Top 15 Summer Vacation Destinations
Summer vacation is a wonderful time of year to explore this great nation of ours. Pack up the family and get a neighbor to water the plants – now is the time to learn a little about the history of key cities, explore new food options, immerse yourself in the culture of other regions, and celebrate all that our country has to offer! Look through this list to get some ideas and learn about up-and-coming places to visit and live.
Boston is home to famous and family friendly world-class museums like the Boston Children’s Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum of Science, as well as numerous historic buildings. If you’re a baseball fan, don’t miss catching a game at the famous Fenway Park. If you’ve never been before, consider catching one of Boston’s duck tours, a popular tour that takes you over land and water to explore the city. And be sure to sample the food! Don’t just look for their renown chowder, be sure to also check out the fresh seafood, buttermilk fried chicken, lobster rolls, and other delights.
Defined by its beautiful cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriage tours, and old-fashioned, antebellum architecture, Charleston is a charming Southern city, the oldest in the state. Charleston’s unique culture blends elements of traditional West African, French, English, and Southern United States cultures. The city has a vibrant live theater and music scene, as well as numerous museums. Don’t miss the late-night ghost tours, and make sure to set aside a day or two for wandering the City Market, a National Historic Landmark that stretches several blocks, containing a massive open-air market with a tremendous variety of vendors.
A busy seaside resort, Ocean City boasts a lively boardwalk, mini-golf courses, ice cream shops, and a large beach. The boardwalk is home to plenty of amusement rides, seafood galore, beautiful sandy vistas, and cute souvenir shops. The kids are sure to love Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum. For some downtime, take a daytrip to the serene Assateague Island National Seashore, just a 20 minutes scenic drive from the city.
Myrtle Beach’s extensive, clean beaches and convenient location serve as the city’s main draw, and the city is also home to amusement parks, more than 100 golf courses, Ripley’s Aquarium, Broadway Grand Prix, outlet malls, and a thriving nightlife. The city’s popular with area families, as well as college students during beach week, thanks to the many affordable hotels and entertainment options. There is also a thriving home rental market in Myrtle Beach, which may be a good option if you need to house the whole family.
As one of America’s most iconic cities – and its most populous – NYC’s boroughs and neighborhoods all have their own vibrant, distinctive cultures. You could spend a year wandering the city and not see all there is to see, so make sure to have a travel plan before you visit. Consider one of the city’s many famous museums, like the MoMa, the Met, or the Natural History Museum, or hit Broadway and its side streets for world-class theater. Take a bike ride through Central Park and catch a free show at Shakespeare in the Park. There’s also plenty of shopping to be had, and some of the best food in America, including some world famous pizza!
Summertime in these twin cities consists of warm, breezy weather, offering some of the best shopping in the nation, and free festivals. Beat the heat of the day with a dip in Minnehaha Park’s wading pools, or spend a while wandering about the Mall of America. Take the family to the Nickelodeon Universe Amusement Park or the Minnesota Zoo. Hit the Chain of Lakes for boating or jogging, or visit one of the two cities’ many museums, like the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Mill City Museum, or the Walker Art Center. The Guthrie Theater is one of the city’s jewels, and offers both shows and tours.
The cool mountain air makes Boulder especially inviting during the hot summer months, contributing to the city’s many outdoor attractions, including over 300 miles of trails for hiking and biking. The Boulder Creek Path even runs directly through the city. The Bald Mountain Trail is a short hike to a stunning view atop a 7,000-feet-high peak, or you can head on up to Eldorado Canyon or the Flatirons area. If you haven’t yet had your fill of the wilderness, Rocky Mountain National Park is a scenic one hour drive away from the city. Also make sure to visit Boulder’s many urban attractions, such as the Boulder Contemporary Art Museum, the Boulder Ballet, the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Colorado Music Festival at the Chautaqua Auditorium. For more local culture, Boulder’s parks host weekly folk dancing and live music starting in June. The elevation can sneak up on visitors who aren’t acclimated to it, so be sure to drink plenty of water and stay well hydrated, particularly if you’ll be enjoying one of their many nature trails.
Part of the Virginia peninsula’s Historic Triangle, Williamsburg is a cozy town full of a rich and fascinating history. Don’t forget to take the family to Busch Gardens Williamsburg, a beautiful 383-acre theme park nestled in the woods outside the city. Consider staying a night or several at the Great Wolf Lodge hotel and indoor water park. And don’t miss Colonial Williamsburg, the sprawling historic district full of museums, living history, and old-fashioned shops. Hit Colonial Williamsburg’s main street on a Saturday morning for a wonderful farmer’s market full of local produce and crafts. Before you leave, jump on the scenic Colonial Parkway to meander over to historic sites in the triangle’s other points, Yorktown and Jamestown. Williamsburg also hosts an incredible array of street carols, programs, and historic decorations around Christmas, so December is a very popular time to come as well.
