Last-Minute Labor Day Trips for Any Budget

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Labor Day is typically one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, with Americans happily diving into their savings to get one last getaway for the summer season. But what should have been the first postrecession Labor Day in years is turning out to be just another recession-time holiday, as many people feel too uncertain about the economy or their jobs to splurge on a pricey getaway. But the hospitality industry has taken notice. These last-minute Labor Day getaways don't require a two-night stay, or even more than a few hundred bucks to make the most of the holiday weekend.

WITH OPRAH IN SANTA BARBARA On the Santa Barbara Coast, just north of the city's Spanish revival downtown, Bacara Resort & Spa is on a private sea-facing ranch with Spanish colonial-inspired architecture and one of the chicest oceanview pools you'll find in these parts. Visitors arrive via a private road winding along a grassy coastal hillside into a tiled motor court with idling Porsches and Rolls-Royce Phantoms. Bacara has been used as a party playground for Santa Barbara area residents including Oprah Winfrey, as well as weekend stomping ground for such Hollywood celebrities as Tom and Katie. Days are spent working up a sweat in the 42,000-square-foot spa or surfing the offshore break on the white-sand beach directly below the hotel. With rooms available from $395 per night with no two-night minimum over the holiday weekend, it's one of the best five-star deals you'll find on the water in Southern California.

REDISCOVER THE GULF COAST FOR LESS While many Americans are up in arms about the first family's summer vacations, few can gripe about their recent visit to Panama City in Florida and its Bay Point Marriott Golf Resort. Located on the still "pristine" St. Andrews Bay, the hotel is home to 36 holes of championship golf, including a Nicklaus Design Course -- the only of its kind in the panhandle. Guests can follow in the footsteps of the Obamas and enjoy a weekend of WaveRunner rentals, deep-sea fishing, dolphin tours, pontoon boats or just the hotel's access to the area's best beaches. The hotel is offering a $139 Escape family package, in which kids 12 and under eat for free. Rooms are available through the Labor Day weekend.

SLIMMER RATES AT ARIZONA'S SEXIEST POOL The Phoenician is one of the most famous luxury hotels in Scottsdale, Ariz., popular with the McCains as well and local celebs such as Steve Nash and Matt Leinart. But more importantly in summer months, The Phoenician is home to one of the largest swimming pools in the Arizona desert -- a resort pool tiled in mother of pearl and surrounded in luxury cabanas equipped with private loungers, personal amenities such as lip balm and tanning oils and Grecian fruit baskets that are refreshed throughout an afternoon of tanning. In-house eateries such as J&G Steakhouse by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and the Relish Burger Bistro also mean no need for a rental car. With rates beginning at $169 for the holiday weekend and no blackout for those redeeming Starwood Preferred Guest Points, it's a rare poolside getaway that also won't drain your pocketbook.

LASSO YOUR INNER ECO-COWBOY Your eco-wilderness adventure begins near Jackson Hole, Wyo., at Hotel Terra, a granola-lux Teton Village resort that's also one of the area's only LEED silver-certified hotels. You'd hardly know its conservation credo from the modern Alpine face and groovy lobby of stack-stone fireplace, sustainable exotic wood paneling and '50s-inspired lounge furnishings dotted in Arco lamps (with compact fluorescent light bulbs). What little energy the hotel does consume is offset by the "purchase of alternative, clean energy including wind, solar and hydro sources" that the hotel says is "the equivalent to removing 329 cars from the road annually." Days are spent exploring the rugged nature of Grand Teton National Park, only a mile away, or simply lounging at the third-floor rooftop pool or spa, spending what you saved from the $229-per-night room, which comes with 20% off for two-nights stays for the rest of summer.

CHEAPEST FOREIGN GETAWAY AROUND Take a nonstop flight to Vancouver, grab a car to Whistler and head to the one thing most Americans forget about this famous ski town -- its incredible summertime lakes. Having had its infrastructure perfected for the Winter Olympic Games earlier this year, getting to Whistler is a breeze on the upgraded Sea-to-Sky-Highway to Nita Lake Lodge. A picturesque waterfront hideaway, this luxury boutique hotel is on one of the area's most pristine lakes, and fishing, swimming, canoeing and mountain biking are within walking distance. Rooms include small kitchenettes, although it's hard to pass up the outdoor terrace at the hotel's Aura Restaurant with its locally caught seafood and farmers market produce. Best of all, even with a strong Canadian dollar, rooms are available at just under $200 per night -- even if it's not technically Labor Day in Canada.

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