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It won’t be long before summer is here, the season for epic vacations, whether you want to stay closer to home or venture thousands of miles away. While there are plenty of international destinations to consider, you’ll find many great options right in the U.S. for everything from idyllic beach getaways to memorable mountain escapes. The top summer destinations were chosen based on their quality of weather at this time of year, the number of activities available for the whole family, and easy access to outdoor adventures where you can enjoy views of stunning natural beauty.
Presenting the perfect place to relax and explore in every state this summer, these results come thanks to extensive personal experience, having traveled throughout the country, digging through countless reviews, and speaking with many about their own favorite places for a summer vacation.
Alabama - Gulf Shores
A top destination in Alabama, Gulf Shores boasts pristine white sands that edge crystal clear blue water with all sorts of activities that are ideal for keeping cool under the summer sun, from swimming and fishing to boating, sailing, and dolphin watching. The nightlife is renowned, fabulous for those balmy evenings, with many beach bars hosting live music, some right on the sand.
Alaska - Juneau
Located in Southeast Alaska, Juneau feels more like a small town than a capital city. It’s an ideal place for those who want to be immersed in nature, watch an abundance of wildlife, and take part in outdoor adventure. It’s one of the world’s best places for whale-watching tours, and there are opportunities to spot everything from bears and mountain goats to countless bald eagles. You’ll find plenty of mouthwatering seafood and a rich history to explore too.
Arizona - Sedona
While it’s just a two-hour drive north of Phoenix, Sedona offers a cool respite from the city’s sizzling summer temperatures. It will be warm but not extreme, providing the perfect opportunity to enjoy activities like swimming at Slide Rock State Park, where visitors slide down smooth and slippery rocks into shallow pools. Spend early mornings hiking among the red rocks and evenings sampling the outstanding food scene, including lots of delicious organic eats.
Arkansas - Hot Springs
Head to Hot Springs to spend time at one of the many lakes in the area, with opportunities to paddle in a canoe, fish, jet ski, and more. Afterward, you can take advantage of the many natural hot springs for a relaxing soak in the warm, healing waters. The town is one of the best in the region for nightlife, with the most music venues per capita in the state for fun after dark.
California - Monterey
Located on the Central Coast of California, Monterey offers a wide range of activities both indoors and out. There are beautiful beaches, opportunities for whale watching tours, over 20 golf courses, and it’s home to the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Unlike stand-alone aquariums, it sits right in the bay, with 2,000 gallons of seawater pumped in every minute allowing it to sustain sea life you wouldn’t be able to see elsewhere without scuba gear. Don’t miss the Cannery Row historic district with its former cannery buildings that were converted into unique shops, eateries, and hotels.
Colorado - Estes Park
One of the best places to take a summer vacation in Colorado, Estes Park is a small mountain town jam-packed with things to do while serving as the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s the perfect base for hiking, fly fishing, wildlife watching and more while surrounded by soaring peaks. The downtown area is home to many shops and eateries along with an amusement park that offers mini-golf, bumper cars, go-karts, and a big slide.
Connecticut - Mystic
Mystic sits midway between Boston and New York City, with its Main Street lined with charming Colonial-era homes, the famous Mystic Pizza restaurant that inspired the 1998 film of the same name, and numerous seafood restaurants. One of the largest maritime museums is here, and there’s also an aquarium with penguins, seals, sea lions, and even beluga whales. Cruises on the schooner ARGIA, a traditional sailing ship, are available too.
Delaware - Rehoboth Beach
One of the most popular laid-back beach towns to visit in summer is Rehoboth Beach. It’s home to one of the best boardwalks in the country, lined with shops, restaurants, a variety of amusements, and hotels. During the season, free concerts are held at the bandstand. The top thing to do at the end of every day is to watch a gorgeous sunset.
Florida - Key West
All of Florida is going to be hot and humid in the summer, but in Key West, located at the southern tip of the Florida Keys, you can enjoy a Caribbean-like getaway. In addition to basking in the sunshine on the beautiful beaches, you can enjoy plenty of time on and in the water with the best days ending by embarking on a sunset cruise. Afterward, many head to Duval Street with its pastel-painted historic buildings, wide range of restaurants, and legendary bars.
