Desperately wanting to get out of Dodge this summer—even if for a long weekend—but wallet worries bogging you down? We’ve compiled 15 fun escapes for every budget and style—from beach weekends in our own backyard to outdoorsy adventures within a five-hour drive to a cool visit to Portland, Maine, and all points in between. And while travel is never cheap, this year it’s all about special discounts and value-added options. We’re listing prices where we can, but word is, this is a good time to make offers on just about any part of travel, from vacation rentals down to souvenirs. So cheer up and pack your bags. The ideas start now....
Chilling out on the Edge of America
It’s the surfers’ beach, the more laid-back beach, and probably the most anything-goes island in South Carolina—and it’s just a 15- to 20-minute drive from downtown (if the Wappoo Bridge doesn’t open and the beach traffic isn’t snarling). Besides the six miles of beachfront, the island’s backstreets are low-traffic and perfect for long walks, running, or cycling. One of the best beach hikes to be found around Charleston is on the northeastern tip of Folly. To get there, drive past the Washout and the houses beyond it and park where East Ashley Avenue ends at the northern tip of the island, then walk a half-mile or so in soft sand to the shore. This is a great place for sunset photography and the best vantage point (from land) for a view of the 133-year-old Morris Island Lighthouse. If you’re renting a beach house or condo with a kitchen, stop at Backman’s or Crosby’s on the drive in for fresh shrimp, fish, or crabs to drop in the pot or put on the grill. Don’t feel like cooking? There’s Lost Dog Café, the Surf Bar, and Taco Boy on or just off Folly’s main drag, and Bowen’s Island for seafood is just up the causeway.
Dunes Properties has discounted its island rentals by 15 percent (May 30-August 15). 31 Center St., Folly Beach, (843) 588-3800, www.dunesproperties.com. The renovated Holiday Inn has a rewards promotion: buy two nights get a third free (limited dates apply). 1 Center St., Folly Beach, (843) 588-6464, www.follybeachhotel.net.
— Sandy Lang
Resorting to relaxation at Wild Dunes
On summertime evenings at Wild Dunes, the beach music plays and shag lessons are given just over the sand dunes from the shore. At this close-to-home escape on the Isle of Palms, overnight guests can enjoy the resort’s tennis courts, golf courses, pools, and miles of refurbished coastline. (This summer, the prized 18th hole of the Links course reopens in all its oceanfront glory.) Fat-tired beach bikes can be more common than cars in Wild Dunes and rent for just $8 per day. And the kids are more than welcome: there are nature-adventure camps and free outdoor family movie nights every Thursday. Situated at the northern end of the island, Wild Dunes can also be an easy jumping off point for excursions by boat and saltwater kayak to undeveloped Capers Island and the creeks of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Guided tours can be arranged by Barrier Island Eco-Tours (www.nature-tours.com) or with Nature Adventures Outfitters (www.nature-adventuresoutfitters.com).
Summer rental rates for villas, homes, and rooms at the Boardwalk Inn and the new Village suites are discounted 20 to 40 percent through September 3. There’s also a $100 dining credit for the restaurants if booked 30 days in advance. 5757 Palm Blvd., Isle of Palms, (888) 778-1876, www.wilddunes.com.
Barrier Island Eco-Tours, Isle of Palms Marina, 50 41st Ave., Isle of Palms, (843) 886-5000, www.nature-tours.com.
Nature Adventures Outfitters, (800) 673-0679, (843) 568-3222, www.natureadventuresoutfitters.com.
— Sandy Lang
A taste of wine country in the Upstate
When you look out over the vineyard with Table Rock rising up just beyond, an amazing thing happens: You almost feel as if you’re in California wine country, or even the rolling European countryside. But really, you’re in Upstate South Carolina. We visited Victoria Valley Vineyards near Pickens a couple of times last year, and I was particularly struck with that feeling during a Saturday night wine dinner, when the tables were set near the oak wine barrels and the cellar doors were opened for a view of the vineyard rows as the sun fell behind the mountains. Begun in 1999 by the Jayne family, Victoria Valley produced its first vintage in 2004. Visitors to the winery can lunch and sip wine on the patio or sit at the round bar for a tasting of merlot, viogner, syrah, chardonnay, and more. And once in the neighborhood, you can cruise along the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway (SC Hwy. 11) for a while and check out the hiking, mountain lakes and streams, and other natural wonders at the nearby state parks at Table Rock and Caesars Head.
