Summer is in the air!  Days are getting warmer and longer, and vacation planning is either in full swing or full panic.  But, have no fear, there is still time to plan a fabulous summer getaway, maybe with a little help.  Here are my top 5 U.S  summer vacation destinations for those looking to hit the road (or the sky) after Memorial Day.

My 5 top Summer Vacation Destinations are…

Vail, Colorado

Vail, a small alpine village tucked into the Rocky Mountains, is the largest and most popular ski resort in North America, drawing visitors from all over the world.  But as the locals say, “you’ll come for the winter, but you’ll stay for the summer.” With endless activities and almost perfect weather, Vail is quickly becoming a top destination for summer vacationers.  Here are a few of the many things Vail has to offer:

  • Hiking – One of the best ways to experience the beautiful scenery is on your own two feet.  With nearly 25 miles of hiking trails for all abilities on and around the mountain, there is no shortage of routes to take in amazing views. Local outdoor shops can offer plenty of guidance on trails, or check out Vail’s website/blog here to explore their top recommendations.  Click Here to see some of Tripadvisor’s highest rated trails.
  • Biking- The next best way is on two wheels!  Eagle County, home to Vail, has some of the very best mountain biking trails in Colorado.  The mountain has over 50 miles of trails with all levels of abilities.  Read all about your options here!
  • Epic Discovery – Whether you want to zip, fly, tour, or tube, the options are endless with zip lines, ropes courses, and mountain coasters.  Kids (of all ages) will find a bit of a thrill here.
  • White Water Rafting and Fly Fishing – For those who need to be one with the water, the river literally runs through it… the Eagle River that is.   The village has many qualified guides and tours to help you find your zen.  For fly fishing check out Minturn Anglers (ask for my friend, Will Watson…tell him a friend from Chattanooga referred you) or  Vail Valley Anglers  and if you like the thrill of riding rapids, check out Sage Outdoor Adventures or Timberline Tours.
  • Tennis and/or Golf- Vail has those, too!  Once the snow disappears, the green grass takes over.  Many of the hotels have partnerships with local facilities, so check to see where you may have access.
  • One last over the top suggestion– How about a Llama Trek?  That’s right I said Llama.  Check out Paragon Guides Summer Hut Trip for something that is truly extraordinary!

 

New York, New York

When I said the NYC was one of my summer picks, my husband looked at me and said “really?  It’s so hot.”  The back story behind that response is for the past several years we have attended a conference in the middle of December.  Yes, it is beautiful in all it’s holiday adornment, but it’s also COLD, CROWDED, and generally speaking, MORE EXPENSIVE.

The advantage of summer in the city is that many city dwellers head out to the beaches, mountains, etc…leaving plenty of “room” for visitors.  Hotels are generally cheaper and there are wonderful, inexpensive outdoor events, festivals, street fairs and exhibits to enjoy.  Here are some free and paid options to consider for your next trip:

  • Bryant Park Summer Arts Series Park is little gem of a spot adjacent to the New York Public Library (PHOTO OP).  It’s packed with great food, unique shopping, and lots of cultural events…many free.  The film festival is a free film event in the park usually on Monday evenings at sundown, but get there early with your blanket because it is VERY popular.  The 2018 film schedule has not been released as of yet, so make sure to check back by clicking the link.
  • Stargazing on the High Line – Every Tuesday from dusk until 30 minutes prior to closing, you can peer through high powered telescopes courtesy of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York to see rare celestial sights.
  • Check out Art in the Park for free art installations and also Summer Stage, one of the largest free performing arts festivals in the country.
  • Visit The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island.  It’s an iconic thing to do at least once!
  • Tour the 9/11 Memorial and Museum– I consider this a must.  It is somber but so moving.

    9/11 Memorial via New York City Vacation Package

    The city has done an incredible job of memorializing all those who lost their lives that day; it is a beautiful tribute.