Georgia - Savannah
A summer getaway on the Georgia coast may best be enjoyed in Savannah, which offers it all. There are beautiful beaches and parks with tree-shaded pathways, while the River Street waterfront boasts shops, galleries, pubs, and restaurants housed in historic buildings. On any given summer day, there are almost always street musicians entertaining the crowds too.
Hawaii - Hanalei, Kauai
Located on Kauai’s breathtaking North Shore, Hanalei is a small town at the foot of often mist-enshrouded emerald mountains, with little shops, eateries, and art galleries with made-in-Kauai art and carvings made from rare, native Hawaiian wood. It’s best known for Hanalei Bay, a three-mile-long bay with a half-moon of golden sands and a pier where you can picnic with a jaw-dropping panoramic view, fish, or swim. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the best beaches in Kauai.
Idaho - Sun Valley
Sun Valley is a famous winter destination for skiing and other snow sports, but in the summer, it offers one of the most picturesque backdrops for enjoying all sorts of activities, including hiking and mountain biking, with trails that can be accessed just minutes from town. Golfing, horseback riding, paddling, and panoramic views while riding the gondola on Bald Mountain are all possible too.
Illinois - Chicago
Summer is the best time to visit Chicago. Your getaway can include everything from spending time at the beaches to taking part in food and music festivals, boat cruises, sipping cocktails at rooftop bars, and alfresco dining. There are lakefront trails along Lake Michigan, and you might catch a game at Wrigley’s Field too.
Indiana - Indiana Dunes National Park, Porter
At Indiana Dunes National Park, you can bring a sandboard or rent one from a local shop to whiz down the dunes. There’s also a freshwater lake for swimming and boating and over 50 miles of trails leading along shorelines, through dunes, wetlands, prairies, oak savannahs, cultural sites, and more.
Iowa - Dubuque
Located along the Mississippi River, Dubuque is Iowa’s oldest city and is filled with historic landmarks. It’s also one of the best family vacation destinations in the Midwest. But the main reason to enjoy your summer vacation here is the water. River cruises are available, along with canoeing, jet skiing, water skiing, kayaking, and more. From Eagle Point Park, you can enjoy a view over it all, with three states coming into view on a clear day, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois.
Kansas - Dodge City
Dodge City is the perfect place to go for anyone with an interest in the Wild West. Step back in time as you wander through the historic downtown, stopping to watch the mock gunfights or grab a drink in the saloon. The Boot Hill Museum will tell you all about the town’s history as “The Wickedest Little City in America.” If you can time your visit to come in late July/early August, you can attend Dodge City Days, an annual event featuring a rodeo, parade, classic car show, BBQ competition, arts and crafts, and more.
Kentucky - Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the world’s longest-known cave system, with incredible natural wonders like the Giant’s Coffin, Bridal Altar and Star Chamber, formations of stalactites, and stalagmites that were carved by the elements. Parts of it can be explored in the summer on your own, while ranger-guided tours can bring you to see some of the most highly-decorated areas. The park offers many other activities too, including hiking and fishing, kayaking, or canoeing on the Green and Nolin Rivers.
Louisiana - Grand Isle
Grand Isle offers one of the best beach vacations in Louisiana, located on a barrier island and nearly surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico. Soak up the sun and the sand, hit the trails in Grand Isle State Park, go fishing, birdwatching, and more.
Maine - Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor
The most famous and one of the most beautiful parks in Maine, Acadia National Park offers a magnificent coastline with opportunities for paddling and hiking with many scenic trails, including treks to the top of Cadillac Mountain. The picturesque town of Bar Harbor is nearby, with plenty of tasty eateries. Menus often feature the state’s famously mouthwatering lobster and blueberry pie.
Maryland - Ocean City
Ocean City is a classic beach town with a wide range of attractions, including some 10 miles of white sands, a long boardwalk, amusement parks, and eateries serving the state’s famous crab cakes. During the summer, there are many free family-friendly events too, including movies on the beach, concerts, and fireworks.
