5 Weekend Escapes
• Santa Barbara County • Texas Hill Country • Southern Maine • Vail • Charlottesville
SANTA BARBARA COUNTY
Several stress levels away from (and an hour northwest of) the frenzy of Los Angeles sits coastal Santa Barbara County, which includes the eponymous city. The landscape—green hills with prestigious horse ranches fenced in by enormous mountains—is dotted with wineries that are well worth the trip. Visitors can even camp out in elegant safari tents in a nature preserve a short walk from the ocean.
—Brad A. Johnson
Where to Stay
the alisal guest ranch
Quarter horses, cattle and cowboys roam the grassy hills surrounding this working ranch. There's tennis and golf; the charming guest cottages have vaulted beamed ceilings, fireplaces and porches overlooking the wooded gardens, but no phones or TVs (doubles from $425; 1054 Alisal Rd., Solvang; 800-4-ALISAL or alisal.com).
san ysidro ranch
Jackie and John F. Kennedy honeymooned at this ranch outside the city of Santa Barbara. In addition to the main guesthouse, the property has cottages, most with decks and hot tubs. At the Stonehouse Restaurant, new chef John Trotta serves refined dishes like mascarpone and scallion risotto (doubles from $300; 900 San Ysidro Ln., Montecito; 800-368-6788 or sanysidroranch.com).
santa ynez inn
This 2 1/2-year-old Victorian-style hotel is within walking distance of everything in Santa Ynez, in the heart of wine country. The breakfast room serves excellent French toast, as well as late-evening desserts, such as triple-decker chocolate cake (doubles from $265; 3627 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez; 800-643-5774 or santaynezinn.com).
el capitan canyon
About 20 minutes outside the city of Santa Barbara, this elegant camping spot is set in a 2,500-acre nature preserve. The cedar cabins have private bathrooms and kitchenettes, while the safari tents share common facilities. In-room massage, surfing lessons and free bikes are available (doubles from $115; 11560 Calle Real, Santa Barbara; 866-352-2729 or elcapitancanyon.com).
What to Do
On weekends at a little 76 gas station on Highway 246, manager Rick Quinney fires up a barbecue smoker in the parking lot to make delicious dry-rubbed tri-tip roasts, whole or sliced for sandwiches (3545 E. Hwy. 246, Santa Ynez; 805-688-4223).
The 42-year-old winery, one of the area's first, makes excellent Pinot Noir and even better Syrah (6855 Santa Rosa Rd., Buellton; 877-708-9463 or lafondwinery.com).
Luscious, well-balanced Pinot Noirs are made in an adobe building on a picturesque knoll. Tastings take place in an old dairy barn, and goats trim the grass around the picnic tables (7250 Santa Rosa Rd., Buellton; 800-426-9463 or sanfordwinery.com).
zaca mesa winery
Some of the best estate-bottled Syrahs in the region are found here. Stop for a game of chess played with two-foot-tall pieces at the winery's oversize board in the courtyard (6905 Foxen Canyon Rd., Los Olivos; 800-350-7972 or zacamesa.com).
Where to Eat
brothers restaurant at mattei's tavern
Jeff and Matt Nichols opened Mattei's Tavern two years ago, and it's still the hottest restaurant in the valley. At the wisteria-covered former stagecoach stop, the two brothers offer their take on American chophouse food: house-cured salmon, great steaks and enormous venison chops. Local winemakers often stash their favorite bottles in the restaurant's wine cellar and then serve themselves (2350 Railway Ave., Los Olivos; 805-688-4820).
the hitching post II
Truckers, cowboys and Los Angeles socialites converge at this unpretentious roadside steak house. Santa Maria-style barbecue (assorted cuts of beef, like tenderloin, that are cooked over local red oak) and big steaks are served with chef-and-owner Frank Ostini's own Pinot Noir, one of the best in the valley (406 E. Hwy. 246, Buellton; 805-688-0676).
This excellent Italian trattoria, sandwiched between a popular greasy spoon and a notorious country-and-western bar, has a wood-burning oven that turns out incredible thin-crust pizzas and sausages roasted with white beans and sage (3687 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez; 805-688-6899).
TEXAS HILL COUNTRY
Some of America's best barbecue, chicken-fried steak and country music (Willie Nelson got his start here) are in Texas Hill Country, about 80 miles west of Austin. To see it all, drive along the Wildflower Trail, at its most colorful from April through June; it will take you through pecan and peach orchards, vineyards and small German-settled towns with funky roadhouses and old-fashioned general stores.