  • Stroll through Central Park winding your way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Sadly, the museum is no longer free with a donation to enter (as of March 2018).  I would recommend browsing the exhibits to see if it’s worth the price of admission.  If you happen to be in the city on June 13th, 2018, admission will be free as a part of the Museum Mile Festival (6pm-9pm).
  • And of course, a trip wouldn’t be complete without a walk through Times Square and possibly if catch a Broadway Show (my personal very favorite thing to do)!

Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Monterey Bay, California

I will admit it; I LOVE California…southern, northern, wine country…doesn’t even really matter to me.  For this particular post, I am trying very hard to limit myself to “summer” adventures which helped me narrow the destinations–slightly.  The weather in Northern California makes it especially appealing to those living in hot, humid climates like us in the south.  Don’t be fooled though, it can be very warm on the coastline and down right hot as you move inland.  Whatever the case, this lovely stretch along the Pacific Coast Highway is filled with lots of activities (many free) and spectacular vistas.  PLEASE NOTE:  Due to a severe May 2017 mudslide, you CANNOT drive the entire length of the PCH.  You can read more about it HERE.  For this post, I will be focusing on the northern section which connects to Carmel and Monterey Bay.

Monterey Bay:

  • Monterey Bay Aquarium – The accolades of this aquarium are too numerous to mention here, but it’s contributions and commitment to sharing the importance of understanding the bay marine life and understanding the need for sustainability for all marine life is truly remarkable.  It’s a not-to-be-missed stop and a great place to lay a foundation for a trip down the coast.
  • Cannery Row – Adjacent to the aquarium, you will find the famous Cannery Row.  A realitively short street packed with shopping, restaurants, hotels, and local history ready for exploration.
  • Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail offers a wonderful path for hiking, jogging, biking that starts at the aquarium and extends 18 miles! If you want to stay out of the car, this is an excellent alternative to seeing beautiful vistas of the bay.
  • 17-Mile Drive & Pebble Beach Golf – Even if you are not a golfer, you don’t want to miss this beautiful drive connecting forests, cliffs, beaches, and, as noted, world-famous golf courses.  Plan ahead because this is a very popular and crowded drive that can take more time than you think just looking at the distance.  Don’t rush; you want to savor every minute of the views.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

A quaint one square mile village nestled on the coast filled with charm on every corner.  Whether you eat, sleep, or shop here, you won’t be disappointed. Click the link to view a wonderful 1 day itinerary.

Big Sur:

Big Sur is a rugged stretch of California’s central coast between Carmel and San Simeon which is currently divided into 2 sections due to the May 2017 mudslide.  Please see the note in the introduction of this section that details where the road closure takes place.

The Santa Lucia Mountains run along the east side, and the west is bordered by the Pacific Ocean.  The highway traverses on a narrow, 2-lane State Route 1, known for winding turns, seaside cliffs and views of the often-misty coastline. The sparsely populated region has numerous state parks for hiking, camping and beachcombing, but the traffic is often heavy and slow.

With too many highlights to individually name, download the Big Sur Summer 2018 Guide HERE for full details on each of the many stops along the highway!

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Grand Tetons,  & Yellowstone National Park

While Jackson Hole is popular for winter skiing, summer is the time when the entire region comes alive with abundant activities and adventures in and around the valley.  The central location of the town also makes it a great hub for day trips to many of the surrounding parks while still providing all the necessities like unbelievable food, shopping, and every level of accommodations.  As you can probably deduce, my family likes to take the shot-gun approach and do a little bit of everything, but each of these spots could be expanded into multiple days.  For example, Yellowstone is very large with many different regions, and it is incredibly difficult to see all of the “highlights” in one day.  Likewise, if hiking or biking the Tetons is on your list, several days might be needed to hit all the trails.  Here’s a very small list of some of the MANY activities to consider during a visit:

