Summer is meant for using vacation days, whether your ideal trip involves a big city, an all-American national park, a relaxing beach or a stay in a small town. To decide the top domestic destinations to visit in the summer, U.S. News considered several factors, including affordability, weather and variety of things to do, plus traveler and expert sentiment.
Bar Harbor, Maine, is a tranquil paradise praised for its coastal beauty and pleasant summer highs in the 70s. A gateway to Acadia National Park, the town draws travelers who love to hike, bike, boat and soak up the area’s stunning scenery. Meanwhile, Bar Harbor’s Main Street is home to shops, ice cream parlors, art galleries, pubs and restaurants serving New England classics like lobster rolls and clam chowder.
Glacier National Park
Montana’s Glacier National Park is known for its stunning geological features, which include 700-plus lakes, several waterfalls and two mountain ranges across more than 1 million acres. July and August are the best (and busiest) times to visit this park, with average daytime temperatures in the 70s. You’ll want to spend time driving the park’s roads, kayaking or canoeing on a lake and hiking some of the hundreds of scenic trails.
Grand Teton National Park
Spellbinding beauty, wildlife-viewing opportunities, floating excursions and trails for hikers of all skill levels attract travelers to this Wyoming national park for a summer vacation. The more than 300,000-acre Grand Teton National Park is also an affordable getaway: Campsites abound, and you can avoid pricey park dining by stocking up on food at a grocery store in Jackson Hole before your visit. Plus, budding naturalists can participate in summer ranger programs that include bear safety talks and astronomy presentations.
Boston appeals to travelers of all types come summertime, with average daytime temps in the 70s and 80s. Fenway Park welcomes baseball lovers, the Freedom Trail invites history buffs to a scavenger hunt of historic sites and the North End and Faneuil Hall Marketplace beckon to foodies. Visitors can also check out numerous breweries or plan their vacation around one of several summer festivals, such as Boston Pride and Boston Harborfest.
Nature lovers flock to Yellowstone each summer to watch Old Faithful’s awe-inspiring eruptions, hike through the expansive Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, gaze at the Grand Prismatic Spring’s mesmerizing hues and spot wild animals. Though the national park’s trails, lodges and visitors centers are busiest in summer, travelers willing to brave the crowds will be rewarded with ideal temps (average highs in the 60s and 70s). What’s more, nearby towns feature summer calendars packed with fun events like the Cody Stampede Rodeo and Targhee Fest.
San Diego’s plethora of shorelines (including Coronado, Mission and Pacific beaches), museum-filled Balboa Park and world-renowned zoo make it an appealing summer getaway spot for families and relaxation-seekers. Plus, San Diego is home to a highly regarded dining and drinking scene that includes authentic Mexican cuisine and more than 140 craft breweries. To get a true taste of the city, enjoy a meal in the Gaslamp Quarter or sign up for a beer or food tour.
Mount Rainier National Park
National parks make for exceptional summer getaways, thanks to their budget-friendly lodging options (think: campsites) and abundance of free things to do (hiking, wildlife-viewing and photographing the scenery, for instance). Washington state’s Mount Rainier National Park is no exception. Shining features here include an active volcano, wildflower fields and impressive hiking trails. Keep in mind, summer is quite busy so try to visit midweek or start your day early to avoid crowds.
A quaint, coastal city, Portland, Maine, attracts travelers looking for balmy temps (ranging from the 50s to 70s) and a laid-back vacation. A leisurely walk through the Old Port neighborhood – which features cobblestone streets, dining spots and charming boutiques – and a brewery tour should be on your list of things to do. Don’t forget to try some of Maine’s world-class seafood (either on your own or during a food tour) before you leave.
