11 Awesome Foodie Day Trips Across the U.S.

By Zagat Staff  |  August 6, 2014
Credit: Virginia Miller

Summer may be winding down, but you can still make the most of your remaining weekends (or even weekdays) with a quick day trip. Hit the road — or the rails — with our handy foodie guide and discover some amazing food and drink destinations just a short trip from some of America's biggest cities. 

  • From DenverVail Valley

    Technically, you can scoot from Denver to the Vail area and back in a day. But with four food-and-booze festivals scheduled in the next few weeks, we’re tempted to hang out all month long. The Beaver Creek Wine & Spirits Festival runs August 8-10. Flavors of Colorado in Avon is happening August 15-17, while Edwards craft-beer and music bonanza Ed Fest occurs August 16. Gourmet on Gore (pictured top) wraps it all up in Vail Village on Labor Day Weekend.

    What to Eat & Drink: For some of the most innovative, upscale takes on Colorado cuisine going these days, check out Beano’s Cabin in Beaver Creek and Mountain Standard in Vail Village (pictured). Meanwhile, The Rose in Edwards couldn’t be more charmingly funky, from the smartly crafted cocktails to globally influenced shareables like avocado fries with soy aioli and chiles rellenos en nogada.

    While You're There: If you can't figure out how to enjoy Vail Mountain at a glance, you need to get out more. Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is a good place to start.

    Transportation Time: Two hours in optimal conditions. In reality, give it three.

  • Credit: Flickr/Richardo Carreon

    From San DiegoValle De Guadalupe 

    This village north of Ensenada is emerging as one of the most important regions for wine tourism. Count it as just one more reason to head to Mexico. The rich and fertile soil in these green hills is perfectly suited to grow a variety of grapes like Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Grenache and Syrah. Wine Enthusiast has listed the area as one of the 10 best wine travel destinations for 2014. 

    What to Eat & Drink: Visit any number of wineries along the town’s wine trail. One standout is Trevista Vineyard for its boutique varietals, along with optional food pairings highlighting local produce. An old mainstay is L.A Cetto winery offering a variety of white, reds, reserves and champagne.

    While You’re There: Before crossing back into the border, spend some quality time in Tijuana checking out these hot spots.

    Transportation Time: Two hours south of San Diego (95 miles).

  • From Washington, DCEaston, MD

    Don’t let the quaint, yesteryear look of the Downtown area fool you — the dining options here are actually quite sophisticated. Small and relaxed, strolling the streets of Easton is the perfect way to shake off a particularly tough work week.

    What to Eat & Drink: Cocktails, the chef’s tasting menu and the inn-cut fries at Bartlett Pear Inn; BBQ at The BBQ Joint; sandwiches from Julia’s Carryout; a fruit or veggie juice at Hill’s Soda Fountain & Cafe.

    While You're There: Shop at the Amish Country Farmers Market; see who’s performing at the Avalon Theatre; learn about local wildlife at the Pickering Creek Audubon Center.

    Transportation Time: 1.5 hours driving.

  • Credit: The Lark/Facebook

    From Los AngelesThe Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

    Santa Barbara is one of the best getaways from Los Angeles. For a day trip, zero in on these few blocks filled with vibrant art galleries, shops, restaurants and wineries, housed in old warehouses and shops.

    What to Eat & Drink: Lunch on pizzas, fresh salads and fantastic cold-brew coffee at Lucky Penny. Snack on deviled eggs topped with crispy pancetta, gem lettuces with Dungeness crab and gnocchi at The Lark. Dine on smoked mussels, cheese plates and a wine tasting at Les Marchands. Get into a whiskey sampling at Cutler’s Artisan Spirits or beer at Figueroa Mountain. Feast on Cali-Peruvian fare at Ricardo Zarate's Blue Tavern, on the ground floor of the Hotel Indigo.

    While You’re There: Wander around the neighborhood for even more wine tasting. Half of the more than 10 wineries and tasting rooms in the area are part of Santa Barbara’s expansive urban wine trail.

