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 vacations 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.”
Read on for intel on readers' best summer vacation spots.