Best Summer Vacations in the US to Make Memories that Last a Lifetime

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Family of three playing in surf.
Family of three playing in surf. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Summer is on the horizon and what better way to celebrate the warm weather than by packing your bags and hitting the beach. Or the mountains. Or the city. Whatever it is you’re looking for, there’s no need to leave the country. You’ll find some of the best summer vacations in the US, be that in Hawaii, California, Montana, North Carolina or Illinois.

Watch the sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge, sip on a cocktail at a rooftop bar in Chicago or go camping in Yellowstone National Park. Go kayaking along the Outer Banks or sunbathe at one of San Diego’s many beaches. With so many beautiful places to choose from, it can be hard to make a decision. That’s why we compiled this list of America’s top 15 summertime destinations.

Families enjoy swimming along the beach at Kaanapali on Maui. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen

1. Maui, Hawaii

Maui is an enchanting Hawaiian island, perfect for those seeking adventure, relaxation and natural beauty. It is the second-largest island, and is a blend of palm tree-lined beaches, lush forests with cascading waterfalls and massive volcanoes.

Visitors can hike in Haleakala National Park, shop at Whalers Village, sunbathe at Kaanapali Beach or take a whale watching tour. Adrenaline-junkies will find no shortage of things to do, with activities such as zip-lining, ATV tours and white water rafting available. Maui is also home to the famous Road to Hana, a scenic drive that offers spectacular views of the island’s rugged coastline and waterfalls.

2. San Diego, California

With beautiful weather year-round, San Diego is always a good vacation destination, but its summers are especially magical. With over 70 miles of stunning coastline, San Diego has lots of popular beaches, including La Jolla Cove, Coronado Beach, and Mission Beach.

In addition to its beaches, San Diego has lots of family-friendly activities. See exotic animals at the world-famous San Diego Zoo or explore the museums and gardens in Balboa Park. Families will also love SeaWorld San Diego, Belmont Park and the USS Midway.

San Diego is also known for its vibrant food and drink scene. The Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, and North Park neighborhoods are particularly popular for foodies. Pacific Beach is home to some great breweries and La Jolla has some mouth-watering Mexican restaurants.

Old Faithful erupting
Old Faithful received its name because it predictably erupts. Photo credit: Cortney Fries

3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Check Yellowstone National Park off your bucket list this summer. Located primarily in Wyoming, Yellowstone is a whopping 3,472 square miles, featuring waterfalls, calderas, geysers, hot springs and rich wildlife.

The park’s most famous attraction is Old Faithful, a powerful geyser that erupts approximately every 90 minutes. The Grand Prismatic Spring, USA‘s largest hot spring, is another must-see attraction. Visitors can hike through the park’s trails, go biking, horseback ride, watch wildlife or go camping in the park.

Yellowstone can be quite busy during the summer months, so try to arrive early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.

4. Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Cape Cod is a great East Coast summer vacation spot, particularly for those who love beaches, seafood and quaint New England towns. Make the most of your trip and visit the Cape Cod National Seashore, which stretches for 40 miles, offering stunning beaches, dunes, and nature trails. Popular beaches include Nauset Beach and Marconi Beach.

Those looking to hike or bike can explore the Cape Cod Rail Trail, a 25-mile trail that connects beaches, small towns and ponds, with plenty of shops and lunch spots along the way. Cape Cod is also a great place for whale watching, kayaking, beach combing and wine tasting. Check out some of the area’s museums and local landmarks, such as the Nauset Lighthouse, the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge and the Sandwich Glass Museum.

Known for its delicious seafood, Cape Cod brims with lobster shacks and seafood restaurants. We recommend sampling the fried clams, clam chowder or lobster rolls.

SheBuysTravel Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a beach vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we’re traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.

5. Glacier National Park, Montana

Nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers will feel right at home at Glacier National Park in northern Montana. With over a million acres of wilderness, the park encompasses two mountain ranges, dozens of alpine lakes and melting glaciers.

Visitors can explore the park by hiking one of its many trails. Popular hiking trails include the Highline Trail, a hike along the Continental Divide, also known as the Garden Wall, and the Grinnell Glacier Trail, which boasts stunning views of lakes and glaciers.

Those who prefer the comfort of a vehicle can take a scenic drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile path carved into the mountainside. Wildlife is abundant in the park, including grizzly bears, mountain goats, and elk, so bring a camera! In addition to hiking, visitors can also

6. Seattle, Washington

Enjoy all the Pacific Northwest has to offer and head to Seattle for your upcoming summer vacation. Seattle is a perfect blend of urban and natural attractions. Urban attractions include the iconic Space Needle, where you can enjoy stunning 360 views of the city. Those interested in history and culture, can visit the Museum of Pop Culture and the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum.

Surrounded by water and mountains, Seattle boasts endless natural attractions. Nearby destinations such as Mount Si, Rattlesnake Ridge, and the Cascade Mountains make for a day trip full of outdoor adventure. The city’s numerous parks, such as Discovery Park and Gas Works Park, provide ample opportunities for picnicking and cycling.

Foodies will love exploring Pike Place Market, a daily farmer’s market selling local produce, seafood, handmade crafts.

