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Must-visit American Cities Great Weekend Escapes

BOSTON
Boston calls itself “America’s Walking City” and there has never been a better time to hoof it: The “Big Dig” is piling up dirt and traffic while workers move the city’s expressways under ground.

So hike the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile tour of historic sites. The Trail starts at Boston Common (America’s oldest public park), passes the Old State House, Faneuil Hall (site of famous Yankee oration), and Paul Revere’s house before ending at the Bunker Hill Monument and Museum.

After a long day, retire to the enchanted Jewel of Newbury (254 Newbury St.; 617-536-5523; doubles: $275 and up), an eight-room, four-floor bed and breakfast known for its attentive service and rooftop garden. Just down the street is Boston’s best day spa, Bella Sante: the Spa on Newbury (38 Newbury St., 2nd Floor; 617-424-9930).

If the weather discourages strolling, visit Harvard University’s famed Fogg Art Museum (617-496-8576; $5) or Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Ave.; 617-267-9300; $12). Take the Red Line T across the river to stroll around Harvard Square.

CHICAGO
The nickname Windy City has nothing to do with chilly Lake Michigan breezes. In 1893 New York Sun editor Charles A. Dana used the term in reference to the long-winded Chicago politicians who filled the air boasting about the wonders of the World’s Columbian Exposition held in the city that year. When your last conference meeting finally ends, chances are you’ll relate.

Escape your convention-sponsored accommodations by checking into the Drake (140 E. Walton Place; 312-787-2200; doubles: $265 and up), a beaux-arts Chicago landmark overlooking the lake. Built in 1920 and now operated by Hilton, the hotel offers every contemporary amenity.

For a night of authentic blues, head to the storied Checkerboard Lounge (423 E. 43rd St.; 773-624-3240). Last-minute theater lovers will want to swing by Hot Tix (163 E. Pearson for half-price same-day tickets). North Michigan Avenue (the “Magnificent Mile”) is home to the best shopping in Chicago as well as the Mario Tricoci’s Hair Salons & Day Spas (900 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-915-0960), for a full menu of decadent treatments.

DALLAS
Although the city famous for Big Oil and Big Hair was founded in 1841 by a lawyer from Tennessee, he’s about the only thing not uniquely Texan about Dallas. Experience pure Lone Star at the Mansion on Turtle Creek (2821 Turtle Creek Road; 214-559-2100; $400 and up).

Once the lavish home of a Dallas cotton magnate, the Mansion provides its guests with complimentary sedan service—a full-size Cadillac available to whisk guests anywhere within five miles of the hotel. Of the seemingly endless number of Dallas shopping malls (more per capita than anywhere in the United States), the original Neiman Marcus (1618 Main St.; 214-741-6911) stands out, with its sixth-floor Zodiac Restaurant (214-573-5800), which still draws the best see-and-be-seen lunch crowd in Dallas.

Another popular attraction is Dealey Plaza, site of the assassination of JFK, where many are drawn to the former Texas School Book Depository’s Sixth Floor Museum (411 Elm St.; 214-747-6660; $10 with audio tour). For lighter fare, drive 25 miles out of town to Southfork Ranch (3700 Hogge Drive, Parker; 972-442-7800) and have your picture taken at J.R.’s desk.

Nightlife-seekers should head to Deep Ellum, the city’s liveliest neighborhood, known for its eclectic mix of live music, restaurants, and bars. For something completely different, make the 40-minute drive to Fort Worth, where the Cowtown Coliseum (121 E. Exchange St.; 817-625-1025) hosts rodeos every Friday and Saturday night.

NEW ORLEANS
Part French, part Cajun, part Mississippi swampland, New Orleans nearly burned to the ground in 1788 and is still red hot: hot food, hot music, hot weather. The city has recovered well from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

A great way to see the city is from the open windows of a historic St. Charles streetcar. Starting from Canal Street near the convention center, you’ll roll past the French Quarter and through the Garden District to the Audubon Park and Zoo. Tops in accommodations is the Windsor Court Hotel (300 Gravier St.; 888-596-0955; $230 and up), near Harrah’s Casino. For romance, try the Hotel Maison de Ville & Audubon Cottages (727 Rue Toulouse; 800-634-1600; $245 and up).

If you gamble, riverboat casinos leave nightly from Riverwalk. Jazz lovers must see a show at Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter St.; 800-785-5772; $5) or the Storyville District (125 Bourbon St.; 504-410-1000; no cover charge). Good food can be found everywhere, but no trip is complete without the famous beignets at Café Du Monde (1039 Decatur St.; 800-772-2927).

ORLANDO
This central-Florida city hosted more than 39 million vacation travelers in 1999, 72 percent of whom thronged area theme parks. Visit instead the Grand Cypress Resort (800-835-7377; club suites $215 and up from May–September), where luxurious Mediterranean-style villas nestle alongside a 45-hole course designed by Jack Nicklaus (greens fee: $115–$170). The 1,500-acre grounds include tennis, racquetball, and equestrian facilities. For relaxation therapy, make the short drive to the Pamela Michel (400 W. Fairbanks, Suite D, Winter Park; 407-628-8558), where body treatments start at $60 an hour.

For relaxation therapy, make the short drive to the Pamela Michel (400 W. Fairbanks, Suite D, Winter Park; 407-628-8558), where body treatments start at $60 an hour. Along International Avenue, near the convention center, fun comes packaged in large entertainment complexes, such as Pointe*Orlando, Universal Studio’s CityWalk, and the soon-to-open XSOrlando. Downtown, dine and drink along Orange Avenue and Church Street.

SAN JOSE
Thirty years ago, this de facto capital of Silicon Valley was known for its plum orchards. Now it has surpassed San Francisco as the largest city in Northern California. But you can still walk to most San Jose attractions from the downtown business district.

The city’s hockey team, the Sharks, has become a hot attraction. Take a free shuttle from downtown to the arena (525 W. Santa Clara St.; 406-287-7070; $17–$100) or call the award-winning Hotel De Anza (233 W. Santa Clara St.; 800-843-3700) to order a hockey weekend. Book into the Dolce Vita Day Spa & Salon (630 N. First St.; 408-287-0200) for a relaxing treatment before the game.

The city’s nightlife is centered in the SoFa district (south of First Street area), where you’ll find a mix of clubs, galleries, and coffeehouses. The History San Jose museum (1650 Senter Road; 408 287 2290; $6) houses an extensive collection of regional artifacts. And the Intel Museum (2200 Mission College Blvd.; 408-765-0503) offers more than you ever wanted to know about computer chips.

TORONTO
Toronto is the Huron word for “meeting place”—not surprising to visitors who travel to this picturesque city to attend conventions at one of four mega-meeting centers, including the 192-acre National Trade Centre.

Break free of the hotel chains and check into the Windsor Arms (18 St. Thomas St.; 416-971-9666), a Toronto landmark boasting 26 suites, 2 luxury rooms ($295 and up), and a full-service spa. In the English-speaking theater world, Toronto ranks third, behind London and New York.

Show listings are available in the weeklies eye or NOW. Comedy clubs are also popular (Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, and Jim Carrey started here), and two favorite clubs are Mark Breslin’s Yuk Yuk’s (2335 Yonge St. 416-967-6425; $15 show and $28–$31 dinner & show during the weekends) and the Second City (56 Blue Jays Way; 416-343-0011; $9–$18 show). During a free afternoon, try one of Canada’s most popular golf courses, the Glen Abbey Golf Club (1333 Dorval Drive, Oakville; 800-661-1818). Niagara Falls is just a 90-minute drive from town.