Ultimate US City Summer Guide

May 27, 2014 by

Festivals & Events, North America, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Summer is the most popular time to explore the US. Whether you’re coming from afar or planning to explore your own country, looking for a short weekend getaway or an epic road trip around the USA, there are plenty of amazing places that shine come summertime.

We’ve put together a list of 15 great US cities to check out this summer, plus some ideas on what to see and do when the weather heats up. On top of classic outdoor tourist attractions, these destinations also host festivals, markets, concerts, outdoor film screenings and more no through September.

Now the only question is…where will you go this summer?

New York

NYC from the water

Billing itself as the center of the universe, the “city that never sleeps” is one of the top US destinations any time of year. In summer, this iconic American city pulls out all the stops and shows why it’s one of the greatest cities on earth.

NYC’s best summer activities

Central Park is a highlight of NYC any time of year, but in summer it comes alive as people watch street performers, rent paddle boats, walk through the gardens, go horseback riding, visit Central Park Zoo, and watch Shakespeare in the Park (a free outdoor theater event that features A-list celebrities). Other popular parks include High Line, which is built on an abandoned elevated freight rail line on the West Side; Brooklyn Bridge Park, which added a carousel from 1922 last year; Washington Square Park; Hudson River Park, which hosts FITiST outdoor exercise; and Bryant Park, which hosts yoga sessions and summer film screenings. The SummerStage concert series includes more than 100 performances at 17 parks throughout the five boroughs.

Escape the city center for the beaches of Coney Island and Sandy Hook or Governors Island, which has outdoor art displays and events all summer long. The cold waters at these beaches might not be so appealing to everyone, so another place to cool down is at one of NYC’s 54 public pools. You’ll find a full list of them at NYC Government Parks, including Astoria Park Pool.

Some extra day time activities that are a must in summer include watching a baseball game at Yankees Stadium, seeing the city from the top of the Empire State Building and taking a ferry out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (which reopened in July).

Back on land, by day drink at beer gardens like Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden in Astoria and TBD in Brooklyn, but on a summer night there’s no better place to be in New York than one of its rooftop bars and lounges, like The Delancy and Gallow Green. You’ll also find film screenings on rooftops like the Mad46 Summer Movie Night Series at Roosevelt Hotel.

For a quick day trip, take a private plane from NYC to Niagara Falls to see one of the world’s wonders in a short amount of time.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

New York has no shortage of markets in summer, such as the Brooklyn Flea Market, Hester Street Fair and Greenmarket Farmer’s Markets.

As far as festivals and events, Coney Island has Burlesque at the Beach, featuring old-time burlesque and Vaudeville acts every week of summer until August 30th. You’ll find loads of LGBT Pride events in New York throughout the month of June, including PrideFest.

Read more about things to do during the summer in NYC

Chicago

Chicago architecture tour

Locals and visitors might hide out in attractions like the Art Institute of Chicago and Adler Planetarium during Chicago’s brutally cold winter, but come summer they hit the streets and the waters of Lake Michigan, soaking up as much of the city’s too-short summer as they can.

Chicago’s best summer activities

Chicago summers are all about the beach and the outdoors. Chicago has 26 miles of public beaches, including Rainbow Beach, Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach; go for a bike ride along Lakeshore Drive to see them all and pick a place to spend the day.

Back on land, visit Millennium Park, which is known for its public sculptures, like Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” (better known as “The Bean”) and the video display Crown Fountain, or Grant Park, which has a more traditional garden set up surrounding Buckingham Fountain and offers free classical music concerts at the Grant Park Music Festival throughout the summer. Oz Park in Lincoln Park features statues of characters from the Wizard of Oz. While in the neighborhood, check out the Lincoln Park Zoo and Lincoln Park Conservatory.

Also on Lake Michigan is the Navy Pier. The 3,300ft former naval training center has rides, concerts and more and is a boarding point for cruises, like Seadog Ventures for speed and the Spirit of Chicago for lunch or dinner at sea. Speaking of cruises, come summer people can actually enjoy the architectural cruises on the Chicago River, which runs straight through the city.

