America's Hottest Summer Vacation Cities
Who doesn't love summer? When the weather is hot, summertime equals fun time and easy living.
To help make summer planning easy, WalletHub released a ranking of the best summer destinations in the United States. The report takes into account affordability, attractions, weather, activities, safety and the hassle of traveling to each spot.
These are the best places to go for a summer vacation.
30. San Francisco, California
*The categories in the 2021 WalletHub report show the city’s ranking for each metric, with 1 being the highest ranking. For the total score, a score of 100 represents the top score.
Local costs: 95
Total score: 59.28
What to do in San Francisco: The whole Bay Area is perfect during summer, since it rarely gets uncomfortably hot, and there are a lot of outdoor activities to do.
Must-dos in San Francisco include visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf and Baker Beach. Or keep out of the sun with a cultural day at the Palace of Fine Arts.
Summer is also perfect for hiking around the many green areas around the Bay, including the Muir Woods, Redwood Park and Mt. Diablo.
29. Dallas, Texas
Local costs: 45
Total score: 59.43
What to do in Dallas: Dallas in the summer is hot. Thankfully, there are plenty of indoor attractions that will keep you entertained without roasting in the sun.
Visit the Dallas Museum of Art, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the Crow Collection of Asian Art. You can also visit the Sixth Floor Museum, which has a plaza commemorating the assassination of J.F.K.
If you don’t mind the heat, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is the city’s best green space. You can also spend a day screaming your lungs out at Six Flags.
28. Dayton, Ohio
Local costs: 24
Total score: 59.45
What to do in Dayton: This city is probably not the first to come to mind when thinking of summer vacation spots, but it is cheap and easy to get to.
In terms of attractions, there are plenty of things to do for aviation enthusiasts. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, for instance, displays space shuttles and historic airplanes. You can see one of the planes used by the Wright Brothers themselves at the Carillon Historical Park. To mix it up, you can also visit the Dayton Art Institute’s collection of fine art.
To enjoy the sun, head to the Five Rivers MetroParks.
27. Fayetteville, Arkansas
Local costs: 11
Total score: 59.61
What to do in Fayetteville: Home to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville is a small town where there is always something to do. You can thank college students committed to making cool events for that.
Besides touring breweries, what makes Fayetteville an incredible place to spend summer is its proximity to the Ozarks. Spend time at Mount Sequoyah Woods Trail, visit the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks or plan to camp, fish or kayak in the woods. You’ll get all the fun of the outdoors without the crowds.
26. Cincinnati, Ohio
Local costs: 69
Total score: 59.72
What to do in Cincinnati: Cincinnati is not usually a tourist destination, which is a shame given the city’s rich history, museums and proximity to parks.
As sports fans already know, Cincinnati has the oldest baseball team in the country (the Reds), which means that the sport is part of the local culture. The city was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, a fact commemorated at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Enjoy beautiful 19th-century architecture at the Over-the-Rhine historic district, see world art at the Cincinnati Art Museum and get fresh food at Findlay Market.
25. Chicago, Illinois
Local costs: 51
Total score: 60.31
What to do in Chicago: Chicago is one of the best cities in the U.S. and has it all. There are a million and one things to do, which is why the city ranks No.1 in terms of attractions.
Sure, New York also has everything you could want, but Chicago is designed better. After all, it’s renowned worldwide for its architecture.
You can take a boat tour along the Chicago River to learn about the different architectural styles that mark the city skyline. Once you’re done with that, go to the beach, enjoy the sun at Millenium Park and take lots of cool pictures at Cloud Gate, which is affectionately known as The Bean. At night, get a breathtaking city view at the Skydeck in Willis Tower.
You also have your pick of world-class cultural institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago, which is one of the best museums in the U.S. Heck, in the world.
But the thing you may love the most about Chicago is the food. You’ll find anything you want from all over the world.
24. Columbia, South Carolina
Local costs: 9
Total score: 60.61
What to do in Columbia: If you want Southern charm and don’t mind the thick humidity, head to Columbia.
