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America's Best Summer Getaways 2009

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Photo: Michael Rickard

See our slideshow of America’s Best Summer Getaways 2009.

In the little oceanfront town of Gearhart, OR —less than a two-hour drive from Portland —antique shops line the streets and picturesque hiking trails lead through the Necanicum Estuary. The boulder-strewn beach stretches for miles, providing seemingly endless opportunities for strolling near the surf. In the evenings, visitors drive out onto the sand to sip wine and gaze at the stars. Not a bad way to spend a summer weekend.

Looking to get away to a place like Gearhart? We’ve mapped out trips across the U.S. for every inclination (and budget): quintessential beach towns, all-American drives, unexpected wine tours, and outdoor adventures.

Our favorite natural wonders offer close-up wildlife encounters, hiking trails for all abilities, and awe-inspiring views. Take the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, stretching through parts of Tennessee and North Carolina . With more than nine million visitors per year, this is the nation’s most popular park—and befitting its status, a yearlong celebration is under way to commemorate its 75th anniversary. Crafts and art fairs and bluegrass jams are being held in the surrounding towns, from Knoxville to Asheville. Inside the park, expert hiking clubs are leading special guided walks throughout the year.

If you’re itching to grab the wheel, head out on a classic American road trip. The Pacific Coast Highway, California ’s most famous road, is built for cruising and has no shortage of must-see highlights and undiscovered locales. Starting out in Los Angeles , make stops at the Getty Villa and the picturesque town of Ojai before ending up at the iconic Hearst Castle , overlooking the Pacific in San Simeon.

Or maybe an urban excursion is more your speed. When Boston ’s “Big Dig” tunnel replaced an elevated highway, it reconnected the downtown area to the isolated North End peninsula, bringing fresh energy to the city’s oldest residential neighborhood. Now the North End is chock-full of options for fine dining and shopping and is a great reason to rediscover this New England metropolis.

Pick and choose the right ingredients from this lineup of getaways and you’ll have the perfect recipe for a great American summer escape.

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