Sports fans must visit Wrigley Field, one of America’s most historic ballparks, to cheer on the Cubs, but don’t forget that Chicago is home to two baseball teams, so you can also watch the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. The Skydeck at Willis Tower is great at all seasons, but has especially clear views come summer.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

Did you know that Chicago has more than 400 neighborhood festivals throughout the year? These festivals show off the culture, history and flavor of different sections the city. Some to check out are Windy City RibFest (July), Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival (June) and Fiesta del Sol (July).

Then there are a few world-known Chicago festivals every summer. First and foremost is Taste of Chicago (July); better known as “The Taste”, this is the world’s biggest food festival, which showcases foods from all the city’s different ethnicities. Chicago is also home to Lollapalooza (August), one of America’s most legendary summer music festivals, as well Chicago Jazz Festival (August) and Northalsted Market Days (August).

Chicago has several downtown, neighborhood and night farmers’ markets happening throughout the summer. Find art, fashion and food at markets like Randolph Street Market Festival or browse farm-fresh food and artisanal products at the Lincoln Park Green City Market.

Los Angeles

Disneyland

Disneyland

LA is known as the home of the rich and famous, but its beautiful (and free) beaches are open to all. The city experiences pleasant weather all year round, but summer’s warm days and long hours of sunlight mean plenty of festivals, fairs, and events to keep visitors busy on any budget.

LA’s best summer activities

Though people instantly think of the entertainment industry when they hear Los Angeles, the city also has some beautiful parks, gardens and beaches, such as the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Barnsdall Art Park, or Griffith Park, where people can hike up to the Griffith Park Observatory. You can also hike up to the Hollywood sign using the Hollyridge Trail. Then there are California’s stunning beaches. Some popular ones in LA include Venice Beach and Santa Monica, with its famous pier and amusement park.

There are plenty of amusement parks in and around Los Angeles, like Universal Studios, Disneyland and Hurricane Harbor. For a different sort of ride, cruise down the coast to Malibu or drive out to Dodgers Stadium or Angels Stadium to watch one of LA’s two baseball teams play.

One can’t mention Hollywood without talking about movies. Summer is always a big time of year in the film industry, which means blockbuster premieres at places like the Chinese Theater and El Capitan. If you get there early, you can watch all the red carpet action and maybe meet a few of your favorite stars. If you want to actually watch films, try doing it outdoors at screenings like Cinespia Hollywood Forever and Street Food Cinema.

Those that prefer seeing their outdoor performances live should look into Shakespeare by the Sea for theater. For live outdoor music this summer, check out some of LA’s free summer concerts, like Grand Performances at California Plaza and Saturdays off the 405 at the Getty Center. Visit the iconic Hollywood Bowl for big name acts or check out a range of outdoor concerts, events and markets at Pershing Square.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

Farmers Market has free outdoor concerts, a nice break from shopping the market. Grand Central Market is LA’s oldest open air market and has an array of different meats, fish, produce and more. For more foodie goodness at summer, check out LA Times’  The Taste (August) and the LA Food & Wine Festival (August).

San Francisco

Wine Country wine and bike tour

Biking and wine tasting in Wine Country

It’s easy to spot the tourists in San Francisco – they’re the ones wearing shorts and freezing in July. While the rest of California experiences summer, San Francisco is often socked in with fog, with temperatures below 60F, so while beaches like Ocean Beach are big among surfers and Baker Beach offers great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, you probably won’t be swimming the freezing surf. Instead, enjoy the city’s cooler temperatures and views of its iconic fog hovering over the Bay.

San Francisco’s best summer activities

Catch a ferry to San Francisco’s top attraction, Alcatraz, from Pier 33 or walk to Pier 39 to check out the city’s famous seal colony and visit San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. This area is known as Fisherman’s Wharf and, as you might have guessed, is known for its fresh fish and shellfish, as well as clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl. Fuel up and then explore Golden Gate Recreation Area, which covers nearly 75,000 acres of land on both sides of Golden Gate Bridge, hiking and biking on trails like Lands End and the Tourist Club Loop through Muir Woods.

Other outdoor activities include a trip to the San Francisco Zoo and watching a Giants game. You don’t even have to be inside AT&T Park to experience a baseball game. Kayak out to McCovey Cove during a game and wait for balls to fly over. Other park happenings include Stern Grove Festival, Yoga Rocks the Park, free outdoor swing dancing with Lindy in the Park and Free Shakespeare in the Park.

