When the company is picking up your airfare, sometimes it’s worth stretching out your trip.
Such is the logic behind the recent rise of “bleisure,” a hybrid of business and leisure, used to describe business travelers who extend their corporate jaunts into mini-vacations. Easily done in places like New York, Chicago, and any number of cities around the world. Harder to do in Tampa — or so you’d think. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find a lot of smaller cities offer fantastic opportunities for extended work trips. Here are our picks for America’s best.
1. Charlotte, North Carolina
Big banking may have put Charlotte on the map, but it’s got character and outdoors worth exploring for a few days once the spreadsheets are put away. The best way to unwind? Spend a full day at the US National Whitewater Center. It’s all of your favorite outdoor adventures in one 1,300-acre park, where you can raft Class III-IV rapids, mountain bike through 40 miles of trails, then relax with a beer in the sun before hitting the zip line.
Once you’ve gotten your adventure fill, this city has some fascinating neighborhoods to uncover. Take a stroll down Central Avenue and the Plaza Midwood area, where funky boutiques and vintage clothing stores alternate with breweries and restaurants like Soul Gastrolounge. And be sure to stop for a drink or six at the landmark dive Thirsty Beaver Pub, where beer in a can and shots in plastic cups are de rigueur.
Also make sure to peruse NoDa, where craft cocktail bars like Idlewild sit tucked in modern apartment buildings. And no trip to the Queen City is complete without some bone-sticking Southern Food. You’ll find the best grits you’ve ever tasted at The Yolk Café at the 7th Street Market and fantastic modern takes at Haymaker.
Hot, sweltering H-town was for years a place people flew into, met with whomever they had to meet with, and got out as soon as possible. But as this city has grown into the nation’s fourth-largest, it’s also become a world-class leisure destination in its own right. In a stroke of brilliant urban planning, Houston is teeming with green space, and you can enjoy the warm weather hiking or biking through Buffalo Bayou Park, where trees are interspersed with spectacular views of the skyline.
Houston also boasts the most efficient museum-visiting opportunities in the country, with 19 museums all sitting within walking distance of each other. The Houston Museum of Fine Arts and Natural History Museum are the heavy-hitters and worth a look once the school groups have cleared out. But the Contemporary Art Museum and Houston Photography Center have just as impressive of collections, minus the screaming third-graders.
There is, of course, the Space Center, which is worth half a day to check out. But you might also want to head to the EaDo district, where artists’ studios sit beside breweries like 8th Wonder. You must also make a stop at the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, the alleged birthplace of the fajita. Whether or not that’s accurate is a question of Texan lore, but you’ll love your lunch either way.
Dwarfed in the shadow of Cinderella’s Castle is the unexpectedly thriving metropolis of Tampa, a pleasant seaside city with all the sunshine and beaches one looks for in Florida — at a fraction of the price. This may not matter when you’re on your expense account, but once you’re on your own dime, Tampa makes for an ideal low-cost Florida getaway.
After the workweek’s over, head down to the Tampa Riverwalk and stroll from pop-up bar to pop-up bar enjoying cold margaritas. If you’d rather stay put, Remedy sits right above the Riverwalk with plenty of craft cocktails and beautiful sunsets. For dinner, head a little further down the Hillsborough to the Armature Works food hall, where James Beard winner Anne Kearney set up shop on the water at Oak and Ola.
Since you’re in Florida, you’ll want some beach time, and a short drive through St. Petersburg brings you to the best stretch of sand in America. Whether you opt for the beach bars along St. Pete Beach, the isolation of Indian Rocks, or the family-friendly shores of Clearwater, you’ll find powdery sand and soft, turquoise water awaiting. Or if you’d like a beach all to yourself, wander to the end of the Westshore neighborhood and Cypress Point Park. It’s a beach right on Tampa Bay that even longtime locals don’t know about.
Seattle as a top bleisure destination really isn’t much of a revelation. But Bellevue, its businessey little brother to the east, is just as beautiful a place to enjoy once your meetings with Microsoft are over.
Though newer and decidedly less-historic than Seattle, Bellevue offers access to the same wealth of outdoor adventure as the big city, minus the traffic getting out. A short walk from downtown will have you at Meydenbauer Bay. Here you can rent a kayak from the REI Boathouse and explore Lake Washington, paddling past tech billionaires’ mansions with Mt. Rainier in the distance.
Off the water, Bellevue is a short drive from some of the most scenic hikes in America, whether it’s trekking to the side of a mountain ledge at Rattlesnake Ridge or hiking to one of the area’s best hang-gliding spots at Poo Poo Point. Most of those hikes begin and end near the neighboring towns of North Bend and Issaquah, both charming northwest villages that feel worlds away from Seattle.
Bellevue also sits only a few minutes down I-405 from the wine-tasting wonderland of Woodinville. Here, you’ll find 120 tasting rooms from nearly all of Washington’s top wineries, conveniently packed into a couple square miles. It has the densest concentration of tasting rooms in America, meaning you can explore the best of Washington wine without any concern as to how to get from tasting to tasting.
Dallas, perhaps more than any other popular business destination, requires a bit of exploration to enjoy outside the corporate environment. Sure, in town you can hit up cool neighborhoods like Trinity Groves and Bishop Arts, a venerable small town main street dotted with boutiques and galleries. But Texas is big, and so is the Metroplex. So if you’re ever in Dallas for work, rent a car and see all it has to offer.
Ft. Worth is the obvious first stop, with its historic stockyards and Wild West theme. The city combines big-city sophistication with a hard cattle-town vibe and is worth visiting for the Stockyard photo-op alone. You’ll also want to stop into Joe T. Garcia’s, the landmark Tex-Mex joint that’ll serve you a plate of fajitas no single human could ever finish.
Once finished there, venture out to Grapevine and the North Texas wine country. Napa it is not, but it does offer an urban wine trail where you’ll taste wines you won’t find at home. There’s even a cozy wine train that runs through it all if you want to avoid driving.
Back in town, take some time to relax at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, a 66-acre park with 19 specialized gardens. Or commune with nature at the Trinity River Audubon Center, a preserved wetland in the Great Trinity River Forest with over 200 species of migratory birds.
6. San Jose, California
When doing business in Silicon Valley, few people ever consider exploring its largest city instead of San Francisco. But don’t sleep on San Jose, a one-time farm town that’s grown up into the urban center of America’s tech capital.
With its proximity to Facebook, Google, and Apple, San Jose is the de facto leader in tech tourism. And while visiting their sprawling campuses isn’t much more interesting than any other office park, it will yield some great photo-ops and unique souvenirs. You can even take a guided tour of it all if you don’t feel like creeping around parking lots.
San Jose is also home to two museums unlike any in the country. First, the Computer History Museum, which shows how the computer went from a three-room behemoth to pocket-sized life fixture in just over 70 years. And the Japanese American Museum in Japantown, where you’ll get a brutal education in World War II internment camps in hopes we never repeat that regrettable history.
Like much of California, San Jose is also a short drive from fantastic wine country, whether it’s the Judgment of Paris-famous Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino or the monastic majesty at Testarossa. If you’d rather engage in healthier pursuits, hike among the redwoods at Portola Redwoods State Park. Or take a short drive to the beach and boardwalk in Santa Cruz.