So, you’re itching to get outta Dodge but still not keen on hopping on a plane. Air rage is making headlines, and who knows if the person next to you is vaccinated? Not only that, but airfares are trending upward since folks are starting to fly again, there are flight cancellations to contend with, and rental cars are nonexistent. Ugh.
But if you’re game for a road trip, there’s plenty to see within six hours of Boston. Six hours seems like the magic number: If you can handle that much time in the car, you can reach some wonderful East Coast destinations. Plan to take a break (and stretch your legs) every two hours or so. Here’s a look.
Finger Lakes, New York: 5 hours, 57 minutes (to Geneva)
“This is like being at a wedding minus the awkward conversations,” said our companion Paul Kelley, as we enjoyed music emanating from a nearby wedding tent during our dinner at 1833 Kitchen + Bar (www.1833kitchen.com) on Cayuga Lake. Everywhere we traveled on our recent Finger Lakes trip, we encountered weddings — at the lively monastery-turned-inn, Geneva on the Lake (genevaonthelake.com; from $350), at Belhurst Castle (www.belhurst.com; from $277), a circa 1800s stone mansion with its own winery (some rooms have use of a complimentary wine spigot), and finally at 1833 Kitchen + Bar at the Inns of Aurora (www.innsofaurora.com; from $317). You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful backdrop for nuptial photos: This central New York region boasts 11 fingerlike glacial lakes and one great lake (Ontario) within 9,000 square miles, in a landscape of waterfalls, gorges, and rolling green farmlands.
Love wine? Gas up the car. This is New York’s wine country, home to the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail (www.cayugawinetrail.com), America’s first wine trail. The wineries along the loop (especially pinot noirs and Rieslings) have earned more than 6,000 national and international medals. If you’re not into wine, you’ll probably sample grapes anyway — say, the organic local grape juice at Ports Café in Geneva, or tucked inside pastry at Cindy’s Grape Pies, in Naples. (Grape pies are a local specialty.)
You notice we’re mentioning lots of towns; town-hopping is a great way to experience the Finger Lakes. If you like “unique,” book a stay at Geneva on the Lake, a former Franciscan Capuchin monastery-turned-resort with an exquisite dining room (best salmon we ever ate), a pool, and croquet and bocce courts overlooking Seneca Lake in Geneva.
From there, design an itinerary based on your interests. Seneca Falls, where the women’s suffrage movement began, is home to the Women’s Rights National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/wori), and the National Women’s Hall of Fame (www.womenofthehall.org). History buffs love prowling around Auburn, home of the Harriet Tubman House (www.harriettubmanhome.com); National Park Service rangers lead walking tours of Tubman-related sites. In Auburn, do lunch at Auburn’s Prison City Pub & Brewery (www.prisoncitybrewing.com) on State Street, for elevated pub grub and award-winning beer (and views of a state prison).
In the mood for an active vacay-on-the-lake? Canandaigua and Seneca lakes are your best bets. The city of Canandaigua’s public beach at Kershaw Park, at the northern tip of the lake, offers kayak and paddleboards rentals. Head to Seneca Lake Park in Geneva to enjoy an expansive public beach that runs along the entire top of Seneca lake.
For a girlfriend’s getaway, consider the village of Aurora, featuring a cluster of inns (www.innsofaurora.com) overlooking 40-mile-long Cayuga Lake. The newly-opened, 15,000 square-foot Rasa Spa at Inns of Aurora is quickly becoming a can’t-miss holistic retreat, thanks to an array of indoor-outdoor spaces (think hydrotherapy pools overlooking the lake) in a serene farmland setting laced with nature trails. You’ll melt into a gooey puddle of joy. And if you haven’t quite relaxed? Wine. www.fingerlakestravelny.com
Lubec, Maine: 5 hours, 48 minutes
You’ve been to Bar Harbor, no? Add a couple of hours to that, heading north, and you’ll reach Lubec, the easternmost town in the United States, with more than 90 miles of shoreline and fewer than 1,500 residents. Bring your passport; Lubec sits right across the Bay of Fundy from Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada. The former summer home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this gorgeous green property is now Roosevelt Campobello International Park (www.nps.gov/roca). Happily, the Roosevelt International Bridge has reopened to fully-vaccinated US visitors so you can make this a two-nation vacation.
Oh, and there’s this: You can sleep over at the West Quoddy Light Station. A five-minute walk from the famous candy-striped West Quoddy Light is a little pod that includes the old keeper’s cottage, a five-bedroom station house, and a four-bedroom lodge (rates from $94 to $290 per night; www.quoddyvacation.com). We haven’t stayed at these (pretty basic) accommodations ourselves, but it’s a cool concept. We can vouch for The Inn & Restaurant on The Wharf (www.theinnonthewharf.com; suites, $100), a former sardine factory-turned-inn, set on Johnson’s Bay. Rooms are comfortable, if simple, and you won’t have to go far for breakfast; the innkeepers operate the onsite Fisherman’s Restaurant on the Wharf. For dinner, we’d head to the Water Street Inn B&B (www.watersttavernandinn.com). Open seasonally for lunch and dinner, they’re regularly mentioned as the top place to eat in town thanks to dishes such as the “Craddock” (crab-stuffed haddock), maple-apple-bourbon-glazed salmon, and of course, lobster dinners. Cakes are baked from scratch and worth every calorie. If you’ve got kids in your party, go for lunch, so antsy little folks can watch seals while you enjoy your meal.