A gently flowing Colorado River between the steep walls of Marble Canyon.
The Colorado River is gentle and placid passing through Marble Canyon between Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell and the west portal of the Grand Canyon. Credit: Eric Jay Toll

7. Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon should be on everyone’s bucket list. With its colorful rock formations and dramatic cliffs, the canyon stretches for over 270 miles and is over a mile deep in some places. More than 400 miles of hiking trails carve through the canyon. These are accessible either from the North or from the South Rim. Some of the most popular hikes include the Bright Angel Trail, which is a great family-friendly hike, or the South Kaibab Trail, a popular moderate route.

Visitors can also take a mule ride down into the canyon, or soak up the views from one of its many lookout points. The canyon can even be viewed from a kayak on the Colorado River, or via a helicopter ride. Stay at one of the nearby campgrounds to enjoy clear starry skies.

8. San Francisco, California

Can you picture yourself posing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, taking a ferry to Alcatraz island, or cruising down Lombard Street? If yes, San Francisco should be your next summer destination.

This city is full of vibrant neighborhoods. History buffs will love exploring Chinatown, while Union Square is a great place to go shopping. Haight-Ashbury is a mecca for coffee shops, book stores and thrift shops and Castro is alive with LGBTQ+ culture and colorful nightlife.

The city is also home to many world-class museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the de Young Museum. Foodies will love exploring the city’s culinary scene, known for its fresh seafood, farm-to-table cuisine, and artisanal coffee shops. San Francisco’s mild weather makes it a perfect summer destination, with cool breezes and lots of sunshine.

9. Outer Banks, North Carolina

The Outer Banks are another great destination for nature-lovers. Located off the coast of North Carolina, these barrier islands are home to beautiful beaches, wild horses, historic lighthouses and freshwater marshes.

Here, visitors can enjoy a host of outdoor activities, from hang gliding to birdwatching to scuba diving. There are water sports rentals, cozy beach boutiques, and lots of hiking trails.

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse are certainly worth a visit, as is the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site, which commemorates the rescuers who saved countless lives in the wake of devastating shipwrecks. Visitors can learn about the area’s many shipwrecks at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museums.

10. Boston, Massachusetts

Steeped in American history, Boston makes for a great summer getaway. Visitors can explore the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile walk that takes visitors to 16 historic sites, including the Massachusetts State House, the Paul Revere House, and the USS Constitution Museum.

For a taste of Boston’s famous seafood, visitors can head to the North End, the city’s oldest neighborhood, and indulge in fresh lobster or clam chowder. The city is also home to a vibrant arts scene, with numerous museums and galleries, including the Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Visitors can go shopping along Newbury Street, or catch some live music in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood. For a more relaxed experience, visitors can take a stroll through the Boston Public Garden.

11. Portland, Oregon

With its vibrant art scene, outdoor adventure and laid-back vibe, Portland is a great summer destination. Portland is also a haven for book lovers. Start you visit by perusing Powell’s City of Books, the largest independent bookstore in the world.

The city is also home to several beautiful gardens, including the Portland Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden. Visitors can take a stroll through the Pearl District to shop at trendy boutiques, visit art galleries and explore cozy bars. Known for its craft beer scene, Portland also boasts more than 70 breweries.

For stunning views of the city, hike to the top of Mount Tabor. The city’s natural beauty is another major draw, with easy access to hiking trails, scenic drives, and waterfalls.

Christmas in Chicago: caroling at the Bean
A must-stop photo op in Chicago: The Bean. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

12. Chicago, Illinois

The best time to visit Chicago is during the summer. Located along beautiful Lake Michigan, this bustling Midwest city is full of popular attractions, such as the Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture (also known as “The Bean”).

Start off your visit by taking an architecture boat tour down the Chicago River. After that, stroll visit the Art Institute of Chicago or explore some of the city’s vibrant neighborhoods, including Wrigleyville, Wickerpark and Hyde Park.

For some panoramic views, visit the Willis Tower or the John Hancock building. Sports fans can catch a game at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, or the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks. The city is also known for its deep-dish pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef sandwiches, as well as its thriving music and theater scenes.

13. Walt Disney World, Florida

Going to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida is a magical experience, and great place to take the family this summer. With four theme parks, two water parks, and countless attractions, Disney World appeals to kids (and adults) of all ages.

The park is divided into several themed areas, including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios, each with its own unique attractions and entertainment. Some of the most popular attractions include Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Tower of Terror. The park also features parades, fireworks shows, and character meet-and-greets

An expansive view from the summit of Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

14. Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park is one of the best places for outdoor recreation. The 47,000-acre national park is all rugged coastline, glittery lakes, granite peaks and lush forests. Here, visitors can go hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking or wildlife spotting.

The park is home to more than 120 miles of trails, but two of the most popular trails include the Ocean Path Trail, an easy hike along the rugged coastline, and the Beehive Loop Trail, a challenging hike that leads up the cliffs of the Beehive.

The park also has several lakes and ponds perfect for kayaking or canoeing, such as Jordan Pond or Echo Lake. For a more relaxing activity, take a scenic drive along the park’s 27-mile Park Loop Road, which winds through forests and along the coast.

15. New York, New York

A list of top US destinations would be incomplete with New York City. The city is full of iconic sites, such as the Empire State Building, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty. Explore the city’s iconic neighborhoods, including Bushwick, Greenwich Village, SoHo and Brooklyn Heights, each with its unique character and charm.

The city is also home to some of the world’s most famous museums and art galleries, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art as well as many smaller galleries showcasing contemporary art. Foodies can enjoy some of NYC’s classic dishes, including its pizza, hot dogs and bagels.

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