From socialite-studded Southampton to family-packed Ocean City, it can be difficult to claim a spot at the beach—or anywhere else—before Labor Day in the Northeast. To help, IgoUgo members name favorite places short on crowds and commute time. These picks are perfect for a weekend or week away close to the Northeast Corridor, by car or by train.
Why fight off waves of tourists in Boston or New York when you can discover Portsmouth, a “big-ish” city “in the midst of a renaissance,” according to Tomcat7194. He elaborates, “Gone are the strip joints by the harbor; they've been replaced by outdoor restaurants featuring panoramic views of tugboats on the water and the new suspension bridge leading to Maine. The result of this sudden and massive change is a town with a completely new image, catering to families and young people who come to enjoy the city's restaurants and nightlife.” And he’s not the only IgoUgo member praising this “gateway to coastal and architectural beauty:” zabelle loves its romance, breweries, and preserved Strawberry Banke neighborhood, and newenglander calls it a “quintessential New England seaside town rich in history, beautiful architecture, and wonderful restaurants.”
Cape Ann, MA
Exploring the towns of Gloucester, Rockport, Essex, and Manchester-by-the-Sea—all 45 miles or less from Boston—is a relaxing alternative to fighting massive summer crowds to the south on Cape Cod. Mary Dickinson says, “Hunting for lighthouses is a great way to explore the seacoast on Cape Ann. In our search, we discovered the sites from the movie The Perfect Storm, the Rocky Neck art colony, a casino boat, Stage Fort Park, Hammond Castle, live theater, and some great restaurants—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Quiet Corner, CT
Encompassing the rolling hills around Putnam, Pomfret, and Woodstock, Connecticut’s Quiet Corner begins at Coventry, a half-hour’s drive from Hartford. There you’ll find “antiques, restaurants, and loads of charm.” A “quintessential New England town,” Coventry has “a vineyard, an herb farm, a lake, and a former drive-in theater that now hosts a Sunday flea market.” There are also raspberry orchards and hayrides (or sleighs, depending on the season). Another Quiet Corner favorite is Canterbury, where “not much has changed since 1832, when Prudence Crandall opened her academy for young ladies in the biggest, most elegant mansion on the town green.” Today that home is the Prudence Crandall Museum, a stop on Connecticut’s Freedom Trail. It’s also convenient to the other “32 houses on or near the town green that are on the National Register of Historic Places,” says Mary Dickinson.
You could look at Narragansett like IgoUgo member CalvinMitch does: “a cute New England town featuring nice public beaches and a wonderful ocean drive.” Or you could look at it like Howdymike: “surf-tastic.” Either way, you should see it. Narragansett Town Beach in particular gets high marks for its soft sand and waves, and Howdymike even says, “this beach is without a doubt the nicest beach I have been to in the Northeast.”
Newport’s laid-back neighbor Bristol is a “good old-fashioned New England seafaring town, set on a peninsula surrounded by Mount Hope and Narragansett Bay. The picturesque town is a nice alternative to Newport if you're looking for quiet and a slower pace,” says IgoUgo member parramore. There are plenty of sights to keep up a decent pace if you wish, though, from Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum to Colt State Park to America’s oldest continuous Fourth of July parade.
Finger Lakes, NY
“In my opinion,” says IgoUgo member PurpleCrayon, “the Finger Lakes are among New York's best-kept secrets. There are so many appealing aspects of this region, from parks to wineries to fabulous scenery.” Visitors say that choosing one of the area’s B&Bs is part of the fun, and that upon checking out, you should leave plenty of room in the car to transport a selection of wine bottles back home. After all, you’re only a 5-hour drive from New York City or Philadelphia.
New Paltz, NY
Manhattanites (and those from the neighboring boroughs) head 90 miles north to New Paltz for “great hiking, nice restaurants, great accommodations, shopping, art galleries, and local produce.” IgoUgo member Brooklynite22 describes an “artsy college-town vibe” and recommends strolling Huguenot St. for “historic homes and buildings dating back to the French Huguenots, who founded the town over 300 years ago.” She likes the rail trail as well, “an old decommissioned rail line popular with hikers, bikers, and walkers.” New Paltz is also a haven for rock climbers, leaf peepers, and history-buff spa-goers who check into the Mohonk Mountain House, which, “perched atop its own mountain in the Hudson River Valley,” is “a grand hotel that's like a journey back in time to the Victorian era.”
