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Weekend Getaways Under $500

From the Atlanta Area: Helen, GA
helen georgia ga bavarian housesWhat's There: This small town in northern Georgia is a re-creation of an Alpine village -- complete with Bavarian architecture, scenic mountain views and stores selling cuckoo clocks. The most fun time to visit is during the yearly Oktoberfest, where you can get into the fall spirit with a cold drink in a beautiful setting.

Getting There: Helen is about an hour and 45 minutes from downtown Atlanta by car; allow $19 - $51 in gas for the roundtrip and for incidental driving in Helen.

Where to Sleep and Eat: The Helendorf River Inn offers clean, affordable rooms overlooking the Chattahoochee River ($79 - $99 per weekend night). For a splurge, rent one of the cabins at Creekwood Resort; the three original cabins (which have mountain views, hardwood floors and full kitchens) start at $125 a night. A new, smaller cabin is now available from $80 a night. For dinner, get into the Alpine spirit at The Vines, a few miles outside Helen, where the menu stocks hearty German specialties like schnitzel, bratwurst and sauerbraten ($45 - $50). On your second night, enjoy riverfront dining at the Nacoochee Grill, where steaks, chicken and seafood dishes come straight off a live fire grill to your table (about $40). For lunch, head to Hofer's Bakery and Cafe for a sandwich and a fresh-baked dessert ($10 - $15).

What to Do: Start by exploring the tiny shops and charming plazas of Helen's downtown area, where you can buy everything from beer steins and cuckoo clocks to antiques and blown glass. If you're bringing children (or seeking your inner child), take a ride down the Chattahoochee River with Cool River Tubing. A one- or two-hour float down the river will cool you off in Georgia's summer heat from just $5 per person; an all-day pass is $9, and kids 3 and under tube for free. Visit Charlemagne's Kingdom to see an enormous Alpine Model Railroad exhibit, with some 400 feet of railroad winding through miniature villages, lakes and mountains. Admission is $5 for adults, with discounts for kids and disabled visitors. Helen's premier outdoor attraction is nearby Unicoi State Park, with miles of mountainous hiking and biking trails, and places to swim and canoe in the summer. Parking is $5 per vehicle.

The Bottom Line: Transportation, two nights' hotel, two lunches and two dinners total $194 - $271 per person, leaving the rest of your $500 for sightseeing.

The Coolest Southern Spot You've Never Heard Of

From the Phoenix Area: Prescott, AZ
Yavapai County Courthouse prescott az arizonaWhat's There: Once the territorial capital of Arizona in the 19th century, Prescott has maintained its quaint small-town ambience, complete with historic saloons and well-preserved Victorian homes. Just out of town, outdoor adventure awaits in the Prescott National Forest.

Getting There: It's about two hours from downtown Phoenix to Prescott, so expect to pay $27 - $72 in gas for the round trip and incidental driving.

Where to Sleep and Eat: The Prescott Pines Inn is a lovely Victorian bed and breakfast with rates from $100 a night. The Hotel St. Michael is an affordable alternative in downtown Prescott, with rates as low as $59 a night including full breakfast. For lunch, grab a gourmet sandwich at the Wildflower Bread Company for less than $10, or one of the mesquite specialty dishes at Murphy's Restaurant for less than $15. The Peacock Dining Room at the Hassayampa Inn offers fine dining in a hotel that's on the National Register of Historic Places (about $50). The next night, get a taste of the Old West at The Palace, which opened as a saloon in 1877 and was once frequented by Wyatt Earp. There's an affordable and fun dinner theater (a schedule is on the Web site) -- or opt for the regular dinner menu for about $45.

What to Do: Start with a walk through downtown Prescott, where you'll find the historic Yavapai County Courthouse in the central square; nearby is Whiskey Row, where there were once some 20 saloons. You can shop downtown for antiques, Native American artifacts, jewelry and other handcrafted items. Prescott has three major museums: the Sharlot Hall Museum (admission $5, under 18 free), with exhibits on Arizona's history; the Smoki Museum (admission $5), home to beautiful Native American works; and the Phippen Museum (admission $7), with a highly regarded collection of Western art. Head outdoors to the Prescott National Forest for hiking, biking or even horseback riding. The most popular trail near Prescott is the Thumb Butte Trail, which leads to a unique rocky outcrop and panoramic vistas over the whole region. Usage fees may apply. You'll also find beautiful views near Watson Lake, along the Prescott Peavine Trail. It's a bit further afield, but Arcosanti is worth the 34-mile trip; it's an experimental town that's been under construction for over three decades and will eventually house some 5,000 people in an earth-friendly setting. Daily tours are given for a suggested donation of $10.

The Bottom Line: Transportation, two nights' hotel, two lunches and two dinners will run $193 - $256 per person, with plenty left over for sightseeing and shopping.

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