Co-written with Scott Kearnan for STUFF Magazine and published in 2012.
Summer is coming and an itch to escape the urban sprawl is growing by the day. But too often, we busy worker bees commit venial vacation sins, allowing earned days off to expire unused or hastily booking ill-planned getaways. So the STUFF team looked ahead on the calendar for a few seasons and selected top getaway spots that represent some of New England's best destinations. While a tropical trip might be tempting, there's a case to be made for enjoying all that's immediately available - and, probably, more affordable - whether on Cape beaches, in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, or among the postcard-pretty landscapes of Maine. Instead of blowing your budget on a single vacation, choose a spot per season, fire up the Zipcar account, and give yourself a few well-deserved regional respites.
STAY HERE: "Silent Pine," "Stargazer," and "Sweet Fern" sound like Neil Young B-sides. But at Hidden Pond, such backwoods vernacular refers to the lodgings themselves. Composed of 16 cottages and 20 new bungalows, this luxurious Kennebunkport hideaway is housed within the jade majesty of the Maine beach woods. Each cottage and bungalow includes a river-stone fireplace, colorful bedding, and an outdoor shower. But you ca also immerse yourself in the great outdoors by visiting the fantastically situated Tree Spa. Built into the forest canopy and connected by catwalks, its three treatment rooms offer muscle-melting massages, facials, and body treatments. Nightly prices start at $425 (Kennebunkport is the pride of the preppy vacationer, after all), so if you're on a budget, the nearby Captain Fairfield Inn offers opulence at a lower cost.
EAT THERE: If you're homesick for Boston chef Ken Oringer's cooking, take heart. He now has his own Kennebunkport operation, Earth, on the Hidden Pond grounds. There you'll encounter paella with local seafood and yellowfin tuna tartare with quail egg. Also on our list is Kennebunkport classic Nunan's Lobster Hut. Offering hot, cracked crustaceans since 1953, it's a pillar of seaside living.
DO THIS: There's far more to Kennebunkport than its vacationing presidents. Begin your day by renting a kayak and hitting the open water, or enjoy the sea air on a lobster boat tour. (Feeling like a blue blood yet?) Once you've sunned yourself like a fat cat, brave Maine's only wooden roller coaster, Excalibur, at Funtown USA, located in nearby Saco. Come sundown, tuck into a Blue Fin Stout at Federal Jack's Restaurant & Brew Pub, take in a free Shakespeare performance at Lafayette Park, or simply stroll the sands of Goose Rocks Beach under the stars.
DON'T MISS: The annual Kennebunkport Festival (June 5-9) kick-starts summer with seaside cocktails, art receptions, and intimate dinners from Maine's most accomplished chefs. Winter travelers: check out the Christmas Prelude (November 29-December 9), complete with a lobster trap Christmas tree, chowder suppers, and the epically bizarre "Hat Parade."
Rose Island Lighthouse
Newport, Rhode Island
STAY HERE: A summer escape to your own private island with an unobstructed ocean view? Surely there's a catch. Sort of, but it's a cool one: overnight visitors at the Rose Island Lighthouse get an unbeatable rate if they agree to mind the house. Located a mile offshore from the coastal charms of Newport, this lighthouse-turned-museum is accessible by ferry and has been restored to its 1912 splendor. You can stay in the furnished museum quarters or become a voluntary "keeper" and shack up in the tower, where you'll perform tasks like flag-raising, log-keeping, and generator-starting. Too daunting? You can always visit by day and retire to the comforts of The Chanler at Cliff Walk.
EAT THERE: Any laboring lighthouse bearer needs a hearty fuel supply, so hit up Pour Judgment, where staples like a blue-cheese-smothered burger can be enjoyed with draft pints of Harpoon Leviathan IPA or a glass of Maine-sourced mead. For a ritzier rendezvous, tuck into an asparagus-and-lobster puff pastry at famed French outpost Bouchard.
DO THIS: There's no shortage of shopping in downtown Newport, even if you're just drooling over designer goods while Real Housewives swipe their black cards. If the weather permits, bring your binoculars to neighboring Middletown; look to the sky at the Norman Bird Sanctuary or take in the local wildlife by bike along the weaving trails at Sachuest Point. Then cap your day with cocktails over Thames Street at The Red Parrot, followed by a night of slow-burning jazz or New Wave pop at One Pelham East.
