I love booking vacations to iconic summer destinations as much as the next person (I’m looking at you, Hamptons). But sometimes, long wait times at restaurants, crowded beaches, and overpriced cocktails just aren’t the vibe. I like to rise and relax, not rise and rush to beat the brunch crowd.
Sometimes, 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, boating, shopping, bike riding, hiking, etc.), you’ll find hidden gems all across the country that are perfect for a relaxing vacay.
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. Hilton Head, South Carolina
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 by five miles wide, but it’s not surprising after exploring what 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 opportunities.
2. Santa Catalina Island, California
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 Instagram-able) that’s close to all the best areas and main attractions. It’s time to live out your Mamma Mia dreams, ladies.
3. Clearwater, Florida
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.
4. Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
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.
5. Scottsdale, Arizona
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. My best advice? Enjoy everything Scottsdale has to offer with a few of your closest girlfriends.
6. Southern Maine Coast, Maine
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.
7. Austin, Texas
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 along with 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.
8. The Outer Banks, North Carolina
Sadly, I can’t promise you’ll run into John B if you head to the Outer Banks, but I 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 going 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 hotels, rental properties, B&Bs, and cottages, but of course, I am personally eying up the beach houses. Who wouldn’t?
9. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
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 type of nature, look no further.
10. San Juan Islands, Washington
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.