Image: Joshua Tree National Park
Reed Saxon  /  AP
Joshua Tree National Park is just 140 miles outside of Los Angeles.
updated 9/2/2011 4:55:41 PM ET 2011-09-02T20:55:41

Long Beach Island, N.J.
100 miles from New York City

Retro surf towns with pastel beach houses and low-lying diners are strung along a broad central boulevard on Long Beach Island, a nearly 20-mile-long barrier isle off the southern Jersey Shore.

Highlights: At Tiki Taco in Beach Haven, beef or chicken tacos come with salsas given names like "riptide red" (609/492-2328, tikitaco.com). Brave the Sea Dragon, a swinging ship at Fantasy Island, a vintage amusement park in Beach Haven that has a century-old carousel (609/492-4000, fantasyislandpark.com).

Overnight Option: Magnolia House in Beach Haven is on of LBI's oldest Victorian-style inns. It has 12 guest rooms and is just a block from the beach. (609/492-2226, magnoliahouselbi.com, from $150 including breakfast). 

Driving Tip: If the Garden State Parkway jams, exit on Highway 9 in Toms River and then head south 20 miles to Route 72, which connects with the causeway.

En Route: A 24-foot, 200-pound surfboard marks the entrance to the Ron Jon Surf Shop in Ship Bottom, where you can snap photos and rent gear (609/494-8844, ronjons.com). Sara Morrow

Tyler, Tex.
98 miles from Dallas

Antebellum mansions from the 1800s line the brick streets of Tyler, an old railroad town in the swath of east Texas known for its piney woods—and its tasty barbecue.

Highlights: Tyler is the "Rose Capital of America," and at the 14-acre Municipal Rose Garden there are nearly 40,000 bushes showcasing 500 distinct varieties, including lines dating back to 1867 (903/531-1213, cityoftyler.org, free). At the 50-plus-year-old Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q, the over-the-top Brother-in-law sandwich features a grilled hot link with pulled pork and cheese on a toasted bun (903/593-0311, stanleyspitbbq.com, entrées from $6.99). Local musicians play old country music favorites at The Gladewater Saturday Night Opry, a barnlike dance hall that comes alive on weekends (903/845-3600, thegladewateropry.com, $10).

Overnight Option: On Tyler's outskirts, Kiepersol Estates is a winery and inn run by South African expat Pierre de Wet and his daughter Marnelle de Wet Durrett; it serves the area's best filet mignon (903/894-3300, kiepersol.com, from $195).

Driving Tip: Skip Interstate 20 in favor of the more scenic Highway 80, which travels through the tiny 19th-century town of Mineola.

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En Route: Kitchens, a century-old hardware store and deli in Mineola, sells wrenches and blackberry cobbler (903/569-2664). Geraldine Campbell

Whidbey Island, Wash.
25 miles from Seattle

A zigzagging isle on the northern edge of Washington's Puget Sound, the 45-mile-long Whidbey Island is a rural patchwork of pine forests and small family farms, some of which have been passed down from one generation to the next since the 1850s.

Highlights: Overlooking Penn Cove in Coupeville, the island's main settlement, brothers Doug, Jerry, and Tom Kroon (along with their niece, Marcia Johnson) run Knead & Feed, a wood-paneled bakery-café known for its shrimp bisque and fresh slices of pie (360/678-5431, kneadandfeed.com). A few doors down, at Mosquito Fleet Chili, husband-and-wife owners Chris and Rita Tomayko make spicy chili using local beef (360/678-2900). The island's agricultural traditions are protected within the borders of the 17,500-acre Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, where local farmers continue to till the rich soil (360/678-6084, nps.gov/ebla). The park's eastern shore has open views of the Olympic Mountains to the south. For dinner at Prima Bistro, nibble on fresh fish frites served with red-onion slaw, fries, and caper remoulade while overlooking beautiful Saratoga passage. (360/221-4060 primabistro.com, entrées from $12.50).

Overnight Option: Original log walls, beamed ceilings, and stone fireplaces adorn the 102-year-old Captain Whidbey Inn (360/678-4097, captainwhidbey.com, from $94). Choose from among the 12 rooms in the main house (all with shared bath), one of 4 one-bedroom cabins, or 13 lagoon rooms scattered around the grounds—many with views of the water.

