America's Best Cities for Summer Travel

  • Portland, Oregon

    Photo: iStock

    1 of 22

    Travel + Leisure readers rank the best cities around the U.S. for a summer getaway.

    From June 2011 By

    A lot of people like Chicago, but some only love it one season of the year.

    “I’ve had a lot of clients in Chicago,” says Miami public relations exec Julie Fogel, “and I dread going there in the brutally cold fall or winter months.” But summer? “It’s my favorite place to visit,” she says. “The weather, the people, the ambience—it’s absolutely phenomenal. The city comes alive.”

    Come to Chicago in July, and you’ll find the lakeshore beaches hopping with volleyball players, restaurant patios buzzing with patrons, and fireworks going off from the Navy Pier.

    That unfettered enthusiasm helped Chicago secure its spot as one of the top 20 summer destinations, according to the America’s Favorite Cities survey. Every year, Travel + Leisure readers rank cities for qualities such as great food or excellent shopping. Readers also vote on best times of year to visit—including the classic, all-important summer vacation.

    More Americans are planning to take that vacation this season. According to a poll by the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, 59 percent of Americans will take some kind of summer getaway, up from 51 percent last year.

    Since many of these getaways are still brief, major U.S. cities are appealing choices. San Diego, Los Angeles, and Honolulu typify the dream beachy vacation, and all made it into readers’ top 20 picks.

    While some cities likely didn't make the cut due to triple-digit summer temps (sorry, Phoenix), other cities managed to overcome heat-index issues, perhaps because of their great summer cuisine. Kansas City, with plenty of summer street festivals but nary an ocean breeze, landed within the Top 20 thanks partially to its summer-friendly barbecue.

    Mention highly ranked Portland, ME, and naturally people start waxing poetic about that lobster. But the New England city also shares a quality with other cities that dominated the Top 10: it’s joyfully emerging from winter’s Gore-Tex cocoon, and locals are ready to party.

    In Providence, for instance, the Waterfire festival literally sets the city ablaze, with bonfires burning along the city’s three rivers. And in Minneapolis, they’ll do anything outside in summertime, whether it’s strolling around lakes or racing boats made out of milk cartons at the annual Aquatennial.

    “Every man, woman, and child in Minnesota spends the warmer months out and about, stockpiling vitamin D,” says Annie D’Souza, a community manager for Yelp. “We’re all just so thrilled that winter is over.”

  • Portland, Oregon

    Photo: iStock

    2 of 22

    No. 1 Portland, OR

    You can literally taste summer in this northwestern city: top-ranked farmers’ markets bursting with berries, fresh-caught salmon at inventive cafés, and plenty of cool summer drinks. AFC voters also gave Portland the top prize for its microbrews. The wholesome cuisine will make you want to get active, too, whether you’re bicycling around Portland or hiking near the waterfalls outside town.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Seattle

    Photo: iStock

    3 of 22

    No. 2 Seattle

    The notoriously drizzly city—which came in last place for winter visits—actually stays pretty dry and sunny throughout the summer. It’s a great time to get outdoors, whether buzzing around in seaplanes or hanging out in the great city parks. You can also get a good look at massive Mount Rainier, which, for the rest of the year, often hides behind clouds.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Portland, ME

    Photo: Fraser Hall / Alamy

    4 of 22

    No. 3 Portland, ME

    Did someone say lobster? These big, seasonal crustaceans are one of the biggest summer lures of this New England city. Between meals you can always paddle off in a kayak or walk the cobblestoned streets of the Old Port. It’s also a perfect destination if you’re the early-to-bed type: the city ranks near the top for being mellow, and AFC voters declared its nightlife downright sleepy.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • San Diego, California

    Photo: iStock

    5 of 22

    No. 4 San Diego

    AFC voters loved the year-round beach weather and good-looking locals here—even if June can be cool and gray. Summer also brings the kooky ComicCon convention and events at the Del Mar racetrack, an old-Hollywood star magnet. And the city’s zoo, SeaWorld, and Legoland are a natural draw for families on summer vacation.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Providence, Rhode Island

    Photo: Wendy Ball & Dara Albanese

    6 of 22

    No. 5 Providence

    Summer nights glow in the Rhode Island capital, thanks to Waterfire, a series of small bonfires that light up the rivers downtown. AFC voters embraced Providence for its down-to-earth personality—giving it high marks for both its mom-and-pop cafés and its burgers.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Denver

    Photo: Jim Havey / Alamy

    7 of 22

    No. 6 Denver

    AFC voters applauded the Mile High City for its great outdoors and active locals—and summer makes for fabulous hiking and mountain biking. Denver’s also a magnet for summer festival fans: come for the Chalk Art Festival, the Underground Music Showcase, and the classic, western-themed Buffalo Bill Days.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Anchorage

