There is so much talk about eating seasonally. Why not take that same approach to…
Considering I’ve had a chance to travel throughout this country over the years, I like to think I know a thing or two about picking some of the best summer vacation spots in the US!
There really is nothing like traveling between the months of June and August. The weather is just about perfect in all fifty states; kids have off, and the sunnier days make everyone want to take a nice break from the normal 9-5. This also feels like the first year where things are truly back to normal. I no longer feel like I’m using my vacation time to visit friends and family I’d not seen during the pandemic, and that urge of “revenge travel” or paying more than I normally would for a bucket list destination doesn’t feel so strong.
Whether you’re looking for a classic beach vacation full of tanned skin and icy drinks, hoping to finally visit a historic city you’ve been wanting to explore, or just planning to escape the heat altogether for the cooler climates, I think any of these summer destinations will make for an excellent getaway!
Tips for Summer Travel this Year
Plan to make your pennies go farther.
I mean have you seen the price of groceries? One big tip I have for this summer vacation is to try to stretch your pennies more than you normally would on a trip. Look into your destination’s public transportation options (some places are better than you’d think.) If you’re driving, figure out the cheapest gas stations by downloading an app like Gasbuddy. Book places with kitchens so you can cook some meals instead of always eating out. I personally love a hotel with a kitchenette. Check any potential discounts, this is where your AAA or AARP membership comes in handy, and see if any of the places you visit have free days or free time periods. There are really a ton of ways you can save money when traveling that we sometimes forget about!
Don’t underestimate your local train routes.
You’d be surprised at how easy and affordable it can be to hop onto a train and be in a brand new destination. I know it’s common to take the train in Europe and Asia, but I do think we underestimate how convenient American train travel can be. For example, from New York City, I can hop on Amtrak and stop into fun places like Philadelphia, Washington D.C, or Boston in a matter of hours. Train stations are well organized so families need not worry when traveling with kids, and if you buy tickets in advance, you can get them for rock bottom prices.
Just check your nearest train station and see where you can go; I promise it goes more places than you’d expect.
Consider doing a road trip.
On the flipside, I’ll never say no to a fun road trip! There are so many scenic drives in America, you really can plan out any route and just go. Plus, with the summer months, you can pretty much guarantee every state will have nice weather, so no need to worry about the elements impacting your trip.
Make flying as seamless and stress-free as possible.
Don’t get me wrong, flying is never not a little bit stressful. But there are many, many ways to make it a nicer experience. Look into getting TSA Precheck or Global Entry and avoid those looooong security lines. While each option has a bit of a fee, many credit cards will also reimburse you. Pack carry-on only so you don’t have to wait in line to check in your bag and then wait around the baggage claim carousel. (Not to mention you no longer risk your airline losing your luggage!) Check-in online and see if you can get your ticket ahead of time via e-mail or mobile device. Also if you’re traveling with families, don’t forget about the family assist line all airports have. It’s not official but all airports offer it, and if an agent doesn’t help you out, just ask.
Be sure to book as far in advance as possible.
Summer is high season for most vacation spots in the U.S. museums and attractions have timed entries that could fill up which means you’ll want to book ahead as much as possible. Not only will this save some money, it also guarantees you can get into the landmarks you want to see and eat at the restaurants you want to try. Many restaurants have reservation systems now and especially in bigger cities, it’s hard to just drop in and get a table.
20 of the Best Summer Vacation Spots in the US
Inside Passage of Alaska
The Inside Passage of Alaska is truly like stepping into the most beautiful painting you’ve ever seen. Because of how icy Alaska can get in the winter months, you can really only cruise the Inside Passage from mid-May to mid-September, making it a true summer vacation spot. From dog sledding without snow to seeing some truly breathtaking landscapes to learning more about Sealaskan culture, you’re sure to have the type of trip everyone will be talking about years from now.
Big Sur & Monterey, CA
Located along the northern coast of California and part of the famed Pacific Coast Highway, the land that stretches between Big Sur and Monterey Bay is probably one of the most ruggedly breathtaking places in the entire country. The whole distance is less than thirty miles, so you can take your time to enjoy the views and stay in the various towns on the way, like Santa Cruz, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Pacific Grove. Plan for light hiking, visits to wineries, and even a soak in some hot springs. Whether you spend a weekend or a week, you’ll never get tired of the views.