Where to Eat
cooper's old time pit bar-b-que
Easily one of the country's best barbecue joints. The meat (beef brisket, pork ribs, sausage, chicken) is cooked over mesquite coals for up to 10 hours; customers make their selections from the fragrant outdoor pits before going inside to choose sides like pickles and potato salad (604 W. Young St., Llano; 325-247-5713 or coopersbbq.com).
hill top cafe
This funky roadhouse, owned by local musician Johnny Nicholas, has the best chicken-fried steak in the Hill Country (they use sirloin, not the more common minute steak). The eclectic menu includes Cajun and Greek specialties—all good with Shiner Bock beer (U.S. 87, 10 miles north of Fredericksburg; 830-997-8922 or hilltopcafe.com).
The top place for lunch in Bandera, the self-proclaimed cowboy capital of the world. The bar stools are literally a row of saddles, and the back room is covered with pictures of John Wayne. The Tex-Mex standbys, especially enchiladas verdes and guacamole salad, are delicious (305 Main St., Bandera; 830-796-3836).
rather sweet bakery and arriba food and wine
Rebecca Rather recently expanded her popular bakery to include an upstairs dining area with uniquely Texan dishes like fried-oyster nachos (249 E. Main St., Fredericksburg; 830-990-0498).
This former general-store-turned-restaurant serves a wide-ranging selection of imported beers, German entrées and ambitious specials, like wild-mushroom cassoulet (223 Waring Welfare Rd., Boerne; 830-537-3700 or welfarecafe.com).
Where to Stay
the austin street retreat
On a serene street in Fredericksburg (a fun if touristy German-settled town with beer gardens), five secluded suites are clustered in a century-old villa. The decor is more shabby chic than Bonanza (doubles from $135; Gästehaus Schmidt, 231 W. Main St., Fredericksburg; 866-427-8374 or austinstreetretreat.com).
Co-owned by Sam Higgins (the national spokesperson for Wolf Brand Chili, Ranch Style Beans and Ro*Tel tomatoes), this 1854 property has Western-themed cabins. The ranch-style breakfasts (with homemade waffles and sticky pecan rolls) are legendary (doubles from $130; 1156 FM 2093, Fredericksburg; 830-990-2777 or chuckwagoninn.com).
frio river cabins
These comfortable cabins are near the gorgeous Lost Maples forest preserve, Garner State Park and one of the prettiest spots on the Frio River. Number 7, which has two bedrooms and a full kitchen, is in a corner among ancient live oaks, wildflowers and mountain laurel (doubles from $95; Concan; 830-232-5996 or friorivercabins.com).
What to Do
In the historic district of Gruene (pronounced GREEN) in New Braunfels, you'll find the state's oldest dance hall, Gruene Hall. The bar at the front is a local hangout; the spacious dance hall, in back, complete with weathered wooden tables and screen walls (that keep the place breezy), is a favorite concert venue for families, bikers, cowgirls and Austin college kids (1281 Gruene Rd.; 830-629-5077). If you get hungry, walk over to the Gristmill River Restaurant (1287 Gruene Rd.; 830-625-0684 or gristmillrestaurant.com), on the banks of the Guadalupe River, for great chicken wings and quesadillas. Gruene also has several fun souvenir shops like Gruene General Store (1610 Hunter Rd.; 800-974-8353 or gruenegeneralstore.com) that sell Texas salsas and metal Texaco signs.
john t. floore country store
Willie Nelson got his start (and still performs) at Floore's Country Store, the ultimate roadhouse, which also plays host to Dwight Yoakum and B.B. King, among others. Besides wonderful acoustics, there's a pool table, ice-cold beer and beef tamales (14492 Old Bandera Rd., Helotes; 210-695-8827).
texas wine cellars
A great shop specializing in Texas wines, the store will arrange excellent Hill Country vineyard tours with boxed lunches (217 1/2 E. Main St., Fredericksburg; 830-997-0123). They recommend tastings at Becker Vineyards (464 Becker Farms Rd., Stonewall; 830-644-2681 or beckervineyards.com).
Bostonians who are tired of traffic on the way to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard are heading an hour north to southern Maine for its mix of seafood shacks and historic inns. The area includes York, one of the country's oldest cities, upper-crust Kennebunkport and Ogunquit, where you can fish with a lobsterman.
