From Bar Harbor to the Cape, summer in New England boasts a wealth of wallet-friendly arts and recreation options within driving distance from its bustling cities. But as anyone who's been trapped behind the wheel of a crowded car in heavy traffic knows, road trips are no fun when you're the driver. And this summer, with price gouging at the pumps at an all-time high, motoring vacations promise to be an even more miserable travel experience than usual.
Luckily, many summer hotspots are easily accessible by public transportation, so leave your car at home this year and leave the driving to a cool, calm professional of some sort. (We're assuming that everyone reading this can manage to get to Boston, Portland, or Providence. And the transit schedules are as near as your Web browser.) When you don't have to worry about gas, parking tickets, or tolls, and you're liberated from two-drink limits and backseat drivers, you'll remember why you went on vacation in the first place: to relax.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Take a Vermont Transit bus from Boston or Portland. Providence commuters must transfer buses at Boston’s South Station.
Easily accessible by bus in the summer months, distant Bar Harbor is a sporty yet serene getaway for active families and couples. Unwind on a nature tour or cruise, go sailing, or try golfing at Kebo Valley Golf Club (the eighth oldest course in the country).
While buses and trolleys leave daily from downtown Bar Harbor for Acadia National Park, you may prefer to rent bikes and navigate the park's 55 miles of trails on your own. Adventurous types can book mountain-climbing classes and explore the park from its cliffs. After a day of outdoor activities, retreat to the Maine Lobster Museum or the Abbe Museum (with displays relating to Maine's Native American heritage), then stuff your face with lobstah and other local seafood specialties.
From Providence, take Amtrak or a bus to Boston, then (sigh) take the subway to Boston's North Station. The Amtrak Downeaster provides service to Portland. Once there, take a taxi 17 miles to downtown Freeport.
Though it's disguised as just another seaside village, Freeport houses some of the best outlet shopping in the Northeast. Traditional bed and breakfasts and gift shops are still easy to find, but many of Freeport's historic buildings are now inhabited by the likes of Banana Republic and Ralph Lauren.
The town's centerpiece is the massive L.L. Bean complex. Composed of three multi-story buildings, the L.L. Bean store sells hunting, fishing, and camping gear to people who rarely hunt, fish, or camp. It's conveniently open 24 hours so, if you're sneaky, you may be able to save on a hotel room and camp out overnight in the tent displays.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
From Portland, take a Vermont Transit bus directly into downtown Portsmouth. Providence commuters must transfer buses in Boston. From South Station, take Greyhound to downtown Portsmouth or take C&J Trailways to the Portsmouth Transportation Center. The COAST trolley provides transportation around the city.
This laidback seacoast city marries cosmopolitan and quirky with its unique boutiques, cozy restaurants, and local brews. Shop for art and formal wear downtown, or opt to take home fighting-nun puppets and a bonsai tree instead. History buffs can visit the Strawbery Banke Museum (for a glimpse of traditional Portsmouth life), follow the Portsmouth Harbour Trail, or tour the area's historic homes.
Since you won't have to worry about driving, take full advantage of Portsmouth's breweries. Enjoy a powerful sampler of the Portsmouth Brewery's best ales, lagers, and stouts downtown, or visit the Redhook Brewery or Smuttynose Brewing Company (both located four miles from downtown) for tours, tastings, and deals.
Lincoln, New Hampshire
Take a Concord Trailways bus from Boston's South Station to Lincoln. Providence commuters can get a train-and-bus deal through Amtrak. From Portland, take Vermont Transit and transfer at South Station.
This White Mountains destination isn't ashamed to pull out all the stops when tourist season rolls around. Although it's surrounded by natural beauty, many of the big attractions in the area rely on bizarre gimmicks. Clark's Trading Post, for example, isn't just a nostalgic gift shop; it's a spectacular venue for trained bears, a circus, and a real, live Wolfman. Alpine Adventures hosts off-road "Summer Safaris" and zipline canopy tours.
Flume Gorge and the caves of Lost River are a cab ride away, while Loon Mountain offers scenic gondola rides. While you're in the Franconia Notch State Park area, look closely to see where the Old Man of the Mountain, New Hampshire's most famous (and only) landmark, once resided. Rest in peace, Old Man. Live free or die; just decide.
Train service to Waterbury-Stowe is available via Springfield, Massachusetts, or New Haven, Connecticut. But it may be quicker to take Greyhound from Boston's South Station or Providence's Kennedy Plaza, or Vermont Transit from Portland, to White River Junction. Take a cab to the train station, then take the Amtrak Vermonter to your destination; use Green Mountain Transportation Agency buses or bikes to travel around the area.