Along with the long days and hot sun, summer break provides a great opportunity to get away from it all, reset, and possibly bring back some inspiration for the next school year. If you’re looking for your next summer adventure, check out this guest post by Heather Knoff, traveler extraordinaire of couchtotravel.com! Read on to see her top 8 picks for great summer travel!
You’ll get two unforgettable experiences in one by visiting the sophisticated and metropolitan Vancouver, British Columbia in combination with beautiful Victoria, BC. It’s true that summer is the peak travel season to these two beautiful cities, but there is a reason for it. Its just so amazingly beautiful and almost every activity the cities have to offer are geared toward the perfect 70-85 degree days with rarely a rain cloud in sight.
THINGS TO DO
Vancouver boasts multiple free music festivals through the summer months. Come in late June-early July to see the International Jazz Festival, or later in July for the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (rated a top 10 North American outdoor concert by USA Today). In late July-early August you’ll experience the SHORE-fest, with music and fireworks, and what might feel like the entire population of Canada gathering around to enjoy the festivities.
If the festivals aren’t enough, head to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park or bicycle around Stanley Park, take the hop on/hop off city tour, or just immerse yourself in Vancouver’s culinary expertise. Foodies will delight in the many gastronomical creations that Vancouver’s eateries offer.
Victoria is known for its outdoor activities such as touring the world famous Butchart Gardens, walking historic Warf Street or taking a whale watching cruise. You’ll find the laid back pace of Victoria a nice change from metropolitan Vancouver, even though summer is also peak tourist season.
Vancouver has efficient public transportation, and if you’re up for walking, most of the city is accessible on foot. Downtown is a bit of a trip from the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), and shuttles are available. To get to Victoria, take the BC Ferry for a nice leisurely ride through the Straight of George and keep your camera ready for wildlife. The ferry will land in Sydney, about 30 minutes north of Victoria. If you are going to rent a car, this might be the place, but it is far from necessary with the great public transit system available.
With peak travel conditions come peak travel prices. Shop around and take advantage of sites like Airbnb.com to live like a local, and save money too.
2. Charleston, SC
Where the summer heat is tempered by the sea breeze, come experience beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. The temperature will be around 90 most days, but that won’t slow you down. In fact, it’s the laidback southern lifestyle that will bring you to a relaxed pace as you explore Travel and Leisure magazine’s 2016 pick for “World’s Best City.”
THINGS TO DO
Get lost. Have an adventure by losing the map and exploring the streets of this charming city. Rent a bicycle and explore further. If you’re a foodie, check out the Grand Bohemian Hotel or take the Downtown Charleston Culinary tour. If history is your favorite subject, Charleston is home to the nation’s first structure built for theatrical use, Dock Street Theater, and the Charleston Museum, the nation’s first museum.
Most of Charleston is very walkable on foot. Make your way there by air, car, or if you’re on the east coast, take the train.
Historic accommodations with southern charm include hotels in the Historic District like the King Charles Inn, Belmond Charleston Place, Francis Marion Hotel. In peak season these hotels will be around $200 per night. For budget alternatives, try looking in Mount Pleasant, just across the Cooper River or definitely give Airbnb.com or VRBO.com a look.
3. St. George, Utah
If you love the outdoors, love to golf, or love discovery, St. George is the summer destination for you. With highs in the upper 90s, you’ll find inspiration to get out to the many incredible parks and museums. For golfers, the St. George area offers a great variety of courses, including Championship Sand Hollow Resort.
THINGS TO DO
Zion National Park, about 45 minutes from St. George, is a must for any age. Wind your way though the rock formations, canyons, and rivers and see any of the 1000+ plant species and learn about the variety of animals that call the area home. The park fee is $30/vehicle for a 7 day pass. Other state parks include Snow Canyon, Quail Creek, Sand Hollow, and Gunlock.
After all of that adventure, treat yourself with a relaxing trip to one of the areas many resort spas or spend a day indoors at one of the 8 local museums, which includes a Dinosaur Discovery Site and the North American Wildlife Museum.
It would be best to have a vehicle to travel to the different parks and sites that St. George has to offer. The area is more spread out than some on the list and transportation will be much easier in your own vehicle. Look for flights through Denver (United) or Salt Lake City (Delta) for a quick connection.
The great news is that you can find a good hotel in St. George or the surrounding area for a reasonable price, around $100/night or less, even in the height of summer travel season. There are also a number of Bed and Breakfasts in the area or try camping in one of the 14 campgrounds in and around the national parks.
4. Sydney, Australia
So you want to really go for it this summer and take a trip to remember? Sydney is ideal because despite being winter in the southern hemisphere, the average temperature still remains in the mid 60s, which might even be a welcome relief to the hot summer temperatures of home.