Zion National Park
Utah’s first national park welcomes scores of outdoorsy types every summer, and for good reason: Daytime temps sit in the mid- to high 80s, and the park’s free shuttle services a variety of trailheads and sights. During the day, experienced climbers can scale one of Zion’s 2,000-foot sandstone cliffs while hikers trek popular routes like the Canyon Overlook and Watchman trails. And at night, stargazers can look to the skies to see the Milky Way before enjoying a good night’s rest in one of the park’s campgrounds.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Occupying more than 520,000 acres, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an affordable summer destination perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. The park – one of the few that offer free entry – straddles Tennessee and North Carolina, and boasts impressive waterfalls, top-notch fishing, scenic drives and exciting hikes. Stop by the Cades Cove Visitor Center, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center or the Sugarlands Visitor Center to brief yourself on some park history, pick up trail maps and check out the ranger-led tours.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Photographers flock to Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park to snap photos of the incredible rock formations, which range in color from deep scarlet red to burnt orange to chalky white. Travelers also love to visit this national park in the summer because the weather is warm during the day, the hiking is excellent and it’s slightly less crowded than more popular parks, such as the Grand Canyon. Additionally, summer is when two of the park’s annual events – the Astronomy Festival and the Geology Festival – take place.
Hilton Head features everything from resorts to vacation rentals in addition to amenities like golf courses, tennis courts, spas and beaches. Summer travelers can try activities like biking, kayaking, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and bird-watching before watching the sun set over dinner at a waterfront restaurant. One thing’s for certain: There’s no shortage of things to do in this seaside South Carolina town.
A family-friendly New England vacation spot, Cape Cod charms visitors with colorful clam shacks, cozy cottages, swanky resorts and its beautiful 40-mile stretch of shoreline. Coast Guard Beach and Sandy Neck Beach impress travelers with their clean sand and calm water. Other attractions to check out include the Heritage Museums & Gardens and the Wellfleet Drive-In movie theater. Those who love quirky activities won’t want to miss Quahog Day, a June event where Doug the Quahog makes his annual beach weather prediction.
Seattle sees its best weather this time of year, with less rain and warmer temperatures, but it’s also the most popular time to visit. While here, explore the arts scene (including the Chihuly Garden and Glass), sample goodies at Pike Place Market and visit the iconic Space Needle. Planning a cruise out of Seattle? Set aside a few days to explore the Emerald City’s excellent offerings first.
These southern Georgia barrier islands are characterized by luxury resorts, pristine beaches and highly rated golf courses. Consisting of St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island and Brunswick, the Golden Isles are a great summer vacation option for active travelers: Tennis, biking, boating, fishing and hiking are all popular activities. When it’s time to dine, indulge in everything from barbecue to succulent local seafood.
Portland is a quirky destination that appeals to visitors looking for a taste of the eclectic mixed with outdoor and cultural fun. Families can enjoy the numerous parks, bibliophiles can get lost in Powell’s City of Books (the largest independent bookstore in the world) and art aficionados can check out the Portland Saturday Market, an open-air arts and crafts market. The city is also home to top-notch food carts, a thriving craft beer scene and several superb gardens.
Does your ideal getaway include award-winning food and drink? If so, then Sonoma, California, is the summer vacation for you. The area is home to more than 400 wineries (some of which offer free tastings), farm-to-table eateries, specialty food stores and bustling farmers markets, plus breweries, distilleries and cider houses. When it’s time to burn off those calories, hit the trails at Jack London State Historic Park or go kayaking at Sonoma Coast State Park.
Mansion tours, delectable seafood and scenic shorelines attract vacationers to Newport, Rhode Island, during the summer months. The excellent weather doesn’t hurt either. You can expect sunny days and average highs in the 70s. Once you’ve explored the Colonial homes and local shops on Thames Street, pack a picnic lunch and head to the beach or take a ferry to Fort Adams. For a more active vacation, rent a bicycle and explore the waterfront East Bay Bike Path.
Summer is one of the more affordable times to visit this Colorado town, and excellent weather draws travelers interested in hiking, horseback riding, rafting and biking. The town also hosts many summer festivals, including the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo and Art in the Park. And a trip here must include a dip in the famous hot springs. Strawberry Park Hot Springs offers opportunities for in-pool spa treatments, while Old Town Hot Springs appeals to families with waterslides, a rock climbing wall and a kids pool.
A beloved West Coast getaway for families, Seaside is a relaxing Oregon resort town. Popular activities include strolling along the nearly 2-mile-long promenade, biking or hiking local trails and kayaking or canoeing through the area’s waterways. The beach welcomes relaxation on its wide, sandy shores and Seaside hosts an annual beach volleyball tournament, which takes place every August and is one of the largest in the world. Additionally, Seaside boasts a tasty local food scene that spotlights seafood, sweets (think: saltwater taffy) and more.