St. Augustine, FL
While Florida is home to a number of places perfect for a summer trip, nowhere is quite like St. Augustine. As the oldest city in the United States, it’s absolutely brimming with history and landmarks older than the country itself! But don’t think it’s stuck in the past. With an innovative food scene and a commitment to preserving its beautiful beaches and ecosystem, this city constantly feels as though it’s reinventing itself. Whether you plan to explore the ancient Castillo de San Marcos, spend all day out on the water, or experience an asado, I guarantee everyone will find something to love.
To give you an idea of how Asheville has managed to mix mountain culture with a creative spirit, just know that it was nicknamed the “Paris of the South” back in the 1900s. Part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this eclectic city is perfect for anyone who’d rather eschew a coastal summer vacation and instead head to the mountains. There are so many unique things to do in Asheville, it’ll be hard to narrow what you want to see down! Enjoy the city’s French-inspired architecture, especially the iconic Biltmore Estate, take advantage of being close to multiple national and state parks, and don’t miss out on experiencing the many, many subcultures and communities that call this place home. I’m warning you, though, you might only plan for a weekend and then fall in love enough to stay forever!
Romantic Savannah, Georgia is one of the prettiest places to visit come summer. When it comes to visiting, be prepared to slow down, enjoy that classic Southern hospitality, and simply enjoy your beautiful surroundings. From picturesque architecture to pathways lined with Spanish moss, Savannah is too charming to speed through! Check out its different neighborhoods from the newly created Plant Riverside District to the charming Starland District. In between your summertime wandering, be sure to take the time to learn more about Savannah’s complex history.
Orange County, CA
Further south along the California coast, there’s a reason Orange County, stretched along 42 miles of coastline between Los Angeles and San Diego, was a character all its own in not just one but two popular TV shows from the early aughts. Soak up the sun at some of the most famous beaches in the country; try your hand at surfing, and be sure to relax and take in the very SoCal vibes that have attracted millions of people here for decades.
Big Bear Lake, CA
Big Bear Lake has to be one of the more underrated summer destinations in California especially for anyone planning a road trip through the state. Located in San Bernardino Mountains, it’s surrounded by San Bernardino National Forest and perfect for anyone looking for a more adventurous vacation. Spend your days hiking through the forest (or driving a 60s-style, eco-friendly dune buggy!) before getting out on the lake and stopping at one of the many local eateries for some live music and traditional Santa Maria barbecue.
Oregon (RV Trip)
There’s really nothing quite as classic as a family RV trip. It’s a bit of a relief not to have to constantly unpack and there’s a certain joy in known you have the flexibility to explore as much or as little of a region as you want. Plus, you’ll save plenty of money on hotels, and your kids will love the adventure of it all.
If there’s one state I’d recommend the most for such an RV trip, it’d have to be Oregon, especially in the summer months when temperatures are at their warmest and this state is at its sunniest. You really have everything in this one place from unbelievable mountains, like Mt. Hood, the bluest of lakes, like Crater Lake, the most idyllic beaches, like Cannon Beach, and the coolest cities, like the hipster paradise of Portland.
Louisville & Bourbon County, KY
Louisville is easily one of the most underrated picks for this list. The most popular time to come, of course, is in May when the famous Kentucky Derby is held. However, don’t count this city out for a summer weekend just yet. Outside of horse racing, there are a ton of unique things to do in Louisville from enjoying the Kentucky State Fair to sampling the many, many bourbon distilleries nearby, and so much more.
Temecula Valley AVA, CA
When it comes to Temecula Valley, you can always count on two things – plenty of sunshine and plenty of world class wine. It all started back in 1968 when Vincenzo and Audrey Cilurzo took advantage of Temecula’s similarities to Tuscany, Italy and started the area’s very first commercial vineyard. Today there are over 40 wineries producing 500,000 cases each year. Not only just vineyards, many wineries have created absolute oasis perfect for anything from romantic getaways to girls’ trips. Feel like you’ve stepped into A Walking in the Clouds at Carter Estate; sample blended wines at Robert Renzoni, and get a taste of Persia at Fazeli Cellars Winery. Don’t worry about getting around while drinking either – just hop in a sidecar! And if you want a break from the wineries, visit Historic Old Town Temecula to feel like you’ve stepped into the Old West.
Corning & the Southern Finger Lakes, NY
Looking for a wine getaway but don’t want to go to the west coast? Then book yourself a trip to the southern Finger Lakes region in upstate New York, particularly around the very cool small city of Corning. This is an area to visit if you want to both enjoy some world class wines while learning more about the glass that holds them and the people that make them. Start with experiencing glass blowing at the incredible Corning Museum of Glass before meandering around to the many wineries and locally-owned shops, cafes, and restaurants nearby.