Victoria Valley Vineyards’ winery tour and tasting, $6 (includes glass). Bottles of wine, $9 and up. 1300 South Saluda Rd., Cleveland, SC, (877) 612-WINE, (864) 878-5307, www.victoriavalley-vineyards.com.
Reserve a nearby campsite or cabin, www.southcarolinaparks.com, or make a day trip of it from downtown Greenville, www.greenvillecvb.com.
— Sandy Lang
Soaking up nature on the world’s longest free-flowing blackwater river
For an overnight adventure à la Swiss Family Robinson, head north on Highway 61 until you hit Canadys. There, set on the edge of a 150-acre refuge, two rustic tree houses perch above the shoreline of the ever-winding Edisto River. The camouflaged cabins are tucked into a wild woodland, hidden year-round by cypress, holly, and a host of evergreens. Carolina Heritage Outfitters equips outdoor enthusiasts with canoes, paddles, life jackets, and a quick lesson in safety then shuttles them to the put-in and sends them downriver for the drift and paddle toward their lodgings. While the moving water keeps bugs to a minimum, be sure to bring bug spray, adequate sunscreen, and plenty of hydrating drinks. After gliding over a 12-mile stretch of the world’s longest free-flowing blackwater river, just past a standout sign reading “Up Da Creek,” pull directly up to the steps of your riverfront hideaway. Each tree house (the smaller sleeps two to four and the larger four to eight) has a water-level dining platform surrounded by citronella tiki torches and furnished with a gas grill and picnic table. An upstairs porch with rocking chairs and a screened den outfitted with futons, a mini kitchen, and a sleeping loft round out the accommodations. Take a dusk dip in the gurgling creek, then enjoy the stockpile of board games, flutes, and books by oil lamplight while frogs and owls serenade through the night. In the morning, pack back into the canoes for the final leg, a 10-mile downriver paddle to the outpost.
For $125 per person per night, Carolina Heritage Outfitters provides adventurers with canoes and gear, a ride to the landing, a safety lesson, and tree-house accommodations. July and August are typically slower months, while spring and fall tend to be prime time. Hwy. 15, Canadys, SC, (843) 563-5051, www.canoesc.com.
— Melissa Bigner
Star treatment at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff Resort
Looking for a four-star getaway on a less than celebrity-status budget? Well, you’re in luck. The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, the Lowcountry’s own Auberge Resort is offering a couple of stellar deals through September. Golfers will love the “Carolina Calling” package—two nights in a well-appointed lagoon-view cottage (read luxury linens, screened porch, fireplace, steam shower, and soaking tub) plus one round for two at the May River Golf Course, an 18-hole, 72-par, Jack Nicklaus signature course—at more than one-third off the regular price. Want to bring the whole family? The “Spring Fling” gets your brood in a Lowcountry Historical Cottage for three nights for the price of two.
“Carolina Calling”: two nights plus golf for two for $495 per night; two-night minimum (Sunday-Thursday only). “Spring Fling”: Buy two nights in a Lowcountry Historical Cottage and get one night free. Both packages through September 30.The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, 476 Mt. Pelia Rd., Bluffton, SC, (866) 706-6565, www.palmettobluffresort.com.
— Darcy Shankland
New adventures in the Lowcountry
Famous for its tennis courts and oceanside golf courses, Hilton Head Island can be more well-rounded (think history, culture, and outdoor adventures) if you know where to look. Spend two hours with Gullah Heritage Tours (www.gullaheritage.com) as guides from a fourth-generation Sea Island family drive the island, explaining how development displaced much African American and Gullah history and culture, including “praise houses” and oyster factories. However, historic sites can still be seen on the north end of the island near historic Mitchelville and Fort Howell—the first freedman village in the United States and the Civil War-era fort built to protect it.
Nature lovers can ride on horseback through the 600-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve, with ponies available for the youngest guests (www.lawtonstableshhi.com). And for a free natural wonder, wading birds often blanket rookery sites. In some spots, hundreds of roosting herons and egrets can be seen on a single tree or marsh island of the 4,000-acre Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, located between the bridges to Hilton Head. Guided outings to see birds, dolphins, and other wildlife are available with Outside Hilton Head (www.outsidehiltonhead.com) and the Coastal Discovery Museum (www.coastaldiscovery.org). Hungry yet? There’s Harold’s Diner for huge hamburgers, Hinoki for excellent sushi, and Old Fort Pub for the best view.
Sea Turtle Getaways has some weekly rentals listed at $50 to $650 less than 2008 rates, (866) 386-6644, (843) 842-6000, www.seaturtlegetaways.com.
