Weekend Vacations in the Southeast
Weekend Vacation Ideas
Mulling over some weekend vacation ideas? A couple of days away from the drudgery and boredom of everyday life can recharge your battery and provide a whole new outlook. We prefer car trips for our weekend getaways because we don’t want to waste hours in busy airports. Besides, getting there can be half the fun! We try to choose weekend vacations that are within a few hours’ drive, and we’re pretty fortunate here. We can be at the coast in just a couple of hours, in Atlanta in three hours, and in the Blue Ridge Mountains in just over four. For last minute weekend getaways, we often stick to these destinations. If we have a long weekend, however, we might venture a little farther, maybe to Central or South Florida, or to Gatlinburg. Heck, we’ve even chosen New Orleans for long weekend vacations! Join me in a quick tour of weekend vacations in the Southeast.
Weekend Vacations in the Southeast
You might be wondering why I’m sticking to weekend vacations in the Southeast in this article. There are a couple of reasons. I live in the Southeast, so I’m writing about weekend vacations with which I’m familiar. Another reason is because of the cultural and geographical diversity in the region. The Southeast offers a little of just about everything you can think of – mountains, beaches, islands, great theme parks, museums, historical sites, zoos, unique shopping venues, aquariums, sprawling lakes and reservoirs, and vast forests. Whether you’re looking for big cities to quiet country hamlets, you can find it here.
If you’re looking for outdoor adventures, you’ll find those, too. Your weekend getaways “down South” can include ziplining, rock climbing, hiking, tubing, kayaking, eco tours, swimming, snorkeling, wildlife encounters, hunting, trout fishing, saltwater fishing, horseback riding, water skiing, snow skiing, whitewater rafting, river tubing, camping, or boating. And as far as lodging goes, you can find every sort of accommodation you can think of, whether you want to be pampered in a glitzy resort or “rough it” in a wilderness camp. Of course, there’s everything in between, too, including beach cottages, state park lodges, private vacation homes, hotels, motels, condos, townhouses, duplexes, triplexes, and bed-and-breakfast inns.
Spa getaways are a wonderful way to rejuvenate both your mind and your body. You can find great spa getaways all over the Southeast. One of the most popular and prestigious is right here in my home state – Chateau Elan. Chateau Elan is less than an hour from Atlanta, located in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There’s lots to do here, including swimming, biking, tennis, watching equestrian events, walking nature trails, golfing, and working out in the fitness center. There’s also a vineyard and a winery, along with gourmet restaurants, a casual grill, an Irish pub, a poolside bar, a lounge, and cooking classes. The rooms at the inn are beautiful and comfortable, and each has a large flat screen TV, a small fridge, a coffee maker, a safe, a work desk, WiFi, a hair dryer, and an iron and ironing board.
All these things are great, but since we’re talking spa getaways, what about the spa at Chateau Elan? To start with, it’s a European spa that’s beautifully appointed. Services include several different types of massage therapy: a wellness massage, a deep tissue massage, a hot stone massage, a pregnancy massage, and a reflexology massage. There’s also a massage treatment for couples. The spa also offers body wraps, facials, detox treatments, microdermabrasion, anti-aging peels, hydrotherapy treatments, manicures, pedicures, and more.
Cheap Weekend Getaways
There are several ways you can enjoy cheap weekend getaways. Of course, “cheap” is a relative term, so cheap getaways for some might not be cheap for others. I suppose it all depends on the size of your budget, what you want from a vacation, and your attitude. That being said, there are certainly some ways to save some money on weekend getaways.
Most people are going to be driving to their weekend vacation destinations, so one way to save money is on gas. Obviously, the closer your destination, the less gas you’ll use. Taking your family’s smallest or most fuel-efficient vehicle will help, too. For weekend getaways, you shouldn’t have to carry much luggage, so car space probably won’t be an issue.
In many cases, the biggest problem with cheap getaways is the cost of lodging. Have you considered camping? It’s a great family activity, and campsites are cheap compared to most other types of lodging. Another way to lower the cost involved with accommodations is to check out lodges run by state parks. Some parks also have cabins for rent. In either case, you might find that they’re much less expensive than traditional lodging choices.