Massachusetts - Provincetown
Located at the northern tip of Cape Cod, colorful Provincetown is home to a long stretch of Cape Cod National Seashore sands, ideal for strolls, swimming, whale watching, and much more. The downtown area is always fun to explore, with an entertaining crowd for people watching and everything from enticing coffee houses, art galleries, and bookstores to seafood shacks, fudge shops, and fine dining restaurants.
Michigan - Pictured Rocks National Seashore, Munising
One of the most beautiful places in the Midwest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers a wealth of outdoor activities in the summer. It’s home to many waterfalls, lighthouses, and opportunities to stroll scenic paths while listening to the thundering sounds of a cascade falling into brilliant aquamarine waters. Hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and kayaking are all popular here.
Minnesota - Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Ely
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the perfect place for avid canoers as a one-million-acre area filled with endless streams, sparkling lakes, and lush spruce forests. There are 1,200 miles of canoeing trails that lead to centuries-old cliff paintings, and no matter where you paddle, you’re bound to hear the echo of a loon calling.
Mississippi - Biloxi
Ideal for a beach escape in Mississippi, Biloxi offers gorgeous stretches of sand that edge clear turquoise water. Spend your days at Biloxi Beach, one of the most famous in the state, and you can enjoy everything from kayaking and fishing to boat tours. There’s maritime history to explore and plenty of tasty seafood too.
Missouri - Osage Beach & the Lake of the Ozarks
Stay in Osage Beach this summer and you’ll have easy access to one of Missouri’s largest and most popular lakes. Lake of the Ozarks offers warm water for swimming, boat rentals, and beaches. At nearby Ha Ha Tonka State Park, discover hot springs, caves, and natural bridges, or hike at Lake of the Ozarks State Park, with a variety of trails to explore.
Montana - Glacier National Park
A vast natural wonderland in the northwestern region of Montana, Glacier National Park offers more than 16,000 square miles of pristine wilderness. There are stunning lakes, miles and miles of hiking trails, abundant wildlife, including bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and some rare and endangered animals like grizzly bears and Canadian lynx. It also hosts one of the world’s most famously scenic drives, Going to the Sun Road, which crosses the Continental Divide.
Nebraska - Lake McConaughy, Ogallala
For a lake getaway in Nebraska, you’ll want to head to Lake McConaughy, which offers clear blue water and white sandy beaches. Known as the “Caribbean of the Sandhills,” it offers miles and miles of coastline with opportunities for everything from walleye fishing to parasailing, jet skiing, and boating. There are two golf courses, and geocaching is possible too.
Nevada - Incline Village/North Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is one of the country’s most breathtaking lakes. It sits on the California and Nevada border, with North Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side offering a more tranquil experience. It’s also home to Action Watersports in Incline Village, which hosts catamaran cruises and rents a wide range of water sports gear. The North Shore is known for its calm, glassy waters that are especially ideal for paddling with visibility as far down as 70 feet on some mornings.
New Hampshire - Conway
Nestled in the White Mountains, Conway is renowned for its fall foliage, but the summer offers all sorts of outdoor activities that can be enjoyed among the spectacular scenery. Have fun while cooling off by tubing the Saco River, enjoy hiking and swimming at Echo Lake Park, and be sure to take a ride on the Conway Scenic Railway which offers awe-inspiring views of the famous Crawford Notch.
New Jersey - Cape May
Cape May offers something for everyone when it comes to summer vacations, with laid-back beaches for combing, surfing, relaxing, and more. Wine enthusiasts won’t want to miss following the Cape May Wine Trail while families will love Morey’s Piers Amusement Park. Trolley tours, Horse-drawn carriage rides and cobbled streets with shops selling saltwater taffy are sure to please too.
New Mexico - Taos
Taos is famous for its art scene, with its awe-inspiring landscapes attracting many artistic types, including famous names like Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe, with many galleries and the Taos Art Museum offering a great way to explore it. History enthusiasts won’t want to miss Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO-listed site that’s been continuously inhabited since pre-Columbian times.
New York - Saranac Lake
Saranac Lake offers a wide range of things to see and do in the summer, with a vibrant downtown scene that includes many enticing eateries, street musicians, art galleries, and performance venues. At the 81-acre Wild Walk, you can can take a stroll right over the forest canopy and enjoy a panoramic view that includes Whiteface Mountain and the Seward Range from the Raptor’s Nest. There are several lakes for canoeing and kayaking too.