Family-friendly Sea Pines Resort is offering 15 percent discounts off weekly rates, 32 Greenwood Dr., Hilton Head, SC, (866) 561-8802, www.seapines.com.
Coastal Discovery Museum, 70 Honey Horn Dr., Hilton Head, SC, (843) 689-6767, www.coastaldiscovery.org
Gullah Heritage Tours, (843) 681-7066, www.gullheritage.com
Lawton Stables, 190 Greenwood Dr., Hilton Head, SC, (843) 671-2586, www.lawtonstableshhi.com
Outside Hilton Head, The Plaza at Shelter Cove, 32-C Shelter Cove Ln., Hilton Head, SC, (800) 686-6996, www.outsidehiltonhead.com
— Sandy Lang
Get your groove on at the 12th annual AthFest
Music seems to spring up here as naturally as kudzu, and in this 12th year of the AthFest music festival, more than 175 bands and artists will perform for free, including The Black Lips and Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood. The city’s own Dreams So Real—three guys who hit fame in the 1980s and early ’90s—will close the festival, playing together for the first time in a decade. With the main stage in front of the legendary 40 Watt Club, AthFest also includes children’s events, a club crawl, and an artists’ market.
Held June 25-28 in downtown Athens, shows on the three outdoor stages at AthFest are free, and discount lodging packages are available. AthFest main stage: 40 Watt Club, 285 W. Washington St., Athens, GA. (706) 548-1973,
— Sandy Lang
A blend of simple pleasures and city life
Part fishing village, part Key West in architecture and music, and part Folly-style beach town, Amelia Island is an easy dip into Florida. On a recent couple of days there, we stayed at the very comfortable Elizabeth Pointe Lodge in an oceanfront room just behind the dune line. The inn’s long porch with plenty of rocking chairs is where guests drink coffee in the morning and watch the ocean or gather for afternoon social hours. From there, it’s an easy bicycle ride along the maritime forest of Fort Clinch State Park to the colonial-era city of Fernandina Beach. The town is a waterfront hub, home to fishing boats, yachts of all sorts, and ferries to Cumberland Island, Georgia. Since the city was once a Spanish stronghold, we decided to try España Restaurant on 4th Street and had some delicious buquerones (marinated anchovies) and hot seafood paella with white beans and sausage. The Key West look and feel particularly shines at places like the circa-1857 Florida House Inn and downtown bars like The Palace Saloon that feature nightly live music.
The Elizabeth Pointe Lodge’s three-night “Park and Pedal” package includes daily buffet breakfast, picnic lunches for two, and bike rentals to get around the 13-mile island, starting at $784. 98 South Fletcher Ave., Amelia Island, FL,
(800) 772-3359, www.elizabethpointelodge.com
— Sandy Lang
Floating away in White Springs, Florida
In the late 1800s, riverboats brought tourists to Florida—not for beach strolls and sunbathing, but to float in the deep, clear mineral springs. (The sulfur was thought to have healing qualities.) That was the heydey of White Springs, a town on the banks of the Suwannee River that still has a quaint historic district, one remaining turn-of-the-century hotel, and a population of less than 1,000. (Last summer, we drove through and stopped at the old Telford Hotel [www.telfordhotel.net]. It was lunchtime, and a large crowd in the dining room queued up in the buffet line for homemade fried chicken, mac ’n’ cheese, and banana pudding.) There are hundreds of springs in northern Florida, many in state parks. Also a prime paddling destination, White Springs is home to the state’s Nature & Heritage Tourism Center (www.floridastateparks.org) and is central to river trails and parks, including Big Shoals State Park, Florida’s only Class III whitewater rapids.
American Canoe Adventures is offering a couples package (a two-night stay at a White Springs inn and a half-day canoe trip on the Suwannee River), 10610 Bridge St., White Springs, FL, (386) 397-1309, www.aca1.com.
Nature & Heritage Tourism Center, Florida Division of Recreation and Parks, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., Tallahassee, FL, (850) 245-2157, www.floridastateparks.org
Telford Hotel, 16521 River St., White Springs, FL, (386) 397-2000, www.telfordhotel.net
— Sandy Lang
Get a mountain fix in Western North Carolina
If you’re dreaming of higher elevations where tree branches and slate-colored mountains hover coolly overhead, then make your way to Saluda in Polk County. The town’s mix of old-timey hardware stores and trendy gift shops centered along a railway track (famed for its steep grade) attracts crowds like a mountain magnet. When we were last there, banners were still up from the annual Coon Dog Day, a midsummer festival known to draw thousands of people and pups. (The 46th annual is to be held this year on July 11.) The Purple Onion fills at dinner time, and for breakfast and lunch, the place to be is one of the stools at the linoleum-and-chrome counter of Ward’s Market & Grill, watching the cook flip burgers, melts, and BLTs on the flattop. At night, there’s often live folk or bluegrass music played downtown at the Purple Onion or the Front Porch Coffee Bar. For the outdoor adventure set, kayak outfitter and guide Green River Adventures is just outside of town and worth seeing for the showroom’s mod central fireplace, apple-green lounge chairs, and cow pelts on the floor.
