A lot of people like Chicago, but some only love it one season of the year.

“I’ve had a lot of clients in Chicago,” says Miami public relations exec Julie Fogel, “and I dread going there in the brutally cold fall or winter months.” But summer? “It’s my favorite place to visit,” she says. “The weather, the people, the ambience—it’s absolutely phenomenal. The city comes alive.”

Come to Chicago in July, and you’ll find the lakeshore beaches hopping with volleyball players, restaurant patios buzzing with patrons, and fireworks going off from the Navy Pier.

That unfettered enthusiasm helped Chicago secure its spot as one of the top 20 summer destinations, according to the America’s Favorite Cities survey. Every year, Travel + Leisurereaders 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 vacations are still brief, major U.S. cities are appealing choices. San Diego, Los Angeles, and Honolulu typify the dream beachy 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.”

Read on for intel on readers’ best summer vacation spots.



Portland, Oregon

No. 1 Portland, OR

You can literally taste summer in this northwestern city: 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. The wholesome cuisine will make you want to get active, too, whether you’re bicycling around Portland or hiking near the waterfalls outside town.




No. 2 Seattle

The notoriously drizzly city—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. You can also get a good look at massive Mount Rainier, which, for the rest of the year, often hides behind clouds.


Portland, ME

No. 3 Portland, ME


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.



San Diego, California

No. 4 San Diego

AFC voters loved the year-round beach weatherand good-looking locals here—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.



Providence, Rhode Island

No. 5 Providence

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.




No. 6 Denver


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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.




No. 7 Anchorage

By travel industry standards, summer is the one-and-only season in Alaska, whether you’ve come for a classic cruise, a trek across glaciers, or caribou-spotting in Denali National Park. AFC voters found trips here pricey (to cut costs, come in early June or late August), but loved the great photo-op views.



Minneapolis/St. Paul

No. 8 Minneapolis/St. Paul

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 celebratory Target Fireworks July.




No. 9 Chicago


Who cares if there’s no ocean in Chicago? People still find beachy 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.



No. 10 Honolulu

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.



No. 11 Boston

After those long winters, Beantown comes alive with history-hungry tourists, oyster-lovers, and of course, Red Sox fans. Even though the city ranked just so-so in the survey for its parks and weather, summer is an exception, whether you’re retracing steps along the Freedom Trail or taking the helm of a Liberty Fleet tall ship on Boston Harbor.



Salt Lake City

No. 12 Salt Lake City

The ski-friendly Utah city ranks No. 1 in the AFC survey for winter visits, but some qualities give it year-round appeal: affordable hotels, a safe vibe, and a dramatic location at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. When the snow thaws, there’s great hiking, mountain biking, and fishing at your hotel doorstep.


San Francisco

No. 13 San Francisco

While the infamous Summer of Love may have been a long time ago, the City by the Bay still ranks highly in the survey for romance, whatever the season. Just remember to bring a sweater in June or July, when the cool, foggy weather takes many visitors by surprise.



Santa Fe

No. 14 Santa Fe

Summer brings more of what this southwestern town is famous for: Indian art and craft markets, classical music festivals, and plenty of art galleryopenings. (Plus, mild weather: summer rarely gets above the 80s.) Despite all its potential for hubbub, AFC voters still like the city as a place to chill out: it’s the No. 1 city for peace and quiet.


Nashville, Tennessee

No. 15 Nashville

The Country Music Association’s famous Fan Fair may be summer’s banner event here, but AFC voters were fans of Music City for other reasons too: it ranked No. 1 for affordability, as well as winning the top slot for live music.


Los Angeles

No. 16 Los Angeles

With miles of beaches and Disneyland just down the freeway, the City of Angels offers lots of classic sunny fun. You just might want to go shopping for a new swimsuit and blinged-out flip-flops: the No. 4 city for luxury shopping also ranks in the Top 10 for its stylin’ locals.



San Juan, P.R.

No. 17 San Juan, P.R.

If it weren’t for hurricane season, this island destination would be a summer-vacation paradise. The Puerto Rican capital has the No. 3 weather overall. Most AFC voters there didn’t seem to mind those steamy summer evenings: the city also ranked in the top 5 for both the fun cocktails and romance potential.



Kansas City

No. 18 Kansas City

If your favorite summer aroma is hickory smoke, then this is your town: it ranked second in the survey for its barbecue. Summer means lots of street festivals, but you might also bring an empty suitcase: the city ranked in the top 15 for both its vintage and antique shops.



Charleston, South Carolina

No. 19 Charleston


This quaint southern city is just a half hour from beaches—one reason, no doubt, that AFC voters ranked Charleston near the top for its overall quality of life. The city has walkable streets, charming boutique hotels, and the friendliest locals, according to AFC voters. If the summer temperatures happen to stray above 80, you can always duck into an air-conditioned store: the city ranked first in the country for shopping.



No. 20 Baltimore

The harbor city landed in the bottom 5 for visits almost any other time of year—perhaps because some people don’t start craving those tasty fresh crabs until summer. AFC voters also saluted the local pizza, beer, and reasonable prices.