Driving Tip: It's a 30-minute ferry ride from the dockside town of Mukilteo to the island. Traffic is heavy on Fridays, so leave in the morning or, better yet, linger over dinner in Seattle. The ferries run until 1 a.m.

En Route: Next to the dock on the mainland, Ivar's Mukilteo Landing draws locals with its extensive wine list and views of Possession Sound (425/742-6180, ivars.net). —Kimberly Brown Seely

Lake Rabun, Ga.
104 miles from Atlanta

Circled by blooming dogwoods, Lake Rabun sits on the southern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where Georgia and the Carolinas meet.

Highlights: Rent a canoe from Rabun BoatWorks (706/982-0402, rabunboatworks.net, half day $40) or raft the Chattooga River with Nantahala Outdoor Center (888/905-7238, noc.com, from $90). At Tallulah Gorge State Park, sign up for a night trek across the wooden suspension bridge (706/754-7981, gastateparks.org, $5).

Overnight Option: A 1922 cedar lodge, the spruced-up Lake Rabun Hotel has a restaurant that serves mountain trout (800/398-5134, lakerabunhotel.com, from $119).

Driving Tip: Beyond the suburbs, as the mountains come into view, look for white-tailed deer off the road.

En route: For a hearty fried-chicken lunch, head to Shirley's SoléFood Café in Toccoa, 25 miles to the south (706/297-7739). —Marcia Langhenry

Joshua Tree, Calif.
140 miles from Los Angeles

Beyond the eastern edge of the Los Angeles metro area's seemingly endless sprawl is Joshua Tree National Park, where the Mojave, Sonoran, and Colorado deserts merge into a terra-cotta landscape studded by the area's spindly namesake trees (nps.gov/jotr, seven-day pass $15 per car).

Highlights: Of the three gates that lead into the vast 800,000-acre national park, the one in the town of Joshua Tree, about 25 miles south of Route 62, gives you the most convenient access to the best sights. Here, the road winds through a rugged terrain composed of Joshua trees and granite towers. The park has more than 800 species of plants—including fan palms, mesquites, and creosotes—but one of the most remarkable is the teddy-bear cholla, so called for its coat of thin white needles that resemble fur. Walk the sandy quarter-mile trail through the Cholla Cactus Garden, just off the main road, and you'll see hundreds of these glistening plants stretching to the horizon. About 30 miles to the west is Keys View, a 5,100-foot bluff where you can take in the Santa Rosa Mountains and, on a very clear day, see all the way to Mexico. To go off-road, sign up with Desert Adventures for a three-hour Jeep trip into the backcountry during sunset, with stops for stargazing, medicinal plant hunting, and coyote tracking (888/440-5337, red-jeep.com, from $125).

Overnight Options: Sagewater Spa in Desert Hot Springs, about 30 minutes from Joshua Tree, has the cure for an aching tailbone: clear mineral pools heated to 90 degrees. The simple modernist inn also has seven boxy, whitewashed rooms equipped with kitchenettes. Rhoni Epstein and Cristina Pestana, from Boston and Brazil, respectively, run the spa and often welcome guests with caipirinhas, a light Brazilian cheese bread called pão de queijo, and fresh-baked coffee cake from a recipe that Epstein inherited from her grandmother (760/220-1554, sagewaterspa.com, two-night minimum, rooms from $175).

Driving Tips: Much of the ride from L.A. consists of suburbs and traffic and various combinations thereof. Get out of town by noon for maximum rush-hour avoidance.

En Route: Grab a classic date shake at Hadley Fruit Orchards, a shop in Cabazon that's run by the Morongo Indians 951/849-5255, hadleyfruitorchards.com, from $3.50). —Adam Graham

Plum Island, Mass.
42 miles from Boston

Wooden walkways wind through protected dunes, tidal flats, and marshlands on Plum Island, an 11-mile-long barrier island off the northern coast of Massachusetts that sits at the mouth of the Merrimack River.

