The Best U.S. Cities for Summer Travel
Some cities are just better in one season over the other three. Take Chicago, for example. 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.
The majority of Americans plan to take a vacation during the summer season, a 2016 poll by the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker found.
While eight in 10 respondents expect to have a summer getaway, 72% plan to stay within the United States and just 15% anticipate traveling overseas. Many vacationers are planning for brief getaways, like over Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends, making some major U.S. cities appealing choices. San Diego, Los Angeles, and Honolulu typify the dream beachy vacation, while places like Kansas City lure travelers with great summer cuisine and street festivals.
Mention Portland, ME, and naturally people start waxing poetic about that lobster. But the New England city also shares a quality with other cities joyfully emerging from winter’s Gore-Tex cocoon. In the summer, these cities are infused with new energy, drawing tourists who want to bask in the excitement.
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.”
Ready to plan your own weekend summer getaway? Read on for intel on the best summer vacation spots in the country.
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. And then, of course, there are Portland’s acclaimed 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.
No. 2 Seattle
The notoriously drizzly city in the winter actually stays pretty dry and sunny throughout the summer. It’s a great time to get outdoors in Seattle, 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.
No. 3 Portland, ME
Did someone say lobster? The big, seasonal crustaceans are one of the biggest summer lures of this New England city. Between meals, you can 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 is known for being quite mellow, but you can definitely find some high-quality beers and cocktails at the local spots for a chill nightcap.
No. 4 San Diego
Even if June can be a little more cool and gray, visitors love the year-round beach weather and good-looking locals here. 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.
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. Visitors embrace Providence for its down-to-earth personality, loving the city’s mom-and-pop cafés and street food.
No. 6 Denver
The Mile High City’s great outdoors fosters 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.
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. While trips here can get pricey (to cut costs, come in early June or late August), many are drawn nevertheless by the great photo-op views.
No. 8 Minneapolis/St. Paul
After a long winter, people in Minnesota are practically bursting at the seams to get outside. Things get especially festive at the acclaimed State Fair in August and the celebratory Target Fireworks in July.
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 is also very pedestrian-friendly-a nice way to take in the great, architecturally-acclaimed skyline.
No. 10 Honolulu
Thought 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, which is just yet another reason it’s a fine time to unplug in relaxing Honolulu.
No. 11 Boston
After those long winters, Beantown comes alive with history-hungry tourists, oyster-lovers, and of course, Red Sox fans. Whether you’re retracing steps along the Freedom Trail or taking the helm of a Liberty Fleet tall ship on Boston Harbor, you can finally enjoy the outdoors of this city in the summer.
No. 12 Salt Lake City
The ski-friendly Utah city might first come to mind as a winter destination, but some special 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.
No. 13 San Francisco
While the infamous Summer of Love may have been a long time ago, the City by the Bay still has a romantic energy, whatever the season. Just remember to bring a sweater in June or July, when the cool, foggy weather takes many visitors by surprise.
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, visitors still find plenty of peace and quiet in the city when it’s time to chill out.
No. 15 Nashville
No. 16 Los Angeles
With miles of beaches and Disneyland just down the freeway, the City of Angels offers lots of classic sunny fun in addition to top-notch art and restaurants. Maybe you’ll get inspired by the city’s stylin’ locals and decide to take advantage of the luxury shopping, too.
No. 17 San Juan, P.R.
Although June through November is hurricane season here, the Puerto Rican capital typically maintains the same balmy temps year ‘round. And with the fun cocktails, lively nightlife, and romance potential, you may not even notice the steamy summer nights.
No. 18 Kansas City
No. 19 Charleston
This quaint southern city is just a half hour from beaches — one reason, no doubt, that it’s become known for offering residents a good overall quality of life. The city has walkable streets, charming boutique hotels, and friendly locals ready to help wandering travelers out. If the summer temperatures happen to stray above 80, you can always duck into one of the air-conditioned stores for a quick bout of shopping.