Green River Adventures’ guided inflatable kayak trips on the Green River start at $45 and $35 for kids. 1734 Holbert Cove Rd., Saluda, NC, (800) 335-1530, www.greenriveradventures.com.
Guests at the Orchard Inn can book Green River trips at a 10 percent discount.
100 Orchard Inn Ln. (Hwy 176), Saluda, NC, (800) 581-3800, www.orchardinn.com
— Sandy Lang
Glide along the North Carolina coast
Along the remote Outer Banks of North Carolina, there are dunes as tall as mountains where visitors ride hang gliders on ocean breezes. (Okay, they’re not really mountain-sized, but the 80-foot dunes look like mountains when they rise right up from sea level.) Getting there to watch or glide involves plenty of bridges and a ferry ride or two, and that’s part of the adventure. (Cyclists take note: Once you’re on the Outer Banks, this could be a great leg of the trip to pedal.) Interesting stops include the lighthouses at Cape Hatteras, Bodie Island Light Station, and Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corrolla; the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island; and any of the ice cream shops and seafood restaurants along the way. From Charleston, start by driving up Highway 17 about three hours past Wilmington to catch a ferry at Cedar Key. There, the basic but clean Driftwood Motel is right at the ferry landing and has a seafood restaurant called the Pirate’s Chest that offers a $7 shrimp cocktail, prime rib specials, and homemade desserts like lemon meringue pie (www.clis.com/deg.)
The Cedar Island Ferry ride is $15 per car or $3 per bike. 3619 Cedar Island Rd., Cedar Island, NC, (800) 293-3779, www.ncdot.org/transit/ferry.
$99 for a three-hour hang-gliding lesson at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Carolista Dr., Nags Head, NC, (252) 441-2426, www.kittyhawkkites.com.
Lodging at Lighthouse View in Cape Hatteras starts at $109. 46677 Hwy 12, Buxton, NC, (800) 225-7651, www.lighthouseview.com.
Driftwood Motel & Pirate’s Chest restaurant: 3575 Cedar Island Rd., Cedar Island, NC, (252) 225-4861
— Sandy Lang
Chasing waterfalls in Oconee County
There are countless waterfalls in the Blue Ridge foothills, many with legends of maidens jumping over them in times of love and war. My favorite is Issaqueena Falls on Highway 28 between Walhalla and Mountain Rest: she spills over mossy ledges for at least 150 feet. A short walk from the same parking lot is another must-see, a would-be rail tunnel that was blasted hundreds of yards into a mountain of solid granite in the 1850s but never completed. You’ll need a flashlight to get very far into the cool, dark Stumphouse Tunnel. About halfway in is a ventilating shaft through which light and mountain mist pour in from above. It’s worthwhile to go in at least that far and to think about how perfect the conditions are for making blue cheese, as Clemson University did for years. (More information about the park, falls, and Oconee County can be found at www.oconeecountry.com/stump-house.html.) To see even more waterfalls, head to Lake Jocassee and line up a pontoon boat tour or hike. We’ve camped at Devils Fork State Park, with its 644 acres on the south shore of Lake Jocassee. Or rent one of the modern lakeside villas.
Waterfall-watching is free, and so are the Saturday night bluegrass jam sessions at Cuzzins’ General Store on Hwy. 28 near S.C. 107 in Mountain Rest. Devils Fork villa rates range from $88 to $172 per night for weekly rentals, www.southcarolinaparks.com.
