Coastal villages and quaint islands. Great Lakes beaches and national parks. Mountain trails and cozy cabins. Nothing brings on warm, sun-soaked memories like a classic summer destination. Whether it’s on the bustling boardwalk or under a swaying desert palm, find your place in the sun at one of these 12 iconic summer getaways.
Adirondacks, New York
Once a playground for Manhattan’s 19th-century elite to build grandly rustic “great camps” along the region’s lakeshores and riverbeds, the Adirondacks are now the perfect escape for kayakers, bird-watchers, and whitewater rafters. Long trails meander through valleys thick with spruce on their way to the High Peaks. Scenic byways wind around the lakes to historic forts and tiny mountain towns. And each Sunday night sees a line of rental cars making its way back to the hot, sticky city from whence they came, stocked well with antique finds and maple syrup.
Where to Stay: The distinct Craftsman style of those Golden Age “great camps” lives on in revamped luxury resorts like The Sagamore Resort and The Point Resort (the Rockefellers’ own haunt, where the age-old adage “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it” is acutely true). Budget hunters and nature lovers can take to the Adirondacks’ countless campgrounds and campsites. Next
Cape Cod and the Islands, Massachusetts
Sandy dunes spotted with sea grass. Seafood shacks slinging lobster rolls and fried clams in greasy newsprint-lined cones. A pair of islands so iconic that they’ve spawned their own style of dress (and shade of red). The Cape Cod peninsula has 600-some miles of coastline, from the Cape Cod Canal to Race Point, dotted here and there by seaside towns and coastal trails. Popular stops include Hyannis Port, the preppy home to the Kennedy compound, and Provincetown, an artsy fishing village and gay-friendly vacation haven. Of course, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket out at sea offer charm for nautical miles.
Where to Stay: Provincetown (or “P Town”) is filled with bright beach houses and B&Bs, including the affordable and Conde Nast Traveler-approved Salt House Inn. You can’t be a Kennedy, but you can reside nearby at the SeaCoast Inn in quaint downtown Hyannis. And on Nantucket, the White Elephant’s working fireplaces and white wicker chaises are island-style New England at its very best. Next
Jersey Shore, New Jersey
Neither the awful reality show nor Hurricane Sandy could wash away the warm memories of many New Jerseyans who spent their summer vacations “down the Shore.” (Count this writer among them.) Here, the beaches are clean, with row upon row of brightly striped beach umbrellas sunk into the sand. Wooden boardwalks are lined with shops selling airbrushed T-shirts, pizza parlors, neon-lit amusement parks and Skee-Ball lanes, and shops hawking saltwater taffy. Relaxation seekers will find it in spades among Cape May’s quaint gingerbread Victorians and historical promenade, where Snooki is but a distant dream.
Where to Stay: Families and groups of friends often rent shore houses for a month or the whole summer, rotating in and out between the workweeks. Check rentals on Airbnb or FlipKey. In Cape May, The Queen Victoria, with its parlors, porches, and afternoon tea, is an Anglican slice of bliss this side of the Atlantic. Next
Clearwater Beach, Florida
Clearwater is home to some of the best beaches in the country, where pink sunsets sink into crystal-clear waters each afternoon all summer long. And USA Today readers recently named Clearwater Beach the best beach town in Florida for good reason: an emerging downtown area plus a bustling Beachwalk make for endless activities on land, while glistening seas offer snorkeling, especially among the barrier islands and nearby Egmont Key. Sportfishers charter sails to catch grouper, snapper, and mahi mahi. Sunsets at Pier 60 offers buskers and crafters each night. And throughout, serene, old-fashioned Florida peeks out from behind the state’s legendary spring-break chaos.
Where to Stay : The Sandpearl Resortl ranks among this beach town’s best for its kid-friendly activities (including an educational Camp Ridley, astronomy nights, poolside movie fests, and fire pits complete with s’mores kits). Grown-ups can enjoy balconies with views of the sparkling Gulf and lagoon-style pool, plus a marina for docking the boat between sails. Next
The Berkshires is a kind of cultural epicenter among western Massachusetts’ placid rolling hills: Tanglewood, the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and the picturesque estates of literary greats Edith Wharton and Herman Melville all call the region home. Creative types and vacationers alike flock to the area, where the natural beauty and cozy towns are downright Rockwellian (fitting, since he was a resident, too). Aside from the summertime arts-and-culture scene, tourists take to the wildflowered meadows, lakes, and falls for fresh air and the Appalachian Trail, which threads through the backcountry, for thrills.
Where to Stay: At Canyon Ranch, a relaxing wellness resort just a short walk from the hamlet of Lenox, guests practice yoga and meditation and reignite their creativity with art classes. For kids, the region has more sleepaway camps than you can shake a (hiking) stick at; check out a list from the American Camp Association for little ones in search of a summertime retreat of their own. Next
‘The Mighty Five’ National Parks, Utah
Travelers looking to soak up the sun in one of our national parks know where to go: Utah and its “Mighty Five” (Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion). Many summertime sightseers roll all five into one epic adventure. Watch a sunset through the spires, pinnacles, and domes of Arches. Take a mountain-bike ride through the red rocks of Canyonlands, including its 100-mile-long White Rim Trail. Hike the slot canyons of Zion or the pillars of Bryce or the ridges and spines of Capitol Reef. Or simply relax: The parks’ stargazing is legendary, with wide expanses of clear, ink-black sky to explore.