Portland is wonderful in the summer, when warm temperatures make its extensive outdoor attractions all the more tempting. Take the family to Washington Park and hop on the free Washington Park Shuttle to visit all there is – hundreds of miles of hiking trails, the Oregon Zoo, the International Rose Test Garden, the Hoyt Arboretum, a children’s playground, various memorials, the Japanese Garden, and many more fun attractions. Many of the hiking trails are ADA accessible – check out the Access Trails Project for a full list. In addition to its gardens and hiking trails, Portland is known for its foodie scene and many museums, like the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon Historical Society, and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
With its stunning mountain views and location between a national park and miles of national forest, the Jackson Hole valley is perfect for families who want to get in touch with nature. Hike through the Grand Teton National Park and camp beneath the stars. Visit one of the town’s art and performance venues like the Jackson Hole Playhouse for a fun night, or go for a horseback ride through the valley. You can also take a boat tour down the river for a relaxing day. Don’t miss the Granite Hot Springs, which are worth the trip for their stunning views alone. If you’re tired of the outdoors, visit one of the town’s museums, like the National Museum of Wildlife Art or the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum. Jackson Hole also makes for a wonderful winter destination, with ski slopes and guided sledge tours through the National Elk Refuge.
While the extensive beaches can get busy during the height of the season, the Outer Banks usually never feels as crowded as some of the more famous beach towns. As barrier islands, the Outer Banks have two sides for beaches. The calm sound is perfect for young swimmers or playing with dogs. For a change of pace, there’s also plenty of kayaking or canoeing through the islands’ wetlands and small streams. You can also visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial, honoring humanity’s first heavier-than-air flight at Kill Devil Hills. Clamber over the sandy dunes for an interesting day. The Outer Banks are also home to the tallest lighthouse on the East Coast, located on Cape Hatteras, which has gorgeous views from the top, and the East Coast’s oldest lighthouse, on Ocracoke Island. Don’t miss the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, a calming, serene marshland preserved across eleven thousand acres. You can also head down to Roanoke Island and catch The Lost Colony, an outdoor play describing the history of England’s first settlement in the New World. And while visiting, pick up a box of their famous salt water taffy to bring home for friends and family!
12. Tucson, Arizona
While it can get outrageously hot, Tucson, Arizona becomes a quiet town in the summer, with amazing deals for hotels and travel thanks to the off-season. The nights are cool enough for outdoor seating at Tucson’s many wonderful courtyard-style restaurants. There’s plenty of hiking at Mount Lemmon, just a short half hour drive from downtown. The mountain’s soaring peak is a good 30 degrees cooler than the base, with lots of shade along the route.
Nestled into the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara’s ocean breezes lead to perfect temperatures no matter the time of year. Walk around downtown, or take a hike on one of the area’s many wonderful trails, like the popular Seven Falls/ Inspiration Point trail. The town’s many beaches provide a variety of experiences. Head to One Thousand Steps Beach for a quiet, secluded day, or to Butterfly Beach for a gorgeous sunset, or to Arroyo Burro Beach County Park for waves perfect for surfing.
Lovely Santa Fe shows off in full the American Southwest’s unique culture, art, architecture, and cuisine. Historic adobe and wood buildings in the Spanish Pueblo style overlook plazas full of shops, restaurants, and historical sites. The outdoor Santa Fe Artists Market offers locally made woodwork, leather goods, and other crafts. Don’t forget to go on a culinary tour to get a taste of the region’s delicious cuisine. Avoid the heat of the day in one of the city’s museums, such as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, dedicated to the artist who made Santa Fe her home.
From its location in the foothills of the Appalachians, Gatlinburg serves as a gateway town for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, America’s most visited national park. Hike alongside the park’s many streams and waterfalls to the top of misty Clingmans Dome for a breath-taking view, or visit Cades Cove for the quaint log cabins, churches, and barns. The town itself boasts crafts demonstrations, delicious comfort food, and one of America’s best aquariums. Before you leave, head on over to Dolly Parton’s Dollywood, located in nearby Pigeon Forge. Hotel options range from familiar chains to cozy log cabins you can rent for a few days or a whole week.