DON'T MISS: Back in 1965, a young, Stratocaster-wielding Bob Dylan infuriated fans by going "electric" at the Newport Folk Festival. This year, the legendary music fest (July 28-29) boasts a lineup featuring My Morning Jacket and Iron & Wine. Visit earlier (July 12-15) to experience calligraphy workshops, "sushi sailing," and live sumo wrestling at the Black Ships Festival.
North Conway, New Hampshire
STAY HERE: Why settle for a log cabin when you could snuggle between the jaws of a giant oyster? Or soak in a stone hot tub with its own waterfall, jungle foliage, and starry sky? You'll encounter these amenities at Adventure Suites, a hotel featuring 17 themed-to-the-extreme lodgings on the edge of North Conway (the shopping mecca of northern New Hampshire). Priced from $109 to $499 a night, the suites don't exactly come cheap, and frugal folk can opt for the cozy Swiss Chalets Village Inn just up the road. But would-be Harrison Fords, consider this: you won't find another cave in the Granite State with a PS2 and no bat guano to speak of.
EAT THERE: NoCo's Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Co. is a must-stop for gourmets and lumberjacks alike. Nosh the right way with pecan-smoked beef brisket, organic butternut squash, and a pint of foamy, fresh-brewed Bohemian pilsner, all amid the trappings of a Victorian house. (If you eat yourself into a food coma, book a bed in one of the five inn rooms upstairs.) There's also the acclaimed 1785 Inn & Restaurant and its talk-of-the-town venison, glazed with rosemary, wild cherries, and bourbon. And no meal in NoCo is complete without a stop at Zeb's General Store for some penny candy shopping.
DO THIS: Glen Ellis Falls, Diana's Baths, and other natural wonders of the White Mountains are a brief car ride away. Alternatively, you can take a rumbling trip through the wild on the Conway Scenic Railroad. Or simply stroll down Main Street for farm-made treats like pine candles and maple-cured bacon.
DON'T MISS: Autumn visitors can throw axes, admire prize-winning cattle, and enjoy old-fashioned horse-and-harness races at the nearby Fryeburg Fair (September 30-October 7). If you can brave a White Mountains winter, don your long-johns for February's Ice Fest, where you'll meet international ice-climbing pros, watch stomach-twisting films of their exploits, and even give it a try yourself at a clinic.
STAY HERE: From the cherry-red Old World doors to its resident pack of cuddly Saint Bernards, the Summit Lodge reminds us of the Swiss childhood we never had. Located in the heart of the Green Mountains with easy access to Killington Peak and its plummeting ski trails, the lodge offers cozy accommodations for alpine athletes and midsummer trampers alike. And with economy rooms ranging from $70 to $159, a trip to the slopes won't break your back. . . sorry, bank this time. Should the mighty Killington itself be your destination, consider the closer Killington Grand Resort Hotel, with access to the highest express gondola lift in Vermont.
EAT THERE: Unwind after a day of shredding at On the Rocs, a sleek lounge serving sharable fare like Kobe sliders and crab-stuffed calamari. We suggest washing them down with a Dark and Stormy made with the house ginger beer. If actual beer is more your thing, a short ride down Route 4 will take you to Long Trail Brewing Company, where you can take a tour and pair a pint of Hibernator ale with smoked bratwurst.
DO THIS: Rocket and ricochet your way down Killington's ski trails, or take it all in at a quieter pace - and maybe spot a snow hare or two - via snowshoe. Certain lifts remain open after dark, but you'll find us jiving to live reggae music at the Pickle Barrel Nightclub downtown.
DON'T MISS: Get to Killington by March 30 to dance the waning days of winter away at the three-night SnowMont Music Festival. (The annual mounain rave's 2012 lineup features Snoop Dogg, Chromeo, and Kaskade.) For a more folksy experience, head to nearby Stockbridge for August's Tweed River Music Festival, where bluegrass is - and always has been - the new black.