If you’re craving sun and hotter temperatures, head out of the city, an hour north to Napa or Sonoma for wine tasting, explore the northern coast at Pt. Reyes or Mendocino, or drive south to Half Moon Bay, Monterey, or Carmel.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

Some markets to visit at summer include Alemany Farmers’ Market and Fillmore Farmers’ Market, though San Francisco has plenty more foodie happenings. Summer is the ideal time of year to visit SOMA strEAT Food Park, the Friday night Off the Grid food truck party at Fort Mason, or the Sunday Picnic in the Presidio. You could also go to the San Francisco Street Food Festival (August), SF Chefs Food, Wine and Spirits Festival (July) or Pinot Days (June).

On top of renowned food and wine, San Francisco is a great festival city. In fact, this is the city where Burning Man was created and first took place. It doesn’t anymore, but some other incredible music festivals do, such as Outside Lands (August) and Fillmore Jazz Festival (July). One other important event in the city come summer is San Francisco Pride Parade (June).

Read more about summer in San Francisco

Miami & South Beach

Miami beach

Miami sizzles all year round and it’s especially hot (literally and figuratively) in summer. Now is the time to hit the beach and soak up the sun in one of the sexiest cities in the US.

Miami’s best summer activities

With its white sands and an ocean that feels like bath water, you’ll want to head to the beach as soon as you land in Miami. There are plenty to choose from, such as Crandon Park Beach to party, 85th Street Beach to swim and Virginia Key to get away from the city. While there, try your hand at volleyball, parasailing, jet skiing, wind surfing and yoga.

If you prefer to sunbathe in a more glitzy fashion, certain high-end hotels in the city offer day passes to their pools, such as The Savoy ($25), and some hosts pool parties during the day, like Shore Club Hotel and the Shelborne Hotel. The Clevelander and Fontainbleau are known to host some of the city’s most epic pool parties. The city also has kid-friendly pool parks, like Tropical Splash Waterpark.

If you can handle the heat, some top outdoor attractions include Miami Beach Golf Club, Miami Seaquarium, the Miami Zoo, Villa Vizcaya and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Green Other ways to spend time outdoors during the day? Try an Art Deco tour, sightseeing cruise of Miami or Marlins Game.

By night, you can visit one of the city’s open air movie showings at Andiamo Brick Oven Pizza or Swap Shop Drive-In. The city also offers a Summer Cabaret Concert Series throughout the season.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

Coconut Grove is the go-to place for several festivals and activities year-round. This green tropical neighborhood, known for its gelato bars, restaurants and shops, hosts an Organic Farmers’ Market on Saturdays from 10am-7pm. Another shopping spot is Lincoln Road Mall, which is a pedestrian-only street.

Several summer festivals showcase Miami’s international flair, like the International Mango Festival (July) the Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival (August) and the Brazilian Film Festival (August). Last but not least, there’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Swim in July and Miami Spice Restaurant Month (August -September), during which Miami’s top restaurants offer three or four course meals at affordable prices.

Read more: 5 Tips for Visiting Miami Beaches

Denver

Colorado hiking

There are lots of opportunities for hiking near Denver

While Denver is often thought of as a winter destination, the Mile High City is equally welcoming in summer, when the mountains around the city become a destination for hiking and biking, and the city’s many parks and gardens are in full bloom.

Denver’s best summer activities

Denver has quite a few urban parks, like Denver Botanic Gardens, Washington Park and City Park. Cherry Creek Trail is a popular way to explore Denver’s more natural side on foot or by bike. It will lead you to Four Mile Historic Park and Denver Sister City Parks, among other places. If you want to go for a swim, Denver has 16 outdoor city pools to choose from, like Ruby Hill Swimming Pool and Harvard Gulch Swimming Pool. For a more steamy swimming experience, head outside the city to one of Colorado’s natural hot springs, like Glenwood Hot Springs.

Since the city is surrounded by such natural and uninhabited beauty, you’d be a fool not to venture out. Rocky Mountain National Park makes up the city’s dramatic backdrop where you can hike through the Rockies, try out fly fishing and take a scenic ride on Trail Ridge Road. Another stunning drive around Denver is Mt. Evans Scenic Byway. Climbing 7000 feet into the sky, this is the highest paved highway in North America. Also check out Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, which has more of a desert look and features live performances by the likes of Tom Petty and John Denver.