    Transportation Time: The fact that the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner stops directly across from the Funk Zone means you can take a day trip and never have to get behind the wheel. If driving, Santa Barbara is about 90 miles from Los Angeles, which can take anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours, depending from where and what time you leave.

  • From New York City: Hudson, NY

    The Hudson Valley is stacked with food and drink options, as many city chefs are escaping NYC for the bucolic (and cheaper) region. The town of Hudson is a great place to explore the trend. 

    What to Eat & Drink: Zak Pelaccio (formerly of the Fatty empire) and his wife, Jori Jayne Emde, headed north to open Fish & Game, a Hudson Valley destination restaurant that focuses on local meat and produce. The menu changes frequently to reflect availability and seasonality. Also a solid food option: The Crimson Sparrow, bought to you by a pair of WD-50 alums, serves up a seven-course tasting menu for $75 that features local products with a touch of Japanese influence.

    While You're There: Check out some of the local wineries via a wine-trail tour. More info here.

    Transportation Time: Metro North goes right to Hudson (a 2.5-hour ride); the drive is around two hours and 15 minutes from Downtown Manhattan.

  • Credit: Leslie Kelly

    From Seattle: Richmond, B.C.

    Gotta love a city that sponsors its own food blog, dedicated to hitting up all the hottest culinary spots. Well-known and loved for its vast selection of Chinese restaurants, this city north of the Canadian border rivals nearby Vancouver for attracting eaters who are fiercely devoted to finding the juiciest soup dumpling and most authentic ma po tofu.

    What to Eat & Drink: Jade Seafood is rightly famous for its spectacular dim sum, while Su Hang clinches the title for best dumplings: tender pasta pillows filled with savory, seasoned-just-right meats and veggies.

    While You're There: On summer weekends, there's a Night Market where a mash-up of food and shopping opportunities are yours for the sampling. 

    Transportation Time: The drive is six hours, round-trip. It can be longer if there's a lengthy wait at the border.

  • From Chicago: Milwaukee, WI

    There’s more to do in one of the largest cities in Wisconsin than SummerFest. There’s also a motorcycle museum, recently expanded art museum and enough restaurants to give Chicago a run for its money (well, maybe one just neighborhood).

    What to Eat & Drink: Milwaukee Public Market is a one-stop shop for all things cheese, sausage and shellfish. Popular vendors include St. Paul Seafood Company, where a lobster dinner runs you $13.95, and C. Adams Bakery for butter toffee brownies and Anodyne coffee.

    While You're There: Pick your poison: beer or brandy. Lakefront Brewery takes the idea of a Wisconsin brewery to the next level with its cheese and beer flights, while Great Lakes Distillery shows off its local roots by using Wisconsin honey in its Rehorst citrus vodka.

    Transportation Time: Two-hour drive or an hour-and-a-half train ride from Union Station.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    From Philadelphia: Hershey

    Confections aren’t produced there anymore, but Hershey’s Chocolate World still offers great opportunity to delve into the luscious world of chocolate. Adults can definitely get into these sweets too, but for something more grown-up, Troegs Brewing’s 5,000-sq.-ft. tasting room and self-guided tour through the brewhouse are just a couple of miles down the road.

    What to Eat & Drink: Pork belly and experimental scratch beers at Troegs, French toast at the Hershey Pantry, milkshakes at Hershey’s Chocolate World.

    While You're There: A dozen roller coasters and other rides await at family-friendly Hersheypark, including waterslides, plus there are regular shows and song and dance performances throughout the grounds.

    Transportation Time: Two hours. (Note: if you can arrange for transportation from Harrisburg — taxi or area friend — you can travel via Amtrak’s super-inexpensive Keystone Service line.)

  • Credit: Facebook/The Curly Wolf

    From the Bay AreaNevada City

    Imagine if the Wild West collided with a European village. There might be winding, narrow streets in a walkable town, pine trees, Old West saloons, wooden sidewalks and historic homes. Not far from Lake Tahoe, in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains, is Nevada City, a funky, artsy town that feels like Europe collided with California's Gold Country with a little bit of New Orleans party spirit under the surface. Visit the town during Day of the Dead or Halloween and you'll really see what we're talking about. 

