If you haven’t booked your summer vacation plans, it’s time to get on it. We analyzed 14 top travel websites and determined the best places for a getaway once the weather breaks. The results:
Spanning nearly 3,500 square miles, the first national park was the runaway winner of our poll, showing up on 11 of the 14 ballots and topping six. Home to hundreds of animal species (including bison, wolves, elk, antelope, and grizzly bears), the park offers mountains, lakes, canyons, rivers, geysers, and the largest supervolcano on the continent. In fact, half of the world’s active geysers are in Yellowstone. If you enjoy camping, fishing, hiking, boating, biking, photography, and just getting back to nature, this is the place.
TOP TIP: Going in to explore on your own is a great option (especially if you’ve been there before), but if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed or just want to hear from the experts, guided tours are available. Should you choose that route, we recommend a multiday pack, given the park’s size. While the wilderness is vast, don’t think you’ll be there alone, as the park welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. A guided tour will keep you out of the traffic and help you make the most of your time there.
Some people think of Hawaii as a tropical paradise, while others view it as overcrowded, dirty, and touristy. It probably depends on which island you hit (and how much you are spending at said island). One thing, though, per our poll: Much like a Cuban cigar, a Hawaiian vacation is still the romanticized standard against which everything else is measured. If you want to visit a pristine beach and surf, check out volcanoes and see some of the most interesting geology on Earth, or be pampered by the Polynesian culture, it’s all there.
TOP TIP: This is going to sound like a dopey nontip, but do your homework. There are so many variables to a Hawaiian vacation, and most of them depend on you! What island/islands do you want to hit? What time of the year are you going? Can you be flexible on that? What facets of the trip are most important to you? What sights do you want to see? Figuring out what’s important to you and researching it ahead of time can save significant money. As far as actual tips: Start watching flight prices early and sign up for an email alert that signals when they drop. If you can cheaply get to the west coast, so much the better. Once you’re in Hawaii, get away from the tourist sections when you can and go out and experience its true beauty.
No American city has more soul than Chicago. It offers everything that New York and LA boast and is just easier, friendlier, and, dare we say, more fun. There’s theater, art, parks, museums, and architecture. But let’s be honest; the best things about the town are shopping and eating! Michigan Avenue has every fancy shop you can imagine, and the quantity and quality of restaurants to choose from are second to none. We’re not taking sides on what style of pizza is best, but if you don’t at least try Chicago style …. And for baseball fans, if you plan it right, you can catch the Cubs in the afternoon, the White Sox at night, and be out until the wee hours enjoying some of the finest nightlife you’ll find anywhere.
TOP TIPS: If you’re flying in, do it through Midway—the smaller of the city’s two international airports—as O’Hare is one of the world’s busiest airports and has some of the nation’s worst on-time records. Once in town, it’s OK to be a tourist; just don’t act like one. Go explore local neighborhoods, but don’t wander aimlessly into unknown areas. And if you want a great view of the world, you don’t have to buy a ticket for one of the sky decks. Instead visit the John Hancock building, where you can get a drink at The Signature Lounge at the 96th, or dinner at The Signature Room at the 95th. Neither is cheap, but at least your money gets you more than a view.
The Emerald City has a vibe all its own, and if you’re a fan of music, you can discover its rich musical history all day with formal or informal tours and then experience its current roster of up-and-coming talent at one of the city’s many live music venues. Grunge is great, but today you’re just as likely to find killer rock, hip-hop, jazz, and alt-country as you are to find the underground phenomenon that detonated in Seattle two decades ago. Toss in great food, culture, and marvelous people and you have a town you’ll fall in love with.
TOP TIPS: If you’re planning on doing a lot of “touristy” sightseeing, we recommend getting the CityPASS because you’ll save quite a bit of money. This pass includes a boat tour, the Space Needle, the aquarium, museums, and more. However, this doesn’t excuse you from getting off the beaten path. Be adventurous. Try that restaurant you can’t find in your guide book; go to the concert venue with the band you’ve never heard of. Who knows? You may discover your new favorite spot.
Washington, D.C./Richmond, Virginia
We’re not sure if this is official, but we believe Washington has more free things to do than any other city on the planet. From the National Archives to monuments, the museums to the zoo, D.C. always has its doors open so visitors can explore on the cheap. And that’s not even counting the live events and festivals that are almost a daily occurrence when the weather is nice. Richmond is 100 miles south of the nation’s capital, and combining the two cities and surrounding areas into one trip would be pure euphoria for any American history buff. If you need any extra incentive, these two cities are developing pretty exciting, serious food scenes, too.
TOP TIPS: Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk everywhere. Unfortunately, the DC Metrorail breaks down often, so it isn’t wise to rely solely on public transportation. Thankfully, all the best sites are within walking distance, but that isn’t to say you won’t be walking a lot; you will be, because there’s so much to see. If you don’t wear comfortable shoes, you’re guaranteed to have bleeding feet by the end of the day. As far as planning your trip goes, start now. If you’re thinking about going to the White House and setting up a tour the day before, think again. You need to request a pass through your congressional representative or senator up to six months in advance. The same goes for touring the House and Senate chambers.
Like Seattle, Portland has a little of everything and is especially appealing for the nature lover. The city is loaded with parks and gardens—rose gardens, rhododendron gardens, rock gardens, Japanese gardens, Chinese gardens … you get the idea—and the area is incomparable for biking and hiking adventures. Add in museums and markets and there’s something for everyone. Be sure to compare multiple samples from the food carts, ice cream shops, and local distillers to see who is best. For scientific purposes, of course. And, oh yeah, they don’t have sales tax, so shop some more!
TOP TIPS: One of the city’s mantras—besides “keep Portland weird”—is that hipsters keep the costs of everything down. With that, be on the lookout for great deals. You can get nice hotel rooms on the weekend for less than $100, pints of local beer are cheap, and food carts and restaurants alike offer plenty of bargains. And because the city is fairly compact, getting around by foot or bike is a breeze, but if you prefer other options, buses, streetcars, and the light rail are all easily accessible.
Boston is a great town during the summer, and on a particularly hot day, a freshly brewed Sam Adams will taste like heaven in a Pilsner glass. It’s also a great sports town, with the Red Sox being the predominant hometown heroes. If you’re even moderately fond of baseball, catching a game at Fenway is a bucket-lister. Cape Cod is only 70 miles away (by car, half that by boat) and offers a great summer getaway, complete with beaches, festivals, music, shopping, and killer food.
TOP TIPS: Forget the car. Parking in Boston is terrible and expensive. You can buy a T-Pass for the day or week and get around just as easy. Staying downtown is amazing, but if you can settle for the fringe of the city at a hotel near a T stop that doesn’t charge to park, you’re likely looking at a savings of at least $100–150 per day. For most of the touristy stuff, start in the North End around the New England Aquarium and work out from there. A few blocks away you’ll find Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, and pretty much any food you can imagine. This is also a good spot to pick up the Freedom Trail. If you are heading to the cape from Boston, a ferry ride is worth a look—depending on what part of the cape you are hitting. If you’re heading around Provincetown, a 90-minute, $88 (round trip) ferry can save you two or three hours of traffic time.
Best Foreign Travel
- (Tie) Vietnam
- (Tie) South Africa
Want another cool place to travel? Try Seattle.