Outside of natural trails and scenery, some outdoor activities in Denver include the Denver Zoo, Coors Field to watch the Colorado Rockies play ball and Larimer Square to explore the city’s historic roots and architecture.

Denver also has outdoor film screenings in the summer, like Film on the Rocks at Red Rocks Amphitheater, the Bike-In Movie Series at the Civic Center Conservancy, and Southwest Movies at Skyline Park. Denver has a lengthy list of outdoor summer concert series, like Rock Bottom Brewery Patio Concerts, Denver Botanic Gardens Summer Concert Series and Red Rocks Summer Concert Series.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

In summer, fresh produce, homemade foods and more are available at Cherry Creek Fresh Market and Old South Pearl Street Farmers Market. The city has a full calendar of festivals and events at summer, including Cherry Creek Arts Festival (July), Colorado Gay Rodeo (July) and A Taste of Colorado (August).

Las Vegas

Grand Canyon trip

Visit the Grand Canyon from Vegas

Sin City’s high summer temperatures don’t put a damper on Vegas’ notorious party atmosphere. Instead, the party moves outdoors to the over-the-top pools at hotels like the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, while away from the strip outdoor adventure beckons at several nearby national parks.

Vegas’ best summer activities

Those who visit Vegas and only see the Strip miss out on the natural beauty of the city’s surrounding parks, such as Red Rock Canyon and Lake Mead National Recreation Area, popular spots for hiking and mountain biking.

What this land-locked city lacks in beaches, it more than makes up for in pools. You’ll be hard pressed to find a hotel or apartment complex in the city that doesn’t have its own pool and many offer pool parties that have live music, private cabanas, contests and drink service. Some of the more popular pools for adults include The Cosmopolitan’s multi-level Boulevard Pool for great views and Liquid at Aria for luxury and privacy. Those visiting with kids should head to places like, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, which has a wave pool and lazy river, and Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, which has a waterslide.

On top of pool parties during the day, Las Vegas is known for its nightlife. If you prefer something a bit tamer, Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan plays outdoor movies in summer. Then there’s the West Wind Las Vegas 5 Drive-In. Finally, you could visit a rooftop bar and lounge, like Voodoo Lounge at the Rio and Ghostbar at the Palms.

If you want to do more than just lounge and party by the pool, go on the rides at the top of the Stratosphere or gondolas at The Venetian, check out Freemont Street for a taste of Sinatra’s Vegas, watch the Bellagio fountain show, or get out of town and visit the Grand Canyon.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

Summer in Vegas sees plenty of special events – like Electric Daisy Carnival (June), the World Series of Poker (May – July) and even the Masters of Beer Pong 100K Tournament (July).

The city also has a few outdoor markets to choose from, such as the Las Vegas Farmers’ Market in on Tuesday, Wednesdays and select Saturdays as well as Broadacres Market where you’ll find just about anything Friday-Sunday, including live entertainment.

Boston

Boston in summer

Summer in Boston means weekends at the Cape, block parties and movies under the stars. And what better place to celebrate the country’s independence than in one of its most important colonial cities and the place where the American Revolution began?

Boston’s best summer activities

One of the best summer activities in Boston is walking the Freedom Trail. This 2.5 mile walk takes people past important places in American history, such as the Paul Revere House, King’s Chapel and Boston Common. The latter is one of the city’s best parks and a happening spot at summer. People should also check out the Public Garden, where they can cruise in a swan boat, as well as Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park and the Charles River Esplanade.

If you prefer beaches to parks, there’s Revere Beach, Carson Beach and the beaches of Spectacle Island, which you’ll have to reach by ferry. You can also see Boston by sea with a Duck Tour. Pools are another way to cool down in the city during summer and spray pools, like Frog Pond and the one at the Christian Science Center, are very popular.

A true Bostonian spends the days of summer watching the Red Sox play at Fenway Park. People can also spend the day touring Cambridge, where Harvard University and MIT are located. At night you can try a haunted walking tour through the city as it has a lot of history and stories to tell. Boston Public Library has Concerts in the Courtyard. Also check out Arts on the Arcade to see live visual and performance artists for free.

