Summer is the perfect time to hit the open road: School’s out, the weather’s warm, and the possibilities are endless. The only dilemmas? Deciding on a destination and somehow affording everything you want to pack into your itinerary.
We’ve previously compared all 50 states on 31 metrics across three dimensions—cost, safety, and activities offered—to find “the most fun, scenic, and wallet-friendly road trip destinations.”
In the name of freedom and pseudoscience, we’ve taken the liberty of ranking the top four states according to their level of summer pleasure, factoring in both the weather and the ways to enjoy (and recreate in!) that weather. The higher the number, the more pleasant the summer.
Imagine the clouds breaking after a long storm. The landscape seems to brighten and bloom instantly, the sun gently warming you up as you step outside and take a stroll along the scenic waterfronts with equally scenic forests competing for your attention, the cool breeze in your face pairing nicely with the perfectly hopped ale and fresh from the ocean salmon (and yes, they taste good together)!
Now imagine that feeling drawn out over a period of several months. That’s summer in Washington.
2. Rhode Island
At the very bottom of Rhode Island lies Misquamicut State Beach and an entire sliver of a peninsula that juts into the Atlantic like a wooden spoon into a certain, regionally specific frozen lemonade. The states are divided by the Pawcatuck River and the state lines follow the river out to the ocean.
The whole point is RI is tiny, basically a state the size of high school football stadium in Texas, and usually it just gets the brunt of whatever weather is afflicting its bigger (but still rather small) neighbors in CT and Mass. But Rhode Island’s secret is the summer. While all these other states were busy claiming land mass, RI made a smart long game risk maneuver and just decided to scoop up all the coastline.
And now the Ocean State has every summer pleasure you want, from the subtle wealth of beach towns like Little Compton and Narragansett, to the more aggressive wealth of beach towns like Newport, where billionaires used to build palatial estates and throw Gatsby-style Gilded Age parties.
“Keep your land-locked suburbs,” Rhode Island shouts. “We’re going in the ocean.”
Nothing can screw up an Oregon summer. Not a two-hour brunch line. Not a surprise shortage of your favorite Oregon ale on tap.
And to be clear, not much can go wrong during an Oregon summer. But no matter what hiccups happen along the way, the sun will (likely) be shining, the marionberries will be ripe, and the nearest brewery will probably be less than seven steps away with a camping site that has your name on it.
It’s gonna be fine, because it’s summer in Oregon—if it’s something you REALLY can’t handle you’ll just go camping to one of the state’s awesome state parks.
There is a case to be made for the grossly hot weather inland, as the average high temperature in places like Fresno hits 96 by August but California has 3,427 MILES of ocean shoreline, and another 32K of lakeshore.
Yes, it has issues. Lots of ‘em. So let’s drop the talk of droughts, bankruptcy, homelessness, and traffic, and talk for a minute about how this state has EVERY SINGLE KIND OF BEAUTY you could possibly want.
Start in the south with the expansive, natural beaches. Then move inland to the moon-like desertscapes in the Mojave. There’s the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway and Big Sur, leading in the wine country of the Central Coast and up into San Francisco, a city that owes its aesthetic to cliffside views and curlicues of fog.
Oh, and lest we forget Yosemite National Park. Or Redwoods. Or Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Or Joshua Tree. Or Death Valley. Or Anza Borrego. And wine country stretching from Napa and Sonoma valleys in the north to Temecula in the south.
Look, California’s not for everybody, but for sheer varieties of summer pleasures, nothing else comes close.
Roadtrips have beginnings and ends, but it’s what’s in between that counts.