Chattanooga is one of my top picks for a traveler who wants everything in their vacation. Located at the bottom of the Appalachian Mountains, you can easily find a mix of outdoor adventures, cultural sightseeing, and good food in one place. Heck, as my friend Cory Lee showed me, it’s even great for travelers who may need extra assistance getting around. To get outside, enjoy the Tennessee RiverWalk, head over to the whimsical Rock City, or take a SwinCar around Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, try High Point Climbing & Fitness’s 60ft outdoor climbing wall! For culture, check out the Chattanooga Choo Choo Complex, learn more about the tow truck at the International Towing & Recovery Museum, or visit the Tennessee Aquarium to see what kind of creatures live in this state’s rivers. When it comes to good food, do NOT miss Uncle Larry’s Restaurant for the fried fish – it’s made with a secret cornmeal mixture.
Given its northern location, Boston has a very narrow window of time where the weather is pleasant enough to want to vacation here, and that window of time is between June and August! This historic city hardly needs an introduction as it’s one of the few places linked so thoroughly with the founding of our nation! This city is a must-visit for history buffs, and considering it played such a role in the American Revolution, why not plan your trip here around July 4th? With so many unique things to do and places to eat, you’ll be sure to leave Boston both full in spirit and stomach. And hey, if you’re still craving some beach time, combine this city trip with any one of New England’s famed coastal getaways.
Jersey Shore, NJ
The Jersey Shore is an absolute classic on any list of the best summer vacation spots in the US. While it’s gotten a specific reputation in the last decade or two, I’ve found that it offers so much more than a thriving nightlife scene. Jersey locals are fiercely proud of their hometown and are more than happy to show visitors all the unique things you can do in this region. Considering the shore alone stretches over 140 miles, a weekend or even a week might not be enough to fully explore!
Colorado Springs, CO
Colorado Springs has to be the ultimate destination for those who like a little more adventure with their summer vacation. The whole state is an outdoor lover’s paradise no matter the season, but it’s especially great during the hotter months as visitors can truly see nature and history collide. Seriously, this is the kind of place that has inspired “America the Beautiful.” From the Olympics to the Garden of the Gods and more, trust me when I tell you the list of incredible things to do in Colorado Springs is endless.
Coastal Maine is another great summer vacation spot if you’re hoping for cooler climates. It holds a special place in my heart as I spent my summers waitressing in a local seafood restaurant here, and to this day I still find it to be one of the most beautiful places out there. Maybe because I have a wave of nostalgia associated with its rugged beaches, historic lighthouses, beautiful hiking trails, and, of course, it’s incredible food, but there’s just something about Maine. Come prepared to enjoy the outdoors, risk a dip in the icy waters of the Atlantic, and eat your weight in more than just lobster rolls.
As far as wine getaways are concerned, the northern region of California is practically iconic. However, I’d recommend skipping the more famous Napa Valley for the smaller and more underrated Sonoma County instead. After you’ve enjoyed its famous wines, explore the county’s smaller, local businesses more and see what makes this area such a perfect retreat.
Genesee River Valley, NY
Genesee River Valley is another part of the Finger Lakes region, and a great spot if you want to combine wine with the great outdoors. There are truly so many unique ways to fill up a weekend in Genesee, from exploring the Grand Canyon of the East to learning more about the actual monks behind Monks’ Bread, you’ll find yourself wondering how this region isn’t even more well-known.
Florida Keys, FL
Known as the land of eternal vacation, The Florida Keys has been a playground for some of America’s most notable figures in the last century. Pick up a car in Miami and prepare to road trip along the 113 miles of road known as the Overseas Highway to the many keys, or islands, that make-up the southernmost part of the continental US. Prepare to get outside and in the crystal blue waters surrounding the keys, take in the very cool history of Key West, and, of course, try the many, many iterations of key lime pie.
San Antonio, TX
You can never go wrong planning a trip to San Antonio! It’s one of the US’s most visited destinations for good reason. This is a place where multiple cultures have blended over centuries and where you can enjoy both some of America’s oldest landmarks as well as a river that has played a pivotal role in the city’s formation. Spend a weekend or more discovering all the things that make San Antonio so unique from its food scene to its natural wonders and more!
And there you have it! Some of my top picks for the best summer vacation spots in the US. There truly are so many incredible places to visit all around the country during the hottest months of the year, but this list would never end if I tried to add them all!
Want to explore even more of the best summer vacation spots in the US? Check out any season of our “Places to Love” for even more inspiration.