The reasons you should take public transportation are many: It’s better for the environment. You’ll spend less time navigating traffic and more time taking in the scenery. You’ll waste less cash on a bus ticket than you would on a few tanks of gas. And while it may take a little longer to get where you’re going, you’ll enjoy the trip along the way. Here’s how to get out of town and let someone else take the wheel.
New York City
Board the Metro North at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal and you can be in the quaint riverside Hudson Valley hamlet of Beacon, New York, in 80 minutes. The revitalized downtown sports cafés, charming shops, and a happening art scene, thanks to contemporary galleries like Dia:Beacon. Explore 25 miles of trails in nearby Hudson Highlands State Park, or paddle the Hudson River in a rented kayak or atop a SUP from Mountain Tops Outfitters. To get around town, borrow a bike from Peoples Bicycle.
It’s only a one-hour ride due west from Chicago to reach the town of Geneva, Illinois, making a trip on the Metra commuter railroad perfect for a day or weekend escape. You can walk everywhere you need to right from the station, and there are more than 30 miles of bike trails along the Fox River, with rentals, including kayaks, to be had at Mill Race Cyclery. Book a room at the waterfront Herrington Inn, and don’t miss summer concerts or the treehouse playground at Island Park, accessed from town by a footbridge.
Chicago and Los Angeles
From Chicago or Los Angeles, you can take an 11-day tour of the Southwest aboard the legendary Southwest Chief via Amtrak’s Vacations by Rail program. The highlight is a two-night stay on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, and you’ll visit four other national parks, including Utah’s Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef. You’ll also float down part of the Colorado River and spend a couple days in Moab.
For $10, you can load your mountain bike onto a Bolt Bus in Seattle, provided there’s room, and spend the weekend shredding 50 miles of rolling singletrack at Galbraith Mountain, just south of Bellingham, Washington. Afterward, grab a bite at Fiamma Burger and explore this coastal college town, sampling craft beers from more than a dozen local breweries along the way.
There are never enough parking spots at California’s famous Muir Woods, a 558-acre national monument just north of San Francisco filled with old-growth redwoods. So, starting this year, you have to reserve a spot ahead of time if you want to drive yourself. Instead, catch the public shuttle for just $3 per person from three easy-to-reach bus stops around the city. The best part? There’s no cell service at the monument, so even though you’re just across the Golden Gate Bridge, you can actually disconnect.
Hop on a Best Bus in Washington, D.C., and you can be reading a book in a beach chair at Dewey Beach, Delaware, 2.5 hours later—roughly the same time it takes to make the drive. You’ll find music festivals and movie nights on the sand, heated games of volleyball, and clams steamed in beer at the Dewey Beer Co. Earn your pints with an introductory or advanced kiteboarding lesson from East of Maui surf shop.
Step aboard the Catalina Express ferry in Long Beach, Dana Point, or San Pedro, California, and in one hour you’ll be transported to tranquil Catalina Island, 26 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. Shack up at Hotel Metropole (from $229), just steps from the beach in the town of Avalon, or book a canvas tent cabin at Two Harbors Campground (from $70 per night). More than 165 miles of hiking trails cross the island, including 27 miles of new paths completed in 2017. Catalina Backcountry offers gear hauling and guided hiking services and will cater three-course meals wherever you set up camp.
In 2016, FRS Caribbean's new high-speed ferry began taking vacationers from Miami, Florida, to Bimini, an island just 50 miles away in the Bahamas. This is the tropical paradise where Ernest Hemingway spent his summers. Package deals (from $255) include the two-hour ferry ride and a room at the Hilton at Resorts World Bimini, which opened in 2015. While on the island, sign up for a yoga retreat, swim with dolphins, snorkel through shipwrecks, or go bonefishing in mangrove forests.