A fun option for evening: the Lubec Brewing Co. It’s known for raw, unfiltered beer made with organic barley, and a decent line-up of live musicians in summer, but the food shines, too — it’s fresh and organic, leaning toward vegetarian and vegan choices, along with seafood and meat-based dishes.
And nobody leaves Lubec without a stop at Monica’s Chocolates (www.monicaschocolates.com), home of Monica Elliott’s tasty fruit-filled chocolates, molded chocolate sea creatures (way too cute) and Maine Needhams, a traditional Maine confection made with potatoes and available plain, with almonds, or with wild Maine blueberries.
Your itinerary will include a visit to Campobello Island, of course, and a look at West Quoddy Light and Quoddy Head State Park. Whale watching tours are available, too — you’ll likely see seals, eagles, and lighthouses as well as the marquee attraction — aboard “The Tarquin,” out of The Inn & Restaurant on the Wharf. Adding to the allure of this tiny seaside town are 34 outdoor sculptures. What you won’t find here: Movie theaters, shopping malls, theme parks, fast food outlets, heavy traffic, or stop lights. So, do as its website suggests and “get your fill of these en route!” www.visitlubecmaine.com
Cape May, N.J.: 5 hours, 54 minutes
Cape May is so fetching, they call it “the jewel of the Jersey Shore.” The entire city is designated a National Historic District, lined with nearly 600 beautifully preserved Victorian buildings. Dozens of them are B&Bs, so you can fully immerse yourself in Victoriana in this enclave on the South Jersey shore. Daytime trolley tours of the historic district draw plenty of tourists, although the after-dark ghost tours are arguably more fun. And any lover of things Victorian should make it a point to see the circa 1879 Emlen Physick Estate (www.capemaymac.org), the former home of a wealthy Philadelphia family, open for guided and self-guided tours with interpreters in period clothing. (The house is said to be haunted by members of the Physick family, including their dogs.) If you can’t get enough of historic homes, add Historic Cold Spring Village (www.hcsv.org) to your must-see list. This living history museum re-creates a rural Southern New Jersey community circa the 1800s.
Dazzling as our local beaches are (we’re looking at you, Cape Cod National Seashore!), it’s always pleasant to spread out a towel elsewhere. Cape May’s clean, white beaches are among the best on the Jersey shore. In-the-know types will direct you to Poverty Beach, at the end of Beach Avenue at the east end of town; and Cove Beach, to the west. Beach-goers do the stooped-walk thing on Cape May’s Sunset Beach, but they’re not looking for shells, they’re hunting “Cape May diamonds,” shiny, sea-polished pebbles of quartz that wash ashore.
What else to do on your Cape May adventure? Wander the shops (no chain stores allowed) and restaurants along the eight-block open-air Washington Street Mall, a touristy shopping zone with a Key West vibe and benches for people-watching. A bit of New Jersey wine-tasting is a popular pursuit. If you’re choosing just one, make it Cape May Winery (www.capemaywinery.com); the oldest winery in the area. Go hungry, so you can try something from its tapas kitchen, paired with wine of course.
Lighthouse lovers can add another one to their list, circa 1858 Cape May Lighthouse, surrounded by the lovely vistas of Cape May Point State Park. The state park is also home to a World War II Lookout Tower, open to the public.
Gazing at the water, you’ll likely notice the Cape May Whale Watcher’s 100-foot M/V American Star chugging by (www.capemaywhalewatch.com). These seasonal whale and dolphin-watching cruises are narrated by naturalists, so you’re sure to learn something — but don’t get your hopes up regarding cetaceans; dolphins are more of a sure thing here.
Where to stay? The 205-year-old Congress Hall Hotel (www.caperesorts.com; from $409), billed “America’s First Seaside Resort,” has hosted generations of families. This sprawling property boasts a spa, bike shop, beachfront dining, and children’s activities, right in the heart of the action. On the B&B side, the Mission-style Mission Inn (www.missioninn.net; from $240) offers a respite from Victorian overload, plus it’s a block from the beach and they offer gourmet breakfasts and complimentary use of bicycles.
To eat, locals recommend Beach Plum Farm (www.beachplumfarmcapemay.com) in West Cape May. It’s an actual working farm with exquisite farm-to-table meals, featuring their own meats and produce. Curiosity alone might entice you to check out Exit Zero Filling Station (www.exitzero.com), a converted gas station, for one of its famous curries. If you’re looking for one of those classic seafood houses that’s been around forever, head directly to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Lobster House (www.thelobsterhouse.com); a Grand Banks schooner serves as an outdoor cocktail lounge. The Mad Batter (www.madbatter.com) takes credit for launching Cape May’s restaurant revolution back in the 1970s. Everything is fresh and scratch-made at this lively, art-bedecked spot; try the crab cakes or the vegan version of same, made with hearts of palm and chickpeas. www.escapetothejerseycape.com
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com