Mammoth Lakes, CA. Along with hiking and fishing, the mountain bike park is one of the biggest summer draws at this Eastern Sierra resort. The area is popular with weekend road-trippers from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. Watch out for the annual beer and blues festival (Aug 5–6, 2005), when rooms can be harder to book. www.visitmammoth.com or 888/466-2666.
Steamboat Springs, CO. A ski-resort town on the western ridge of the Continental Divide at an elevation of 6,695 feet. Raft or tube the Yampa River, fish, hike, or soak in hot springs. The weather stays prime well into fall. www.steamboatsummer.com or 970/879-0880.
Teton Valley, ID. The tiny triplet communities of Driggs, Tetonia, and Victor are located at the eastern edge of the Idaho border, close to Jackson Hole, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. The fishing and hiking here are first-rate. www.tetonvalleychamber.com or 208/354-2500. ―Abigail Peterson
Elk, CA. This tiny town Northern California town makes a good alternative to better-known and more crowded Mendocino, just to the north. Lodging ranges from the plush (the Harbor House Inn) to the simple. Nearby Greenwood State Beach is a classic Northern California shoreline: a moody and beautiful seaweed- and driftwood-strewn cove. www.gomendo.com or 866/466-3636.
Huntington Beach, CA. Surf City USA has spruced itself up nicely, and with 17 hotels and motels you should be able to find a room here, especially during the week. Surfing and bodysurfing ops are, needless to say, excellent. www.surfcityusa.org or 800/617-8992.
Ocean Shores, WA. Size matters: The beach here is so long, it never feels crowded, even at the height of summer. Ocean Shores's large number of (mostly chain) hotels and motels give even summer procrastinators a good chance of finding a room. www.oceanshores.org or 866/602-6278. ―Peter Fish
Los Angeles. The infamous sprawl means two things: You’ll need a car, but you’ll have no problem finding a room. Visit now for LACMA’s King Tut exhibit (through Nov 15, 2005) and a concert under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl. www.seemyla.com or 800/228-2452.
Phoenix. Sky Harbor is a major base for Southwest and America West Airlines, so fares here are competitive. Lounge by the pool, indulge in the spa scene, or beat the heat and check out Native American arts at the renowned (and air-conditioned) Heard Museum. www.visitphoenix.com or 877/225-5749.
Portland. The green city stretches your greenbacks: Shopping is tax-free, the Portland Big Deal offers lodging and dining breaks, and the Portland Attractions Pass ($29) grants you admission to nine popular attractions, including the Portland Art Museum. www.travelportland.com or 877/678-5263. ―Erika Ehmsen
Internet Travel Tips
The Web has made last-minute vacation planning easier than ever. With a specific destination in mind, you can quickly comparison-shop on many airline and virtual travel-agent websites like Expedia.com, which have stricter cancellation policies but are typically less expensive than going directly through an airline; identical America West flights from San Francisco to Albuquerque average $20 less on Expedia.com than on America West's own website (a savings of $40 for two passengers).
If you have at least two days before your intended departure date, you can let Orbitz’s “DealDetector” (visit www.orbitz.com and click “Deals”) do the searching for you; just select your destination, set a maximum fare price, and receive an email alert if the airfare drops to your price point.
Feeling spontaneous and just want to get out of town? Check out the “Last-minute deals” section of Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) and Travelzoo (www.travelzoo.com) to find discounted air, hotel, and hotel-air combos (and even a few cruises) to major cities.
Familiarize yourself with what you should pay for a flight by subscribing to free newsletters from the above companies. If you don’t want to clog up your primary email account with tempting travel deals, sign up for a free Yahoo or Hotmail account, then create “Getaways” folders to save info on cities you're eyeing. ―Erika Ehmsen