    What to Eat & Drink: About two miles out of Downtown Nevada City, don't miss roadhouse extraordinaire The Willo. Equal parts festive, locals' bar and old-school steakhouse, the joint beckons with a neon sign glowing through the pines, a parking lot oft-lined with classic cars and waitresses that call you "hon'." Sitting under Elvis, John Wayne and scripture-verse clocks, enjoy thick cuts of NY steak that either you or their staff member cook on a giant grill. Back in town, the quirky dive bar of choice is Mine Shaft Saloon (since 1978). You can also savor gourmet ice cream at Treats or try third-wave coffee at elegant Victorian-Old West parlor The Curly Wolf.

    While You're There: Akin to the great musical cities of the South, Nevada City has a vibrant music scene, despite its small size. There are a number of live-music options, but the coolest shows are at the historic Miner's Foundry. In the fall, the region is famed for its radiant fall colors and even offers walking maps through the town showing off maximum color. We know New Englanders who swear by the fall here.

    Transportation Time: Roughly a two-and-a-half-hour (140-mile) drive from San Francisco.

  • From Boston: Salem, MA

    The "Witch City" is probably best known for its festive Halloween celebrations, but you'll find plenty of sweet treats and savory dishes outside the trick-or-treat season. One of America's most important early seaports, Salem has a quaint Downtown area where a Colonial-era vibe lives alongside an artsy and creative contemporary scene. 

    What to Eat & Drink: The modern Italian of 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar is divine, with chef Tony Bettencourt (an alum of Cambridge's late UpStairs on the Square) turning out handmade pasta dishes and small plates that have made this Pickering Wharf restaurant a darling of the North Shore dining scene. Salem tends to embrace a sense of camp and kitsch, so play along at Flying Saucer Pizza Company, a quirky spot (steps from the city's famous "Bewitched" statue) where menu items are named in reference to B-grade science-fiction flicks and cult classics; the pies of local, farm-fresh ingredients and craft-beer list, however, are totally serious. Sushi lovers will sing the praises of Opus (pictured), a hip space with a glossy nightlife vibe; don't forget to descend to its subterranean lower level, where live music booms and creative cocktails flow. And for simple tavern fare, Rockafellas is a popular pick — with a single table for two inside an old (reputedly haunted) bank vault.

    While You're There: Meander among the cobblestones of major Downtown streets like Essex and Derby, filled psychic parlors, art galleries and antiques- and trinket-filled shops that sell wares to tourists and the city's practicing Wiccan community alike. The stellar Peabody Essex Museum, one of the nation's oldest continuously operating museums, is a must-see; highlights include Yin Yu Tang, an actual late-18th-century Chinese home reassembled within the museum and open to visitors, and house tours of historic, PEM-owned Salem homes that include some of the oldest in the state. And don't forget to visit The House of the Seven Gables, the oldest 17th-century wooden mansion in New England, which inspired author Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of the same name. 

    Transportation Time: About 45 minutes.

  • From AtlantaChattanooga, TN

    Head up north past the ever-expanding 'burbs as we did recently, past the world's carpet-and-rug centers of Calhoun and Dalton, and right across the border you'll find the easy-to-like Chattanooga, a walkable, welcoming city with a good mix of homegrown, locally sourcing restaurants to balance out the touristy chains around the aquarium.

    What to Eat & Drink: Breakfast at new spot Farmer's Daughter is simple yet satisfying, and a lunch in the district north of the river offers more quaint options. Head to the revitalized Southside for dinner — Alleia for upscale Italian-influenced food, or Urban Stack for some serious burger action.

    While You're There: Sure, you could see Rock City, visit Ruby Falls or get underwhelmed by the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, but the city's also home to the world's only museum dedicated to towing-and-rescue vehicles.

    Transportation Time: 1:45 to 2:15 hours