25 Ideas for Your Best Summer Ever
Summer vacation—the memories and anticipation keep you going all year long.
It’s the most exhilarating season, when places gleam in the sunlight and work overtime so that travelers can make the most of their free time. There’s a dizzying lineup of concerts, art fairs, craft-beer tastings, new heart-pounding roller coasters, ball games, and boardwalk amusements just waiting.
And after a rough winter in the U.S., Americans are eager to get packing. Adobe’s Travel 2014 Report predicts that $61 billion will be spent on travel this summer through online bookings, a 15 percent growth over last year. Airlines for America is forecasting the busiest summer in six years, and, according to the American Express Travel survey of travel counselors, the average summer trip will be 10 days, up from seven in 2013.
Related: Best Places to Travel in 2015
So, where to go? Our national parks are calling both campers and glampers, particularly in California, where Yosemite celebrates its 150th birthday this summer (set up your tent at Tuolumne Meadows or book a room at The Ahwahnee). It’s a few hours’ drive southwest to the nation’s newest park, Pinnacles, where condors soar overhead.
Even in big cities, you can embrace the outdoors by exploring on two wheels, perhaps pedaling along the eight-mile Indianapolis Cultural Trail or joining New York’s Bikeable Feast, which combines a 90-minute ride with dinner at North Brooklyn Farms. Or get your dose of fresh air over cocktails at a new rooftop bar.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, head for the tree house at Wisconsin’s Camp Wandawega and sign up for canoeing and archery. And save at least one lazy weekend for the beach.
There’s comfort in returning, like the tide, to a familiar destination, yet summer also brings out the spirit of adventure. This could be the year you take that big road trip—in a rental Airstream—or learn to surf in Honolulu or check another state off your list.
In a recent Twitter chat (#TL_Chat), we asked for three words to describe traveling in the U.S.A. this summer. “Fried, hot, friendly,” tweeted Marji Stevens. “Splash, nosh, exhale,” tweeted Jeanne Fratello (though perhaps not in that order). Katie Wire chimed in with “Beaches, mountains & (delicious) food,” while Johnny Volk prefers “Baseball, burgers and beer,” and chef Rick Bayless declared, “Go somewhere new!”
Whatever your definition of summer, we have you covered.
Contributors: Kate Appleton, Kristina Ensminger, Rachel Felder, Peter J. Frank, Jacqueline Gifford, Jaime Gillin, Peter Jon Lindberg, Doug Mack, Francine Maroukian, Nicola McCormack, Mario Mercado, Heidi Mitchell, Brooke Porter Katz, Bret Stetka, Nate Storey, Jeff Wise.
Get to Know Our National Parks
Yosemite National Park celebrates its 150th birthday (June 30) with special events throughout 2014. It’s one of the elders of our park system, which continues to designate national parks and monuments. Crowned in January 2013, the newest national park is central California’s Pinnacles (a collection of striking rock formations where condors soar), while the Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks of southern New Mexico became a national monument this May. It’s also worth marking your calendar for August 25, one of the annual free entrance days at national parks across the country.
Stay in a Stylish Seaside Inn
These New England properties put a decidedly design-conscious spin on the traditional B&B.
Salt House Inn, Provincetown, MA: Free parking and Wi-Fi are two of the perks at this 15-room Cape Cod inn, where vintage rackets and curiosities hang over each bed. Every morning, a blackboard offers the weather forecast alongside what’s for breakfast.
Tides Beach Club, Kennebunkport, ME: The rambling, gabled Victorian is the only hotel on Goose Rocks Beach. Inside, 21 small-yet-inviting rooms have a breezy air (Jonathan Adler furnished two suites), and there’s a buzzing restaurant and bar.
Explore a City by Bike
More major cities are embracing two-wheeled transport. A decade in the making, the bike-friendly, eight-mile Indianapolis Cultural Trail links neighborhoods with key sites in the downtown area. Car-centric Los Angeles has recently added 40 miles of bike lanes all over town and has plans for an ambitious 200 more miles in the next five years. In Salt Lake City, new amenities include “cycle track” lanes; a quirky annual event called Bike Prom; and a share program, GREENbike. In New York City—whose Citi Bike program marked its one-year anniversary in May—riders can also join A Bikeable Feast, which pairs a 90-minute ride with a four-course meal at North Brooklyn Farms.
Ride the Newest Roller Coasters
Coney Island introduced the 65-mile-per-hour Thunderbolt over Memorial Day weekend, its first custom-built coaster since the 1927 debut of the wooden-track Cyclone. Ohio’s Kings Island unleashed the Banshee in April. And Disney World’s Fantasyland expansion was completed with the opening of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster. But roller-coaster cognoscenti know 2014 belongs to one beast, Six Flag Chicago’s aptly named Goliath. Leave it to coaster nerds to debate whether it qualifies as a true wooden ride (it has a steel superstructure) and instead know this: with an insanely sheer 85-degree drop from 180 feet, top speeds of 72 miles per hour, and a few inversions, it’s one hell of a scary, record-breaking ride.
