Summer has officially begun, and for those who haven’t yet decided upon a place to visit, there is no time to waste. Fortunately, there are many popular vacation spots across the country to choose from to spend an unforgettable time with family and loved ones. Although many of America’s favorite summer vacation spots are fairly obvious, many others are as impressive and deserve a closer look. Here is a just a small sampling of the best destinations to visit over the summer.
Grand County, Utah
Prospective visitors might not immediately recognize Grand County as a top summer vacation spot. But there is good reason why it’s called grand, and not just because it actually refers to the Colorado River. Located in eastern Utah, Grand County is home to Arches National Park, best known for its world-famous Delicate Arch, whose likeness is displayed on Utah license plates, and Moab, one of world’s premier destinations for bike enthusiasts. Grand County also occupies snippets of Canyonlands National Park and McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, although primarily in Colorado. While there isn’t any lodging in Arches, Moab offers several campgrounds and RV Parks, several moderately priced hotels and one luxury resort, Sorrel River Ranch. Another extraordinary luxury resort worth considering for a summer vacation lies just across the county border — Gateway Canyons, a stunning 500-acre resort and spa once named the top resort in Colorado and No. 12 in the world.
Hotel rates are higher and there’s certainly more visitors to Maui over the summer. On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter since this island paradise might be the very best summer vacation spot in the U.S. After all, there are only really two seasons on Hawaii’s second largest island, yet both can still be described as summer-like, as in warm and warmer. Maui offers a wealth of exceptional lodging to suit anyone’s preferences including vacation homes, romantic hideaways like Hotel Wailea and Montage Kapalua Bay and resorts with family-friendly attractions like the Grand Wailea, Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa and Honua Kai Resort and Spa. But the staggering collection of oceanfront properties is just one reason why Maui has been named the best island in the world several times over. Indeed, with outdoor activities like hiking, biking and snorkeling, breathtaking natural beauty and amazing cuisine, Maui is a recommended destination all year ’round.
Related: Hawaii Vacation Guide For Families
Orange County, California
Regardless of the crowds, Disneyland Resort is unquestionably one of the most popular destinations to visit over the summer. Although the Happiest Place on Earth is the premier attraction, along with its associated properties like California Adventure, Downtown Disney and the legendary Disneyland Hotel, there are many other places to stay and visit in Orange County to suit anyone’s budget. For starters, there are other outstanding family friendly attractions all within a 15 minutes drive, such as Knott’s Berry Farm, Adventure City and Angel Stadium. And there seems to be an endless supply of other hotels and motels scattered all around the entire Disney complex, including many Good Neighbor Hotels, remarkably affordable motels and newly opened family-friendly resorts like the Great Wolf Lodge Resort, featuring the largest indoor water park in North America. But even further west in the county are more than 40 miles of beaches including world famous hotspots like Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and Newport Beach, and many more attractions such as the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Huntington Beach Pier, Mission San Juan Capistrano and the International Surfing Museum. The Orange County coast is also home to many of the top luxury resorts in Southern California, including the Resort at Pelican Hill, Montage Laguna Beach and St. Regis Monarch Beach, along with several more moderately priced spots like the Inn at Laguna Beach and Laguna Beach House.
The Outer Banks, North Carolina
Long before one of its beaches was named one of America’s best for 2016, the Outer Banks has been one of the more intriguing summer vacation spots in the country. Extending for 200 miles, the Outer Banks, affectionately known as the OBX, is a fascinating collection of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina with a history of firsts, in addition to thousands of magnificent vacation homes, extraordinary cuisine and world-class attractions including the Wright Brothers National Memorial and The Lost Colony, a Tony-honored play based on the Roanoke Colony. The Outer Banks is also home to the site of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, the precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard, the first established national seashore (Cape Hatteras National Seashore), the tallest lighthouse in North America (Cape Hatteras Light) and one of the largest, privately owned art galleries (Seaside Art Gallery) in the Southeast. Recommended outdoor activities are kiteboarding and surfing with REAL Watersports, a boat trip with OBX Crabbing and Shrimping Charters and birdwatching at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to 10,000 vacation rentals for overnight accommodations, the OBX has several campsites, a fine collection of cottages and B&Bs and more than 50 motels and hotels, most notably the luxury Sanderling Resort, featuring the AAA Four Diamond restaurant, Kimball’s Kitchen in the upscale community of Duck, with another beach named one of the best in the country.
As the acknowledged birthplace of the California Wine Industry, Sonoma County is clearly one of the world’s top destinations for wine lovers. Yet, while winemaking is the primary draw for visitors particularly during the summer, Sonoma County is also renowned for its artisan cheeses, craft beer, exceptional cuisine and last, but certainly not least, its wealth of outdoor activities. While a rented vehicle is typically needed to see large portions of this amazing destination, the better way to truly experience wine tasting and bountiful vineyards, breathtaking rivers amid redwood forests and spectacular ocean vistas is by foot, by bike and even by kayak. Top-rated local tour operators like Getaway Adventures offer a variety of day and multi-days trips, such as the Healdsburg Sip ‘n Cycle which includes visiting popular wineries and wine tasting fees, a kayak tour along the Russian River or a hike along the Sonoma Coast. Additionally, Sonoma County has several great places to stay, from affordable spots like the Petaluma KOA to mid-priced properties like the historic Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa and upscale accommodations, including Hotel Healdsburg, Kenwood Inn and Spa, Farmhouse Inn and Madrona Manor. All feature exceptional California Wine Country dining with the latter two hosting a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Related: Best U.S. Honeymoon Destinations
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com