Summer is the perfect time to hit the open road. 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.”
And now. we’ve taken the liberty of ranking the top eight states according to their level of summer pleasure, factoring in both the weather and the ways to enjoy that weather.
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)!
2. Rhode Island
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.
The Ocean State has every summer pleasure you want, from the subtle wealth of beach towns like 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.
Nothing can screw up an Oregon summer. Not a two-hour brunch line. Not a surprise shortage of your favorite Oregon ale on tap. 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.
Yes, California 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.
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. Oh, and lest we forget Yosemite National Park. Or Redwoods. Or Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Or Joshua Tree. Or Death Valley. Or Anza Borrego.
Look, California’s not for everybody, but for sheer varieties of summer pleasures, nothing else comes close.
By the time you read this, you will have missed ‘Vermont Days,’ the state’s summer kick-off where everything is free, including state parks, fishing, museums, cheddar cheeses, maple syrup candies shaped like leaves/Bernie Sanders.
6. New Hampshire
People don’t really give New Hampshire enough credit for their lakes, is what everyone who goes to NH in the summer shouts, all year long. And yes, we will admit that Lake Winnipesaukee, with its 258 islands and miles and miles of splendor and boats is pretty damn nice. But take away those lakes and you’re just left with a hot New England summer filled with NASCAR races, Mount Washington bumper stickers, and humid trips to Story Land, Santa’s Village, and the gloriously named Hobo Railroad.
Despite the inevitable heat and humidity, Massachusetts summers were incredible for so, so, so long because of the glory that is the Cape and the Islands. And then great white sharks decided to use Cape Cod as a breeding ground and make their home on Nauset Beach in an attempt to dine on people right after they just ate a bunch of delicious onion rings and clam strips at Liam’s, and suddenly my entire idea of the idyllic Cape Cod summer has been ruined by danger. It’s still kind of lovely though.
8. South Dakota
Severe dry spells! Frequent thunderstorms! Tornado Alley! Mount Rushmore! The Black Hills! Badlands National Park! Wall Drug! The World’s Only Corn Palace! The World’s Largest Pheasant!
In conclusion, SoDak is much more lovely in the summer than in the winter. And highly underrated.
The journey not the arrival matters.
—T. S. Eliot