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East Meets West

Posted Apr 26 2011 4:39pm

The dilemma: You decided to plant roots on the East coast, while your gal pals are scattered about California, the Midwest and everywhere in between. (As a Tennessee-born San Francisco resident who also lived in New York for a stint, I can relate.) It’s no big secret that long-distance relationships are no walk in the park. The question is: Just how do you make them work?

The key, of course, is compromise. You don’t want to fly to your best friend’s doorstep four out of every five get-togethers anymore than she wants the situation reversed. Plus a girls’ weekend across the country means spending half your time up in the air when you could be catching up. Instead, we concocted five stellar trips to meet in the middleso everybody wins.

What to Do: Believe it or not, this Midwestern destination is perfect for a group of girls who love the beach. Flanked by Lake Michigan, Chicago makes a great spot for water sports in the summer. Swim along the marked lane running parallel to Ohio Street Beach or kayak along the waterfront. On dry ground, check out the many street festivals like the annual Old Town Art Fair in June or Sheffield Garden Walk in July. Or stock up on picnic fare at any supermarket and dine under the stars while you catch a free flick on the big screen at Grand Crossing Park. To get your fashion fix, steer off of Michigan Ave to find the true gems. Head out to North Damen Avenue in trendy Bucktown, where many of the boutiques have relocated to attract more local flavor. You’ll find big names like Alexis Bittar, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Nanette Lepore, as well as smaller brands such as Akira and Roslyn alongside Chicago specialties like p.45 and shoe emporium Grace.

Getting There: You can fly direct from Baltimore to Chicago on American, Continental, United or US Airways. From Charlottesville, hop a US Airways or United flight that connects in Charlotte.

Where to Stay: The Elysian Hotel is Chicago’s grand dame, but rooms don’t come cheap. It’s a great choice if you have the extra funds or are celebrating a big occasion; otherwise, opt for a more economical choice like the Hotel Palomar or the Talbott.

What to Do: New Orleans has a lot to offer, from an evocative jazz scene to impressive French Colonial architecture and an all-night party on Bourbon Street. But it’s the foodie delights that have us licking our lips and ready to return for more. Throw your healthy habits out the windowat least for one quick weekendand plan your trip around meal times, whether trying your first po’ boy at Mother’s, indulging your French side at Galatoire’s, noshing on jambalaya at Coop’s Place, sampling the muffaletta at Central Grocery, or having dessert for breakfast by way of the Bananas Foster French toast at Stanley on Jackson Squareall staple New Orleans delicacies. And, of course, no matter how full you are, don’t neglect a visit to Café du Monde for the strongest coffee you’ve ever tasted (with a side of crumbly beignets, of course).

Getting There: Delta flies from Raleigh to New Orleans via Memphis; US Airways flies out of Greenville, with a stopover in Charlotte. Southwest flies nonstop from Balimore.

Where to Stay: For a taste of the New Orleans of old, book a room at the elegant Hotel Monteleone, a classic Nawlins stay right in the middle of all the action. For a newer establishment, check into La Belle Maison, tucked away on a quiet street just off the French Quarter.

What’s in Your Bag? (Click to see packing tips)

One of the biggest challenges among wandering women is learning how not to overpack. In a day and age where checked bags can run $25 a pop, less is more. Implement these easy tips and see if you can steal away with just one carry-on for your trip. It’s easier than it sounds, promise!

What to Do: A mix of rejuvenating spas and curiosity shops, Santa Fe is a girl’s dream escape. You can spend days perusing the galleries of up-and-coming neighborhood ToCa (Top of Canyon), ripe in folk art, and meandering through its Sculpture Garden. Just remember to bring an extra bagonce you discover hidden gems like Curiosa, which stocks everything from handmade jewelry to decoupage dishware, you’ll be going home with a lot more than you carried on. Fuel up at local institution Johnnie’s Cash Store, a charming, family-owned grocery famous for its green chile tamales. For a vacation of a different kind, Sunrise Springs Resort Spa offers customizable packages of yoga, pottery classes, Japanese tea ceremonies and more, all under one roof.

Getting There: Southwest flies to the airport serving both Albuquerque (60 miles south) and Santa Fe from Washington D.C. (Dulles) and Greenville.

Where to Stay: If you have the means, splurge and book a room at the Encantado Resort (and a spa treatment while you’re at it); it’s one of the most highly acclaimed hotels in the Southwest. If you’re a bit more strapped for cash, the quaint Inn on the Alameda will serve your needs quite nicely. If you’re in Santa Fe to get in touch with your spiritual side, consider a peaceful retreat at Mandala Center.

What to Do: Denver is perfect for the traveler who likes a side of action on her weekend away. For the best views surrounding the Mile High City, plan a hike in the Rockies up Mount Evans, where you can choose from three trails along the Scenic Byway and decide if you want to go all the way to the top (14,264 feet). Once you’ve had your fill of Mother Nature, join in on a Denver Microbrew Tour, a historical walking tour of the Lower Downtown (LoDo) area paired with some tastings of the city’s finest beers, and don’t feel a bit guilty. After all, you’ve earned that cold one. Just 30 miles north, head to heady Boulder for a fun-filled day trip. Peruse the shops on Pearl street, including Prana’s flagship store, or hike the first or second Flatiron trail in Chautauqua Park. End your excursion on a Latin note with a late afternoon bite on the patio at Aji, where you can unwind over ceviche and mojitos.

Getting There: AirTran, United, Frontier, Delta and US Airways all fly direct to Denver from Atlanta for $149 each way (or less if you scout out deals in advance). From Richmond, you can reach Denver via Continental Airlines with a stopover in Houston or on Delta connecting through Cincinnati.

Where to Stay: One of the city’s top-rated hotels, the Magnolia, also offers incredible convenience. Occupying a century-old, 13-floor building in the heart of Denver, you can walk to all the big sites in townand enjoy being a temporary resident of one of the city’s most luxurious hotels. For just $20 more than the basic room, you all can stay together in a 700-square-foot suite instead.

What to Do: Where better to kick up your heels (cowboy boots, of course), and let loose than this funky Texas capital? Stock up on Western apparel with a trip down South Congress Avenue, stopping at the Airstream trailer Hey Cupcake! for a sweet treat to hold you over till dinner. At Alamo Drafthouse, you can grab a glass of wine and a bite while catching a moviesometimes new, other times a classicor you can head to Guero’s Taco Bar for some Tex-Mex grub. For the literary- and culinary-minded, a trip out to neighbors BookPeople and the 80,000-square-foot Whole Foods flagship store (complete with 14 restaurants and cooking classes) isn’t to be missed. If you can’t coincide your trip with one of Austin’s famous festivals, check out who’s headlining Stubb’s, an iconic club at the heart of the city’s music scene.

Getting There: American Airlines and United fly cheaply from Raleigh to Austin, with stops in Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston, respectively. US Airways flies from Atlanta to Austin, stopping over in Charlotte.

Where to Stay: While the Driskill Hotel is a city landmark, a stay at the quirky boutique San Jose Hotel on South Congress Avenue with its stucco walls and cactus accoutrements will have you feeling more like you’re in Austin than just any ol’ town. With a central courtyard, pool and bar, it attracts a more contemporary clientele and those ready to mingle. Its equally trendy sister property, Hotel Saint Cecilia, is a suitable alternative.

Kristin Luna is a San Francisco-based travel writer who blogs about her journeys at and has contributed to Newsweek, Real Simple, People and others.

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