15 Underrated Summer Destinations to Visit in the U.S.

underrated summer destinations"
underrated summer destinations
Source: Unsplash | Mick Haupt
Source: Unsplash | Mick Haupt

When you think of the ideal summer vacation, you might picture heading to an iconic bucket-list destination for an epic vacay. But sometimes, long wait times at restaurants, crowded beaches, and overpriced cocktails just aren’t the vibe. Maybe you just want to rise and relax, not rise and rush to beat the brunch crowd. For some trips, a location that is a little more understated and laid-back is the way to go. Depending on what you have on your summer bucket list this year (laying by the pool, hitting the beach, bike riding, hiking, etc.), you’ll find hidden gems all across the country that are perfect for a relaxing getaway.

If you’re not sure where to start looking and you want to get something on the calendar, these are some of the most underrated summer destinations to look into for your next vacation.

1. Cannon Beach, Oregon

Source: Unsplash | Paul Matheson

If you’re looking for a beach vacation that isn’t packed with tourists and over 100 degrees every day, consider Cannon Beach for your next vacay. The area is known for its gorgeous beachfront and abundance of nature, so keep an eye out for wildlife like puffins and starfish while you stroll around! Spend your days lounging on the beach or get active by swimming, hiking the nearby trails, and surfing (though it might be a bit too challenging if you are a beginner). Cannon Beach is also known for its art galleries, which are dotted all over the charming downtown area.

2. The Finger Lakes, New York

Source: Unsplash | Mark Vihtelic

If you’re a wine fanatic looking for a less popular alternative to Napa Valley, look no further than the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. The region has over 130 wineries with tons of wine trails to follow, so there are plenty of options to choose from for your ideal itinerary. The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail comes highly recommended, along with the Seneca Lake and Keuka Lake wine trails. Though with good company, great wine, and even better views, you can’t go wrong with any in the area. Along the way, you’ll see all sorts of beautiful scenery beyond just lakes, including waterfalls and valleys. While you’re there, be sure to stop by Monica’s Pies to try the Finger Lakes’ famous grape pie.

3. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Source: Unsplash | Kevin Escate

When you think of a summer getaway, Idaho may not be the first destination to pop into your head, but this lakeside town is absolutely stunning. To get to the city, fly into Spokane International Airport and take a short 40-minute drive. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted with stunning lake views. Summer is the perfect time to visit, as Coeur d’Alene is brimming with lake activities for you to try. Whether you’re a thrill seeker who wants to parasail and jetski or you’d rather catch some rays floating in the water, there is something for everyone. When you’re ready to take a break from the water, stroll through the adorable downtown area filled with restaurants and shops.

4. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Source: Unsplash | Maddy Baker

If you want a vacation with the perfect balance of nature and things to do, Santa Fe is a great destination. Known for its vibrant art scene, delicious food, adobe architecture, and surrounding mountains, the city has so much to offer. Make sure to stop by The Plaza to shop from authentic Native American vendors selling everything from handmade jewelry and clothing to pottery and home decor. Another must-see while in Santa Fe is the famous Georgia O’Keefe Museum, where you can learn more about the artist’s life and marvel at her work. Just remember to drink lots of water while enjoying all the sights in the high altitude and hot sun.

5. Kansas City, Missouri

Source: Unsplash | Jake Fagan

Kansas City might not have been on your radar until Taylor Swift started dating Travis Kelce, but the city is worth a visit for its incredible barbeque and lively art and music scene. Plan a trip to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where you can admire a diverse collection of over 40,000 pieces. A short walk away, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art also makes for a great afternoon activity. You can even experience a taste of Spain at Country Club Plaza, where the architecture is inspired by Seville and you’ll find tons of locally-owned shops to explore. Once you’ve gotten your retail therapy fix, head to Green Lady Lounge for a drink and some live jazz music. And of course, you can’t leave the city without enjoying some top-tier barbeque at Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que.

6. Hilton Head, South Carolina

underrated summer destinations
Source: Unsplash | Jake Johnson

Year after year, Hilton Head consistently makes the list of best islands in the continental U.S. according to readers of Travel+Leisure magazine. That says a lot for an island that is only 12 miles long and five miles wide, but it’s not surprising after exploring everything there is to do in Hilton Head. It begs the question: Why isn’t it talked about more often as a vacation spot? Who knows, but because it’s not, it’s a total hidden gem. Hilton Head is as laid-back as it is energetic, with the perfect mix of daytime activities and nighttime fun.