When thinking of cheap weekend vacations, you might also want to consider when you go. This might sound like a no brainer, but many travelers don’t do enough research to find out when the cheapest travel times are, and they can vary significantly from destination to destination. For example, in many places, accommodations are more expensive on the weekends, but this doesn’t always prove to be true. For example, in large cities that commonly have lots of visitors on business, rooms are often cheaper on the weekends – great ideas for cheap weekend getaways.
Sometimes you can also save a bundle on last minute weekend getaways. Hotels that have empty rooms are usually willing to reduce their rates, sometimes drastically. Of course, you have to be somewhat flexible with your schedule to take advantage of good deals when it comes to last minute weekend getaways. Just be sure to call and confirm a reservation before you leave home. You don’t want to be stranded somewhere with no place to stay. Regretfully, I speak from experience.
Weekend Vacation Packages
Another way to save money is to check out weekend vacation packages. Such deals might include two nights’ lodging and meals. That might be three meals a day, breakfast and dinner only, or meal vouchers that you can use as you please. If your destination is near major attractions or events, weekend package deals might also include tickets to the events, activities, or attractions.
Sometimes package deals are great weekend vacation ideas, but sometimes they’re not. Compare different packages before making a decision. Find out what they all offer, and judge by value and not by price alone. A package could be more expensive yet offer more services. If you’re going to use all the services provided, it could be cheaper in the long run to buy the package instead of paying for everything separately.
Girls Weekend Getaways
Girls weekend getaways are awesome! I’ve been on several of these weekend vacations with a few gal pals, and we had a blast. One of the best girls weekend getaways I ever experienced was a trip to Atlanta with some friends. We stayed at a nice hotel, took in a show at the Fox Theater, shopped at Lenox Square, and enjoyed some fabulous meals. I highly recommend this weekend vacation!
The Fox Theater is amazing. It’s a beautiful venue in itself, and it hosts some spectacular shows. You can find Atlanta hotels very close by, too, so you won’t have to do much, if any, driving. Be sure to schedule some time for shopping, too. Atlanta shopping offers everything you can think of, and Lenox Square is a must-see experience. Some of the shops and stores at Lenox Square include Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, American Eagle, Banana Republic, BabyGap, Bath & Body, Bloomingdales, Burberry, BVLGARI, Cartier, Coach, Ed Hardy, Fendi, Gymboree, Hollister, Kenneth Cole, Macy’s, Michael Kors, Neiman Marcus, Nine West, Pandora, Pottery Barn, Ralph Lauren, Victoria’s Secret, and many more.
If you prefer girls weekend getaways at the beach, you’ll have many options in the Southeast. If you want beautiful water, white sand, and exciting nightlife, you’ll enjoy Panama City Beach. If you prefer a place on the Atlantic side of Florida, check out Amelia Island. It’s a lot calmer and quieter than Panama City, but there’s still enough to do and see to keep you entertained. Besides, Jacksonville is just a hop, skip, and a jump away.
Get with your peeps and discuss what everyone is looking for in girls weekend getaways. What major activity do you guys want to enjoy? Outdoor types might prefer more close-to-nature weekend vacations. These might include horseback riding, hiking, attending a sports clinic, skeet shooting, golfing, canoeing, or camping. More and more women are enjoying fishing these days, so you might even consider booking passage on a charter boat.
Whether you’re planning a quiet weekend vacation or weekend getaways that are super active, Helen, GA will suffice – depending on what time of year you go. In the summer, the town is crowded, with lots more activities geared toward children and families: carnival rides, miniature golf, and river tubing. In the fall months, it’s pretty crowded, too, as people flock to the Blue Ridge Mountains to see the foliage. In October, the annual Oktoberfest is held, and lodging is more expensive. The little town is filled with revelers, also. Once the fall foliage crowd thins out as the leaves begin to drop from the trees, Helen becomes a quiet place, and this pretty much continues through much of the spring.