    Photo: iStock

    8 of 22

    No. 7 Anchorage

    By travel industry standards, summer is the one-and-only season in Alaska, whether you’ve come for a classic cruise, a trek across glaciers, or caribou-spotting in Denali National Park. AFC voters found trips here pricey (to cut costs, come in early June or late August), but loved the great photo-op views.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Minneapolis/St. Paul

    Photo: iStock

    9 of 22

    No. 8 Minneapolis/St. Paul

    Talk about a comeback: the Twin Cities fell into last place for its overall weather, but still made summer’s Top 10. Indeed, after a long winter, people in Minnesota are practically busting at the seams to get outside. Things get especially festive at the acclaimed State Fair in August and the tournament-filled Aquatennial in July.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Chicago

    Photo: iStock

    10 of 22

    No. 9 Chicago

    Who cares if there’s no ocean in Chicago? People still find beachy fun on the lakeshores, soaking up rays and spiking volleyballs. The Windy City also landed in the top 5 for being pedestrian-friendly—a nice way to take in the great skyline views.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Honolulu

    Photo: iStock

    11 of 22

    No. 10 Honolulu

    Though many people flock here in winter, summer is actually the dry season in the Hawaiian capital. That means more sunny weather and more accessible waves for surfing. There are arguably more deals during summer too. Yet another reason it’s a fine time to unplug in Honolulu—rated the No. 1 city for relaxing.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Boston

    Photo: iStock

    12 of 22

    No. 11 Boston

    After those long winters, Beantown comes alive with history-hungry tourists, oyster-lovers, and of course, Red Sox fans. Even though the city ranked just so-so in the survey for its parks and weather, summer is an exception, whether you’re retracing steps along the Freedom Trail or taking the helm of a Liberty Fleet tall ship on Boston Harbor.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Salt Lake City

    Photo: iStock

    13 of 22

    No. 12 Salt Lake City

    The ski-friendly Utah city ranks No. 1 in the AFC survey for winter visits, but some qualities give it year-round appeal: affordable hotels, a safe vibe, and a dramatic location at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. When the snow thaws, there’s great hiking, mountain biking, and fishing at your hotel doorstep.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • San Francisco

    Photo: iStock

    14 of 22

    No. 13 San Francisco

    While the infamous Summer of Love may have been a long time ago, the City by the Bay still ranks highly in the survey for romance, whatever the season. Just remember to bring a sweater in June or July, when the cool, foggy weather takes many visitors by surprise.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Santa Fe

    Photo: Chris Alan Selby / Alamy

    15 of 22

    No. 14 Santa Fe

    Summer brings more of what this southwestern town is famous for: Indian art and craft markets, classical music festivals, and plenty of art gallery openings. (Plus, mild weather: summer rarely gets above the 80s.) Despite all its potential for hubbub, AFC voters still like the city as a place to chill out: it’s the No. 1 city for peace and quiet.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Nashville, Tennessee

    Photo: Don Smetzer / Alamy

    16 of 22

    No. 15 Nashville

    The Country Music Association’s famous Fan Fair may be summer’s banner event here, but AFC voters were fans of Music City for other reasons too: it ranked No. 1 for affordability, as well as winning the top slot for live music.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Los Angeles

    Photo: iStock

    17 of 22

    No. 16 Los Angeles

    With miles of beaches and Disneyland just down the freeway, the City of Angels offers lots of classic sunny fun. You just might want to go shopping for a new swimsuit and blinged-out flip-flops: the No. 4 city for luxury shopping also ranks in the Top 10 for its stylin’ locals.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • San Juan, P.R.

    Photo: Mark Downey / Alamy

    18 of 22

    No. 17 San Juan, P.R.

    If it weren’t for hurricane season, this island destination would be a summer-vacation paradise. The Puerto Rican capital has the No. 3 weather overall. Most AFC voters there didn’t seem to mind those steamy summer evenings: the city also ranked in the top 5 for both the fun cocktails and romance potential.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Kansas City

    Photo: iStock

    19 of 22

    No. 18 Kansas City

    If your favorite summer aroma is hickory smoke, then this is your town: it ranked second in the survey for its barbecue. Summer means lots of street festivals, but you might also bring an empty suitcase: the city ranked in the top 15 for both its vintage and antique shops.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Charleston, South Carolina

    Photo: Andie Diemer

    20 of 22

    No. 19 Charleston

    This quaint southern city is just a half hour from beaches—one reason, no doubt, that AFC voters ranked Charleston near the top for its overall quality of life. The city has walkable streets, charming boutique hotels, and the friendliest locals, according to AFC voters. If the summer temperatures happen to stray above 80, you can always duck into an air-conditioned store: the city ranked first in the country for shopping.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Baltimore

    Photo: Kelly Kollar

    21 of 22

    No. 20 Baltimore

    The harbor city landed in the bottom 5 for visits almost any other time of year—perhaps because some people don’t start craving those tasty fresh crabs until summer. AFC voters also saluted the local pizza, beer, and reasonable prices.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  •  

    22 of 22

  • Portland, Oregon

    A lot of people like Chicago, but some only love it one season of the year.

