But first, a few rules of the road: All getaways are $500 or less per person, based on a Friday evening departure and a Sunday evening return. Estimates for gas expenses are based on a price of $4 a gallon and will vary depending on your route and your vehicle's gas mileage. Dinner prices are based on a two-course meal with alcohol, tax and tip. All prices are per person except for hotel rates, which are per room. And, of course, all prices are subject to change at any time.
Poll: What's Your Ideal Weekend Getaway?
From the Los Angeles Area: Catalina Island, CA
What's There: Sunny Santa Catalina Island (known as Catalina by locals) is a year-round destination, popular with Angelenos for its natural beauty, its boating and diving opportunities, and the charming beachfront town of Avalon.
Getting There: It costs $69.50 per adult for a roundtrip ferry from Long Beach or San Pedro to Catalina on the Catalina Express.
Where to Sleep and Eat: You'll find the cheapest accommodations at the Hermosa Hotel & Catalina Cottages, where we recommend a charming cottage with a private bath; for two nights you'll pay $220 - $270 plus taxes, depending on the season. (Less expensive rooms are available from $95 a night if you're willing to share a bath.) Cheap eats for lunch are plentiful -- you'll spend less than $10 at fun places like Antonio's Pizzeria and Eric's on the Pier (famous for buffalo burgers). Save a few bucks for delectable dinners at the Armstrong Fish Market and Steve's Steakhouse, which will run $50 - $60 per person with wine.
What to Do: On a weekend here you can enjoy the great outdoors for free by lying out on Avalon Bay's beaches or hiking through the island's mountains and canyons. Rentals of kayaks ($15 - $22/hour through Wet Spot Rentals) or bicycles ($5/hour or $12/day through Brown's Bikes) are also available. Rather stay on land? Stroll along the cobblestone walkways of the Metropole Marketplace, where you'll find boutiques and galleries (and inexpensive lunching spots). Or check out Avalon's Casino, where luckily you can't blow your budget; this Art Deco building holds not slots or gaming tables but a ballroom, movie theater and the Catalina Island Museum (admission $5).
The Bottom Line: The ferry ride, two nights' hotel, two lunches and two dinners come to roughly $285 - $345 per person, leaving you a good chunk of your $500 budget for sightseeing.
10 Reasons to Visit Catalina Island
From the Chicago Area: Galena, IL
What's There: This quaint historic town in the northwest corner of Illinois is about a three-hour drive from Chicago. Its well-preserved 19th-century buildings include the former home of President Ulysses S. Grant and the Belvedere, a Victorian mansion furnished with, among other things, the famous green drapes from the movie "Gone With the Wind." In the winter, it's a prime spot for skiing and snowshoeing.
Getting There: Depending on your vehicle's gas mileage, you could spend anywhere from $34 - $90 on gas for your roundtrip car ride from the Chicago area.
Where to Sleep and Eat: There are a number of cozy bed and breakfasts in the Galena area; one of our favorites is the three-bedroom Ann's Snoop Sisters Inn ($90 - $165 a night including taxes). No space? Try the Stoney Creek Inn ($99 - $165 per weekend night). Lunch is available for less than $15 per person at Procento's Pizzeria (offering not only pizzas but also sandwiches, pasta dishes and calzones) or at House of China, where the Chinese fare is tasty and cheap. For dinner, you'll find reasonably priced steaks and Greek wines at Log Cabin, Galena's oldest restaurant, where dinner will run about $40 - $50 per person. Fried Green Tomatoes serves upscale Italian favorites in a historic building; a two-course dinner averages about $55 - $60 -- including a glass from the award-winning wine list.
What to Do: Admission to Galena's historic sights is quite affordable. The suggested donation at the Ulysses S. Grant Home is $4, and just $2 at the Old Market House. Visit Dowling House, Galena's oldest home, for $9 (combination admission tickets with the Belvedere Mansion are available). Historic Main Street is lined with unique shops and galleries, offering antiques, collectibles, and locally produced arts and crafts -- perfect for a leisurely afternoon of shopping. More active visitors can hike or bike for free along the 3.4-mile Galena River Trail, or go horseback riding at the Shenandoah Riding Center (beginners can enjoy a 15-minute riding lesson for $25; experienced riders can do a two-hour canter for $90). In the winter, there's skiing at the Chestnut Mountain Resort; lift tickets start at $45 per day or $88 for two days, and ski rentals are also available ($30 for one day, $55 for two days).
The Bottom Line: Transportation, two nights' hotel, two lunches and two dinners come to $232 - $350 per person, leaving a good portion of your budget for sightseeing.
Galena Weekend Getaways