North Carolina - Ocracoke Island
Only accessible by ferry, boat, or small plane, Ocracoke Island is the place to go in North Carolina for a tranquil summer getaway that includes relaxation and recreation, including days spent unwinding at some of the best beaches in North Carolina. Fishing, clamming, and beachcombing are all possible. Bike rentals are available for exploring the island, and you can also climb Ocracoke Lighthouse for a view that stretches for miles around.
North Dakota - Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora
Theodore Roosevelt National Park offers an uncrowded experience with few other visitors around. The landscapes are made up of bluffs, ridges, and unique rock formations with streaks of yellow, red, black, brown, and silver, all framed by lush prairie where buffalo can be seen grazing in nearly every direction. It’s also one of the few places in the country to observe free-roaming horses. The gateway town of Medora is a great base with wooden sidewalks and Old West saloons.
Ohio - Logan
Logan is the gateway to Hocking Hills State Park, one of the crown jewels in Ohio, with waterfalls, gorges, cliffs, and scenic hiking trails. It’s also possible to whiz across a zip line or even take a hot-air balloon for a bird’s-eye view of the landscape below. Hocking Hills Winery is a must-visit for wine enthusiasts.
Oklahoma - Tulsa
Tulsa hosts a wide range of family-friendly attractions that are sure to please kids and adults alike. There are 26 miles of trails to hike or bike in Tulsa River Parks and the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area. Among the many other options are the Tulsa Aquarium, the Tulsa Zoo, which includes a petting zoo and children’s zoo, the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium, and the Philbrook Museum of Art.
Oregon - Cannon Beach
One of the most beautiful beach towns along the Oregon coast, Cannon Beach is ideal for a romantic couples’ retreat or a family vacation. For a luxurious stay, you’ll find beachfront resorts, but there are plenty of more affordable options too. In the town itself, there are seafood eateries, wine bars, gift shops, and art galleries, but the famous beach itself is the big draw, home to iconic Haystack Rock, where at low tide, you can peek into the tide pools to see all sorts of colorful sea life. At Ecola State Park, enjoy hikes through the old-growth rainforest and picnics atop the grassy cliffs with a stunning view of the coast.
Pennsylvania - Hershey
The kids will be thrilled with a trip to Hershey, and parents might be too. There are a ton of chocolate-related things to do, including a visit to Hershey’s Chocolate World, which pays homage to the famous chocolate empire, complete with interactive rides and free chocolate samples. Then there’s Hershey Park, an amusement park with roller coasters, games, and characters. Hershey Gardens offers a more relaxed respite, or you might see the animals at ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park.
Rhode Island - Newport
As the so-called “Sailing Capital of the World,” Newport, is the perfect place for a summer vacation with time spent on the water. Boaters come from across the globe to enjoy it, and there are many other things to do too. Downtown offers great shopping on Thames Street, while Bowen’s wharf is a great place to dine on fresh-caught seafood while enjoying live music. The Newport mansions are famous, revealing a glimpse of life that the country’s wealthy industrialists enjoyed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Breakers is arguably the most stunning, oozing with over-the-top opulence that includes Italian marble, ornate gold ceilings, French antique furnishings and fixtures, diamonds, rubies, and other precious gems encrusted in the walls.
South Carolina - Beaufort
Beaufort is often named among the country’s most charming small towns. The second-oldest in South Carolina, it has a rich history with antebellum architecture to explore, a gorgeous waterfront, and a walkable downtown with antique stores, art galleries, and restaurants serving delicious Southern comfort fare, including gumbo. There are beautiful beaches nearby too, including three miles of pristine sands at Hunting Island State Park.
South Dakota - Custer State Park
Custer State Park is one of the country’s largest state parks. Nestled in the heart of the Black Hills in western South Dakota, it includes 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain, including dramatic rock formations, sparkling lakes, and dense forest with opportunities to swim, paddle, hike and more. It’s especially renowned for its wildlife, with animals like bison, deer, pronghorn, elk, eagles, wild turkeys, and even wild burros all frequently spotted.