    “I’ve had a lot of clients in Chicago,” says Miami public relations exec Julie Fogel, “and I dread going there in the brutally cold fall or winter months.” But summer? “It’s my favorite place to visit,” she says. “The weather, the people, the ambience—it’s absolutely phenomenal. The city comes alive.”

    Come to Chicago in July, and you’ll find the lakeshore beaches hopping with volleyball players, restaurant patios buzzing with patrons, and fireworks going off from the Navy Pier.

    That unfettered enthusiasm helped Chicago secure its spot as one of the top 20 summer destinations, according to the America’s Favorite Cities survey. Every year, Travel + Leisure readers rank cities for qualities such as great food or excellent shopping. Readers also vote on best times of year to visit—including the classic, all-important summer vacation.

    More Americans are planning to take that vacation this season. According to a poll by the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, 59 percent of Americans will take some kind of summer getaway, up from 51 percent last year.

    Since many of these getaways are still brief, major U.S. cities are appealing choices. San Diego, Los Angeles, and Honolulu typify the dream beachy vacation, and all made it into readers’ top 20 picks.

    While some cities likely didn't make the cut due to triple-digit summer temps (sorry, Phoenix), other cities managed to overcome heat-index issues, perhaps because of their great summer cuisine. Kansas City, with plenty of summer street festivals but nary an ocean breeze, landed within the Top 20 thanks partially to its summer-friendly barbecue.

    Mention highly ranked Portland, ME, and naturally people start waxing poetic about that lobster. But the New England city also shares a quality with other cities that dominated the Top 10: it’s joyfully emerging from winter’s Gore-Tex cocoon, and locals are ready to party.

    In Providence, for instance, the Waterfire festival literally sets the city ablaze, with bonfires burning along the city’s three rivers. And in Minneapolis, they’ll do anything outside in summertime, whether it’s strolling around lakes or racing boats made out of milk cartons at the annual Aquatennial.

    “Every man, woman, and child in Minnesota spends the warmer months out and about, stockpiling vitamin D,” says Annie D’Souza, a community manager for Yelp. “We’re all just so thrilled that winter is over.”

  • Portland, Oregon

    No. 1 Portland, OR

    You can literally taste summer in this northwestern city: top-ranked farmers’ markets bursting with berries, fresh-caught salmon at inventive cafés, and plenty of cool summer drinks. AFC voters also gave Portland the top prize for its microbrews. The wholesome cuisine will make you want to get active, too, whether you’re bicycling around Portland or hiking near the waterfalls outside town.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Seattle

    No. 2 Seattle

    The notoriously drizzly city—which came in last place for winter visits—actually stays pretty dry and sunny throughout the summer. It’s a great time to get outdoors, whether buzzing around in seaplanes or hanging out in the great city parks. You can also get a good look at massive Mount Rainier, which, for the rest of the year, often hides behind clouds.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Portland, ME

    No. 3 Portland, ME

    Did someone say lobster? These big, seasonal crustaceans are one of the biggest summer lures of this New England city. Between meals you can always paddle off in a kayak or walk the cobblestoned streets of the Old Port. It’s also a perfect destination if you’re the early-to-bed type: the city ranks near the top for being mellow, and AFC voters declared its nightlife downright sleepy.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • San Diego, California

    No. 4 San Diego

    AFC voters loved the year-round beach weather and good-looking locals here—even if June can be cool and gray. Summer also brings the kooky ComicCon convention and events at the Del Mar racetrack, an old-Hollywood star magnet. And the city’s zoo, SeaWorld, and Legoland are a natural draw for families on summer vacation.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Providence, Rhode Island

    No. 5 Providence

    Summer nights glow in the Rhode Island capital, thanks to Waterfire, a series of small bonfires that light up the rivers downtown. AFC voters embraced Providence for its down-to-earth personality—giving it high marks for both its mom-and-pop cafés and its burgers.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Denver

