Did you put off making summer travel arrangements? Last-minute planners still have a chance to escape somewhere with intriguing attractions, excellent food and a comfy bed at the end of the day — all within a five-hour drive from home.
PORTSMOUTH, NEW HAMPSHIRE
With an engaging maritime and beer-making history, as well as enticing shops and restaurants, this port city offers visitors an embarrassment of riches. There are bike tours (PortCity Bike Tours), walking tours (Discover Portsmouth Walking Tours), brewery tours (Granite State Growler Tours) and boat and harbor tours from Gundalow Co. and the Isles of Shoals Steamship Co.; the latter offers a 3.75-hour cruise with a guided tour of Star Island ($37 adults, $27 children; 603-431-5500. islesofshoals.com). Portsmouth’s prime attraction is the Strawbery Banke Living History Museum (family ticket $48, 603-433-1100, strawberybanke.org). The 10-acre site, depicting 400 years of life in Portsmouth, has a collection of 32 homes and establishments staffed by costumed guides.
Cute independent shops abound — including the Salt Cellar for exotic salts from around the world, the self-explanatory Scallops Mineral and Shell Emporium, and Hazel Boutique for women’s clothing. For breakfast or lunch, The Goods is as “clean,” organic and fresh as it comes, with a grow tower for greens in the front window. Nibblesworth Wood Fired Grill serves excellent innovative foods in the 1809 Nutter-Rymes House, and The Roundabout features local farm-to-table-tweaked comfort food and a Sunday make-your-own Bloody Mary bar in a 1950s diner environment. Stay at the newly renovated Fairfield Inn, or enjoy an intimate bed-and-breakfast experience at The Martin Hill Inn.
Pictured: The Piscataqua, a gundalow boat historically a flat-bottomed vessel used to freight in New England, sails along the Piscataqua River near downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
With several colleges, poet Emily Dickinson’s Homestead, the Eric Carle Museum, in photo, and the venerable Yiddish Book Center, a visit to Amherst can serve as a fun educational getaway and a stop on a college tour. Considered Kid Lit Central, there are children’s book authors everywhere you turn in the Pioneer Valley along the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. Eric Carle, Mo Willems, Patricia MacLachlin and others live in and around Amherst; you can see their words and illustrations in the colorful galleries and bookshop of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (adults $9, youth $6; 413-559-6300, carlemuseum.org), a fresh and vibrant homage to the man who wrote and illustrated “A Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Brown Bear Brown Bear.” Kids love the huge craft room where they can rip paper and create collages in the manner that Carle does to illustrate his books.
At the Yiddish Book Center ($8 suggested donations, children free; 413-256-4900, yiddishbookcenter.org), you can spend hours watching movie clips and documentaries, listening to music or just reading old books and periodicals. Around town, shoppers can find interesting crafty gifts at The Blue Marble, and women’s clothing at Zanna. Dine at Amherst landmark, Judie’s, known for its popovers. A college town, there are plenty of hummus, pizza and noodle shops as well. Stay at the swanky Lord Jeffery Inn, reopened in 2012 after a basement-to-roof renovation, or the hip, refreshed UMass Hotel, smack dab in the middle of campus.
For decades, Mystic has been among the top attractions in Connecticut, but this year and next, visitors can watch actual history in the making. The Mayflower II is on display during its complete restoration at Mystic Seaport ($26.05 adults, $17.05 youth; 860-572-0711, mysticseaport.org). In addition to strolling the 17-acre re-creation of a 19th century seafaring village, you can watch artisans replace the hull and deck wood of this accurate replica of the vessel that transported the Pilgrims to the New World in 1620. Spend a few hours at the Mystic Aquarium (adults $37.99, $31.99 youth; 860-572-5955, mysticaquarium.org) communing with sea creatures, including beluga whales, seals, penguins and jellyfish.
Mystic Main Street is a tourist bazaar with restaurants, craft galleries (Curated), boutiques (Sage) and Sift Bake Shop, which made headlines when owner Adam Young won Food Network’s 2018 Best Baker in America. Don’t miss a cone at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream hard by the historic bascule bridge. Yes, there is a Mystic Pizza, but the best artisanal pies can be found at Pizzetta. Red 36 restaurant (named for a red channel buoy) is set right on the Mystic River in the shadow of a rotating railroad bridge. Both Steamboat Inn and The Whaler’s Inn place you right on the riverfront where the action is. The Inn at Mystic offers renovated motel-like rooms at relatively reasonable rates.
Pictured: Visitors wait to explore the Joseph Conrad, square-rigged ship that is among the exhibits at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.
BEACON, NEW YORK
How do you get your daily 10,000 steps in and feed your appetite for art at the same time? Spend an afternoon at the large contemporary art installation museum, DIA:Beacon, in photo, (adults $15, children under 15 free; 845-440-0100, diaart.org). On two floors of a repurposed paper factory, DIA:Beacon wows and puzzles, with both permanent and temporary collections. If you’re visiting on a Saturday through the end of October, arrange a cruise and tour of Pollepel Island and the ruins of what looks like a Scottish castle in the middle of the Hudson River. On a nice day or evening, kayak on the Hudson. Bring your own, or rent one from Mountain Tops Outfitters by the hour or day. Downtown, you’ll find a cornucopia of handcrafted jewelry and clothing (Beacon Talents), upcycled housewares (reMade) and plenty of nostalgic toys for your inner child (Play, Dream in Plastic). At the end of the day, enjoy a craft beer at Two-Way Brewing (kids are welcome; there is juice and soda) or Denning’s Point Distillery. Fans of “Doctor Who” will be thrilled to find Fish Fingers and Custard on the menu at the Pandorica, an eatery dedicated to the time-traveling doctor. Grab one of the best tacos in the land at Tito Santana Taqueria or some healthy comfort grub at Homespun Foods. For families on a budget, you’ll find the nicely appointed Hyatt House in Fishkill, just a few miles up the road.
Our nation’s capital is a perennial favorite for families, mostly because the monuments and museums are both compelling and free. The hottest ticket in town is the National Museum of African American History and Culture — timed passes must be obtained three months in advance online. If you can’t score entry, don’t fret: there are plenty more attractions to keep you engaged. The National Museum of the American Indian, pictured, (free, 202-633-1000, nmai.si.edu) has a vast collection of native arts and artifacts, along with photographs, film and recordings. The massive Bible Museum (adults $19.95, children $9.95; 866-430-6682, museumofthebible.org), a heartfelt overview of the world’s best-selling book from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the present. Other options include the Library of Congress (various themed tours available) and the riveting Newseum.
Stay at the luxurious Watergate Hotel, where renovated rooms are 1970s chic and key cards read “No need to break in.” Or try the Kimpton Mason & Rook — a smaller boutique hotel near the trending 14th Street district. If you’d like to stay out of town altogether, with reasonable parking rates and a quick metro ride into D.C., the new Canopy Hotel in North Bethesda, Maryland, is a chic and whimsical choice.