Long Island North Fork, NY
“Spending a long weekend in Sag Harbor beats the crowds and attitudes of the Hamptons for a better getaway,” says Obakadave. He raves about the beaches, B&Bs, and bikes that create a Hamptons-esque scene, minus the traffic jam. The area is also a wine lover’s dream; IgoUgo members recommend Greenport as a base for visiting the area’s dozens of wineries, which are outnumbered only by farm stands, restaurants, and bucolic views.
Laurel Highlands, PA
“This region has something for everyone. It is rich in history, loaded with fresh-air activities, and as scenic as any place we have ever visited,” says zabelle. She writes about first-class white-water rafting on the Youghiogheny River and about Mount Davis, Pennsylvania’s tallest peak. But she’s even more passionate about the area’s history, including French and Indian War sites, the National Road, and the Lincoln Highway, where the scenery is “as green and mountainous as some parts of Vermont.” The area is also home to three Frank Lloyd Wright houses, including Fallingwater.
St Michaels, MD
Less than 2 hours’ drive from Washington, D.C., and about 2.5 hours from Philadelphia, St Michaels bills itself as “the heart and soul of Chesapeake Bay,” and IgoUgo members agree. Sandy Goes calls it a “picture-perfect waterfront town” that “welcomes you with open arms.” Members rave about the town’s bed-and-breakfasts, sailboats, arts festivals, shops, and crab cakes. It sounds like Karin Leperi is right: “There is something for everyone, from fine-dining and spa experiences to a bit of history at the Chesapeake Maritime Museum.”
Minutes from the resort towns of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, Milton feels a world apart. The shipbuilding village features Victorian B&Bs, the birthplaces of five US governors, activities on the Broadkill River, the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge (“hikers, canoeists, and photographers will find paradise on the nearly 10,000 acres,” says MonnieR), and a plethora of popular tours at the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.
Chincoteague Island, VA
Chincoteague, most famous for the wild horses that live there and on neighboring Assateague Island, delights visitors from near and far. Maryland IgoUgo member chipswife21 says, “we come here about two or three times a summer” for relaxation and peace. “The island is still quaint, not commercialized like nearby Ocean City” adds Webgoddess. To experience every quaint aspect, visit the wildlife refuges, museums, and art galleries; taste the saltwater taffy; bicycle; kayak; and try your hand at fishing, clamming, and crabbing.
Cape Charles, VA
Located less than 4 hours from Washington, D.C., and accessible from Virginia Beach via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, the planned community of Cape Charles boasts one of the largest concentrations of Victorian buildings on the East Coast and one of only two public beaches on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. For golfers, Cape Charles features premier courses designed by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. IgoUgo member wsmith727, who visited with his wife, says, “It's a historic city on the rise, and we enjoyed being there. It's also convenient to several other tourist havens.” The couple kept busy kayaking, golfing, and visiting galleries, and they recommend Mason Ave. for antique shopping and the self-guided tour designed by the Historical Society.
Just over an hour from Washington, D.C., lies this “ideal base for visits to various Civil War battlefields” and “great place for a family vacation, as there is lots to do for everyone.” History buffs will love visiting battle sites at the Spotsylvania Courthouse and Chancellorsville, along with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Confederate Cemetery, and Civil War Life Museum. For the rest of us, the area is home to wineries and Lake Anna State Park.
Nestled in the Shenandoah Valley less than 3 hours from Washington, D.C., Staunton earns “favorite small town” status from at least one IgoUgo member. Travelers visit for “quick getaways” and to enjoy the Shakespeare theater, beautiful Mary Washington college campus, Woodrow Wilson birthplace, and, of course, loads of “Southern charm” (which Carmen ascribes to the town, and though she was born there, she swears she’s unbiased).