In less than a two-hour drive from 10 of this country's bustling urban enclaves, visitors can find plenty of wonderful sights, tastes and activities located in smaller cities. Taking these day trips can introduce some unexpected travel riches. Here are 10 great day trips to try.
1. Ann Arbor, Mich.
Zingerman's is an iconic Ann Arbor eatery — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
It’s less than an hour's drive from Detroit to this dynamic small city, home to the University of Michigan and the legendary Zingerman’s, offering cheese, sweets, comfort food and everything in between at multiple outposts. Foodies will love the waffles and cupcakes offered downtown, goodies made from the state’s renowned cherries and Cuban-inspired or Italian cuisine. Ann Arbor also celebrates winter holidays in a big way.
2. Columbia, Mo.
Nature lovers enjoy Rock Bridge Memorial State Park — Photo courtesy of Jennifer McGovney
The University of Missouri’s home lies approximately two hours from St. Louis. Galleries and shops feature vintage clothing, outdoor equipment and Missouri arts and crafts. Popular restaurants include Wine Cellar and Bistro, offering an award-winning wine list and "seed-to-table" cuisine, or G&D Pizzaria, also known for steaks. Nature lovers appreciate Devil’s Icebox, a cave at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park that is always 56 degrees.
3. Fredericksburg, Texas
National Museum of the Pacific War — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
Located about an hour from San Antonio, this small city offers a vibrant German heritage and the world-class National Museum of the Pacific War. The Hangar Hotel replicates a WWII airplane hangar outside with period accommodations. Three local wineries offer tastings – as do several breweries – while Fischer & Wieser serves samples from its enormous variety of condiments, including award-winning raspberry chipotle sauce.
4. Granville, Ohio
Downtown Granville has a leafy New England feel — Photo courtesy of Gary Chisolm/Chisolm Studios Photography
Less than 30 minutes from Columbus, Ohio, Granville resembles a lovingly-maintained New England village full of vintage buildings. Home to Denison University, the town offers upscale lodging and food, which includes great breakfast at Aladdin Diner’s and Mexican fare at Day y Noche Restaurant. Add terrific museums and multiple specialty shops catering to students, residents and visitors for a complete package.
5. Lake Charles, La.
Mardi Gras Museum — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
Visitors can enjoy the state’s second-largest Mardi Gras celebration here, just two hours west of Baton Rouge. There’s also an enormous museum full of Mardi Gras memorabilia, as well as casino hotels with live entertainment and great restaurants. Tourists can savor seafood and Cajun cuisine or dance to joyous strains of zydeco music.
6. Las Cruces, N.M.
White Sands National Monument is a surreal natural wonder — Photo courtesy of Las Cruces Convention & Visitors Bureau
Beloved for its laid-back atmosphere, Las Cruces lies less than an hour away from El Paso or the Mexican border. The mighty Rio Grande, the Organ Mountains and stunning dunes at White Sands Missile Range provide natural beauty. Enjoy delicious Mexican fare and other world-inspired cuisine, plus art and history museums, for a well-rounded day trip.
7. Lawrence, Kan.
Watch the sunset over the University of Kansas campus — Photo courtesy of Lawrence Convention & Visitors Bureau
This vibrant, small city lies within an hour of Kansas City. It is Jayhawk country, with the University of Kansas as its gorgeous centerpiece. There’s also a wealth of locally owned restaurants and shops crowding funky "Mass" (Massachusetts) Street and other surrounding blocks. Additional popular sites include the Spencer Museum of Art and the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum.
8. Madison, Wis.
Madison, Wis., has a gorgeous capital building — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
Half the size of and just over an hour’s drive from Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s capital city has an energetic vibe partially fueled by the presence of 31,000 undergrad students who attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cycling enthusiasts love more than 100 miles of bike trails. Madison also boasts a striking lakeside convention center, terrific restaurants and the nation’s largest producer-only farmer’s market.
9. Mason City, Iowa
Historic Park Inn is a Frank Lloyd Wright treasure — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
Ever since the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Historic Park Inn reopened in 2011 after a $20 million restoration, Mason City has become an architectural hot spot. Located approximately two hours north of Des Moines or south of Minneapolis, the city offers an enormous concentration of Wright structures. Upscale hotel cuisine and old-fashioned diner food at the Suzie-Q Cafe are a few of several great dining choices.
10. Moss Landing, Calif.
The harbor in Moss Landing looks like a mirror in the morning — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
About two hours from San Francisco, Moss Landing couples the amenities of a laid-back travel destination with fishing village vibe. Boat tours give visitors a glimpse of gracefully swimming whales and dolphins in Monterey Bay, while shops and galleries line the main street. Check out the marine-inspired lodging at the Captain’s Inn and legendary Mexican seafood at The Whole Enchilada.