Every State's Best Summer Travel Destination

A crowd watches a performance during the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. (Photo via Reno Tahoe Territory / Flickr)
Scott Hartbeck
by Scott Hartbeck
Last updated: 1:01 AM ET, Sat June 4, 2022

The Best Summer Destinations in America

When it comes time to pick a summer vacation destination, Americans are spoiled for choice. But not all of them can make this list as the focus here is on the best of the best, the summer spots that hit it out of the park every single year this time of year. The best summer travel destinations in America range from man-made lakes in the Midwest to boardwalk beach towns in Southern California, offshore islands, national parks near the Canadian border and everything in between. Rest assured, no matter which one of the following great American summer travel destinations you go to this year, you are destined to have the trip of a lifetime.

Alabama: Dauphin Island

Nearby Orange Beach & Gulf Shores are dreamy between May and September, but the slightly slower pace of this seven-mile-long sliver of Gulf bliss makes it the pick. Take the ferry over to historic Fort Morgan, hit the beach and tip back a Bushwacker-the favored frozen tipple in these parts-at Pirate's Bar & Grill before watching the sun sink into the Gulf. After all, they don't call it the "Sunset Capital of Alabama" for nothing.

Alaska: Fairbanks

The payoff for all those dark wintry nights is the nearly 24 hours of light that takes over the skies each summer here. Fairbanks celebrates each "Season of the Midnight Sun" with gusto including a wide range of events all summer long-most famously its Midnight Sun Festival each June. And as the closest major city to Denali National Park, Fairbanks makes a great base from which to explore the iconic space. Or, head the other direction and take a sightseeing flight that will cross over the Arctic Circle, just to say you've done it.

Arizona: Flagstaff

Sure, it's a dry heat, and 100 degrees in the desert can actually be more pleasant than 85 degrees dripping with humidity somewhere else, but we're still heading up to the fresh breezes and pine air of Flagstaff the first chance we get in summer. Here, you'll find crisp, sunny days capped by cool nights, an endless array of outdoor activities and a downtown brimming with eateries and bars.

Arkansas: Lake Ouachita

Nestled amongst the Ouachita National Forest, this scenic lake is the largest in the state and boasts over 40,000 acres of clean & clear water ideal for staying cool under the summer sun. Each summer, its waters come alive with boaters, skiers, anglers and sunbathers while the entire surrounding region teems with seasonal fun.

California: Santa Monica

The iconic Santa Monica Pier and its all-American amusements and rides. Nearly four miles of beach. Beach cruisers pedaling their way up and down The Strand. Perusing the seasonal produce at the Farmer's Market. Tossing a blanket down in the sand just in time to catch the view of the sun dropping into the Pacific. Nope, it just doesn't get any more SoCal summer than Santa Monica

Colorado: Telluride

There's simply no better way to spend a sunny hot day in the Centennial State than with a lazy float down Telluride's San Miguel River on an innertube. Summer here is also the perfect time for exploring the local trails, fishing and taking in festivals. In regards to the latter, the city hosts multiple world-famous fiestas between May and September each year, dedicated to subjects such as hot air balloons, bluegrass, film and jazz.

Connecticut: Old Lyme

This coastal town is big on history and pulses with fun all summer long. Known for throwing great Memorial Day and Fourth of July events, the town also sits near two state parks (Rocky Neck and Hammonasset) which both boast beautiful beaches. But you don't have to leave Old Lyme to go "beaching", as Soundview Beach is home to handsome sands and a collection of waterside bars and restaurants.

Delaware: Fenwick Island

Home to sensational stretches of sand, interesting museums and a historic lighthouse, you can't top Fenwick Island during the summer. Soak up all the fun tourist attractions before making for Fenwick Island State Park for a bit more solitude and to be surrounded by natural coastal beauty.

Florida: Clearwater Beach

In a state full of destinations that make millions of vacation dreams come true each year, Clearwater Beach is as good as it gets come summer. Spend your days chilling on the sugary sand in town or day-tripping to Caladesi Island State Park-a perennial contender for the nation's best beach-and your evenings at the Pier 60 sunset party or one of the "no-frills & fun" beachy cafes like Frenchy's.

Georgia: Tybee Island

Try as you might, you won't be able to match the summer atmosphere of this island anywhere else in the state. Home to soft caramel sand and a slow pace perfect for achieving your vacation relaxation goals, Tybee will have you coming back time and time again. During summer, the Tybee Pier & Pavilion becomes the focus of the fun, as it hosts fireworks displays and concerts all season long.

