬁve-course tasting, available after 8 p.m. for $75 a head. If you’re this close to the self-described “geek-chic” watering hole Miracle of Science, there’s no reason not to pull up a lab stool and grab a pint. If down-home is more your vibe, year-old Hungry Mother gets raves from regulars for its rib-sticking, Southern-inspired plates like country ham and biscuits, and shrimp and grits.
It would be sacrilegious to visit Cambridge without hitting a bookstore, and the Harvard Book Store, independently run since 1932, is as good a place as any (in the country, in fact) to start; it’s got an unrivaled selection of academic tomes and bestsellers alike, a staff of bibliophiles and readings galore. Mixed in with all the chains—EMS, Gap and Urban Outﬁtters—are a steady supply of independents. At The Tannery you can get your Seven jeans and Velvet halter, but you can also bag adventurewear by the likes of Burton and Canada Goose. For your favorite girly girl Mint Julep stocks accessories and bags aplenty and labels like Nanette Lapore, Ben Sherman, and Anna Sui. Jude Silver works with more than 300 different artists to ﬁll her sister stores Motto and M.D.F. (17 and 19 Brattle St.); the emphasis at the former is limited-production jewelry, while the latter brims with unique gifts, housewares and accessories.
Gone are the cots; in their place: luxe linen-draped king-size beds. At the ﬁrehouse-turned-boutique-hotel, The Kendall, amenities are anything but rustic (there’s free wine in the Rooftop Retreat, a solarium with killer views of the city). But the property does pay homage to its past in fun ways—the hotel’s restaurant, the Black Sheep, is named in honor of the ﬁreﬁghters of Engine 7, who prided themselves on being Cambridge originals. Rooms run $200 to $500. If you prefer to be in the thick of things, sleep a hop from Harvard at The Charles Hotel. Recently renovated, this high-end hotel boasts forty-ﬁve suites, two restaurants, a bar, jazz club, library and a spa/gym. Rooms go from $199 to $499. —Lisa E. Harrison
New London, Connecticut
Distance from Providence: 59 miles
Travel time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Everyone has zipped through it heading for a night in the Big Apple or tonier Connecticut towns. But New London offers reason to brake: handsome architecture, a rich seafaring history and a wide selection of places to eat and drink, catch a play or cruise art. It’s all completely walkable, and transportation options include train service to the entire Eastern Seaboard and ferries to Block, Fisher and Long islands. A recent revitalization, including art installations in empty store windows and an influx of professional residents moving to converted condos downtown, is changing the face of this once-neglected New England port city.
When it’s warm, stroll Connecticut College Arboretum or hit the Ocean Beach Park boardwalk amusement rides, keeping an eye out for tall ships, submarines and Coastguardsmen-in-training. But when the coastal wind whips up, check out the Custom House Museum, the oldest continuously operating custom house in the country, which boasts displays on slavery and whaling and a tiny Federal Customs Ofﬁce where conﬁscated goods are displayed (turtle-skin purses! marijuana!). For historical immersion, check out the Hempsted Houses, where a seventeenth-century widower raised nine kids and kept daily diary entries for ﬁfty years. And with Nobel-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill a former resident, New London also retains a strong tradition of live drama. Find Broadway hits at the Garde Arts Center and home-grown Shakespeare amongst the larger-than-life Greek nymphs of the Hygienic Artist Co-Op’s Art Park.
Start the evening at Thames River Wine & Spirits, where a basement warehouse is now an impressive, and atmospheric, wine cellar. Buy a bottle, then slip it next door to sister business Brie & Bleu, where staff will pull the cork and pour it alongside a selection of the ﬁne cheese and charcuterie sold at this cafe/market. Next, stretch your legs along Bank Street to reach Dev’s on Bank with its ﬁreplaces, historic paneling and dishes that reflect the life of congenial host and New London native Candace Devendittis, who has lived in the Basque Country and Taiwan but returned home after the September 11 terror attacks. So did the former stockbroker owner of Hot Rod’s next door; now he serves up burgers and a dozen kinds of wings to the college students who help keep New London’s late-night scene lively. For a more sedate, and historic, burger, check out O’Neill’s favorite haunt, the Dutch Tavern.
The two main streets, Bank and State, intersect to form New London’s downtown shopping district, and it’s loaded with art galleries and unusual stores. Alva Gallery has upmarket clothing and jewelry, including striking twisted silver pieces by Rina Young. Or hang out with the geeks at one of the largest comic book stores in New England, Sarge’s Comics, and stock up on manga, vintage Star Wars ﬁgures and Betty Page T-shirts.
The Lighthouse Inn speaks to the city’s past; once the summer home of a steel magnate, it now enjoys Historic Hotel of America status and boasts gracious grounds, a private beach on Long Island Sound, a restaurant, tavern and ﬁreplaces. Rates range from $95 in May to $395 in August for one of the twenty-seven rooms in the main Victorian mansion or twenty-three rooms in the carriage house. Or try the Radisson Hotel for standard chain-hotel amenities such as a gym and prices that range from $95 to $160. —Pippa Jack