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.