Hawai'i: O'ahu

While summer isn't technically low season in Hawai'i, you'll still experience fewer crowds than around Christmas or Spring Break. So dive into all the island of O'ahu has to offer while you can have a little extra elbow room on the sand. Visit all the cultural attractions in Honolulu before digging into the gorgeous grains on Waikiki Beach. Then, head to the North Shore to relish the relatively calm and "swimmable" season at legendary surf spot Waimea Bay.

Idaho: Sandpoint

Located right on the serene waters of Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint is Idaho's most idyllic spot when the weather turns hot. A dream for people who like to spend days out on the water or exploring trails, Sandpoint also owns a buzzy art and dining scene. Its signature event-The Festival at Sandpoint-fills the night sky with live music and sweet fireworks each summer and to top things off, the town is located nearby Boulder Beach Waterpark.

Illinois: Chicago

Fireworks at Navy Pier. Grant Park Music Festival. Day games at Wrigley Field. Pitchfork. Lolla'. Chicago Blues Festival. Greek Fest. Pride. Taste of Chicago. The beaches. Nope, when the breezes turn balmy in the Windy City each summer, it just cannot be beaten and the aforementioned are just a fraction of Chicago's annual summer festivals.

Indiana: Indiana Dunes National Park

Home to 15 sensational miles of Lake Michigan shorefront, this national park is the Hoosier State's shiniest summer jewel. Head to Indiana Dunes to admire its wonderful namesake walls of sand, soak up some rays on the beach or wander among the park's network of hiking trails-spotting some local birdlife along the way.

Iowa: Lake Okoboji

When the going gets hot, Iowans get going to Lake Okoboji. A wonderland of water-based recreation complete with lakeside beaches, fun dockside bars and even a retro-cool theme park in Arnolds Park, this lake is everything that's great about Iowa in summer.

Kansas: The Flint Hills

The rolling tallgrass prairies of the Flint Hills are one of the last remaining examples of this type of landscape in the world and the region truly comes alive in the summertime. Be sure to learn all about this unique ecosystem at the Flint Hills Discovery Center before making the most of the long days under a seemingly endless sky to hike, attend a special event like the Symphony in the Flint Hills in June, or-if you're there later in the summer-spot sunflowers.

Kentucky: Kentucky Lake

The state's largest body of water, Kentucky Lake turns into a mecca for boaters, anglers and those who just want to hang out on a houseboat each summer. After a day on the lake, pull into the marina to enjoy a bite and a drink at one of the popular dockside hangouts. Bottom line: if it involves fun and something floating, you can do it at Kentucky Lake.

Louisiana: Grand Isle

If you take Highway 1 to the end of the line, you'll cruise into Grand Isle, the state's only inhabited barrier island. While you won't find sugar-white sand that will jump off a social media feed, you will find cooling breezes, great fishing and camping by the shoreline that will soothe the soul of any summer vacationer.

Maine: Old Orchard Beach

The grand dame of New England coastal towns, OOB is where Mainers-and folks from further afield-come to let their hair down between May and September. They come to stroll along the seemingly endless seven-mile strand of sand, play day and night on the pier and generally just soak up the magical summer vibes of the Maine coast.

Maryland: Ocean City

The name alone pretty much makes it a shoo-in for the best summer town in the state, doesn't it? Ocean City is so much more than just a pretty place name though as it is loaded with fun things to do each year when the temperatures rise and the schools let out. Highlights include the famous boardwalk-perfect for strolling and souvenir shopping-the solid beach cruiser cycling scene, the beach, Jolly Roger amusement parks and of course day trips to the awesome landscapes and wildlife of nearby Assateague Island National Seashore.

Massachusetts: Provincetown

Located at the far tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown is pure bliss in the summertime. Home to sensational sweeps of beach, a range of interesting galleries and great restaurants in addition to a world-renowned reputation as an LGBTQ+ haven, there's something here for everyone who loves to embrace the best of the season.

Michigan: Grand Haven

Another summer town where the name pretty much says it all, this town harbors one of the finest summer atmospheres in the nation. While away your days watching waves roll in on the wide, soft sandy beach of Grand Haven State Park before glancing at the town's famous red lighthouses bathed in gorgeous golden hour light. Or, enjoy one of the town's many summer festivals, a list that includes the Sand Sculpture Contest, the Coast Gaurd Festival, and the Grand Haven Kite Festival.

Minnesota: Voyageurs National Park

A wonderland of waterways and forests on the US-Canada border, this perenially underrated national park comes alive in the summertime with the sound of rowing canoes and flickering campfires. Spend a few summer days embracing its stunning beauty, island-hopping and looking up at the stars at night and you'll leave with a summer vacation story you'll be telling everyone about for years to come.