  • A short drive from downtown, Teton Village, home to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, offers tons of fun for the adventure seekers in your group.  The popular ski resort offers even more during the summer with numerous hiking and mountain biking trails at all ability levels.  The Tram ride to the top offers an incredible view of the surrounding area and is also the launching site for Paragliding. We chose to ride the tram up and take a scenic hike back down the mountain! It is also home to the Grand Adventure Park which is a big hit with kids and teens.
  • Jackson Hole Town Square –
  • Known for their elk antler arches (PHOTO OP), this funky old west town square is packed with great restaurants, lodges, local shops, and theaters.  During the summer, make sure to catch the Old West Jackson Hole Shootout demonstration while you enjoy some ice cream!
  • Grand Teton National Parkhaven for nature lovers and photographers, the park offers beautiful vistas around every corner.  Whether it is the jagged mountains, the Snake River, the flora, or the abundant wildlife, prepare to be in awe.  The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose is a great place to start, which provides an excellent overview of the park’s ecology. The popular Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve serves as the starting point for eight miles of beautiful hiking trails. Other trail highlights include hikes to Signal MountainTaggart LakeString Lake, and Leigh Lake, and the boat trip on Jenny Lake is also a favorite.
  • Float or Raft the Snake River – One of the best ways to see the beautiful scenery and also spectacular wildlife (if your lucky) is to take a trip down the Snake River.  Even my skeptical teenagers were impressed–which is a total win in my book.  There are many outfitters that offer trips, but we used Barker Ewing and cannot say enough good things about our day on the river.
  • Yellowstone National Park – What can I say? Your trip would not be complete without one day in Yellowstone (although it really is not enough).  Here are my tips for making the most of your visit:  leave early–traffic is a bear; strategically plan your route before you go to make sure you see your “highlights”; pack snacks and plenty of water as there are not a lot of options for food; don’t pass a bathroom without stopping– just saying; if you see tons of cars pulled off to the side of the road, “wildlife” has been spotted; be prepared to spend lots of time in the car–the park is enormous!

Hawaii

I consider a visit to Hawaii a once-in-a-lifetime experience!  Yes, it’s hard to get there.  Yes, it’s expensive — although with patience and planning, there are some great deals to be had.  Yes, it’s unlike any other place you probably will ever see.  Yes, put it on your bucket list!  For this post, I am offering just a snippet about each island and things to consider if and when you plan a trip, but please see my other posts and also my Pinterest Hawaii board for more detailed information.

  • Oahu – The state capital of Hawaii, Oahu, is also the most heavily populated island and very diverse geographically and culturally.  Just a few popular points of interest:  Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona,  and Diamond Head.
  • Kauai– The Garden Island is so named because of it’s lush, tropical valleys and is also the oldest island in the chain.  Points of interest:  the Napali Coast, Poipu Bay, and the Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of Hawaii).
  • Molokai – One of the lease traveled islands, Molokai is home to some of the highest sea cliffs and also longest reefs.
  • Lanai – Only 9 miles long, Lanai is luxurious on one end and rugged on the other.  Once home to the Dole Pineapple Plantation, Lanai has transformed into a world-class resort destination thanks to the Four Seasons. Even if you don’t want to stay on the island, you can visit by boat from nearby Maui.
  • Maui – Many think of Maui when they think of Hawaii and rightfully so.  It is the most popular spot for mainlanders seeking beautiful beaches, but don’t be fooled Maui offers much more!  Points of Interest (too many to list):  Haleakula Crater, Wailea, Road to Hana, Kapalua/Kaanapali/Lahaina, and surfing and snorkeling galore.
  • The Big Island – The youngest and biggest (it’s still growing as the volcano erupts), the Big Island is filled with must-sees!  Points of Interest: Volcanos National Park, Mauna Kea Observatory, black sand beaches, Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park, and miles of lava fields.

Summer is such a great time to travel!  Many assume it to be more expensive and more crowded which definitely can be true in many cases.  I would argue, however, that summer is an excellent time to travel to certain destinations with proper planning.  I feel the the ones listed here fall into that category.  Because winter is considered High Season for these locations, summer is often less expensive–comparatively.

Hopefully, you will find some tidbits of helpful information for your upcoming travel, and please share any helpful advise you may have about visiting any or all of these fabulous destinations.  Happy Travels!