Highlights: A variety of shorebirds make their summer homes at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (978/465-5733, parkerriver.fws.gov). Drive or bike the six-and-a-half-mile road through the park, or walk the wooden, one-and-a-half-mile Hellcat Interpretive Trail. Signs identify some of the more than 350 species of birds that inhabit the area, such as yellow-capped bobolinks and the bufflehead duck, in addition to plants like the beach plum, from which the island gets its name. Local lobsterman Bob Hartigan is the man behind Bob Lobster (978/465-7100, boblobster.com). Pick up one of his signature lobster rolls and then take a seat at a table overlooking the river to scan the sky for birds. It's BYOB—beer and binoculars.

Overnight Option: A number of historic clapboard B&Bs, some dating back to the colonial era, line Newburyport's redbrick lanes; one of the best is the 19th-century Essex Street Inn, which has 37 rooms, many with cherry four-poster beds (7 Essex St., 978/465-3148, essexstreetinn.com, from $135).

Driving Tips: Avoid Interstate 95 in favor of Route 1A, which takes on a vintage New England vibe after making its way through the busy seacoast cities of Revere and Salem.

En Route: Make a seafood stop in Ipswich, 30 miles south of the island, at the Clam Box, known for its building, which resembles a takeout container (ipswichma.com/clambox, 978/356-9707). Meg Lukens Noonan

Great River Road, Mo.
88 miles from St. Louis

On the western banks of the Mississippi River, Highway 79—one of several scenic byways known collectively as the Great River Road—is dotted with old steamboat towns that attract artisans, bird-watchers, and lovers of all things Mark Twain.

Highlights: Find rustic rockers made of durable Missouri willow at The Bent Tree Gallery in Clarksville (thebenttree.com/clarksville, 660/425-2131). The Eagle's Nest Bistro in the town of Louisiana pairs French cuisine with hearty local vintages from its winery (theeaglesnest-louisiana.com, 573/754-9888, entrées from $12.50). In Hannibal, upriver, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum displays the signature white jacket that belonged to Huck Finn's creator (573/221-9010, marktwainmuseum.org, $9). Down the street, Twain-happy tourists linger over coffee at Java Jive, run by local potter Steve Ayers (573/221-1017, ayerspottery.com).

Overnight Option: Cedarcrest Manor, in Clarksville, is a restored 1840s mansion with antique-filled rooms, some of which overlook the river (573/242-3310, overlookfarmmo.com/accommodations/cedarcrestmanor, from $150).

Driving Tips: Riding through the clogged St. Louis suburbs is a necessary evil; head out in mid-morning when traffic ebbs.

En Route: Between the towns of Louisiana and Hannibal, see wading birds ply the marshes at the Ted Shanks Conservation Area (573/754-6171)  Rachel Young

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Copyright © 2012 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.

Photos: Summertime fun

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  1. Shade and sun

    A couple rest under umbrellas on the beach in Whitstable, England. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Giddy-up

    A girl rides the Looff Carousel at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, Calif. The carousel made its debut in August 1911, built by Charles I.D. Looff, a master woodcarver from Denmark. Looff had already made his name with his first complete carousel placed at Coney Island in New York. (Eric Risberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Zoom

    A visitor rides a water slide at a water park built inside the National Aquatics Center, better known as the Water Cube, in Beijing, China. Asia's largest water park, built within the grounds of the Beijing 2008 Olympics swimming venue, enjoys more than 5,000 visitors daily. (Diego Azubel / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Ahhhh

    A girl cools off in the Unisphere fountain at the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park as a rainbow streaks across the water in the Queens borough of New York City. (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Heads up

    Fans react as a solo home run ball hit by Boston Red Sox Kevin Youkilis off of Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Ricky Romero lands in the stands during the second inning of their game at Fenway Park in Boston, Mass., July 6, 2011. (Adam Hunger / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Going with the flow

    A boy swims at the river mouth between the river Drim and Ohrid lake in Struga, Macedonia. (Ognen Teofilovski / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Hang on

    Riders on the Hi-Miler get their thrills at the OC Fair in Costa Mesa, Calif.. (Mindy Schauer / The Orange County Register via Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A tall shower

    Robbie Russell, of Portland, Ore., looks up at Oneonta Falls near Corbett, Ore. (Rick Bowmer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Here's looking at you, kid

