Travel in the Northeast: 3 quick getaways

Lake George: The Fort William Henry Hotel, on Lake George: The Fort William Henry Hotel, on a hill overlooking the lake, is one of the area's better-known lodgings. Photo Credit: Carl Heilman

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Late-summer getaways recall that old Sinatra standard "September Song."

Though summer days may be dwindling to a precious few, you can still have a blast squeezing in a quick vacation before the leaves turn to gold.

With little preparation other than a full gas tank and a few hundred dollars, there's ample time in the weeks ahead to spend those waning summer days wisely -- on a beach, on a lake cruise or on a local history tour. Instead of buying school supplies, you could be cracking open a lobster on the New Hampshire seacoast, touring a classy and classic New Jersey seaside resort replete with Victorian homes or breathing in Adirondack air as you soar high above -- or cruise around -- one of New York's most scenic lake communities.

While you enjoy summer's valedictory pleasures, you may feel a touch of wistfulness with the scent of autumn air creeping in -- but that's part of the appeal this special time of year.

Here are three travel-worthy destinations, just a few hours' drive from Long Island, where you can while away those last precious days of summer sunshine.

1. PORTSMOUTH, N.H.

HOW FAR About 260 miles from Manhattan

INFO 603-610-5510, portsmouthchamber.org

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Wedged into New Hampshire's 18-mile oceanfront along the rushing Piscataqua River, Portsmouth is the Granite State's only working seaport. It's also a little gem of a vacation spot, with a small but busy, modernized downtown (just off I-95) chock-full of cozy restaurants, independent retailers and lively pubs. History buffs will note that Portsmouth is one of the nation's oldest cities. It was settled in 1623, was a hotbed of the American Revolution and includes historic sites dating to that era. Across the border: Kittery, Maine, outlets.

PLAY Park the car in the municipal lot on Hanover Street and walk your sandals off. Then, you'll see why Portsmouth was recently rated New England's best city for walkers by Prevention Magazine. Market Square's redbrick walkways invite visitors to pop into local shops, including Esta, a high-end new and consignment women's clothing shop on Bow Street, and the new fair trade Ten Thousand Villages. Prescott Park is the scene of free summer concerts. At the outdoor Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, you can see exhibits or watch artisans work in 42 historic buildings dating to 1695. Boat trips are available on the river and to the historic Isles of Shoals, where you'll find a monument to John Smith of Pocahontas fame, and stone buildings dating to the 18th century. There are no beaches because the river's rushing currents make swimming dangerous; instead, head to the beach in neighboring New Castle.

EAT & DRINK The Decks area on the riverfront gives you a real feel for Portsmouth's maritime past. On a recent visit, a traveler sipped a beer in view of the Piscataqua and a parked tugboat. The Surf on Bow Street, one of the newer seafood restaurants in the city, recently opened a sushi bar decorated with seaweed-laced glasswork, which gives the room an underwater feel. The city boasts three breweries, including The Portsmouth Brewery, which also serves food. For inexpensive eats, Popovers on the Square in Market Square serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also for the budget-minded: the Ceres Bakery and the Roundabout Diner.

SLEEP A number of lodgings are on the Portsmouth Roundabout, a traffic circle off Exit 5 of Route 95. The Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside overlooks the port (doubles from $239); historic properties include the 1800s-era Sise Inn (doubles from $199).

2. LAKE GEORGE

HOW FAR About 205 miles from Manhattan

INFO 800-365-1050, visitlakegeorge.com

About 50 miles north of Albany, just off New York State Route 87 (The Northway), Lake George is a major Adirondack playland. The 32-mile-long lake, surrounded by mountains, is dotted with islands that are visited by the local fleet. The major tourism center is the Village of Lake George at the southern end of the lake, where you'll find waterfront restaurants with elevated decks, dozens of souvenir shops and arcades, plus Million Dollar Beach, a life-guarded strand with bathhouses and food concessions.

PLAY The sky's the limit for lovers of the outdoors. You can go parasailing over the lake, or hire a water taxi at one of the marinas on Lakeshore Drive, and picnic on a state-owned island. Get a fishing license and drop a line in the early morning at the Steel Pier or in Shepard Park; the latter also is a venue for free concerts on weeknights through Labor Day. History buffs can visit Fort William Henry, an outpost during the French and Indian War. Just outside the village: horseback-riding, rodeos and white-water rafting on the Hudson or Sacandaga rivers.

EAT Charbroiled steaks are a specialty at local restaurants. One of the more popular joints is George's Place for Steaks on the lake's east side. For a panoramic view, try the Shoreline Restaurant or The Boardwalk Restaurant, both at the south end of town. Or dine afloat with the Lake George Steamboat Co. or Lake George Shoreline Cruises; both offer lunch, brunch and dinner cruises.

SLEEP The Fort William Henry Hotel, on a hill overlooking the lake, is one of the better-known lodgings (doubles from $160). Hundreds of properties, including hotels, cottages and cabins, line the extensive lakefront, says Joanne Conley of the Warren County Tourism Department, which covers the Lake George area.

3. CAPE MAY, N.J.

HOW FAR About 160 miles from Manhattan

INFO 609-884-5508, capemaychamber.com

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It's on the shore and it's Jersey, but you probably won't find Snooki or The Situation hanging around this 21/2-square-mile island enclave on the Garden State's southernmost tip. "It's not the Jersey Shore you've heard about," says Doreen Talley of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May. The big attractions in this year-round resort community are the 2.3 miles of white sand beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, and the historic district's Victorian houses. Fill out your visit with a nature walk or a lighthouse tour.

PLAY Cape May's city-owned, life-guarded beaches are not hard to find -- they're right on Beach Avenue. (You need a $5 beach tag to get onto the beach, available at the entrances.) Architecture buffs can have a field day checking out Cape May's 600 Victorian homes -- the "highest concentration of Victorians after San Francisco," Talley says. (The city was declared a national historic landmark in 1976.) The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities, on Washington Street, offers house tours. Tours also are offered of the Cape May Lighthouse. Pack binoculars and go bird-watching at the two Audubon-operated nature centers, the Cape May Bird Observatory and the Nature Center of Cape May.

EAT Work up an appetite at the beach, then cross the street to the Promenade for an ice cream, coffee or pub food and drink. Cape May's commercial fleet brings in fresh seafood daily. To sample scallops, a local delicacy, try The Lobster House in the marina district, right off the Garden State Parkway.

SLEEP Lodgings range from campgrounds to hotels and motels. For Cape May charm, opt for one of the 40 bed and breakfast inns, some inside those stately Victorian manses. One choice is the Mason Cottage (doubles from $109).

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