Helen GA is in the northeastern part of the state. It’s modeled after a Bavarian village, with storybook architecture, stone walkways and bridges, German restaurants, and lots of neat little shops. Nearby attractions include panning for gold, horseback riding, trout fishing, and hiking. Just up the road from Helen is Anna Ruby Falls, beautiful cascades with adjacent paved walking trails.
Dillard, GA is in the extreme northeast corner of the Peach State. It’s a laid-back town that provides beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has some interesting shops on the main drag, where you can browse antiques, locally made crafts, souvenirs, gifts, and home décor. There’s also a Christmas store that has lots of great decorations. Don’t forget to take in nearby Tallulah Gorge, which is just south, on U.S. 441. By the way, we’ve been to Dillard many times, and we’ve never seen it crowded.
One place you just have to “do” on your weekend getaways to Dillard is the Dillard House. Dillard House provides lodging, horseback riding, and a legendary restaurant. Most of the food served there is locally grown and produced, and all the dishes are real Southern comfort food. It’s brought to your table in large serving bowls, and when a bowl is emptied, it’s quickly refilled. If you have to wait for a table, use the time to check out the gift shop for homemade goodies like jams, jellies, preserves, candies, pickles, and the famous Dillard House country ham. After your meal, if you can walk, take a stroll out to the nearby petting zoo and stables. I’ve always been impressed by the quality of their horses, and their trail rides are great.
Atlanta is great for weekend getaways – for families, groups of friends, and couples. Kids will love Six Flags Over Georgia, ZooAtlanta, Stone Mountain, the Children’s Museum, LEGOLAND Discovery Center, and the Georgia Aquarium. Of course, adults will probably enjoy these attractions, too, but they might prefer Underground Atlanta, the High Museum, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, the Margaret Mitchell House, the World of Coca-Cola, the CNN Center, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, or the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. If you want to take in a sporting event, check the schedules of games at Turner Field, Philips Arena, or the Georgia Dome. I’ve already mentioned the Fox Theater, which is definitely worth a visit.
If you’re not familiar with getting around Atlanta, take my advice – don’t drive any more than you have to. If you can find a hotel near a MARTA rail stop. The train will take you to just about all the major attractions, and the fare is only $2.50. Kids ride free. The next best choice of transportation is the MARTA bus. Visitors can take the bus to Six Flags Over Georgia and to Turner Field. Of course, taxi cabs are available, too. Most offer a flat rate for destinations within a certain area, about $30 for the first passenger and a couple of bucks for each additional passenger.
What are great weekend getaways without some memorable meals? If you think like I do, you’ll love Atlanta restaurants. No matter what you’re in the mood for, you’ll find it: Southern cuisine, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Caribbean, barbecue, Irish, Thai, Pan-Asian, British, German, Italian, Mexican, seafood, steaks, Cajun, Creole, soul food, Spanish, Mediterranean, French, fusion, burgers, pizza, Puerto Rican, Southwestern, vegetarian and vegan, bakeries, coffeehouses, delis, and more. Oh, and by all means – if you have kids with you, take them to the famous Varsity for a hot dog!
Cherokee, NC is a crowded, touristy city that’s often referred to as “Gateway to the Smokies.” In other words, the Smoky Mountains surround Cherokee, and the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just beyond the city limits. Even though the town itself is congested, you can be in the “wilderness” in just a few minutes. Because of its location, many people enjoy lodging in Cherokee and taking day trips from there. Not to say that there’s nothing to do in Cherokee – there is.
Adults might enjoy spending a few hours at Harrah’s, a casino owned and operated by the Cherokee nation. Families will enjoy a tour of the Oconaluftee Indian Village, where Native Americans perform live demonstrations. Visitors can also go whitewater rafting or tubing, pan for gold, mine for precious stones, zipline through the Nantahala Gorge, or paddle a kayak. Kids will enjoy Santa’s Land, a theme park with shows, rides, and a small zoo. One thing you have to see on your visit to Cherokee NC is “Unto These Hills,” an outdoor drama presentation that relates the history of the Cherokee people.
Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, TN
Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN are practically back-to-back cities. As you leave one, you’re beginning to enter the other. Gatlinburg is more about shopping, while Pigeon Forge is more about other activities. Both have lots of restaurants and lodging choices. There’s seemingly no end to all the fun activities provided in this area! Some of the most popular include go-cart racing, haunted house tours, the Titanic replica, water parks, theme parks, the Egyptian tomb replica, gem mines, miniature golf, MagiQuest, roller skating, the Jungle Boat Ride, and video arcades. You can even ride a camel! Pigeon Forge has lots of live shows, including musical shows, comedy routines, and mystery dinner shows.
Just outside Gatlinburg, on Glades Road, are some interesting shops where you can see local artists and craftsmen work on their creations. Shop for pottery, candles, statuary, ceramics, handmade soaps, blown glass, quilts, baskets, dolls, scrimshaw, wood carvings, stained glass, jewelry, handmade furniture, paintings, and photographs. While you’re there, have a bite to eat in a cozy tavern, and if local musicians are around, you can enjoy a free impromptu concert.
Outdoor adventures abound, too. Ride horses through the mountains, go whitewater rafting, zipline high above the forest floor, cast a fly for mountain trout, go hiking, or try Zorbing – rolling down a hill inside a giant plastic bubble. If you take the air tram up to Ober Gatlinburg, you can also try your hand – or feet – at ice skating, and in the winter, snow skiing is offered.
Although Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are often crowded and busy, you won’t have to drive far for some peace and quiet and natural beauty. Take the Orchard Road loop for some backcountry views, and definitely make the short trip to Cades Cove, a historic settlement tucked deep in a valley. The scenic drive alone is worth the time. You’ll see rivers, rushing mountain streams, lots of foliage, huge exposed boulders, and wildlife. Take a lunch with you and have a picnic by a clear stream. Believe me – you could have lots of great weekend getaways to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge without ever getting bored!
Cape San Blas, FL
Cape San Blas, FL is located on the Panhandle, in the Gulf of Mexico. Cape San Blas isn’t very developed, although it’s getting there. Still, compared to many other Florida beaches, Cape San Blas is very quiet, and it remains a natural area. The main activities on the Cape are fishing, swimming, shelling, sunning, and playing on the beach. The main lodgings include private homes, cottages, and condos. There’s also camping at the state park, with lots of wildlife viewing.
Cape San Blas has the unique characteristic of having water on both sides. On one is the Gulf, and on the other is St. Joseph Bay. The Bay is clear and shallow, perfect for snorkeling. When scallop season opens, you’ll see lots of boats and waders searching for and gathering these delicious critters. You might want to try your hand at scalloping. You can rent a boat and be your own guide, book passage on a scalloping boat, or do it on foot.
Gulf Shores, AL
If you’re in the region, you might consider Gulf Shores, AL for your weekend vacations. As the name implies, the town is located on the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches are dazzling white, and the water is a seriously emerald shade of green. There’s also lots to see and do, so schedule your time carefully.
What can you do on weekend getaways to Gulf Shores? In the warmer months, you’re going to want to spend a lot of time luxuriating on the beach, soaking up the sun, and playing in the water. Other nearby attractions include historic Civil War battlegrounds and forts, the Gulf Shores Museum, Gulf State Park, Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center and IMAX Theater, Alligator Alley gator farm, live shows, nature preserves, wildlife refuges, a zoo, Bellingrath Gardens, eco-tours, bi-plane rides, historic homes, and museums. Kids can ride go-carts, play video games, enjoy carnival rides, play laser tag, play miniature golf, bump in bumper boats, and paddle in paddle boats. They’ll love the water parks, too. The entire family will enjoy a cruise aboard a pirate ship!
In addition to swimming, snorkeling, and body surfing, other outdoor activities available are kayaking, sailing, hot air ballooning, horseback riding, dolphin cruises, SCUBA diving, jet skiing, hunting, tubing, boating, and parasailing. If you want the excitement of something extreme without the associated risk, try the skydiving simulator. Fishing in the Gulf is a favorite pastime - from the shore, from a pier, in the surf, or aboard a charter boat. There are also several freshwater lakes in the area where you can cast for bass, bream, and catfish.