Go on Safari in Montana
Find out what the untouched West was like at Montana’s Kestrel Camp (open May through October; all-inclusive), which has five immaculately appointed yurts set within the expanse of the American Prairie Reserve. Still in its infancy, the project aims to one day preserve a half-million acres of rolling grassland along the Missouri River; until this year, the yurts were open only to donors. In a homegrown take on the classic African safari, guests accompany naturalists on expeditions to view elk, pronghorn antelope, and bison.
Have a Close Encounter at the Aquarium
Sure, the zoo has all those cute newborn baby animals, but inside the aquarium, you can marvel at all kinds of creatures—while cooling off in air conditioning. Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium is the world’s largest; its five themed galleries include tropical coral reefs, beluga whales and black-footed penguins from low-temperature habitats, and the Ocean Voyager, a giant viewing tank and tunnel filled with hammerheads, stingrays, and whale sharks. The Premium Day Pass, which you can purchase in advance, includes admission to all galleries and the “4D” movie theater. Baltimore’s National Aquarium made waves in summer 2013 with the opening of its Blacktip Reef, which sustains a delicate coral reef ecosystem. Visitors observe the marine life (look out for the 500-pound green sea turtle) through a 27-foot window that curves out into the exhibit. It provides a 160-degree panoramic underwater view that would impress even Jacques Cousteau.
Browse an Art Trifecta in Santa Fe, NM
Founded by the Spanish more than 400 years ago, the high-altitude desert city of Santa Fe has a certain aura that draws artists—especially this July. The International Folk Art Market, in its 11th year, has grown to include representatives from 60 countries offering fine handmade crafts (ceramics to textiles, jewelry to basketry) in an open-air bazaar. Shoppers meet these artisans in an exchange that supports and helps preserve their work and is also a whole lot of fun. There’s more: SITE Santa Fe, the established and admired art biennial, has newly imagined its exhibition program, which it inaugurates this July as SITElines, with a focus on contemporary art of the Americas. And there is still more: Art Santa Fe, the international art fair in downtown, showcases emerging and big-name artists represented by leading galleries in Europe, the Americas, and Asia, as well as Santa Fe’s own prominent gallery scene.
Head for the Rooftops
The summer’s big cocktail trend is boozy versions of cold-pressed juices—and they taste most refreshing when sipped alfresco. At The Roof, on top of the Viceroy New York hotel, midtown briefcase warriors hang with margaritas made with beet and pear juices and spiked with Cholua. In Miami, meanwhile, you can join the sun-kissed crowd at Area 31 on the 16th-floor terrace of the Epic Hotel, for a Green with Envy—gin blended with kale, kohlrabi, spinach, and apples.
Upgrade Your Road Trip
Hitting the road is one of summer’s great pastimes; a recent 1,000-person survey by navigation app Waze found that 63 percent travel by car the most during the summer season (and 48.9 percent admit to singing behind the wheel). Our favorite drives include California’s Pacific Coast Highway and Montana’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. And now it’s easier than ever to take in those iconic views from the comfort of an iconic shiny aluminum trailer—available for rent from Airstream 2 Go in Bozeman, MT, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. Your Airstream comes with flat-screen TVs, camping chairs, tables, and barbecue grills, plus a GMC Yukon Denali.
Camp Without Roughing It in Utah
Would camping amid the splendor of southern Utah be more enjoyable if your tent had a wood floor, potbellied stove, private deck, and en suite bathroom? The team behind Moab Under Canvas thinks so. Pitched on 40 acres near the entrances to both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, the luxury camp is within easy access of hiking, mountain biking—even hot-air ballooning.
Soak Up the Scenery in Alaska
U.S. Forest Service interpreters talk native culture, history, geology, and wildlife during the 22-hour Ketchikan-to-Haines segment of the Alaska Marine Highway. You can book a cabin or camp on the ferry’s open decks for better views of villages and hanging glaciers. If you’d rather sail by cruise ship, reserve your spot on the aptly named Alaskan Dream Cruises’ eight-night Glacier Bay and Island Adventure, departing from Sitka throughout the summer. The ships (capacity 33–66 passengers) travel to remote villages and wildlife areas that bigger ones can’t access. Pack binoculars!
Catch a Ball Game
You don’t need to be a die-hard fan to appreciate the appeal of a summer afternoon at the ballpark, preferably with a cold drink and comfort food in hand. From San Diego’s Petco Park to Boston’s Fenway, the best baseball stadiums also deliver scenic views, spirited traditions, and exhibitions honoring past greats. For more sports history, head to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, celebrating its 75th anniversary on June 12, with concerts at Doubleday Field and other special events. Wherever your summer plans lead, it’s easy to find a team stepping up to the plate—and without paying major league prices. You might catch a Brooklyn Cyclones game capped off with fireworks by the beach at Coney Island, or root for the Cats in Fort Worth, TX, as the sun sets over the skyline.