By night, the options in this city are endless and not limited to bars and drinking. Check out Free Friday Flicks (July – August) to watch films under the stars at DCR’s Hatch Shell on the Esplanade. Over at Boston Common, you can see Shakespeare as it was intended, open air, for free (July).

Those that like their nightlife a bit stronger should try Boston Calling Downtown Crossing Block Parties, which is a free outdoor block party for people 21 and up. Boston also has several rooftop bars, like the Baseball Tavern and Rooftop at Reveres, and outdoor bars located on the water, like The Landing at Long Wharf and The Yard at The Liberty.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

Boston is another great outdoor market city in summer. Check out Sunday at SoWa Open Market and various farmers’ markets offered around the city. One of the city’s biggest summer festivals is Boston Harborfest (July), which is a patriotic way to spend your 4th of July weekend and includes Boston Chowderfest (July). At the very end of summer is Boston Calling Music Festival (September). New this year is Outside the Box (July), a nine-day summer festival on Boston Common that features live music, dance and theater performances from around the world.

In the North End you’ll find Summer Feasts for different Catholic Saints. Some only include processions and church services, but St. Anthony’s Feast (August) is another story. The streets of the North End are packed with people, Italian food vendors, performers, parades and red, white and green confetti for this holiday.

Austin

Austin

Austin in the summer is hot and sticky, but thankfully the city offers plenty of great ways to cool down. Plus, once the sun sets, the city’s famous nightlife and live music takes center stage.

Austin’s best summer activities

As temperatures in Austin rise to 100ºF at summer, locals flee to the city’s natural spring-fed pools. Stretching three acres in size, Barton Springs Pool is arguably the most popular. Maybe it has something to do with the water staying at 68ºF year-round. Other pools (both natural and man-made) include the Hamilton Pool Preserve, which has a 50ft tall waterfall and Deep Eddy Pool which hosts Splash Movies, where people can watch films on a big screen from the pool and is surrounded by Eilers (Deep Eddy) Park, an 8-acre park with hiking and biking trails, BBQ pits and a dock fishing the Colorado River. Across the river is the more colorful Zilker Botanical Gardens, which has rose and herb gardens, streams, waterfalls and the Barton Springs Pool. In the river is Red Bud Isle, which will make you feel like you’re in the wilderness rather than a major US city.

Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America, 1.5 million bats that migrate from Mexico around March and leave in Autumn, and seeing the bats emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk is a must-do activity. If you want to do some of your own flying, Austin has a few zip lines, like Lake Travis Zipline Adventures. But these aren’t the only weird things to do in this city. In fact, its catch phrase is “Keep Austin weird”. For some really unusual sights, check out the Cathedral of Junk and South Austin Trailer Park Eatery, a park full of food trucks, offering people the chance to eat with the community and outdoors.

Austin also has a lot of outdoor eating and live music options. Watch bands perform outdoor at venues like Stubb’s Bar-B-Q and Emo’s throughout the year. Come summer, the outdoor music options become even more plentiful as parks offer free concert series, like Blues on the Green at Zilker Park and Concerts in the Park at Long Center. Finally, Austin is known for its block parties and you can find them every weekend on and around 6th Street.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

Markets in Austin are another chance to hear live music as well as shop for local food and produce. Funkytonk Farmers Market and Barton Creek Farmers Market have live performances, kid’s activities and of course food vendors. In the summer months the city hosts Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival (August), Austin Ice Cream Festival (August), Bat Fest (August) and more

San Diego

San Diego elephant seals

One of San Diego’s beaches

San Diego boasts 70 miles of coastline, and its waters are at their warmest in the summer months. Summer also brings plenty of festivals and events to keep the whole family busy on and off the beach.

San Diego’s best summer activities

The heart and soul of SoCal, San Diego offers several beaches to choose from, like Mission Bay, which sees big crowds, and Ocean Beach, which is pet-friendly, or La Jolla, which has a seal colony, cove and tide pools.

Before escaping to these beaches, make sure to check out San Diego’s inspiring parks. Chicano Park celebrates San Diego’s Mexican culture with massive and colorful murals under the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. Balboa Park is the largest urban cultural park in the United States and is home to 15 museums, art venues and the San Diego Zoo, all set amongst gardens and ponds.