— Sandy Lang
Family time in Western North Carolina
Come summer, Charlestonians typically migrate to cool WNC. Craving your own family-friendly mountain escape with plenty of activities but don’t know where to start? Bear Lake Reserve, a 2,100-acre development near Cashiers, rents out select properties that include access to Bear Lake’s beaches and watersports; the Lake Club with its restaurant, pools, and fitness club; miles of nature trails and a park complete with a teepee; and a nine-hole golf course high atop the ridge. Go to the club for dinner and meet friendly second-homers from Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. Or dine in—they’ll even stock the fridge for you (for a surcharge, of course). During the day, keep the kids busy with Cubs and Adventure camps, canoe races, and crafts workshops. In the evening, the whole family can enjoy organized games, cookouts by the pool, and special summer concerts. Or head into town for shopping and dining: quaint Sylva—we loved the funky atmosphere and delicious brunch at Spring Street Café—is only a half-hour drive in one direction; Cashiers 40 minutes in the other. —D.S.
Bear Lake Reserve is offering a 20 percent discount off their weekly condo and cottage rental rates, which range from $1,750 to $2,225. Boat rentals range from $110-$185; nine holes of golf, including cart, runs $35. 412 Lake Forest Dr., Tuckasegee, NC, 866-509-2327, 828-293-3455, www.bearlakereservevacations.com.
— Darcy Shankland
Refreshment in Portland, Maine
From steamy July to September, when most Charlestonians are seeking air conditioning, vacationers in Maine often pull on light sweaters and cotton blankets at night. Rocky coastline views, hiking, and fresh food—from seafood to blueberries—are also a draw. Cosmopolitan Portland, set on a peninsula in Casco Bay, is a terrific gateway city to the state. It’s a foodie town, and Local 188, Evangeline, Fore Street, and Duckfat are popular dinner spots, along with Becky’s Diner in the morning, when you might have to wait in line for a fried egg or the oversize muffins that they halve and toast on the grill. You can tour the Shipyard Brewery (free hourly tours daily, www.shipyard.com) or go on a cruise of Casco Bay with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company to see puffins, whales, seals, and seabirds (www.barharborwhales.com). The grounds of the Portland Head Light, with a tower built in 1865, are free to visit from dawn to dusk (www.portlandheadlight.com). And the Portland Museum of Art, with an outstanding collection of American and European works, mounts a special exhibit of the black-and-white portraits of 18th-century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron in July (www.portlandmuseum.org).
5-hour 1-stop flights on
US Airways & Delta
The Eastland Park Hotel offers a weekday “Maine Escape” package for $149/night, 157 High St., Portland, ME, (888) 671-8008, www.eastlandparkhotel.com.
House rentals on Peaks Island start at about $900/week, 20 Island Ave., Peaks Island, ME, (207) 766-4406, www.peaksisland.com.
Look for great values through Travelocity’s “Last Minute Packages.”
Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company: 1 West St., Bar Harbor, ME, (888) WHALES-4, www.barharborwhales.com
Portland Head Light: 1000 Shore Rd. (in Fort Williams Park), Cape Elizabeth, ME, (207) 799-2661, www.portlandheadlight.com
Portland Museum of Art: 7 Congress Sq., Portland, ME, (207) 775-6148, www.portlandmuseum.org
Shipyard Brewery: 86 Newbury St., Portland, ME, (800) BREW-ALE, www.shipyard.com.
— Sandy Lang
Big-city culture at a great price
In June and July, it’s Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and in August, Euripides’ The Bacchae with music by Phillip Glass. That’s the lineup for Shakespeare in the Park, when summer turns Central Park into the center of New York life (www.publictheater.org). Museums and galleries are also cool, low-cost (or free) retreats from the heat. For indoor dining, there’s the iconic Oyster Bar downstairs at Grand Central Station, where men in white aprons shuck the oysters and clams on ice, selling singles from about $1.50 each. Or follow the hallway from the lobby of the otherwise swank Le Parker Meridien to the near-hidden Burger Joint for $7 burgers and $5 milk shakes. For a break from Manhattan, take the N train to Astoria, Queens, and walk a few blocks to the shady garden walls of the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden (www.bohemianhall.com), with its European brews on tap.
2-4 hours for direct flight & transport
Summer flights to NYC begin at about $215, and many hotels have discounts of 30 percent or more. The MoMA and other galleries offer free admission after 4 or 5 p.m. on Fridays, and admission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is by donation.
Burger Joint: 118 W 57th St., New York, NY, (212) 245-5000
Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St., New York, NY, (212) 535-7710, www.metmuseum.org
Museum of Modern Art: 11 West 53 Street New York, NY 10019 (212) 708-9400, www.moma.org
Oyster Bar & Restaurant: Grand Central Terminal, Lower Level, (212) 490-6650, www.oysterbarny.com
The Public Theater: 425 Lafayette St., NYC, NY, (212) 539-8500, www.publictheater.org
— Sandy Lang