Where to Stay: Crowds peak during summer, when the weather is surprisingly temperate, so book your campsites early through the National Park Service website. Those looking for lodging with a few more bells and whistles will find it at Zion National Park Lodge; its suites, cabins, and rooms are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offer immediate access to the park. Next
Palm Springs, California
Coastal residents in California take to the desert hills of Palm Springs year-round, but summer brings the true sunseekers, for whom dry, triple-digit heat and a Martian landscape are welcome. Nicknamed Hollywood’s Playground, the region is known for its vast celebrity estates, plush restaurants, historical inns, and its own Walk of Stars. The resorts’ equally starry pool scenes are top-notch, with cocktails served in cabanas and DJs spinning vinyls under the hot desert sun. But families can also find plenty to do, with the contemporary collections at the Palm Springs Art Museum to explore and an aerial tramway up Chino Canyon to ride.
Where to Stay : For a bustling pool scene or a relaxing spa stay, the Parker Palm Springs and the Viceroy Palm Springs are worth the splurge. The fabulously midcentury The Orbit In feels like a set piece from Mad Men, with Eames furnishings and a saltwater pool residing side by side. Next
Hamptons, New York
It’s the land of Ina Garten and Martha Stewart, of P. Diddy’s White Party and the scandals of ABC’s Revenge. This spit of land on Long Island’s South Fork is a star-filled summertime hangout, but many don’t know that those of us without hedge funds and network deals are still welcome on the region’s beautiful beaches and picturesque acres of farmland. Montauk, with its 218-year-old lighthouse, is a fishing mecca, and families take to its coastline for beachcombing, kayaking, and picnicking. Or they meander the Main Streets of storybook towns like Amagansett and Sag Harbor, where boutiques share space with whaling captains’ Greek Revival homes capped by widows walks.
Where to Stay: You could live large like Little Edie and rent Grey Gardens for a cool $125,000 (scarves not included). Otherwise, Hartman’s Briney Breezes Motel and The Ocean Resort Inn, both in Montauk, are surprisingly affordable sleeps in this ooh-la-la locale. Next
Door County, Wisconsin
Eleven quaint lighthouses and a brushy shoreline have earned the region its reputation as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. Reminiscent of that renowned New England destination, Door County’s charming villages, filled with boutiques and art galleries, dot the coastline of Lake Michigan. Locals haul in fresh catches for fish boils. The unofficial dress code is preppy and nautical, and swimmers take to the sands (and a singing beach) for recreation. But here in the Midwest, it’s cherries, not cranberries, that bring the crowds; by midsummer, tart cherries bloom and ripen, bringing pickers to the area’s orchards and wineries in untold numbers.
Where to Stay : Resorts and cozy B&Bs ring Sturgeon Bay, and there are plenty from which to choose. The romantic Scofield House B&B and Guest House is a rambling 1902 Victorian right in town; its nearby guesthouse is tailor-made for a girls’ weekend or a family vacation, with a kitchen for cooking cherry pies. Next
Ocean City, Maryland
It’s hard to believe that this active resort town was once a sleepy fishing village, but for centuries, Ocean City was a bit of a backwater. Of course, the very minute a hotel was built in the region in the 1870s, others followed—and so did the crowds, drawn to 10 miles of free, flat beach, an action-packed boardwalk, and, of course, sweet Chesapeake Bay crab. With countless free or cheap activities each summer, Ocean City is especially family-friendly, and nights are best spent playing putt-putt, racing Go Karts, or taking in an outdoor movie from the comfort of one’s beach blanket.
Where to Stay : Hotels number in the hundreds along this stretch of Maryland, and most major chains have an Ocean City outpost. But visitors are wise to find an ocean view. Hilton Ocean City Oceanfront Suites has wide panoramas of the Atlantic, plus a massive pool and lazy river. Next
Horse Carriage and Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island via Shutterstock
Mackinac Island is a Midwestern summer destination seemingly suspended in time. Pastel-painted Victorians and horse-drawn carriages fill the streets, yet cars do not (they’re simply not allowed, though the intrepid can always drive their own buggies). Visitors nibble fudge from carriage seats and explore historical sites, including a War of 1812-era fort and countless preserved homes and churches. Observe butterflies at not one but two conservatories. Or, for some good old-fashioned fun, take in a vintage baseball game at the Grand Hotel, played in striped caps, long socks, and breeches and with “gentleman’s rules” from 1860.
Where to Stay: Grand Hotel’s equally grand front porch is considered the world’s longest, its rocking chairs visible from the sea as guests approach by ferry. Sadly, rates have gone up since the 19th century (they were $3 to $5 per night then) but guests can still party like it’s 1887 with a full five-course dinner each night, capped off with a cognac at the Cupola Bar atop the property. Next
The Bushes put Kennebunkport on the map, but native New Englanders have known about the postcard-perfect town forever. Explore the coastal village and neighboring Kennebunk by trolley, take to the sea on a whale-watching expedition, or trawl the historical downtown area for trinkets, artwork, and fine cuisine (The White Barn Inn & Spa is a good place to start). When you tire of the seafood shacks, boutiques, and beaches, the Kittery Outlets, where many a New Englander has fond memories of back-to-school shopping, are just a short drive away.
Where to Stay: A handful of historical hotels and a clutch of cozy B&Bs are Kennebunkport’s mainstays. The waterfront Nonatum Resort is Maine at its most idyllic, with an original 1884 carriage house and a modern lodge bound by picture windows facing the marina. The 16 Cabot Cove Cottages are snug homes away from home, where baskets of freshly baked pastries and jams are delivered to guest-room doors each morning. Back to the beginning
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