Best Summer Vacations in the USA
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 best summer vacations in the USA, U.S. News considered several factors, including affordability, weather and variety of things to do, plus traveler and expert sentiment. Like what you see? Vote below for your favorites to help influence next year's ranking. (Note: Some of the below destinations may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Check with the CDC and the U.S. Department of State before traveling.)
Best Summer Vacations in the USA
- View 32 PhotosBelongs on List?#1 in Best Summer Vacations in the USARead More
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 sit in the 70s and 80s). What's more, nearby towns feature summer calendars packed with fun events like the Cody Stampede Rodeo and Targhee Fest.
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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 150 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.
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Chicago's Millennium Park proves particularly alluring during summer, with futuristic art and architecture, and a smorgasbord of free concerts and exhibitions. Be sure to swing by Wrigleyville to check out its namesake baseball stadium, grab a Chicago-style hot dog and watch the MLB's Cubs play. Also take advantage of Chicago's superb summer weather (average daytime temps hover near the high 70s) by visiting its numerous Lake Michigan beaches. When travelers want a break from the sun, they can explore the world-class museums in Chicago's Museum Campus.
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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 visitors can avoid pricey park dining by stocking up on food at a grocery store in Jackson Hole before entering the park. Plus, budding naturalists can participate in summer ranger programs that include bear safety talks and astronomy presentations.
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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.
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Bar Harbor#6 in Best Summer Vacations in the USA
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.
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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.
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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 historical sites, and the North End neighborhood 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.
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A quintessential family vacation spot, the Outer Banks fills to the brim in summer with beachgoers looking to relax. Activities for kids and teens abound in this North Carolina destination, including fishing, windsurfing, boogie boarding and mini-golfing. Meanwhile, travelers interested in U.S. history appreciate the Outer Banks' significance as the site of the Wright Brothers' first flight and where Roanoke Island's colonists mysteriously disappeared. What's more, there are numerous lighthouses to discover and the beaches are wide and clean.
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Seattle sees its best weather this time of year, with less rain and warmer temperatures (highs reach the low 70s), but summer is also the most popular time to visit. Grab a cup of the city's famous coffee, and enjoy the mountains and water surrounding the city. 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.
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Golden Isles#11 in Best Summer Vacations in the USA
These southern Georgia barrier islands are characterized by luxury resorts, pristine beaches and highly rated golf courses. The Golden Isles of St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island and Brunswick are a great summer vacation option for active travelers: Tennis, biking, boating, fishing and hiking are all popular activities. Those looking for a romantic summer retreat can go horseback riding on the beach while enjoying temperatures in the high 80s. When it's time to dine, indulge in everything from barbecue to succulent local seafood.
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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 summer because the weather is warm during the day (think: averages in the 70s), 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 Bryce Canyon's annual events – the Astronomy Festival and the Geology Festival – take place.
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National parks make for exceptional summer getaways thanks to their budget-friendly lodging options (think: campsites) and abundance of things to do (hiking, viewing wildlife and photographing the scenery, for instance). Washington state's Mount Rainier National Park is no exception. Compelling features here include an active volcano, wildflower fields and impressive hiking trails. Keep in mind, summer's slightly warmer temperatures (ranging from the 50s to the 70s) lure visitors, so try to visit midweek or start your day early to avoid crowds.
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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 national parks that offers free entry – straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border and boasts impressive waterfalls, top-notch fishing, scenic drives and exciting hikes. With evening temperatures in the 60s and 70s, it's an excellent place to camp. Stop by any of the four visitors centers to brief yourself on some park history, pick up trail maps and check out the ranger-led tours.
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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 district – 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.
- View 33 PhotosBelongs on List?#16 in Best Summer Vacations in the USARead More
A family-friendly New England vacation spot, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, charms visitors with its colorful clam shacks, cozy cottages, swanky resorts and beautiful national seashore, which stretches 40 miles. 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 Theatre. 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. Summer highs usually hover in the 70s.
- View 26 PhotosBelongs on List?#17 in Best Summer Vacations in the USARead More
Hilton Head features everything from resorts to vacation rentals in addition to amenities like golf courses, tennis courts, spas and beaches. The island boasts summer highs in the 80s and low 90s, but the ocean is always nearby and ready to welcome visitors for a dip to cool down. Summer travelers can try activities like biking, kayaking, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and bird-watching before watching the waves while eating dinner at a waterfront restaurant. One thing's for certain: There's no shortage of things to do in this seaside South Carolina town.
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Summer is one of the more affordable times to visit this Colorado town, and excellent weather (with highs in the 70s and 80s) 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.
- View 27 PhotosBelongs on List?#19 in Best Summer Vacations in the USARead More
A classic coastal town, Kennebunkport, Maine, appeals to travelers looking for a quaint retreat. Spend some time in Dock Square, the center of town with numerous seafood restaurants and unique gift shops. Visit in early June to get a taste of all of the area's art, music, wine and dining offerings at the Kennebunkport Festival. Colony Beach and Goose Rocks Beach serve as excellent options for visitors looking to soak up some sun. For an even quieter day of biking, fishing or kayaking, head to nearby Cape Porpoise.
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Seaside, OR#20 in Best Summer Vacations in the USA
A beloved West Coast getaway for families, Seaside is a relaxing Oregon resort town. Seaside sees summer highs in the mid-60s, making it an excellent destination for active travelers. 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 one of the largest beach volleyball tournaments in the world every August. Additionally, Seaside boasts a tasty local food scene that spotlights seafood, sweets (think: saltwater taffy) and more.
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