Tennessee - Chattanooga
Chattanooga offers it all and is sure to delight everyone from adventurous couples to families. It’s home to the country’s largest underground waterfall, the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, and the steepest incline railway. Enjoy strolls on the Tennessee Riverwalk, a 15-mile long greenway that runs along the river, hit the trails at Rock City, which includes a 180-foot suspension bridge, explore Raccoon Mountain Caverns with its mesmerizing cave system featuring over 5.5 miles of passageways carved from limestone by nature, and much more.
Texas - South Padre Island
South Padre Island is known for offering some of the best beaches in the Lone Star State. It boasts miles and miles of sand to play on, clear blue Gulf waters, and a wide range of other attractions. Visit a lighthouse, take a dolphin-watching boat tour, learn all about sea turtles at Sea Turtle, Inc., and splash around at the Beach Waterpark. Kids can learn to surf or take a lesson on sandcastle building too. Of course, you can always cast a line as this is a mecca for fishing in Texas, and there’s even a Cook Your Catch program for the ultimate in Gulf-to-Table dining.
Utah - Park City
Park City is renowned for its winter sports, having been the home of many 2002 Winter Olympic Games, but there’s just as much fun to enjoy in the summer. There’s an alpine slide, zip lines, and miles of trails for hiking. Plus, Olympic Park is home to one of just four sliding tracks on the continent with a half-dozen Nordic ski jumps, a museum focused on the 2002 Winter Games, and much more.
Vermont - Burlington
Summer in Vermont is a dream, and Burlington sits right on Lake Champlain with all sorts of ways to get out on the water, including lake cruises. Enjoy water sports or relax at picturesque Waterfront Park, rent bikes to pedal the 26-mile Island Line Trail that travels north all the way to the Canadian border, and enjoy all sorts of fun downtown too. Church Street Marketplace is pedestrianized and ideal for shopping. Plus, in the summer, there’s a different festival practically every weekend.
Virginia - Virginia Beach
The heart of Virginia Beach is its oceanfront, with a boardwalk that runs along it for strolling, biking, jogging, and rollerblading. Street performers and food vendors can be found here on any nice day, while the sandy beach is ideal for sunbathing, playing, and dips in the water. You’ll find lots of seafood eateries and local art to explore too.
Washington - Friday Harbor, San Juan Island
The San Juan Islands can easily be accessed by ferry from Anacortes or a short flight from Seattle. The charming town of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is one of the most enticing destinations, with a wide variety of accommodation options, activities, shops, and restaurants. There are kayaking tours and one of the world’s best opportunities to see whales in the wild, especially when it comes to orcas. Don’t miss The Whale Museum, where you can learn more about them.
West Virginia - New River Gorge National Park, Glen Jean
Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains in southern West Virginia, New River Gorge National Park is one of the newest national parks in the country. It includes 53 miles of the New River between Bluestone Dam and Hawk’s Nest Lake, attracting adventure seekers to ride the rapids that flow through 1,000-foot-high walls. Hiking and biking a 13-mile trail and rock climbing, with some 1,500 climbing routes, are all possible too.
Wisconsin - Wisconsin Dells
The “Waterpark Capital of the World,” Wisconsin Dells is one of the most popular vacation spots in the Midwest. It’s renowned for its theme parks which include Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park and Noah’s Ark Waterpark, featuring a remarkable array of aquatic rides, including two wave pools, a surfing simulator, and 51 slides. The area also boasts steep, scenic bluffs along the river that make it ideal for cruising and other activities on the water.
Wyoming - Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole, located in far northwest Wyoming, is a 42-mile-long and 8-mile-wide valley, with Jackson as its most populous town. A major gateway to Grand Teton National Park, it has a distinct Western character with wooden sidewalks and mock gunfights that crowds gather to watch on summer afternoons. The main reasons to visit are the abundant wildlife, including black and grizzly bears, elk, moose, wolves, bison, and bald eagles, and the opportunities for outdoor recreation. In the summer, enjoy everything from hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding to fly fishing, whitewater rafting, and paragliding.