Where to Stay
black point inn
At this 125-year-old shingled inn, you can take in the ocean view on the veranda or by strolling along the cliff walk. Look for classic dishes like lobster Thermidor in the formal dining room; jackets are required at dinner (doubles from $129; 510 Black Point Rd., Prouts Neck; 800-258-0003 or blackpointinn.com).
the white barn inn
One of New England's loveliest hotels, the White Barn has 25 luxurious rooms and three waterfront cottages, butler-drawn baths and spa services like the Four Hand massage. The restaurant features contemporary American food like pan-roasted Maine salmon with tomato jus (doubles from $305; 37 Beach Ave., Kennebunkport; 207-967-2321 or whitebarninn.com).
Where to Dine
Chefs Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier take advantage of their vegetable, fruit and herb gardens in New American dishes like lemongrass-and-lemon-roasted chicken. The dining room is in a renovated 18th-century farmhouse (Berwick Rd., Ogunquit; 207-361-1100 or arrowsrestaurant.com).
chauncey creek lobster pier
There's nothing fancy about this restaurant on a Chauncey Creek dock, but the clam chowder is creamy and the lobster is excellent. Regulars bring everything from wine to tablecloths, china and candelabras to dress up the unadorned tables (16 Chauncey Creek Rd., Kittery Point; 207-439-1030 or chaunceycreek.com).
stonewall kitchen cafe
Known for its outstanding preserves and sauces, the company expanded its pioneer store last summer to include furniture and a white-tiled café. The menu leans toward comfort-food standards like steak frites and chicken potpie (Stonewall Ln., York; 207-351-2719 or stonewallkitchen.com).
This affordable seafood restaurant from the owners of the White Barn Inn was so popular they moved it down the street to a larger space in the newly renovated Breakwater Inn. With its stainless steel tables and its view of the Kennebunk River, Stripers is one of the best places in town for fish and chips (131 Ocean Ave., Kennebunkport; 207-967-3118).
What to Do
finestkind scenic cruises
As close as you can get to lobstering without a license. The company has been running its small fleet of locally made wooden boats for almost 50 years. In addition to outings with a professional lobsterman, trips include harbor-seal watching around Ogunquit's Island Ledges and sipping twilight cocktails off Bald Head Cliff (Ogunquit; 207-646-5227 or finestkindcruises.com).
old york historical society walking tour
More than 350 years ago, York became one of America's first chartered cities, and its beauty has been well preserved. The tour includes a school, a tavern, a jail and the Emerson-Wilcox House, which has a tea table once owned by Reverend Joseph "Handkerchief" Moody, who inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil" (207 York St., York; 207-363-4974 or oldyork.org).
r. jorgensen antiques
The rooms of this shop are packed with Welsh cupboards, English linen presses, American Federal secretaries and 19th-century sideboards (502 Post Rd., Wells; 207-646-9444 or rjorgensen.com).
In the winter, Vail attracts aggressive skiers to its black-diamond slopes, about 100 miles away from Denver. Summer visitors come for different reasons:outstanding fly-fishing, wildlife concierges who know the best hikes through the surrounding White River National Forest and burgers at Wolcott Yacht Club—the insider's stop after a day of white-water rafting on the Eagle River.
Where to Stay
ritz carlton, bachelor gulch
Inspired by Western park lodges like Yellowstone's Old Faithful, the 1 1/2-year-old 237-room Ritz has a 21,000-square-foot spa. The hotel's unusual outdoor programs include amenities like Loan a Lab, which lends guests a dog to take on hikes, and a wildlife concierge who can help with wildflower identification and animal tracking (doubles from $295; 0130 Daybreak Ridge, Avon; 800-576-5582 or ritzcarlton.com).
sonnenalp resort of vail
In a town known for fake-chalet architecture, Sonnenalp has genuine Bavarian charm (it's been owned and managed by two generations of the Faessler family), as well as 88 stylish rooms, all with fireplaces, and expansive views of either Vail Village or Gore Creek. Plus, the hotel is extremely well located, right in the center of town (doubles from $240; 20 Vail Rd.; 866-284-4411 or sonnenalp.com).
What to Do
gore creek flyfisherman
The place with the best fly-fishing guides in Vail (183-7 E. Gore Creek Dr.; 970-476-3296 or gorecreekflyfisherman.com).
lakota river guides
All levels of rafting trips are available, including night-vision expeditions for nocturnal wildlife spotting (800-274-0636 or lakotariver.com).
red sky golf club
An eternal local debate exists over which course is best: the Tom Fazio, with stunning views of Vail's Back Bowls, or the Greg Norman, which cleverly incorporates the hilly terrain (376 Red Sky Rd.; 866-873-3759 or redskygolfclub.com).