Beyond San Diego’s famous zoo, also check out the San Diego Aquarium and Sea World. The latter has its own waterpark, called Aquatica, as does Legoland. Sports fans should head to Petco Park to watch the San Diego Padres, and history buffs can check out the USS Midway Museum, America’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century.

For outdoor fun, go rollerblading on Pacific Beach Boardwalk, learn how to surf in La Jolla, or try SUP Yoga, where you trade a yoga mat at a studio for a stand up paddle board on the water. Tour the Stuart Collection, an outdoor art walk, at UC San Diego, or spend some time wandering through the city’s historic Gaslamp Quarter.

Come summer, San Diego has a few concert series, like Coronado Summer Concert Series at Spreckels Park. Seaport Village and Balboa Park also host concerts and other live performances, like the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages Lawn Program every Sunday. Like LA, San Diego is known to host a few pool parties, like Lafayette Pool Parties and Intervention Sundays at the Hard Rock Hotel.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

San Diego has a farmers’ market for every day of the week, including markets in City Heights and the Gas Lamp District. You can also take advantage of the city’s local produce and food vendors at one of its many fairs and festivals.

Eat your way through Hillcrest CityFest Street Fair (August), while shopping, listening to live music and checking out the art. Sample beers at San Diego Beer Festival (July ) or try the best in local food, beer and wine while watching live entertainment at San Diego Magazine’s Best of San Diego Party (August).

Celebrate the anniversary of Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, a San Diego landmark, at Festival of the Bells (July). LGBT Pride Parade and Festival is just before that in early July. Finish the summer with the Festival of Sail (August 30), to see a parade of sailboats hit the open sea.

New Orleans

New Orleans summer

While Louisiana’s hot and humid summers tend to slow things down in its biggest city, a slow day in New Orleans is a wild one anywhere else. There’s another side of New Orleans though, and you only need to venture away from the parties of Bourbon Street to see it.

NOLA’s best summer activities

NOLA might have natural waterways nearby like the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, but they’re not suitable for swimming. If you want a public spot to play and swim outdoors, head to the pool at Audubon Park, part of Audubon Nature institute, which features ten museums and parks all dedicated to nature, a zoo, aquarium, golf course and more. Other green spaces to explore in summer include Louis Armstrong Park, where you’ll find a statue of the native jazz legend; the French Quarter’s Jackson Square; and the 1,300 acre City Park, a sanctuary of botanical gardens, Spanish moss dangling from massive trees and tiny stone bridges over calm waters.

The most classic way to spend a day in NOLA is wandering around the French Quarter, the oldest part of the city – tour Saint Louis Cathedral, eat a beignet at Cafe du Monde, try a Po’boy at any cafe or restaurant in the area and listen to jazz at Preservation Hall.

Then there’s Bourbon Street, which is all the nightlife you need rolled into one strip. This is where you see people throwing beads down to the crowded streets during Mardi Gras. It’s legal to drink on the streets here and most of the bars and clubs open up to the streets. You’ll find jazz venues in this area and as well as ten-man bands playing through the streets.

After touring the French Quarter, take a streetcar over to the Garden District, where the homes are classically southern, with big porches and pillars. There you’ll find the heavily photographed Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, and above-ground graveyard whose stone mausoleums and statues are eerie and beautiful at the same time.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

New Orleans takes the cake for the most historic market experience in the USA. The French Market has been operating in the same spot since 1791. It was originally a Native American Trading Post, and while French ownership of New Orleans might not have lasted, their signature market culture did. The market has fresh produce and butchers, and is open seven days a week.

With the city’s French roots, you can bet Bastille Day (July) is a big deal. The city continues to pump music festivals at summer, such as Satchmo Summer Fest (August) and Essence Music Festival (July). The latter is just one of several events happening in NOLA for the 4th of July. Some food and drink focused events at summer, include Coolinary New Orleans throughout August and Tales of Cocktail (July).

There’s more… Southern Decadence is known as the gay Mardi Gras (August) and NOLA has its very own version of Spain’s Running of the Bulls (July)… except in this event people run from the city’s female flat track roller derby team instead of bulls. Last but not least is Whitney White Linen Night (August), which is a traditional and upscale block party that takes place on the first Saturday in August.