    No. 6 Denver

    AFC voters applauded the Mile High City for its great outdoors and active locals—and summer makes for fabulous hiking and mountain biking. Denver’s also a magnet for summer festival fans: come for the Chalk Art Festival, the Underground Music Showcase, and the classic, western-themed Buffalo Bill Days.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Anchorage

    No. 7 Anchorage

    By travel industry standards, summer is the one-and-only season in Alaska, whether you’ve come for a classic cruise, a trek across glaciers, or caribou-spotting in Denali National Park. AFC voters found trips here pricey (to cut costs, come in early June or late August), but loved the great photo-op views.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Minneapolis/St. Paul

    No. 8 Minneapolis/St. Paul

    Talk about a comeback: the Twin Cities fell into last place for its overall weather, but still made summer’s Top 10. Indeed, after a long winter, people in Minnesota are practically busting at the seams to get outside. Things get especially festive at the acclaimed State Fair in August and the tournament-filled Aquatennial in July.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Chicago

    No. 9 Chicago

    Who cares if there’s no ocean in Chicago? People still find beachy fun on the lakeshores, soaking up rays and spiking volleyballs. The Windy City also landed in the top 5 for being pedestrian-friendly—a nice way to take in the great skyline views.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Honolulu

    No. 10 Honolulu

    Though many people flock here in winter, summer is actually the dry season in the Hawaiian capital. That means more sunny weather and more accessible waves for surfing. There are arguably more deals during summer too. Yet another reason it’s a fine time to unplug in Honolulu—rated the No. 1 city for relaxing.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Boston

    No. 11 Boston

    After those long winters, Beantown comes alive with history-hungry tourists, oyster-lovers, and of course, Red Sox fans. Even though the city ranked just so-so in the survey for its parks and weather, summer is an exception, whether you’re retracing steps along the Freedom Trail or taking the helm of a Liberty Fleet tall ship on Boston Harbor.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Salt Lake City

    No. 12 Salt Lake City

    The ski-friendly Utah city ranks No. 1 in the AFC survey for winter visits, but some qualities give it year-round appeal: affordable hotels, a safe vibe, and a dramatic location at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. When the snow thaws, there’s great hiking, mountain biking, and fishing at your hotel doorstep.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • San Francisco

    No. 13 San Francisco

    While the infamous Summer of Love may have been a long time ago, the City by the Bay still ranks highly in the survey for romance, whatever the season. Just remember to bring a sweater in June or July, when the cool, foggy weather takes many visitors by surprise.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Santa Fe

    No. 14 Santa Fe

    Summer brings more of what this southwestern town is famous for: Indian art and craft markets, classical music festivals, and plenty of art gallery openings. (Plus, mild weather: summer rarely gets above the 80s.) Despite all its potential for hubbub, AFC voters still like the city as a place to chill out: it’s the No. 1 city for peace and quiet.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Nashville, Tennessee

    No. 15 Nashville

    The Country Music Association’s famous Fan Fair may be summer’s banner event here, but AFC voters were fans of Music City for other reasons too: it ranked No. 1 for affordability, as well as winning the top slot for live music.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Los Angeles

    No. 16 Los Angeles

    With miles of beaches and Disneyland just down the freeway, the City of Angels offers lots of classic sunny fun. You just might want to go shopping for a new swimsuit and blinged-out flip-flops: the No. 4 city for luxury shopping also ranks in the Top 10 for its stylin’ locals.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • San Juan, P.R.

    No. 17 San Juan, P.R.

    If it weren’t for hurricane season, this island destination would be a summer-vacation paradise. The Puerto Rican capital has the No. 3 weather overall. Most AFC voters there didn’t seem to mind those steamy summer evenings: the city also ranked in the top 5 for both the fun cocktails and romance potential.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Kansas City

    No. 18 Kansas City

    If your favorite summer aroma is hickory smoke, then this is your town: it ranked second in the survey for its barbecue. Summer means lots of street festivals, but you might also bring an empty suitcase: the city ranked in the top 15 for both its vintage and antique shops.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Charleston, South Carolina

    No. 19 Charleston

    This quaint southern city is just a half hour from beaches—one reason, no doubt, that AFC voters ranked Charleston near the top for its overall quality of life. The city has walkable streets, charming boutique hotels, and the friendliest locals, according to AFC voters. If the summer temperatures happen to stray above 80, you can always duck into an air-conditioned store: the city ranked first in the country for shopping.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

  • Baltimore

    No. 20 Baltimore

    The harbor city landed in the bottom 5 for visits almost any other time of year—perhaps because some people don’t start craving those tasty fresh crabs until summer. AFC voters also saluted the local pizza, beer, and reasonable prices.

    See all the America’s Favorite Cities survey results!

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