Labor Day signals the unofficial end of summer, but don’t feel sad, because that just means it’s a prime opportunity to cap off the season with an amazing getaway. To help you decide where to go, we’ve rounded up some fresh ideas for a long weekend trip. The following destinations are perfect when you only have three or four vacation days to spare, and typically have lovely weather in early September. Plus, not one requires a passport -- a crucial consideration when you’re planning a last-minute jaunt. So, whether you want to squeeze in one last sun-soaked beach vacation or you’re looking for an under-the-radar destination that will go easy on your budget, you can start planning right here.
1. Greenville, South Carolina
Greenville, South Carolina, is definitely not a tourist mecca -- and that’s probably the reason you’ll want to go. Plus, the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains are just seven miles from its downtown area. Spend an afternoon paddle boarding on Lake Jocassee, or go zip-lining through the canopies of the Green River Gorge. You can also bike as far as 20 miles along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, or climb 499 steps up to the pinnacle of Chimney Rock.
This town is full of Southern charm, with more than 100 restaurants owned by local families. For one, the Southern Pressed Juicery serves 100 percent organic fare. Sports fans can savor an evening at Fluor Field while watching the Greenville Drive, a minor league baseball team and Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. If you’re coming from a big city, you’ll likely be stunned at how affordable everything is, from the eateries and museums (free) to those baseball tickets ($7).
Where to Stay: The elegant Westin Poinsett is conveniently located near the Greenville Zoo and Bon Secours Wellness Arena. It’s also home to Spoonbread, which turns out some seriously good Southern cooking.
2. Park City, Utah
While Park City may be best known for its skiing and the Sundance Film Festival in the winter, September brings plenty of fun, too. During the high season, this resort area can be pricey, but September falls during the shoulder season. That said, Labor Day can be an ideal time to visit if you want to grab a deal and still enjoy the beautiful weather (temperatures hover around the 70s this time of year).
Boating, hiking, and biking opportunities are in abundance here. Plus, every visitor should see the Utah Olympic Park, the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Don’t skip the zip line! Over Labor Day weekend, you can also catch the Flying Ace All-Stars Freestyle Show, in which olympians and national team skiers and snowboarders perform acrobatic feats 60 feet in the air before landing in the Spence Eccles Olympic Freestyle Pool. September 3 is the last performance. Back in town, head for Park City’s quaint Main Street, lined with cute boutiques, outdoor cafes, and 19th-century buildings that were built during the silver mining boom.
Where to Stay: The Waldorf Astoria Park City has a new Bait-to-Plate experience, wherein a guide leads guests to some of the prettiest and most bountiful fishing holes in the area. That evening, their local catch is turned into a gourmet dinner by the head chef.
3. Naples, Florida
Despite having some of the best beaches in Florida, Naples has managed to stay out of the path of the tourist throngs. And that’s a very good thing. The relaxed pace and family-friendly vibe here lends itself to kicking back at the end of a busy summer. Visitors can linger in the eclectic boutiques and galleries, and take a catamaran cruise or sunset sail. Naples is about a 45-minute drive from Everglades City, where you can catch a boat to take you on a swamp tour (if you’re lucky, there will be dolphins jumping all around you), hop on a swamp buggy, or stroll through the swamp entirely on boardwalks.
Where to Stay: The Edgewater Beach Hotel is akin to a beach house, but with lots of amenities. Suites have full kitchens. Folks can also enjoy an in-suite massage, bicycles and electric trolleys for trips into town, luxury beach beds on the sand, beach brunch picnic baskets, and private waterside dining.
4. The Open Sea
A cruise can be an amazing way to close out the summer. Here are three sailings that still have ample space for last-minute Labor Day bookings.
The Carnival Fantasy departs from Mobile, Alabama on August 31 for its four-day Western Caribbean cruise, stopping at Cozumel, Mexico. There, you have an entire day to romp with dolphins, swim in a cenote, or wander around the Mayan ruins. Over on the West Coast, the Carnival Inspiration sets off on September 1 for a three-day trip from Long Beach, California, to Ensenada, Mexico, where your options include a wine country tour and an off-road buggy adventure. On one of your sea days, be sure to stop into Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint, or treat the kids to a Dr. Seuss Green Eggs and Ham breakfast.
