Touring the most ambitious art museum to open between the coasts in generations–in Arkansas.

 

Kicking back along coastal Michigan. Zooming around the eclectic college town of Boston.

 

Here's a snapshot of our quick trips to these irresistible weekend destinations.

 

— Debra Simon and Brack Johnson

 

 

24 hours


Bentonville, Arkansas: Crystal Bridges

Forget the Louvre! You don't have to go to Paris to view world-class art. Instead, hop on a plane to Arkansas. Recently, we spent a full day at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Not coincidentally, the folksy town is the headquarters of Wal-Mart. Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress and richest woman in the country, founded the museum, which opened on 11-11-11.

 

We were swept away by Crystal Bridges' unparalleled focus on the intersection of nature and art. It's well worth a weekend trip from the Triangle. (A few airlines fly from RDU to the northwest corner of Arkansas, and even more jet to airports within a few hours' drive.)

 

The collection spans five centuries of classical to contemporary American masterpieces, including iconic paintings by Norman Rockwell, Georgia O'Keeffe and Andy Warhol. It feels as if each piece was chosen with the goal of gently educating visitors about art history and its place in the story of our country. And admission is free!

 

 

Crystal Bridges is organized in a series of pavilions, nestled around two spring-fed ponds and set deep in the woods, which house spacious galleries, meeting and instruction rooms, a glass-enclosed gathering hall and a highly regarded restaurant. The museum also offers walking and biking trails, which contain sculptures as well as an entire Frank Lloyd Wright house that was moved from New Jersey.

 

In this setting, it just seemed right to us that beautiful artwork is juxtaposed with the beauty of nature. Our verdict: Alice Walton knew what she was doing.

 

 

72 hours


Northern Michigan: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Standing on the shores of Lake Michigan as a setting sun melted into blue water backed by towers of sand, we reflected: "This is Michigan? Who knew?"

 

While Midwesterners know full well about their paradise, the 71,000-acre lakeshore is a hidden gem to most of us. Over a three-day weekend, we saw people exploring it by paddling, hiking, biking and driving. In addition to the spectacular lake views, there are long stretches of uncrowded roads along a rolling countryside of sleepy hamlets, family wineries and cherry orchards.

 

The region produces 75 percent of the tart cherries grown in the United States. Meanwhile, local fishermen haul in catches from the lake. No surprise that various preparations of fresh whitefish and everything cherry dominate menu choices. Our lunch: whitefish salad (better than a New York deli!) and cherry pie (better than mom's!). Dinner: Repeat.

After the stunning sunset and all manner of adventure, we checked into the boutique Hotel Indigo, which opened last year in the region's hub, Traverse City. The warehouse district property was designed with its lumber-town roots in mind. Overlooking the panoramic bay and its freshwater beaches, the hotel rocks a comfy-chic attitude by sourcing much of its food and décor from the area.

 

Just outside Hotel Indigo's doors, we strolled along the lake as well as the downtown, which boasts charming one-of-a-kind shops, galleries, restaurants and a circa 1916 theater. And then we dug into another cherry pie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

96 hours


Boston: A Whirlwind Weekend

Boston's an old town with a young vibe. Thirty colleges and universities enroll 150,000 students, making the capital of Massachusetts home to a larger proportion of adults ages 20 to 34 than any other city in America.

 

As we raced around to pack as much as we could into four days, the Bay State proved it has something from Colonial to cutting edge for everyone.

 

We trekked the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail to see Revolutionary-era sites. We queued up on narrow brick streets to mangia in the Italian restaurants (eggplant parmigiana!) and bakeries (cannoli!) of the North End. We shopped and sampled (lobster roll! clam "chowda"!) in Faneuil Hall Marketplace. At night, we took in the diverse music scene in the bars and clubs of Cambridge, home to Harvard and M.I.T.

 

We hit Beantown over Memorial Day weekend, so we headed to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for its commemoration of the birth of the 35th president on Memorial Day 1917. The centennial was marked by special events, including a performance by the Navy band, a 540-pound cake, and an exhibit of 100 personal items from Massachusetts' famous son.

Located on a 10-acre park overlooking the sea that JFK loved and the city that launched his political career, the library is a tribute to his life and presidency. We were fascinated by the news coverage of the times as well as the work of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

 

Over at the Museum of Fine Arts, the line wrapped around the block on one of only five free-admission days a year. We waited, and it was worth it! Founded in 1870, this grande dame is the fourth largest museum in the United States, containing more than 450,000 works of art. We could have spent every hour of our stay browsing the galleries.

At days' end, we checked into the XV Beacon Hotel, a 63-room property with an aura of privacy ensconsed in a landmark Beaux Arts building. Our guestroom's handsome décor accented cushy furniture and amenities, including a sitting area with a gas fireplace.

 

Beacon Hill, famous for its architecturally significant brick and stone buildings, is close to the 50-acre Boston Common, the nation's first public park.

 

Two nights later, we checked into the swanky Mandarin Oriental in the heart of Back Bay. Highlights here included a restaurant from the widely acclaimed Daniel Boulud and a lavish, 16,000-square-foot spa. Our room, decorated in classic New England style with Asian flair, featured a deep soaking tub and a glassed, walk-in shower.

 

We discovered that the property is connected to the Prudential Center's upscale shops and is within walking distance of Newbury Street's designer boutiques. Cultural institutions, including the striking Boston Library, as well as big-league sports venues, such as Fenway Park, home base of the Red Sox, beckoned from just a few blocks away.

 

Chowing down on our Fenway franks, we confirmed what we've long thought: You don't need to go to the other side of the world, or even the country, to have fun, learn and indulge yourself. And you don't need a lot of time, either. A weekend will
do just fine.