A Vacation Home of Your Own Tired of the crowds and costs in the Hamptons or Napa? Here are six close-in spots with everything you'd expect in a weekend getaway--except the astronomical prices.
(Business 2.0) – BOSTON
In Beantown, you can't smell the ocean--just fumes from the cars inching along clogged highways and the bulldozers working the Big Dig. But little more than an hour south, in the 6,500-person, coastal hamlet of Mattapoisett, affordable retreats meet New England seaside charm. Century-old three-bedroom homes that would fit in perfectly on Cape Cod go for $425,000 and sit off country roads on half-acre plots of land. Stroll past white picket fences and a block or two later you're at Buzzards Bay. During the winter, the town is especially quiet: You'll walk on the snow-covered beach and then hunker down at the Mattapoisett Inn for calamari or the Gateway Tavern in nearby Wareham for fried clams. In the warm months, you'll join the neighbors--a mix of work-boot-shod locals and Top-Sider-wearing Bostonians--to watch 40-foot sloops sail from the local yacht club and race along the coast.
If the Windy City is the Midwest's heart, then the farmland around nearby La Porte, Ind., is its soul. Just outside the 21,000-person town, with its Mayberry-like 19th-century courthouse and a park complete with band pavilion, you'll find deals on three-bedroom farmhouses: natural cedar facades, accompanying barns, and 3 acres of land for $200,000. That noise you'll hear is the mechanical melody of John Deeres working the neighbors' soil. Chicago may be only 75 miles distant, and you can reach Lake Michigan in 20 minutes, but enjoying a chocolate malt at Temple's soda fountain will make you feel like you're a world away.
Vail? Aspen? Unless you have Rockefeller money--or, at the very least, Hollywood starlet money--you can put those thoughts out of your mind right now. But that doesn't mean a snowy retreat in the Rockies is out of reach. Just an hour from the Mile High City, in and around the town of Estes Park, less than $400,000 gets you an almost-new, 2,500-square-foot log home with Sound of Music views from your deck and elk roaming through the Ponderosa pines in your backyard. Granted, the small town (population 7,000) is the gateway to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park, which means plenty of schlock art, mediocre restaurants, and, in the summer, fleets of traffic-choking RVs. But Estes Park is quiet all winter. You're 40 miles from downhill skiing and only 15 minutes from a park trailhead. Put on a pair of snowshoes and you'll quickly enjoy views of 12,000-foot peaks and mountain lakes.
New Paltz, 90 miles north of Manhattan off Interstate 87, is equal parts pre-revolution America and Madison, Wis. You can stroll down Huguenot Street--lined with the oldest houses in the country, built by French settlers in the 17th century--and gaze up at the forested Mohonk Preserve, which hosts rock climbing in the Shawangunk mountains and serpentine cross-country ski trails. Around town, you'll undoubtedly bump into packs of fleece-wearing state university students, who make up nearly half the local population of 21,000. The upside: Those kids ensure that you'll find good live music in the bars on Friday and Saturday nights. Still, you can also find quiet. New Paltz has several upscale restaurants, and then there's your 3,000-square-foot colonial retreat. You can live blocks from Main Street, on 3-plus acres, in a turnkey home for $350,000. But move fast, before the secret gets out and the New York royalty wants in. Robert DeNiro, for one, bought his hideaway here in 1998.
There's more to the California wine country than Napa. Just to the north (and two hours or so outside San Francisco) sits the bucolic, 1,000-person town of Redwood Valley, sipping-and-spitting distance from 35 local vintners. Despite the name, you'll find lots of oak trees (and surprisingly crisp cell-phone reception) among the golden rolling hills. A small farmhouse on 5 acres goes for less than $400,000. You won't, however, find much else. The nearby Russian River is a prime spot for camping, fishing, and boating; if that's not restful enough, you can always drive the empty country roads to Orr Hot Springs. Strip down to your skivvies and enjoy a long soak in a private tub.
For those who live near Puget Sound, "island getaway" doesn't necessarily mean Maui. Ninety minutes north of the Emerald City--in Washington's somewhat warmer and drier "Banana Belt"--37-square-mile Camano Island is home to roughly 700 blue heron, just 16,000 full-time residents, and a marketplace selling locally caught crabs and prawns. And unlike many of the sound's rustic isles, Camano is connected to the mainland by a bridge, which means you're not beholden to ferry schedules. A modest $350,000 fetches a brand-new 2,000-square-foot home with ocean views, though you'll have to learn to deal with the vagaries of a septic system and well. Such is the price of affordable paradise. -- DANIEL TERDIMAN