June through August constitutes winter in Sydney, which also means you will find the lowest travel fares and hotel rates. If you can wait until the end of August-early September, you’ll be right in the shoulder season and still able to take advantage of the rates, but with slightly higher temperatures. I’ve been in the peak of “winter” and despite not being able to go to the beaches, I had a wonderful holiday.
THINGS TO DO
This list can probably go on for pages and pages. The big question is what do you want to do? Hike or tour the Blue Mountains, head toward the outback for a wine tour (highly recommended), climb the Harbor Bridge or make it to the Sydney Zoo and Aquarium, the possibilities are endless. Several culinary delights not to be missed are a well prepared kangaroo steak, brunch at the Paramount Coffee Project in Surry Hills, and lunch at Anson on Bangaroo, near the Sydney Harbor.
First, let’s address getting there. I just searched flights from NY to Sydney and Seattle to Sydney and found flights from each for under $1200 round trip for 10 nights in August. With a little travel hacking know-how, you should get there for even less. The public transportation in Sydney is extensive, so you won’t need a car.
Sydney has numerous unique neighborhoods, so before you plan your travel, check out this neighborhood guide from Airbnb.com. I am completely confident you will be able to find a wonderful accommodation for you within your budget. Be creative and if you aren’t traveling with children, you may even find a hostel with a laid back vibe that can provide a very comfortable stay.
5. Anchorage, Alaska
Rugged mountains, glaciers, wildlife, and beauty are just a few things than come to mind when one thinks about Alaska. This unique state has more than half of the world’s glaciers, is home to Kodiak and Polar bears that can grow to 1400 pounds, and a population density of only 1 person per square mile. It should be on every American’s travel list to visit and summer is absolutely the time to do it. Shoulder season in Alaska is May or September, so if you can swing an early or late trip based on your school schedule, you will find significantly reduced prices, and tourist population density as well.
THINGS TO DO
Anchorage as a city has plenty to see. Visit the multiple cultural and historical museums, take the City Trolley Tour, drink your way around town on a Brew Tour, or take in some of the best restaurants including Rustic Goat (recommended to me by a local), Haute Quarter Grille, or hang out with the locals at The Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria.
Tours are numerous to help you get as full of a picture of all that Alaska has to offer. Go on a photo safari, take in Denali National Park, take a scenic driving tour of Turnagain Arm, view one of the many local glaciers such as Portage, Seward, Matanuska, and Girdwood Glaciers. If you want the structure of a tour but to go at your own pace, try either a driving tour or a railway tour. Railway schedules allow for day trips to most of the local glaciers and attractions, and can often be combined with a tour. Scenic driving day trips are listed with detailed descriptions of each stop along the way on the Alaska.org website.
Cruising is one of the most popular ways to see Alaska. This could be a multiple day cruise from Anchorage or a cruise to or from Seattle or Vancouver, BC. The options can be overwhelming. A travel agent that specializes in Alaskan cruises will be a great resource if you decide to go this route.
The upside to taking a cruise is that all of your land transportation is taken care of for you. Railway tours are a fun way to see more of the countryside without doing all of the driving and in the summer trains leave daily from Anchorage. If you decide to plan your own trip and excursions, it will be best to have a rental car. Just keep your eyes open for wildlife on the roads. There is more good news about travel to Alaska in summer. The cost of airfare is very low. For example, you can get a round trip flight from NYC for under $550 in mid-late August or from Seattle for only $179!
Just like some of the other destinations on this list, you will be able to find cheaper rooms using resources like Airbnb.com rather than staying in a traditional hotel.
6. Maine Beaches
The beaches of Maine are a picturesque relaxing place to spend your summer vacation. There are activities for everyone in the family and you’ll definitely eat some of the best lobster of your life.
WHAT TO DO
Everything you can think of to do at the beach is possible: swimming, surfing, fishing, and lobstering just to name a few. The area boasts numerous golf courses and a variety of trails and paths to walk or ride bikes. There are 6 historic lighthouses along the beaches region of Maine, which stretches from The Yorks to Old Orchard Beach. Boat tours of the lighthouses are available for a great photo opportunity and history lesson. If you want a break from the beaches, take a hike to the summit of nearby Mount Agamenticus. Kids of any age will enjoy a day at one of the local amusement parks. Funtown Splashtown USA, York’s Wild Kingdom, Aquaboggan Water Park and Palace Playland are four of the great amusement parks in the area. No matter what you do, make sure to stop in for a delicious lobster dinner at one of the local restaurants.