You won’t be rushing about from landmark to landmark, but who wants to do that when you can leisurely stroll around enjoying pretty architecture? And let’s be honest, you’ll be so stuffed with rich Southern food, you won’t be walking too much.
Get your fill of history by visiting historic houses like the Woodrow Wilson Family Home and the Hampton-Preston Mansion. Or see the Greek Revival South Carolina State House, which is known for its gardens. The best way to escape the heat is to spend the day at the Columbia Museum of Art.
23. St. Louis, Missouri
Local costs: 28
Total score: 60.70
What to do in St. Louis: Set on the mighty Mississippi River, St. Louis is best known for blues, barbecue and the Gateway Arch.
The latter is the most famous landmark in the city and was built to commemorate Lewis and Clark’s journey. Once you’ve gotten all the pictures you need of the landmark, you can enjoy the Missouri Botanical Garden and the City Museum. If you love beautiful architecture, don’t skip the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
"Meet Me in St. Louis" references may be overdone, but commemorating Judy Garland never is, so take the opportunity to do so without shame.
22. Augusta, Georgia
Local costs: 8
Total score: 60.78
What to do in Augusta: Though Atlanta is obviously the best destination in Georgia (don’t worry, you’ll find it on this list), Augusta is a worthy alternative if you want to avoid the big city.
The best way to spend the summer is taking walks along the Riverwalk, which gives you views onto the Savannah River. Other activities include seeing Southern art at the Morris Museum of Art and visiting the childhood home of Woodrow Wilson.
Augusta proudly provides opportunities for enjoying nature without having to get too backcountry about it. The city has numerous parks and gardens, including Reed Creek, Springfield Village, Phinizy Swamp and Pendleton King.
21. Knoxville, Tennessee
Local costs: 4
Total score: 60.78
What to do in Knoxville: Often overshadowed by Nashville, Knoxville has plenty to offer as well.
Downtown is embellished by historic buildings, the Tennessee Theatre has decent shows and the Knoxville Museum of Art showcases art from the region. The latter is located at the World’s Fair Park, one of the city’s best attractions.
Though it may be hot, you can walk around Ijams Nature Center, the UT Gardens and the House Mountain State Natural Area.
20. Raleigh, North Carolina
Local costs: 30
Total score: 60.97
What to do in Raleigh: As the capital of North Carolina, Raleigh has no shortage of fun summer activities. The most popular of these are the city’s museums, which include the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Museum of History.
There’s also the Marbles Kids Museum, which is a draw for people looking for fun summer family vacation destinations.
As with other Southern cities, going on numerous food tours is a must.
19. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Local costs: 6
Total score: 60.20
What to do in Albuquerque: New Mexico’s largest city is great for those who want a little bit of everything. There the high desert and the mountains, the modernity of downtown and the historical charm of Old Town.
The most interesting landmark is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, where you can learn about the indigenous tribes that have inhabited the area for centuries and buy unique handcrafts.
You can also visit the Petroglyph National Monument.
18. San Bernardino, California
Local costs: 85
Total score: 61.42
What to do in San Bernardino: This city’s claim to fame is mostly tied to its position along historic Route 66. You’ll find plenty of photo ops along the roads as you drive from attraction to attraction.
For outdoor enthusiasts, an excursion to San Bernardino National Forest or Silverwood Lake is a must. If you prefer urbanity, make plans to visit the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art or Seccombe Lake Park, the best green space within the city.
17. Miami, Florida
Local costs: 57
Total score: 61.46
What to do in Miami: Was there ever any question that Miami would be on here? There are simply too many things to do in the city, which enjoys a year-round summer. The most obvious is going to the beach. Miami Beach is a staple but locals often prefer the quieter and less touristy Hallandale Beach.
Eat your way through the city by indulging in Cuban sandwiches, Venezuelan hot dogs (they’re a whole thing) and tacos. See street art in Wynwood, party in South Beach and or enjoy the A/C at the city’s numerous outlet malls.
If you want to spend some time in nature, you can kayak in the mangroves of Oleta River State Park, snorkel in Biscayne National Park or take an airboat ride through the beautiful Everglades.