    Kynnlee League, 2, has fun with her boer goat, Gabe, before competition during the Open Goat Show at the Lincoln County Fair, near Stanford, Ky. (Clay Jackson / The Advocate Messenger via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Bring on DMB

    A crowd disperses some energy batting beach balls before the Dave Matthews Band show at Bader Field in Atlantic City, N.J. (Ben Fogletto / The Press of Atlantic City via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Row, row, row your boat

    A family paddles on Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park on the first day of summer when the San Francisco Bay Area experienced its first heat wave of the season with temperatures in the 70's at the coast and up to 100 degrees in inland areas. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Cool dude

    Six-year-old Hector Moreno plays in the downtown Nampa fountain in Nampa, Idaho, when temperatures were in the low 90s. (Greg Kreller / Idaho Press-Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Seeing fireworks

    A couple smooch during the Independence Day fireworks display in Independence, Iowa. (Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Drinks for laptops

    Madison Cook, 11, top, and her brother Bryce Cook, 13, await customers for their coffee and assorted fruit-flavored drinks in Spokane, Wash. "We're just hanging out trying to make some money to buy arts and crafts supplies and laptops," Bryce said. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Blowin' in the wind

    Children play with giant bubbles as the sun sets at Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas, Calif. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Lavender fields forever

    A girl jogs through a lavender field near the Crimean city of Bakhchisaray, Ukraine. (Sergei Supinsky / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Gone fishing

    Frank Santos of Cumberland, R.I., fishes with his daughter Mya and son Nolan at Olney Pond in Lincoln Woods State Park, R.I. (Steven Senne / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Unofficial start of summer

    Inner tubers are flipped around in a drop off as they float down the Comal River in New Braunfels, Texas, at the start of Memorial Day Weekend. (Eric Gay / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Time for tanning

    Sunbathers soak up rays at a swimming pool in the western German city of Moehnesee. (Andreas Dunker / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Swinging for the stands

    Brianna Simmons swings at the ball while Aryana Lent catches during a baseball practice game in Kingman, Ariz. (Jc Amberlyn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Lazy days

    A couple enjoys the sun at Schlachtensee lake in Berlin. (Johannes Eisele / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Time to play

    Alivia Moore swings in 80-degree temperatures in Warren, Ohio. (Robert K. Yosay / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Dive right in

    An Afghan boy jumps into a public swimming pool in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Get yer snow cones here!

    A concessions worker sells snow cones on a hot day at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Bob Levey / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Playing in the sand

    Abby Dugauay, 3, of Flint, Mich., has fun while instructing her aunt, Ariana Davis, to cover her arms with sand at Bluebell Beach in Genesee Township, Mich. (Ryan Garza / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Where sea meets sand

    A woman walks along a wave break in the Baltic Sea at the seaside resort of Glowe on the Island of Ruegen, Germany. (Stefan Sauer / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Cooling off in the city

    A child plays under the spray of a fire hydrant in Manhattan amid soaring temperatures. (Andrew Kelly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Time to plow

    An Amish farmer plows his field behind six draft horses in New Wilmington, Pa. (Jeff Swensen / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Boy's best friend

    Cobe Mahan, 10, of Costa Mesa, Calif., and his rescue dog Rozie, hang together on the beach in Huntington Beach, Calif. (Mindy Schauer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Which flavor?

    Sophia Santos, 4, smiles after getting an ice cream cone at the Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco, Calif. (Eric Risberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Too hot to horse around

    Horses stand in front of electric fans in their stalls at Suffolk Downs racetrack in Boston. (Michael Dwyer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Sliding into summer

    Isaiah Ray, 8, races down a Slip 'N Slide near his home in Winona, Minn. (Andrew Link / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Beat the heat

    Visitors take a dip in a public swim area at Berlin's Wannsee lake. (Johannes Eisele / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Just splashin' around

    Angie Cole holds her daughter, Lauren, as they play in the water at Matthew C. Patterson Park in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich. (David Coates / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Sensational sunset

    The sun sets beyond a Ferris wheel at a fair in the northern German city of Hanover. (Julian Stratenschulte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Britain Basks In Summer Sunshine
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    Above: Slideshow (35) Summertime fun
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