Save or splurge on these great road trip ideas from 10 U.S. cities.

Courtesy of Friday Harbor House
| Credit: Courtesy of Friday Harbor House

“I had hoped to visit a friend in Africa this summer,” admits Susan McCombs, of Kensington, California. “But with recent increases in fuel and ticket prices, I’m not sure I’ll ever get there.” For Kathleen Kamerick of Iowa City, Iowa, “Flying is simply too much of a hassle.” Instead, she and her husband will hit the road this summer, with stops planned at museums, small towns, and national parks they’ve never been to before.

Susan’s not alone. Nearly 40 percent of Americans who had summer travel plans have changed them because of high gas prices, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in early May. A recent Travel Industry Association (TIA) poll revealed that air travelers avoided 41 million trips in the last year because of flying hassles, costing the industry $26.5 billion, and nearly 60 percent of Americans have changed their summer travel plans because of the record-high price of gas and jet fuel, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in early May. Not surprisingly, many are making shorter trips, or staying closer to home and rediscovering their own (proverbial) backyard.

With this trend in mind, has sussed out 20 terrific getaways—one “Save” and one “Splurge” idea for 10 U.S. cities—all less than a three-hour drive from city limits. Created for all budgets, the lineup includes everything from affordable, homey B&B’s and eco-lodges to elegant seaside resorts and luxurious château-style hotels, plus suggestions for fun things to do—nature walks, cooking classes, whale-watching, wine trails, ocean-side clam shacks, and more. The best discovery: you don’t have to travel far from home to feel like you’re worlds away this summer.

San Franciscans can drive a mere three miles north across the Golden Gate Bridge to the dramatic Marin Headlands and the brand-new Cavallo Point—The Lodge at the Golden Gate, which opened its doors on June 23, 2008, to travelers in search of spa treatments, gourmet organic cuisine, and sweeping, if sometimes fog-filled, views of the Bay.

Luxury-seeking Atlantans can check into the 16th-century-style Inn at Château Élan—just 40 miles away—for Mediterranean cooking classes in the inn’s massive teaching kitchen, or to test their mettle at its new Rock Climbing and Challenge Tower, while Houstonians can score a music getaway in Austin at the totally hip San José Hotel, located across the street from the rockin’ Continental Club in the bohemian SoCo part of town. And Angelinos can consider heading south, 100 miles down the coast, to relax by the new pool bar and 12-foot waterfall at L’Auberge Del Mar, which just reopened after a seven-month, $26 million renovation.

But summer getaways don’t have to be splurges. Value-seeking New Yorkers can plan an affordable stay at the Gatehouse Country Inn, in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, blending good music with wonderful hiking in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. And, just 80 miles southeast of Seattle, in Mount Rainier National Park, is the Paradise Inn, a grand 1916 lodge that just reopened after two years of renovations. A scenic three-hour drive from Washington, D.C., Warm Springs Mountain Preserve in the Alleghenies, which is known for its therapeutic mineral waters, also borders the grounds of The Homestead, a stately inn in Hot Springs, Virginia, whose rates start at $250.

With Africa out of sight, where will Susan McCombs go? “I’ve planned a few long weekend trips to the Sierra Nevada mountains,” she says. “Not exactly exotic travel, but it should be relaxing. I’ll split the cost of gas with friends, but if I have to drive alone and run out of money, I’m counting on coasting down from the mountains.”