16. Tucson, Arizona
Local costs: 33
Total score: 62.53
What to do in Tucson: It may be surprising to see Tucson rank so high, but that’s mostly because the city is sorely underrated.
As a summer destination, Tucson is all about the lakes, with Roper, Patagonia and Parker Canyon Lake near the city. There’s also the Sabino Canyon for those who want to test their limits with a trek in the heat.
The coolest (literally) thing to do in the city is to head to Coronado National Forest and hike up Mount Lemmon. At more than 9,000 feet high, it is usually about 20 degrees cooler than the city.
15. Tampa, Florida
Local costs: 41
Total score: 62.73
What to do in Tampa: Want to go to theme parks but think Orlando is overdone? We get you, and that’s why we’re thankful Tampa exists.
If we’re honest, we think Busch Gardens is a lot more fun than the Disney parks. (Though Islands of Adventure holds its ground.) The park has plenty of water rides that’ll get you soaked and cool as well as vertigo-inducing rides like SheiKra, a floorless roller coaster with a 90-degree drop. You can also go to the nearby Adventure Island water park.
Besides parks, Tampa has beautiful beaches and the scenic Tampa RiverWalk. Its nightlife district, Ybor City may not be Miami, but it is good enough for a fun vacation.
14. Wichita, Kansas
Local costs: 7
Total score: 64.13
What to do in Wichita: Wichita ranks pretty low in terms of attractions, coming in at a disappointing 81st place, but its saving grace is how cheap it is.
You won’t have to break the bank to go on vacation here, which makes it good for families who are road-tripping from nearby places.
The attractions the city offers include Kansas in Miniature, the Botanical Wichita and the Museum of World Treasure, where your children can see a T-Rex skeleton. You can also enjoy some nature at Arkansas River Trail and the Great Plains Nature Center.
13. San Antonio, Texas
Local costs: 27
Total score: 64.3
What to do in San Antonio: San Antonio deserves as much attention as Austin and Dallas.
The perfect summer plan is to go to Six Flags Fiesta, but if you don’t like adrenaline, you can simply enjoy River Walk. You’ll get views of the San Antonio River and have your pick of shops and cafes.
If you like history, a visit to the Alamo is a must.
12. Springfield, Missouri
Local costs: 60
Total score: 64.81
What to do in Springfield: Missouri’s Springfield has quite a few attractions that make it a good place to visit during the summer.
The Route 66 Car Museum is unique, and the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield attracts history buffs. There are also the Fantastic Caverns, which feature stalagmites and are so large that trams can traverse through it.
For a cozy summer date or a fun family time, there’s the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden.
11. Washington, D.C.
Local costs: 91
Total score: 65.4
What to do in Washington, D.C.: The nation’s capital is always beautiful, but it’s particularly fun during the summer.
There are the usual suspects like the Smithsonian museums, the memorials and the monuments. You should, of course, dedicate some time to all of these.
But there are also other things to do in D.C. that you should consider. For example, you can spend a day kayaking the Potomac, stopping at Teddy Roosevelt Island. Summer also sees a wide array of events like outdoor jazz concerts.
10. Little Rock, Arkansas
Local costs: 16
Total score: 65.49
What to do in Little Rock: Little Rock manages to get into the top 10 by having low costs and great weather. Summer is warm, but it’s not suffocating, so you can definitely enjoy time outside at MacArthur Park. If D.C. is too expensive for you, you can do the next best thing and visit a replica of the Oval Office in this state capital.
Summer also brings along cool events like Main Street Food Truck Fridays and Movies in the Park. The latter shows classics as well as contemporary movies in the First Security Amphitheater (formerly the Riverfest Amphitheatre).
9. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Local costs: 2
Total score: 65.71
What to do in Oklahoma City: Like Little Rock, Oklahoma City has a winning combination of low cost and good weather. For the former, the city is second best, which makes it extremely budget-friendly.
The capital of Oklahoma is notorious for its cowboy culture. During the summer, there are free live music concerts at Oklahoma City Metro and Summer Movie Nights on the Myriad Gardens Great Lawn.