Go Back to Summer Camp
Indulge your childhood nostalgia with a trip to Wisconsin’s Camp Wandawega, a 1920s lakeside resort located 90 minutes from Chicago. Instead of TVs, guests entertain themselves with puzzles, an antique pool table, and pursuits like bird-watching, archery, and canoeing. You can even stay in the three-story tree house, stocked with sheepskin pillows, Pendleton blankets, and a library of 19th-century volumes. There’s a similarly retro appeal to Camp Grounded in California’s Anderson Valley, about three hours north of San Francisco. Campers relinquish their phones, tablets, and watches upon arrival—part of a digital detox philosophy that instead puts the focus on sing-alongs, painting, rock climbing, stargazing, and games of capture the flag.
Admire Sandcastles at Cannon Beach, OR
Conifer forests meet the Pacific Ocean at Cannon Beach, where colossal rocks add a primal touch to the seascape. This nine-mile stretch of sand is instantly recognizable thanks to Haystack Rock, a hefty 235-foot-high landmark that has caves you can explore at low tide. (It also attracts around 2,000 seabirds, including puffins and oystercatchers.) A pair of neighboring sea stacks is called The Needles. The 50th anniversary of Cannon Beach’s annual Sandcastle Contest takes place June 21; imagine a fairy-tale turret complete with Rapunzel lowering her hair or a group of sharks and seals hanging out at a sandbar. It’s an easy day trip from Portland, though it’s just as easy to spend the weekend. At the Ocean Lodge, rooms come with fireplaces, balconies, and locally roasted Sleepy Monk coffee.
Rock Out at a Next-Gen Music Fest
Bypass the generic mega-paloozas and follow our lead to something more fine-tuned.
Pickathon, Happy Valley, OR: Eco-, kid-, and freak-friendly roots rave-up on an 80-acre farm near Portland. Headliners are Nickel Creek and War on Drugs. Aug. 1–3.
Americana Music Festival, Nashville: Citywide confab devoted to bluegrass, folk, and country. Headliners are Rosanne Cash and Willie Watson. Sept. 17–21.
Mountain Jam, Hunter Mountain, NY: Drum solos, noodling guitars, and free-form dancing in the Catskills. Headliners are Allman Brothers and Avett Brothers. June 5–8.
Riot Fest, Chicago: Punk/alt-rock/hard-core mayhem in Humboldt Park, with carnival rides and lucha libre wrestlers. Headliners TBD. Sept. 12–14.
Check who else is playing this summer at America’s coolest music venues, from outdoor arenas like the Gorge to the intimate 40 Watt Club.
Survey the Texas Art Scene
Art in the Lone Star State is only getting bigger, according to Joachim Pissarro, a professor of art history at Hunter College in New York. “Renzo Piano’s new pavilion at the Kimbell Art Museum, in Fort Worth, is the most significant opening in the country in recent years. As in Louis Kahn’s original building, the galleries receive controlled natural light that illuminates the art in a masterly way. In the desert east of El Paso, the Hill of James Magee is a little-known but large-scale project that will be on par with Donald Judd’s work in Marfa. Its four structures are laid out in a cruciform—there is something wholly beautiful, elusive, and mysterious about it.”
Sample New York’s Melting Pot
Take a break from all-American summer standards like hot dogs, pie, and barbecue to get a taste of what other countries are cooking. Thanks to the start-up school League of Kitchens, you (and four or five others) can spend a weekend afternoon learning to prepare Lebanese food with Jeanette in her Bay Ridge, Brooklyn home. Or head to Queens for Despina’s take on Greek food or Yamini’s vegetarian Indian dishes. You’ll leave with a booklet of the cook’s family recipes—and a new perspective on eating like a local. If you'd rather leave the cooking to the experts, in cities across the U.S., services like EatWith and Feastly enable out-of-towners to enjoy a talented home cook's meal, no pitching in necessary.
Go Craft-Beer Brewery Hopping
Our cheat sheet of notable beers from breweries open to the public.
Mo, Maine Brewing Co., Freeport, ME: The dry, citrusy pale ale is made with a conscience: 1 percent of company sales go to environmental nonprofits.
Paw Paw Belgian, Moody Tongue Brewing Co., Chicago: Former chef Jared Rouben takes a culinary approach, cold-pressing the tropical pawpaw, North America’s largest native edible fruit.
Mr. Chipper, Westbrook Brewing, Mount Pleasant, SC: This has all the pucker you’d expect from a Flanders red, a sour and fruity Belgian-style brew.