Mississippi: Ocean Springs

Home to scores of locally-owned shops & galleries, great places to eat & drink, atmospheric oaks and a fine stretch of beach, it's no wonder why people flock to Ocean Springs in the summertime. And with summer events like the Crawfish Cook-Off, Red, White & Blueberry Festival and Ocean Springs Art Walk, it should come as no surprise that some people end up staying year-round.

Missouri: Lake of the Ozarks

Call it "The Ozarks", "The LOTO" or just "The Lake", if you live in Missouri, there's a good chance you'll call it home for a weekend or two each summer. Yes, every Friday afternoon between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the highways leading into the Lake of the Ozarks are jam-packed with folks ready for sun & fun on the water, and ever since its star turn on Ozark, the popularity has only increased.

Montana: Glacier National Park

Summer is really the only season you can explore the full breadth and width of the breathtaking beauty on display at this national park, so that's why it's the pick for Big Sky Country. Spend a few days here hiking to alpine lakes and driving on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and you'll leave with a full understanding of why they call this place "The Crown of the Continent".

Nebraska: Lake McConaughy

The "Seychelles of the Sandhills" is home to refreshing clear water and beaches that look sugar-white in the right light. As pretty as it is to look at it, it's what happens when you're actually on the water that makes it Nebraska's summer haven: jet skiing, boating, fishing and parasailing being some of the most popular summer pastimes.

Nevada: Lake Tahoe

The Silver State may share the shores of lovely Lake Tahoe with California, but its half is handsome enough to make it the state's best summer playground. In addition to being an outdoor paradise and boasting several sandy beaches lapped by cool crystal-clear water, the Nevada section of the lake plays host to stellar outdoor concerts and the famous Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival each summer.

New Hampshire: Hampton Beach

The star of the Seacoast, Hampton Beach bubbles over with fun each season. The town possesses an expansive beach with clean water and once off the sand, you'll find a cornucopia of fun arcades and food stalls to keep you entertained all evening long. Summer also sees the Sand Sculpture Contest and Country Music Fest events come to town with Wednesday nights seeing fireworks light up the sky all season long.

New Jersey: Long Beach Island

Crowning a summer destination champion in New Jersey is like trying to pick a ski town in Colorado, to say you are spoiled rotten for choice is an understatement. As fun as the boardwalk scene is up and down the Shore, Long Beach Island offers up a lower-key mix of laid-back beaches & towns, waves perfect for surfing and the remarkably atmospheric Barnegat Lighthouse.

New Mexico: Taos County

Head north to find true summer bliss in Taos and the nearby town of Red River. Both towns offer relatively cool temperatures each summer compared to the rest of the state and a long list of fun festivals and outdoor activities. Red River starts summer with a bang each year with its Memorial Day Motorcycle Rally while Taos shines during the Las Fiestas de Taos each July and the summer-long Taos Summer Music Series.

New York: The Finger Lakes

Sunset cruises. Sipping vino from a local winery. Sitting by the water listening to the lake lap against the shore. Hiking trips to hidden waterfalls. Admiring the views of the lakes from canoe-level. These are just a few of the reasons why the Finger Lakes are Upstate New York's summer mecca.

North Carolina: Ocracoke Island

Arguably the most outstanding stretch of the Outer Banks, Ocracoke Island is home to beautiful wild & windswept beaches and a charming village full of interesting shops and eateries. Speaking of that sand, Okracoke regularly turns up in the rankings of the best beaches in the country, and despite summer being peak season, odds are good you may still be able to find your own section of sand to call your own as Ocracoke always remains a little quieter than other OBX isles.

North Dakota: Minot

Home to the sensational Scandinavian Heritage Park and its remarkable replica stave church, Minot morphs into ND's summer hotspot each year around this time. Late June sees the aforementioned heritage park come alive with traditional Scandinavian Midsummer celebrations while late July sees Minot swept away by the fun of the annual North Dakota State Fair.

Ohio: Put-in-Bay

Call it the "Key West of the North", the "Caribbean near Cleveland", or just P-I-B, this village on South Bass Island in Lake Erie is the undisputed king of summer in the Buckeye State. Leave the car at home, take the ferry over, rent yourself a golf cart and then spend a few days learning about the island's role in the War of 1812 and researching which water view bar whisks you away to somewhere tropical the quickest.

Oklahoma: Grand Lake o' the Cherokees

Tucked into the foothills of the Ozarks in the northeast section of the state, Grand Lake o' the Cherokees comes alive each year between May and September with boaters, anglers and anyone else who loves being wooed by water. Surrounded by five state parks, the lake offers up endless outdoor recreation opportunities and has long been the perfect staycation destination for Oklahomans.