Meanwhile, Norwegian Sky’s three-day cruise to the Bahamas sets sail from Miami on September 1. Specialty restaurants and open bar are included with your cruise fare. Once in Nassau, feed the stingrays, snorkel, or hang out in Atlantis’ aqua park.
5. Morro Bay, California
This seaside fishing village with a bustling waterfront offers a picturesque getaway for those who like outdoor adventure -- and wine. Located along coastal Highway 1 in San Luis Obispo County, Morro Bay is a haven for kayaking, sailing, and stand-up paddle boarding. It’s also close to Hearst Castle and surrounded by vineyards, from Paso Robles to Edna Valley. Plus, don’t miss Morro Rock, an iconic landmark that you’ve probably seen in pictures.
Where to Stay: Near plenty of dining options and shops (and just a short drive to the beach), 456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites is a charming moderately-priced hotel that offers great views of the water and Morro Rock.
6. Sea Island, Georgia
The third annual Southern Grown Festival will return to Sea Island this Labor Day weekend (September 1 to 3) for a celebration of the region’s food and music culture. With concerts by the Drive-By Truckers and the Grammy-winning Steep Canyon Rangers, and appearances by regional celebrity chefs and mixologists, the festival itinerary has plenty of Southern flavor.
Where to Stay: Check into The Lodge at Sea Island, which sits on the site of a former cotton plantation. It feels like a 1920s-style golf clubhouse, with personal butlers who deliver milk and cookies to guest rooms at bedtime. If you’re traveling with children, you may want to consider The Cloister at Sea Island, which has direct access to the beach, pool, and family-friendly restaurants.
7. Lake Placid, NY
Tucked into the Adirondack High Peaks, Lake Placid is a serene and supremely scenic place to kayak, canoe, and boat. Walk around the gift shops and book stores in the charming village, then stop for a drink or bite at a pub or restaurant. Other highlights include the Lake Placid Olympic Center, where the infamous 1980 “Miracle on Ice” went down, and the Olympic Jumping Complex, where you can enjoy a gondola ride to the top of the observation deck. Summer tubing happens here, too.
Where to Stay: At The Whiteface Lodge, the Canoe Club outfits you to paddle onto Lake Placid’s Paradox Bay. Water-skiing and wakeboarding equipment is also available.
8. San Juan, Puerto Rico
Sea turtle nesting season in San Juan will be in full swing during Labor Day weekend. Eggs will be hatching between now and the end of September, when the adorable baby turtles make their way to the sea. A section of the San Juan metro area was recently also designated a critical habitat by the federal government, as it has become a prime nesting ground for leatherback sea turtles.
Where to Stay: Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort grants guests a front-row seat when the baby turtles emerge from their sandy nest and toddle toward the shoreline. Aside from that spectacle, the resort also offers some of the island’s best surfing.
9. Cincinnati, Ohio
Beer lovers and history buffs may want to spend their last long weekend of the season in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the mid-1800s, the city was home to 36 breweries. Miles of underground cellars and tunnels were created to cool and store the beer. Today, folks can sign up for tasting tours that escort visitors through original brewery buildings and underground tunnels to taste freshly crafted beer (and see the process). The Rhinegeist brewery, a.k.a. the “cathedral to beer” is a local favorite.
Where to Stay: Housed inside a late-19th-century building, the Cincinnatian Hotel is a small, historic property with classic yet contemporary decor. The property is located in the heart of downtown, a short walk from the Paul Brown Stadium.
10. Estes Park, Colorado
Nature and animal lovers, take note. Estes Park is bordered on all sides by protected wilderness, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Roosevelt National Forest. It’s hiking and biking heaven, and a prime spot for rock climbing. Kent Mountain Adventure Center is just one outfitter who caters to new climbers, providing all the necessary tools and experienced guides. Estes Park is also more affordable than many other mountain resort destinations in the state, and it’s just as suited for kids as it is for adults. To top it off, many of the hiking trails, shops, restaurants, and hotels in the area are dog-friendly.
Where to Stay: Book a room at the pet-friendly Stanley Hotel. This iconic, historic property is most famously known for its haunted heritage (ghost tours are conducted most evenings) and for serving as the inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining.” A free continental breakfast is served daily, and there’s an on-site whiskey bar.
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