Image: Astoria, Ore.
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Just a two-hour drive from Portland, you can live your own "Goonies" adventures. Find the rock that led to One-Eye'd Willie's rich stuff on Cannon Beach, or just explore the area's breathtaking shorelines and rich maritime history.
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updated 12/2/2010 10:56:50 AM ET 2010-12-02T15:56:50

When the pressure of the work week starts to bear down and your next vacation is months away, don't despair: There's relief just down the road. No matter what part of the country you live in, there's probably a small town nearby that will provide a charming weekend getaway — a place with a slower, more relaxed pace of life.

Some vacations require lots of planning and can encourage an overwhelming urge to run around and see as many sights as possible. Small-town getaways aren't like that. Drive into town, check into a family-run hotel or B&B, then take a leisurely stroll down Main Street while you poke into antiques stores or crafts fairs and decide where you want to have dinner.

Slideshow: 12 small-town getaways

"Small towns are kind of like toy towns," says Robert Reid, Lonely Planet's USA Editor. "Frequently the best have compact historic centers you can walk and shop and eat--and, if not too overwhelmed with the tide of weekenders, an easier place to meet with locals than some big cities."

Many have the sorts of attractions that pull in couples and adults, but most are also great for kids. "Many family travel destinations include small towns that have historical value, so they can have fun but teach their kids something new along the way," says Courtney Caldwell, editor-in-chief of Road and Travel magazine.

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Different areas of the country, of course, have different offerings. "For example, in Rhode Island, they have things like coffee syrup and Dell's Lemonade, and the Newport Mansions that offer a couple hundred years of very unique history that's connected to Europe, unlike anywhere else in the country," says Caldwell.

Newport, R.I., looks like a perfect archetype of a small, seaside New England town. With dramatic shoreline scenery, a rich collection of local mansions to explore and a collection of restaurants to wow even the most jaded seafood lover, Newport is one of those getaway towns that begs repeat visits. Come between Nov. 5 and Nov. 14 for the town's annual restaurant week and enjoy the best of what New England seafood has to offer.

Elsewhere in the Northeast, Greenport, N.Y., on Long Island's North Fork, is a world away in attitude from the tony Hamptons to the south. Explore the under-appreciated North Fork wineries, like Castello di Borghese and Osprey's Dominion; then shop the day away at Greenport's plentiful and surprising boutiques. When hunger kicks in, settle down to either a traditional meal of local seafood or a more upscale experience at one of the town's newer, eclectic restaurants, such as The Frisky Oyster.

Southern East Coast and Gulf Coast destinations boast wide-open beaches and affordable Southern- and Cajun-flavored accommodations, as well as the opportunity to help areas hit hard by Katrina and the Gulf oil spill get back on their feet. "It's a case of how the places we travel to — and book rooms and eat meals — can make a little difference for communities looking to bounce back," says Reid.

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Grand Isle, La.'s natural resources remain a draw for visitors whose return is vital to the continued restoration of the region's resort economy. With stunning seaside vistas, a 400-foot fishing pier and more than 280 species of fish in the waters offshore, it's ideal for anglers and seafood lovers alike.

Small towns in the Midwest offer their own unique blend of attractions, including the sailboat-dappled vistas of Great Lakes destinations, and bucolic artist colonies, such as Saugatuck, Mich., where the local branch of the Art Institute of Chicago helps anchor a healthy gallery and working artist scene. "For a couples getaway, it's a really nice option for people who live in Chicago or Detroit," says Kendra Williams, travel editor of Midwest Living magazine.

On the West Coast, towns like Coronado, Calif., not far from San Diego, provide plenty of history and Southern California beach opportunities. The architecturally stunning, all-wood Hotel del Coronado is the center of gravity for this most southern of Southern California beach towns. The hotel itself is one of the few remaining wooden Victorian beachfront resort hotels, and rooms can be pricey, but the beach itself is dramatic and free, and the local shopping and dining options provide plenty of ways to while away a weekend when you're not reading at the shoreline.

Towns in the Pacific Northwest have their own quirky charm. "I would recommend South Bend, in southern Washington, on Willapa Bay," says Foster Church, author of "Discovering Main Street: Travel Adventures in Small Towns of the Northwest," and a longtime writer for the Oregonian. "If you like oysters, this is the place to be."

© 2012 Forbes.com

Video: America’s ‘Unexpected’ travel hideaways

  1. Closed captioning of: America’s ‘Unexpected’ travel hideaways

    >>> this morning on "today"'s travel, unexpected vacation spots. travel and leisure 's newest book, unexpected usa is full of little known travel treasures. the travel features director, good to see you.

    >> good to see you, al.

    >> how did you come up with this list?

    >> we want every year to come shed a light on a place that people think they know and actually don't. we came up with lots of fun things, 16 different venettes about great old usa you may not know.

    >> let's start with st . petersburg florida, st . pete beach.

    >> this is a beautiful gulfcoast beach. right now, we're getting started in miami, where all the action is happening. you want some place relaxing, go to st . pete. fly into tampa, a great hotel we just featured in the magazines last year and in the book, called "postcard inn." there is a surfer vibe, cutoffs and flip-flops, going with your family, relaxing. they have barbecue restaurant, hoops, they have boche, hang out, a video arcade , a place to hang out and relax. you can get rates as low as $100 there.

    >> nice.

    >>> we go from the beach to great winter vacation spot. pause-up resort in montana.

    >> we have two. they both deliver what i like about the great outdoors, a lot of amazing outdoors but amazing indoors. honestly, if you're going to be outside, snowshoeing and dogsledding, and i know you like atv or doing skiing, it's great to come inside and have a beautiful log timbered cabins to relax. if you go to pause-up, go with your family and triple creek, voted one of the best resorts in the country by our readers, that's all adults. you want a break from the kids, that's the place to go. .

    >> louisville, kentucky, horse country. depe

    >> depending who you're talking to, may be thinking of bourbon but should be thinking of arts and culture. there is a place that has a $10 million arts collection in the hotel. you'll be literally sleeping and there will be chuck close on the wall. if anyone who doesn't know art, that's a big deal . people, when you check in a hotel give you an ipod filled with music, not only music, they have an entire narrated tour. super fun, reasonable price, around $200 to stay there. an unexpected place to go for culture but that's what's great about this unexpected book. a lot of things you wouldn't expect and great treats when you find them.

    >> "unexpected usa ."

    >> can i mention it's a great gift for christmas.

    >> you haven't but now that you mention it.

    >> my husband and i have been researching the last 10 years straight, specifically food in maine. people think about lobster rolls and clams. but there's so much more. one of the best destination restaurants in the country has to be the white barn inn. i love the combination of an incredible restaurant with rooms close by and you can have an incredible meal in their 1820 restored barn and walk two steps and climb into bed with a roaring fireplace.

    >> how did you get that roaring fireplace in bed?

    >> dangerous, dangerous, worse than smoking in bed, they say. what's also great, they have a great sustainable movement, farm to table movement, restaurants like primo and also francine bistro in camden.

    >> quickly, washington, wine.

    >> the next great wine destination, walla walla , washington, a sleepy area. forget about napa valley , if you're into cap boern nay, this is the place

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