If you plan to visit multiple beach cities, a car will come in handy. Fly into Portland or Boston, but Portland is much closer.
WHERE TO STAY
There are numerous beach cottages available to rent through owners that list on VRBO.com or Airbnb.com. Camping can be a fun option and there are numerous camping sites in the area. Each beach town has its own vibe and you will find some offer high-end accommodations and others have a laidback beach style. The towns of Maine beaches are: The Yorks, Ogunquit, Wells, Sanford, The Kennebunks, Biddeford, Saco, and Old Orchard Beach.
7. Cannon Beach, Oregon
The Oregon coast comes to life in summer. Although they share the same waters as the beaches of Southern California, Oregon beach towns are quiet and laid back, while offering stunning scenery and mild summer weather. There are many great beaches in the Oregon coast, but my favorite is Cannon Beach, which is about 90 minutes from Portland.
WHAT TO DO
Come in June and you’ll experience dozens of teams of sandcastle artists building their creations for the annual Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest. Beyond the beach, however, you will find the true magic of the Pacific Northwest. Explore Ecola State Park, which is full of old growth rainforests and opens to a view of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse and other rock formations. Another recognizable landmark you won’t want to miss is Haystack Rock where Puffins can be seen through the middle of summer. Large colonies of other beautiful birds are seen throughout and a variety of sea life can be explored in tidal pools. You will most definitely see a pair of bald eagles soaring overhead and possibly even elk feeding in the meadows. Hiking, surfing, kayaking, and cycling are all popular activities at Cannon Beach.
Although once you are at the beach you may not use the car, it will be easiest to drive from the Portland airport and this will give you the freedom to explore other towns up and down the Oregon coast if the idea strikes your fancy.
Local owners offer numerous beach house rentals. The Cannon Beach Hotel Bed and Breakfast is a favorite as well as Arch Cape Inn. A helpful tip is to look for hotels in neighboring towns, which might be slightly cheaper than Cannon Beach, or make this an extended family vacation and rent an entire home to share.
8. Flathead Lake
Flathead Lake is the perfect location to stage your fabulous Montana summer vacation. The lake itself offers boating, swimming and fishing. The surrounding area has even more to give.
WHAT TO DO
Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Depending on your interests, you should probably spend a day or two on the lake. Rent a boat or take a tour, or just bring a nice picnic lunch and spend the day at the beach. There are several access points to the lake. On the west side, West Shore State Park and Big Arm State Park, and on the eastside are Wayfarers State Park, Yellow Bay, and Finley Point. The area boasts numerous golf courses that make the Flathead another top golf destination. As you explore the region, you really need to drive from town to town. The major population areas are Kalispell to the north, Polson to the south, and Bigfork in the northeast. If you’re around in mid-July you can head to the Polson Cherry Festival or you’ll find roadside stands with fresh cherries to buy and plenty of opportunity to stop for a photo or a hike. If you happen upon the Phlathead Phillies food truck, flag them down and enjoy a fabulous lunch.
Glacier National Park is the other must visit feature of this destination. The west entrance of the park is only 32 miles from downtown Kalispell. The entrance fee is $30 for a 7-day pass per vehicle. Once in the park, you can drive, hike, bike, or take a tour. One recommendation is the Red Bus Tour over the historic Going-to-the-Sun Road. There are several lodges within the park with meals and information. Take your time planning this part of your trip so you get to see it all. Summer is the high season and nearly every part of the park should be open. The average daily temperature is 75-80 degrees, making it ideal for exploring. The area also is home to many natural hot springs. As a great way to unwind from a day of hiking, find a local hot spring and get in for a soak!
Fly in and out of Kalispell for the most direct access, or if you want to add a little more Montana to your trip, fly through Missoula. This will definitely be what I’ll call a “destination road trip”. Get yourself a car and see everything the area has to offer. Not that you’ll be in the car the entire time…get out and use those feet to explore as many of the great trailheads in and around Glacier as you can.
Summer is peak season, so you’ll see hotels beginning to book up. If you want to visit the Flathead this summer, start making plans now. There are traditional hotels, resorts will be more expensive this time of year, vacation rentals and cabins and of course camping. If you plan to camp at all, research the availability of the campgrounds you are interested in as many fill up early on weekends. You will be able to find a place to stay at a decent budget, especially if you are willing to drive away from the lake to one of the surrounding towns.
Heather Knoff is a travel enthusiast, wife and dog mom who loves to share her experiences with others. She spent time living in South Korea as an English teacher, and takes every opportunity she gets to explore another corner of the world. Her home base is currently in Puyallup, WA. She blogs at www.couchtotravel.com.