Every holiday season, I promise this will be the year I gift myself driving lessons.
Yet, as a native New Yorker, the last time I put my foot to the gas pedal, uber was just an adjective.
Beyond my aversion to the driver’s seat, there are many practical reasons to go for public transportation for your next local getaway: it’s cheaper, more eco-friendly and often faster.
Whether you’re craving urban exploration or wide open country, it’s time to get on the road — but not behind the wheel.
In 2016, my dear friend Angie and I journeyed to Portsmouth.
We feasted at James Beard-nominated restaurants (Moxy, Black Trumpet), gaped at gingerbread houses at the yearly Vintage Christmas fête and tackled holiday shopping in Market Square, which originated in the 1700s. Under the omnipotent gaze of North Church’s white steeple, I swore I’d be back for another Winter Wine Festival — think jazz brunches, wine education, vintner dinners — at Wentworth by the Sea (in 2019, it’s from Jan. 18 to Feb. 17).
Check into the Water Street Inn (est. 2018) in Kittery, Maine’s oldest town; downtown Portsmouth is walkable via a quick stroll across the Piscataqua River. Or post up at the Residence Inn By Marriott, which offers Skate & Stay packages with two passes to Puddle Dock Pond.
Get there: C&J from Port Authority Bus Terminal to Portsmouth; ~5 hours
There’s a mythic, heavy quality to the air in the Catskills. Let it entrance your harried city soul at the new Resorts World Catskills as home base. When you’re done testing Lady Luck, tee up in the TopGolf Swing Suites simulators, dine at Cellaio, “Chopped” judge Scott Conant’s Italian steakhouse, or simply gaze out of your room’s mammoth windows at those restorative mountains.
This month, the $1.2 billion resort will welcome a second hotel, The Alder, followed by a (real) golf course and the Kartrite Hotel and Indoor Waterpark in spring 2019.
The resort can coordinate transportation to nearby Monticello Motor Club for racetrack thrills or Holiday Mountain, with three ski hills, ice skating and snow tubing. Grab a meal at lakefront haunt The Local Table and Tap, where regional outdoor photography cozies up the walls.
Get there: Various bus routes from NYC direct to Resorts World; ~2 hours
In a land where slurred “Rs” still reign, PVD juxtaposes classic New England (historic homes, the Ivy League, seafood) with the surprising (indie art, vegan eats, nice people). This holiday season, draws include Art Providence Holiday Show, “A Magical Cirque Christmas,” ice bumper cars at the Providence Rink and boat rides with Santa. Survey the city’s outstanding food scene with three-course meals from $16.95 for Providence Restaurant Weeks (Jan. 13 to 26). Rest up at the centrally located Omni Providence.
Get there: Amtrak to Providence ; ~3½ hours
Saratoga Springs, NY
In colder months, Saratoga Springs takes on a roguish energy that lends itself nicely to cider sipping and fireplace lazing. Accomplish both at Henry Street Taproom before leaving the rest of the weekend to bacchanalian chance. Our picks? “A Christmas Story” at Home Made Theater, the Saratoga Farmers Market and steeping in a mineral bath at Roosevelt Baths & Spa. If you can time it, consider First Night Saratoga, which is expecting 15,000 attendees this year.
Now helmed by Lark Hotels, The Downtowner is a vintage motor lodge that reopened this summer with enough panache to delight David Hockney. For quainter digs, try the Geyser Lodge, walking distance to Saratoga Spa State Park and downtown.
Get there: Trailways Bus or Amtrak to Saratoga Springs; ~4 hours
Seasonal magic abounds at Charm City’s German Christmas Village (through Dec. 24) in West Shore Park. Once you’re Christkindlmarket-ed out, torch calories at Pandora Ice Rink or gain some at Bluebird Cocktail Room, a literary-themed bistro with tipples inspired by authors like Hemingway and Woolf. Another seasonal lure is Holiday Afternoon Tea at Baltimore Museum of Art’s Gertrude Chesapeake Kitchen, then catch “John Waters: Indecent Exposure,” a retrospective of the native Baltimorean’s visual arts pieces.
Open until New Year’s Day is the can’t-miss “Miracle on 34th Street,” a stretch of row houses transformed into a dazzling lights display with themes running from Disney to TV shows filmed around town. Recuperate from the twinkles at Hotel Revival in the Mt. Vernon Cultural District or the waterfront Sagamore Pendry Baltimore.
Get there: Amtrak to Baltimore; ~3 hours
This January, Mohegan Sun unveils Aspire, a luxe “hotel within a hotel” concept with butler service and private gaming within a sleek lounge.
Or splurge on a treatment at the Mandara Spa and stay in the 2016-built Earth Tower, with 400 pristine rooms. Food-wise, indulge at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse — this month, it’s introduced a trio of decadent mac and cheeses; Maryland crab, truffle, and duck with foie gras — or Mexican cantina SolToro.
After dinner, carouse at the 10,000-person arena where Justin Timberlake (Dec. 21 to 22), Kesha (Dec. 31) and country rockers Old Dominion (2/8) are on deck. Fancy cuisine over concerts? There’s the Sun Wine & Food Fest (Jan. 24 to 27), with chefs including Alex Guarnaschelli, Bobby Flay and Marcus Samuelsson.
Get there: Amtrak to New London then take taxi or ride sharing service 20 minutes; ~3 hours
Somerset County, NJ
For a romantic tryst, stay at Bernards Inn for their winter romance package with a four-course tasting menu and wine pairings. With youngsters? Book the historic Olde Mill Inn in Basking Ridge, New Jersey’s horse country. During your visit, plan outings to Branchburg Sports Complex’s laser tag arena and Duke Farms for snowshoeing.
On two Saturdays, Dec. 15 or Dec. 22, hit up the Winter Wonder Lights show at Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium.
The ample taxis and ride-sharing availability in this area are good reminders that those highway lessons can wait until next year.
Get there: NJ Transit to Bernardsville, Basking Ridge or Somerville; ~75 minutes
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