Read more about festivals in New Orleans

Seattle

Seattle in summer

Most of the year, the Emerald City earns it reputation for rain, but come summer the skies clear, and Seattle – with its 400 city parks and easy access to hiking and biking trails, wineries, mountains and national parks – becomes and outdoor-lover’s dream.

Seattle’s best summer activities

Seattle’s many city parks are great places to play or relax. Check out the green spaces at Discovery Park, Seward Park, Washington Park Arboretum, or Green Lake Park or explore the art at one of many sculpture parks, like Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park or the funky Gasworks Park. Other quintessential Seattle experiences include cheering on the Mariners at Safeco Field, taking a ferry to West Seattle or to Bainbridge Island, wandering around Seattle’s Waterfront, where you can pick up a vintage trolley, or heading to the top of the Space Needle at the Seattle Center.

Seattle is known for its music scene, and city has endless bars and venues that offer live music throughout the year. The city also hosts a few of outdoor cinemas like Fremont Almost Free Outdoor Cinema and Seattle Center Movies at the Mural. Wooden O presents Free Shakespeare in the Parks throughout July. Plus there’s First Thursday Art Walk at Pioneer Square every month.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

Obviously, Seattle’s Pike Place Market is a must when visiting the city. Take in all the market’s fresh seafood and produce at summer. Another great Seattle market to visit is the Fremont Markets, where you can find food as well as arts and crafts.

SeaFair Weekend (August) a very popular nautical-themed festival with preceded by several weeks of parades and activities. Those interested in food and drink should check out Seattle International Beerfest (July), Kirkland Uncorked (July) and Bite of Seattle (July). For art, food and music, head to Bumbershoot Festival (Labor Day Weekend) and for a great party, check out the Capitol Hill Block Party (July).

Read more: Top Summer Experiences to Have in Seattle

Portland

Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge

Portland is another Pacific Northwest gem that sparkles especially bright during its brief summers. The city’s bike culture, food carts, and many breweries make it a great place to enjoy when the sun shines.

Portland’s best summer activities

Portlanders are known for being advocates of green living and they’re especially protective of their forests. Reap the benefits of this conscience state of living by spending the day at places like Forest Park and Marquam Nature Park. In true Portland fashion, you can explore these massive, urban escapes by bike.

For still pristine, but slightly more organized gardens, check out Portland’s International Rose Test Garden, Portland Japanese Garden, Hoyt Arboretum and Washington Park. These city parks are all connected, so you can spend a day just wandering through them without having to travel across town. If you’re really enjoying Portland nature and don’t mind traveling out of the city a bit along the Columbia River, you can visit Columbia River Gorge and Oneota Gorge.

The Oregon Zoo is located amongst the mix of urban parks mentioned above and the amphitheater at this zoo is a popular place for summer concerts. Get around like a local by biking one of Portland’s many bridges, such as Hawthorne Bridge and Steel Bridge. Visit the Pearl District to wander around its renovated warehouses that are now art galleries, restaurants and shops, or head to Chinatown to wait in line for a Bacon Maple Bar at Voodoo Doughnuts.

Portland is known for its food trucks – the city has over 500 – and revered for its beer culture. In fact, there are more breweries in Portland than any other city in the USA, beer lovers should take a brewery tour or visit one of the city’s many brewpubs.

For an outdoor film experience, check out Flicks on the Bricks at Pioneer Couthouse Square. You’ll also find Shakespeare in the Park at Terry Schrunk Plaza and Washington Park. An alternative entertainment for your summer nights in the city is attending one of its Gallery Walks to check out the city’s art scene.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

Portland also has a great outdoor market tradition in summer. You’ll find fresh produce, local arts and crafts, artisan foods and more at Portland Farmers Market and Portland Saturday Market.

Summer festivals in Portland highlight its many characteristics. Take in the city’s beer culture at Portland International Beer Fest (July), North American Organic Brewers Festival (June) and Oregon Brewers Festival (July). For the bikers, there’s Bridge Pedal (August). The Bite of Oregon (August) is all about food and drink, but also includes live music and entertainment. Waterfront Blues Festival (July) and Pickathon (August) are two of the city’s great music festivals. Celebrate Portland’s art culture with Art in the Pearl and the Mississippi Ave Street Fair.