Oregon: Hood River

Known to many as the "windsurfing capital of the world", the Hood River region's famous winds are at their peak between May and September. Rest assured, whether you are an expert or a beginner, there is a section of the Columbia River perfect for you, and after a summer day out on the water, there's no better way to spend your evening than by sampling the Hood River's range of restaurants and bars-almost all of them serving the great local wine.

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia

Summer sizzles in the City of Brother Love, with festivals and fun events taking over nearly every weekend of the season and the middle of summer seeing America's birthday celebrated with gusto in the place where the nation was born. Just a few of the highlights include the Odunde Festival-the nation's largest African American street festival-the PHS Flower Show, the Roots Picnic and Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest.

Rhode Island: Block Island

Make no mistake, Delaware possesses its fair share of fetching summer towns on the mainland, but there's just something special about being on an island in summer. Home to dramatic bluffs, sweeping beaches and historic lighthouses, summer is hands down the best time to fall head over heels for Block Island.

South Carolina: Myrtle Beach

Try as they might, no place in the Palmetto State puts on quite as sensational of a summer show as Myrtle Beach. Between May and September, the beaches are full of sunseekers and swimmers all day while the lights of the Grand Strand come alive each night to provide an endless array of family-friendly entertainment options. Summer is also the time of year the festivals really crank up too, with the Carolina Country Music Fest being the highlight of the season.

South Dakota: The Black Hills

From Spearfish and Sturgis to downtown Deadwood, these hills come alive each summer with sunny days, idyllic nights, the excitement of travelers from around the nation ticking boxes on their bucket lists and the sound of motorcycle engines. Visit Mount Rushmore and get caught up in the Old West atmosphere at a saloon in Deadwood before making for the world-famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August.

Tennessee: Pigeon Forge-Gatlinburg

The undisputed champions of summer vacation in the Volunteer State, Pigeon Forge and nearby Gatlinburg are both loaded with family-friendly things to do all season long. Spend a warm summer day at an award-winning theme park or waterpark before heading to one of the many dinner shows. The next day, take to the hills to explore the Smokies.

Texas: South Padre Island

This stunning barrier island is home to seemingly endless stretches of sand, a fascinating range of birdlife and a diverse range of diversions guaranteed to keep all members of the family entertained all vacation long.

Utah: Moab

Due to its proximity to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Moab buzzes all summer long with travelers from all over the country and the world. It's a fun place to be all season as the excitement of seeing these gorgeous landscapes among the visitors is infectious and you'll be swept up in it as you head out to hike, zipline, rock climb or simply snap photos. The town really shines late in the season as the Moab Music Festival combines enchanting sounds with remarkable natural venues.

Vermont: Burlington

This buzzy town on the shores of Lake Champlain is a great idea no matter what page your calendar is on, but in summer it shines the brightest. Spend days out on the lake or ashore checking out the local bike trails and pretty covered bridges in the area. Or, lay low during the day in order to rest up for a night out listening to tunes during the legendary annual summer party that is the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival.

Virginia: Sandbridge

Don't worry, Virginia Beach hasn't been overlooked, because part of Sandbridge's appeal is that is located so close to VB. Owning dramatic sand dunes, swaying sea oats and a slightly slower pace than the three-mile-long summer fiesta that is the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Sandbridge is truly the best of both worlds.

Washington: Ocean Shores

In addition to being home to a fine stretch of beach, Ocean Shores is known around the Pacific Northwest as the place to go flying a kite. In fact, the first weekend of June is typically the time for the famous Festival of Colors, an event that sees kites take over the skies above the sand. Fourth of July is a big deal around here too as visitors are treated to a dazzling fireworks display.

West Virginia: Summersville

Yes, its name is Summersville and you're going to want to spend all your summers here after you visit. Located in the heart of the state, this lake and its namesake town hop all season long as folks flock from all over to jet ski, boat and swim in its clear waters. Just promise you'll be careful if you cliff jump, ok?

Wisconsin: Door County

A striking land of lakes, cottages and cute small towns, Door County is a wintertime daydream come true. While you may not be able to cover the whole county in one trip, that just serves as inspiration for next summer.

Wyoming: Cheyenne

There are two words that explain why Cheyenne is the pick for the Cowboy State: Frontier Days. The iconic event is known as the "World's Largest Outdoor Rodeo and Western Celebration" and attracts people from all over the world to celebrate rodeo & Western culture and watch A-list entertainment perform. While the festival only lasts 10 days, the energy can be felt all summer long.

These 50 spots know how to do summer right.

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Scott Hartbeck

Scott Hartbeck

Born in the USA but now based in England, Scott has been writing about travel for over 10 years. He specializes in Europe, rail...

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