For those who love furry friends, there’s the OKC Summer Classic Dog Shows.
8. Los Angeles, California
Local costs: 90
Total score: 65.89
What to do in Los Angeles: Sunny L.A. is at its best in summer. The city is never asphyxiating but is hot enough to make you want to enjoy its beaches every day.
Visit the famous Santa Monica Pier for fun in the sand along with shops and restaurants. Walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, or get some shade and culture at the Getty.
No visit to L.A. should skip over the parks. Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood are the classics, but if you want more loops than movie references, Disney California Adventure and Six Flags are also nearby.
7. Tulsa, Oklahoma
Local costs: 14
Total score: 65.99
What to do in Tulsa: Set along the Arkansas River, Tulsa is full of beautiful Art Deco architecture.
The city has a burgeoning dining scene that is making foodies start to pay attention and several local businesses have sprung up over the past decade. Walk around Woodward Park or the Linnaeus Teaching Gardens to enjoy the sun while having access to shade.
6. Salt Lake City, Utah
Local costs: 67
Total score: 67.63
What to do in Salt Lake City: The capital of Utah may not be near any of the state’s five national parks, but it still has plenty of nature.
Of course, the main natural draw is the Great Salt Lake, where you can have a unique swimming experience.
You can also go to Antelope Island State Park or Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
5. Atlanta, Georgia
Local costs: 13
Total score: 67.81
What to do in Atlanta: As one of the coolest cities in the U.S., Atlanta is always a good idea.
In the summer, Piedmont Park is to Atlanta what Central Park is to New York. You’ll find people playing sports, jogging, picnicking, napping and reading. The park is rivalded as an urban green space by Centennial Olympic Park and the Atlanta BeltLine.
Head to Ponce City Market, visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and indulge in the city’s famously diverse food scene.
4. Austin, Texas
Local costs: 19
Total score: 70.40
What to do in Austin: Let’s be real. Austin is Texas' best city. Yes, summer is uncomfortably hot, but you’re here for the blues and brisket anyways. And summer is the perfect time to cruise along the Colorado River on a boat.
Other unique things to do in Austin in the summer include the weekend farmers markets, swimming in Barton Springs Pool, picnicking on Lady Bird Lake and catching the sunset from Mt. Bonnell.
You can also get out of the city at nearby Pedernales Falls State Park.
3. New Orleans, Louisiana
Local costs: 32
Total score: 72.51
What to do in New Orleans: The Big Easy is uncomfortably hot during the summer. You’ll feel like you’re walking through soup and find yourself constantly sweating. Even with that, New Orleans ranks No.3 for best summer destinations. It’s just that good.
Even in summer, walking around the French Quarter and the Garden District is a must. If you’re not too good with the heat, spend the day hopping through the city’s restaurants. After all, this is probably the best food scene in the entire country.
Then come out at night when it's cooler and stay up until sunrise. That’s the proper way to do New Orleans.
2. Honolulu, Hawaii
Local costs: 99
Total score: 72.89
What to do in Honolulu: With year-round tropical weather, Honolulu is always a great summer destination, even in the dead of continental U.S. winter. If the city misses out on the top spot, it’s because it is prohibitively expensive. So much so that it ranks as number 99 for local costs.
Your bank account may cry a little bit, but the experience of Honolulu is worth it. Waikiki is the most popular touristy area and has one of the most famous beaches in the island state. When you want to get away from the high rises, you can head to Diamond Head Crater or the Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve.
Honolulu is also the safest destination on here, so take advantage of that to walk around at night or even go for a midnight dip in the ocean.
1. Orlando, Florida
Local costs: 3
Total score: 72.95
What to do in Orlando: Like most of Florida, Orlando is sweltering during the summer, but this does not keep the droves of tourists away.
Join them as they enjoy the numerous parks, which include four Disney parks, along with Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.
Outside of the theme parks, you can do airboat rides to see alligators, relax at Lake Eola Park, visit Madame Tussauds or catch a show.