7. Santa Catalina Island, California

underrated summer destinations
Source: Unsplash | Stella Guan

Just a ferry ride off the coast of Los Angeles, Catalina Island is 100% a must-visit if you want the feeling of Mykonos or Santorini without heading all the way to Europe. Whether you want to spend all day by the water, explore boutique stores and fun happy hours, or hike along the Pacific Ocean at sunset, there’s quite literally something for every kind of traveler. The Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel is an ideal spot to stay in if you’re looking for a super cute atmosphere (read: very Instagrammable) that’s close to all the best areas and main attractions. It’s time to live out your Mamma Mia dreams, ladies. 

8. Clearwater, Florida

underrated summer destinations
Source: Unsplash | Brandon Cormier

If you’ve never been to Florida’s beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, you’re in for a treat. While there are quite a few summer destinations to pick from along the Gulf, Clearwater stands out as one of the best. It offers the same white sand beaches and turquoise waters as the rest, but it flies under the radar compared to Siesta Key and Panama City—meaning you can reap the benefits without the crowds. After you spend the whole day with your bum in a beach chair, walk back to your hotel to get ready for dinner in their downtown hub.

9. Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada

Source: Unsplash | Ben Carless

If you’re only familiar with Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts, you’ll be surprised to learn that it’s also known for its beaches and outdoor recreation in the summer months. The freshwater lake is so large that it is split into North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe, but you can enjoy the mountains and beaches from both ends. If you are more interested in recreational activities like hiking, biking, and camping over fancy brunch spots and shopping, this is the place for you.

10. Scottsdale, Arizona

Source: Unsplash | Matthew Hamilton

Home to hundreds of retail shops, restaurants, art galleries, and museums, Old Town Scottsdale will ensure you never run out of things to do. This is the perfect place to visit if you want to start your morning with a spin class and then head to brunch before doing a little bit (or a lot bit) of shopping. Stay in one of the boutique hotels and hit the spa if you’re craving true luxury and much-deserved relaxation. Our best advice? Enjoy everything Scottsdale has to offer with a few of your closest girlfriends.

11. Southern Maine Coast, Maine

underrated summer destinations
Source: Unsplash | Karl Magnuson

Cocktail cruises, weekend festivals, bright flowers, charming villages with shops and restaurants, beaches, and lobster. What more could a girl want? The Southern Maine Coast has it all, and it is especially lively in July and August when summer peaks there. IMO, the weather is the absolute best part about summer destinations in the Northeast. It is always warm during the day and cooler in the evening, so you will get good use out of every item in your summer capsule wardrobe.

12. Austin, Texas

Source: Unsplash | Tomek Baginski

While Austin has gotten more and more popular over the years as a place to live year-round, it’s still not necessarily considered a summer vacation hotspot—at least for now. As the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin offers music, art, and culture across each of its entertainment districts as well as a unique food and drink scene. If vibrant energy isn’t what you have in mind, the city is surrounded by 14,000 square miles of Texas Hill Country with historic towns and two dozen vineyards. With that said, you might need more than a long weekend to experience all that is Austin, Texas.

13. The Outer Banks, North Carolina

underrated summer destinations
Source: Unsplash | Clay Banks

Sadly, we can’t promise you’ll run into John B if you head to the Outer Banks, but we can tell you that the shoreline and villages are just as pretty in real life as they are on the show. There aren’t any cities on the Outer Banks, so you’ll be completely removed from any hustle and bustle, but don’t worry, there is plenty to do. As far as activities go, you can choose between sailing, surfing, biking, kayaking, golfing, and more. If you’re more interested in the food and drink scene, there is no shortage of breweries, coffee shops, ice cream stands, casual restaurants, and fine dining options to choose from. The OBX offers all sorts of hotels, rental properties, B&Bs, and cottages, including beach houses with gorgeous waterfront views.

14. Jackson Hole, Wyoming

underrated summer destinations
Source: Unsplash | Aleesha Wood

Although Jackson Hole is widely known for being a ski town, it makes for an equally fabulous summer destination. Its adorable downtown is filled with cute restaurants and shops and completely surrounded by beautiful mountains and rolling hills. Plus, there are plenty of outdoorsy activities like kayaking and hiking to choose from. Staying at the Cloudveil Hotel makes for an ultra-cozy and picture-perfect experience all around. If you’re in the market for a relaxing getaway surrounded by National Geographic-level nature, look no further. 

15. San Juan Islands, Washington

underrated summer destinations
Source: Unsplash | Lydia Venjohn

Contrary to popular belief, Seattle isn’t the only place in Washington that’s worth a visit. The San Juan Islands are a hidden gem of the PNW, with their main attractions being beautiful waterfront hotels (just like the Friday Harbor House), quaint shops and restaurants, and, best of all, whale watching. Summertime in the San Juans is the peak of whale season, and there are a ton of different tours and experiences to choose from to get up close and personal. Even if whales aren’t particularly your thing, it’s still a perfect pick for a chilled-out coastal getaway that’s different from your typical tropical beach vacation.