Where to Eat
cranberry isles seafood company
Oysters and lobsters are shipped overnight to this popular 1 1/2-year-old restaurant (27 Main St., Edwards; 970-926-0639).
Chef and owner Thomas Salamunovich features a 4,000-bottle wine room, plus dishes like roasted duck with sun-dried apricots (458 Vail Valley Dr.; 970-479-8050).
wolcott yacht club
Local kayakers and rafters head here directly from the Eagle River for hefty burgers and fish tacos (27190 Hwy. 6, Wolcott; 970-926-3444).
Just 2 1/2 hours from Washington, D.C., Charlottesville has always had natural beauty and history, with the Blue Ridge Mountains and the magnificent homes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe nearby. Now, a burgeoning wine industry is adding new faces like Patricia Kluge, the iconoclastic socialite-turned-winemaker, who just opened a place that combines a gas station with an elegant restaurant.
What to Do
Most of Thomas Jefferson's extraordinary home is open only for tours, but you can linger in his 1,000-foot-long terraced vegetable garden, eight acres of fruit orchards and vineyards. Sangiovese wine made from Monticello grapes is occasionally available in the gift shop (931 Jefferson Pkwy.; 434-984-9822 or monticello.org).
university of virginia tours
The University Guide Service offers tours of the stunning Jefferson-designed Lawn and Rotunda (Pavilion VIII; 434-924-3239). Afterward, stop for a beer and a burger at the 80-year-old Virginian (1521 University Ave.; 434-984-4667).
Winemaker Luca Paschina makes exceptional wines from Italian grape varieties. Go for a tour and tasting, and stay for a meal at the winery's northern Italian Palladio Restaurant (17655 Winery Rd., Barboursville; 540-832-3824).
There are no tours yet of Kluge's property, but the Farm Shop serves as a tasting room and sells estate-canned jams and topiary from the greenhouses (100 Grand Cru Dr.; 434-977-3895 or klugeestatteonline.com). There are 18 other wineries in the Charlottesville area; for more information, see monticellowinetrail.org.
Where to Eat
keswick hall at monticello
Set near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this 600-acre English country manor has 48 antiques-filled rooms, formal gardens, an infinity-edged swimming pool and an 18-hole golf course designed by Arnold Palmer. Chef John Brand's modern American menu includes terrific dishes like pumpkin seed-crusted duck breast. After dinner, there's brandy and snooker in the billiards room (doubles from $310; 701 Club Dr.; 800-274-5391 or keswick.com).
200 south street inn
Two blocks from the excellent book and antiques stores along downtown's old Main Street, 200 South Street consists of two beautifully restored 19th-century houses (one was formerly a girls' finishing school and then a brothel). Many of the rooms are outfitted with canopy beds and fireplaces (doubles from $125; 200 South St.; 800-964-7008 or southstreetinn.com).
willow grove inn
Half an hour outside Charlottesville, this 225-year-old renovated plantation house is the ideal place to stay while visiting nearby vineyards. The distinguished kitchen serves Southern dishes like pecan-and-peanut-crusted rack of local lamb. On Saturday nights, a piano-and-bass duo plays hits from the '30s and '40s while guests dance (doubles from $295; 14079 Plantation Way, Orange; 800-949-1778 or willowgroveinn.com).
Where to Eat
This downtown diner gets packed at lunchtime with University of Virginia faculty. The retro interior features red-leather booths and vintage movie posters. There's roasted chicken and grilled rib eye, but Bizou's specialty is its succulent homemade meat loaf with chipotle ketchup (119 W. Main St.; 434-977-1818).
At Patricia Kluge's new combination gas-station-restaurant-convenience-store, you can refuel your car and order an egg-salad sandwich. Fuel's dining room offers French-accented dishes like grits with duck confit; the wine list includes more than two dozen by-the-glass selections (901 E. Market St.; 434-220-0864).
Located in Charlottesville's trendy Belmont section, Mas offers authentic and moderately priced Spanish tapas, like spicy potatoes with aioli and tender grilled squid with romesco. A concrete bar runs the length of the chic industrial space; seats there look into the open kitchen (501 Monticello Rd.; 434-979-0990).