Jai Alai IPA, Cigar City Brewing, Tampa, FL: Beer geeks love the world-class IPA in a can—sweet and hoppy, with a medium, refreshing body.
Founders Porter, Founders Brewing Co., Grand Rapids, MI: This dark, malty ale from a top midwestern brewer has hints of coffee and chocolate.
Simtra, Knee Deep Brewing, Auburn, CA: The strength of the extra-hoppy triple IPA—it’s 11.25 percent ABV—is hidden behind a blast of bitter pine.
Still thirsty? Here are more cool breweries worth a visit.
Take Advantage of Disney’s Value Season
A trip to Orlando, FL’s Disney World is a childhood rite of passage and a fixture on any list of the best family getaways. But all that magic comes at a price. While the admission costs don’t change throughout the year, rack rates at the resorts do fluctuate. The most affordable—and least crowded—time to visit happens to be in summer, specifically from early August to mid-September, according to Charles Stovall, WDW public relations manager. If you can brave the steamy August weather (and your kids aren’t back to school yet), you can score room rates as low as $95 per night at the All-Star properties, $100 at Pop Century, and $110 at the Art of Animation. In addition to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train debut at Fantasyland, summer 2014 ushers in “Harambe Nights,” an Afro-pop show inspired by The Lion King’s 20th anniversary.
Spend a Weekend in California Wine Country
Specifically, in Healdsburg, Sonoma County’s coolest town. Consider the evidence: Banshee Wines has much more going for it than its stylish rustic-meets-luxe, loungelike tasting room; the label is renowned for its Pinot Noir, including just-released 2012 vintages. Piping-hot beignets and nine types of po’boys are the draws at Parish Café, set in a yellow 1860s cottage with a broad porch. Inside Shed’s soaring, glass-walled barn, you’ll find kitchen supplies; a café with a wood oven; and a “fermentation bar,” where beer, natural soda, and house-made kombucha are on tap. In the old Cyrus space, Chalkboard serves a small-plates menu highlighting what’s growing in the Chalk Hill winery garden. Don’t miss the buttermilk-fried quail. Hotel Healdsburg remains fresh, thanks to its remodeled lobby and new wood-oven-pizza spot, Pizzando, while sister property H2 Hotel—home to the hip Spoonbar restaurant—sets the standard for eco-chic style. Nearby, H3 Hotel is currently in the works.
See What’s Popped Up at the Jersey Shore
The Jersey Shore’s beach towns took a beating during Hurricane Sandy in fall 2012, and rebuilding continues along its 130 miles of shore. Seaside Heights, made infamous by reality TV, welcomes an improved boardwalk this summer—expanded in width from 20 to 65 feet—along with new rides at Casino Pier. It hosts free movies on the beach (Thursdays, Sundays) and Music Monday Night Concerts, plus fireweeks every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. Take a spin on its Floyd Moreland Historic Dentzel/Looff Carousel; some of the hand-carved animals date back to the 1890s. Neighboring Seaside Park lost its pier to the hurricane. In its place, Big Mark's Action Park opens July 4 weekend with rock climbing walls, a zip line, and kid-friendly rides. For more fun in the sun, check out all our favorite beach weekend getaways.
Put Philip Johnson’s Glass House in a Fresh Perspective
This summer, the legendary Glass House in New Canaan, CT, is introducing self-guided tours. Visitors, annotated map in hand, can take their time exploring the all-glass, one-room landmark, as well as the other Johnson-designed structures on the 49-acre grounds. Guides will be on site to answer questions (and guided tours are also available). Another milestone: the new “Fujiko Nakaya: Veil” exhibit, the first-ever site-specific project to engage the house itself. The Japanese artist known for his fog sculptures will wrap the property in a dense mist, created by fresh water pumped at high pressure through 600 nozzles. Once an hour, the house will be enveloped and disappear from sight; those on the inside will lose that sense of being outdoors for which the Glass House is known.
Join a TED-Like Retreat in Colorado
After Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks landed on an unspoiled corner of the red-rock country to call his own, he just couldn’t keep the secret. His sprawling family retreat became Gateway Canyons Resort, made up of two lodges and 14 luxurious casitas. It’s also where Hendricks hosts TED Talk–like, five-night Curiosity Retreats, where activities are led by special guests such as violinist Charles Yang and master sommelier Larry Stone.
Learn to Surf in Honolulu
On Waikiki Beach, the whole clan—kids too—can test out their wave-riding skills at the Ty Gurney Surf School, which has an exclusive new partnership with the Trump International Hotel Waikiki. Individual instructors swim behind kids as young as five to help them catch the crest and stand upright, while others pick them up as they come ashore. You’re guaranteed to get up thanks to the school’s easy-to-manage longboards. It’s one of our picks for this year’s best family getaways.