Aug 19 2013

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Last-minute Labor Day getaways

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Palm Springs

Palm Springs (Photo: iStockphoto)

It’s not too late to plan a long-weekend away this Labor Day. Make one last grab at summer with our mini trip ideas, now departing from major cities. Beach fun, water sports and burgeoning arts bastions are all within reach.


Door County, Wisconsin: 4 hours

Head about an hour and a half northeast of Green Bay to find out why heartlanders call Door County the Cape Cod of the Midwest. Set on a 75-mile long peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan, this cluster of harbor towns with their lighthouses and limestone bluffs put you within easy reach of sand, surf, forests and rivers. Visitors will have their pick of water sports, with fishing, swimming, kayaking and sailing topping many to-do lists. On land, take your pick from hiking, biking or just relaxing on the beach. To complete your classic Door County experience, be sure to check out a fish boil, where freshly caught Lake Michigan whitefish are boiled over an open fire, flames stoked into a dramatic towering inferno with the help of a little kerosene. After an active day of exploring, sleep easy at one of Door County’s many inns or lodges.

Saugatuck, Michigan: 2.15 hours

Gay friendly and family friendly, sport friendly and art friendly: This charming town on Lake Michigan’s east coast seems to have it all. One of the area’s greatest summer attractions is the Oval Beach, set among towering sand dunes and the Kalamazoo River. It’s often rated as one of the best in the nation for its clear water, soft sands and striking sunsets. Other options for sending summer off with a bang are boat charters, horseback riding and kayaking, and—unique to the area—riding the dunes in an open-top Jeep bus, riding the hand-cranked  “chain ferry,” and climbing the 302 steps up to Mt. Baldhead, which overlooks the lake. The town is a big hub for art galleries, too, which earned it the moniker the Art Coast of Michigan. Then, rest up from all your activities with a stay at one of Saugatuck’s hotels.


Hudson Valley, New York: 1.5 hours

If you like your art venues, boutiques and trendy restaurants with a side of natural beauty, the Hudson Valley, about 50 miles up the Hudson River, could be your quick ticket this Labor Day. After the opening of Dia:Beacon, the largest museum of contemporary art in the country, in 2003, other galleries have sprung up around the valley town of Beacon—affectionately known as the Brooklyn of the North—bringing with them all the trappings of a serious Bohemian enclave.  Set amid natural beauty that includes sandstone and granite cliffs, lush riverbanks and forested hills, Beacon beckons with quirky boutiques, craft breweries and serious restaurants, including the prestigious Culinary Institute of America’s new Bocuse Restaurant.  Also be sure to check out the enchanting Bannerman Castle, the ruins of a turn-of-the-century arsenal accessible via guided boat or kayak tour. Check Orbitz for hotels in the Hudson Valley area.

Atlantic City, New Jersey: 2 hours

It’s not Las Vegas, but does Vegas have a beach? We mean a real beach, not the one at Mandalay Bay. While you can still expect plenty of bachelor and bachelorette parties, plus slot-happy retirees, this gambling town on the Jersey Shore has increasingly become a destination for vacationing families. The world-famous boardwalk survived Hurricane Sandy almost unscathed and the crowds have since returned to indulge in stellar people-watching, shop for kitschy souvenirs, dine at the waterfront restaurants or entertain young ones with the Central Pier Arcade and Speedway’s arcade games, go-carts and paint ball. And did we mention there’s gambling? Tropicana, Caesar’s and Borgata are among the many casinos in town. Pick one and stay there for easy access to the tables, or check out some other Atlantic City hotel options.


Palm Springs, California: 2 hours

This desert-oasis resort town 100 miles from LA is undergoing a bit of a revival, thanks in part to the massive annual Coachella music festival that takes place in nearby Indio. For lovers of sleek mid-century architecture and design, the desert city entices with revitalized hotels such at the glamorous Parker and the hip Ace Hotel and Swim Club. Opt for a van tour of the city’s architectural gems, or rent a bike for a self-guided look at the former homes of celebrities such as Cary Grant, Liberace, Elvis and just about every Rat Packer. Along the way you’ll also see hundreds of notable mid-century gems designed by the likes of Albert Frey, Richard Neutra and Donald Wexler. If retro architecture’s not your thing, simply lounging by the hotel pool with a refreshing drink is a perfectly acceptable pastime, too.

Santa Barbara: 1.5 hours

Does your beach have dramatic cliffs, buff surfers and leaping dolphins? Santa Barbara’s does. Rent a bike for a relaxing ride along the waterfront, and then check out the shops on State Street or get a dose of history at Mission Santa Barbara, a 1786 Spanish mission surrounded by verdant gardens. The coastal town is also a great spot for whale watching: Boats run tours from December to February, when about 30,000 of the creature make their great migration. Oenophiles take note: The surrounding hills are teeming with wineries, with several tour options available. Then sleep it off at one of the area’s inns.

More About: Martina Sheehan

Martina Sheehan is a Chicago-based travel writer and editor who has written for the New York Times, Budget Travel, Forbes Travel Guides, Time Out Chicago and various inflight magazines, among other publications. You can find her at
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