Charleston

Charleston waterfront in the morning

Charleston is a real southern bell. With its squares lined by trees dripping Spanish moss, pillared plantation homes and old-time horse and buggies, this charming city will have you in awe of its whimsical beauty.

Charleston’s best summer activities

Charleston outdoor spaces, like Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Gateway Garden Walk, and Sumter National Forest, showcase the city’s southern charm. To beat the heat, check out the beaches and islands that speckle the seas surrounding this city, like Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms County Park, Folly Beach and John’s Island, where you can see the centuries-old Angel Oak Tree.

Learn about historic Charleston at the Battery, where you’ll find a row of homes showing off the city’s Antebellum or “pre-war” architecture, or stroll past the colorful homes of Rainbow Row. You can take a horse and buggy ride through the area or go on a tour of the more famous residences, like the Calhoun Mansion and Nathaniel Russell House Museum. If you want to see estates that are even more grand, visit plantations in and around Charleston, like Drayton Hall and Boone Hill Plantation, which often host concerts and events.

For more Southern sights, check out College of Charleston, Magnolia Cemetery, the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum at the Charleston Harbor, and the Old Slave Mart Museum – a somber, but necessary tour experience when learning about Charleston’s history.

You can’t leave this southern city without trying some of its famous foods, like She-Crab Soup, roasted oysters, and shrimp and grits. You’ll find a few outdoor restaurants known to host live music, like the Rooftop Lounge at Vendue Inn. In summer you can watch movies outdoors with Starlight Cinema Series as well as concerts with Music on the Green, both at Freshfields Village.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

The 200-year-old Old City Market is a popular tourist destination where vendors sell find arts, crafts and food. Also make sure to visit Charleston Farmers Market for outdoor shopping. Listen to live music at Low Country Jazz Festival (August).

Read more: 20 Reasons to Fall in Love with Charleston

Philadelphia

Philadelphia in the summer

People come to Philadelphia for its history. This is America’s second capital city, where the constitution was signed and first flag bearing stars and stripes created. You can experience Philadelphia’s history at all times of year, but it’s especially enjoyable at summer when – as an added bonus – you can explore the country’s largest city owned park system.

Philly’s best summer activities

Start your tour of Philadelphia by learning about the city’s history at the National Constitution Center, then head to historic sites like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and Christ Church. Just walking on the cobblestone streets of Old City will make you feel like you’ve slipped back in time. Be sure to visit Ben Franklin’s grave, the Betsy Ross House and Elfreth’s Alley, known as the oldest street in America.

Beyond history, you can visit South Street, which is Philadelphia version of Bourbon Street and home to Magic Gardens, an indoor/outdoor mosaic park. You can spend your days cheering on the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, getting up close with the animals at the Philadelphia Zoo, waiting in line for a cheesesteak at Pat’s or Geno’s and touring one of America’s most notorious prisons, Eastern State Penitentiary, which also hosts Bastille Day celebrations in summer. And of course, you can’t visit this city without running up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, just like Rocky.

Philadelphia parks don’t get the attention they deserve. The city has quite a few recreational areas and green spaces that are especially popular at summer for barbecues and family outings. Fairmount Park, the city-owned park system, is made up of 63 neighborhood parks spread out over 9,200 acres. From here you can see the mighty Schuylkill, bike Kelly Drive, admire the architecture at Boat House Row and much more.

A lot of the city’s best bars and restaurants offer outdoor seating at summer. Take in the waterfront at Octo Waterfront Grill or drink atop one of the city’s rooftop bars, like the one at The Continental Mid-town. Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing is a popular spot on the water by day and night at summer. You can also check out local artists and craftsman at First Friday, offered monthly throughout the summer.

Summer Markets, Festivals and Events

Throughout the summer, you’ll find farmers’ markets at Rittenhouse Square, Chestnut Hill and more. Take advantage of the city’s street food at the Night Market on South Street (August) or shop South Philly’s Italian Market.

Philadelphia welcomes some very big names for a slew of festivals in the city throughout the summer, like Jay Z’s Made in America Festival (August) and Wawa Welcome America! Festival (July). There’s also the Summer Ale Festival (July) at the Philadelphia Zoo, the 2nd Street Festival (August), and the Philadelphia Caribbean Festival (August).

Read more about Philadelphia in the summer.

- Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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