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Save in the states: Affordable American getaways

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With an uncertain economic outlook and weak dollar, planning a spring getaway can seem like a grueling and expensive task. Before you give up on taking a trip, Erik Torkells of Budget Traveler magazine shares affordable and unexpected vacation options:

Portland, Maine
Why it's a great getaway:
Once resolutely working-class, the city is turning into a foodie hotspot. You can still buy fresh oysters, but now they'll shuck 'em for you.

An intense revitalization effort began years ago in Portland's cobbled Old Port area, transforming it into a clutch of galleries, microbreweries, and stylish boutiques. Today, it seems like every corner of Portland is being rehabbed, including the once-dicey Munjoy Hill. Inventive chefs in search of ultra-fresh seafood and produce are hanging out shingles like mad.

Eat: Portlanders have long loved the chowder at Gilbert's and slurping "raw and nude" oysters on the waterfront at J's, which hasn't changed since the 1970s (92 Commercial St., 207/871-5636, chowder $5).

Head to restaurant row on Middle Street for a meal at Duckfat, which specializes in indulgent snacks like Belgian fries (cooked in duck fat) and panini filled with sour-cherry butter (43 Middle St., 207/774-8080).

Sleep: The West End, a historic residential neighborhood with a leafy promenade, is full of B&Bs. Guests at The Percy Inn stay in one of seven antique-filled rooms named after poets; the narrow 1830s townhouse also features a reading room with fireplace and a 24-hour help-yourself snack pantry (15 Pine St., 207/871-7638, percyinn.com, $139).

Do: Hitch a ride with the mail boat as it makes deliveries around Casco Bay. One of the prettiest stops is Great Chebeague Island. See Mac, "the Bike Guy," at the intersection of South and North Roads, and sign out one of the free sets of wheels he keeps in his front yard.

Columbus, Ohio
Why it's a great getaway:
Thanks to low-fare airline Skybus, you can fly to Columbus, Ohio, for as little as $10 from cities such as Burbank, Calif., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Eat: North Market has been around since 1876. Old-school butchers still work at the indoor emporium, along with Asian grocers, a fishmonger, bakers of artisanal bread, and farmers such as Dorothy Gatterdam, who sells eggs on the honor system (59 Spruce St., 614/463-9664, northmarket.com). Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams is a North Market shop that churns out inventive flavors like star anise with candied fennel, with ingredients from the market (59 Spruce St., 614/228-9960, jenisicecreams.com, from $3).

The Surly Girl, a tavern on High Street, was started by three girlfriends. There's empowering cowgirl art on the walls, and the wine is either organic, comes from a winery that's woman-owned, or both. The comfort-food menu includes a sandwich made with spicy peanut butter, banana, and honey-the filling is bright orange from all the cayenne pepper (1126 N. High St., 614/294-4900, surlygirlsaloon.com, sandwich $5).

Sleep: You can stay on the Ohio State campus without sleeping in a dorm. The rooms at The Blackwell Inn have pillow-top mattresses and fluffy robes, and there are views of the university's Ohio Stadium (2110 Tuttle Park Pl., 614/247-4000, theblackwell.com, from $139). It's a five-minute walk to the Wexner Center for the Arts (1871 N. High St., 614/292-3535, wexarts.org). The free museum has no permanent collection, but there are plenty of contemporary art exhibits and dance and theatrical performances. Several outside nooks house parts of Groundswell, an installation by Ohio native Maya Lin that's made up of mounds of smashed windshield glass. And an epic artwork by Jane Hammond will be on display this summer: It's a room covered in leaves, each one inscribed with the name of a U.S. soldier who died in Iraq.

Do: The once-gritty Short North district is packed with galleries, restaurants, and shops. One of them, Studios on High, is a co-op with 18 members, including jewelers, printmakers, and other artists (686 N. High St., 614/461-6487, studiosonhigh.com).

Also in the Short North, Flower Child, meanwhile, is a shop that only feels as though it's been in the neighborhood forever because of an incredible stock of vintage stuff and a playlist that includes such classics as "Harper Valley P.T.A." (989 N. High St., 614/297-8006, flowerchildretro.com).

