Every year, Travel + Leisure readers rank cities for qualities such as great food or excellent shopping. Readers also vote on best times of year to visit-including the classic, all-important summer vacation.
More Americans are planning to take that vacation this season. According to a poll by the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, 59 percent of Americans will take some kind of summer getaway, up from 51 percent last year.
Since many of these getaways are still brief, major U.S. cities are appealing choices. San Diego, Los Angeles, and Honolulu typify the dream beach-y vacation, and all made it into readers’ top 20 picks.
While some cities likely didn’t make the cut due to triple-digit summer temps (sorry, Phoenix), other cities managed to overcome heat-index issues, perhaps because of their great summer cuisine. Kansas City, with plenty of summer street festivals but nary an ocean breeze, landed within the Top 20 thanks partially to its summer-friendly barbecue.
Mention highly ranked Portland, ME, and naturally people start waxing poetic about that lobster. But the New England city also shares a quality with other cities that dominated the Top 10: it’s joyfully emerging from winter’s Gore-Tex cocoon, and locals are ready to party.
In Providence, for instance, the Waterfire festival literally sets the city ablaze, with bonfires burning along the city’s three rivers. And in Minneapolis, they’ll do anything outside in summertime, whether it’s strolling around lakes or racing boats made out of milk cartons at the annual Aquatennial.
“Every man, woman, and child in Minnesota spends the warmer months out and about, stockpiling vitamin D,” says Annie D’Souza, a community manager for Yelp. “We’re all just so thrilled that winter is over.”
Though many people flock here in winter, summer is actually the dry season in the Hawaiian capital. That means more sunny weather and more accessible waves for surfing. There are arguably more deals during summer too. Yet another reason it’s a fine time to unplug in Honolulu—rated the No. 1 city for relaxing.
Who cares if there’s no ocean in Chicago? People still find beach-y fun on the lakeshores, soaking up rays and spiking volleyballs. The Windy City also landed in the top 5 for being pedestrian-friendly—a nice way to take in the great skyline views.
Talk about a comeback: the Twin Cities fell into last place for its overall weather, but still made summer’s Top 10. Indeed, after a long winter, people in Minnesota are practically busting at the seams to get outside. Things get especially festive at the acclaimed State Fair in August and the tournament-filled Aquatennial in July.
By travel industry standards, summer is the one-and-only season in Alaska, whether for a classic cruise, a trek across glaciers, or caribou-spotting in Denali National Park. AFC voters found trips to Anchorage pricey (to cut costs, come in early June or late August)
AFC voters applauded the Mile High City for its great outdoors and active locals—and summer makes for fabulous hiking and mountain biking. Denver’s also a magnet for summer festival fans: come for the Chalk Art Festival, the Underground Music Showcase, and the classic, western-themed Buffalo Bill Days.
Summer nights glow in the Rhode Island capital, thanks to Waterfire, a series of small bonfires that light up the rivers downtown. AFC voters embraced Providence for its down-to-earth personality—giving it high marks for both its mom-and-pop cafés and its burgers.
AFC voters loved the year-round beach weather and good-looking locals in San Diego—even if June can be cool and gray. Summer also brings the kooky ComicCon convention and events at the Del Mar racetrack, an old-Hollywood star magnet. And the city’s zoo, SeaWorld, and Legoland are a natural draw for families on summer vacation.
Did someone say lobster? These big, seasonal crustaceans are one of the biggest summer lures of this New England city. Between meals you can always paddle off in a kayak or walk the cobblestoned streets of the Old Port. It’s also a perfect destination if you’re the early-to-bed type: the city ranks near the top for being mellow, and AFC voters declared its nightlife downright sleepy.
The notoriously drizzly city of Seattle—which came in last place for winter visits—actually stays pretty dry and sunny throughout the summer. It’s a great time to get outdoors, whether buzzing around in seaplanes or hanging out in the great city parks. Added bonus? A solid look at massive Mount Rainier, which, for the rest of the year, often hides behind clouds.
Visitors can literally taste summer in Portland: top-ranked farmers’ markets bursting with berries, fresh-caught salmon at inventive cafés, and plenty of cool summer drinks. AFC voters also gave Portland the top prize for its microbrews.