Fort Worth, Texas
Why it's a great getaway: It's easy to reach (Dallas-Fort Worth airport is a hub for American Airlines) and it's a only-in-Texas mix of cowboys and culture.

Eat: Fort Worth has long defined itself as the opposite of its flashy neighbor, Dallas. Walk into Railhead Smokehouse BBQ, and you'll have no doubt where owner-and state rep-Charlie Geren stands on the matter: Staff T-shirts say "Life is too short to live in Dallas." 2900 Montgomery St., 817/738-9808, railheadonline.com, two-meat platter $10.

Sleep: At the Texas White House B&B, guests in three antique-filled rooms (and two suites) can take advantage of the wide porch, gardens, gazebo swing-and tips from hosts Grover and Jamie McMains (1417 Eighth Ave., 817/923-3597, texaswhitehouse.com, from $125).

Do: Fort Worth was nicknamed Cowtown when it was a major stop along the Chisholm Trail, a cattle-drive route from southern Texas to Kansas. Today, the Stockyards district still has brick streets, saloons, and two daily (albeit symbolic) cattle drives. At 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., people line up to watch 15 Texas longhorns amble down East Exchange Avenue. fortworthstockyards.org, free.

Gutsy women of the West-including Annie Oakley, Georgia O'Keeffe, and the Dixie Chicks-get their due at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. And you can be filmed on a bucking bronc and have the scene superimposed over footage from a 1920s rodeo. The gift shop stocks feisty souvenirs, such as mugs that read "My heroes have always been cowboysgirls." 1720 Gendy St., 817/336-4475, cowgirl.net, $8.

Even in the Cultural District, with four other world-class museums nearby, architect Tadao Ando's gorgeous Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth exists in a world of its own. The five glass pavilions appear to float on a shallow reflecting pool; inside, skylights illuminate works by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Jackson Pollock, and Cindy Sherman. 3200 Darnell St., 817/738-9215, mamfw.org, $10.

A.C. "Ace" Cook, a noted collector of pre-1970s Texan art, displays 70 museum-worthy paintings in The Bull Ring, his unassuming Stockyards ice cream parlor. He's often hanging around, ready to give an impromptu lesson. 112 E. Exchange Ave., 817/624-2222, ice cream $2.50.

Ojai, California
Why it's a great getaway:
Ojai, 90 minutes north of L.A., happens to be one of my favorite towns on earth. It's in a gorgeous valley, with a totally laid-back vibe. It feels as if everyone is happier there.

Eat: Past Meditation Mount, out toward the town of Santa Paula, is The Summit, an old-fashioned roadside stand. Thin burgers come doused in a Thousand-Islandy sauce, and cherry milkshakes are made with fresh fruit (12689 Santa Paula-Ojai Rd., 805/933-9898, burger $3.50).

Sleep: Artworks from regional artists decorate the dozen mission-style rooms at the Blue Iguana Inn (1794 N. Ventura Ave., 805/646-5277, blueiguanainn.com, from $109).

Spagoers have two great options: the upscale Ojai Valley Inn & Spa and The Oaks at Ojai (122 E. Ojai Ave., 800/753-6257, oaksspa.com, massage $75).

Do: Movino The main street, Ojai Ave., hasn't been co-opted by chain stores and restaurants. There's a pretty arcade on one side, and galleries, cafés, wine bars, and spas are as plentiful as the orchards outside of town.

After hiking in the mountains, relax with a title from Bart's Books, an outdoor bookstore located under a gigantic grapefruit tree (302 W. Matilija St., 805/646-3755, bartsbooksojai.com).

Locals have a name-The Pink Moment-to describe when the tips of the Topa Topa mountains take on the shade of cotton candy at sunset. Watch from Meditation Mount, a new age center devoted to the power of meditation (10340 Reeves Rd., 805/646-5508).

For more great travel tips and destinations, visit Budget Travel magazine online.

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